(navigation image)
Home American Libraries | Canadian Libraries | Universal Library | Community Texts | Project Gutenberg | Children's Library | Biodiversity Heritage Library | Additional Collections
Search: Advanced Search
Anonymous User (login or join us)
Upload
See other formats

Full text of "The human comedy"



'*¥'" 








^^ 




THE LIBRARY 

OF 

THE UNIVERSITY 

OF CALIFORNIA 

LOS ANGELES 




NiSEKON. 
' There never was a more honest man. 



Frontispiece— Balzac, Volume Three. 



A Tragedy of the Peasanis?. 



THE 



HdMAN GOMEBY 



BEING THE BEST NOVELS FROM THE 
"COMEDIE HUMAINE" OF 



HONORE DE BALZAC 



AN EPISODE UNDER THE 

TERROR 
MADAME DE DEY'S LAST 

RECEPTION 
DOOMED TO LIVE 



THE CHOUANS 
A PASSION IN THE DESERT 
A TRAGEDY OF THE PEAS- 
ANTRY 



ILLUSTRATED WITH SIXTEEN ENGRAVINGS ON WOOD FROM THE 

BEST FRENCII EDITION 

WITH AN INTRODUCTION DESCRIPTIVE OF THE AUTHOR's STUPENDOUS 

AND BRILLIANT WORK 
BY 

JULIUS CHAMBERS 



IN THREE VOLdMES-YOUeME THREE 



New York : 
PETER FENELON COLLIER. 



Copyright, 1893, 
By Peter Fenelon Collieb. 



All rights reserved. 






•/, ^ 



Contents of Volume Three. 



^ 



SCENES FROM POLITICAL LIFE. 



PAOB 

(j-5 1— AX EPISODE UNDER THE TERROR 5 

^ S-MADAME DE DEY'S LAST RECEPTION 15 



/ 



SCENES FROM MILITARY LIFE. 

1— DOOMED TO LIVE 24 

2-THE CHOUANS 30 

8— A PASSION IN THE DESERT 199 

SCENES FROM COUNTRY LIFE. 

l-A TRAGEDY OF THE PEASANTRY .....206 



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS. 

* 

Frontispiece— NiSERON—" There never was a more honest man." 

THE CHOUANS: 

Mabche-a-Terre. 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil— " I am horrid I I have the air of a statue of Liberty." 



(3) 



SCENES IN POLITICAL LIFE. 



I. 

AN EPISODE UNDER THE TERROR. 



On the 22d of January, 1793, about 
eight o'clock in the evening-, an old lady 
was walking" down the steep incline which 
ends in front of the church of Saint Lau- 
rent in Paris. It had snowed so hard all 
day that her footsteps were scarcely au- 
dible. The streets were deserted, and the 
feeling of fear which silence naturally in- 
spires was increased by the remembrance 
of the terror under which France then 
groaned. The old lady had met no one 
on the way, and her eyesight, which had 
long been failing, did not allow of her 
distinguishing in the lamplight the few 
passers-b\^, scattered here and there like 
shadows along the immense vista of the 
faubourg. She went on bravely alone 
through the solitude, as if her age were 
a talisman to preserve her from all harm. 
When she had passed the Rue des Morts, 
she thought she could distinguish the firm 
heavy tread of a man walking behind her. 
She fancied it was not the first time that 
she had heard the sound. She was afraid, 
thinking that she was being followed, so 
she tried to walk faster than before, in 
order to reach a shop window in which 
the lights were bright enough for her to 
test the truth of her suspicions. As soon 
as she found herself in the gleam of light 
which streamed out horizontally from the 
shop, she turned her head suddenlj^ and 
perceived a human form in the mist. This 
indistinct glimpse was enough ; a feeling 
of terror fell upon her ; she tottered for a 
moment under it, for now she felt certain 
that this stranger had accompanied her 



from the first step she had taken outside 
her own house. Her desire to escape 
from this spy gave her strength; inca- 
pable of reasoning, she walked twice as 
fast as before, as though it were possible 
for her to distance a man necessarily much 
more active than she. After running' for 
some minutes she reached a pastry-cook's 
shop, went in and fell, rather than sat 
down, on a chair which was standing be- 
fore the counter. As her hand rattled 
upon the latch a young woman seated at 
her embroidery raised her eyes from her 
work, looked through the square pane of 
glass, and recognized the old-fashioned 
violet silk mantle which enveloped the 
old lady ; then she hurriedl3^ opened a 
drawer, as if to take out something that 
she had been keeping there for her. Not 
only did this movement and the expres- 
sion of the young woman's face betray 
her desire to get rid of the stranger as 
soon as possible, as a person whom she 
did not want to see, but she even let a 
gesture of impatience escape her when 
she found the drawer empty. Then, 
without looking at the lady, she went 
out hastily from behind the counter into 
the back part of the shop and called her 
husband; he appeared at once. 

''Wherever have you put ? " she 

asked, mysteriously^, glancing in the 
direction of the old lady, and not finish- 
ing the sentence. 

The pastry-cook could only see the old 
lady's head-dress, a huge black bonnet, 
trimmed with violet ribbons, but he looked 

(5) 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



at his wife as much as to say, " Do you 
think I should leave a thing- like that in 
your counter?" and disappeared. His 
wife, surprised that the old lady sat so 
still and silent, went close up to her ; 
when she saw her she was seized with a 
feeling- of compassion, and perhaps of 
curiosity too. Although the old lady's 
face was naturally pallid, like the face of 
a person who practices austerities in se- 
cret, it was easy to see that some recent 
emotion had rendered it even more pallid 
than usual. Her head-dress was so ar- 
ranged as to hide her hair, which was 
white, no doubt from age, for it was 
evident that she did not wear powder, 
as there was no sign of it upon the collar 
of her dress. This absence of ornament 
g-a ve her face a look of religious severity. 
Her features were proud and g-rave. In 
former times the manners and habits of 
people of rank were so different from those 
of the other classes, that it was easy 
then to distinguish a noble. Thus the 
young- woman felt sure that the strange 
lady was a ci-devant, who had at one 
time been attached to the court. 

"Madame?" said she involuntaril}'-, 
forgetting, in the respect she inspired, 
that the title was proscribed. 

The old lady made no answer, she kept 
her eyes fixed on the shop window, as if 
some terrible object were depicted on the 
glass. 

'''What is the matter, citoyenne ?" 
asked the shopman, returning- at that 
moment. 

The worthy pastry-cook awoke the ladj^ 
from her reverie, b\^ handing- her a small 
cardboard box, wrapped up in blue paper. 

'•'Nothing-, nothing-, my friends," said 
she in a gentle voice. 

She raised her eyes to the pastry-cook, 
as if to thank him by a look, but seeing- a 
red cap upon his head, she cried aloud — 

" Ah ! 3'ou have betrayed me ! " 

The young woman and her husband 
answered with a gesture of horror ; the 
stranger blushed, either with relief, or 
Avith regret at having suspected them. 

" Forgive me ! " she said at once, with 
childish sweetness. Then she drew a gold 
louis out of her pocket and gave it to the 



pastry-cook. '' That is the price we 
ag-reed upon," said she. There is a state 
of want recognized instinctively by those 
in want themselves. The pastry-cook and 
his wife looked at one another, interchang-- 
ing- the same thought as they glanced at 
the old lady. The louis was evidently her 
last. Her hands trembled as she held out 
the coin to them, she looked at it sorrow- 
fully, but without grudging, though she 
seemed to be conscious of the full extent 
of the sacrifice. Hunger and misery were 
engraved upon her face in as legible char- 
acters as her ascetic habits and her pres- 
ent fear. Her clothes still bore the traces 
of past richness. She was dressed in 
faded silk, with carefull}^ mended lace, 
and an elegant though worn mantle — in 
fact, the rags of former wealth. The 
shop-keepers, wavering between pity and 
self-interest, tried to soothe their con- 
science with words. 

" Citoyenne, you seem very poorly." 

" Would madame like to take any- 
thing?" asked the woman, catching up 
her husband's words. 

"We've got some very good broth," 
said the pastry-cook. 

" It's so cold, perhaps you have caught 
a chill, madame, coming here ; j^ou are 
welcome to rest a bit and warm j'-our- 
self." 

"We are not so black as the devil," 
said the pastry-cook. 

Reassured by the friendly tone of the 
charitable pastry-cook, the lady admitted 
that she had been followed by a man, and 
was afraid to go home alone. 

"Is that all?" replied the man with 
the red cap. "Wait a minute for me, 
citoyenne. ^^ 

He g-ave the louis to his wife ; then, 
moved by that sense of acknowledgment 
which steals into the heart of a vendor 
who has received an exorbitant price for 
goods of slight value, he went and put on 
his uniform as a garde national, took his 
hat and sword, and returned under arms. 
But his wife had had time to reflect. As 
in many other hearts, reflection closed 
the hand which benevolence had opened. 
The woman had got frightened ; she was 
afraid her husband would get into some 



AN EPISODE UXDER THE TERROR. 



scrape, so she plucked at the lappet of 
his coat to detain him. However, in 
obedience to an instinct of charity, the 
g-ood man offered on the spot to escort 
the old lady. 

" It looks as if the man whom the 
citoyenne is afraid of were still prowling* 
round the shop," said the young- woman 
sharply. 

" I am afraid he is," frankly admitted 
the lady. 

" Suppose it were a spy ? or perhaps 
there is a conspirac^^ I Do not go — and 
take the box away from her," 

These words were whispered into the 
pastry-cook's ear by his wife ; they froze 
the extempore courage which had inflated 
his breast. 

"Eh! I'll just go and say a word to 
him, and he'll be off in a minute," he ex- 
claimed, opening the door and g'oing out 
precipitately. 

The old lady sat down again on her 
chair as passive as a child ; she looked 
almost silly. The honest shopman speedily 
returned; his face, red enoug-h to begin 
with, and further inflamed by the fire of 
his oven, had suddenly become livid ; he 
was so overcome with terror that his legs 
tottered under him, and his eyes looked 
like a drunkard's. 

'' D'you want to g"et our heads cutoff, 
wretched aristocrat ! " he cried, furious. 
''Come, take to j'our heels, and don't 
ever show 3'ourself here again. Don't 
expect me to furnish 3'ou with the ele- 
ments of conspiracy ! " 

As the pastry-cook finished these words, 
he tried to snatch back the little box, 
which the old lady had put into one of her 
pockets. But scarcely had the impudent 
fellow's hands touched her clothes, when 
the strange lady — preferring to face the 
dangers of her walk unprotected save by 
God, rather than lose what she had just 
purchased — regamed all the agility of 
her 3'outh ; she sprang to the door, 
opened it suddenh', and vanished from 
the gaze of the pastry-cook and his wife, 
leaving them trembling and stupefied. 
As soon as she found herself outside, she 
set off at a quick walk ; but her strength 
soon failed her, for she heard the heavy 



footsteps of the spy who was following 
her so pitilesslj^ crunching the snow be- 
hind her. She was obliged to stop ; he 
stopped too. Whether from fear or lack 
of intelligence, she did not dare either to 
speak or to look at him. She went on, 
walking slowlj^ ; then the man slackened 
his steps, always keeping at a distance 
from which he was able to watch her. 
The stranger seemed to be the very sha- 
dow of the old woman. Xine o'clock 
struck as this silent pair passed again 
before the church of Saint Laurent. It 
is in the nature of every heart, even the 
feeblest, that a feeling of calmness should 
succeed to violent agitation, for, if feeling 
is infinite, our organization is limited. 
So the strange woman, as she experienced 
no harm from her supposed persecutor, 
was inclined to look upon him as an un- 
known friend anxious to protect her. She 
summed up all the circumstances attend- 
ant on the apparitions of the stranger 
with a view to discover plausible corrob- 
oration of this consoling theory ; she 
was bent on finding out good intentions 
in him rather than evil. Forgetting the 
terror with which he had inspired the 
pastr^'-cook just before, she passed on 
with a firm step through the higher parts 
of le faubourg Saint Martin. After walk- 
ing for half an hour, she reached a house 
situated at the corner formed by the 
principal street of the faubourg and the 
street which leads to la barriere de Pan- 
tin. Even now this is still one of the 
loneliest places in the whole of Paris. 
The north Avind blows over les buttes de 
Saint Chaumont and de Belleville, and 
whistles through the houses — or rather 
hovels, sprinkled over a nearly deserted 
valley, divided b^' walls of mud and bones. 
This desolate spot seemed the natural 
refuge of misery and despair. The man, 
implacable in his pursuit of this poor creat- 
ure, who was yet bold enough to traverse 
those silent streets by night, seemed im- 
pressed by the scene that rose before him. 
He stopped to consider, standing upright 
in an attitude of hesitation. A lamp, 
whose flickering flame could scarcely pene- 
trate the mist, cast its faint light upon 
him. Fright gave the old woman eyes. 



8 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



She thought she could descry a sinister 
look upon the man's features. She felt 
her fears reawakening* — then, taking ad- 
vantage of a sort of uncertainty which 
seemed to make him linger, she glided 
through the darkness to the door of the 
solitary house, touched a spring, and was 
gone swift as a dream. The man stood 
motionless looking at the house. In a 
certain measure it might have served for 
the type of the wretched dwellings of this 
faubourg. The crazy cahin was built of 
ashlar smeared with a coat of plaster, so 
rotten and with such big cracks that it 
looked as if the least puff of wind would 
blow the whole thing down. The roof, 
covered with brown moss-grown tiles, had 
sunk in several places, and seemed on the 
point of falling in under the weight of the 
snow. There were three windows in each 
storj', the frames mouldering with damp 
and starting with the action of the sun : 
it was evident that the cold must find its 
wa}'^ through them into the rooms. The 
house was as isolated as an ancient tower 
that time has forgotten to destroy. The 
attics at the top of the wretched building 
were pierced with windows at irregular 
intervals, and from these shone a dim 
light, but the rest of the house was in 
complete darkness. The old woman had 
some difficult jnn climbing the rough awk- 
Avard staircase, up which a rope served 
for a handrail. She knocked mysteriously 
at the door of a lodging in the attic ; an 
old man offered her a chair ; she sat down 
in it precipitately^ 

" Hide ! hide ! " said she. '' Though 
we only go out so seldom, they know 
everything" we do, and spy out ever^'- step 
we take." 

" What is it now ? " asked another old 
woman who was sitting by the fire. 

'' That man who has been prowling 
round the house since yesterday morning 
has been following me this evening." 

At these words the three inhabitants 
of the garret looked at each other ; they 
did not try to conceal the signs of pro- 
found terror visible on their faces. The 
old man was the least agitated of the 
three, perhaps because he was in the most 
danger. A brave man, under the bur- 



den of great misfortune, or under the 
yoke of persecution, has alreadj'^ — so to 
speak — begun his self-sacrifice ; he looks, 
upon each da}^ of his life only as one more 
victory gained over fate. It was easy to 
see from the looks of the two women which 
were fastened on the old man, that he and 
he alone was the object of their intense 
anxiety. 

" Why should we cease to trust in God, 
sisters?" said he in a hollow voice, but 
with much earnestness; "we sang His 
praises amid the shouts of the murderers 
and the cries of the dying in the Carmelite 
convent; if He willed that I should be 
saved from the massacre, it was doubtless 
to preserve me for a destiny that I must 
endure without murmuring. God protects 
His own. He can dispose of them accord- 
ing to His will. It is you we must take 
thought for, not for me." 

''No," said one of the two old women, 
" what is our life compared with the life 
of a priest ? " 

" When I was once outside the Abbaye 
de Chelles I looked upon myself as dead," 
exclaimed that one of the two nuns who 
had not been out. 

" Look," said the one who had just come 
in, " here are the Hosts." 

''But," exclaimed the other, "I can 
hear some one coming up the stairs." 

At these words they all three listened ; 
the noise ceased. 

"Do not be alarmed," said the priest, 
" if some one tries to find you. Some 
one, on whose fidelity we can count, was 
to take all necessary steps for crossing 
the frontier, and will come for letters 
which I have written to le Due de Lan- 
geais and le Marquis de Beauseant, asking 
them to consider means for rescuing j^ou 
from this terrible country, and the death 
or misery which await you here." 

"But will you not follow us?" whis- 
pered the two nuns eagerly, with a sort 
of despair. 

" My place is where there are victims," 
said the priest simply. 

The women looked at their guest in 
silence, Avith holy admiration. 

" Sceur Marthe," said he, addressing 
the sister who had gone out for the Hosts, 



AN EPISODE UNDER THE TERROR, 



"this messenger will answer Fiat volun- 
tas to the word Hosanna.^' 

" There is some one on the stairs ! " 
exclaimed the other nun, opening* a hid- 
ing place contrived under the roof. 

This time, in the profound silence, they 
could easily hear the steps, which were 
covered with lumps of dried mud, creak- 
ing under the tread of a man. The priest 
squeezed Avith diflEicult}^ into a sort of 
wardrobe, and the nun threw some clothes 
over him. "' You can shut the door, Soeur 
Agathe," said he in a muffled voice. 

He was scarcely hidden when there were 
three raps at the door. The two holy 
women trembled ; they took counsel b}'" 
looks, not daring to pronounce a single 
word. They appeared to be both about 
sixty years old. Cut off from the world 
for forty j^ears, they were like plants ac- 
customed to the atmosphere of a green- 
house, which die if fhey are put out of it. 
They were so habituated to convent life 
that they could not conceive any other. 
One morning their gratings had been 
broken down, and they had shuddered at 
finding themselves free. It is easy to 
picture the sort of unnatural numbness 
that the events of the Revolution had 
produced in their innocent hearts. Inca- 
pable of reconciling their monastic ideas 
with the difficulties of life, they could not 
even understand their own situation ; they 
were like children who have been once 
cared for and then abandoned by their 
special providence — their mother, praying 
instead of crying. Thus in the face of the 
danger they foresaw at this moment, they 
remained mute and passive, knoAving no 
other defense than Christian resignation. 
The man who had asked for admittance 
interpreted their silence as consent; he 
opened the door at once and presented 
himself. The two nuns shuddered when 
thej'' recog'nized him as the person who 
had been proAvling round their house for 
some time past, collecting information 
about them. They sat motionless, look- 
ing at him with apprehensive curiosity, 
like a shy child silently staring at a 
stranger. The man was stout and of 
lofty statue ; there was nothing in his 
bearing, his manner, or his phj-siognomy 



suggestive of an evil nature. He imitated 
the stillness of the nuns, while his eyes 
slowly examined the room he had just en- 
tered. 

Two straw mats, placea on the bare 
boards, served as beds for the two nuns ; 
there was only one table, in the middle of 
the room ; on it stood some plates, three 
knives, and a round loaf ; a small fire 
burned in the grate ; some pieces of wood 
piled up in a corner bore further witness 
to the poverty of the two recluses. The 
walls w^ere covered with a layer of very 
old paint, showing the bad condition of 
the roof by the stains upon it, which 
marked with brown streams the infiltra- 
tion of the rain. A relic, no doubt rescued 
from the pillage of the Abbaye de Chelles, 
was placed lil^e an ornament upon the 
mantelpiece. Three chairs, two chests, 
and a wretched cupboard completed the 
furniture of the room, but a door near the 
fireplace suggested that there might be a 
second. 

The person, who had introduced him- 
self under such terrible auspices into the 
bosom of this family, did not take long 
to make an inventory of their cell. His 
fej^tures assumed an expression of pity as 
lie cast a look of benevolence upon the 
two women ; he was at least as embar- 
rassed as they. The strange silence 
which they all three kept did not last 
long, for presently the stranger began 
to comprehend the moral feebleness and 
inexperience of the two poor creatures, 
so he said to them in a voice which he 
tried to make gentle : **' I am not come 
to 3'ou as an enemy, citoyennes — " He 
stopped short, and then went on: " Mes 
sceurs, if an}' misfortune should happen 
to you, believe me it is not I who will 
have contributed to it. I have a favor 
to ask of you." 

The}^ still kept silence. 

" If I intrude upon you — if I annoy j'ou, 
tell me so freely — I will leave you ; but I 
hope you will understand that I am entire- 
ly devoted to you ; that if there is any ser- 
vice I could render you, you may com- 
mand me without fear, for I alone perhaps 
— now that there is no king — am above 
the law." 



10 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



There was a ring- of truth in his words. 
Sister Agathe, the nun who belonged to 
the family of Lang-eais, and whose man- 
ners seemed to show that she had former- 
ly been familiar with brilliant society and 
had breathed the air of a court, hastened 
to point to a chair, as if to invite their 
visitor to sit down. The stranger showed 
a sort of pleasure mingled with sadness, 
when he saw this gesture ; then he waited 
to sit down until the two worthy ladies 
had done so themselves 

"You have given refuge," he went on, 
'Ho a venerable priest who has not taken 
the oaths, who escaped miraculously from 
the massacre of the Carmelites." 

" Hosanna ! '' said Sister Agathe, in- 
terrupting him, and looking at him with 
nervous curiosity. 

'■' No, I do not think that is his name," 
he replied. 

"But, monsieur," said Sister Martha 
eagerl}'-, "we have not g-ot any priest 
here ; and — " 

"Then you should have been more pru- 
dent and wary," answered the stranger, 
stretching out his hand and taking a 
breviary from the table. "I do not 
think that you are likely to know Latin, 
and—" 

He did not go on ; the extraordinary 
emotion expressed by the faces of the 
poor nuns made him afraid he had gone 
too far ; they trembled, and their eyes 
filled with tears. 

"Do not distress yourselves," he said 
frankl3^ " I know the name of your 
guest and jour own ; three days ago I 
learned all about 3'our distress, and your 
devotion to the venerable Abbe de — " 

" Sh ! " said Sister Agathe simplj^, 
putting- her finger to her lips. 

" You see, mes soeurs, that if I had con- 
ceived the horrible plan of betraying- you, 
I might have already accomplished it 
more than once." 

When the priest heard these words, he 
extricated himself from his prison, and 
appeared in the middle of the room. 

"I cannot believe, monsieur," said he 
to the strange man, " that 3'ou are one 
of our persecutors ; I trust myself to you. 
What is it that you want of me ? " 



The holy confidence of the priest, the 
noble fervor expressed in all his features, 
would have disarmed a murderer. The 
mysterious person who had thus brought 
excitement into this scene of misery and 
resignation, sat for a moment looking at 
the g-roup of the three before him ; then, 
assuming- a confidential tone, he addressed 
the priest thus : " Mon pere, I came to 
entreat 3'ou to celebrate a requiem mass 
for the repose of the soul of — of a — of a 
consecrated person whose body will never 
rest in hallowed ground." 

The priest shuddered involuntaril.y. 
The two- nuns, not yet comprehending- to 
whom the stranger referred, remained 
in an attitude of curiosity, their necks 
stretched out and their faces turned to 
the two speakers. The ecclesiastic scru- 
tinized the man : g-enuine anxiet}^ was 
visible in his face, and his eyes expressed 
ardent supplication. 

''Eh hien ! Come back to-nig-ht, at 
midnight ; I shall be ready to celebrate 
the only funeral office we can offer in ex- 
piation of the crime of which you speak." 

The stranger trembled, but he looked 
as if some feeling- of satisfaction, at once 
solemn and sweet, had triumphed over 
some secret sorrow. After respectfully 
saluting the priest and the two holy wo- 
men, he departed with an expression of 
mute g-ratitude understood by these three 
generous hearts. About two hours after 
tjiis scene, he returned, knocked cautious- 
ly at the outer door of the attic, and was 
received by Mademoiselle de Beauseant, 
and led into the second room of their 
humble retreat. Herte all had been pre- 
pared for the ceremon}^ Between the 
two pillars of the chimnej^-piece the nuns 
had pushed up the old cupboard ; its an- 
tique shape was hidden under a magnifi- 
cent altar frontal of g-reen moire. A 
large ebony and ivory crucifix was fast- 
ened to the yellow wall, making- the bare- 
ness only more apparent, and of necessit}^ 
attracting- the eye to itself. The sisters 
had managed to set up four little slender 
tapers upon this temporary a Itar, b^^ fast- 
ening- them to it with sealing--wax. The 
tapers cast a pale light, almost absorbed 
by the dead walls, their feeble flicker 



AN EPISODE UNDER THE TERROR. 



11 



scarcely reaching- the rest of the room ; 
it cast its beams only upon the Holy In- 
struments, as it were, a ray of light fall- 
ing- from heaven upon the naked altar. 
The floor was reeking- with damp. The 
roof sloped rapidly on both sides like the 
roof of the other garret, and was scored 
with cracks through which came the icy 
blast. Nothing could have been less 
stately, yet nothing- was more solemn 
than this mournful ceremony. Profound 
silence, through which the least sound 
arising- from la route d'AUemagne could 
be heard, cast a veil of somber majesty 
over the midnight scene. Indeed tha 
g-randeur of the action contrasted strong-- 
ly with the poverty of the instruments ; 
therefrom arose a feeling- of relig-ious awe. 
On each side of the altar, regardless of 
the deadly damp, knelt the two aged 
nuns upon the tiling of the floor, and 
prayed tog-ether with the priest. Clad 
in his sacrificial vestments, he set out 
a golden chalice adorned with precious 
stones, no doubt one of the sacred vessels 
saved from the pillage of the Abbaye de 
Chelles. By the side of this ciborium, 
recalling- by its richness the splendor of 
the monarchy, were placed two glasses, 
scarcel3^ g-ood enough for the lowest inn, 
containing the water and the wine for the 
Holy Sacrifice. For want of a missal 
the priest had placed his breviary upon 
the corner of the altar. A common 
towel was put readj'- for the washing- of 
the innocent and bloodless hands. The 
whole was infinite yet little; poor but 
noble ; at once lioly and profane. The 
stranger came and knelt down devoutl^y 
between the two nuns. The priest had 
tied a piece of crape round the chalice and 
the crucifix ; having no other means of 
showing the intention of this requiem 
mass, he had put God Himself into 
mourning- weeds. Suddenly the man 
noticed it ; he was seized with a memorj^ 
that held such power over him, that the 
sweat stood in drops upon his Avide and 
lofty brow. 

The four silent actors of this scene 
looked at one another mj'steriously. Then 
their souls rising with one another in their 
mutual influence, communicated one to 



another their own sensations, and were 
melted tog-ether in religious pity. It 
seemed as if their thoug-ht had called up 
the martyr whose remains had been de- 
voured by quick-lime, and that his shadow 
rose before them in all its royal majesty. 
They were celebrating an ohit without 
the body of the dead. Under these g'ap- 
ing- laths and tiles, four Christians were 
about to intercede before God for a king' 
of France, were about to celebrate his 
funeral without the coffin. Here was the 
purest of all devotion, an astonishing act 
of fidelity performed without one thought 
for the future. Doubtless to the eyes of 
God, it was as the glass of water which 
weig-hs in the balance as heavy as the 
g-reatest virtues. The whole monarchy 
was present in the prayers of a priest 
and two poor women ; perhaps, too, the 
Revolution itself was represented in the 
man, for his face betrayed too much re- 
morse not to cause the belief that he was 
fulfilling the vows of a boundless re- 
pentance. 

Instead of pronouncing- the Latin words, 
Introiho ad altar e Dei, etc., the priest, 
by some divine inspiration, looked upon 
the three assistants — the symbol there of 
Christian France — and said to them, as 
though to blot out the wretchedness of 
the garret : ''We are about to enter into 
the sanctuary of God ! " At these words, 
uttered with thrilling- earnestness, the 
server and the two nuns were filled with 
religious awe. God would not have re- 
vealed Himself in greater majesty under 
the vaults of Saint Peter at Rome, than 
He revealed Himself then to the e^'es of 
these Christians in this refuge of poverty. 
The truth is so perfect — that between 
Him and man every intermediary seems 
useless, and that He draws His greatness 
only from Himself. The strang-er's devo- 
tion was real, the sentiment, too, which 
united the prayers of these four servants 
of God and the king was unanimous. The 
holy words rang- through the silence like 
heavenly music. There was a moment 
when the stranger was overcome with 
tears ; it was at the Pater Noster. The 
priest added, in Latin, this petition, which 
the man no doubt understood : Et remitte 



12 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



scelus regicidis sicut Ludovicus eis re- 
misit semetipse. (And forgive the regi- 
cides as Louis himself forgave them.) The 
two nuns saw two great tears roll down 
the stranger's manly cheeks and fall upon 
the floor. The priest recited the Office 
for the Dead. The Domine salvum fac 
regem, intoned in a low voice, went to the 
hearts of the faithful Royalists when they 
remembered that the child-king, for whom 
their prayers ascended to the Most High, 
at that moment was a captive in the hands 
of his enemies. The stranger shivered at 
the thought that a new crime might still 
be committed, w^herein he would no doubt 
be forced to take part. When the funeral 
service was over, the priest made a sign 
to the two nuns, and they went out. As 
soon as he found himself alone with the 
stranger, he went up to him with a sad 
and gentle air, and said in a fatherly 
voice : ''My son, if you have stained jonv 
hands in the blood of the martyr-king, 
confide in me. There is no sin which can- 
not be effaced in the ej'es of God, by re- 
pentance as touching and sincere as 3'ours 
seems to be." At the first words pro- 
nounced by the ecclesiastic, the stranger 
let a movement of involuntary terror es- 
cape him ; but his face recovered its calm- 
ness and he looked at the astonished priest 
with confidence. 

"Father," said he, in a voice visibly 
affected, " no one is more innocent than I 
of the blood shed — " 

''I must believe you," interrupted the 
priest. 

He paused while he once more scruti- 
nized his penitent ; then, persisting in the 
belief that b.e was one of those timorous 
Conventionnels who betrayed an invio- 
lable and consecrated head in order to 
save their own, he replied in a grave 
voice : " Consider, my son, the fact that 
you have not co-operated in so great a 
crime is not sufficient to be absolved from 
it. Those men who were able to defend 
the king, and left their swords in their 
scabbards, will have a very heavy ac- 
count to render to the King of Heaven. 
Oh ! yes," continued the old priest, shak- 
ing his head impressively from right to 
left — " yes, very heavy ! — for 'bj remain- 



ing aloof, they became the passive accom- 
plices of this terrible crime." 

''You think," asked the stranger in 
amazement, " that indirect participation 
will be punished. The soldier commanded 
to fall into line — is he then responsible ? " 

The priest hesitated. 

The stranger was glad of the embar- 
rassment into which he had thrown this 
Puritan Royalist, by placing him between 
the dogma of passive obedience — which, 
according to the Monarchists, was the 
essence of all military law — and the 
equally important dogma which magni- 
fies into sanctity the respect due to the 
royal person ; in the priest's silence he 
eagerl^^ descried a solution to the doubts 
which tormented him. Then, in order not 
to leave the v^enerable Jansenist time for 
further reflection, he said to him : "I 
should blush to offer you any fee for the 
funeral service you have just celebrated 
for the repose of the king's soul and the 
relief of my conscience ; one cannot pay 
for a thing of inestimable value except by 
an oft'ering also above price. Will you 
deign, monsieur, to accept the gift of a 
holy relic which I offer you. The day 
will come, perhaps, when you will under- 
stand its value." 

As the stranger finished these words 
he presented the ecclesiastic w^ith a little 
box, which felt extremely light. He took 
it, as it were, unconsciously, for the man's 
solemn words, the tone in w^hich he spoke, 
and the respect with which he held out 
the box, struck him with the profoundest 
astonishment. Then they returned into 
the room w^here the two nuns were wait- 
ing. 

" You are in a house, " said the stranger, 
" belonging to a man — Mucins Scaevola, 
the plasterer who lives on the first floor 
— who is well known in the section for his 
patriotism ; but he is secretly attached 
to the Bourbons. He was formerly 
huntsman to Monseigneur le Prince de 
Conti, and owes all his fortune to him. 
As long as you do not go out of his 
house, you are safer here than in any 
other place in France. Staj'- here ; there 
are pious souls who will watch over your 
w^ants, and you will be able to wait, with- 



AN EPISODE UNDER THE TERROR. 



13 



out danger, for less evil times. In a 3"ear, 
on the 21st of January " — (as he pro- 
nounced these last words he could not 
hide an involuntary shudder) — " if you do 
adopt this wretched place for your refuge, 
I will return to celebrate the expiatory 
mass with 3'ou — " 

He did not finish his sentence. Then, 
saluting the silent inhabitants of the 
attic, he cast a last look on all the signs 
of their poverty, and disappeared. 

For the two innocent nuns, such an ad- 
venture assumed all the interest of_^a ro- 
mance. As soon, then, as the venerable 
abbe had informed them of the myste- 
rious gift which the man had made him 
so solemnly, they placed the box on the 
talDle, and their three anxious faces, 
faintly lit up by the light of a tallow 
dip, betrayed an indescribable curiosity. 
Mademoiselle de Langeais opened the 
box, and found a very fine batiste hand- 
kerchief, soiled with sweat ; when they 
unfolded it they found that there were 
stains upon it. 

"It is blood ! " said the priest. 

'* It is marked with the royal crown ! " 
exclaimed the other sister. 

The two nuns dropped the precious relic 
in horror. For these two simple souls 
the mystery which enveloped the stranger 
became inexplicable ; as to the priest, from 
that day he did not even attempt to ac- 
count for it. 

The three prisoners soon perceived, in 
spite of the Terror, that a powerful hand 
was stretched out over them. First, they 
received provisions and fuel ; then, the 
two nuns discovered that there must be a 
woman co-operating with their protector, 
for linen and clothes were sent them which 
enabled them to go out without exciting 
remark b}^ the aristocratic fashion of the 
dresses which tliey had been obliged to 
continue to wear ; finallj^ Mucins Scaevola 
gave them two cartes civiques. From 
time to time warnings necessary to the 
safety of the priest reached them in round- 
about ways. These counsels came so op- 
portunely that they were convinced they 
could only have been given by a person 
initiated into secrets of State. In spite 
of the famine which weighed over Paris, 



these outlaws found rations of white 
bread regularl\^ brought to the door of 
their cabin by invisible hands ; however, 
they thought they had discovered in 
Mucins Scaevola the mysterious agent of 
these benefactions, which were always 
both suitably timed and ingeniously car- 
ried out. The three nobles then, who. 
continued to dwell in the same attic, 
could not doubt that their protector was 
the person who had come to celebrate the 
mass of expiation during the night of 
the 22d of Janyarj^ 1793 ; thus he became 
the object of their special devotion ; he was 
their only hope, they lived through him 
alone. They had added to their prayers 
special prayers for him ; night and morn- 
ing the pious creatures offered their vows 
for his happiness, prosperity, and safety ; 
they besought God to keep far from him 
every snare, to deliver him from his 
enemies and grant him a long and peace- 
ful life. To their gratitude, renewed so 
to speak erverj day, was necessarily allied 
a feeling of curiosity which grew each day 
more intense. The circumstances that 
had attended the stranger's apparition 
were the subject of their conversations; 
they formed a thousand conjectures con- 
cerning him ; even the mere distraction 
of thought which he caused was a fresh 
source of advantage to them. They prom- 
ised themselves to make sure of not let- 
ting him escape from their gratitude the 
evening when he would come back accord- 
ing to his promise, to celebrate the sad 
anniversary of the death of Louis XVI. 
That night, so impatiently awaited, ar- 
rived at last. At midnight, the sound of 
the stranger's heavy footsteps was heard 
upon the old wooden staircase ; the room 
had been prepared to receive him, the 
altar was vested. This time the sisters 
opened the door to greet him, and both 
hastened to the stairs with a light. Made- 
moiselle de Langeais even went a few 
steps dowm in order to see their bene- 
factor the sooner. 

"Come," she said kindly, in a voice 
broken by emotion — " come, we were ex- 
pecting 3"ou." 

The man raised his head, cast a somber 
look at the nun, and made no answer. 



14 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



She felt as if a mantle of ice had fallen 
upon her ; she was silent. Gratitude and 
curiosity expired in their hearts at the 
sig-ht of him. Perhaps he seemed to them, 
whose hearts were excited by sentiment 
and disposed to expand into friendship, 
more chilling-, taciturn, and terrible than 
he really was. The three poor prisoners 
comprehended that he desired to remain 
a strang-er to them, and resig-ned them- 
selves. The priest fancied he saw a smile 
upon the man's lips at the moment when 
he perceived the preparation that they 
had made for his reception ; but he im- 
mediately repressed it. He heard mass 
and prayed, then he departed, after hav- 
ing- replied with a few polite words of re- 
fusal to Mademoiselle de Langeais's invi- 
tation to partake of the little collation 
which they had prepared. 

After the 9th of thermidor, the nuns 
and the Abbe de MaroUes were able to 
walk through Paris without the least 
risk. The first expedition which the abbe 
made was to a perfumery shop, at the 
sign of La Eeine des fleurs, kept by a 
citoyen and citoyenne Rag-on, late per- 
fumers to the court, who remained faith- 
ful to the ro3^al family, and whom the 
Vendeans made use of to correspond Avith 
the princes and the royalist committee in 
Paris. The abbe, dressed as the times 
required, was just at the doorstep of this 
shop — which was situated between Saint 
Roch and la rue des Trondeurs — when a 
crowd that filled la rue Saint Honore pre- 
vented his g-oing out. ''^ What's this?" 
said he to Madame Rag-on. 



'' It is nothing," she replied ; '' only the 
tumbril and the executioner going- to la 
Place Louis XV. Ah ! we saw it often 
enoug-h last year; but to-day, just four 
days after the anniversary of the twenty- 
first of January, one can look at the 
g-hastly procession without any pain." 

"Why," said the abbe, '^ what you say 
is not Christian." 

" Ah ! but it is the execution of Robes- 
pierre's accomplices. They defended them- 
selves as long- as the}^ could, but now it's 
their turn — over there, where they have 
sent so many innocent men." 

The crowd filled la rue Saint Honore, 
and passed by like a flood. The Abbe de 
MaroUes, yielding to an impulse of curi- 
osity, looked, and saw above the heads of 
the crowd, standing erect on the tumbril, 
the man who had heard his mass three 
days before. 

" Who is it ? " said he ; ''the man—" 

" It's the executioner," answered Mon- 
sieur Ragon, calling the executeur des 
hautes ceuvres by his title under the 
monarchy. 

" Mon ami, mon ami ! " cried Madame 
Ragon ; " Monsieur I'Abbe is dying ! " 
and the old lady got a flask of vinegar 
to bring the priest to his senses, for he 
had fainted. "No doubt what he gave 
me," said he, "was the handkerchief 
with which the king wiped his face when 
he was g'oing to his martj^rdom. — Poor 
man ! The ax had a heart in its steel 
when none was found in all France ! " 

The perfumers thought the poor priest 
was delirious. 



MADAME DE DEY'S LAST RECEPTION. 



15 



n. 

MADAME DE DEY'S LAST RECEPTION. 



"Sometimes they saw that by some phenomenon of Vision or Locomotion he could abolish 
Space in both its moods — Time and Distance — whereof the one is intellectual and the other 
physical." — Louis Lambart. 



One evening- in the month of November, 
1793, the principal inhabitants of Carentan 
were collected in the salon of Madame de 
Dey, who held an Assembly every even- 
ing-. Certain circumstances which would 
have attracted no notice in a large town, 
but were such as to mig-htily interest a 
small one, imparted a peculiar impor- 
tance to this customary gathering-. Two 
days before, Madame de Dey had closed 
her doors to her visitors on the ground of 
indisposition, and had also announced that 
she would be unable to receive them the 
following- evening-. At an ordinar^'^ time 
these two events would have produced the 
same effect at Carentan as a relache at 
all the theaters produces in Paris ; on 
these days, existence seems in a sense in- 
complete. But in 1793, the action of Ma- 
dame de Dey was one which might lead to 
the most disastrous consequences. At 
that time, a step involving a noble in 
the least risk was nearly always a matter 
of life and death. In order to understand 
properly the keen curiosity and petty 
craftiness which on that evening ani- 
mated the faces of all these respectable 
Normans ; and still more, in order to share 
the secret perplexities of Madame de Dey, 
it is necessarj^ to explain the part she 
played at Carentan. As tlie critical posi- 
tion in which she was situated at this time 
was no doubt the position of many during 
the Revolution, the sympathies of not a 
few of my readers will add their own color 
to this narrative. 

Madame de Dey was the widow of a 
lieutenant-g-eneral decorated with sev- 



* " Le Requisitionnaire " was included by Balzac 
among his Philosophical Studies, because of the 
supernaturnal feature. — Editor. 



eral orders. At the beginning- of the emi- 
gration she had left the court, and as she 
owned considerable property in the neig-h- 
borhood of Carentan, she had taken refuge 
there in the hope that the influence of the 
terror would make itself but little felt in 
those parts. This supposition, founded 
on an exact knowledge of the country, 
proved correct, for the ravag-es of the 
Revolution in Lower Normandy were 
slight. Although, formerly, when she 
came to visit her property she had onl^"" 
associated with the local noblesse, now, 
out of policy, she opened her doors to the 
principal townspeople and the new au- 
thorities of Carentan, exerting- herself 
to flatter them by the compliment of her 
acquaintance, and at the same time to 
avoid awakening- their hatred or their 
jealousy. Kind and courteous, g-ifted 
with an indescribable sweetness of man- 
ner, she knew how to please without re- 
course to cringing- or entreaty, and had 
thus succeeded in winning- general esteem. 
This was due to her exquisite tact, which 
by its sage promptings enabled her to 
steer a difficult course and satisfy- the 
exig-encies of a mixed society ; she neither 
humiliated the self-conceit of the paiwenus 
nor shocked the sensibilities of her old 
friends. 

At the age of about thirtv-eight, she 
still persevered — not that fresh buxom 
beauty which distinguishes the girls of 
Lower Normandy — but a slender, so to 
speak, aristocratic type. Her features 
were delicateh' chiseled and her figure 
pliant and graceful ; when she spoke, her 
pale face seemed to light up with fresh 
life. Her larg-e dark eyes were full of 
kindly courtesy, but an expression of re- 
ligious calm within them seemed to show 



16 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



that the principle of her existence lay no 
long-er in herself. She had been married 
at an earlj'- age to an old and jealous sol- 
dier, and the falseness of her position in 
the midst of a dissolute court, had no 
doubt done much to spread a veil of g-rave 
melanchol}' over a face which must once 
have beamed with all the charm and vi- 
vacity of love. Obliged to repress unceas- 
ingly the instinctive impulses and emo- 
tions of woman, at a time when she still 
feels rather than reflects, with her, pas- 
sion had remained virgin in the depth of 
her heart. Thus her chief attraction was 
derived from this inward j'^outhfulness, 
which betrayed itself at certain moments 
in her countenance, and gave her ideas an 
innocent expression of desire. 

Her appearance commanded respect, 
but in her manner and her voice, im- 
pulses toward an unknown future, such 
as spring in the heart of a j^oung girl, 
were continually showing themselves. 
The least susceptible men soon found 
themselves in love with her, and j'^et were 
impressed with a sort of fear of her, in- 
spired by her courtl}^ bearing. Her soul, 
great b}'' nature but rendered strong by 
cruel struggles, seemed to be raised too 
high for common humanit}', and of this 
men appeared to be conscious. To such 
a soul, a lofty passion is a necessity. 
Thus all Madame de Dey's affections were 
concentrated in one single sentiment — the 
sentiment of maternity. The happiness 
of which she had been deprived as a wife 
she found again in the intense love she 
bore her son. She loved him, not only 
with the pure and deep devotion of a 
mother, but with the coquetry of a sweet- 
heart and the jealous}'- of a wife. She was 
miserable when he was far from her, anx- 
ious when he had gone out ; she could 
never see enough of him ; she lived onl}^ 
in him and for him. To give an idea of 
the strength of this sentiment in Madame 
de Dey, it will be enough to add that this 
son, besides being her onl}^ child, was the 
last relation left her, the onlj'- creature on 
whom she could fasten the hopes and 
fears and joys of her life. The late count 
was the last of his family, and the count- 
ess the sole heiress of hers, so that every 



worldly calculation and interest combined 
with the noblest needs of the soul to in- 
tensify in her heart a sentiment already 
so strong in the heart of woman. It w^as 
only by infinite care that she had suc- 
ceeded in rearing her son, and this had 
endeared him still more to her. The doc- 
tor had pronounced twenty times over 
that she niust lose him, but she was con- 
fident in her own hopes and presenti- 
ments. So in spite of the decrees of the 
faculty, she had the inexpressible joy of 
seeing him pass safely through the perils 
of infancy, and then of watching with 
wonder the continued improvement of 
his health. 

Thanks to her constant care, her son 
had grown into a young man of so much 
promise that at the age of twentj'- he was 
looked upon as one of the most accom- 
plished gentlemen at the court of Ver- 
sailles. Above all, happy in a crown 
unattained by the efforts of every mo- 
ther, she was adored by her son ; they 
understood one another heart to heart 
in fraternal sympathj^ If they had not 
been already bound together by the bonds 
of nature, they would have instinctive]}' 
felt for each other that mutual friendship 
between men which is so rarely met with 
in life. 

The young count had been appointed 
sub-lieutenant at the age of eighteen, and 
in obedience to the code of honor of the 
&2iY had followed the princes in their 
emigration. 

Thus it was impossible for Madame de 
Dey, being noble, rich, and the mother of 
an emigrant, to hide from herself the 
dangers of her cruel situation. With no 
other aim than to save her large fortuen 
for her son, she had given up the happi- 
ness of accompanying him ; but when she 
read at Carentan the stringent laws under 
which the Republic was confiscating every 
day the property of emigrants, she exulted 
in her act of courage, for was she not pre- 
serving her son's wealth at the risk of her 
own life ? Later on, w^hen she heard of 
the terrible executions decreed by the Con- 
vention, she slept in peace, knowing that 
her only treasure was in safety, far from 
danger and the scaffold. She congratu- 



MADAME DE DEY'S LAST RECEPTION. 



17 



lated herself in the belief that she had 
taken the best means of preserving both 
her treasures at once. By consecrating- 
to this secret thought the concessions 
which those unhappy times demanded, she 
neither compromised her womanly dignity 
nor her aristocratic convictions, but hid 
her sorrows under a cold veil of mystery. 

She had grasped all the difficulties which 
awaited her at Carentan. To come there 
and fill the first place was in itself a dail}' 
tempting of the scaffold. But supported 
by her motherlj' courage, she was enabled 
to win the affection of the poor by consol- 
ing the miserx'- of all without distinction, 
and to make herself indispensable to the 
rich by ministering to their pleasures. 

She entertained at her house the pro- 
cureur of the commune, the mayor, the 
president of the district, the public prose- 
cutor, and even the judges of the Revolu- 
tionary Court. Of these personages the 
first four were unmarried, and paid their 
addresses to her. Each of them hoped 
she would marrj^ him, either from fear of 
the harm that it was in their power to do 
her, or for the sake of the protection which 
they had to offer her. The public prose- 
cutor, formerly an attorney at Caen, em- 
ploA'ed to manage the countess's business, 
adopted an artifice which was most dan- 
gerous for her. He tried a generous and 
devoted line of conduct, in the hope of in- 
spiring her with affection. In this way he 
was the most formidable of all her suitors, 
and as she had formerly been a client of 
his, he alone knew intimately the condi- 
tion and extent of her fortune. His passion 
was therefore re-enforced by all the desires 
of avarice, and further supported by im- 
mense power — the power of life and death 
over the whole district. This man, who 
was still young, proceeded with so fine a 
show of generosity that Madame de Dey 
had not as yet been able to form a true 
estimate of him. But despite the danger 
of a trial of craft with ISTormans, she made 
use of all the inventive wit and duplicity 
bestowed by nature on women, to play off 
these rivals one against the other. By 
gaining time, she hoped to reach the end 
of her difficulties, safe and sound. At 
this period the Royalists of the interior 



went on fiattering themselves from day to 
day that on the morrow they would see 
the end of the Republic ; it was this per- 
suasion which brought many of them to 
ruin. 

In spite of these difficulties, by the exer- 
cise of considerable address, the countess 
had maintained her independence up to 
the day on which she had determined, 
with unaccountable imprudence, to close 
her doors to her guests. She inspired such 
a real and deep interest, that the people 
who had come to her house that evening 
were seriously perturbed when they heard 
it was impossible for her to receive them. 
Then, with that barefaced curiosity which 
is ingrained in provincial manners, the^'^ 
immediately began to make inquiries as to 
what trouble, or annoyance, or illness, 
she suffered from. To these questions an 
old housekeeper named Brigitte answered 
that her mistress kept her room and would 
see no one, not even the members of her 
household. 

The semi-claustral life led by the inhabi- 
tants of a small town forms a habit of 
analyzing aud explaining the actions of 
others, so germane to them as to become 
invincible. So after having pitied Ma- 
dame de Dey, without really knowing 
whether she was happy or unhappy, each 
one set himself to discover the cause of 
her sudden retirement. 

" If she were ill," said the first inquisi- 
tor, " she would have sent for advice ; but 
the doctor has been at my house the whole 
da^^ playing chess. He was joking with 
me and saying that there is only one dis- 
ease nowadays, . . . and the loss of one's 
head is incurable." 

This jest was hazarded with caution. 

Men and women, old and young, set 
themselves to scour the vast field of con- 
jecture ; each one thought he spied a 
secret, and this secret occupied all their 
imaginations. 

By the next day their suspicions had 
grow^n more venomous. As life in a small 
town is balanced up to date, the women 
learned, the first thing in the morning, 
that Brigitte had made larger purchases 
at the market than usual. This was an 
indisputable fact. Brigitte had been seen 



18 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



very early in the Place, and — marvelous 
to relate ! — she had boug-ht the only hare 
there was to be got. Now the whole town 
knew that Madame de Dey did not care 
for g-ame, so this hare became the object 
of endless speculation. Then, as the old 
men were taking- their usual stroll they 
observed a sort of concentrated activity in 
the countess's house, betrayed by the very 
precautions that the servants took to con- 
ceal it. The valet was beating a carpet 
in the g-arden ; the evening- before no one 
would have noticed it, but as every one 
was constructing a romance of his own, 
this carpet served them for a foundation. 
Each person had a different tale. 

The second day, the principal person- 
ages of Carentan, hearing- that Madame 
de Dey announced that she was ill, met for 
the evening" at the house of the maj^or's 
brother, a retired merchant. He was a 
married man, honorable, and g-enerall}^ 
respected, tlie countess herself having- a 
g-reat regard for him. On this occasion 
all the aspirants to the rich widow's hand 
had a more or less probable story to tell, 
while each of them pondered how to turn to 
his own profit the secret which obliged her 
to compromise herself in the way she had. 

The public prosecutor imagined all the 
details of a drama in which her son was 
to be brought to the countess by night. 
The ma^^or believed that a priest who had 
refused the oaths had come from La 
Vendee, and sought refuge. The presi- 
dent of the district was convinced it was 
a Chouan or Vendean leader, hotl^^ pur- 
sued. Others inclined to a noble escaped 
from the prisons in Paris. In short, every- 
body suspected that the countess had 
been g-uilty of one of those acts of g-ener- 
osity, denominated hy the laws of that 
time "crimes," and such as might bring 
her to the scaffold. However, the public 
prosecutor whispered that they must be 
silent, and try to save the unfortunate 
lady from the abyss into which she was 
hurrying. 

'' If you publish this affair abroad," he 
added, " I shall be obliged to interfere, 
search her house, and then — ! " He said 
no more, but every one understood his 
reticence. 



The countess's true friends were so much 
alarmed for her, that, on the morning of 
the third day, the procureur syndic of the 
commune g-ot his wife to write her a note, 
entreating her to hold her reception that 
evening- as usual. The old merchant, 
bolder still, presented himself during- the 
morning- at Madame de Dej'^'s house. Con- 
fident in his desire to serve her, he insisted 
on being shown in, when, to his utter 
amazement, he caug-ht sight of her in the 
g-arden, engag-ed in cutting- the last flowers 
in her borders to fill her vases. 

"■ There's no doubt she has given re- 
fuge to her lover," said the old man, 
struck with pity for this charming wo- 
man. The strange expression of her face 
confirmed his suspicions. Deeply moved 
by a devotion natural in woman but always 
touching to us — because every man is flat- 
tered bj^the sacrifices a woman makes for 
one of them — the merchant informed the 
countess of the reports which were going 
about the town, and of the danger she 
was in. — ''For, "he concluded, "if cer- 
tain of our functionaries would not be 
disinclined to pardon your heroism, if a 
priest were the object, no one will have 
any pity on you, if it is discovered that 
you are sacrificing yourself to the dic- 
tates of the heart." ' 

At these words Madame de Dey looked 
at him in such a strange, wild way, that, 
old man as he was, he could not help 
shuddering. 

"Come," said she, taking him by the 
hand and leading him into her own room. 
After making- sure that they were alone, 
she drew from her bosom a soiled and 
crumpled letter. " Read it," she cried, 
pronouncing the words with a violent 
effort. 

She fell back into her easy-chair com- 
pletely overcome. While the old mer- 
chant was looking for his spectacles and 
wiping them clean, she raised her eyes to 
his face, and for the first time gazed at 
him curiously ; then she said sweetly, and 
in a changed voice : "I can trust you." 

"Am I not going to take a share in 
your crime?" answered the worthy man 
simply. 

She shuddered. For the first time in 



MADAME DE DEY'S LAST RECEPTION. 



19 



that little town her soul found sympathy 
in the soul of another. The old merchant 
understood immediately both the dejec- 
tion and the joy of the countess. Her 
son had taken part in the expedition of 
Granville, he had written to his mother 
from the depth of his prison to give her 
one sad, sweet hope. Confident in his 
plan of escape, he named three days 
within which he would present himself 
at her house in disgnise. The fatal letter 
contained heartrending- adieux in case he 
should not be at Carentan by the evening- 
of the third day. He also entreated his 
mother to remit a considerable sum of 
money to the messenger who had under- 
taken to carry this missive to her, through 
innumerable dangers. 

The paper quivered in the old man's 
hands. 

"And this is the third day," cried Ma- 
dame de Dey. Then she rose hastily, 
took the letter, and began to walk up and 
down the room. 

"You have not been altogether pru- 
dent," said the merchant. "Why did 
you have provisions got in?" 

"But he may arrive dying with hunger, 
wornout with fatigue, and — " She could 
not go on. 

" I am certain of my brother, " answered 
the old man ; " I will go and get him on 
your side." 

The merchant summoned up all the 
keenness which he had formerly employed 
in his commercial affairs. He gave the 
countess the most prudent and sagacious 
directions, and after having agreed to- 
gether as to everything they both were 
to say and do, the old man invented a 
plausible pretext for visiting all the prin- 
cipal houses of Carentan. He announced 
in each that he had just seen Madame de 
Dey, and that she would hold her recep- 
tion that evening, in spite of her indispo- 
sition. In the cross-examination which 
each family subjected him to on the nat- 
ure of the countess's malady, his keen- 
ness was a match for the shrewd Normans. 
He managed to start on the wrong track 
almost every one who busied themselves 
with this mysterious affair. His first 
visit did wonders ; it was to an old lady 



who suffered from gout. To her he re- 
lated that Madame de Dey had almost 
died from an attack of gout on the stom- 
ach, and went on to say that the famous 
Tronchin having formerly prescribed, on 
a similar occasion, the skin of a hare 
flayed alive to be laid on the chest, and 
for the patient to lie in bed without stir- 
ring ; the countess, who was in imminent 
danger two days before, after having 
scrupulously carried out Tronchin's ex- 
traordinary^ prescription, now felt suffi- 
ciently convalescent to receive any one 
Avho liked to visit her that evening. 

This tale had an enormous success, and 
the doctor of Carentan, himself a Ro^'alist 
in petto, increased its effect by the ear- 
nestness w^th which he discussed the rem- 
edy. However, suspicion had taken too 
deep root in the minds of certain obstinate 
or philosophic persons to be entirely dis- 
sipated ; so that evening the guests of 
Madame de Dey were eager to arrive at 
her house at an early hour, some to spy 
into her face, some out of friendship, and 
most from astonishment at her marvelous 
cure. 

They found the countess sitting in her 
salon at the corner of the large chimney- 
piece. 

Her room was almost as severe as the 
salons of Carentan, for, to avoid wound- 
ing her narrow-minded guests, she had 
denied herself the pleasures of luxury to 
w^hich she had been accustomed before, 
and had made no changes in her house. 
The floor of the reception-room was not 
even polished ; she let the old dingy stuffs 
still hang upon the walls, still kept the 
country furniture, burned tallow candles, 
and in fact followed the fashions of Ca- 
rentan. 

She had adopted provincial life without 
shrinking from its crudest pettinesses or 
its most disagreeable privations. But 
knowing that her guests would pardon 
her an}' expenditure conducive to their 
own comfort, she neglected nothing which 
could afford them personal enjojnnent : 
at her house they were alwaj^s sure of 
an excellent dinner. She even went so 
far as to feign avarice to please their 
calculating minds, and led them on to dis- 



20 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



approve of certain details as concessions 
to luxury, in order to show that she could 
3'ield with grace. 

Toward seven o'clock in the evening- 
the upper middle-class society of Caren- 
tan was assembled at her house, and 
formed a large circle round her hearth. 
The mistress of the house, supported in 
her trouble by the old merchant's com- 
passionate g-lances, submitted with un- 
heard-of courag-e to the minute question- 
ings and stupid, frivolous talk of her 
g"uests. But at every rap of the knocker, 
and whenever a footstep sounded in the 
street, she could scarcel3^ control her emo- 
tion. She raised discussions affecting the 
prosperity of the district and such burn- 
ing questions as the quality of ciders, and 
was so well seconded by her confidant 
that the company almost forgot to spy 
upon her, the expression of her face was 
so natural and her assurance so imper- 
turbable. 

However, the public prosecutor and one 
of the judges of the Revolutionary Tri- 
bunal kept silence, watching attentively 
the least movement of her features, and 
listening, in spite of the noise, to every 
sound in the house. Every now and then 
they would ask some question calculated 
to embarrass her, but these she answered 
with admirable presence of mind. She 
proved how great a mother's courage 
can be. 

After having arranged the card-tables 
and settled every one to boston, or reversi, 
or whist, Madame de Dey still remained 
talking with the greatest nonchalance to 
some young people ; she played her part 
like a consummate actress. Presently she 
led them on to ask for loto, pretended to 
be the only person who knew where it 
was, and left the room. 

'^ Ma pauvre Brigitte," she cried, '"'I 
feel almost suffocated." 

Her eyes were brilliant with fever and 
grief and impatience as she dried the 
tears which started quickly from them. 
"He is not coming," she said, looking 
into the bedroom into which she had come. 
" Here I can breathe and live. — But in a 
few minutes more he will be here ! for he 
is alive, I am certain he is alive. My 



heart tells me so. Do you not hear some- 
thing, BrigetteJ' Oh ! I wduld give the 
rest of my life to know whether he is in 
prison or walking across the country. 
I would give anything not to think." 

She looked round once again to see if 
everything was in order in the room. A 
good fire burned brightl}^ in the grate, 
the shutters were shut close, the furni- 
ture was polished until it shone again ; 
the very way in which the bed was made 
was enough to prove that the countess 
herself as well as Brigitte had been busy 
about the smallest details. Her hopes 
too were manifest in all the delicate care 
that had evidently been spent upon this 
room. The scent of the flowers she had 
placed there seemed to shed forth, mingled 
with their o"\vn perfume, the gracious 
sweetness and the chastest caresses of 
love. Only a mother could thus have 
anticipated a soldier's wants, and pre- 
pared him such complete satisfaction of 
them. A daint}-^ meal, choice wines, 
slippers, clean linen — in short, every- 
thing necessary or agreeable to a weary 
traveler, were collected together, that he 
might want for nothing, and that the de- 
lights of home might remind him of a 
mother's love. 

The countess went and placed a seat at 
the table as if to realize her prayers and 
increase the strength of her illusions. As^ 
she did so she cried in a heartrending voice, 
"Brigitte!" 

"Ah, madame, he will come ; he can- 
not be far off. I am certain that he is 
alive and on the way," replied Brigitte. 
" I put a key in the Bible, and rested it 
on my fingers, while Cottin read the 
Gospel of St. John — and, madame, the 
key did not turn." 

"Is that a sure sign?" asked the 
countess. 

"Oh, madame, it's well known; I 
would stake my soul that he is still 
alive. God would never deceive us like 
that." 

" In spite of the danger he will be in 
here ; still, I long to see him." 

" Poor Monsieur Auguste," cried Bri- 
gitte, "no doubt he is on the roads, on 
foot." 



MADAME DE DEY'S LAST RECEPTION. 



21 



''Hark, that is eig-ht striking-," ex- 
claimed the countess in terror. 

She was afraid that she had staj^ed too 
long- in the room, but there she could be- 
lieve that her son still lived when she saw 
everything- bear witness to his life. She 
went doAvnstairs, but before g-oing- into 
the salon she waited a moment under the 
colonnade of the staircase, and listened 
for some sound to awaken the silent 
echoes of the town. She smiled at Bri- 
g'itte's husband, who kept watch like a 
sentinel ; his eyes seemed stupefied with 
straining- to catch the murmurs of the 
Place and the first sounds of the nig-ht. 
Everywhere and in everything she saw 
her son. 

A moment afterw^ard she had returned 
to her guests, affecting- an air of g-a^-ety, 
and sat down to play at loto with some 
girls. But every now and then she com- 
plained of feeling' ill, and went to recline 
in her easy-chair by the fireplace. 

Such was the situation, material and 
mental, in the house of Madame de De^-. 
Meanwhile, on the high road from Paris 
to Cherbourg, a young- man clad in a 
brown carmagnole, a costume in vog-ue 
at this period, directed his steps toward 
Carentan. 

In the commencement of the Requisi- 
tions there was little or no discipline. 
The exigencies of the moment scarcely 
allowed the Republic to equip its soldiers 
fully at once, so that it was nothing- un- 
usual to see the roads full of requisition- 
naires still wearing their civil clothes. 
These young- men arrived at the halting-- 
places before their battalions or remained 
there behind them, for the progress of 
each man depended on his personal capa- 
bility of enduring- the fatig-ues of a long- 
journey. The traveler in question found 
himself considerably in advance of a 
battalion of requisitionnaires which was 
on its way to Cherbourg-, and which the 
mayor of Carentan was waiting for from 
hour to hour, to billet on the inhabitants. 

The young man w^alked with heavy 
steps, but still he did not falter, and his 
gait seemed to show that he had long been 
accustomed to the severities of military 
life. Though the moon shed her light 



upon the pastures around Carentan, he 
had noticed a thick white bank of clouds 
ready to cover the whole country'- with 
snow. The fear of being caught in a hur- 
ricane no doubt hastened his steps, for he 
was walking at a pace little suited to his 
weariness. He carried an almost empty 
knapsack on his back and in his hand a 
box-wood stick, cut from one of the high 
thick hedges which this shrub forms round 
most of the estates of Lower Normandy. 

The towers of Carentan, thrown into 
fantastic relief by the moonlight, had onl}" 
just come into sight, when this solitary 
traveler entered the town. His footfall 
awakened the echoes of the silent streets. 
He did not meet a creature, so he was 
obliged to inquire for the house of the 
mayor from a weaver who was still at his 
work. The mayor lived only a short dis- 
tance off, and the requisitionnaire soon 
found himself under shelter in the porch 
of his house. Here he applied for a billet 
order and sat down on a stone seat to 
wait. However, the maj'or sent for him, 
so he was obliged to appear before him 
and become the object of a scrupulous ex- 
amination. The requisitionnaire was a 
foot soldier, a young man of fine bearing, 
apparentl}' belonging to a family of dis- 
tinction. His manners had the air of 
gentle birth, and his face expressed all 
the intelligence due to a good education. 

"What is your name?" asked the 
mayor, casting a knowing glance at him, 

"Julien Jussieu," replied the requisi- 
tionnaire. 

The magistrate let an incredulous smile 
escape him. " And 3'ou come — ? " 

''From Paris." 

"Your comrades must be some distance 
off," replied the Norman in a bantering 
tone. 

" I am three leagues in front of the bat- 
talion." 

"No doubt some sentiment draws you 
to Carentan, citoyen requisitionnaire?^' 
said the mayor with a shrewd look. "It 
is all right," he continued. The young 
man was about to speak, but he motioned 
him to be silent and went on, "You can 
go, Citoyen Jussieu ! " 

There was a tinge of vcony discernible 



23 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



in his accent, as he pronounced these two 
last woi-ds and held out to him a billet 
order which directed him to the house of 
Madame de Dey. The young man read 
the address with an air of curiosity. 

''He knows well enoug-h that he hasn't 
got far to g"o ; when he's once outside he 
won't be long- crossing- the Place ! " ex- 
claimed the mayor, talking to himself as 
the young man went out. " He's a fine 
bold fellow ; God help him ! He's got an 
answer ready to everything. Ay, but if 
it had been any one else but me, and they 
had demanded to see his papers — it would 
have been all up with him." 

At this moment the clocks of Carentan 
struck half -past nine. In the antecham- 
ber at Madame de De^^'s the lanterns were 
lighted, the servants were helping their 
masters and mistresses to put on their 
clogs and Jiouppelandes and mantles, the 
card players had settled their accounts, 
and they were all leaving together, ac- 
cording to the established custom in little 
towns. 

When they had exhausted all the formu- 
laries of adieu and were separating in the 
Place, each in the direction of his own 
home, one of the ladies, observing that 
that important personage was not with 
them, remarked, ''It appears that the 
prosecutor intends to remain." 

As a matter of fact, the countess was 
at that moment alone with that terrible 
magistrate ; she waited, trembling, till it 
should please him to depart. 

After a long silence, which inspired her 
with a feeling of terror, he said at last, 
" Citoyenne, I am here to carry out the 
laws of the Republic." 

Madame de De}'^ shuddered. 

" Have 3"ou nothing to reveal to me ? " 
he asked. 

"Nothing," she replied, in astonish- 
ment. 

"Ah,madame," cried the prosecutor, 
sitting down beside her and changing his 
tone, "at this moment one word could 
send us— you and me — to the scaffold. 
I have watched your character, your 
mind, your manners too closely to share 
in the m3'stification by which you have 
succeeded in misleading your guests this 



evening. You are expecting your son, I 
have not the least doubt of it." 

The countess made an involuntary ges- 
ture of denial ; but she had growm pale, 
the muscles of her face had contracted 
under the necessity of displaying a cool- 
ness she did not feel ; the pitiless eye of 
the prosecutor had not lost one of these 
movements. 

" Well ! receive him," replied this mag- 
istrate of the revolution, "but do not let 
him remain under 3^our roof after seven 
o'clock in the morning. To-morroAv at 
daj'break I shall come to your house 
armed with a denunciation which I shall 
get drawn up." 

She looked at him with a bewildered, 
numbed look that might have drawm 
pity from a tiger. 

"I shall demonstrate," he continued 
sweetl}^, "the falsity of this denunciation 
b}'^ a careful search. You will then be 
screened by the nature of my report from 
all ulterior suspicions. I shall speak of 
your patriotic gifts, your civism, and we 
shall be saved." 

Madame de Dey suspected a snare ; she 
remained motionless, her tongue was 
frozen and her face on fire. The sound 
of the knocker echoed through the house. 

"Ah," cried the mother as she fell in 
terror upon her knees, "save him! save 
him ! " 

The public prosecutor cast a passionate 
glance at her. 

"Yes, let us save him," he replied, 
" even at the cost of our own lives." He 
raised her politely. 

" I am lost," she cried. 

"Ah, madame !" he answered, with an 
oratorical gesture, " I would not owe 3'ou 
to anything — but to yourself alone." 

"Madame, he's — " cried Brigitte, think- 
ing her mistress was alone. 

At the sight of the public prosecutor, 
the old servant, who had burst in, beam- 
ing wath joy, grew pale and motionless. 

" Who is it, Brigitte ? " asked the mag- 
istrate, with an air of gentle intelligence. 

" A requisitionnaire sent us from the 
mayor's to lodge," answered the servant, 
showing him the billet order. The prose- 
cutor read the paper. "True," said he; 



MADAME DE BET'S LAST RECEPTION. 



23 



''a battalion is coming- to us to-nig'ht." 
He went out. 

At that moment the countess had too 
much need to believe in the sincerit^^ of 
her former attorne^^ for the least doubt 
of it to cross her mind ! 

Thoug-h she had scarcely the power to 
stand, she ascended the staircase pre- 
cipitatel\% opened the door of the room, 
saw her son, and threw herself half dead 
into his arms. "My child, my child," 
she sobbed, almost beside herself, as she 
covered him with kisses. 

"Madame ! " said a strang-er's voice. 

" Ah, it is not he ! " she cried, recoiling 
in horror. She stood upright before the 
requisitionnaire and g-azed at him with 
hag-g-ard ej'es. 

" My g-ood God, how like he is ! " said 
Brig'itte. 

There was a moment's silence ; even 
the strang-er shuddered at the sight of 
Madame de Dey. 

The first blow had almost killed her, 
and now she felt the full extent of her 
grief. She leaned for support on Brigitte's 
husband. "Ah, monsieur," she said, "I 
could not bear to see you any longer. 
Allow me to leave you for my servants 
to entertain." 

She went down to her own room, half 
carried \>j Brigitte and her old man- 
servant. "What ! madame," cried the 
housekeeper, as she led her mistress to a 
chair; "is that man going to sleep in 
Monsieur Auguste's bed, and wear Mon- 
sieur Auguste's slippers, and eat the 
pasty that I made for Monsieur Auguste ? 
If I was to be guillotined for it, I — " 

" Brigitte ! " cried Madame de Y)ey. 

Brigitte was mute. 

" Hold thy tongue, chatterbox," said 
her husband in a low voice. " Dost want 
to kill madame ? " 



At this moment the requisitionnaire 
made a noise in his room as he sat down 
to the table. 

"I cannot stay here," cried Madame 
de Dey. " I will go into the conserva- 
tory ; J. shall be able to hear better there 
what goes on outside during the night." 

She was still tossed between the fear of 
having lost her son and the hope of seeing 
him come back to her. 

The silence of the night was horrible. 
The arrival of the battalion of requisi- 
tionnaires in the town, when each man 
sought his lodging, was a terrible mo- 
ment for the countess. Her hopes were 
cheated at every footfall, at every sound ; 
presently nature resumed her awful calm. 

Toward morning the countess was 
oblig'ed to return to her own room. 

Brigitte, who was watching her mis- 
tress's movements, not seeing her come 
out, went into the room and found the 
countess dead. 

" She must have heard that requisi- 
tionnaire.'' cried Brigitte. "As soon as 
he has finished dressing, there he is, 
marching up and down Monsieur Au- 
guste's bedroom, as if he were in a 
stable, singing their damned Marseil- 
aise ! It was enough to kill her." 

The death of the countess was due to a 
deeper sentiment, and doubtless caused 
by some terrible vision. At the exact 
hour when Madame de Dey died at Ca- 
rentan, her son was shot in le Morbihan. 

We may add this tragic event to all 
the evidence of sj-mpathies ignoring the 
laws of space, which has been collected 
through the learning and curiosity of 
certain recluses. These documents will 
some day serve as the groundwork 
whereon to base a new science — a 
science that has hitherto lacked its man 
of genius. 



SCENES IN MILITARY LIFE. 



I. 



DOOMED TO LIVE.* 



The clock of the little town of Menda 
had just struck midnight. At this mo- 
ment a young- French officer was leaning 
on the parapet of a long terrace which 
bounded the gardens of the castle. He 
seemed plunged in the deepest thought — 
a circumstance unusual amid the thought- 
lessness of militarj^ life ; but it must be 
owned that never were the hour, the 
nighty and the place more propitious to 
meditation. The beautiful Spanish sky- 
stretched out its azure dome above his 
head. The glittering stars and the soft 
moonlight lit up a charming valley that 
unfolded all its beauties at his feet. Lean- 
ing against a blossoming orange tree he 
could see, a hundred feet below him, the 
town of Menda, which seemed to have 
been placed for shelter from the north 
winds at the foot of the rock on which 
the castle was built. As he turned his 
head he could see the sea, framing the 
landscape with a broad silver sheet of 
glistening water. The castle was a blaze 
of light. The mirth and movement of a 
ball, the music of the orchestra, the 
laughter of the officers and their part- 
ners in the dance, were borne to him 
mingled with the distant murmur of the 
Avaves. The freshness of the night im- 
parted a sort of energy to his limbs, wearj^ 
with the heat of the day. Above all, the 
gardens were planted with trees so aro- 
matic, and flowers so fragrant, that the 
young man stood plunged, as it were, in 
a bath of perfumes. 



* "El Verduffo.' 



(24) 



The castle of Menda belonged to a Span- 
ish grandee, then living there with his 
family. During the whole of the evening 
his eldest daughter had looked at the 
officer with an interest so tinged with sad- 
ness that the sentiment of compassion 
thus expressed by the Spaniard might 
well call up a reverie in the Frenchman's 
mind. 

Clara was beautiful, and although she 
had three brothers and a sister, the wealth 
of the Marques de Leganes seemed great 
enough for Victor Marchand to believe 
that the young lady would have a rich 
dowry. But how dare he hope that the 
most bigoted old hidalgo in all Spain 
would ever give his daughter to the son 
of a Parisian grocer ? Besides, the French 
were hated. The marques was suspected 
by General Gautier, who governed the 
province, of planning a revolt in favor of 
Ferdinand VII. For this reason the bat- 
talion commanded by Victor Marchand 
had been cantoned in the little town of 
Menda, to hold the neighboring hamlets, 
which were dependent on the marques, in 
check. Recent dispatches from Marshal 
ISTey had given ground for fear that the 
English Would shortly land on the coast, 
and had indicated the marques as a man 
who carried on communication with the 
cabinet of London. 

In spite, therefore, of the welcome which 
the Spaniard had given him and his sol- 
diers, the young officer Victor Marchand 
remained constantly on his guard. Ashe 
was directing his steps toward the terrace 
whither he had come to examine the state 



DOOMED TO LIVE. 



of the town and the country districts in- 
trusted to his care, he debated how he 
oug"ht to interpret the friendliness which 
the marques had unceasingly shown him, 
and how the tranquillity of the country 
could he reconciled with his general's un- 
easiness ; but in a moment these thoughts 
were driven from his mind by a feeling of 
caution and well-grounded curiosit3^ 

He had just perceived a considerable 
number of lights in the town. In spite 
of the day being the Feast of St. James, 
he had given orders, that very morning, 
that all lights should be extinguished at 
the hour prescribed by his regulations ; 
the castle alone being excepted from this 
order. He could plainly see, here and 
there, the gleam of his soldiers' bayonets 
at their accustomed posts ; but there was 
a solemnity in the silence, and nothing 
to suggest that the Spaniards were a 
prey to the excitement of a festival. 
After having sought to explain the of- 
fense of which the inhabitants were 
guilty, the m^-sterj'- appeared all the 
more unaccountable to him, because he 
had left officers in charge of the night 
police and the rounds. With all the im- 
petuosity of youth, he was just about to 
leap through a breach and descend the 
rocks in haste, and thus arrive more 
quickly than by the ordinary road at a 
small outpost placed at the entrance of 
the town nearest to the castle, when a 
faint sound stopped him. He thought he 
heard the light footfall of a woman upon 
the gravel walk. He turned his head and 
saw nothing ; but his gaze was arrested 
by the extraordinary brightness of the 
sea. All of a sudden he beheld a sight 
so portentous that he stood dumfounded ; 
he thought that his senses deceived him. 
In the far distance he could distinguish 
sails gleaming wiiite in the moonlight. 
He trembled and tried to convince him- 
self that this vision was an optical illu- 
sion, merelj'- the fantastic effect of the 
moon on the waves. At this moment a 
hoarse voice pronounced his name. He 
looked toward the breach, and saw 
slowh' rising above it the head of the 
soldier whom he had ordered to accom- 
pany him to the castle. 



"Is that you, commandant?" 

"Yes; what do you want?" replied 
the young man in a low voice. A sort of 
presentiment warned him to be cautious. 

" Those rascals dow^n there are stirring 
like worms. I have hu tried, with your 
leave, to tell you my own little observa- 
tions." 

" Go on," said Victor Marchand. 

" I have just followed a man from the 
castle who came in this direction with a 
lantern in his hand. A lantern's a fright- 
fully suspicious thing. I don't fancy it 
was tapers my fine Catholic was going 
to light at this time of night. ' They 
want to eat us body and bones ! ' says I 
to mj'self ; so I w^ent on his track to re- 
connoiter. There, on a ledge of rock, 
not three paces from here, I discovered 
a great heap of fagots." 

Suddenl}^ a terrible shriek rang through 
the town, and cut the soldier short. At 
the same instant a gleam of light flashed 
before the commandant. The poor grena- 
dier received a ball in the head and fell. 
A fire of straw and dry wood burst into 
flame like a house on fire, not ten paces 
from the j^oung man . The sound of the in- 
struments and the laughter ceased in the 
ball-room. The silence of death, broken 
only by groans, had suddenly succeeded 
to the noises and music of the feast. The 
fire of a cannon roared over the surface 
of the sea. Cold sweat trickled down the 
3^oung officer's forehead ; he had no sword. 
He understood that his men had been 
slaughtered, and the English were about 
to disembark. If he lived he saw himself 
dishonored, summoned before a council of 
war. Then he measured with his eyes 
the depth of the valley. He sprang for- 
ward, when just at that moment his hand 
was seized by the hand of Clara. 

"Fly!" said she; "my brothers are 
following to kill you. Down yonder at 
the foot of the rock you will find Juani- 
to's Andalusia n horse. Quick ! " 

The 3'oung man looked at her for a 
moment, stupefied. She pushed him on ; 
then, obeying the instinct of self-preser- 
vation which never forsakes even the 
bravest man, he rushed down the park 
in the direction she had indicated. He 



J>6 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



leaped from rock to rock, where only the 
goats had ever trod before; he heard 
Clara crying- out to her brothers to pur- 
sue him ; he heard the footsteps of the 
assassins ; he heard the balls of several 
discharges whistle about his ears ; but he 
reached the valle^^, he found the horse, 
mounted, and disappeared swift as light- 
ning-. In a few hours he arrived at the 
quarters occupied by General Gautier. 
He found him at dinner with his staff. 

"I bring you my life in vay hand!" 
cried the commandant, his face pale and 
haggard. 

He sat down and related the horrible 
disaster. A dreadful silence greeted his 
story. 

" You appear to me to be more unfort- 
unate than criminal," said the terrible 
general at last. "You are not account- 
able for the crime of the Spaniards, and 
unless the marshal decides otherwise, I 
acquit you," 

These words could give the unfortunate 
officer but slight consolation. 

*'But when the emperor hears of it ! " 
he exclaimed. 

" He will want to have 3" ou shot," said 
the general. '•' However — But we Avill 
talk no more about it," he added severe- 
ly, " except how we are to take such a 
revenge as will strike wholesome fear 
upon this country, w^here they carry on 
war like savages." 

One hour afterward, a whole regiment, 
a detachment of cavahy, and a convoy of 
ar tiller}^ were on the road. The general 
and Victor marched at the head of the 
column. The soldiers, informed of the 
massacre of their comrades, were filled 
with extraordinary fury. The distance 
which separated the town of Menda from 
the general quarters was passed with 
marvelous rapidity. On the road the 
general found whole villages under arms. 
Each of these wretched townships was 
surrounded and their inhabitants deci- 
mated. 

By some inexplicable fatalitj^, the En- 
glish ships stood off instead of advancing. 
It was known afterward that these ves- 
sels had outstript the rest of the trans- 
ports and only carried artillery. Thus 



the town of Menda, deprived of the de- 
fenders she was expecting, and w'hich 
the sight of the English vessels had 
seemed to assure, was surrounded by 
the French troops almost without strik- 
ing a blow. The inhabitants, seized with 
terror, offered to surrender at discretion. 
Then followed one of those instances of 
devotion not rare in the Peninsula. The 
assassins of the French, foreseeing, from 
the cruelty of the general, that Menda 
w^ould probably be given over to the 
flames and the whole population put to 
the sword, offered to denounce them- 
selves. The general accepted this offer, 
inserting, as a condition, that the in- 
habitants of the castle, from the lowest 
valet to the marques himself, should be 
placed in his hands. This capitulation 
agreed upon, the general promised to 
pardon thfe rest of the population and 
to prevent his soldiers from pillaging 
or setting fire to the towm. An enor- 
mous contribution was exacted, and the 
richest inhabitants gave themselves up 
as hostages to guarantee the payment, 
which was to be accomplished within 
twenty-four hours. 

The general took all precautions neces- 
sary for the safety of his troops, provided 
for the defense of the country, and re- 
fused to lodge his men in the houses. 
After having formed a camp, he went 
up and took military possession of the 
castle. The members of the family of 
Leganes and the servants were gagged, 
and shut up in the great hall where the 
ball had taken place, and closely watched. 
The wandows of the apartment afforded 
a full view of the terrace which com- 
manded the town. The staff Avas estab- 
lished in a neighboring gallerj^, and the 
general proceeded at once to hold a coun- 
cil of war on the measures to be taken for 
opposing the debarkation. After having 
dispatched an aid-de-camp to Marshal 
Ney, with orders to plant batteries along 
the coast, the general and his staff turned 
their attention to the prisoners. Two 
hundred Spaniards, w^hom the inhabi- 
tants had surrendered, were shot down 
then and there upon the terrace. After 
this military execution the general or- 



DOOMED TO LIVE. 



dered as many gallows to be erected on 
the terrace as there were prisoners in the 
hall of the castle, and the town execu- 
tioner to be broug-ht. Victor Marchand 
made use of the time from then until din- 
ner to go and visit the prisoners. He 
soon returned to the general. 

"1 have come," said he, in a voice 
broken with emotion, " to ask you a 
favor.'"' 

''' You ? " said the general, in a tone of 
bitter irony. 

'•'Alas!" replied Victor, ''it is but a 
melanchoh' errand that I am come on. 
The marques has seen the gallows being 
erected, and expresses a hope that you 
will change the mode of execution for his 
family : he entreats you to have the 
nobles beheaded." 

"So be it ! " said the general. 

"The}' further ask you to allow them 
the last consolations of religion, and to 
take off their bonds ; they promise not 
to attempt to escape." 

"I consent," said the general; "but 
3'ou must be answerable for them." 

" The old man also offers you the whole 
of his fortune if you will pardon his 3'oung 
son." 

"Really!" said the general. "His 
goods already belong to King Joseph ; he 
is under arrest." His brow contracted 
scornfully, then he added : " I will go 
beyond what they ask. I understand 
now the .importance of the last request. 
Well, let him buy the eternity of his 
name, but Spain shall remember forever 
his treachery and its punishment. I give 
up the fortune and his life to whichever 
of his sons will fulfill the office of execu- 
tioner. Go, and do not speak to me of 
it again." 

Dinner was ready, and the officers sat 
down to table to satisfy appetites sharp- 
ened b}' fatigue. 

One of them only, Victor Marchand, 
"was not present at the banquet. He 
hesitated for a long time before he en- 
tered the room. The haughtj'' family of 
Leganes were in their agony . He glanced 
sadl}' at the scene before him ; in this 
very room, only the night before, he had 
watched the fair heads of those two voung 



girls and those three youths as they cir- 
cled in the excitement of the dance. He 
shuddered when he thought how soon 
they must fall, struck off by the sword 
of the headsman. 

Fastened to their gilded chairs, the 
father and mother, their three sons, 
and their two young daughters, sat ab- 
solutely motionless. Eight serving-men 
stood upright before them, their hands 
bound behind their backs. These fifteen 
persons looked at each other gravely, 
their eyes scarcely betraying the thoughts 
that surged within them. Only profound 
resignation and regret for the failure of 
their enterprise left any mark upon the 
features of some of them. The soldiers 
stood likewise motionless, looking at 
them, and respecting the affliction of 
their cruel enemies. An expression of 
curiosity lit up their faces when Victor 
appeared. He gave the order to unbind 
the condemned, and went himself to loose 
the cords which fastened Clara to her 
chair. She smiled sadly. He could not 
refrain from touching her arm, and look- 
ing with admiring eyes at her black locks 
and graceful figure. She was a true 
Spaniard ; she had the Spanish com- 
plexion and the Spanish eyes, with their 
long curled lashes and pupils blacker 
than the raven's wing. 

"Have you been successful ? " she said, 
smiling upon him mournfully with some- 
what of the charm of girlhood still linger- 
ing in her eyes. 

Victor could not suppress a groan. He 
looked one after the other at Clara and 
her three brothers. One, the eldest, was 
aged thirty; he was small, even some- 
what ill made, with a proud disdainful 
look, but there was a certain nobleness in 
his bearing; he seemed no stranger to 
that delicacy of feeling wiiich elsewhere 
has rendered the chivalry of Spain so 
famous. His name was Juanito. The 
second, Felipe, was aged about twenty ; 
he was like Clara. The youngest was 
eight, Manuel ; a painter would have 
found in his features a trace of that 
Roman steadfastness which David has 
given to children's faces in his episodes 
of the Republic. The old marques, his 



28 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



head still covered with white locks, 
seemed to have come forth from a pict- 
ure of Murillo. The young officer shook 
his head. When he looked at them, he 
was hopeless that he would ever see the 
harg-ain proposed by the general ac- 
cepted by either of the four ; neverthe- 
less he ventured to impart it to Clara. 
At first she shuddered, Spaniard though 
she was; then, immediately recovering 
her calm demeanor, she went and knelt 
down before her father. 

"Father," she said, "make Juanito 
swear to obej^ faithfully an3^ orders that 
you give him, and we shall be content." 

The marquesa trembled with hope ; but 
when she leaned toward her husband, and 
heard — she was a mother — the horrible 
confidence whispered by Clara, she 
swooned away. Juanito understood all ; 
he leaped up like a lion in its cage. After 
obtaining an assurance of perfect submis- 
sion from the marques, Victor took upon 
himself to send away the soldiers. The 
servants were led out, handed over to the 
executioner, and hanged. When the fami- 
ly had no guard but Victor to watch 
them, the old father rose and said, 
*' Juanito." 

Juanito made no answer, except by a 
movement of the head, equivalent to a re- 
fusal ; then he fell back in his seat, and 
stared at his parents with eyes dry and 
terrible to look upon. Clara went and sat 
on his knee, put her arm round his neck, 
and kissed his eyelids. 

"My dear Juanito," she said gaj'ly, 
''if thou didst only know how sweet 
death would be to me if it were given by 
thee, I should not have to endure the 
odious touch of the headsman's hands. 
Thou wilt cure me of the Avoes that were 
in store for me— and, dear Juanito, thou 
could st not bear to see me belong to 
another, well — " Her soft eyes cast one 
look of fire at Victor, as if to awaken in 
Juanito's heart his horror of the French. 

"Have courage," said his brother 
Felipe, "or else our race, that has al- 
most given kings to Spain, will be ex- 
tinct." 

Suddenly Clara rose, the group which 
had formed round Juanito separated, 



and this son, dutiful in his disobedience, 
saw his aged father standing before him, 
and heard him cry in a solemn voice, 
"Juanito, I command thee." 

The 3^oung count remained motionless. 
His father fell on his knees before him ; 
Clara, Manuel, and Felipe did the same 
instinctivel3^ They all stretched out their 
hands to him as to one who was to save 
their family from oblivion ; they seemed 
to repeat their father's words — " M^'' son, 
hast thou lost the energy, the true chiv- 
alry of Spain ? How long wilt thou leave 
thy father on his knees? What right 
hast thou to think of thine own life and 
its suffering ? Madame, is this a son of 
mine ? " continued the old man, turning 
to his wife. 

"He consents," cried she in despair. 
She saw a movement in Juanito's eyelids, 
and she alone understood its meaning. 

Mariquita, the second daughter, still 
knelt on her knees, and clasped her 
mother in her fragile arms; her little 
brother Manuel, seeing her weeping hot 
tears, began to chide her. At this mo- 
ment the almoner of the castle came in : 
he was immediately surrounded by the 
rest of the family and brought to Juanito. 
Victor could bear this scene no longer ; 
he made a sign to Clara, and hastened 
away to make one last effort with the 
general. He found him in high good- 
humor in the middle of the banquet drink- 
ing with his officers ; they were beginning 
to make merry. 

An hour later a hundred of the princi- 
pal inhabitants of Menda came up to the 
terrace, in obedience to the general's 
orders, to witness the execution of the 
family of Leganes. A detachment of 
soldiers was drawn up to keep back these 
Spanish burghers who were ranged under 
the gallows on which the servants of the 
marques still hung. The feet of these 
mart.yrs almost touched their heads. 
Thirty yards from them a block had been 
set up, and by it gleamed a scimitar. 
The headsman also was present, in case 
of Juanito's refusal. Presently, in the 
midst of the profoundest silence, the 
Spaniards heard the footsteps of several 
persons approaching, the measured tread 



DOOMED TO LIVE. 



29 



of a company of soldiers, and the faint 
clinking of their muskets. These diverse 
sounds were ming-led with the merriinent 
of the officers' banquet ; just as before it 
was the music of the dance which had 
concealed preparations for a treacherous 
massacre. All eyes were turned toward 
the castle ; the noble family was seen ad- 
vancing Avith incredible dignity. Every 
face was calm and serene ; one man only 
leaned, pale and haggard, on the arm of 
the priest. Upon this man he lavished 
all the consolations of religion — upon the 
onl3' one of them doomed to live. The 
executioner understood, as did all the 
rest, that for that da}- Juanito had under- 
taken the office himself. The aged mar- 
ques and his wife, Clara, Mariquita, and 
their two brothers, came and knelt 
do"SATi a few steps from the fatal spot. 
Juanito was led thither by the priest. As 
he approached the block the executioner 
touched him by the sleeve and drew him 
aside, probably to give him certain in- 
structions. 

The confessor placed the victims in such 
a position that they could not see the ex- 
ecutioner ; but like true Spaniards, they 
knelt erect without a sign of emotion. 

Clara was the first to spring forward 
to her brother. ''^ Juanito," she said, 
''have pit}'- on my faint-heartedness ; be- 
gin with me." 

At that moment they heard the foot- 
steps of a man running at full speed, and 
Victor arrived on the tragic scene. Clara 
was already" on her knees, already her 
white neck seemed to invite the edge of 
the scimitar. A deadly pallor fell upon 
the officer, but he still found strength to 
run on. 

" The general grants thee thy life if 
thou wilt marry me," he said to her in 
a low voice. 

The Spaniard cast a look of proud dis- 
dain on the officer. "Strike, Juanito," 
she said, in a voice of profound meaning. 

Her head rolled at Victor's feet. When 
the marquesa heard the sound a convul- 
sive start escaped her ; this was the only 
sign of her affliction. 

" Am I placed right so, dear Juanito ^ " 
little Manuel asked his brother. 



"All, thou weepest, Mariquita ! " said 
Juanito to his sister, 

"Yes," answered the girl; •'•I was 
thinking of thee, my poor Juanito ; thou 
wilt be so unhappy without us." 

At length the noble figure of the mar- 
ques appeared. He looked at the blood 
of his children; then he turned to the 
spectators, who stood' mute and motion- 
less before him. He stretched out his 
hands to Juanito, and said in a firm 
voice : " Spaniards, I give my son a 
father's blessing. Now, marques, strike 
without fear, as thou art without fault." 

But when Juanito saw his mother ap- 
proach, supported by the confessor, he 
groaned aloud, " She fed me at her own 
breast." His cry seemed to tear a shout 
of horror from the lips of the crowd. At 
this terrible sound the noise of the banquet 
and the laughter and merrymaking of the 
officers died away. The marquesa com- 
prehended that Juanito 's courage was ex' 
hausted. With one leap she had thrown 
herself over the balustrade, and her head 
was dashed to pieces against the rocks 
below. A shout of admiration burst forth. 
Juanito fell to the ground in a swoon. 

" Marchand has just been telling me 
something about this execution," said a 
half-drunken officer. " 1*11 warrant, gen- 
eral, it wasn't by your orders that — " 

" Have you forgotten, messieurs," cried 
General Gautier, "that during the next 
month there will be five hundred French 
families in tears, and that we are in 
Spain ? Do you wish to leave your bones 
here ? " 

After this speech there was not a man 
who dared to empty his glass. 

In spite of the respect with which he is 
surrounded — in spite of the title of El 
Verdugo (the executioner), bestowed upon 
him as a title of nobility by the king of 
Spain — the Marques de Leganes is a prey 
to melancholy. He hves in solitude, and 
is rarel}^ seen. Overwhelmed with the 
load of his glorious crime, he seems only 
to wait the birth of a second son, impa- 
tient to seek again the company of those 
Shades whp are about his path continu- 
ally. 



30 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



II. 



THE CHOUANS. 



I. 



THE AMBUSH. 



In the early days of the Year Eight, at 
the heg-inning of Vendemiaire, or, to adopt 
the present calendar, toward the end of 
September, 1799, some hundred peasants 
and a pretty large number of townsmen, 
who had left Fougeres in the morning 
for Mayenne, were climbing the Pilgrim 
Hill which lies nearly half-way between 
Fougeres and Ernee, a little town used 
by travelers as a half-way house. The 
detachment, divided into groups of un- 
equal strength, presented a collection of 
costumes so odd, and included persons 
belonging to places and professions so 
different, that it may not be useless to 
describe their outward characteristics, in 
order to lend this history the lively color- 
ing so much prized nowadays, notwith- 
standing that, as some critics say, it in- 
terferes with the portrayal of sentiments. 

Some (and the greater part) of the 
peasants went barefoot, with no gar- 
ments but a large goatskin which cov- 
ered them from neck to knee, and 
breeches of white linen of very coarse 
texture, woven of j^arn so rough as to 
show the rudeness of the country'" manu- 
facture. The straight locks of their long 
hair mingled so regularly with the goat- 
skin and hid their downcast faces so com- 
pletely, that the goatskin itself might 
have been easily mistaken for their own, 
and the poor fellows might, at first sight, 
have been confounded with the animals 
whose spoils served to clothe them. But 
before long the spectator would have 
seen their eyes flashing through this mat 
of hair, like dewdrops in thick herbage ; 
and their glances, while showing human 



intelligence, were better fitted to cause 
alarm than pleasure. On their heads 
they wore dirty bonnets of red wool, like 
the Phrygian cap which the Republic then 
affected as an emblem of liberty. Every 
man had on his shoulder a stout cudgel 
of knotty oak, from which there hung a 
long but slenderly filled wallet of linen. 
Some had, in addition to the bonnet, a 
hat of coarse felt, with wide brim, and 
adorned with a parti-colored woolen fillet 
surrounding the crown. 

Others, entirely dressed in the same 
linen or canvas of which the breeches 
and wallets of the first party were com- 
posed, showed scarcely anything in their 
costume corresponding to modern civili- 
zation . Their long hair fell on the collar 
of a round jacket with little square side- 
pockets — a jacket coming down no lower 
than the hips, and forming the distinctive 
garb of the peasant of the West. Under 
the jacket, which was open, there could 
be seen a waistcoat of the same material, 
with large buttons. Some of them walked 
in sabots, while others, out of thrift, car- 
ried their shoes in their hands. This cos- 
tume, soiled with long wear, grimed with 
sweat and dust, and less strikingl}^ pecul- 
iar than that first described, had, from 
the point of view of histor^'^, the advan- 
tage of serving as a transition to the 
almost Costly array of some few who, scat- 
tered here and there amid the troop, shone 
like flowers. Indeed, their blue linen 
breeches, their red or yellow waistcoats 
ornamented with two parallel rows of 
copper buttons, and shaped like square- 
cut cuirasses, contrasted as sharply with 
the white coats and the goatskins of their 
companions, as corn-flowers and poppies 
do with a field of wheat. Some were shod 



THE CHOUANS. 



31 



with the sabots which the Breton peasants 
know how to make for their own use. But 
the great majority had larg-e hobnailed 
shoes and coats of very coarse cloth, cut 
in that old French style which is still 
religiously observed by the peasantr3^ 
Their shirt - collars were fastened by 
silver buttons in the shape of hearts or 
anchors, and their wallets seemed much 
better stocked than those of their com- 
panions, not to mention that some finished 
off their traveling- dress with a flask 
(doubtless filled with brandy) which hung 
by a string to their necks. Among these 
semi-savages there appeared some towns- 
folk, as if to mark the limit of civilization 
in these districts. In round or flat hats, 
and some of them in caps, with top-boots 
or shoes surmounted by gaiters, their 
costumes were as remarkably different, 
the one from the other, as those of the 
peasants. Some half-score wore the Re- 
publican jacket known as a carmagnole ; 
others, no doubt well-to-do artisans, were 
clad in complete suits of cloth of a uniform 
color. The greatest dandies were distin- 
guished by frocks or riding-coats in green 
or blue cloth more or less worn. These 
persons of distinction wore boots of ever}' 
shape, and swished stout canes about with 
the air of those who make the best of 
*' Fortune their foe." 

Some heads carefully powdered, some 
queues twisted smartly enough, indicated 
the rudimentarj'- care of personal appear- 
ance which a beginning of fortune or of 
education sometimes inspires. A looker- 
on at this group of men, associated by 
chance and, as it were, each astonished 
at finding himself with the others, might 
have thought them the inhabitants of a 
town driven pell-mell from their homes 
by a conflagration. But time and place 
gave quite a different interest to the crowd. 
An observer experienced in the civil dis- 
cord which then agitated France would 
have had no difficulty in distinguishing 
the small number of citizens on whom the 
Republic could count in this assembly'-, 
composed, as it was, almost entirely of 
men who four years before had been in 
open war against her. One last and 
striking trait gave an infallible indica- 



tion of the discordant sympathies of the 
gathering. Only the Republicans showed 
any sort of al;\crity in their march. 

For the other members of the troop, 
though the disparity of their costume 
was noticeable enough, their faces and 
their bearing exhibited the monotonous 
air of misfortune. Townsmen and peas- 
ants alike, melancholy marked them all 
deeply for her own ; their very silence 
had a touch of ferocity in it, and they 
seemed weighed down by the burden of 
the same thought — a thought of fear, no 
doubt, but one carefully dissembled, for 
nothing definite could be read on their 
countenances. The sole sign which might 
indicate a secret arrangement was the 
extraordinary slowness of their march. 
From time to time some of them, distin- 
guished by rosaries which hung from 
their necks (dangerous as it Avas to pre- 
serve this badge of a religion suppressed 
rather than uprooted), shook back their 
hair, and lifted their faces with an air of 
mistrust. At these moments they stealth- 
il}^ examined the woods, the by-paths, and 
the rocks by the roadside, after the fash- 
ion of a dog who snuffs the air and tries 
to catch the scent of game. Then hear- 
ing nothing but the monotonous tramp 
of their silent companions, they dropped' 
their heads once more, and resumed their 
looks of despair, like criminals sent to the 
hulks for life and death. 

The march of this column toward 
Mayenne, the motley elements which 
composed it, and the difference of senti- 
ment which it manifested, received a 
natural enough explanation from the 
presence of another part}' which headed 
the detachment. Some hundred and fifty 
regular soldiers marched in front, armed 
and carrying their baggage, under the 
command of a " demi-brigadier." It may 
be desirable to inform those who have 
not personally shared in the drama of 
the Revolution, that this title replaced 
that of "colonel," proscribed b}^ the 
patriots as too aristocratic. These sol- 
diers belonged to the depot of a "demi- 
brigade " of infantry quartered at May- 
enne. In this time of discord the in- 
habitants of the West had been wont 



32 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



to call all Republican soldiers " Blues, " 
a surname due to the early blue and red 
uniforms which are still freshly enough 
remembered to make description super- 
fluous. Now the detachment of Blues 
was escorting- this compan3^ of men, al- 
most all disgusted with their destination, 
to Mayenne, where military discipline 
would promptly communicate to them 
the identity of temper, of dress, and of 
bearing which at present they lacked so 
completely. 

The column was, in fact, the contingent 
extracted with great difficult^'- from the 
district of Fougeres, and due by it in vir- 
tue of the levy which the executive Direc- 
tory of the French Republic had ordered 
b3^ virtue of the law of the tenth Messidor 
preceding. The Government had asked 
for a hundred millions of money and a 
hundred thousand men, in order promptly 
to re-enforce its armies, at that time in 
process of defeat by the Austrians in 
Italy, by the Prussians in Germany, and 
threatened in Switzerland by the Russians, 
to whom Suwarrow gave good hope of 
conquering France. The departments of 
the West, known as Vendee and Brittanj'-, 
with part of Lower Normandy, though 
pacified three years before by General 
Hoche's efforts after a four years' war, 
seemed to have grasped at this moment 
for beginning the struggle anew. In the 
face of so many enemies, the Republic re- 
covered its pristine energy. The defense 
of the threatened departments had been 
at first provided for by intrusting the 
matter to the patriot inhabitants in ac- 
cordance with one of the clauses of this 
law of Messidor. In realit}'-, the Govern- 
ment, having" neither men nor money to 
dispose of at home, evaded the difficulty 
b3" a piece of parliamentary brag, and 
having nothing else to send to the dis- 
affected departments, presented them 
with its confidence. 

It was perhaps also hoped that the 
measure, by arming the citizens one 
against the other, would stifle the insur- 
rection in its cradle. The wording of the 
clause whicK led to disastrors reprisals 
was this : " Free companies shall be or- 
ganized in the departments of the West," 



an unstatesmanlike arrangement which 
excited in the West itself such lively hos- 
tility that the Directory despaired of an 
easy triumph over it. Therefore, a few 
days later, it asked the Assembly to pass 
special measures in reference to the scanty 
contingents leviable in virtue of the Free 
Companies clause. So then, a new law 
introduced a few days before the date at 
which this storj^ begins, and passed on 
the third complementary day of the Year 
Seven, ordained the organization in legions 
of these levies, weak as thej'" were. The 
legions were to bear the names of the 
departments of Sarthe, Orne, Mayenne, 
lUe-et- Vilaine, Morbihan, Loire-Inf erieure, 
and Maine-et-Loire ; but in the words 
of the Bill, " being specially emplo3'ed in 
fighting the Chouans, they might on no 
pretext be moved toward the frontiers." 

All which details, tiresome perhaps, but 
not generally known, throw light at once 
on the weakness of the Director^'- a-nd on 
the march of this herd of men conducted 
by the Blues. Nor is it perhaps useless 
to add that these handsome and patriotic 
declarations of the Directory never were 
put in force further than by their insertion 
in the " Bulletin des Louis." The decrees 
of the Republic, supported no longer either 
by great moral ideas, or by patriotism, or 
by terror — the forces which had once given 
them power — now created on paper mil- 
lions of money and legions of men, whereof 
not a sou entered the treasury, nor a man 
the ranks. The springs of the Revolution 
had broken down in bungling hands, and 
the laws followed events in their applica- 
tion instead of deciding them. 

The departments of Maj^enne and of 
Ille-et- Vilaine were then under the military 
command of an old officer who, calculat- 
ing on the spot the fittest measures to 
take, resolved to try to levy by force the 
Breton contingents, and especially that 
of Fougeres, one of the most formidable 
centers of Chouannerie, hoping thereby 
to weaken the strength of the threaten- 
ing districts. This devoted soldier availed 
himself of the terms of the law, illusory 
as they were, to declare his intention of 
at once arming and fitting out the " Re- 
quisitionaries, " and to assert that he had 



THE CHOUANS. 



33 



ready for them a month's pay at the rate 
promised by the Government to these ir- 
regular troops. 

Despite the reluctance of the Bretons 
at that time to undertake any military 
service, the scheme succeeded immedi- 
ately on the faith of these promises — 
succeeded indeed so promptly that the 
officer took alarm. But he was an old 
watch-dog", and not easy to catch asleep. 
No sooner had he seen a portion of the 
contingent of the district come in, than 
he suspected some secret motive in so 
quick a concentration, and his guess that 
they wished to procure arms was perhaps 
not ill justified. So, without waiting for 
laggards, he took measures for securing, 
if possible, his retreat on Alengon, so as 
to draw near settled districts, though he 
knew that the growing disturbance in 
the country made the success of his 
scheme very doubtful. Therefore keeping, 
as his instructions bade him, the deepest 
silence as to the disasters of the army, 
and the alarming news from La Vendee, 
he had endeavored, on the morning with 
which our story begins, to execute a 
forced march to Mayenne, where he 
promised himself that he would inter- 
pret the law at his own discretion, and 
fill the ranks of his demi-brigade with 
the Breton conscripts. 

For this word ''•'conscript," since so 
famous, had for the first time taken legal 
place of the term '•' requisitionary,'' given 
earlier to the recruits of the Republic. 
Before quitting Fougeres, the command- 
ant had secretl}'^ (in order not to awake 
the suspicion of the conscripts as to the 
length of the route) caused his soldiers to 
provide themselves with ammunition and 
with rations of bread sufficient for the 
whole party ; and he was resolved not to 
halt at the usual resting-place of Ernee, 
\Yhere, having recovered their first sur- 
prise, his contingent might have opened 
communication with the Chouans who 
were doubtless spread over the neighbor- 
ing countr3^ The sullen silence which 
prevailed among the requisitionaries, 
caught unawares by the old Republican's 
device, and the slowness of their march 
over the hill, excited vehement distrust 
Balzac — b 



in this demi-brigadier, whose name was 
Hulot. All the striking points of the 
sketch we have given, had attracted his 
closest attention : so that he proceeded in 
silence among his five young officers, who 
all respected their chief's taciturnity. 
But at the moment when Hnlot reached 
the crest of the Pilgrim Hill, he turned 
his head sharply, and as though instinct- 
ively, to glance at the disturbed counte- 
nances of the requisitionaries, and was not 
long in breaking silence. Indeed, the in- 
creasing slackness of the Bretons' march 
had already' put a distance of some two 
hundred paces beeween them and their 
escort. Hulot made a peculiar grimace 
which was habitual with him. 

''What is the matter with these dainty 
gentlemen? " cried he in a loud tone. "I 
think our conscripts are planting their 
stumps instead of stirring them ! " 

At these words the officers who were 
with him turned with a sudden move- 
ment, somewhat resembling the start 
with which a sleeping man wakes at a 
sudden noise. Sergeants and corporals 
did the like ; and the whole company 
stopped without having heard the wished- 
for sound of " Halt ! " If at first the offi- 
cers directed their eyes to the detachment 
which, like a lengthened tortoise, Avas 
slowly climbing the hill, the}' — J'oung 
men whom the defense of their country 
had torn, with man}' others, from higher 
studies, and in whom war had not yet ex- 
tinguished liberal tastes — were sufficiently 
struck with the spectacle beneath their 
eyes to leave unanswered a remark of 
which they did not seize the importance. 
Though they had come from Fougeres, 
whence the tableau which presented itself 
to their eyes is also visible, though with 
the usual differences resulting from a 
change in the point of view, they could 
not help admiring it for the last time, 
hke dilettanti, who take all the more 
pleasure in music the better they know 
its details. 

From the summit of the Pilgrim the 
traveler sees beneath his eyes the wide 
valley of the Couesnon, one of the culmi- 
nating points on the horizon being occu- 
pied by the town of Fougeres, the castle 



34 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



of which dominates three or four impor- 
tant roads from the height which it occu- 
pies. This advantage formerly made it 
one of the kej^s of Brittany. From their 
position the officers could descry, in all its 
extent, a river basin as remarkable for the 
extraordinary fertility of its soil as for the 
varied character of its aspect. On all 
sides mountains of granite rise in a circle, 
disguising their ruddy sides under oak 
woods and hiding in their slopes valleys 
of delicious coolness. These rocky hills 
present to the e^'e a vast circular inclos- 
ure, at the bottom of which there extends 
a huge expanse of soft meadow, arranged 
like an English garden. The multitude 
of green hedges surrounding many prop- 
erties irregular in size, but all of them 
well wooded, gives this sheet of green an 
aspect rare in France, and it contains in 
its multiplied contrast of aspect a wealth 
of secret beauties lavish enough to influ- 
ence even the coldest minds. 

At the time we speak of, the landscape 
was illuminated b}' that fleeting splendor 
with which Nature delights sometimes to 
heighten the beauty of her everlasting 
creations. While the detachment was 
crossing the valley the rising sun had 
slowly dissipated the light white mists 
which in September mornings are wont 
to flit over the fields. At the moment 
when the soldiers turned their heads, an 
invisible hand seemed to strip the land- 
scape of the last of its veils — veils of deli- 
cate cloud like a shroud of transparent 
gauze, covering precious jewels and 
heightening curiosity as they shine 
through it — over the wide horizon which 
presented itself to the officers. The sky 
showed not the faintest cloud to suggest, 
by its silver sheen, that the huge blue 
vault was the firmament. It seemed 
rather a silken canopy supported at 
irregular intervals b}^ the mountain-tops, 
and set in the air to protect the shining 
mosaic of field and meadow, stream and 
woodland. Tlie officers could not weary 
of surveying this wide space, so fertile in 
pastoral beaut3^ Some Avere long before 
they could prevent their gaze from wan- 
dering among the wonderful maze of 
thickets bronzed richly by the yellowing 



foliage of some tufts of trees, and set off 
by the emerald greenness of the interven- 
ing lawns. Others fixed their eyes on 
the contrast offered b}^ the ruddy fields, 
where the buckwheat, already- harvested, 
rose in tapering sheaves like the stacks of 
muskets piled by the soldier where he 
bivouacs, and divided from each other by 
other fields where patches of rye, already 
past the sickle, showed their lighter gold . 
Here and there were a few roofs of som- 
ber slate, whence rose white smoke. And 
next the bright and silvery slashes made 
by the tortuous streams of the Couesnon 
caught the eye with one of those optical 
tricks which, without obvious reason, 
cast a dreamy vagueness on the mind. 

The balmy freshness of the autumn 
breeze, the strong odor of the forests, rose 
like a cloud of incense, and intoxicated the 
admiring gazers on this lovely country — 
gazers who saw with rapture its unknown 
flowers, its flourishing vegetation, its 
verdure equal to that of its neighbor and 
in one way namesake, England. The 
scene, already worthy enough of the 
theater, was further enlivened by cattle, 
while the birds sang and made the whole 
valley utter a sweet, low melody which 
vibrated in the air. If the reader's imagi- 
nation will concentrate itself so as fully to 
conceive the rich accidents of light and 
shade, the mistj'" mountain horizons, the 
fantastic perspectives which sprang from 
the spots where trees were missing, from 
those where water ran, from those where 
coy windings of the landscape faded awaj'^; 
if his memory will color, so to speak, a 
sketch, as fugitive as the moment when it 
was taken, then those who can taste such 
pictures will have an idea, imperfect it is 
true, of the magical scene which surprised 
the still sensitive minds of the youthful 
officers. 

They could not help an involuntary 
emotion of pardon for the natural tardi- 
ness of the poor men who, as they thought, 
were regretfully quitting their dear coun- 
tr}-^ to go — perhaps to die — afar off in a 
strange land ; but with the generous feel- 
ing natural to soldiers, they hid their 
sympathy under a pretended desir«r of 
examining the military positions of the 



THE CHOUANS. 



35 



country. Hulot, however, whom we must 
call the commandant, to avoid g-iving him 
the ineleg-ant name of deini-brigadier, was 
one of those warriors who, when danger 
presses, are not the men to be caug-ht by 
the charms of a landscape, were they 
those of the Eai-thly Paradise itself. So 
he shook his head disapprovingly, and 
contracted a pair of thick black eyebrows 
which gave a harsh cast to his counte- 
nance. 

" Why the devil do they not come on ? " 
he asked a second time, in a voice deep- 
ened by the hardships of war. '* Is there 
some kind Virgin in the village whose 
hand they are squeezing?" 

^^You want to know why?" answered 
a voice. 

The comm.andant, hearing sounds like 
those of the horn with which the peas- 
ants of these valleys summon their flocks, 
turned sharply round as though a sword- 
point had pricked him, and saw, two 
paces off, a figure even odder than any of 
those whom he was conveying to Mayenne 
to serve the Republic. The stranger — a 
short, stouth^ built man with broad shoul- 
ders — showed a head nearly as big as a 
bull's, with whicli it had also other re- 
semblances. Thick nostrils shortened 
the nose in appearance to even less than 
its real length. The man's blubber lips, 
pouting over teeth white as snow, his 
flapping ears and his red hair made him 
seem akin rather to herbivorous animals 
than to the goodly Caucasian race. More- 
over, the bare head was made still more 
remarkable b}^ its complete lack of some 
other features of a man who has lived in 
the society of his fellows. 

The face, sun-bronzed and with sharp 
outlines vaguely suggesting the granite 
of which the country-side consists, was 
the only visible part of this singular 
being's person. From the neck down- 
ward he was wrapped in a sarrau — a 
kind of smock-frock in red linen, coarser 
still than that of the poorest conscripts' 
wallets and breeches. This sarrau, in 
which an antiquary might have recog- 
nized the saga, saye, or sayon of the 
Gauls, ended at the waist, being joined 
to tight breeches of goatskin b}^ wooden 



fastenings roughly sculptured, but in 
part still with the bark on. These goat- 
skins, or peaux de bique in local speech, 
which protected his thighs and his legs, 
preserved no outline of the human form. 
Huge wooden shoes hid his feet, while hLs 
hair, long, glistening, and not unlike the 
nap of his g'oatskius, fell on each side of 
his face, evenly parted, and resembling 
certain mediaeval sculptures still to be 
seen in cathedrals. Instead of the knotty 
stick which the conscripts bore on their 
shoulders, he carried, resting on his 
breast Uke a gun, a large whip, the lash 
of which was cunningly plaited, and 
seemed twice the length of whip-lashes 
in general. There w^as no great diffi- 
culty in explaining the sudden apparition 
of this strange figure ; indeed, at first 
sight some of the officers took the stran- 
ger for a requisitionary or conscript (the 
two words were still used indifferently) 
who was falling back on his column, 
perceiving that it had halted. Still, the 
commandant was much surprised by 
the man's arrival ; and though he did 
not seem in the least alaj:'med, his brow 
clouded. Having scanned the stranger 
from head to foot, he repeated, in a me- 
chanical fashion and as though preoccu- 
pied with gloomj"^ ideas, '' Yes ; why do 
they not come on ? do you know, man ? " 

*• The reason," replied his sinister inter- 
locutor, in an accent which showed that 
he spoke French with difficulty, '' the 
reason is," and he pointed his huge rough 
hand to Ernee, " that there is Maine, and 
here Brittany ends." 

And he smote the ground hard, throw- 
ing the heavy handle of his whip at the 
commandant's feet. The impression pro- 
duced on the bystanders by the stranger's 
laconic harangue was not unlike that 
which the beat of a savage drum might 
make in the midst of the regular music 
of a military band ; yet '"'harangue " is 
hardly word enough to express the 
hatred and the thirst for vengeance which 
breathed through his haughty gesture, 
his short fashion of speech, and his coun- 
tenance full of a cold, fierce energy. The 
very rudeness of the man's appearance, 
fashioned as he was as though by ax- 



36 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



blows, his rug-g-ed exterior, the dense ig-- 
norance imprinted on his features, made 
him resemble some savage demigod. He 
kept his seer-like attitude, and seemed 
like an apparition of the very g-enius of 
Brittany aroused from a three -j'-ears' 
sleep, and ready to begin once more a 
war where victory never showed herself 
except swathed in mourning- for both 
sides. 

" Here is a pretty fellow ! " said Hulot, 
speaking to himself ; "he looks as if he 
were the spokesman of others who are 
about to open a parley in gunshot lan- 
guage." 

But when he had muttered these words 
between his teeth, the commandant ran 
his eyes in turn from the man before him 
to the landscape, from the landscape to 
the detachment, from the detachment to 
the steep slopes of the road, their crests 
shaded by the mighty Breton broom. 
Then he brought them back sharply on 
the stranger, as it Avere questioning him 
mutelj'- before he ended with the bruskly 
spoken question, " Whence come you ? " 

His eager and piercing e^^e tried to 
guess the secrets hidden under the man's 
impenetrable countenance, which in the 
interval had fallen into the usual sheep- 
ish expression of torpidity that wraps the 
peasant ^vhen not in a state of excite- 
ment. 

"From the country of the Gars," 
answered the man, quite unperturbed. 

" Your name ? " 

" Marche-a-Terre." 

"Why do you still use your Chouan 
name in spite of the law ? " 

But Marche-a-Terre, as he was pleased 
to call himself, stared at the command- 
ant with so utteii}^ truthful an air of im- 
becility that the soldier thought he really 
had not understood him. 

" Are you one of the Fougeres contin- 
gent ? " 

To which question Marche-a-Terre an- 
swered by one of those " I don't know's " 
whose very tone arrests all further in- 
quir}^ in despair-. He seated himself calmlj^ 
by the wayside, drew from his smock 
some pieces of thin and black buckwheat 
cake — a national food whose unenticing- 



. delights can be comprehended of Bretons 
alone — and began to eat with a stolid 
nonchalance. He gave the impression of 
so complete a lack of intelligence that 
the officers by turns compared him, as he 
sat there, to one of the cattle browsing 
on the fat pasturage of the valley, to the 
savages of America, and to one of the 
aborigines of the Cape of Good Hope. 

Deceived by his air, the commandant 
himself was beginning not to listen to his 
own doubts, when, prudently giving a 
last glance at the man whom he sus- 
pected of being the herald of approaching- 
carnage, he saw his hair, his smock, his 
goatskins, covered with thorns, scraps of 
leaves, splinters of timber and brush- 
wood, just as if the Chouan had made 
a long journey through dense thickets. 
He glanced significantly at his adjutant 
Gerard, who was near him, squeezed his 
hand hard, and whispered, " We came 
for wool, and we shall go home shorn." 

The officers gazed at each other in 
silent astonishment. 

It maj^ be convenient to digress a little 
here in order to communicate the fears of 
Commandant Hulot to some home keep- 
ing folk who doubt everything because 
they see nothing, and who might even 
denj' the existence of men like Marche-a- 
Terre and those peasants of the West 
whose behavior was then so heroic. The 
word gars (pronounced gd) is a waif of 
Celtic. It has passed from Low Breton 
into French, and the word is, of our whole 
modern vocabulary'-, that which contains 
the oldest memories. The gais was the 
chief weapon of the Gaels or Gauls : 
gaisde meant "'armed"; gais, "brav- 
ery"; gas, "force" — comparison with 
which terms will show the connection 
of the word gars with these words of 
our ancestors' tongue. The word has a 
further analogy with the Latin vir, 
"man " ; the root of virtus, " strength," 
"courage." This little disquisition may 
be excused by its patriotic character ; 
and it may further serve to rehabilitate 
in some persons' minds terms such as 
gars, garcon, garconnette, garce, gar- 
cette, which are generall}^ excluded from 
common parlance as improper, but which 



THE CHOUANS. 



have a warlike origin, and which will 
recur here and there in the course of our 
history. 

" 'Tis a brave wench " {garce) was the 
somewhat misunderstood praise which 
Madame de Stael received in a little vil- 
lage of the Vendomois, where she spent 
some days of her exile. Now Brittany is 
of all France the district where Gaulish 
customs have left the deepest trace. The 
parts of the province where, even in our 
days, the wild life and the superstitious 
temper of our rude forefathers ma}^ still, 
so to speak, be taken red-handed, are 
called the country of the gai^s. When a 
township is inhabited by a considerable 
number of wild men like him who has just 
appeared on our scene,the countr^^-f oik call 
them ''the gars of such and such a parish;" 
and this stereotyped appellation is a kind 
of reward for the fidelity with which these 
gars strive to perpetuate the traditions of 
Gaulish language and manners. Thus, 
also, their life keeps deep traces of the 
superstitious beliefs and practices of an- 
cient times. In one place, feudal customs 
are still observed ; in another, antiquaries 
find Druidic monuments still standing ; in 
yet another, the spirit of modern civiliza- 
tion is aghast at having to make its way 
through huge primeval forests. An in- 
conceivable ferocity and a bestial obsti- 
nacy, found in company with the most 
absolute fidelity to an oath ; a complete 
absence of our laws, our manners, our 
dress, our new-fangled coinage, our very 
language, combined with a patriarchal 
simplicity of life and with heroic virtues, 
unite in reducing the dwellers in these 
regions below the Mohicans and the red- 
skins of iSTorth America in the higher 
intellectual activities, but make them as 
noble, as cunning, as full of fortitude as 
these. 

Placed as Brittany is in the center of 
Europe, it is a more curious field of ob- 
servation than Canada itself. Surrounded 
by light and heat, whose beneficent influ- 
ences do not touch it, the country' is like 
a coal which lies *' black-out" and ice- 
cold in the midst of a glowing hearth. 
All the efforts which some enlightened 
spirits have made to win this beautiful 



part of France over to social life and 
commercial prosperit3- — nay, even the 
attempts of Government in the same 
direction — perish whelmed in the undis- 
turbed bosom of a population devoted to 
immemorial use and wont. But sufficient 
explanations of this ill-luck are found in 
the character of the soil, still furrowed 
with ravines, torrents, lakes, and marshes; 
still bristling with hedges — improvised 
earth-works, which make a fastness of 
every field ; destitute alike of roads and 
canals ; and finally, in virtue of the genius 
of an uneducated population, delivered 
over to prejudices whose dangerous na- 
ture our historj"^ will discover, and ob- 
stinately hostile to new methods of 
agriculture. The very picturesque ar- 
rangement of the country, the very su- 
perstitions of its inhabitants, prevent at 
once the association of individuals and 
the advantages of comparison and ex- 
change of ideas. There are no villages 
in Brittan^^ ; and the rudely built struct- 
ures which are called dwellings are 
scattered all over the country. Each 
family lives as if in a desert ; and the 
onl3" recognized meetings are the quickly 
dissolved congregations which Sunday and 
other ecclesiastical festivals bring togeth- 
er at the parish church. These meetings, 
where there is no exchange of conversa- 
tion, and which are dominated by the 
rector, the only master whom these rude 
spirits admit, last a few hours only. After 
listening to the awe-inspiring words of the 
priest, the peasant goes back for a whole 
week to his unwholesome dwelling, which 
he leaves but for work, and whither he 
returns but to sleep. If he receives a 
visitor, it is still the rector, the soul of 
the country-side. 

And thus it was that at the voice of 
such priests thousands of men flew at the 
throat of the Republic, and that these 
quarters of Brittany furnished, five years 
before the date at which our stor\^ begins, 
whole masses of soldiery for the first 
Chouannerie. The brothers Cottereau, 
bold smugglers, who gave this war its 
name, plied their perilous trade between 
Laval and Fougeres. But the insurrec- 
tion in these districts had no character of 



38 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



nobility. And it may be said with confi- 
dence that if La Vendee made war of 
brig-andag-e,* Brittany made brig-andage 
of war. The proscription of the royal 
family, the destruction of religion, were 
to the Chouans only a pretext for plun- 
der ; and the incidents of intestine strife 
took some color from the wild roughness 
of the manners of the district. When real 
defenders of the monarchy came to recruit 
soldiers among these populations, equally 
ignorant and warlike, they tried in vain 
to infuse under the white flag some ele- 
ment of sublimity into the raids which 
made Cliouanner^ie odious ; and the Chou- 
ans remain a memorable instance of the 
danger of stirring up the more uncivilized 
portions of a people. 

The above-given description of the first 
valley w^hich Brittany offers to the trav- 
eler's ej'e, the picture of the men who 
made up the detachment of requisition- 
aries, the account of the gars who ap- 
peared at the top of Pilgrim Hill, give in 
miniature a faithful idea of the province 
and its inhabitants ; anj^ trained imagi- 
nation can, by following these details, 
conceive the theater and the methods of 
the Avar ; for its whole elements are there. 
At that time the blooming hedges of these 
lovely valleys hid invisible foes : each 
meadow was a place of arms, each tree 
threatened a snare, each willow trunk 
held an ambuscade. The field of battle 
was everywhere. At each corner gun- 
barrels lay in wait for the Blues, whom 
young girls laughingly- enticed under fire, 
without thinking themselves guilty of 
treachery. Nay, the}' made pilgrimage 
with their fathers and brothers to this 
and that Virgin of worm-eaten wood to 
ask at once for suggestion of stratagems 
and absolution of sins. The religion, or 
rather the fetichism, of these uneducated 
creatures, robbed murder of all remorse. 
Thus, when once the strife was entered 
on, the whole country was full of terrors: 
noise was as alarming as silence ; an ami- 

* I have done violence to the text here as print- 
ed : Si La Vendee jit un brigandage de la guerre. 
But the point of the antithesis and the truth of 
history seem absolutely to require tlie supposi- 
tion of a misprint. 



able reception as threats ; the family 
hearth as the highway. Treachery itself 
was convinced of its honesty ; and the 
Bretons were savages who served God 
and the king on the principles of Mohicans 
on the war-path. But to give a descrip- 
tion, exact in all points, of this struggle, 
the historian ought to add that no sooner 
was Hoche's peace arranged than the 
whole country became smiling and friend- 
ly. The very families who over night 
had been at each other's throats, supped 
the next day without fear of danger under 
the same roof. 

Hulot had no sooner detected the secret 
indications of treachery which Marche-a- 
Terre's goatskins revealed, than he be- 
came certain of the breach of this same 
fortunate peace, due once to the genius 
of Hoche, and now, as it seemed to him, 
impossible to maintain. So, then, war 
had revived, and no doubt would be, 
after a three-years' rest, more terrible 
than ever. The revolution, which had 
waxed milder since the Ninth Thermidor,. 
would very likely resume the character of 
terror which made it odious to well-dis- 
posed minds. English gold had doubt- 
less, as alwa3's, helped the internal dis- 
cords of France. The Republic, abandoned 
by young Bonaparte, who had seemed its 
tutelary genius, appeared incapable of re- 
sisting so many enemies, the worst of 
whom was showing himself last. Civil 
war, foretold already'' by hundreds of 
pett}' rismgs, assumed an air of alto- 
gether novel gravity when the Chouans 
dared to conceive the idea of attacking 
so strong an escort. Such were the 
thoughts which followed one another 
(though by no means so succinctly put) 
in the mind of Hulot as soon as he seemed 
to see in the apparition of Marche-a-Terre 
a sign of an adroitly laid ambush ; for he 
alone at once understood the hidden dan- 
ger. 

The silence following the comman- 
dant's prophetic observation to Gerard, 
with which we finished our last scene, 
gave Hulot an opportunity of recovering 
his coolness. The old soldier had nearly 
staggered. He could not clear his brow 
as he thought of being surrounded al- 



THE CHOUAXS. 



39 



ready \>y the horrors of a war whose 
atrocities cannihals themselves might 
haply have refused to approve. Captain 
Merle and Adjutant Gerard, his two 
friends, were at a loss to explain the 
alarm, so new to them, which their 
chief's face showed ; and the^'- gazed at 
Marche-a-Terre, who was still placidly 
eating- his bannocks at the road-side, 
without being able to see the least con- 
nection between a brute beast of this 
kind and the disquiet of their valiant 
leader. But Hulot's countenance soon 
grew brighter ; sorry as he was for the 
Republic's ill-fortune, he was rejoiced at 
having to fight for her, and he cheerfully 
promised himself not to fall blindly into 
the nets of the Chouans, and to outwit 
the man, however darkly cunning he 
might be, whom they did himself the 
honor to send against him. 

Before, however, making up his mind 
to any course of action, he set himself to 
examine the position in which his enemies 
would fain surprise him. When he saw 
that the road in the midst of which he 
was engaged passed through a kind of 
gorge, not, it is true, very deep, but 
flanked by woods, and with several by- 
paths debouching on it, he once more 
frowned hard with his black brows, and 
then said to his friends, in a low voice, 
full of emotion : 

" We are in a pretty wasps '-nest ! " 

'' But of whom are you afraid ? " asked 
Gerard. 

" Afraid ? " repeated the commandant. 
" Yes ; afraid is the w^ord. I always 
have been afraid of being shot like a dog, 
as the road turns a wood with no one to 
cry ' Qui vive ? "' 

** Bah ! " said Merle, laughing ; " ' Qui 
vive ? ' itself is a bad phrase ! " 

"Are we, then, really in danger?" 
asked Gerard, as much surprised at Hu- 
lot's coolness as he had been at his pass- 
ing fear. 

"Hist!" said the commandant: "we 
are in the wolf's throat and as it is as 
dark there as in a chimnej', we had better 
light a candle. Luckily," he went on, 
" we hold the top of the ridge." He be- 
stowed a forcible epithet upon the said 



ridge, and added, " I shall see my way 
soon, perhaps." Then taking the two 
officers Avith him, he posted them round 
Marche-a-Terre ; but the gars, pretending 
to think that he was in their way, rose 
quicklj'. "Stay there, rascal!" cried 
Hulot, giving him a push, and making 
him fall back on the slope where he had 
been sitting. And from that moment the 
demi-brigadier kept his eje steadily on 
the Breton, who seemed quite indifferent. 
" Friends, " said he, speaking low to the 
two officers, "it is time to tell you that 
the fat is in the fire down there at Paris. 
The Directory, in consequence of a row in 
the Assembly, has muddled our business 
once more. The pentarchy of pantaloons 
(the last word is nearer French at any 
rate) have lost a good blade, for Berna- 
dotte will have nothing more to do with 
them." 

" Who takes his place ? " asked Gerard, 
eagerly. 

" Milet-Mureau, an old dotard. 'Tis 
an awkward time for choosing blockheads 
to steer the ship. Meanwhile, English 
signal-rockets are going off round the 
coast ; all these cockchafers of Vendeans 
and Chouans are abroad on the wing : 
and those who pull the strings of the 
puppets have chosen their time just when 
we are beaten to our knees." 

" How so ? " said Merle. 

"Our armies are being beaten on every 
side," said Hulot, lowering his voice more 
and more. " The Chouans have twice in- 
terrupted the post, and I onl3'^ received 
my last dispatches and the latest decrees 
by an express which Bernadotte sent the 
moment he quitted the ministry. Luckily, 
friends have given me private informa- 
tion of the mess we are in. Fouche has 
found out that the tyrant Louis XVIII. 
has been warned by traitors at Paris to 
send a chief to lead his wild ducks at home 
here. It is thought that Barras is placing 
the Republic false. In fine, Pitt and the 
princes have sent hither a ci-devant, 2b 
man full of talent and vigor, whose hope 
is to unite Vendeans and Chouans, and so 
lower the Republic's crest. The fellow 
has actually landed in Morbihan; I learned 
it before any one, and told our clever ones 



40 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



at Paris. He calls himself the Gars. For 
all these cattle," said he, pointing to 
Marche - a - Terre, •'• fit themselves with 
names which would give an honest pa- 
triot a stomach-ache if he bore them. 
Moreover, our man is about here ; and 
the appearance of this Chouan" (he 
pointed to Marche-a-Terre once more) 
" shows me that he is upon us. But 
they don't teach tricks to an old monkey; 
and you shall help me to cage my birds 
in less than no time. I should be a pretty 
fool if I let myself be trapped like a crow 
by a ci-devant who comes from London 
to dust our jackets for us ! " 

When they learned this secret and 
critical intelligence, the two officers, 
knowing that their commandant never 
took alarm at shadows, assumed the 
steady mien which soldiers wear in time 
of danger when they are of good stuff 
and accustomed to look ahead in human 
affairs. Gerard, whose post, since sup- 
pressed, put him in close relations with 
his chief, was about to answer and to 
inquire into all the political news, a part 
of which had evidently been omitted. But 
at a sign from Hulot he refrained, and 
all three set themselves to watch Marche- 
a-Terre. Yet the Chouan did not exhibit 
the faintest sign of emotion, though he 
saw himself thus scanned by men as 
formidable by their wits as by' their 
bodily strength. The curiosity of the 
two officers, new to this kind of warfare, 
was vividly excited by the beg'inning- of 
an affair which seemed likel^^ to have 
something of the interest of a romance, 
and the}' were on the point of making 
jokes on the situation. But at the first 
word of the kind that escaped them, 
Hulot said, with a grave look, " God's 
thunder, citizens ! don't light your pipes 
on the powder barrel. Cheerfulness out 
of season is as bad as water poured into 
a sieve. Gerard," continued he, leaning 
toward his adjutant's ear, " come quietly 
close to this brigand, and be ready at his 
first suspicious movement to run him 
through the body. For my part, I will 
take measures to keep up the conversa- 
tion, if our unknown friends are good 
enough to begin it." 



Gerard bowed slightly to intimate 
obedience, and then began to observe 
the chief objects of the valle^^, which 
have been sufficiently described. He 
seemed to wish to examine them more 
attentively, and kept walking up and 
down and without ostensible object ; but 
3^ou may be sure that the landscape was 
the last thing he looked at. For his part, 
Marche-a-Terre gave not a sign of con- 
sciousness that the officer's movements 
threatened him ; from the way in which 
he played with his whip-lash, you might 
have thought that he was fishing in the 
ditch by the roadside. 

While Gerard thus maneuvered to gain 
a position in front of the Chouan, the com- 
mandant whispered to Merle: ''Take a 
sergeant with ten picked men and post 
them yourself afbove us at the spot on the 
hill-top where the road widens out level, 
and where you can see a g'ood long stretch 
of the way to Ernee ; choose a place where 
there are no trees at the roadside, and 
where the sergeant can overlook the open 
country. Let Clef-des-Coeurs be the man : 
he has his wits about him. It is no laugh- 
ing matter : I would not give a penny for 
our skins if we do not take all the advan- 
tage we can get." 

While Captain Merle executed this order 
with a promptitude of which he well knew 
the importance, the commandant shook 
his right hand to enjoin deep silence on 
the soldiers who stood round him, and 
who were talking at ease. Another gest- 
ure bade them get once more under arms. 
As soon as quiet prevailed, he directed his 
eyes first to one side of the road and then 
to the other, listeninig with anxious atten- 
tion, as if he hoped to catch some stifled 
noise, some clatter of weapons, or some 
foot-falls preliminary^ to the expected 
trouble. His black and piercing eye 
seemed to probe the furthest recesses of 
the woods ; but as no symptoms met him 
there, he examined the gravel of the road 
after the fashion of savages, trying to dis- 
cover some traces of the invisible enemy 
whose audacity was well known to him. 

Li despair at seeing nothing to justify 
his fears, he advanced to the edge of the 
roadway, and after carefully climbing its 



THE CHOUANS. 



41 



slight rising's, paced their tops slowly; 
but then he remembered how indispensable 
his experience was to the safety of his 
troops, and descended. His countenance 
darkened : for the chiefs of those days 
alwaj'^s reg-retted that they were not able 
to keep the most dang-erous tasks for 
themselves. The other officers and the 
privates, noticing- the absorption of a 
leader whose disposition they loved, and 
whose bravery the^' knew, perceived that 
his extreme care betokened some danger ; 
but as they were not in a position to ap- 
preciate its g-ravity, they remamed motion- 
less, and, by a sort of instinct, even held 
their breaths. Like dog-s who would fain 
make out the drift of the orders — to them 
incomprehensible — of a cunning- hunter, 
but who obey him implicitly, the soldiers 
g-azed by turns at the valley of the Coues- 
non, at the woods by the roadside, and 
at the stern face of their commander, trj^- 
ing- to read their impending fate in eacli. 
Glance met g-lance, and even more than 
one smile ran from lip to lip. 

As Hulot bent his brows, Beau-Pied, a 
young serg-eant who passed for the wit of 
the company, said, in a half whisper : 
" Where the devil have we put our foot in 
it that an old soldier like Hulot makes 
such mudd^^ faces at us ? he looks like a 
court-martial ! " 

But Hulot bent a stern g-lance on Beau- 
Pied, and the due "silence in the ranks '' 
once more prevailed. In the midst of this 
solemn hush the laggard steps of the con- 
scripts, under whose feet the g-ravel g-ave 
a dull crunch, distracted vaguely, with 
its regular pulse, the g-eneral anxiety. 
Only those can comprehend such an in- 
definite feeling, who, in the g-rip of some 
cruel expectation, have during- the stilly 
night felt the heavy beating's of their 
own hearts quicken at some sound whose 
monotonous recurrence seems to distill 
terror drop by drop. But the comman- 
dant once more took his place in the midst 
of the troops, and began to ask himself, 
"Can I have been deceived?" He was 
beg-inning to look, with gatliering anger 
flashing- from his ej^es, on the calm and 
stolid fig'ure of Marche-a-Terre, when a 
touch of savag-e irony which he seemed 



to detect in the dull eyes of the Chouan 
urg-ed him not to discontinue liis precau- 
tions. At the same moment Captain 
Merle, after carrying out Hulot's orders, 
came up to rejoin him. The silent actors 
in this „scene, so like a thousand other 
scenes which made this war exceptionally 
dramatic, waited impatiently for new in- 
cidents, eager to see hg-ht thrown on the 
dark side of their military situation by 
the maneuvers which mig-ht follow. 

"We did well, captain," said the com- 
mandant, " to set the few patriots^mong 
these requisitionaries at the tail of the 
detachment. Take a dozen more stout 
fellows, put Sub-lieutenant Lebrun at 
their head, and lead them at quick march 
to the rear. They are to support the pa- 
triots who are there, and to bustle on the 
whole flock of g-eese briskly, so as to 
bring- it up at the double to the heig-ht 
which their comrades already occupy. I 
will wait for you." 

The captain disappeared in the midst 
of his men, and the commandant, looking- 
by turns at four brave soldiers whose ac- 
tivity and intellig-ence were known to him, 
beckoned silently to them with a friendly 
g-esture of the fingers, sig-nifying "Come;" 
and they came. 

"You served with me under Hoche," 
he said, " when we brought those bri- 
g-ands who called themselves the '■ King-'s 
Huntsmen ' to reason ; and -yon know how 
they used to hide themselves in order to 
pot the Blues ! " 

At this encomium on their experience 
the four soldiers nodded with a sig-nificant 
grin, exhibiting- countenances full of sol- 
dierly heroism, but whose careless indif- 
ference announced that, since the strugg-le 
had begun between France and Europe, 
they had thoug-ht of nothing- beyond their 
knapsacks behind them and their baj^o- 
nets in front. Their lips were contracted 
as with tight-drawn purse-string-s, and 
their watchful and curious eyes g-azed at 
their leader. 

"Well," continued Hulot, who pos- 
sessed in perfection the art of speaking- 
the soldier's highly colored lang-uage, 
" old hands such as we must not let our- 
selves be caug-ht by Chouans, and there 



42 



THE HUMAN COMEDY 



are Chouans about here, or my name is 
not Hulot. You four must beat the two 
sides of the road in front. The detach- 
ment will g-o slowl}^ Keep up well with 
it. Try not to lose the number of your 
mess,* and do your scouting- there smart- 
ly." 

Then he pointed out to them the most 

dang-erous heig-hts on the way. They all, 
by way of thanks, carried the backs of 
their hands to the old three-cornered hats, 
whose tall brims, rain-beaten and limp 
with ag-e, slouched on the crown; and 
one of them, Larose, a corporal, and well 
known to Hulot, made his musket ring-, 
and said, ''We will play them a tune on 
the rifle, commandant ! " 

They set off, two to the right, the 
others to the left ; and the company saw 
them disappear on both sides with no 
slig-ht anxiety. This feeling* was shared 
by the commandant, who had little doubt 
that he was sending them to certain 
death. He could hardly help shuddering- 
when the tops of their hats were no 
longer visible, while both officers and 
men heard the dwindling- sound of their 
steps on the dry leaves with a feeling- all 
the acuter that it was carefully veiled. 
For in Avar there are situations when the 
risk of four men's lives causes more alarm 
than the thousands of slain at a battle of 
Jemmapes. Soldiers' faces have such 
various and such rapidl}- fleeting expres- 
sions, that those who would sketch them 
are forced to appeal to memories of sol- 
diers, and to leave peaceable folk to study 
for themselves their dramatic counte- 
nances, for storms so rich in details as 
these could not be described without in- 
tolerable tediousness. 

Just as the last flash of the four bay- 
onets disappeared. Captain Merle re- 
turned, having- accomplished the com- 
mandant's orders with the speed of 
lig-htning-. Hulot, with a few words of 
command, set the rest of his troops in 
fighting order in the middle of the road. 
Then he bade them occupy the summit of 



* This is a naval rather than a mihtary meta- 
phor ; bvit I do not know how the law recruit 
would express descendre la garde. 



the Pilg-rim, where his scanty vanguard 
was posted ; but he himself marched last 
and backward so as to note the slightest 
change at any point of the scene which 
Nature had made so beautiful and man 
so full of fear. He had reached the spot 
where Gerard was mounting guard on 
Marche-a-Terre, when the Chouan, who 
had followed with an apparently careless 
eye all the commandant's motions, and 
who was at the moment observing with 
unexpected keenness the two soldiers who 
were busy in the woods at the right, 
whistled twice or thrice in such a manner 
as to imitate the clear and piercing note 
of the screech-owl. 

Now, the three famous smugglers men- 
tioned above used in the same way to em- 
ploy at night certain variations on this 
hoot in order to interchange intelligence 
of ambuscades, of threatening dangers, 
and of every fact of importance to them. 
It was from this that the surname 
Chuin, the local word for the owl, was 
given to them, and the term , slightly cor- 
rupted, served in the first war to desig- 
nate those who followed the ways and 
obeyed the signals of the brothers. When 
he heard this suspicious whistle, the com- 
mandant halted, and looked narrowly at 
Marche-a-Terre. He pretended to be de- 
ceived by the sheepish air of the Chouan, 
on purpose to keep him near to himself, 
as a barometer to indicate the move- 
ments of the enemy. And. therefore he 
checked the hand of Gerard, who was 
about to dispatch him. Then he posted 
two soldiers a couple of paces from the 
spy, and in loud, clear tones bade them 
shoot him at the first signal that he gave. 
Yet Marche-a-Terre, in spite of his im- 
minent danger, did not show any emo- 
tion, and the commandant, who was still 
observing him, noting his insensibility'-, 
said to Gerard : " The goose does not 
know his business. 'Tis never easy to 
read a Chouan 's face, but this fellow has 
betrayed himself by wishing to show his 
pluck. Look you, Gerard, if he had pre- 
tended to be afraid, I should have taken 
him for a mere fool. There would have 
been a pair of us, and I should have been 
at my wits' end. Now it is certain that 



THE CHOUANS. 



43 



we shall be attacked. But they ma}'- 
come; I am ready." 

Having- said these words in a low voice, 
and with a triumphant air, the old soldier 
rubbed his hands and g-lanced slyly at 
Marche-a-Terre. Then he crossed his 
arms on his breast, remained in the mid- 
dle of the road between his two favorite 
officers, and waited for the event of his 
dispositions. Tranquil at last as to the 
result of the fight, he surveyed his soldiers 
with a calm countenance. 

''There will be a row in a minute," 
whispered Beau-Pied; ''the commandant 
is rubbing- his hands." 

Such a critical situation as that in which 
Commandant Hulot and his detachment 
were placed, is one of those where life is 
so literally at stake that men of energy 
make it a point of honor to show coolness 
and presence of mind. At such moments 
manhood is put to a last proof. So the 
commandant, knowing inore of the danger 
than his officers, plumed himself all the 
more on appearing- the most tranquil. By 
turns inspecting Marche-a-Terre, the road, 
and the woods, he awaited, not without 
anxiet^^, the sound of a volley from the 
Chouans, who, he doubted not, were lurk- 
ing- like forest-demons around him. His 
face was impassive. When all the soldiers' 
e3"es were fixed on his, he slightly wrinkled 
his brown cheeks pitted with small-pox, 
drew up the right side of his lip, and 
winked hard, producing a g-rimace which 
his men regularlj^ understood to be a smile. 
Then he clapped Gerard's shoulder, and 
said. "Now that we are quiet, what were 
you going to say to me ? " 

" What new crisis is upon us, comman- 
dant ? ' 

'* The thing- is not new," answered he, 
in a low tone. " The whole of Europe is 
against us, and this time the cards are 
with them. While our directors are 
squabbling- among themselves like horses 
without oats in a stable, and while their 
whole administration is going to pieces, 
they leave the army without supplies. In 
Italy we are simplj'^lost ! Yes. my friends, 
we have evacuated Mantua in consequence 
of losses on the Trebia, and Joubert has 
just lost a battle at Novi. I only hope 



Masse n a may be able to keep the passes 
in Switzerland ag-ainst Suwarrow. We 
have been driven in on the Rhine, and the 
Directory has sent Moreau there. Will 
the fellow be able to hold the frontier ? 
Perhaps ; but sooner or later the coali- 
tion must crush us, and the only g-eneral 
who could save us is — the devil knows 
where — dow^n in Egypt. Besides, how 
could he get back ? England is mistress 
of the seas." 

" I do not care so much about Bona- 
parte's absence, commandant," said the 
young adjutant Gerard, in whom a care- 
ful education had developed a naturally 
strong- understanding. " Do 3^ou mean 
that the Revolution will be arrested in its 
course ? Ah no ! we are not only charged 
with the duty of defending- the frontiers 
of France ; we have a double mission. Are 
we not bound as well to keep alive the 
g-enius of our country, the noble prin- 
ciples of liberty and independence, the 
spirit of human reason which our Assem- 
blies have aroused, and which must ad- 
vance from time to time ? France is as 
a traveler commissioned to carry a torch : 
she holds it in one hand, and defends her- 
self with the other. But if your news is 
true, never during- ten years have more 
folk anxious to blow the torch out 
thronged around us. Our faith and our 
country both must be near perishing." 

" Alas ! 'tis true," sighed Commandant 
Hulot ; " our puppets of Directors have 
taken g-ood care to quarrel with all the 
men who could steer the ship of state. 
Bernadotte, Carnot, all, even citizen 
Talleyrand, have left us There is but a 
single good patriot left — friend Fouche, 
who keeps things together by means of 
the police. That is a man for you ! It 
was he who warned me in time of this 
rising — and w^hat is more, I am sure we 
are caught in a trap of some sort." 

"Oh ! " said Gerard, "if the army has 
not some finger in the government, these 
attorney fellows will put us in a worse 
case than before the Revolution. How 
can such weasels know how to com- 
mand ? " 

" I am always in fear," said Hulot, " of 
hearing- that they are parleying- with the 



44 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



Bourbons. God's thunder ! if thej' came 
to terms, we should be in a pickle here ! " 

"No, no, commandant, it will not come 
to that," said Gerard; 'Hhe army, as 
you say, will make itself heard, and un- 
less it speaks according- to Picheg-ru's 
dictionary, there is good hope that we 
shall not have worked and foug-ht our- 
selves to death for ten years, onl}^ to have 
planted the flax ourselves, and let others 
spin it." 

''Why, yes!" said the commandant, 
'' we have not chang-ed our coats without 
its costing us something-." 

"Well, then," said Captain Merle, "let 
us play the part of g-ood patriots still 
here, and tr^'^ to stop communications be- 
tween our Chouans and La Vendee. For 
if the}'- join, and England lends a hand, 
why, then, I will not answer for the cap 
of the Republic, one and indivisible." 

At this point the owl's hoot, which 
sounded afar off, interrupted the conver- 
sation. The commandant, more anxious, 
scanned Marche-a-Terre anew, but *liis 
impassive countenance g-ave hardly even 
a sig-n of life. The conscripts, brought 
up by an officer, stood huddled like a herd 
of cattle in the middle of the road, some 
thirt}^ paces from the company drawn up 
in order of battle. Last of all, ten paces 
further, were the soldiers and patriots 
under the orders of Lieutenant Lebrun. 
The commandant threw a g-lance over his 
array, resting it finally on the picket 
which he had posted in front. Satisfied 
with his dispositions, he was just turning 
round to give the word "March," when 
he caught sight of the tricolor cockades 
of the two soldiers who were coming- back 
after searching the woods to the left. 
Seeing that the scouts on the right had 
not returned, he thoug-ht of waiting for 
them. 

"Perhaps the bomb is g-oing to burst 
there," he said to the two officers, point- 
ing to the wood where his forlorn hope 
seemed to be buried. 

While the two scouts made a kind of 
report to him, Hulot took his eyes off 
Marche-a-Terre. The Chouan thereupon 
set to whistling- sharply in such u. fashion 
as to send the sound to a prodigious dis- 



tance; and then, before either of his 
watchers had been able even to take aim 
at him, he dealt them blows with his whip, 
which stretched them on the foot-path. At 
the same moment cries, or rather san^age 
howls, surprised the Republicans : a heavy 
volley coming- from the wood at the top 
of the slope where the Chouan had seated 
himself, laid seven or eig-ht soldiers low; 
while Marche-a-Terre, at whom half a 
dozen useless shots were fired, disap- 
peared in the thicket, after climbing the 
slope like a wildcat. As he did so his 
sabots dropped in the ditch, and they could 
easily see on his feet the stout hobnailed 
shoes which were usualh" worn by the 
"King's Huntsmen." No sooner had 
the Chouans given tongue than the whole 
of the conscripts dashed into the wood to 
the right, like flocks of birds Avhich take 
to wing- on the approach of a traveler. 

" Fire on the rascals ! " cried the com- 
mandant 

The company fired, but the conscripts 
had had the address to put themselves in 
safety by setting- each man his back to 
a tree, and before the muskets could be 
reloaded they had vanished. 

" Now talk of recruiting- departmental 
legions, eh ? " said Hulot to Gerard. "' A 
man must be as great a fool as a Direc- 
tor}^ to count on levies from such a coun- 
try as this ! The Assembly would do bet- 
ter to vote us less, and give us more in 
uniforms, monej'', and stores." 

" These are g-entlemen who like their 
bannocks better than ammunition bread," 
said Beau-Pied, the wit of the company. 

As he spoke hooting-s and shouts of 
derision from the Republican troops cried 
shame on the deserters ; but silence fe\\ 
ag-ain at once, as the soldiers saw, climb- 
ing- painfully down the slope, the two 
light infantry men whom the comman- 
dant had sent to beat the wood to the 
rig-ht. The less severelj'^ wounded of the 
two was supporting- his comrade, whose 
blood poured on thfe g-round, and the two 
poor fellows had reached the middle of 
the descent when Marche-a-Terre showed 
his hideous face, and took such g-ood aim 
at the two Blues that he hit them both 
with the same shot, and they dropped 



TEE CHOUANS. 



45 



heavily into the ditch. His great head 
had no sooner appeared than thirty bar- 
rels were raised, but like a fig-ure in a 
fantasmng-oria, he had already disap- 
peared behind tlie terrible broom lufts. 
These incidents,, whicli talvc so long- in 
the telling-, passed in a moment, and 
then, again in a moment, the patriots 
and the soldiers of the rear-g-uard ef- 
fected a junction witli the rest of the 
escort. 

" Forward ! '' cried Hulot. 

Tlie compan\' made its way quickly to 
the lofty and bare spot where the piclvet 
had been posted. There the commandant 
once more set the company in battle 
array : but he could see no further sigrn 
of hostility" on the Chouans' part, and 
thought that the deliverance of the con- 
scripts had been the only object of the 
ambuscade. 

'•' I can tell by their shouts,'' said he to 
his two friends, "that there are not many 
of them. Let us quicken up. Perhaps 
we can gain Ernee without having- them 
upon us." 

The words were heard b3^a patriot con- 
script, who left the ranks and presented 
himself to Hulot. 

'' General," said he, " I liave served in 
this war before as a counter-Chouan. 
May a man say a word to 3'ou?" 

" 'Tis a lawyer : these fellows always 
think themselves in court," whispered the 
commandant into Merle's ear. " Well, 
make your speech," said he to the young- 
man of Fougeres. 

"Commandant, the Chouans have no 
doubt brought arms for the new recruits 
they have just gained. Now, if we budge, 
the^^ will wait for us at every corner of 
the wood and kill us to the last man be- 
fore we reach Ernee. We must make a 
speech, as you say, but it must be with 
cartridges. During the skirmish, which 
will last longer than you think, one of my 
comrades will go and fetch the National 
Guard and the Free Companies from Fou- 
geres. Though we are only conscripts, 
you shall see then whether we are kites 
and crows at fighting." 

" You think there are many of the 
Chouans, then? " 



' ' Look for 3^ourself , citizen comman- 
dant." 

He took Hulot to a spot on the plateau 
where the road-gravel had been disturbed 
as if with a rake, and then, after drawing 
his attention to this, he led him some waj*" 
in front to a bj'-path where they saw 
traces of the passage of no small number 
of men, for the leaves were trodden right 
into the beaten soil. 

"These are the Oars of Vitre," said 
the man of Fougeres. " They have start- 
ed to join the men of Lower Normandy." 

"What is your name, citizen?" said 
Hulot. 

" Gudin, commandant." 

"Well, Gudin, I make you corporal of 
your townsfolk. You seem to be a fellow 
who can be depended on. Choose for 
yourself one of your comrades to send to 
Fougeres. And you yourself sta}' by me. 
First, go with ^-our requisitionaries and 
pick up the knapsacks, the guns, and the 
uniforms of our poor comrades whom the 
brigands have knocked over. You shall 
not staj' here to stand gunshot without 
returning it." 

So the bold men of Fougeres went to 
strip the dead, and the whole company 
protected them by pouring a steady fire 
into the wood, so that the task of strip- 
ping was successfully performed without 
the loss of a single man. 

"' These Bretons," said Hulot to Gerard, 
"will make famous infantr}' if they can 
ever make up their minds to the panni- 
kin."* 

Gudin's messenger started at a run by 
a winding path in the wood to the left. 
The soldiers, busy in seeing to their weap- 
ons, made read^^ for the fight ; and the 
commandant, after lookmg them over 
smilingly, took his station a few steps in 
front, with his two favorite officers, and 
waited stubbornly'' for the Chouans to 
attack. There was again silence for a 
while, but it did not last long. Three 
hundred Chouans, dressed in a similar 
fashion to the requisitionaries, debouched 

* Garnelle, the joint soup-plate or bowl in which 
the rations of several French soldiers were served, 
and which has something' of the traditional sa- 
credness of the Janissary soup-kettle. 



46 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



from the woods to the right, and occu- 
pied, after a disorderly fashion, and utter- 
ing shouts which w^ere true wild-beast 
howls, the hreadth of the road in front of 
the thin line of Blues. The commandant 
drew up his men in two equal divisions, 
each ten men abreast, placing between 
the two his dozen requisition aries hastily 
equipped and under his own immediate 
command. The little army was guarded 
on the wings by two detachments, each 
twentj'-five men strong, who operated on 
the two sides of the road under Gerard 
and Merle, and whose business it was to 
take the Chouans in flank, and prevent 
them from practicing the maneuver called 
in the country dialect s'egailler — ^that is 
to saj'^, scattering themselves about the 
country, and each man taking up his own 
position so as best to shoot at the Blues 
without exposing himself ; in which way 
of fighting the Republican troops were at 
their wits' end where to have their ene- 
mies. 

These dispositions, which the comman- 
dant ordered with the promptitude suited 
to the circumstances,, inspired the soldiers 
with the same confidence that he himself 
felt, and the whole body silently marched 
on the Chouans. At the end of a few 
minutes, the interval required to cover 
the space between the two forces, a volley 
at point-blank laid manj^ low on both 
sides ; but at the same moment the Re- 
publican wings, against which the Chou- 
ans had made no counter-movement, came 
up on the flank, and by a close and lively 
fire spread death and disorder amid the 
enemy to an extent which almost equalized 
the number of the two bodies. But there 
was in the character of the Chouans a 
stubborn courage w^hich would stand any 
trial : they budgod not a step, their losses 
did not make them waver ; thej'" closed up 
their broken ranks, and strove to surround 
the dark and steady handful of Blues, 
which occupied so little space that it 
looked like a queen bee in the midst of a 
swarm. 

Then began one of those appalling en- 
gagements in which the sound of gunshot, 
scarcely heard at all, is replaced by the 
clatter of a struggle with the cold steel, 



in which men fight hand to hand and in 
which with equal courage the victory is 
decided simpl}^ by numbers. The Chouans 
would have carried the day at once if the 
wings under Merle and Gerard had not 
succeeded in raking their rear with more 
than one volle3^ The Blues who composed 
these wings ought to have held their posi- 
tion and continued to mark down their 
formidable adversaries ; but, heated by 
the sight of the dangers which the brave 
detachment ran, completely' surrounded 
as it was by the King's Huntsmen, they 
flung themselves madlj^ on the road, bay- 
onet in hand, and for a moment redressed 
the balance. Both sides then gave them- 
selves up to the furious zeal, kindled by a 
wild and savage party spirit, which made 
this war unique. Each man, heedful of 
his own danger, kept absolute silence ; 
and the whole scene liad the grizzly cool- 
ness of death itself. Across the silence, 
broken only b}^ the clash of arms and the 
crunching of the gravel, there came noth- 
ing else but the dull, heavy groans of 
those who fell to earth, dying, or wounded 
to the death. In the midst of the Repub- 
licans the requisitionaries defended the 
commandant, who was busied in giving 
counsel and command in all directions, so 
stoutly that more than once the regulars 
cried out, ''Well done, recruits!" But 
Hulot, cool and watchful of everything, 
soon distinguished among the Chouans 
a man who, surrounded like himself by 
a few picked followers, seemed to be their 
leader. He thought it imperative that 
he should take a good look at the officer ; 
but though again and again he tried in 
vain to note his features, the view was al- 
ways barred by red bonnets or flapping 
hats. He could but perceive Marche-a- 
Terre, who, keeping by the side of his 
chief, repeated his orders in a harsh tone, 
and whose rifle was unceasingl}^ active. 

The commandant lost his temper at 
this continual disappointment, and, draw- 
ing his sword and cheering on the requisi- 
tionaries, charged the thickest of the Chou- 
ans so furiously that he broke through 
them, and was able to catch a glimpse of 
the chief, whose face was unluckily quite 
hidden by a huge flapped hat bearing the 



THE CHOUANS. 



47 



white cockade. But the stranger, startled 
by the boldness of the attack, stepped 
backward, tliroAving- up his hat sharply, 
and Hulot had the opportunity of taking 
brief stock of him. The 3'oung leader, 
Avhom Hulot could not judge to be more 
than five-and-twenty, wore a green cloth 
shooting-coat, and pistols were thrust in 
his white sash ; his stout shoes were hob- 
nailed like those of the Chouans, while 
sporting gaiters rising to his knees, and 
joining breeches of very coarse duck, 
completed a costume which revealed a 
shape of moderate height, but slender 
and well proportioned. Enraged at see- 
ing the Blues so near him, he slouched 
his hat and made at them ; but he was 
immediately surrounded by Marche-a- 
Terre and some other Chouans alarmed 
for his safety. Yet Hulot thought he 
could see in the intervals left by the heads 
of those who thronged round the 3"0ung 
man a broad red ribbon on a half-opened 
waistcoat. The commandant's eyes were 
attracted for a moment by this Royalist 
decoration, then entirely forgotten, but 
shifted suddenly to the face, which he 
lost from sight almost as soon, being 
driven by the course of the fight to at- 
tend to the safet^'^ and the movements of 
his little force. He thus saw but for a 
moment a pair of sparkling eyes, whose 
color he did not mark, fair hair, and feat- 
ures finely cut enough, but sunburned. 

He was, however, particularly struck 
by the gleam of a bare neck whose white- 
ness was enhanced by a black cravat, 
loose, and carelessly tied. The fiery and 
spirited gestures of the young chief were 
soldierh' enough, after the fashion of 
those who like to see a certain conven- 
tional romance in a fight. His hand, 
carefully gloved, flourished a sword-blade 
that flashed in the sun. His bearing dis- 
played at once elegance and streng-th ; 
and his somewhat deliberate excitement, 
set off as it was by the charms of youth 
and by graceful manners, made the emi- 
grant leader a pleasing type of the French 
noblesse, and a sharp contrast with Hulot, 
Avho, at a pace or two from him, personi- 
fied in his turn the vigorous Republic for 
which the old soldier fought, and whose 



stem face and blue uniform, faced with 
shabby red, the epaulets tarnished and 
hanging back over his shoulders, depicted 
not ill his character and his hardships. 

The young man's air and his not un- 
graceful affectation did not escape Hulot, 
who shouted, as he tried to get at him : 
" Come, you opera-dancer there ! come 
along and be thrashed ! " 

The royal chief, annoj^ed at his momen- 
tary check, rushed forward desperately ; 
and no sooner had his men seen him thus 
risk himself, than they all flung them- 
selves on the Blues. 

But suddenly a clear, sweet voice made 
itself heard above the battle, " 'Twashere 
that sainted Lescure died : will you not 
avenge him?" And at these words of 
enchantment the exertions of the Chou- 
ans became so terrible that the Republi- 
can soldiers had the greatest trouble in 
holding their ground without breaking 
ranks. 

''Had he not been a youngster," said 
Hulot to himself, as he retreated step by 
step, "we should not have been attacked. 
Who ever heard of Chouans fighting a 
pitched battle ? But so much the better : 
we shall not be killed like dogs along the 
roadside." Then raising his voice that 
it might up-echo along the woods, "Wake 
up, children ! " he cried ; " shall we let 
ourselves be bothered by brigands ? ' ' 

The term by which we have replaced 
the word which the valiant commandant 
actually used is but a weak equivalent ; 
but old hands will know how to restore 
the true phrase, which certainly has a 
more soldierly flavor. 

" Gerard ! Merle ! " continued the com- 
mandant, " draw off 3-our men ! form them 
in column ! fall back ! fii;e on the dogs, 
and let us have done with them ! " 

But Hulot's order was not easy to exe- 
cute ; for, as he heard his adversary's 
voice, the young chief cried : '' By Saint 
Anne of Auray ! hold them fast I scatter 
3^ ourselves, my Gars ! " 

And when the two wings commanded 
by Merle and Gerard left the main battle, 
each handful was followed by a deter- 
mined band of Chouans much superior 
in numbers, and the stout old goatskins 



48 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



surrounded the regulars on all sides, 
shouting- aneAv their sinister and bestial 
howls. 

"Shut up, g-entlemen, please," said 
Beau-Pied; ''we can't hear ourselves 
being- killed." 

The joke revived the spirits of the Blues, 
Instead of fighting- in a sing-le position, 
the Republicans continued their defense 
at three different spots on the plateau of 
tiie Pilgrim, and all its valleys, lately so 
peaceful, re-echoed with the fusillade. Vic- 
tory might have remained undecided for 
hours, till the fight ceased for want of 
fighters, for Blues and Chouans fought 
with equal bravery and with rage con- 
stantly increasing on both sides, when the 
faint beat of a drum was heard afar off, 
and it was clear, from the direction of the 
sound, that the force which it heralded 
was crossing the valley of the Couesnon, 

" 'Tis the National Guard of FougeresI" 
cried Gudin, loudly ; " Vannier must have 
met them." 

At this cry, which reached the ears of 
the j^oungChouan chief and his fierce aid- 
de-camp, the Royalists made a backward 
movement, but it was promptlj' checked 
by a roar, as of a wild beast, from Marche- 
a-Terre. After a word of command or two 
given by the leader in a low voice and 
transmitted in Breton \>y Marche-a-Terre 
to the Chouans, thej'^ arranged their re- 
treat with a skill which astonished the 
Republicans, and even the commandant. 
At the first word those in best condition 
fell into line and showed a stout front, be- 
hind which the wounded men and the rest 
retired to load. Then all at once, with 
the same agility of which Marche-a-Terre 
had before set the example, the wounded 
scaled the heigjit which bounded the road 
on the right, and were followed by half 
the remaining Chouans, Avho, also climb- 
ing it smartly, manned the summit so as 
to show the Blues nothing but their bold 
heads. 

Once there, they took the trees for 
breastworks, and leveled their guns at 
the remnant of the escort, who, on Hulot's 
repeated orders, had dressed their ranks 
quickly so as to show on the road itself 
a front not less than that of the Chouans 



still occupying it. These latter fell back 
slowly and fought every inch of ground, 
shifting so as to put themselves under 
their comrades' fire. As soon as they 
had reached the ditch, they in their turn 
escaladed the slope whose top their fellows 
held, and joined them after suffering with- 
out flinching the fire of the Republicans, 
who were lucky enough to fill the ditch 
with dead, though the men on the top of 
the scrap replied with a volley quite as 
deadly. At this moment the Pougeres 
National Guard came up at a run to the 
battle-field, and its arrival finished the 
business. The National Guards and some 
excited regulars Avere already crossing 
the foot-path to plunge into the woods, 
when the commandant's martial voice 
cried to them: "Do you want to have 
your throats cut in there ? " 

So they rejoined the Republican force 
which had held the field, but not without 
heavy losses. All the old hats were stuck 
on the bayonet points, the guns were 
thrust aloft, and the soldiers cried with 
one voice and twice over, '• Long live the 
Republic ! " Even the wounded sitting 
on the roadsides shared the enthusiasm, 
and Hulot squeezed Gerard's hand, saj'- 
ing : "Eh ! these are something like fel- 
lows ! " 

Merle was ordered to bury the dead in 
a ravine by the roadside ; while other sol- 
diers busied themselves with the wounded. 
Carts and horses were requisitioned from 
the farms round, and the disabled com- 
rades were softly bedded in them on the 
strippings of the dead. But before de- 
parting, the Fougeres National Guard 
handed over to Hulot a dangerously 
wounded Chouan. They had taken him 
prisoner at the foot of the steep slope by 
which his comrades had escaped, and on 
which he had slipped, betrayed by his 
flagging strength. 

" Thanks for j^our prompt action, citi- 
zens," said the commandant. "God's 
thunder ! but for you we should have had 
a bad time of it. Take care of 3'ourselves : 
the war has begun . Farewell, my brave 
fellows ! " Then Hulot turned to the pris- 
oner. "What is your general's name ? " 
asked he. 




Makche-a-Tkure. 



BA.LZAC, Volume Three. 



Thk Chouans. 



THE CHOUANS. 



49 



''The Gars." 

" Who is that ? Marche-a-Terre ? " 

''No! the Gars." 

" Where did the Gars come from ? " 

At this question the King's Huntsman, 
his roug-h, fierce face stricken with pain, 
kept silence, told his beads, and began 
to say prayers. 

"Of course the Gars is the young ci- 
devant with the black cravat ; he was 
sent by the t3"rant and his allies Pitt and 
Cobourg?" 

But at these words the Chouan, less 
well informed than the commandant, 
raised his head proudly : " He was sent 
by God and the king ! " 

He said the words with an energx'^ 
which exhausted his small remaining 
strength. The commandant saw that it 
was almost impossible to extract intelli- 
gence from a dying man, whose whole 
bearing showed his blind fanaticism, and 
turned his head aside with a frown. Two 
soldiers, friends of those whom Marche-a- 
Terre had so brutall}^ dispatched with his 
whip on the side of the road (for indeed 
they lay dead there), stepped back a 
little, took aim at the Chouan, whose 
steady eyes fell not before the leveled 
barrels, fired point-blank at him, and he 
fell. But when they drew near to strip 
the corpse, he mustered strength' to cr3^ 
once more and loudly, " Long live the 
king!" 

"Oh, 3'es, sly dog!" said Clef-des- 
Coeurs, "go and eat your bannocks at 
your good Virgin's table. To think of 
his shouting ' Long live the tyrant ! ' in 
our faces when we thought him done 
for!" 

"Here, commandant," said Beau-Pied, 
"here are the brigand's papers." 

"Hullo ! " cried Clef-des-Coeurs again, 
"do come and look at this soldier of God 
with his stomacli painted ! " 

Hulot and some of the men crowded 
round the Cho nan's body, now quite 
naked, and perceived on his breast a 
kind of bluish tattoo-mark representing 
a burning heart, the mark of initiation 
of the Brotherhood of the Sacred Heart. 
Below the design Hulot could decipher the 
words " Marie Lambrequin," no doubt the 



Chouan's name. "You see that, Clef- 
des-Coeurs ? " said Beau-Pied. " Well, 
,you may guess for a month of Sundays 
before 3''ou find out the use of this ac- 
couterment." 

" What do I know about the Pope's 
uniforms ? " replied Clef-des-Coeurs. 

" Wretched pad-the-hoof that you are !" 
retorted Beau-Pied; "will you never learn? 
Don't you see that they have promised the 
fellow resurrection, and that he has paint- 
ed his belly that he may know himself 
again ? " 

At this sall^'^, which had a certain ground 
of fact, Hulot himself could not help join- 
ing in the general laughter. B}^ this time 
Merle had finished burning the dead, and 
the wounded had been, as best could be 
done, packed in two wagons by their com- 
rades. The rest of the soldiers, forming 
without orders a double file on each side 
of the improvised ambulances, made their 
way down the side of the hill which faces 
Maine, and from which is seen the valley 
of the Pilgrim, a rival to that of the 
Couesnon in beautj^. Hulot, with his two 
friends. Merle and Gerard, followed his 
soldiers at an easy pace, hoping to gain 
Ernee, where his wounded could be looked 
after without further mishap. The fight, 
though almost forgotten among the migh- 
tier events which were then beginning in 
France, took its name from the place 
where it had occurred, and attracted 
some attention, if not elsewhere, in the 
West, whose inhabitants, noting with 
care this new outbreak of hostilities, ob- 
served a change in the way in which the 
Chouans opened the new war. Formerly 
they would never have thought of attack- 
ing detachments of such strength. Hu- 
lot conjectured that the young Ro^'^alist 
he had seen must be the Gars, the new 
general sent to France by the royal fam- 
ily, who, after the fashion usual with the 
Royalist chiefs, concealed his stjde and 
title under one of the nicknames called 
noms de guerre. 

The fact made the commandant not 
less thoughtful after his dearly-won vic- 
tor}" than at the moment when he sus- 
pected the ambuscade. He kept turning 
back to look at the summit of the Pilgrim 



50 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



wliicli lie was leaving- behind, and whence 
there still came at intervals the muffled 
sound of the drums of the National 
Guard, who were descending- the valley 
of the Couesnon just as the Blues were 
descending that of the Pilgrim. 

" Can either of you," he said suddenly 
to his two friends, " gness the Chouans' 
motive in attacking us ? They are busi- 
ness-like folk in dealing- with g-unshots, 
and I cannot see what they had to gain 
in • this particular transaction. They 
must have lost at least a hundred men ; 
and we," he added, hitching his right 
cheek and winking by way of a smile, 
" have not lost sixty. God's thunder ! 
I do not see their calculation. The ras- 
cals need not have attacked us unless 
they liked : we should have gone along 
as quietl}^ as a mail-bag, and I don't see 
what g-ood it did them to make holes in 
our poor fellows." And he pointed sadlj' 
enough at the two wagon-loads of wound- 
ed. '' Of course, " he added, ''itma3^have 
been mere politeness — a kmd of ' g-ood day 
to you!'" 

'''But, commandant, they carried off 
our hundred and fifty recruits," answered 
Merle. 

"The conscripts might have hopped 
into the woods like frogs for all the 
trouble we should have taken to catch 
them," said Hulot, '^especiall3^ after the 
first volley ; " and he repeated, " No ! no ! 
there is something' behind." Then, with 
yet another turn toward the hill, "There !" 
he cried, "look ! " 

Although the officers were now some 
way from the fatal plateau, they could 
easily distinguish Marche-a-Terre and 
some Chouans who had occupied it 
afresh. 

"Quick march!" cried Hulot to his 
men -, " slir 3'our stumps, and wake up 
Shanks his mare ! Are your legs frozen ? 
have t\iey turned Pitt - and - Cobourg 
men ? " 

The little force began to move briskl}^ 
at these words and the commandant con- 
tinued to the two officers : " As for this 
riddle, friends, which I can't make out, 
God grant the answer be not g-iven in 
musket language at Ernee. I am much 



afraid of hearing- that the communication 
with Mayenne has been cut again by the 
king-'s subjects." 

But the problem which curled Com- 
mandant Hulot's mustache was at the 
same time causing- quite as lively anx- 
iety to the folk he had seen on the top of 
the Pilgrim. As soon as the drums of 
the National Guard died away, and the 
Blues were seen to have reached the bot- 
tom of the long descent, Marche-a-Terre 
sent the owl's ciy cheerily out, and the 
Chouans reappeared, but in smaller num- 
bers. No doubt, not a few Avere busy in 
looking- to the wounded in the village of 
the Pilg-rim, which lay on the face of the 
hill looking toward the Couesnon. Two 
or three leaders of the " King-'s Hunts- 
men " joined Marche-a-Terre, while, a 
pace or two away, the young- nobleman, 
seated on a granite bowlder, seemed 
plunged in various thoughts, excited by 
the difficultj^ which his enterprise already 
presented. Marche-a-Terre made a screen 
with his hand to shade his sight from the 
sun's g-lare, and g-azed in a melancholy 
fashion at the road which the Republicans 
were following- across the Pilgrim valle3^ 
His ej^es, small, black, and piercing-, 
seemed tr^ang to discover what was 
passing- where the road beg-an to climb 
ag-ain on the horizon of the valley. 

"The Blues will intercept the mail ! " 
said, savag-el^^, one of the chiefs who was 
nearest Marche-a-Terre. 

" In the name of Saint Anne of Auray," 
said another, "why did you make us 
fight? To save your own skin?" 

Marche-a-Terre cast a venomous look 
at the speaker, and slapped the butt of 
his heavy rifle on the g-round. 

"Am I g-eneral ? " he asked. Then, 
after a pause, " If you had all foug-ht as I 
did, not one of those Blues, " and he pointed 
to the remnant of Hulot's detachment, 
" would have escaped, and the coach 
might have been here now." 

"Do you think," said a third, "that 
they would have even thought of escorting- 
or stopping it, if we had let them pass 
quietly ? You wanted to save your cursed 
skin, which was in danger because you 
did not think the Blues were on the road. 



THE CHOUANS. 



51 



To save his bacon/' continued the speaker, 
turning to the others, "he bled us, and 
we shall lose twenty thousand francs of 
g-ood money as well ! " 

"Bacon j'ourself ! " cried Marche-a- 
Terre, falling back, and leveling his rifle 
at his foe; "you do not hate the Blues; 
you only love the money. You shall die 
and be damned, you scoundrel ! For you 
have not been to confession and com- 
munion this whole year ! " 

The insult turned the Chouan pale, and 
he took aim at Marche-a-Terre, a dull 
growl starting from his throat as he did 
so ; but the j^oung chief rushed between 
them, struck down their weapons with the 
barrel of his own rifle, and then asked for 
an explanation of the quarrel ; for the con- 
versation had been in Breton, with which 
he was not very familiar. 

"My Lord Marquis," said Marche-a- 
Terre, when he had told him, "it is all 
the greater shame to find fault with me 
in that I left behind Pille-Miche, who will 
perhaps be able to save the coach from 
the thieves' claws after all," and he 
pointed to the Blues, who, in the eyes of 
these faithful servants of the throne and 
altar, were all assassins of Louis XVL, 
and all robbers as well. 

"What!" cried the young man, an- 
gril}^, "you are lingering here to stop a 
coach like cowards, when you might have 
won the victory in the first fight where I 
have led you ? How are we to triumph 
with such objects as these ? Are the de- 
fenders of God and the king common 
marauders ? By Saint Anne of Auray ! 
it is the Republic and not the mail that 
we make war on. Henceforward, a man 
who is guilty of such shameful designs 
shall be deprived of absolution, and shall 
not share in the honors reserved for the 
king's brave servants." 

A low growl rose from the midst of the 
band, and it was easy to see that the 
chief's new-born authority, always diffi- 
cult to establish among such undisciplined 
gangs, was likely to be compromised. 
The young man, who had not missed 
this demonstration, was searching for 
some means of saving the credit of his 
position, when the silence was broken by 



a horse's trot, and all heads turned in the 
supposed direction of the new-comer. It 
was a young lady mounted sidewise on 
a small Breton pony. She broke into a 
gallop, in order to reach the group of 
Chouans more quickly, when she saw 
the young man in their midst. 

" What is the matter ? " said she, look- 
ing from men to leader by turns. 

"Can 3'ou believe it, madame?" said 
he, " they are lying in wait for the mail 
from Mayenne, with the intention of 
plundering it, when we have just fought 
a skirmish to deliver the Gars of Fou- 
geres, with heavy loss, but without hav- 
ing been able to destroy'' the Blues ! " 

" Well ! what harm is there in that ? " 
said the lady, whose woman's tact showed 
her at once the secret of the situation. 
" You have lost men ; we can always get 
plenty more. The mail brings monej", 
and we can never have enough of that. 
We will bury our brave fellows who are 
dead, and who will go to heaven ; and we 
will take the money to put into the pock- 
ets of the other brave fellows who are 
alive. What is the difficulty ? " 

Unanimous smiles showed the approval 
T\T.th which the Chouans heard this speech. 

" Is there nothing in it that brings a 
blush to your cheek? " asked the 3'oung 
man, in a low tone. " Are you so short 
of mone^^ that 3'ou must take it on the 
highway?" ^ 

" I want it so much, marquis, that I 
would pledge my heart for it," said she, 
with a coquettish smile, "if it were not 
in pawn already. But where have you 
been that you think j'ou can employ 
Chouans without giving them plunder 
now and then at the Blues' expense ? 
Don't you know the proverb thievish 
as an owl ? ' Remember what a Chouan 
is; besides," added she, louder, "is not 
the action just ? have not the Blues taken 
all the Church's goods, and all our own ?" 

A second approving murmur, very dif- 
ferent from the growl with which the 
Chouans had answered the marquis, 
greeted these words. 

The young man's brow darkened, and, 
taking the lady aside, he said to her, Avith 
the sprightly vexation of a well-bred man. 



52 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



'' Are those persons coming- to the Yive- 
ti^re on the appointed day ? " 

"Yes," said she, ''all of. them; L'ln- 
time, Grand-Jacques, and perhaps Ferdi- 
nand." 

" Then allow me to return thither, for 
I cannot sanction such brig-andag-e as this 
by my presence. Yes, madame, I use the 
word brigandage. There is some nobilit}'- 
in being" robbed ; but — " 

"Very well/' said she, cutting him 
short, " I shall have your share, and I am 
much obliged to you for handing- it over 
to mc. The additional prize-mone3' will 
suit me capitall3^ M}^ mother has been 
so slow in sending me supplies, that I am 
nearly at my wits' end." 

" Farewell ! " cried the marquis, and he 
was on the point of vanishing-. But the 
young lady followed him briskly. "Wh}^ 
will 3'ou not stay with me ? " she said, 
with the g-lance, half imperious half ca- 
ressing, by which women who have a hold 
over a man know how to express their will. 

" Are you not going to rob a coach ? " 

"Rob!" replied she, "what a word! 
Allow me to explain to 3'ou — " 

"No; you shall explain nothing," he 
said, taking- her hands and kissing them 
with the easy g-allantry of a courtier. 
And then, after a pause, " Listen : if I 
stay here while the mail is stopped, our 
fellows will kill me, for I shall- — " 

"No, you would not attempt to kill 
them," she said, quickly, "for they would 
bind you hand and foot with every re- 
spect due to 3"our rank ; and when they 
had levied on the Republicans the contri- 
bution necessary for their equipment, 
their food, and their powder, they would 
once more 3'ield you impUcit obedience." 

"And yet you would have me command 
here ? If my life is necessary to fight for 
the cause, let me at least keep the honor 
of my authority safe. If I retire, I can 
ignore this base act. I will come back 
and join 3'ou." 

And he made off swiftly-, the young 
lady listening to his footfalls with obvious 
vexation. When the rustle of the dry 
leaves gradually died away, she remained 
in perplexity for a moment. Then she 
quickl}'- made her way back to the Chou- 



ans, and allowed a brusk expression of 
contempt to escape her, saying to Marche- 
a-Terre, who helped her to dismount. 
"That young- gentleman would like to 
carry on war against the Republic with 
all the regular forms. Ah well ! he will 
chang-e his mind in a day or two. But 
how he has treated me ! " she added, to 
herself, after a pause. She then took her 
seat on the rock, which had just before 
served the marquis as a chair, and silent- 
ly awaited the arrival of the coach. She 
was not one of the least sing-ular symp- 
toms of the time, this young- woman of 
noble birth, thrown by the streng-th of 
her passions into the strug-gie of mon- 
archy against the spirit of the age, and 
driven by her sentiments into actions for 
which she was in a way irresponsible ; 
as, indeed, were man}^ others who were 
carried away by an excitement not sel- 
dom productive of g-reat deeds. Like 
her, many other women pla^^ed, in these 
disturbed times, the parts of heroines or 
of criminals. The Roj^alist cause had no 
more devoted, no more active servants 
than these ladies ; but no virag-o of the 
parly paid the penalty of excess of zeal, 
or suffered the pain of situations forbid- 
den to the sex, more bitterh' than this 
lady, as, sitting- on her roadside bowlder, 
she was forced to accord admiration to 
the noble disdain and the inflexible integ-- 
rity of the young- cliief. B3^ degrees she 
fell into a deep reverie, and many sad 
memories made her long for the innocence 
of her early years, and reg-ret that she 
had not fallen a victim to that Revolution 
whose victorious prog-ress hands so weak 
as hers could not arrest. 

The coach which had partly been the 
cause of the Chouan onslaught had left 
the little town of Ernee a few moments 
before the skirmish begun. Nothing- bet- 
ter paints the condition of a country than 
the state of its social "plant," and thus 
considered, this vehicle itself deserves 
honorable mention. Even the Revolution 
had not been able to abolish it ; indeed, 
it runs at this very day.* When Turg-ot 

* Au.o-ust, 1827, when Balzac, twenty-eight years 
old, and twenty-eight years after date, wrote 
" The Chouans " at Fougeres itself. 



THE CHOUANS. 



53 



boug-ht up the charter which a company 
had obtained under Louis XIV. for the 
exclusive rig-ht of serving" passenger traffic 
all over the kingdom, and when he estab- 
lished the new enterprise of the so-called 
turgotines, the old coaches of Messieurs 
de Vousg'es, Chanteclaire, and the widow 
La combe were banished to the provinces 

One of these wretched vehicles ser^^ed 
the traffic between May enne and Fougeres. 
Some feather-headed persons had baptized 
it antiphrastically a turgotine, either in 
imitation of Paris or in ridicule of an inno- 
vating minister. It was a ramskackle 
cabriolet on two very high wheels, and in 
its recesses two pretty stoat persons would 
have had difficulty in ensconcing them- 
selves. The scanty size of the frail trap 
forbidding" heavy loads, and the inside of 
the coach-box being strictly reserved for 
the use of the mail, travelers, if they had 
any luggage, were obliged to keep it be- 
tween their legs, already cramped in a 
tiny kind of boot shaped like a bellows. 
Its original color and that of its wheels 
presented an insoluble riddle to travelers. 
Two leathern curtains, difficult to draw 
despite their length of service, were in- 
tended to protect the ^sufferers against 
wind and rain ; and the driver, perched 
on a box like those of the worst Parisian 
shandrj'dans, could not help joining in the 
travelers' conversation from his position 
between his two-legged and his four-leg-ged 
victims. The whole equipage bore a fan- 
tastic likeness to a decrepit old man who 
has lived through any number of catarrhs 
and apoplexies, and from whom Death 
seems yet to hold his hand. As it trav- 
eled, it alternately groaned and creaked, 
lurching by turns forward and backward 
like a traveler heavy with sleep, as though 
it was pulling the other way to the rough 
action of two Breton ponies who dragged 
it over a sufficiently rugged road. This 
relic of by-gone ages contained three trav- 
elers, who, after leaving Ernee, where they 
had changed horses, resumed a conversa- 
tion with the driver which had been begun 
before the end of the last stage. 

"What do you mean by saying that 
Chouans have shown themselves here- 
abouts?" said the driver. "The Ernee 



people have just told me that Com- 
mandant Hulot has not left Fougeres 

yet." 

"Oh, oh! friend," said the youngest 
traveler, "you risk nothing but your 
skin. If you had, like me, three hundred 
crowns on you, and if j^ou were known for 
a good patriot, you would not take things 
so quietly-." 

"Anyhow, you don't keep your own 
secrets," said the driver, shaking his 
head. 

"Count your sheep, and the wolf will 
eat them," said the second traveler, who, 
dressed in black, and apparently some 
forty years old, seemed to be a rector of 
the district. His chin was double, and 
his rosy complexion was a certain sign of 
his ecclesiastical status. But though fat 
and short, he showed no lack of agility 
whenever there was- need to get down 
from the vehicle or to get up again. 

"Perhaps you are Chouans your- 
selves ? " said the man with the three 
hundred crowns, whose ample goatskin- 
covered breeches of good cloth, and a 
clean waistcoat, resembled the garments 
of some well-to-do farmer. "By Saint 
Robespierre's soul ! you shall have a 
warm reception, I promise you ! " And 
his gray eyes traveled from the priest to 
the driver, as he pointed to a pair of pis- 
tols in his belt. 

" Bretons are not afraid of those 
things," said the rector, contemptuously. 
" Besides, do we look like people who have 
designs on your money ? " 

Every time the word "mono}''" was 
mentioned, the driver became silent, and 
the rector w^as sufficiently wide-awake to 
suspect that the patriot had no crowns 
at all, and that their conductor was in 
charge of some. 

"Are you well loaded to-day, Cou- 
piau ? " said the priest. 

"Oh, Monsieur Gudin ! I have noth- 
ing worth speaking of," answered the 
driver. But the Abbe Gudin, considering 
the countenances of the patriot and Cou- 
piau, perceived that they were equally 
undisturbed at the answer. 

"So much the better for^you," retorted 
the patriot ; " I can then take my own 



54 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



means to protect my own property in case 
of ill-fortune." 

But Coupiau rebelled at this cool an- 
nouncement as to taking- the law into 
the patriot's own hands, and answered 
roughh^ : 

''I am master in my coach, and pro- 
vided I drive you — " 

'•Are you a patriot, or are you a 
Chouan ? " said his opponent, interrupt- 
ing- him sharply. 

"I am neither one nor the other," re- 
plied Coupiau. " I am a postilion ; and 
what is more, I am a Breton — therefore 
I fear neither the Blues nor the g-entle- 
men." 

" The gentlemen of the road, you 
mean," sneered the patriot. 

"Nay, they only take back what has 
been taken from them," said the rector, 
quickly ; and the two travelers stared 
each other straight in the face, to speak 
vernacularly. But there was in the in- 
terior of the coach a third passeng-er, who 
during- this altercation observed the deep- 
est silence, neither the driver, nor the 
patriot, nor even Guidin paying- the least 
attention to such a dummy. Indeed, he 
was one of those unsociable and imprac- 
ticable travelers who journey like a calf 
carried unresistingly, with its legs tied, 
to the nearest market, who begin by 
. occupying at least their full legal room, 
and end by lolling asleep, without any 
false modesty, on their neighbors' shoul- 
ders. The patriot, Gudin, and the driver 
had therefore left the man to himself on 
the strength of his sleep, after perceiving 
that it was useless to talk to one whose 
ston}' countenance indicated a life passed 
in measuring out yards of linen, and an 
intelligence busied only in selling them 
as much as possible over cost price. A 
fat little man, curled up in his corner, 
he from time to time opened his china-blue 
ej-es and rested them on each speaker in 
turn during the discussion, with expres- 
sions of alarm, doubt, and mistrust. But 
he seemed only to be afraid of his fellow- 
travelers, and to care 'little for the Chou- 
ans ; while when he looked at the driver 
it was as though one freemason looked at 
another. At this moment the firing on 



the Pilgrim began. Coupiau, with a 
startled air, pulled up his horses. 

"Oh, oh ! " said the priest, who seemed 
to know what he was talking about, " that 
means hard fighting, and plenty of men 
at it." 

' * Yes, Monsieur Gudin . But the puzzle 
is, who will win?" said Coupiau; and 
this time all faces seemed equally anxious. 

"Let us put up the coach," said the 
patriot, " at the inn over there, and hide 
it till we know the result of the battle." 

This seemed such prudent advice that 
Coupiau 3"ielded to it, and the patriot 
helped the driver to stow the coach away 
from all eyes, behind a fagot stack. But 
the supposed priest seized an opportunity 
of saying to Coupiau : 

" Has he really got money ? " 

"JEh ! Monsieur Gudin, if what he has 
were in your reverence's pockets, they 
would not be heavy." 

The Republicans, in their hurry to gain 
Ernee, passed in front of the inn without 
halting; and at the sound of their march, 
Gudin and the innkeeper, urged by curi- 
osity, came out of the yard gate to look 
at them. All of a sudden the plump 
priest ran to a^ soldier, who was some- 
what behind. 

"What, Gudin!" he said, "are you 
going with the Blues, you obstinate boy ? 
what are you thinking of ? " 

"Yes, uncle," answered the corporal, 
" I have sworn to defend France." 

"But, miserable man, you are risking 
your soul ! " said the uncle, trying to 
arouse in his nephew those religious sen- 
timents which are so strong in a Breton's 
heart. 

"Uncle, if the king had taken the 
head of the army himself, I don't say 
but—" 

" Who is talking of the king, silly boy ? 
will your Republic give j'ou a fat living ? 
It has upset everything. What career 
do you expect ? Stay with us ; we shall 
win sooner or later, and you shall have a 
counselor's place in some parliament or 
other." 

" A parliament ! " cried Gudin, scorn- 
fully. " Good-by, uncle." 

" You shall not have three louis' worth 



THE CHOUANS. 



55 



from me/' said the angrj^ uncle ; " I will 
disinherit j^ou ! " 

"Thanks!" said the Republican; and 
the3" parted. 

The fumes of some cider with which the 
patriot had reg^aled Coupiau while the 
little troop passed, had succeeded in mud- 
dling- the driver's brains ; but he started 
up joyfully when the innkeeper, after 
learning- the result of the strug-g-le, an- 
nounced that the Blues had got the bet- 
ter. He set off once more with his coach, 
and the vehicle was not long in showing- 
itself at the bottom of the Pilgrim vallej^, 
where, like a piece of wreckag-e floating- 
after a storm, it could easily be seen from 
the high gTound, both of Maine and Brit- 
tany. 

Hulot, as he reached the top of a rising- 
ground which the Blues were climbing-, 
and whence the Pilg^rim was still visible 
in the distance, turned back to see 
whether the Chouans were still there ; 
and the sun flashing on their gun-barrels, 
showed them to him like dots of light. 
As he threw a last look over the vallej^ 
which he was just leaving for tliat of 
Ernee, he thought he could see Coupiau's 
coach and horses on the high road. 

" Is not that the Mayenne coach ? " he 
asked his two friends ; and the officers, 
g-azing at the old turgotine, recognized 
it easily. 

" Well ! " said Hulot, " why did we not 
meet it ? " The}^ looked at each other 
silently. " Another puzzle ! " cried the 
commandant ; " but I think I begin to 
understand." 

At that moment Marche-a-Terre, who 
also knew the turgotine well, signaled it 
to his comrades, and then shouts of gen- 
eral joy woke the strang-e young lady 
from her reverie. She came forward, 
and saw the vehicle bowling- along- with 
fatal swiftness from the othei- side of the 
Pilgrim. The unlucky turgotine soon 
reached the plateau, and the Chouans, 
w^ho had hid themselves anew, pounced 
on their prej'- with greedy haste. The 
silent traveler slipped to the coach floor 
and shrunk out of sight, trjang- to look 
like a parcel of goods. 

"Aha!" cried Coupiau from his box. 



pointing at his peasant passenger. "You 
have scented this patriot, have you ? He 
has a bag full of gold." 

But the Chouans greeted his words with 
a roar of laughter, and shouted "Pille- 
Miche ! Pille-Miche ! Pille-Miche ! " 

In the midst of the hilarity which Pille- 
Miche himself, as it were, echoed, Coupiau 
climbed shamefacedly from his box. But 
when the famous Cibot, nicknamed Pille- 
Miche, helped his neighbor to get down, 
a respectful murmur was raised. "'Tis 
Abbe Gudin ! " cried several, and at this 
honored name every hat went off. The 
Chouans bent the knee before the priest 
and begged his blessing, which he gave 
them with solemnity. 

"Hew^ould outwit Saint Peter himself, 
and filch the keys of Paradise ! ' ' said the 
rector, clapping Pille-Miche on the shoul- 
der. " But for him the Blues would have 
intercepted us." But then, seeing the 
young lad3% the Abbe Gudin went to talk 
to her a few paces apart. Marche-a-Terre, 
who had promptly opened the box of the 
cabriolet, discovered with savage glee a 
bag whose shape promised rouleaux of 
gold. He did not waste much time in 
making the division, and each Chouan 
received the part that fell to him with 
such exactitude that the partition did not 
excite the least quarrel. Then he came 
forward to the young lady and the priest, 
offering them about six thousand francs. 

" May I take this with a safe conscience. 
Monsieur Gudin ? " said she, feeling in 
need of some approval to support her. 

"Why, of course, madame ! Did not 
the Church formerly approve the confis- 
cation of the Protestants' goods ? Much 
more should she approve it in the case of 
the Revolutionists who renounce God, de- 
stvoj chapels, and persecute religion." 
And he added example to precept by ac- 
cepting Avithout the least scruple the new 
kind of tithe which Marche-a-Terre offered 
him. "Besides," said he, "I can now 
devote all my goods to the defense of 
God and the king. My nephew has gone 
off with the Blues." 

Meanwhile, Coupiau was bewailing his 
fate, and declaring that he was a ruined 
man. 



56 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



''Come with us," said Marche-a-Terre ; 
''you shall have your share." 

" But they will think that I have let 
mj^self be robbed on purpose if I return 
without any violence having- been ofTered 
me." 

"Oh, is that all?" said Marche-a- 
Terre. 

He g-ave the word, and a volley riddled 
the turg-otine. At this sudd(in discharg-e 
there came from the old coach so lament- 
able a howl that the Chouans, naturally 
superstitious, started back with fright. 
But Marche-a-Terre had caught sight of 
the pallid face of the silent passeng-er ris- 
ing- from, and then falling back into, a 
corner of the coach body. 

" There is still a fowl in your coop," 
he whispered to Coupiau, and Pille-Miche, 
who understood the remark, winked know- 
ingly. 

"Yes," said the driver, "but I make 
it a condition of my joining you that you 
shall let me take the good man safe and 
sound to Fougeres. I swore to do so by 
the H0I3' Saint of Aura3\" 

"Who is he? " asked Pille-Miche. 

"I cannot tell you," answered Cou- 
piau. 

" Let him alone," said Marche-a-Terre, 
jogging Pille-Miche 's elbow; "he has 
sworn by Saint Anne of Auray, and he 
must keep his promise. But," continued 
the Chouan, addressing Coupiau, " do 
not you go down the hill too fast ; we 
will catch j'^ou up on business. I want to 
see your passenger's phiz, and then we 
will give him a passport." 

At that moment a horse's gallop was 
heard, the sound nearing rapidly from 
the Pilgrim side, and soon the young 
chief appeared. The lady hastily con- 
cealed the bag she held in her hand. 

" You need have no scruple in keeping 
that money," said the young man, draw- 
ing her arm forward again. " Here is a 
letter from your mother which I found 
among those waiting for me at the Vi- 
vetiere." He looked by turns at the 
Chouans who were disappearing in the 
woods and the coach which was descend- 
ing the valley of the Couesnon, and added, 
" For all the haste I made, I did not come 



up in time. Heaven grant I may be de- 
ceived in my suspicions." 

" It is my poor mother's money ! " cried 
the lady, after opening the letter, the 
first lines of which drew the exclamation 
from her. There was a sound of stifled 
laughter from the woods, and even the 
young chief could not help laughing as he 
saw her clutching the bag containing her 
own share of the plunder of her own 
money. Indeed, she began to laugh 
herself. 

"Well, marquis," said she to the chief, 
" God be praised ! At any rate I come 
off blameless this time." 

" Will you never be serious, not even 
in remorse ? " said the young man. 

She blushed and looked at the marquis 
with an air so truly penitent that it dis- 
armed him. The abbe politely, but with 
a rather doubtful countenance, restored 
the tithe which he had just accepted, and 
then followed the chief, who was making 
his way to the b3''-path by which he had 
come. Before joining them the young 
lady made a sign to Marche-a-Terre, who 
came up to her. 

" Go and take up your position in front 
of Mortagne," she said, in a low voice. 
" I know that the Blues are going to send 
almost immediately a great sum in cash 
to Alencon to defray the expenses of pre- 
paring for war. If I give up to-day's 
booty to our comrades, it is on condition 
that they take care to make up my loss. 
But above all things take care that the 
Gars knows nothing of the object of this 
expedition ; he would very likely oppose 
it. If things go wrong, I will appease 
him." 

"Madame," said the marquis, whose 
horse she mounted behind him, giving her 
own to the abbe, " my friends at Paris 
write to bid us look to ourselves, for the 
Republic will try to fight us underhand, 
and by trickery." 

" They might do worse," said she. 
"The rascals are clever. I shall be able 
to take a part in the war, and find oppo- 
nents of my own stamp." 

"Not a doubt of it," cried the marquis. 
" Pichegru bids me be very cautious and 
circumspect in making acquaintances of 



THE CHOUANS. 



57 



every kind. The Republic does me the 
honor of thinking- me more dangerous 
than all the Vencleans put together, 
and counts on m}^ foibles to get hold of 
me." 

" Would you distrust me ? " she said, 
patting his heart with the hand by which 
she clung to him. 

''If I did, would you be there, ma- 
dame ? " answered he, and turned toward 
her his forehead, which she kissed. 

''Then, "said the abbe, ''we have more 
to fear from Fouche's police than from 
the battalions of mobiles, and the Anti- 
Chouans ? " 

"Exactly, your reverence." 

"Aha!" said the lady, "Fouche is 
going to send women against you, is he ? 
I shall be ready for them," she added, in 
a voice deeper than usual, and after a 
slight pause. 

Some three or four gunshots off from 
the waste plateau which the leaders were 
now leaving, there was passing at the 
moment one of those scenes which, for 
some time to come, became not uncom- 
mon on the highways. On the outskirts 
of the little village of the Pilgrim, Pille- 
Miche and Marche-a-Terre had once more 
stopped the coach at a spot Avhere the 
road dipped. Coupiau had left his box 
after a slight resistance ; and the silent 
passenger, extracted from his hiding- 
place by the two Chouans, was on his 
knees in a broom thicket. 

" Who are you ? " asked Marche-a- 
Terre, in a sinister tone. 

The traveler held his peace till Pille- 
Miche recommenced his examination with 
a blow from the butt of his gun. 

"I am," he said, glancing at Coupiau, 
" Jacques Pinaud, a poor linen merchant." 
But Coupiau, who did not think that he 
broke his word hy so doing, shook his 
head. The gesture enlightened Pille- 
Miche, who took aim at the traveler, 
while Marche-a-Terre laid before him in 
plain terms this alarming ultimatum : 

" You are too fat for a poor man with 
a poor man's cares. If you give us the 
trouble of asking your real name once 
more, m^'^ friend Pille-Miche here will earn 
the esteem and gratitude of yowc heirs by 



one little gun-shot. Who are you ? " he 
added, after a brief interval. 

"I am D'Orgemont, of Fougeres." 

" Aha ! " cried the Chouans. 

"J did not tell your name, M. d'Orge- 
mont," said Coupiau. "I call the Holy 
Virgin to witness that I defended you 
bravely." 

"As you are Monsieur d'Orgemont, of 
Fougeres," went on Marche-a-Terre, with 
a mock-respectful air, '■' you shall be let 
go quite quietly. But as you are neither a 
good Chouan nor a true Blue (though you 
did bu3^ the estates of Juvigny Abbej'), 
3'ou shall pay us," said the Chouan, in 
the tone of a man who is counting up his 
comrades, " three hundred crowns of six 
francs each as a ransom. That is not too 
much to pay for the privilege of being 
neutral." 

" Three hundred crowns of six francs !" 
repeated the luckless banker, Pille-Miche, 
and Coupiau in chorus, but each in very 
different tones. 

"Alas ! my dear sir," said D'Orgemont, 
" I am a ruined man. Tlie forced loan of 
one hundred millions levied by this devil- 
ish Republic, which assesses me at terrible 
rates, has drained me dry." 

" And pray, how much did the Republic 
ask of 3"0U ? " 

"A thousand crowns, dear sir," said 
the banker, in a lamentable tone, hoping 
to be let off something-. 

" If the Republic borrows such large 
sums from 3^ou, and forces you. to paj'' 
them, you must see that your interest lies 
with us, whose government is less ex- 
pensive. Do you mean to sa}^ that three 
hundred crowns is too much to pa^^ for 
3'"our skin? " 

" But where am I to get them ? " 

"Out of your strong-box," said Pille- 
Miche ; " and take care your crowns are 
not clipped, or we will clip your nails in 
the fire for you." 

" But where am I to paj^ them ? " asked 
D'Orgemont. 

" Your country house at Fougeres is 
close to the farm of Gibarry, where dwells 
my cousin Galope - Chopine, otherwise 
called Long Cibot. You shall pay them 
to him," said Pille-Miche. 



58 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



" But that is not business/' said D'Orge- 
mont. 

"What do we care for that?" rephed 
Marche-a-Terre. "Remember that if the 
crowns are not paid to Galope-Chopine in 
fifteen days' time, we will pay you a little 
visit which will cure you of gout, if you 
have got it in your feet. As for you, 
Coupiau," continued he, turning- to the 
conductor, "j^our name henceforth shall 
be Mene-a-Bien." And with these words 
the two Chouans departed, and the trav- 
eler climbed up again into the coach, 
which Coupiau, whipping up his steeds, 
drove rapidly toward Fougeres. 

"If you had been armed," said Cou- 
piau, " we might have made a little bet- 
ter fight of it." 

"Silly fellow," said D'Orgemont, "I 
have got ten thousand francs there," and 
he pointed to his great shoes. "Is it 
worth fighting when one has such a sum 
on one as that ? " 

Mene-a-Bien scratched his ear and 
looked backward, but all trace of his 
new friends had disappeared. 

Hulot and his soldiers halted at Ernee 
to deposit the wounded in the hospital of 
the little town ; and then, without any 
further inconvenient incident interrupting 
the march of the Republican force, made 
their way to Mayenne. There the com- 
mandant was able next daj^ to put an end 
to his doubts about the progress of the 
mail ; for the townsfolk received news of 
the robbery of the coach. 

A few days later the authorities brought 
into Mayenne numbers of patriot con- 
scripts, sufficient to enable Hulot to fill 
up the ranks of his demi-brigade. But 
there soon followed disquieting reports 
as to the insurrection. There was com- 
plete revolt at every point where, in the 
last war, the Chouans and Vendeans had 
established the principal centers of their 
outbreak. In Brittany, the Royalists had 
seized Pontorson, so as to open communi- 
cations with the sea. They had taken the 
little town of Saint James, between Pon- 
torson and Fougeres, and seemed dis- 
posed to make it for the time their place 
of arms, a headquarters of their maga- 
zines and of their operations, from which 



without danger they could correspond 
both with Normandy and Morbihan. The 
inferior leaders were scouring these dis- 
tricts with the view of exciting the par- 
tisans of monarchy, and arranging, if 
possible, a systematic effort. These mach- 
inations were reported at the same time 
as news from La Vendee, where similar 
intrigues were stirring up the country, 
under the direction of four famous lead- 
ers, the Abbe Vernal, the Comte de Fon- 
taine, Monsieur de Chatillon, and Mon- 
sieur Suzannet. The Chevalier deValois, 
the Marquis d'Esgrignon, and the Trois- 
villes acted, it was said, as their agents 
in the department of the Ome. But the 
real chief of the extensive scheme which 
was unfolding itself, slowly but in an 
alarming fashion, was "The Gars," a 
nickname given by the Chouans to the 
Marquis de Montauran as soon as he had 
landed. 

The information sent to the Govern- 
ment by Hulot turned out correct in 
every particular. The authority of the 
chief sent from abroad had been at once 
acknowledged. Indeed, the marquis was 
acquiring sufficient influence over the 
Chouans to enable him to give them a 
glimmering of the true objects of the 
war, and to persuade them that the ex- 
cesses of which they had been guilty were 
tarnishing the noble cause to which they 
devoted themselves. The bold temper, 
the courage, the coolness, the ability of 
this young lord revived the hopes of the 
Republic's enemies, and administered so 
lively an impulse to the gloomy fanati- 
cism of the district, that even lukewarm 
partisans labored to bring about results 
decisive in favor of the stricken monarch3\ 
Meanwhile, Hulot received no answer to 
the repeated demands and reports which 
he kept sending to Paris, and this as- 
tounding silence boded beyond doubt 
some crisis in the fortunes of the Re- 
public. 

"Can it be now," said the old chief 
to his friends, " with the Government as 
it is with men who are dunned for money ? 
do they put all demands in the waste- 
paper basket ? " 

But before long there spread the rumor 



THE CHOUANS. 



59 



of the return, as if by enchantment, of 
General Bonaparte, and of the events 
of the 18th Brumaire, and the militar}'^ 
commanders in the West were not slow 
to understand the silence of the ministers. 
Nevertheless, these commanders were only 
the more impatient to get rid of the re- 
sponsibility which weig-hed on them, and 
felt a lively curiosity to know what meas- 
ures the new Government would take. 
When they learned that General Bona- 
parte had been appointed First Consul of 
the Republic, the soldiers felt keen pleas- 
ure, seeing- for the first time one of their 
own men promoted to the manag-ement of 
affairs. All France, which idolized the 
young general, trembled with hope, and 
the national energy revived. The capi- 
tal, wear}'- of dullness and gloom, gave 
itself up to the festivals and amusements 
of which it had so long been deprived. 
The earlier acts of the consulate disap- 
pointed no expectations, and Freedom 
felt no qualms. Soon the First Consul 
addressed a proclamation to the inhabi- 
tants of the West, one of those eloquent 
allocutions directed to the masses which 
Bonaparte had, so to say, invented, and 
which produced in those days of prodig- 
ious patriotism effects altogether miracu- 
lous. His voice echoed through the world 
like that of a prophet ; for as 3'^et no one 
of these manifestoes had failed to be con- 
firmed by victor3^ Thus it ran : 

**' Dwellers in the West : — 

" For the second time an impious war 
has set your departments in a flame. 

^'The authors of these troubles are 
traitors who have sold themselves to 
the English, or brigands who seek in 
civil disorder nothing but occasion and 
immunity for their crimes. 

*' To such men Government can neither 
show clemencj^ nor even make a declara- 
tion of its own principles. 

*' But there are some citizens still dear 
to their country who have been seduced 
\iy the artifices of these men, and these 
citizens deserve enlightenment and the 
communication of the truth. 

" Some unjust laws have been decreed 
and put in execution ; some arbitrary 



acts have disturbed the citizens' sense of 
personal safety and their liberty of con- 
science ; everywhere the rash insertion of 
names in the list of emigrants has done 
harm to patriots : in short, the great prin- 
ciples of social order have been violated. 

''The consuls therefore make known 
that, freedom of worship having been de- 
creed by the Constitution, the law of the 
11th Prairial, 3'ear III., which grants to 
all citizens the use of edifices intended for 
religious worship, will be put in force. 

"The Government will show merc}^: it 
will extend to the repentant an entire and 
absolute indemnity. But it will strike 
down all those who after this announce- 
ment dare to continue resistance to the 
sovereignty of the people." 

" Quite paternal, is it not ? " said Hu- 
lot, after this consular allocution had 
been publicly read; "yet, you will see, 
not one Royalist brigand will be con- 
verted b^' it." 

The commandant was right, and the 
proclamation did nothing but attach each 
partisan more strongly to his own party. 
A few daj'^s later, Hulot and his colleagues 
received re-enforcements ; and the new 
Minister of War sent information that 
General Brune had been appointed to 
the command of the forces in the West 
of France, while Hulot, whose experi- 
ence was well known, had provisionat 
authority in the departments of Orne 
and Mayenne. Soon a hitherto unknown 
activity set all the springs of administra- 
tion working. A circular from the Min- 
ister of War and the Minister of General 
Police announced that vigorous measures, 
the execution of which was intrusted to 
the heads of the military, had been taken 
to stifle the insurrection at its source. But 
the Chouans and the Vendeans had al- 
ready profited by the sluggishness of the 
Republic to raise the country and to gain 
complete possession of it. Accordingly, a 
new consular proclamation was launched, 
addressed this time to the troops : 

" Soldiers : — 

•' ' There are now in the West no enemies 
but bandits, emigrants, and the hirelings 
of England. 



60 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



*' The army consists of more than sixty 
thousand g-allant men : let me learn soon 
that the rebel chiefs are no more. Glory 
is to be g-ained by toil : who would be 
without it if it were to be won b^^ keeping- 
to barracks in the cities ? 

" Soldiers, no matter what j^our rank 
in the army may be, the gratitude of the 
nation awaits yow ! To deserve it you 
must brave the inclemency of the seasons, 
ice, snow, the bitter cold of night ; you 
must surprise your enemies at break of 
day, and put the wretches, the scandal 
of France, to the sword ! 

" Let your campaign be brief and suc- 
cessful ; give no mercA^ to the bandits, 
but observe the strictest discipline. 

" National Guards ! let the effort of 
3^our arms be joined to that of the troops 
of the line. 

" If you know of any men among you 
who are partisans of the bandits, arrest 
them ! Let them find nowhere an}' shelter 
from the pursuing soldier ; and if there 
be an}' traitors who dare to harbor and 
defend them, let both perish together ! " 

"What a fellow!" cried Hulot. '-'It 
is just as it was in Italy : he rings the 
bell for mass, and says it, all by liimself. 
That is the way to talk." 

''Yes; but he talks by himself and in 
his own name," said Gerard, who was 
beginning to dread what might come of 
the 18th Brumaire. 

" Odds, sentries and sentry-boxes ! " 
said Merle. "What does that matter, 
since he is a soldier ? " 

A few paces off, some of the rank and 
file were clustering round the proclama- 
tion which was stuck on the wall. Now, 
as not a man of them could read, they 
gazed at it, some indifferently, others 
curiously, while two or three scanned 
the passers-by for a citizen who looked 
learned. 

"Come, Clef-des-Coeurs," said Beau- 
Pied mockingly to his comrade, "what 
does that rag there say ? " 

"It is easy to guess," answered Clef- 
des-Coeurs. And as he spoke all looked 
at the pair, who were always ready to 
play each his part. 



"Look there!" continued Clef-des- 
Coeurs, pointing to a rough cut at the 
head of the proclamation, where for some 
days past a compass had replaced the 
level of 1793. "It means that we fellows 
have got to step out. They have stuck 
a compass* open on it for an emblem." 

" M}' boy, don't play the learned man. 
it is not 'emblem,' but 'problem.' I 
served first with the gunners," vSaid Beau- 
Pied, "and the officers were busy about 
nothing else." 

" 'Tis an emblem ! " " 'Tis a problem!" 
"Let us have a bet on it." "What?" 
" Your German pipe." "Done ! " 

"Ask your pardon, adjutant, but is it 
not ' emblem,' and not 'problem ? ' " said 
Clef-des-Coeurs to Gerard, who was 
thoughtfully following Hulot and Merle. 

" 'Tis both one and the other," said he, 
gravely. 

" The adjutant is making game of us," 
said Beau-Pied. " The paper means that 
our General of Italy is made Consul (a 
fine commission !) and that we shall get 
greatcoats and boots ! " 



XL 



A NOTION OF FOUCHE'S. 

Toward the end of the month of Bru- 
maire, while Hulot was superintending 
the morning drill of his demi-brigade, the 
whole of which had been drawn together 
at Mayenne by orders from headquarters, 
an express from Alencon delivered to him 
certain dispatches, during the reading of 
which very decided vexation showed itself 
on his face. 

"Well, then, to business!" cried he, 
somewhat ill-temperedly, thrusting the 
papers in the crown of his hat. " Two com- 
panies are to set out with me and march 
toward Mortagne. The Chouans are 
about there. You will come with me," 
said he to Merle and Gerard. "May 
they make a noble of me if I understand 

* This refers to the French idiom, ouvrir le com- 
pas, meaning " Stir the stumps," "Step out." 



THE CH0UAN8. 



61 



a word of my dispatches ! I dare say I 
am only a fool. But never mind ! let us 
g-et to work ; there is no time to lose." 

" Why, commandant, is there any very 
savage beast in the game-hag* there ? " 
asked Merle, pointing to the official envel- 
ope of the dispatch. 

"God's thunder! there is nothing at 
all, except that they are*hothering us ! " 

When the commandant let " slip this 
militarj^ expression (or rather for which, 
as mentioned before, we have substituted 
it), it always pointed to bad weather; and 
its various intonations made up, as it were, 
a series of degrees which acted as a ther- 
mometer of their chief's temper to the 
deini-brigade. Indeed, the old soldier's 
frankness had made the interpretation so 
easy that the sorriest drummer-boy in the 
regiment soon knew his Hulot by heart, 
tlianks to mere observation of the changes 
in the grimace with which the comman- 
dant cocked his cheek and winked his qxq. 
This time the tone of sullen wrath with 
which he accompanied the word made his 
two friends silent and watchful. The ver^'^ 
pock-marks which pitted his martial vis- 
age seemed to deepen, and his complexion 
took a browner tan. It had happened 
that his miglity plaited pigtail had fallen 
forward on one of his epaulets when he 
put on his cocked hat, and Hulot jerked 
it back with such rage that the curls were 
all disordered. Yet, as he stood motion- 
less, with clenched fists, his arms folded 
on his breast, and his mustache bristling, 
Gerard ventured to ask him, *^ Do we start 
at once ? " 

"Yes, if the cartridge-boxes are full," 
growled Hulot. 

"They are." 

' ' Shoulder arms ! File to the left ! For- 
ward ! March ! " said Gerard, at a sign 
from tlie chief. 

The drummers placed themselves at the 
head of the two companies pointed out by 
Gerard : and as the drums began to beat, 
the commandant, who had been plunged 
in thought, seemed to wake up, and left 
the town, accompanied by his two friends, 
to whom he did not address a word. Merle 
and Gerard looked at each other several 
times without sqeaking, as if to ask. "Will 



he sulk with us long?" and as they 
marched, they stole glances at Hulot, 
who was still growling unintelligible words 
between his teeth. Several times the sol- 
diers heard him swearing ; but not one of 
them opened his lips, for, at the right 
time, they all knew how to observe the 
stern discipline to which the troops who 
had served under Bonaparte in Italy had 
become accustomed. Most of them were, 
like Hulot himself, relics of the famous 
battalions that capitulated at Mayence 
on a promise that they should not be 
employed on the frontiers, and who were 
called in the army the "Mayengais; " nor 
would it have been easj' to find officers 
and men who understood each other 
better. 

On the day following that on which 
they set out, Hulot and his friends found 
themselves at early morning on the Alen- 
Qon road, about a league from that city, 
in the direction of Mortagne, where the 
road borders meadows watered by the 
Sarthe, Over these a succession of pict- 
uresque landscapes opens to the left, while 
the right side, composed of thick woods 
which join on to the great forest of Menil- 
Broust, sets off (if we may use the paint- 
er's term) the softer views of the river. 
The footpaths at the edge of the road are 
shut in by ditches, the earth of which, 
constantly- turned up toward the fields, 
produces high slopes crowned by ajoncs, 
as they call the thorny broom throughout 
the West, This shrub, which branches 
out in thick bushes, affords during the 
winter capital fodder for horses and cattle; 
but, before its harvest, the Chouans used 
to hide behind its dark-green tufts. These 
slopes and their ajoncs, which tell the 
traveler that he is drawing near Brittany, 
made this part of the road at that time as 
hazardous as it is still beautiful. 

The dangers which were likeh^ to be met 
in the journej' from Mortagne to Alen§on, 
and from Alengon to Mayenne, were the 
cause of Hulot's expedition ; and at this 
very point the secret of his T\Tath at last 
escaped him. He was acting as escort to 
an old mail-coach drawn by post-horses, 
whose pace the weariness of his own sol- 
diers kept to a slow walk. The companies 



62 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



of Blues (forming part of the garrison of 
Mortagne) which had escorted this 
wretched vehicle to the limits of their 
own appointed district, where Hulot had 
come to relieve them, Avere alread}' on their 
way home, and appeared afar off like 
black dots. One of the old Republican's 
own companies was placed a few paces 
behind the coach, and the other in front 
of it. Hulot, who was between Merle 
and Gerard, about half-waj^ between the 
coach and the vanguard, suddenly said to 
them: 

" A thousand thunders ! Would you 
believe that the general packed us off 
from Mayenne to dance attendance on 
the two petticoats in this old wagon ? " 

"But, commandant," answered Ge- 
rard, ''when we took up our post, an 
hour ago, with the citizenesses, you bowed 
to them quite politelj'^ ! " 

*■' There is just the shame of it ! Don't 
these Paris dandies request us to show the 

greatest respect to their d d females ? 

To think that they should insult good and 
brave patriots like us by tying us to the 
tail of a woman's skirt ! For my part, 
you know, I run straight myself, and do 
not like dodgings in others. When I 
saw Danton Math his mistresses, Barras 
with his, I told them, ' Citizens, when the 
Republic set yo\i to govern, she did not 
mean to license the games of the old 
regime.' You will reply that women — 
oh ! one must have women, of course ! 
Brave fellows deserve women, and good 
women, too. But it is no use chattering 
when there is mischief at hand. What 
was the good of making short work of 
the abuses of the old days, if patriots are 
to start them afresh ? Look at the First 
Consul: there is a man for you; no women 
about him, alwaj^s attending to his busi- 
ness. I would bet the left side of my 
mustache that he knows nothing of the 
absurd work we are made to do here." 

''Upon my word, commandant," an- 
swered Merle, laughing, "I caught just a 
glimpse of the young lady hidden in the 
coach, and it is my opinion that it is no 
shame for any man to feel, as I do, a 
longing to approach that carriage and 
exchange a few words with the travelers." 



"Beware, Merle," said Gerard; "the 
dames are accompanied b}^ a citizen clever 
enough to catch you in a trap." 

"Who do you mean? t'h2bt incroyahle, 
whose little eyes are constantly shifting 
from one side to the other as if he saw 
Chouans everj'where ? that musk-scented 
idiot, whose legs are so short you can 
scarcely see them, and who, when his 
horse's legs are hidden by the carriage, 
looks like a duck with its head protrud- 
ing from a game pie ? If that boob^^ 
prevents me caressing his pretty nightin- 
gale — " 

"Duck, nightingale! Oh! my poor 
Merle, you were alwaj^s feather-headed. 
But look out for the duck : his green eyes 
appear to me as treacherous as those of 
a viper, and as keen as those of a woman 
who pardons her husband his infidelities. 
I am less suspicious of the Chouans than 
I am of those lawyers whose figures look 
like lemonade bottles." 

" Bah ! " retorted Merle, gayly, "with 
the permission of the commandant, I will 
run the risk. That woman has eyes like 
stars, and one may well venture every- 
thing to gaze into them." 

" Our comrade is caught," said Gerard 
to the commandant; "he is beginning to 
talk nonsense." 

Hulot made a grimace, shrugged his 
shoulders, and answered : " Before tak- 
ing the soup, I advise him to taste it." 

"Dear old Merle," said Gerard, judg- 
ing from his lagging steps that he 
was maneuvering to gradually reach the 
coach, " what good spirits he has ! He 
is the only man who could laugh at the 
death of a comrade without being taxed 
with want of feeling." 

" He is the true type of a French sol- 
dier," remarked Hulot, gravely. 

" Oh 1 he is one who wears his epau- 
lets upon his shoulders to let the people 
see that he is a captain," exclaimed Ge- 
rard, laughing; "as if rank made any 
difference." 

The carriage toward which the officer 
was making his way, contained two wo- 
men, one of whom appeared to be the 
servant of the other. 

A thin, dried-up little man galloped 



THE CHOUANS. 



63 



sometimes before, sometimes behind the 
carriage, but although he seemed to ac- 
company the two privileged travelers, no 
one saw him address a word to them. 
This silence, a mark of contempt, or 
respect, the numerous pieces of luggage, 
and the band-boxes of the one whom the 
commandant called a princess — all, even 
to the costume of the attendant cavalier, 
again roused Hulot's bile. The costume 
of this unknown presented an exact pict- 
ure of the fashion which at that time 
called forth the caricatures of the In- 
croyables. Imagine a person muffled in 
a coat so short in front that there showed 
beneath five or six inches of the waist- 
coat, and with skirts so long behind that 
they resembled a codfish tail, a term then 
commonly employed to designate them. 
An immense cravat formed round his 
neck such innumerable folds that the 
little head, emerging from a labyrinth of 
muslin, almost justified Captain Merle's 
kitchen simile. 

The stranger wore tight breeches, and 
boots a la Suwarrow ; a huge white and 
blue cameo was stuck, as a pin, in his 
shirt. Two watch-chains hung in parallel 
festoons at his waist ; and his hair, hang- 
ing in corkscrew curls on each side of the 
face, almost hid his forehead. Finally, 
as a last touch of decoration, the collars 
of his shirt and his coat rose so high that 
his head presented the appearance of a 
bouquet in its paper wrapping. If there 
be added to these insignificant details, 
which formed a mass of disparities with 
no ensemble, the absurd contrast of his 
yellow breeches, his red waistcoat, his 
cinnamon-brown coat, a faithful portrait 
will be given of the height of fashion at 
which dandies aimed at the beginning of 
the Consulate. Preposterous as the cos- 
tume was, it seemed to have been in- 
vented as a sort of touchstone of elegance 
jo show that nothing can be too absurd 
for fashion to hallow it. The rider ap- 
peared full thirty j^ears old, though he 
was not in reality more than twenty -two 
— an appearance due perhaps to hard 
living, perhaps to the dangers of the 
time. Yet, though he was dressed like 
a mountebank, his air announced a cer- 



tain polish of manners which revealed 
the well-bred man. No sooner did the 
captain approach the carriage than the 
dand}^ seemed to guess his purpose, and 
facilitated it by checking his horse's 
pace ; Merle, who had cast a sarcastic 
glance at him, being met by one of those 
impassive faces which the vicissitudes of 
the Revolution had taught to hide even 
the least 'emotion. As soon as the ladies 
perceived the slouched corner of the cap- 
tain's old cocked hat, and his epaulets, an 
angelically sweet voice asked : 

" Sir officer ! will you have the kindness 
to tell us at what point of the road we 
are? " 

A question from an unknown traveler, 
and that traveler a woman, always has a 
singular charm, and her least word seems 
to promise an adventure ; but if the lady 
appears to ask protection, rehing on her 
weakness and her ignorance of facts, where 
is the man who is not slightly inclined to 
build a castle in the air, with a happy 
ending for himself ? So the words, "Mon- 
sieur I'officier," and the ceremonious form 
of the question, excited a strange disturb- 
ance in the captain's heart. He tried to 
see what the fair traveler was like, and 
was completely baffled, a jealous veil hid- 
ing her features from him ; he could hardly 
see even the eyes, though they flashed 
through the gauze like two onyx stones 
caught by the sun. 

" You are now a league distant from 
Alencon, madame," said he. 

" Alencon, already ?" And the unknown 
lady threw herself, or let herself fall 
back in the carriage, without further 
reply. 

" Alencon ? " repeated the other girl, as 
if waking from sleep; ''you will see our 
countrj'^ again — " 

She looked at the captain, and held her 
peace. But Merle, finding himself de- 
ceived in his hope of seeing the fair 
stranger, set himself to scan her com- 
panion. She was a girl of about six-and- 
twenty, fair, well shai^ed, and with a 
complexion showing the clear skin and 
brilliant tints which distinguish the avo- 
men of Valognes, Bayeux, and the district 
around Alencon. The glances of her blue 



64 



THE HUMAN COMEDY, 



eyes did not speak wit, but a resolute 
temper, mingled with tenderness. She 
wore a g-own of common stuff, and her 
hair plainly caught up under a cap, in the 
st^-le of the Pays de Caux, gave her face 
a touch of charming- simplicity. 

Nor was her g-eneral air, thoug-h it 
lacked the conventional distinction of 
society, devoid of the dig-nit}^ natural 
to a modest j^oung- girl who can survey 
her past life without finding anything to 
repent in it. At a glance Merle could dis- 
cover in her a country blossom which, 
though transplanted to the Parisian hot- 
houses, where so many scorching rays are 
concentrated, had lost nothing of its 
bright purity or of its rustic freshness. 
The 3-oung girl's unstudied air, and her 
modest looks, told hi in that she did not 
desire a listener; and he had no sooner 
retired than the two fair strangers be- 
gan, in a low voice, a conversation 
whereof his ear could scarcelj'' catch the 
bare sound. 

"You started in such a hurry," said 
the country girl, '' that you scarcely took 
time to dress j^ourself . You are a pretty 
figure ! If we are going farther than 
Alencon, we really must make a fresh 
toilet there." 

** Oh, oh, Francine !" cried the stranger. 

"Yes?" 

" That is the third time you have tried 
to fish out the end and object of our 
journey." 

" Did I say the very least thing to de- 
serve that reproach ? " 

*•' Oh ! I saw through your little device. 
Innocent and simple as you used to be, you 
have learned a few tricl^s in my school. 
You have already taken a dislike to direct 
questioning, and you are right, child ; of 
all known manners of extracting informa- 
tion, it is, to my thinking, the silliest." 

"Well, then," went on Francine, "as 
nothing can escape 3'ou, confess, Marie, 
would not your behavior excite the curi- 
osity of a saint ? Yesterday you had not 
a penny, to-day your pockets are full of 
gold. They have given you at Mortagne 
the mail-coach which had been robbed, 
and its guard killed ; you have an escort 
of Government troops, and you have in 



your suite a man whom I take to be your 
evil angel." 

"What! Corentin?" said the young 
stranger, marking her words by a couple 
of changes of voice, full of contempt — 
contempt which even extended to the 
gesture with which she pointed to the 
rider. "Listen, Francine," she contin- 
ued ; " do you remember Patriot, the mon- 
key whom I taught to imitate Danton, 
and who amused us so much ? " 

"Yes, mademoiselle." 

"Well; were you afraid of him?" 

"He was chained up." 

" Well, Corentin is muzzled, child." 

"We used," said Francine, "to play 
with Patriot for hours together, to be 
sure ; but it never ended without his 
pla3nng us some ugl}" trick ; " and with 
these words she fell back in the carriage, 
close to her mistress, took her hands and 
caressed them coaxingly, saying to her in 
affectionate tones : 

" But you know what I mean, Marie, 
and 3^ou will not answer me. How is it 
that in twenty -four hours after those fits 
of sadness which grieved me, oh ! so much, 
you can be madly merry, just as you 
were when joxx talked of killing yourself ? 
Whence this change ? I have a right 
to ask j'^ou to let me see a little of your 
heart. It is mine before it is any one's ; 
for never will you be better loved than 
I love you. Speak, mademoiselle." 

"Well, Francine, do you not see the 
reasons of my ga^^ety all round us ? Look 
at the 3^ellowing tufts of those distant 
trees ; there are not two alike — at a dis- 
tance one might think them a piece of old 
tapestry. Look at those hedge-rows, 
behind which we may meet with Chouans 
every moment. As I look at these broom 
bushes I think I can see gun-barrels. I 
love this constant peril that surrounds us. 
Wherever the road grows a little gloomy 
I expect that we shall hear a voUej^ in a 
moment ; and then my heart beats, and 
a new sensation stirs me. Nor is it either 
the tremor of fear or the fluttering of 
pleasure ; no ! it is something better ; it 
is the working of all that is active in me — 
it is life. Should I not be merry when I 
feel my life once more alive ? " 



THE CHOUANS. 



65 



" Ah ! cruel girl, you will say nothing- ? 
Holy Virgin !«" cried Francine, lifting her 
eyes sorrowfully to heaven, " to whom 
will she confess if she is silent to me ? " 

'' Francine," said the stranger gravely, 
" I cannot reveal m3'^ business to you. It 
is something terrible this time." 

" But why do evil when you know that 
you are doing it ? " 

'■' What would you have ? I catch my- 
self thinking as if I were flft}^ and acting 
as if I were fifteen. You have always 
been my common sense, poor girl ! but in 
this business I must stifle my conscience. 
And yet," she said, with a sigh, after an 
interval, " I cannot succeed in doing so. 
Now, liow can you ask me to set over my- 
self a confessor so stern as you are ? " 

And she patted her hand genth*. 

" And when did I ever reproach you 
witli what you have done ? " cried Fran- 
cine. "Evil itself is charming in 3'ou. 
Yes ; Saint Anne of Aura}' herself, to 
whom I pra3" so hard for you, would give 
3'ou pardon for all. Besides, have I not 
followed 3'ou on this journey without the 
least knowledge whither you are going ? " 
and she kissed her mistress's hands affec- 
tionately. 

" But," said Marie, "you can leave me 
if your conscience — " 

"Come, madame, do not talk like 
that," said Francine, making a grimace 
of vexation. "Oil! will you not tell 
me?" 

" I will tell you nothing," said the 
young lady firmly ; " only be assured of 
this : I hate my enterprise even worse 
than I hate the man whose gilded tongue 
expounded it to me. I will be so frank 
witli you as to confess that I would never 
have submitted to their will if I had not 
seen in the matter, shameful farce as it 
IS, a mixture of danger and of romance 
which tempted me. Besides, I did not 
Avish to leave this earth of ours without 
having tried to gather flowers, of which 
I have still some hope, were I to perish 
in the attempt. But remember, as some- 
thing to redeem my memory, that had I 
been happy, the sight of their guillotine 
ready to drop on my head would never 
have made me take a part in this tragedy 
Balzac — c 



— for tragedy as well as farce it is. And 
now," she continued with a gesture of 
disgust, " if they changed their minds 
and counter-ordered the plan, I would 
throw myself into the Sarthe tliis mo- 
ment, and it would not be a suicide ; for 
I have never 3'et lived." 

" Oh ! Holy Virgin of Aura}- ! pardon 
her!" 

"' What are 3'OU afraid of ? 3'Ou know 
that the dull alternations of domestic life 
leave my passions cold. That is ill in a 
woman ; but my soul has gained the habit 
of a higher kind of emotion, able to sup- 
port stronger trials. I might have been 
like you, a gentle creature. Why did I 
rise above or sink below the level of my 
sex ? All ! what a happy woman is. 
General Bonaparte's wife ! I am sure to 
die young, since I have already come to 
the point of not blanching at a pleasure 
party where there is blood to drink, as 
poor Danton used to say. But forget 
what I am saying : it is the woman fiftj^ 
years old in me that spoke. Thank God ! 
the girl of fifteen will soon make her ap- 
pearance again." 

The country maid shuddered. She alone 
knew the impetuous and ungoverned char- 
acter of her mistress. She alone was ac- 
quainted with the strangenesses of her 
enthusiastic soul, with the real feelings of 
the woman who, up to this time, had seen 
life float before her like an intangible 
shadow, despite her constant effort to 
seize and fix it. After lavishing all her 
resources with no return, she had remained 
untouched by love. But, stung b}' a multi- 
tude of unfulfilled desires, weary of fights 
ing without a foe, she had come in her 
despair to prefer good to evil when it 
offered itself in the guise of enjoyment, 
evil to good when there was a spice of 
romance in it, ruin to easy-going medioc- 
rity as the grander of the two, the dark 
and mysterious prospect of death to a life 
bereft of hope or even of suffering. Never 
was such a powder magazine ready for 
the spark ; never so rich a banquet pre- 
pared for love to revel in ; never a daugh- 
ter of Eve with more gold mingled through- 
out her clay. Francine, like an earthly 
providence, kept a Avatch over this strange 



66 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



being-, whose perfections slie worshiped 
and whose restoration to the celestial 
choir from which some sin of pride seemed 
to have banished her as an expiation, she 
regarded as the accomplishment of a 
heavenly mission. 

** There is Alengon steeple," said the 
rider, drawing- near the carriage. 

" I see it," answered the 3'oung lady 
dryly. 

'•'Very well," quoth he, retiring with 
signs of obedience not the least absolute 
for his disappointment. 

'^ Faster ! faster ! " said the lady to the 
postilion ; " there is nothing to fear now. 
Trot or gallop if you can ; are we not in 
Alencon streets ? " 

• As she passed the commandant, she 
cried to him in her sweet voice : '■ ' We 
shall meet at the inn, conmiandant ; 
come and see me there." 

**Just so j" replied the commandant. 
" At the inn ! come and see me ! that 
is the way the creatures talk to a demi- 
brigadier." And he shook his fist at the 
carriage which was rolling rapidly along 
the road. 

" Don't complain, commandant," laugh- 
ed Corentin, who was tr\ang to make his 
horse gallop so as to catch the carriage 
up. " She has your general's commission 
in her sleeve." 

''Ah!" growled Hulot to his friend; 
" I will not let these gentry make an ass 
of me ! I would rather pitch my general's 
uniform into a ditch than gain it in a wo- 
man's chamber. What do these geese 
mean ? do you understand the thing, 
you fellows?" 

"Well, yes," said Merle; "I under- 
stand that she is the prettiest woman I 
ever saw. I think you have mistaken the 
phrase. Perhaps it is the First Consul's 
wife?" 

" Bah ! " answered Hulot. " The First 
Consul's wife is' an old woman, and this 
is a young one. Besides, my orders from 
the minister tell me that her name is 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil. She is a ci- 
devant. As if I did not know it ! they 
all played that game before the Revolu- 
tion. You could become a demi-brigadier 
then in two crotchets and six quavers ; 



3^ou only had to say ' My soul ! ' to tliem 
prettily two or three times." 

While each soldier stirred his stumps 
(in the commandant's phrase), the ugl3^ 
vehicle which acted as mail-coach had 
quickly gained the hotel of " The Three 
Moors," situated in the middle of the high 
street of Alencon. The clatter and rattle 
of the shapeless carriage brought the host 
to the door-step. Nobody in Alencon ex- 
pected the chance of the mail-coach put- 
ting up at " The Three Moors ;" but the 
tragedy which had happened at Mortagne 
made so many people follow it that the 
two travelers, to evade the general curi- 
osity, slipped into the kitchen, the in- 
variable antechamber of all western inns ; 
and the host was about, after scanning 
the carriage, to follow them, when the 
postilion caught him by the arm. 

" Attention ! Citizen Brutus," said he; 
"there is an escort of Blues coming. As 
there is neither driver nor mail-bags, 'tis 
I who am bringing you the citizenesses. 
They will pay you, no doubt, like ci-devant 
princesses, and so — " 

" And so we will have a glass of wine 
together in a minute, vaj boy," said the 
host. •• 

After glancing at the kitchen, black- 
ened \yy smoke, and its table stained \)y 
uncooked meat. Mademoiselle de Verneuil 
fled like a bird into the next room, for she 
liked the kitchen sights and smells as little 
as the curiosity of a dirty man-cook and 
a short stout woman Avho were staring 
at her. 

"What are we to do, wife ? " said the 
innkeeper. "Who the devil would have 
thought that we should have company 
like this in these hard times ? This lady 
will get out of patience before I can serve 
her a decent breakfast. Faith ! I have 
a notion : as they are gentlefolk, I will 
propose that they should join the person 
upstairs, eh? " 

But when the host looked for his new 
guest he only found Francine, to whom 
he said in a low tone, and taking her aside 
to the back of the kitchen, which looked 
toward the yard, so as to be out of ear- 
shot : " If the ladies would like, as I doubt 
not, to eat in a private room, I have a deli- 



THE OHOUAJSrS. 



67 



cate meal all ready for a lady and lier son. 
The travelers," added he with an air of 
mysterj^ ''are not likely to object to share 
their breakfast with you. They are peo- 
ple of quality." 

But he had hardly finished his sentence 
when he felt a sUght tap from a whip- 
handle on his back, and turning- sharply 
round, he saw behind him a short, strong-- 
Ij'-built man who had noiselessly issued 
from a neighboring- room, and whose ap- 
pearance seemed to strike terror into the 
plump landlady, the cook, and the scul- 
lion. The host himself grew pale as he 
turned his head round ; but the little man 
shook the hair which completely covered 
his forehead and eyes, stood on tip-toe to 
reach the host's ear, and said: ''You 
know what an\' imprudence or any tale- 
bearing means ? and what is the color of 
our money when we pay for such things ? 
We don't stint it." 

And he added to his words a gesture 
which made a hideous commentary on 
them. Although the host's portly per- 
son prevented Francine from seeing the 
speaker, she caught a word or two of 
the sentences whicli he had whispered, 
and remained thunderstruck as she heard 
the harsh tones of the Braton's voice. 
While all besides were in consternation, 
she darted toward the little man ; but he, 
whose movements had the celerity of a 
wild animal's, was already passing out 
by a side door into the yard. And Fran- 
cine thought she must have been mis- 
taken, for she saw nothing but what 
seemed the black and tan skin of a 
middle-sized bear. Startled, she ran to 
the window, and through its smoke- 
stained glass gazed at the stranger, who 
was making for the stable with halting 
steps. Before entering it he sent a glance 
of his black eyes to the first floor of the 
inn, and then to the stage-coach, as if he 
wished to give a hint of importance to 
some friend about the carriage. In spite 
of the goatskins, and thanks to this gest- 
ure, which revealed his face, Francine was 
able to recognize by his enormous whip 
and his gait — crawling, though agile 
enough at need — the Chouan nicknamed 
Marche-a-Terre. And she could descry 



him, though not clearly, across the dark 
stable, where he la}^ down in the straw, 
assuming a posture in which he could 
survey everything that went on in the 
inn. Marche-a-Terre had curled himself 
up in such a way that at a distance — nay, 
even -close at hand — the cleverest spy 
might have easilj^ taken him for one of 
the big carter's dogs that sleep coiled 
round with mouth on paw. His behavior 
showed Francine that he had not recog- 
nized her; and in the ticklish circum- 
stances wherein her mistress was placed, 
she hardl}'^ knew w^hether to be glad or 
sorry for it. 

But the mysterious relations between 
the Chouan 's threat and the offer of the 
host — an offer common enough with inn- 
keepers, who like to take toll twice on the 
same goods — 'Stimulated her curiosity. 
She left the blurred pane through which 
she had been looking at the shapeless 
mass wiiich in the darkness indicated 
Marche-a-Terre 's position, returned to- 
ward the innkeeper, and perceived him 
looking like a man who has put his foot 
in it, and does not know how to draw it 
back. Tlie Chouan's gesture had struck 
the poor man cold. No one in the West 
was ignorant of the cruel ingenuity of 
torture with which the King's Huntsmen 
punished those suspected of mere indis- 
cretion, and the host felt their knives 
already at his throat. The cook stared 
with horrified glance at the hearth where 
they not seldom roasted the feet of those 
w^ho had given information against them. 
The plump little landlady held a kitchen 
knife in one hand, a half-cut apple in the 
other, and gazed aghast at her husband, 
while, finally, the scullion tried to make 
out the meaning of this silent terror, 
which he did not understand. Francine's 
curiosity was naturally kindled by this 
dumb show, where the chief actor, though 
not present, was in everyone's mind and 
sight. The girl felt rather j)leased at the 
Chouan's terrible power, and though her 
simple character did not comport with the 
usual tricks of a waiting'-maid, she had 
for the moment too great an interest in 
unraveling the secret not to make the 
best of her game. 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



" Well, mademoiselle accepts your of- 
fer/' she said gravel3^ to the host, Avho 
started as if suddenly awakened by the 
words. 

''What offer?" asked he, with real 
surprise. 

"What offer?" asked Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil. 

"What offer? " asked a fourth person- 
ag:e, who happened to be on the lowest 
step of the staircase, and Avho bounded 
lig-htly into the kitchen. 

" Why, to breakfast with your people 
of qualJt}'," said Francine impatiently. 

" Of quality ?" repeated the person who 
had come from the stairs, in an ironical 
and satiric tone. "My fine fellow, that 
seems to me an innkeeper's joke, and a bad 
one. But if it is this young citizeness 
that you want to give us as guest, one 
would be a fool to refuse, my good man," 
said he, looking at Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil. And he added, clapping the stu- 
pefied host on the shoulder, ' ' In my 
mother's absence I accept," 

The giddy grace of youth hid the in- 
solent pride of these words, which natur- 
ally drew the attention of all the actors 
in the scene to the new arrival. Then 
the host assumed the air of a Pilate trying 
to wash his hands of the death of Christ, 
stepped back two paces toward his plump 
spouse, and said in her ear, " I call .you to 
witness, that if any harm happens, it is 
not my fault. But," added he still lower, 
"to make sure, go and tell Monsieur 
Marche-a-Terre all about it." 

The traveler, a young man of middle 
height, wore a blue coat and long black 
gaiters, which rose above his knees, over 
breeches also of blue cloth. This plain 
uniform, devoid of epaulets, was that of 
the students of the Ecole Polytechnique. 
At a glance Mademoiselle de Verneuil 
could distinguish under the sober costume 
an elegant shape and the^e ne sais quoi 
which announces native nobility. The 
young man's face, not striking at first 
sight, soon became noticeable owing to a 
certain conformation of feature which 
showed a soul capable of great things. 
A brown complexion, fair curly hair, a 
finely-cut nose, motions full of ease — all. 



in short, declared in him a course of life 
guided by lofty sentiments and the habit 
of command. But the most unmistakable 
sjmiptoms of his talents were a chin of the 
Bonaparte tj'pe, and a lower lip which 
joined the upper with such a graceful 
curve as the acanthus leaf under a Co- 
rinthian capital describes. Nature had 
clothed these two features with an irre- 
sistibly winning grace. 

"The young man looks, for a Republi- 
can, remarkablj^ like a gentleman," said 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil to herself. To 
see all this at a glance, to be seized with 
the desire of pleasing, to bend her head 
gracefully to one side, smile coquettishlj', 
and dart one of those velvet glances 
which would rekindle a heart dead to 
love, to drop over her almond-shaped 
black eyes deep lids whose lashes, long 
and bent, made a brown line on her 
cheek, to devise the most melodious 
tones wnth which her voice could infuse 
a subtle charm into the commonplace 
phrase, "We are very much obliged to 
you, sir,"^all this maneuvering did not 
take her the time which it takes to de- 
scribe it. Then Mademoiselle de Verneuil, 
addressing the host, inquired after her 
room, jDcrceived the staircase, and dis- 
appeared up it with Francine, leaving the 
stranger to settle for himself whether 
the reply implied acceptance or refusal. 

"Who is the woman ? " said the stu- 
dent of the Ecole Poly technique briskly, 
to the motionless and ever more stupefied' 
host. 

" 'Tis the citizeness Verneuil," replied 
Corentin, in a sour tone, scanning the 
young man jealousW, "and she is a ci- 
devant. What do you want with her ? " 

The stranger, who was humming a Re-^ 
publican song, lifted his head haughtily 
toward Corentin. The two young men 
glared at each other for a moment like 
two gamecocks on the point of fighting ; 
and the glance Avas the seed of an eternal 
and mutual hatred. Corentin 's green 
eyes announced spite and treacher}'^ as 
clearly as the soldier's blue ones promised 
frankness. The one was born to noble 
manners, the other had nothing but ac- 
quired insinuation. The one towered. 



THE CHOUANS. 



69 



the other crouched. The one commanded 
respect, and the other tried to obtain it. 
The motto of the one should have been 
" Gain the day ! " of the other, " Share 
the booty ! " 

''Is Citizen du Gua Saint-Cyr here ? " 
said a peasant who entered. 

**"What do you want with him?" said 
the j'oung- man, coming- forward. 

The peasant bowed low, and handed 
him a letter, w^hich the cadet threw into 
the fire after he had read it. By way of 
answ^er he nodded, and the man disap- 
peared. 

'' You come from Paris, no doubt, citi- 
zen," said Corentin, coming- toward the 
stranger with a certain easiness of man- 
ner, and with an air of suppleness and 
conciliation which seemed to be more than 
the Citizen du Gua could bear. 

''Yes," he answ^ered drj^ly. 

" And of course you have a commission 
in the artillery ? " 

" No, citizen ; in the navy." 

"Ah!" said Corentin carelessly, "then 
3"ou are going to Brest? " 

But the young sailor turned abruptly 
on his heel without deigning to answer, 
and soon disappointed the fond hopes 
which his face had inspired in Mademoi- 
selle de Verneuil. He busied himself in 
ordering his breakfast with the levity 
of a child, cross-examined the host and 
hostess as' to their receipts, wondered at 
provincial ways like a Parisian just ex- 
tracted from his enchanted shell, gave him- 
self the airs and megrims of a coquette, 
and, in short, showed as little strength 
of character as his face and manners had 
at first promised much. Corentin smiled 
with pity when he saw him make faces as 
he tasted the best cider in Normandy. 

" Bah ! " cried he ; " how can you people 
drink that stuff ? there is food and drink 
both in it. The Republic may well be shy 
of a country where they make the vintage 
with blows of a pole, and shoot travelers 
from behind a hedge on the high roads. 
Don't put doctor's stuff like that on the 
table for us ; but give us some good Bor- 
deaux, white and red too. And be sure 
there is a good fire upstairs. These good 
folk seem to be quite behind the times in 



matter of civilization. Ah ! " he went on 
with a sigh, "there is only one Paris in 
the world, and great pity it is that one 
can't take it to sea with one. Why, you 
spoil-sauce ! " cried he to the cook, "you 
are putting vinegar in that fricasseed 
chicken when j'ou have got lemons at 
hand. And as for 30U, Mrs. Landlady, 
you have given us such coarse sheets that 
I have not slept a wink all night." 

Then he began to play with a large cane, 
going with childish exactitude through the 
evolutions w'hich, as they were j^erformcd 
with greater or less finish and skill, in- 
dicated the higher or lower rank of a 
young man in tlie army of Incroyables. 

"And 'tis with dandies like that," said 
Corentin confidentially to the host, scan- 
ning his face as he spoke, " that the}'' hope 
to pick up the Republic's navy ! " 

"That fellow," whispered the young 
man in the hostess's ear, "is a spy of 
Fouche's. ' Police ' is written on his face, 
and I could swear that the stain on his 
chin is Paris mud. But two can play — " 

As he spoke, a h\(\.y toward whom the 
sailor ran, with every mark of outward 
respect, entered the inn kitchen. " Dear 
mamma ! " he said, "come here, I pray 
you. I think I have mustered some 
guests in your absence." 

" Guests ! " she answered; "w^hat mad- 
ness ! " 

"'Tis Mademoiselle de Verneuil," he 
replied, in a low voice. 

"She perished on the scaffold after the 
affair at Savenay, ' ' said his mother sharp- 
ly to him ; " she had gone to Le Mans to 
rescue her brother the Prince of Loudon." 

"You are mistaken, madame,'' said 
Corentin, gently, but laying a stress on 
the w^ord madame ; " there are two 
Demoiselles de Verneuil. Great house* 
always have several branches." 

The strange lady, surprised at this 
familiar address, recoiled a step of two as 
if to survey this unexpected interlocutor ; 
she fixed on him her black eyes full of 
that quick shrewdness which comes so 
naturally to w^omen, and seemed trying 
to find out with what object he had just 
testified to the existence of Mademoiselle 
de Verneuil. At the same time, Corentin, 



70 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



who had been privately' studying- the lady, 
denied her the pleasures of maternity, 
while granting- her those of love. He 
was too g-allant to allow even the happi- 
ness of possessing- a son twenty years old 
to a lady whose dazzling skin, whose 
arched and rich eyebrows, with eyelashes 
still in good condition, attracted his ad- 
miration, while her luxuriant black hair, 
parted in bands on her forehead, set off 
the freshness of a face that showed men- 
tal power. Some faint wrinkles on the 
forehead, far from proclaiming age, be- 
trayed the passions of j^outh, and if the 
piercing eyes were a little dimmed, the 
affection might have come either from 
the fatigues of travel or from a too fre- 
quent indulgence in pleasure. 

Lasth'-, Corentin noticed that the 
stranger was wrapped in a mantle of 
English stuff, and that the shape of her 
bonnet, apparently also foreign, did not 
agree with any of the fashions then called 
a la Orecque, which still ruled Parisian 
toilets. Now, Corentin was one of those 
people who are characteristicalh^ inclined 
to the constant suspicion of ill rather than 
good, and he immediately conceived doubts 
as to the patriotism of the two travelers. 
On her side, the lad}', who had also and 
with equal swiftness taken observations 
of Corentin's person, turned to her son 
with a meaning look, which could be 
pretty faithfully worded, "Who is this 
odd fish ? is he on our side? " To which 
unspoken question the young sailor re- 
plied with a look and gesture signifying 
" Faith ! I know nothing at all about 
him, and I doubt him more than \-ou 
do." Then, leaving it to his mother to 
guess the riddle, he turned to the hostess 
and said in her ear, " Try to find out who 
this rascal is — whether he is really in the 
young lady's train, and why." 

''So," said Madame du Gua, looking 
at Corentin, "you are sure, citizen, that 
there is a Mademoiselle de Verneuil liv- 
ing?" 

"She has as certain an existence in 
flesh and blood, madame, as the Citizen 
du Gua Saint-Cyr." 

Th'e answer had a touch of profound 
irony, which the lady alone understood ; 



and anybody else would have been put 
out of countenance by it. Her son di- 
rected a sudden and steady gaze at 
Corentin, who pulled out his watch 
coolly, without appearing to dream of 
the anxiety which his answer produced. 
But the ladj^, disquieted and desirous 
of knowing at once whether the phrase 
meant mischief, or whether it was a 
mere chance utterance, said to Corentin, 
in the most natural wa}^ in the world : 

" Good heavens ! how unsafe the roads 
are ! We were attacked beyond Mor- 
tagne by Chouans, and my son was 
nearl}^ killed in defending me. He had 
two balls through his hat ! " 

" What, madame ? you were in the 
coach v/hich the brigands robbed in spite 
of the escort, and which has just brought 
us here ? you ought to know the carriage, 
then. Wh3% they told me, as I went 
through Mortagne, that there were two 
thousand Chouans present at the attack 
on the coach, and that every soul in it, 
even the passengers, had perished. This 
is the wa}^ people write histor}'- ! " 

The gossiping tone which Corentin af- 
fected, and his simple air, made him look 
like a frequenter of Little Provence who 
had learned with sorrow the falsity of 
some bit of political news. 

"Alas! madame," he went on, "if 
travelers get their throats cut so near 
Paris, what must be the danger of the 
roads in Brittany ? Faith ! I'll go back to 
Paris myself without venturing further ! " 

"Is Mademoiselle de Verneuil young 
and pretty?" asked the lad^-, struck by 
a sudden thought and addressnig the hos- 
tess. But as she spoke the host cut short 
the conversation, which was almost J)ain- 
fully interesting to the three speakers, \)j 
announcing that breakfast was read3^ 
The young sailor offered his hand to his 
mother with an affectation of familiarity. 
This confirmed the suspicions of Corentin, 
to whom he said aloud, as he made for 
the stair : 

" Citizen, if you are in the company of 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil, and if she ac- 
cepts mine host's proposal, make j'ourself 
at home." 

Although these words were spoken in a 



THE CHOUANS. 



cavalier fashion, and not very oblig-inglj^, 
Corentin went upstairs. 

The 3' oung- man pressed, the lad^^'s hand 
hard ; and when the Parisian was some 
half-dozen steps behind, Iiq whispered, 
"See what ing-lorious risks your rash 
plans expose us to ! if we are found out, 
how can we escape ? and what a part 
3^0 u are making- me play ! " 

The three found themselves m a pretty 
large room, and it did not need great ex- 
perience of travel in the West to see that 
the innkeeper had lavished all his re- 
sources, and provided unusual luxuries 
for the reception of his guests. The 
table was laid with care, the heat of a 
large fire had driven out the damp, and 
the linen, the chairs, and the covers were 
not intolerably dirty. Therefore Coren- 
tin could see that the host had, as the 
vernacular has it, turned his house inside 
out to please the strangers. 

''That means," said he to himself, 
" that these people are not what the^'' 
pretend. This young fellow is a keen 
liand ; I thought he was a fool, but now 
I take him to be quite a match in sharp- 
ness for mj^'self." 

The young sailor, his mother, and Co- 
rentin waited for Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil, while the host went to inform her 
that they were ready ; but the fair trav- 
eler did not make her appearance. The 
student of the Ecole Polytechnique, guess- 
ing that ^e might be making objections, 
left the room humming the song, "Veil- 
Ions au salut de I'empire," and went to- 
ward Mademoiselle de Verneuil's chamber, 
stimulated by a desire to conquer her 
scruples, and to bring her with him. 
Perhaps he wished merely to resolve the 
suspicions which disturbed him ; perhaps 
to tr}" upon this stranger the fascination 
which every man prides himcelf on being 
able to exert over a pretty woman. '• If 
that is a Republican," thought Corentin, 
as he saw him leave the room, "may I 
be hanged ! his very shoulders move like 
a courtier's. And if tliat is his mother," 
continued he, looking at Madame du Gua, 
" I am the pope ! I have got hold of some 
Chouans ; let us make sure of what their 
quality is." 



The door soon opened, and the young 
sailor entered, leading by the hand Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil, whom he ushered to 
the table with an air self-satisfied, but 
full of courtesy. The hour which had 
passed away had not been time lost iu 
the devil's service. With Francine's as- 
sistance. Mademoiselle de Verneuil had 
arrayed herself for battle in a traveling 
costume more dangerous perhaps than a 
ball-dress itself. The simplicity of it had 
the attractive charm resulting from the 
art with which a woman, fair enough to 
dispense with ornaments altogether, 
knows how to reduce her toilet to the 
condition of a merely secondary charm. 
She wore a green dress exquisitel}'' cut, 
the frogged spencer purposely showing 
her shape to an extent almost unbecom- 
ing in a young girl, and not concealing 
either her willowy w^aist, her elegant 
bust, or the grace of her movements. 
She entered with the agreeable smile 
naturally indulged in by women who can 
show between their rosy lips an even 
range of teeth as clear as porcelain, and 
in their cheeks a pair of dimples as fresh 
as those of a child. As she had laid aside 
the traveling wrap which had before con- 
cealed her almost entirely from the sail- 
or's gaze, she had no difficulty in setting 
at work the thousand little innocent 
seeming tricks by which a woman sets 
off and exhibits for admiration the beau- 
ties of her face and the graceful carriage 
of her' head . 

Her air and her toilet matched so well, 
and made her look so much ^^ounger, that 
Madame du Gua thought she might be 
going too far in giving her twenty years. 
So coquettish a toilet, one so evidently" 
made with the desire of pleasing, might 
naturally excite the young man's hopes. 
But Mademoiselle de Verneuil merely 
bowed to him with a languid inclination 
of the head, hardly turning toward him, 
and seemed to drop his hand in a fashion 
so easy and careless that it put him com- 
pletely out of countenance. The strangers 
could hardly attribute this reserve either 
to distrust or to coquetry ; it seemed ra- 
ther a natural or an assumed indifference, 
while th^ innocent air of the traveler's 



73 



THE HUMAN COMEDY, 



face made it impenetrable. Nor did she 
let any determination toward conquest 
appear ; the pretty, seductive manner 
which had already deceived the young- 
sailor's self-love seemed a gift of nature. 
So the strang-er took his own chair with 
something like vexation. 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil took Fran- 
cine by the hand, and addressing Ma- 
dame du Gua, said in an insinuating 
voice : *• Madame, will ^-ou be so good as 
to permit this maid of mine, whom I look 
on rather as a friend than as a servant, 
to eat with us ? In these storm}^ times 
devoted service can only be repaid by af- 
fection. Nay, is it not all that we have 
left ? " 

Madame du Gua replied to this last 
phrase, pronounced in a low voice, with a 
half-courtes\% rather stiff in manner, and 
betraying her disappointment at meeting- 
so pretty a woman. Then, leaning- to- 
ward her son's ear, '^Ho!" said she, 
"^stormy times,' 'devotion,' 'madame,' 
and 'servant ! ' She cannot be Mademoi- 
selle de Verneuil ; she must be some girl 
sent bj' Fouche." 

The g-uests were about to take their 
places, when Mademoiselle de Verneuil's 
eyes fell on Corentin. He was still mi- 
nutely scanning- the two strang-ers, who 
appeared<iuncomfortable enough under his 
gaze. 

'•Citizen," she said, "I hope you are 
too well bred to dog- my steps in this wa}'. 
When the Republic sent my family to the 
scaffold, it was not magnanimous enoug-h 
to appoint a guardian over me. Although 
with unheard-of and chivalrous g-allantr^^ 
you have attached yourself to me against 
my -will," and she heaved a sig-h, "I am 
resolved not to allow the cares of g-uard- 
ianship which you lavish on me to be a 
cause of inconvenience to yourself. I am 
in safet}' here ; jow. may leave me as I 
am." 

And she darted at him a steady g'lance 
of contempt. Corentin did not fail to un- 
derstand her. He checked a smile which 
almost curled the corners of his cunning 
lips, and bowed to her in the most respect- 
ful style. 

" Citizeness," said he, "it will always 



be a happiness to me to obey you. Beauty 
is the onlj' queen to whose service a true 
Republican may willingly submit." 

As she saw him leave the room. Made- 
moiselle de yerneuil's eyes g-leamed with 
joy so unaffected, and she directed to- 
ward Fran cine a meaning- smile express- 
ing- so much satisfaction, that Madame du 
Gua, though her jealousy had made her 
watchful, felt inclined to discard the sus- 
picions with which Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil's extreme beauty had inspired her. 
"Perhaps she is really Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil," whispered she to her son. 

"And her escort?" replied the young- 
man, whom pique inspired with prudence. 
"Is she a prisoner or a protegee, a friend 
or foe of the Government ? " 

Madame du Gua winked slightly, as 
though to say that she knew how to dis- 
cover this secret. But the departure of 
Corentin seemed to soften the mistrust of 
the sailor, whose face lost its stern look. 
He bent on Mademoiselle de Verneuil 
g-lances which rather showed an im- 
moderate passion for women in g-eneral 
than the respectful ardor of dawning- 
love. But the young- lady only became 
more circumspect in her demeanor, and 
reserved her amiability for Madame du 
Gua. The 3'oung- man, sulking- by him- 
self, endeavored in his vexation to. affect 
indifference in his turn. But Mademoi- 
selle de Verneuil appeared not to notice 
his behavior, and showed hersrff ing-enu- 
ous but not timid, and reserved without 
prudery. Thus this party of apparent 
incompatibles showed considerable cool- 
ness one to another, producing even a 
certain awkwardness and constraint, de- 
structive of the pleasure which both 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil and the 3^oung- 
sailor had promised themselves. But 
women possess such a freemasonry of 
tact and manners, such close community 
of nature, and such lively desire for the 
indulg-ence of sensibilit}^, that they are 
always able to break the ice on such occa- 
sions. The two fair g-uests, suddenly and 
as though \>y common consent, beg-an 
g-entl^" to rail}'' their solita^ry cavalier, and 
to vie with each other in jests and little 
attentions toward him; their agreement 



THE CHOUANS. 



73 



In so doing" putting them on easy terms, 
so that words and looks which, while the 
constraint lasted, would have had some 
special meaning-, lost their importance. 
In short, half an hour had not i)assed he- 
fore the two women, already sworn foes 
at heart, became in appearance the best 
frie^nds in the world. Yet the young" 
sailor found himself as much vexed by 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil's ease as he 
had been by her reserve, and he was so 
chag"rined that, in a fit of silent ang"er, he 
reg"retted ha\ing shared his breakfast 
with her. 

"Madame," said Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil to Madame du Gua, ''is your son 
always as g"rave as he is now?" 

"Mademoiselle," he replied, "I was 
asking" mj^self what is the g"ood of a fleet- 
ing happiness. The secret of my sadness 
lies in the vi\idness of my enjoyment." 

"Compliments of this sort," said she, 
laug"hing, " smack rather of the court 
than of the Ecole Polytechnique." 

" Yet he has but expressed a very 
natural feeling", mademoiselle," said Ma- 
dame du Gua, who had her reasons for 
wishing to keep on terms with the stran- 
ger. 

"Well, then, laugh a little," said 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil, with a smile, 
to the young man. "What do you look 
like when you weep, if what you are 
pleased to call happiness makes you look 
so solemn ? " 

The smile, accompanied as it was by a 
glance of provocation, which was a little 
out of keeping with her air of innocence, 
made the 3'oung man pluck up hope. 
But, urged by that nature which always 
makes a woman go too far, or not far 
enough. Mademoiselle de Verneuil, who 
one moment seemed actually to take pos- 
session of the young man by a glance 
sparkling with all the promises of love, 
the next met his gallantries with cold 
and severe modesty — the common device 
under which women are wont to hide 
their real feelings. Once, and once only, 
when each thought the other's ej^elids 
were drooping, they exchanged their real 
thoughts. But they were as quick to ob- 
scure as to communicate this light, Avhich, 



as it lightened their hearts, also disturbed 
their composure. As though ashamed of 
having* said so much in a single glance, 
the^' dared not look again at each other. 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil, anxious to alter 
the stranger's opinion of her, shut herself 
up in cool politeness, and even seemed 
impatient for the end of the meal. 

"You must have suffered much in 
prison, mademoiselle?" said Madame du 
Gua. 

"Alas ! madame, it does not seem to 
me that I am out of prison yet." 

" Then, is 3'our escort intended to guard 
or watch you, mademoiselle ? Are you an 
object of affection or of suspicion to the 
Republic ? " 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil felt instinct- 
ively that Madame du Gua wished her 
little good, and was put on her guard \)j 
the question. " Madame," she answered, 
" I am reall^^ not myself quite sure of the 
nature of my relations with the Republic 
at this moment." 

"Perhaps you inspire it with terror," 
said the 3^oung man, half ironicall}'. 

"We had better respect mademoiselle's 
secrets," said Madame du Gua. 

"Oh! madame, there is not much in- 
terest in the secrets of a young girl who 
as yet knows nothing of life save its 
misfortunes." 

"But," answered Madame du Gua, in 
order to keep up a conversation which 
might tell her what she wished to know. 
" the First Consul seems to be excellently 
disposed. Do they not say that he is 
going to suspend the laws against emi- 
grants ? " 

" Yes, madame," said she, with perhaps 
too much eagerness ; " but, if so, why 
are Vendee and- Brittany being roused 
to insurrection ? Why set France on 
fire ? " 

This generous and apparentlj'^ self-re- 
proachful cvy startled the sailor. He 
gazed scrutinizingly at Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil, but could not descry any ex- 
pression of enmity or the reverse on her 
face. Its delicate covering of bright skin 
told no tales, and an unconquerable curi- 
osity helped to give a sudden increase 
to the interest which strong desire had 



74 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



already made him feel in this strang-e 
creature. 

''But," she went on, after a pause, 
" are you g'oing- to Mayenne, madame ? " 

" Yes, mademoiselle," replied the young- 
man with an air as if to say, ''What 
then ? " 

"Well, madame," continued Mademoi- 
selle de Verneuil, "since 3'our son is in 
the Republic's service — " 

She pronounced these words with an 
air of outward indifference ; but fixing" on 
the two strangers one of those furtive 
g-lances of which women and diplomatists 
have the secret, she continued, "You 
must be in dread of the Chouans, and 
an escort is not a thing- to be despised. 
Sihce we have already become as it 
were fellow-travelers, come with me to 
Mayenne." ' 

Mother and son hesitated, and seemed 
to consult. each other. 

"It is perhaps imprudent," said the 
j^oung- nian, "to confess that business of 
the g-reatest importance requires our pres- 
ence to-night in the neighborhood of Fou- 
geres, and that we have not yet found a 
.conveyance ; but ladies are so naturally 
g-enerous that I should be ashamed not to 
show confidence in you. Nevertheless," 
he added, "before putting ourselves into 
your hands we have a right to know 
whether we are likely to come safe out of 
them. Are you the mistress or the slave 
of your Republican escort ? Excuse a 
young sailor's frankness, but I am unable 
to help seeing something rather singular 
in your position." 

"We live in a time, sir, when nothing 
that occurs is not singular; so, believe 
me, you may accept without scruple. 
Above all," added she, laying stress on 
her words, " you need fear no treachery 
in an offer made to you honestly by a 
person who does not identify herself with 
political hatreds." 

"A journey so made will not lack its 
dangers," said he, charging- his g-lance 
with a meaning- which gave, point to this 
commonplace reply. 

" What more are you afraid of ?" asked 
she, with a mocking smile; "i can see 
no danger for anj' one." 



"Is she who speaks the same woman 
who just now seemed to share mj' desires 
in a look ? " said the young- man to him- 
self. " What a tone ! she must be lajang- 
some trap for me." 

At the very same moment the clear, 
piercing- hoot of an owl, which seemed to 
have perched on the chimney-top, quiv- 
ered through the air like a sinister warn- 
ing. 

"What is that?" said Mademoiselle 
de Verneuil. "Our journey will not be- 
g-in with lucky omens. But how do you 
get owls here that hoot in full day-time ?" 
asked she, with an astonished look, 

" It happens sometimes," said the young- 
man, coolly. "Mademoiselle," he con- 
tinued, " may we not bring- you bad luck ? 
was not that your thoug-ht ? Let us, then, 
not be fellow-travelers." 

He said this with a quiet reticence of 
manner which surprised Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil. 

"Sir," she said, with quite aristocratic 
insolence, "I have not the least desire to 
put any constraint on you. Let us keep 
the very small amount of liberty which 
the Republic leaves us. If madame was 
alone, I should insist — " 

A soldier's heav^^ tread sounded in the 
corridor, and Commandant Hulot soon 
entered with a sour countenance. 

"Ah ! colonel, come here ! " said Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil, smiling, and point- 
ing to a chair near her. " Let us attend, 
since things will so have it, to affairs of 
State. But wh}^ don't you laug-h ? What 
is the matter with you ? Have we Chou- 
ans here?" 

But the commandant stood ag-ape at 
the young- strang-er, whom he considered 
with extraordinary attention. 

"Mother, will you have some more 
hare ? Mademoiselle, you are eating- 
nothing," said the young- sailor, busying- 
himself with his gnests, to Francine. 

But Hulot's surprise and Mademoiselle 
de Verneuil's attention were so unmistak- 
ably serious that willful misunderstanding- 
of them would have been dangerous. So 
thej-^oung man went on abruptly, " What 
is the matter, commandant ? do you hap- 
pen to know me ? " 



THE CHOUANS. 



vo 



"Perhaps so," answered the Repub- 
lican. 

'' Indeed, I think I have seen you at 
the school." 

"1 never went to any school," replied 
as abruptl}^ the commandant ; '' and what 
school do you come from ? " 

"The Ecole Polytechnique." 

"Ah! yes; from the barrack where 
they try to hatch soldiers in dormitories," 
answered the commandant, whose hatred 
for officers who had passed through this 
scientific seminary was ungovernable. 
" But what service do you belong to ? " 

"The navy." 

"All!" said Hulot, laughing sardoni- 
call}' ; "have you heard of many pupils of 
that school in the navy? It sends out," 
said he, in a serious tone, "' only officers 
in tire artiller3'' and the engineers." 

But the young man did not blanch. 

"I was made an exception," said he, 
"because of the name I bear. All our 
family have been sailors." 

" Ah ! " said Hulot, " and what is your 
family name, citizen ? " 

"DaGua Saint-Cyr." 

" Then, you were not murdered at 
Mortagne ? ' ' 

"We had a narrow escape of it," inter- 
rupted Madame du Gua eagerly. " My 
son received two bullets." 

"And have you got papers?" said 
Hulot, pacing no attention to the mo- 
ther. 

"Perhaps a'ou want to read them?" 
asked the young sailor in an impertinent 
tone. His sarcastic blue eyes were study- 
ing by turns the gloomy face of the com- 
mandant and Mademoiselle de Verneuil's 
countenance. 

" Pra}^, does a young monkey like you 
want to make a fool of me ? Your papers 
at once, or off with you ! " 

" There ! there ! my excellent sir, I am 
not a nincorai30op. Need I give you any 
answer ? Who are you ? " 

" The commandant of the department," 
replied Hulot. 

"Oh, then, my situation maj'' become 
serious, for I shall have been taken red- 
handed." And he held out a glass of 
Bordeaux to the commandant. 



" I am not thirstj^" answered Hulot. 
"Come! your papers." 

At this moment, hearing the clash of 
arms and the measured tread of soldiers 
in the street, Hulot drew near the win- 
dow with an air of satisfaction Avhich 
made Mademoiselle de Verneuil shudder. 
This symptom of interest encouraged the 
young man, whose face had become cold 
and proud. Dipping in his coat-pocket, 
he drew from it a neat pocket-book and 
offered the commandant some papers, 
which Hulot read slow^lj'^, comparing the 
description with the appearance of the 
suspicious traveler. During this exam- 
ination the owl's hoot began again, but 
this time it was easy to trace in it the 
tone and play of a human voice. The 
commandant gave the young man back 
his papers wath a mocking air. 

" That is all very well," said he, "but 
you must come with me to the district 
office. I am not fond of music." 

" Why do you take him there ? " asked 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil, in an altered 
tone. 

"Young woman," said the comman- 
dant, making his favorite grimace, "that 
is no business of 3'ours." 

But Mademoiselle de Verneuil, no less 
irritated at the soldier's tone than at his 
words, and most of all at the humiliation 
to which she was subjected before a man 
w^ho had taken a fancy to her, started 
up, and dropped at once the modest, 
ingenue air which she had maintained 
hitherto. Her face flushed and her eyes 
sparkled. 

" Tell me, has this young man com- 
plied wnth the law's demands? " she con- 
tinued, not raising her voice, but with a 
certain quiver in it. 

" Yes, m appearance," said Hulot ironi- 
cally. 

" Then, you will be good enough to let 
h*im alone in appearance,^' said she. 
"' Are you afraid of his escaping you ? 
You can escort him with me to Mayenne, 
and he will be in the coach with his lady 
mother. Not a word : I will have it so. 
What ! " she went on, seeing that Hulot 
was still indulging in his favorite grim- 
ace ; " do you still think him a suspect ?" 



76 



,THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



''Well, yes, a little." 

" What do you want to do with him ? " 

" Nothing but cool his head with a little 
lead. He is a feather-brain," said the 
commandant, still ironically. 

'' Are you joking-, colonel ? '' cried Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil. 

'•' Come, my fine fellow," said the com- 
mandant, nodding- to the sailor, "come 
along- ! " 

At this impertinence of Hulot's, Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil recovered her com- 
posure, and smiled. 

'•'Do not stir," said she to the young- 
man, with a dignified gesture of protec- 
tion. 

'• What a beautiful head ! " whispered 
he to his mother, Avho bent her brows. 

Annoyance and a mixture of irritated 
but mastered feelings shed indeed fresh 
beauties over the fair Parisian's coun- 
tenance. Francine, Madame du Qua, and 
Iter son had all risen. Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil sprang between them and the 
commandant, who had a smile on his face, 
and quickly tore open two fastenings of 
her spencer. Then, with a precipitate 
action, blinded by the passion of a woman 
whose self-love has been wounded, and as 
greedy of the exercise of poAver as a child 
is of trying his new toy, she thrust toward 
Hulot an open letter. 

"Read that ! " she said to him with a 
sneer. 

And she turned toward the 3'oung man, 
at whom, in the excitement of her victory, 
she darted a glance where love mingled 
v/ith malicious triumph. The brows of 
both cleared, their faces flushed with 
pleasure, and their souls were filled with 
a thousand conflicting emotions.* By a 
single look, Madame du Gua on her side 
showed that, not without reason, she set 
down this generous conduct of Mademoi- 
selle de Verneuil's much more to love 
than to charity. The fair traveler "at 
first blushed, and dropped her eyelids 
modestly, as she divined the meaning of 
this feminine expression, but in the face 
of this kind of accusing menace she raised 
her head again proudly and challenged all 
e^^es. As for the commandant, he read 
with stupefaction a letter bearing the full 



ministerial countersign, and commanding 
all authorities to obey this mysterious 
person. Then he drew his sword, broke 
it across his knee, and threw down the 
fragments. 

"Mademoiselle," said he, "no doubt 
you know what you have to do. But a 
Republican has his own notions and his 
own pride. I am not good at obeying 
where pretty girls command. My resig- 
nation shall be sent in to the First-Consul 
to-night, and you will have somebody else 
than Hulot to do your bidding. Where I 
cannot understand I stand still ; especially 
when it is my business to understand." 

There was a moment's silence, but it 
was soon broken by the fair Parisian, who 
stepped up to the commandant, held out 
her hand, and said : 

" Colonel, though .your beard is I'ather 
long, you may kiss this, for 3^ou are a 
man ! " 

"I hope so, mademoiselle," said he, de- 
positing clumsily enough a kiss on this 
remarkable young woman's hand. "As 
for you, my fine fellow," he added, shak- 
ing his finger at the j'oung man, "3'ou 
have had a nice escape ! " 

" Commandant," said the stranger, 
laughing, "it is time the joke should end. 
I will go to the district office with you if 
you like." 

" And will you bring your invisible 
whistler, Marche-a-Terre, with you ? " 

"Who is Marche-a-Terre?" said the 
sailor, with every mark of unaffected sur- 
prise. 

" Did not somebody'' whistle just now ?" 

"And if they did," said the stranger, 
"what have I to do with the whistling, if 
3^ou please ? I supposed that the soldiers 
whom you had ordered up to arrest me, 
no doubt were letting 3'ou know of their 
arrival." 

" You really thought that ? " 

" Why, 3^es, eg-ad ! But why don't you 
drink your claret ? It is very good . ' ' 

Surprised at the natural astonishment 
of the sailor, at the extraordinary levity 
of his manner, at the youth of his face, 
which was made almost childish by his 
carefully curled fair hair, the comman- 
dant hovered between different suspicions. 



THE OHOUANS. 



77 



Then his glance fell on Madame du Gua, 
who was trying to interpret the exchang-e 
of looks between her son and Mademoiselle 
de Verneuil, and he asked her abruptlj^ : 

" Your ag-e, citizeness ? " 

" Ah, sir officer ! the laws of our Re- 
public are becoming" ver^' merciless. I 
am thirtj'^-eight." 

*'May I be shot if I believe a word of 
it I Marche-a-Terre is here — he whistled 
— and you are Chouansin disguise ! God's 
thunder ! I will have the whole inn sur- 
rounded and searched ! " 

At that very moment a whistle, of a 
broken kind, but sufficiently like that 
which had been heard, rose from the inn 
yard, and interrupted the commandant. 
He rushed into the corridor — luckily 
enough, for it prevented him from seeing 
the pallor which his words had caused on 
Madame du Gua's cheek. But he found 
the whistler to be a postilion who was 
putting the coach -horses to ; and laying 
aside his suspicions, so absurd did it seem 
to him that Chouans should risk them- 
selves in the very center of Alencon, he 
came back crestfallen. 

" I forgive him, but he shall dearly pay 
later the time he has made us pass here," 
whispered the mother in her son's ear, 
as Hulot entered the room. 

The excellent officer's embarrassed 
countenance showed the struggle which 
his stern sense of duty was carrying on 
with his natural kindness. He still looked 
sulk^'" ; perhaps because he thought he 
had made a blunder ; but he took the 
glass of claret, and said : 

" Comrade, excuse me, but your school 
sends the arm}'' such hoy^ for officers." 

" Then, have the brigands officers more 
boN'ish still ? " laughingly asked the 
sailor, as he called himself. 

" For whom did you take my son ? " 
asked Madame du Gua. 

" For the Gars, the chief sent to the 
Chouans and the Vendeans by the London 
Cabinet — ^the man whom they call the 
Marquis de Montauran.'' 

The commandant still scrutinized atten- 
tively the faces of these two suspicious per- 
sons, who gazed at each other with the 
peculiar looks which are natural to the 



self-satisfied and ignorant, and which may 
be interpreted hx this dialogue : *' Do 
you know Avhat he means ? " '•' No, do 
you ? " " Don't know anything about it." 
" Then, what does he mean ? He's dream- 
ing! " And then follows the sly, jeering 
laugh of a fool who thinks himself tri- 
umphant. 

The sudden alteration in manner of 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil, who seemed 
struck dumb at hearing the name of 
the Royalist general, was lost on all 
except Francine, who alone knew the 
scarcely distinguishable changes of her 
young mistress's face. The commandant, 
completely driven from his position, 
picked up the pieces of his sword, stared 
at Mademoiselle de Verneuil, whose ebul- 
lition of feeling had found the weak place 
in his heart, and said to her : 

'' As for you, mademoiselle, I do not un- 
sa}' what I have said. And to-morrow 
these fragments of my sword shall fmd 
their wa}' to Bonaparte, unless — " 

" And what do I care for Bonaparte, 
and 3'our Republic, and the Chouans, and 
the king, and the Gars ? " cried she, 
hardly checking a display of temper 
which was in doubtful taste. 

Either actual passion or some unknown 
caprice sent flashes of color through her 
face, and it was easy to see that the girl 
would care nothing for the whole world 
as soon as she had fixed her affections on 
a singie human being. But with equal 
suddenness she forced herself to be once 
more calm, when she saw that the Avhole 
audience had bent their looks o)i her as 
on some consummate actor. The com- 
mandant abruptly left the room, but 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil followed him, 
stopped him in the passage, and asked 
him in a grave tone :. 

^•Have you, then, really strong- reasons 
for suspecting this young man of being 
the Gars ? ' * 

'•'God's thunder! mademoiselle, the 
fellow who travels with you came to 
warn me that the passengers in the 
mail had been assassinated by the Chou- 
ans, which I knew before. But what t 
did not know wr.s the name of the dead 
travelers. It was Du Gua Saint-Cvr." 



78 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



" Oh ! if Corentin is at the bottom of 
it," said she, with a contemptuous gest- 
ure, "I am surprised at nothing-," 

The commandant retired without dar- 
ing- to look at Mademoiselle de Verneuil, 
whose perilous beauty already' made his 
heart beat. ''Had I waited a minute 
long-er," he said to himself as he went 
downstairs, "1 should have been fool 
enoug-h to pick up my sword in order to 
escort her." 

When she saw the young- man's ej'es 
riveted on the door by which Mademoi- 
selle de Verneuil had left the room, Ma- 
dame du Gua whispered to him, "What! 
always the same ? Women will certainly 
be your ruin. A doll like that makes you 
forg-et everything- ! Whj'^ did you allow 
her to breakfast with us? What sort 
of a person is a daughter of the house 
of Verneuil who accepts invitations from 
strangers, is escorted by Blues, and dis- 
arms them with a letter which she carries 
like a billet-doux in her bosom ? She is 
one of the loose women by whose aid 
Fouche hopes to seize you, and the let- 
ter she showed was given to her in order 
to command the services of the Blues 
against yourself ! " 

**But, madame," said the 3'oung man, 
in a tone so sharp that it cut the lady to 
the heart and blanched her cheeks, "her 
generosity gives the lie to your theory. 
Pray remember that we are associated by 
nothing save the king's business. After 
you have had Charette at your feet, is 
there another man in the world for you ? 
Have 3'ou another purpose in life than to 
avenge him ? " 

The lady stood whelmed in thought 
like a man who from the beach sees the 
shipwrecl^ of his fortune and covets it 
only the more ardently. But as Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil re-entered, the young 
sailor exchanged with her a smile and 
a glance instinct with gentle raillery. 
Doubtful as the future might be, short- 
lived as might be their intimacy, hope 
told none the less her flattering tale. 
Swift as it was, the glance could not es- 
cape the shrewdness of Madame du Gua, 
who understood it well. Her brow clouded 
lightly but immediatel}^, and her face 



could not hide her jealous thoughts. 
Francine kept her gaze on this lady ; 
she saw her eyes flash, her cheeks flush ; 
she thought she could discern the counte- 
nance of one inspired by some hellish 
fancy, mastered by some terrible revul- 
sion of thought. But lightning is not 
swifter, nor death more sudden, than was 
the flight of this expression ; and Madame 
du Gua recovered her cheerfulness of look 
with such self-command that Francine 
thought she must have been under a 
delusion. Nevertheless, recognizing in 
the woman a masterfulness of spirit at 
least equal to that of Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil, she shuddered as she foresaw 
the terrible conflicts likely to occur be- 
tween two minds of the same temper, 
and trembled as she saw Mademoiselle 
de Verneuil advance toward the j^oung 
officer, casting on him a passionate and 
intoxicating glance, drawing him toward 
herself with both hands, and turning his 
face to the light with a gesture half 
coquettish and half malicious. 

"ISTow tell me the truth," said she, 
trying to read it in his eyes. " You are 
not the Citizen Du Gua Saint-Cyr ? " 

''Yes, I am, mademoiselle." 

" But his mother and he were killed the 
day before jxsterday ! " 

"I am extremely sony," said he, 
laughing ; " but however that is, I am all 
the same your debtor in a fashion for 
which I shall ever be most grateful to 
you, and I onh^ wish I were in a position 
to prove m}'' gratitude." 

" 1 thought I had saved an emigrant; 
but I like you better as a Republican." 

Yet, no sooner had these words, as if 
by thoughtlessness, escaped her lips, than 
she became confused ; she blushed to her 
very eyes, and her whole bearing showed 
a del iciously naive emotion. She dropped 
the officer's hands as if reluctantly, and 
urged, not by any shame at having clasped 
them, but by some impulse which was too 
much for her heart, she left him intoxi- 
cated with hope. Then she seemed sud- 
denly to reproach herself with this free- 
dom, authorized though it might seem to 
be by their passing adventures of travel, 
resumed a conventional behavior, bowed 



THE CHOUANS. 



79 



to her two fellow-travelers, and, dis- 
appearing with Francine, sought their 
apartment. As they reached it, Francine 
entwined her fingers, turned the palms of 
her hands upward with a twist of the 
arms, and said, gazing at her mistress : 

''Ah ! Marie, how much has happened 
in a little time ! Who but you would have 
adventures of this kind ? " 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil threw herself 
with a hound onFrancine's neck. " Ah I" 
said she, "this is life ! I am in heaven ! " 

"In bell, it may be," said Francine. 

"Oh ! hell if 3'ou like," said Mademoi- 
selle de Verneuil merrily. " Here, give 
me your hand. Feel my heart, how it 
beats. I am in a fever. I care nothing 
for the whole world. How often have I 
seen that man in my dreams ! What a 
beautiful head he has ! what a flashing 
eye ! " 

" Will he love 3"0U ? " asked the simple, 
straightforward peasant girl, in a low- 
ered tone, her face dashed with sad- 
ness. 

" Can you ask such a question ? " said 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil. *' But tell me, 
Francine," she added, assuming an air 
half serious and half comic, "is he so 
very hard to please ? " 

"Yes, but will he love you always?" 
replied Francine, with a smile. 

Both girls looked at each other for a 
time surprised, Francine at showing so 
much knowledge of life, Marie at perceiv- 
ing for the first time a promise of hap- 
piness in an amorous adventure. So she 
remained silent, like one who leans over 
a precipice, the depth of which he would 
gauge by waiting for the thud of a pebble 
that he has cast in carelessly enough at 
first. 

"Ah! that is m^' business," said she, 
with the gesture of a gambler who plaj-s 
his last stake. "I have no pity for a 
forsaken woman ; she has onh^ herself 
to blame if she is deserted. I have no 
fear of keeping, dead or alive, the man 
whose heart has once belonged to me. 
But," she added after a moment's si- 
lence, and in a tone of surprise, "how 
do you come to be so knowing as this, 
Francine ? " 



"Mademoiselle," said the young girl 
eagerh', "I hear steps in the passage." 

"Ah," said she, listening, "it is not 
he; but," she continued, "that is your 
answer, is it ? I understand. I will wait 
for your secret, or guess it." 

Francine was right. The conversation 
was interrupted by three taps at the door; 
and Captain Merle, on hearing the ' ' Come 
in ! " which Mademoiselle de Verneuil ad- 
dressed to him, quickly entered. The 
captain made a soldierlj'" bow to the lady, 
venturing to throw a glance at her at the 
same time, and was so dazzled by her 
beauty that he could find nothing to say 
to her but " Mademoiselle, I am at your 
orders." 

" Have you become my guardian in 
virtue of the resignation of the chief of 
3'our demi - brigade ? that is what they 
call your regiment, is it not ? " 

"My superior officer is Adjutant-Major 
Gerard, by whose orders I come." 

"Is your commandant, then, so much 
afraid of me ? " asked she. 

"Pardon me, mademoiselle. Hulot 
fears nothing; but you see, ladies are 
not exactly in his way, and it vexed him 
to find his general wearing a kerchief." 

"Yet," retorted Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil, " it was his duty to obey his chiefs. 
I like obedience, I warn 3'ou, and I will not 
have people resist me." 

"That would be difficult," answered 
Merle. 

" Let us take counsel together," said 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil. " You have 
some fresh men here. They shall escort 
me to Mayenne, which I can reach this 
evening. Can we find other troops there 
so as to go on without stopping ? The 
Chouans know nothing of our little ex- 
pedition ; and by traveling thus at night 
we shall have very bad luck indeed if we 
find them in numbers strong enough to 
attack us. Come, tell me, do you think 
this feasible? " 

"Yes, mademoiselle." 

" What sort of a road is it from May- 
enne to Fougeres ? " 

"A rough one; the going is all up and 
down — a regular squirrel's country." 

"Let us be off, then," said she; "and 



80 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



as there is no dang-er in going- out of 
Alencon, you set out first. We shall 
easily catch you up." 

"One would think she was an officer of 
ten years' standing-/' said Merle to him- 
self, as he Avent out. " Hulot is wrong-. 
The girl is not one of those who draw their 
rents from down feathers. Odds car- 
tridges ! If Captain Merle wishes to he- 
come an adjutant-major, he had hotter 
not mistake Saint Michael for the devil." 

While Mademoiselle de Verneuil was 
conferring- with the captain, Franciiie 
had left the room, intending- to examine 
through a passag-o window a certain spot 
in the courtyard, whither, from the mo- 
ment she had entered the inn, an irresist- 
ible curiosity had attracted her. She 
g-azed at the straw in the stable with such 
pn'ofound attention that you mig-ht have 
thou|3fht her deep in prayer before a statue 
of the Virg-in. Very soon she perceived 
Madame du Gua making- her way toward 
Marche-a-Terre as caref ullj' as a cat afraid 
of wetting- her paws. The Chouan no 
sooner saw the lady than he rose and ob- 
served toward her an attitude of the 
deepest respect — a sing-ular circumstance, 
which roused Francine's curiosity still 
more. She darted into the yard, stole 
along the wall so as not to be seen by 
Madame du Gua, and tried to hide herself 
behind the stable door. By stepping on 
tip-toe, holding her breath, and avoiding 
the slightest noise, she succeeded in post- 
ing herself close to Marche-a-Terre with- 
out exciting his attention. ''And if," 
said the strange lady to the Chouan, 
" after all these inquiries, jon find that it 
is not her name, shoot her without mercy, 
as 3'ou would a mad dog." 

"■ I understand," answered Marche-a- 
Terre. 

The lady retired, and the Chouan, re- 
placing his red woolen cap on his head, 
remained standing, and was scratching 
his ear after the fashion of puzzled men, 
when he saw Francine stand before him, 
as if by enchantment. 

"Saint Anne of Auray I " cried he, 
suddenly dropping his whip, folding his 
bands, and remaining in a state of ecs- 
tasy. His coarse face was tinged with a 



slight flush, and his eyes flashed like dia- 
monds lost in the mud. 

"Is it really Cottin's wench ? " he said, 
in a low voice, that none but himself 
could hear. " Ah, but you are brave ! " 
(godaine), said he, after a pause. This 
odd word, godain, or godaine, is part of 
the patois of the district, and supplies 
lovers with a superlative to express the 
conjunction of beauty and finer3^ 

"I should be afraid to touch 3^ou," 
added Marche-a-Terre, who nevertheless 
advanced his broad hand toward Fran- 
cine, as if to make sure of the weight of 
a thick gold chain which surrounded her 
neck andT fell down to her waist. 

"You had better not, Pierre," an- 
swered Francine, inspired by the feminine 
instinct which makes a woman tjTannize 
whenever she is not tj-rannized over. 

She stepped haughtily back, after en- 
joying the Chouan 's surprise. But she 
made up for the harshness of her words 
by a look full of kindness, and drew near 
to him again. 

"Pierre," said she, "that lady was 
talking to you* of my young mistress, 
was she not? " 

Marche-a-Terre stood dumb, with a 
struggle g'oing on his face like that at 
dawn between light and darkness. Ho 
gazed by turns at Francine, at the great 
whip which he had let fall, and at the gold 
chain which seemed to exercise over him 
a fascination not less than that of the 
Breton girl's face. Then, as if to put an 
end to his own disquiet, he picked up his 
whip, but said no word. 

" Oh ! " said Francine, who knew his 
inviolable fidelity, and wished to dispel his 
suspicions, "it is not hard to guess that 
this lady bade you kill my mistress." 

Marche-a-Terre dropped his head in a 
significant manner, Avhich was answer 
enough for " Cottin's wench." 

"Well, Pierre, if the least harm hap- 

* Marche-a-Terre, in his awe at Francine's 
finery, and she, in her desire to play the lady, 
have used vous, which the original italicizes. 
Both adopt the familiar tu henceforth. But the 
second person sing-ular is so awkward in ordinary 
English, that it seems better adjusted, with this 
warning, to the common use. 



THE CHOUAKS. 



81 



pens to her, if a hair of her head is in- 
jured, we have looked our last at one 
another here for time and for eternity ! 
I shall be in Paradise then, and 3'ou in 
hell ! '; 

ISTo deuioniac just about to undergo ex- 
orcism in form by the church was ever 
more ag-itated than Marche-a-Terre by 
this prediction, pronounced with a confi- 
dence which gave it a sort of certainty. 
The expression of his eyes, charged at 
first with a savage tenderness, then struck 
by a fanatical sense of duty as imperious 
as love itself, turned to ferocity, as he 
perceived the masterful air of the innocent 
girl who had once been his love. But 
Francine interpreted the Chouan's silence 
in her own fashion. 

''You will do nothing forme, then?" 
she said, in a reproachful tone. 

At these words the Chouan cast on his 
mistress- a glance as black as a raven's 
wing. 

" Are 3^ou 3'our own mistress ?" growled 
he in a tone that Francine alone could 
understand. 

''Should I be where I am?'' said she 
indignantly-. "But what are you doing 
here ? You are still Chouanning, j^ou are 
prowling along the highways like a mad 
animal trying to bite. Oh, Pierre ! if 3-0U 
were sensible j^ou would come with me. 
This pretty young lady (who, I should 
tell you, was brought up at our house at 
home), has taken care of me. I have 
two hundred good livres a year. Made- 
moiselle has bought me Uncle Thomas's 
great house for five hundred crowTis, and 
I have two thousand livres saved from 
my wages." 

But her smile and the list of her riches 
made no impression on Marche-a-Terre 's 
stolid air. " The rectors have given the 
word for war," said he; "every Blue we 
lay low is good for an indulgence." 

" But perhaps the Blues will kill you ! " 

His only answer was to let his arms 
drop by his sides, as if to apologize for 
the smallness of his offering to God and 
the king. 

"And what would become of me?" 
asked the young girl sorrowfully. 

Marche-a-Terre ga,zed at Francine as 



if stupefied : his eyes grew in size, and 
there dropped from them two tears, which 
trickled in parallel lines down his hair}- 
cheeks on to his goatskin raiment, while 
a dull groan came from his breast. 

" Saint Anne of Auray I Pierre, is this 
all you have to say to me after seven 
years' parting ? How you have changed I" 

" I love you still, and alwa^^s ! " an- 
swered the Chouan rough^\ 

" jSTo," she whispered, " the king comes 
before me.'" 

" If you look at me like that," he said, 
" I must go." 

" Good-bj^ ! thenj" she said sadly. 

"Good-by ! " repeated Marche-a-Terre. 
He seized Francine's hand, squeezed it, 
kissed it, crossed himself, and plunge*^ 
into the stable like a dog that has just 
stolen a bone. 

" Pille-Miche," said he to his comrade, 
" I cannot see mj^ way. Have you got 
your snuff-mull ? " 

"Oh! ere bleu! . . . what a fine 
chain ! " answered Pille-Miche, groping 
in a pocket under his goatskin. Then he 
held out to Marche-a-Terre one of the lit- 
tle conical horn boxes in w^hich Bretons 
put the finely powdered tobacco which 
they grind for themselves during the long 
winter evenings. The Chouan raised his 
thumb so as to make in his left hand the 
hollow wherein old soldiers measure their 
pinches of snuff, and shook the mull 
(whose tip Pille-Miche had screwed off) 
hard. An impalpable powder fell slowly 
through the little hole at the point of this 
Breton implement. Marche-a-Terre re- 
peated the operation, without speaking, 
seven or eight times, as if the powder 
possessed the gift of changing his 
thoughts. All of a sudden he let a 
gesture of despair escape him, threAv 
the mull to Pille-Miche, and picked up a 
rifle hidden in the straw. 

"It is no good taking seven or eight 
pinches like that right off," said the mis- 
erly Pille-Miche. 

' ' Forward ! * ' cried Marche - a - Terre 
hoarsely. "There is work to do." And 
some thirty' Chouans who were sleeping 
under the mang-ers and in the straw lifted 
their heads, saw Marche-a-Terre stand- 



82 



THE HUMAN COMEDY 



mg, and promptly disappeared by a door 
opening" on to gardens, whence the fields 
could be reached. 

When Francine left the stable, she 
found the coach ready to start. Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil and her two fellow- 
travelers had already got in, and the 
Breton girl shuddered as she saw her 
mistress facing the horses, by the side of 
the woman wljo had just given orders for 
her death. The ''suspect" placed him- 
self opposite to Marie; and as soon as 
Francine had taken her place, the heavy 
vehicle set off at a smart trot. 

The sun had already dispelled the gray 
mists of an autumn morning, and its ra3's 
gave to the melancholy fields a certain 
iively air of holiday youth. It is the 
wont of lovers to take these atmospheric 
changes as omens ; but the silence which 
for some time prevailed among the trav- 
elers struck Francine as singular. Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil had recovered her 
air of indifference, and sat with lowered 
eyes, her head slightly leaning to one 
side, and her hands hidden in a kmd of 
mantle which she had put on. If she 
raised her eyes at all it was to view the 
landscape which, shifting rapidh^, fiitted 
past them. Entertaining" no doubt of 
admiration, she seemed willfully to refuse 
opportunity for it ; but her apparent non- 
chalance indicated coquetry rather than 
innocence. The touching purity which 
gives so sweet an accord to the varying 
expressions in which tender and weak 
souls reveal themselves, seemed power- 
less to lend its charm to a being whose 
strong feelings destined her as the pre^'" 
of stormy passion. Full, on his side, of 
the jo3^ which the beginning of a flirta- 
tion gives, the stranger did not as yet 
. trouble himself with endeavoring to har- 
monize the discord that existed between 
the coquetrj'- and the sincere enthusiasm 
of this strange girl. It was enough for 
him that her feigned innocence permitted 
him to gaze at will on a face as beautiful 
in its calm as it had just been in its agi- 
tation. We are not prone to quarrel with 
that which gives us delight. It is not 
easy for a prett^'- woman in a carriage to 
withdraw from the gaze of her compan- 



ions, whose eyes are fixed on her as if 
seeking an additional pastime to beguile 
the tedium of travel. Therefore, con- 
gratulating himself on being able to sat- 
isfy the hunger of his rising passion with- 
out its being possible for the strange lady 
either to avoid his eyes or be offended at 
their persistence, the young officer studied 
to his heart's content, and as if he had 
been examining a picture, the pure and 
dazzling lines of her face. 

Now the day brought out the pink 
transparence of the nostrils and the 
double curve which formed a junction 
between the nose and the upper lip. 
Now a paler sunbeam played on the 
tints of the complexion — pearly-white 
under the eyes and round the mouth, 
roseate on the cheeks, creamy toward 
the temples and on the neck. He ad- 
mired the contrasts of light and shade 
produced by the hair wiiich surrounded 
the face with its raven tresses, giving it 
a fresh and passing grace ; for with wo- 
man everything is fugitive. Her beauty 
of to-day is often not that of yesterday, 
and it is lucky for her, perhaps, that it is 
so. Thus the self-styled sailor, still in 
that age when man enjoys the nothings 
that make up the whole of love, watched 
delightedly the successive movements of 
the eyelids and the ravishing plaj^ which 
each breath gave to the bosom. Some- 
times, his will and his thoughts in unison, 
he spied a harmony between the expres- 
sion of the eyes and the faint movements 
of the lips. Each gesture showed him a 
new soul, each movement a new facet in 
this young girl. If a thought disturbed 
her mobile features, if a sudden flush 
passed over them, if they were illumined 
by a smile, his delight in endeavoring to 
guess the mysterious lady's secrets was 
infinite. The whole of her was a trap for 
soul and sense at once, and their silence, 
far from raising a barrier between the 
exchange of their hearts, gave their 
thoughts common ground. More than 
one glance in which her eyes met the 
stranger's told Marie de Verneuil that 
this silence might become compromising ; 
aiid she accordingly put to Madame du 
Gua some of the trivial questions which 



THE OHOUANS. 



83 



start a conversation, though she could 
not keep the son out of her talk with the 
mother. 

''How, madame," said she, '"'could 
you make up your mind to send 3'our 
son into the navy ? is not this a sentence 
of perpetual anxiety on yourself ? " 

" Mademoiselle, it is the lot of women — 
I mean of mothers — to tremble always for 
their dearest treasures." 

" Your son is very like you ! " 

"Do you think so, mademoiselle?" 

This unconscious indorsement of the 
ag"e which Madame du Gua had assig'ned 
to herself, made the young- man smile, 
and inspired his so-called mother with 
fresh annoyance. Her hatred grew at 
every fresh glance of love which her son 
threw at Marie. Whether they spoke or 
were silent, everj^thing kindled in her a 
hideous rage, disguised under the most 
insinuating manners, 

"Mademoiselle," said the stranger, 
"you are wrong. Sailors are not more 
exposed to danger than other w\arriors. 
Indeed, there is no reason for women to 
hate the navy ; for have we not over the 
land services the immense advantage of 
remaining faithful to our sweethearts?" 

"Yes, because you cannot help it," re- 
plied Mademoiselle de Verneuil, laughing. 

"It is a kind of faithfulness, all the 
same," said Madame du Gua in a tone 
which was almost somber. 

But the conversation became livelier, 
and occupied itself with subjects of no in- 
terest to anj^ but the three travelers, for 
in such a situation persons of intelligence 
are able to give a fresh meaning to mere 
commonplaces. But the talk, frivolous 
as it seemed, which these strangers chose 
to interchange, hid the desires, the pas- 
sions, the hopes which animated them. 
Marie's constantly wide-awake subtlety 
and her aggressive wit taught Madame 
du Gua that only slander and false deal- 
ing could §-ive her advantage over a rival 
as redoubtable in intellect as in beaut3^ 
But the travelers now caught up their 
escort, and their vehicle began to move 
less rapidly. The young sailor saw in 
front a long stretch of ascent, and sug- 
gested to Mademoiselle de Verneuil that 



she should get out and walk. His good 
manners and attentive politeness appar- 
ently had their effect on the fair Parisian, 
and he felt her consent as a compliment. 

" Is madame of our mind ? " asked she 
of Madame du Gua. '•' Will she join our 
walk?" 

" Coquette ! " said the ladj^ as she 
alighted. ' 

Marie and .the stranger walked together, 
but with an interval between them. The 
sailor, alread^^ a prey to tyrannous desire, 
was eager to dispel the reserve which she 
showed toward him, and the nature of 
which he did not fail to see. He thought 
to do so by jesting with the fair stranger 
under cover of that old French gayety — 
that spirit, now frivolous, now grave, but 
always chivalrous though often mocking 
— which was the note of the more distin- 
guished men among the exile aristocracy. 
But the lively Parisian girl rallied the 
young Republican so maliciously^, and con- 
trived to insinuate such a contemptuous 
expression of reproach for his attempts 
at frivolity, while showing a marked 
preference for the bold and enthusiastic 
ideas which in spite of himself shone 
through his discourse, that he could not 
miss the waj' to Avin her. The talk there- 
fore changed its character, and the stran- 
ger soon showed that the hopes inspired 
by his expressive countenance w^ere not 
delusive. Each moment he found new dif- 
ficulties in comprehending the siren, with 
whom he fell more and more in love, and 
was obliged to suspend his judgment in 
reference to a girl who seemed to amuse 
herself by contradicting each opinion that 
he formed of her. Enticed at first by the 
contemplation of her physical beauty, he 
felt himself now attracted towaad her un- 
known mind by a curiosity which Marie 
took pleasure in kindling. 

The' conversation little \iy little assumed 
a character of intimacy very foreign to 
the air of indifference which Mademoiselle 
de Verneuil tried unsuccessfull3'' to infuse 
into it. Although Madame du Gua had 
followed the lovers, they had uncon- 
sciousl^" walked quicker than she did, 
and were soon some hundred paces ahead. 
The handsome couple trod the fine gravel 



84 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



of the road, delig^hted like children in 
keeping step as their paces sounded light- 
ly, happy in the rays of light which 
wrapped them as in spring sunshine, and 
in breathing together the autumnal per- 
fume, so rich in vegetable spoils that it 
seemed a food brought by the winds to 
nourish the melancholy of young love.* 
'Although both agreed in seeming to see 
nothing but an ordinary cl;ance in their 
momentary connection, the heavens, the 
scene, and the season gave their emotion 
a touch of seriousness which had the air 
of passion. They began to praise the 
beauty of the day ; then the3^ talked of 
their strange meeting, of the approaching 
breach of so pleasant an acquaintance, of 
the ease with which one becomes intimate 
while traveling with people who are lost 
to sight almost as soon as seen. After 
this remark the young man availed him- 
self of the unspoken leave which seemed 
to be granted him to edge in some tender 
confidences, and endeavored to risk a 
declaration in the style of a man accus- 
tomed to the situation. 

'• Have you noticed, mademoiselle," said 
he, " how little feeling cares to keep in 
the beaten track during these terrible 
times of ours ? Are not all our circum- 
stances full of surprise and of the inex- 
plicable ? We men of to-da}' love, we 
hate, on the strength of a single glance. 
At one moment we are united for life, 
at another we part with the swiftness of 
those Avho march to death. We are al- 
ways in a hurry, like the nation itself in 
its tumults. In the midst of danger men 
join hands more quickh^ than in the jog- 
trot of ordinary life, and in these latter 
days at Paris all have known, as if on a 
battle-^ld, what a single hand-clasp can 
tell.-' 

''Men felt the need of living hard and 
fast,"' she answered, '' because there was 
but a short time to live." And then, 
glancing at her young companion in a 
way which seemed to foretell the end 
of their brief journey, she said, a little 



*Tliis, I fear, is what Balzac's own countrymen 
would call galimatias. But it is what Balzac 
wrote. 



maliciouslj'' : " For a young man who is 
just leaving the school, \ou are well up 
in the affairs of life." 

"What do you really think of me?" 
said he, after a moment's silence. " Tell 
me your opinion without sparing." 

"1 suppose you wish to purchase the 
right of giving me yours of me ? " she 
replied, laughing. 

''That is no answer," said he, after a 
brief pause. . " Take care ! silence itself 
is often a repl^^." 

"But have I not guessed everything 
you meant to say to me ? You have said 
too much as it is." 

"Oh! if we understand each other," 
said he, vv^ith a laugh, "you have given 
me more than I dared hope." 

She smiled so graciously that it seemed 
as if she accepted the courteous challenge 
with which all men love to threaten a wo- 
man. So the}' took it for granted, half 
seriously, half in jest, that they never 
could be to each other anything else than 
that which they were at the moment. 
The young man might abandon himself, 
if he liked, to a hopeless passion, and 
Marie might mock it. So, having thus 
erected between them an imaginary bar- 
rier, they appeared both eager to profit 
b}' the rash license for which thej had 
bargained. Suddenlj^ Marie struck her 
foot against a stone, and stumbled. 

"Take my arm," said the stranger. 

" I must needs do so, you giddy-pate," 
said she. " You would be too proud if I 
refused ; I should seem to be afraid of 
you." 

"Ah! mademoiselle," ansv/ered he, 
pressing" her arm that she might feel 
the beating of his heart, " you will make 
me proud of this favor." 

" Well, the ease with which I consent 
will disj^el your illusions." 

" Would 3'ou protect me already against 
the danger of the feelings which you 3'our- 
self inspire ? " 

" Pray leave off trjingto entangle me," 
said she, " in these little boudoir fancies, 
these word-puzzles of my lady's chamber. 
I do not like to see in a man of your char- 
acter the kind of wit that fools can have. 
See ! we are under a lovely sky, in the 



THE CHOUANS. 



85 



open country; before us, above us, all is 
grand. You mean to tell me that I am 
beautiful, do you not ? Your ej^es have 
told me that already, and besides, I know 
it, Nor am I a woman who is flattered 
by compliments. Would you perchance 
talk to me of your feelings ? " she said, 
with an ironic stress on the word, "'Do 
you think me sill}^ enough to believe in a 
sudden sympathj^ strong- enough to throw 
over a whole life the masterful memory of 
a single morning ? *' 

•'^Not of . a morning," answered he, 
*^M)at of a beautiful woman who has 
shown herself a generous one as well." 

"You forget," she rejoined, with a 
laugh, "attractions greater than these. 
I am a stranger to you, and my name, 
my qualitx', m^j position, m^' self-posses- 
sion in mind and manners — all inust seem 
extraordinary to you." 

'•'You are no stranger to me," cried 
he ; " I have divined you already', and I 
would have nothing added to your per- 
fections, except a little more faith in the 
love whiciryou inspire at first sight ! " 

"Ah ! mj'^ poor boy of seventeen, 3"ou 
talk of love already ? " said she, smiling, 
"Well, so be it. . . . 'Tis a topic of 
conversation between man and woman, 
like the weather at a morning call. So 
let us take it. You will find in me no 
false modesty and no littleness of mind, 
I can listen to the word ''love' without 
blushing. It has been said to me so 
often, with no heart-accent in it, that it 
has become almost meaningless, I have 
heard it in theaters, in books, in society, 
everywhere. But I have never met any- 
thing which corresponded in fact to the 
magnificent sentiments which it implies." 

" Have you tried to find it ? " 

"Yes." 

The word was said with such unreserve 
that the young man started and stared 
at Marie as if he had changed his m'ind 
suddenly as to her character and station. 

" Mademoiselle," said he, with ill-con- 
cealed emotion, "are you a girl or a wo- 
man, an angel or a fiend ? " 

"I am both," replied she, laughing. 
"' Is there not always something angelic 
and something diabolic as well in a young 



girl who has never loved, who does not 
love, and who perhaps will never love? " 

"And yet you are happj' ? " said he, 
with a greater freedom of tone and man- 
ner, as if he already thought less respect- 
fully of her who had delivered him. 

"Oh!" she said. "Happy? No I 
When I meditate by myself, and feel my- 
self mastered b^^ the social conventions 
which make me artificial, I envy the 
privileges of men. But when I reflect on 
all the means which Nature has given us 
to surround you, to wrap 3'ou in the 
meshes of an invisible power which none 
of 3'ou can resist, then my part in this 
comedy here below looks more promising 
to me. And then, again, it seems to me 
wretched, and I feel that I should despise 
a man if he were the dupe of ordinary 
allurements. To be brief, at one time I 
see the yoke we bear, and it pleases me, 
then it seems horrible, and I revolt. At 
another I feel that aspiration of self-sacri- 
fice which makes woman so fair and noble 
a thing, onl\' to experience afterward a 
devouring desire of power. Perhaps it is 
but the natural figlit of the good and e\al 
principle which makes up the life of all 
creatures that on earth do dwell. Both 
angel and fiend — you have said it ! It is 
not to-day that I came to know my double 
nature. Yet we- women know our weak- 
ness better than you do. Do we not pos- 
sess an instinct which makes us look in 
everything toward a perfection too cer- 
tainl^-^ impossible of attainment? But," 
she added, with a sigh, and a glance to- 
ward heaven, "what ennobles us in our 
own eyes — " 

" Is what ? " said he. 

"Why,-' said she, "that we all of us, 
more or less, maintain the struggle against 
our fated incompleteness," 

"' Mademoiselle, why should we part 
to-night ? " 

" Ah I " she said, with a smile at the 
fieiy glance which the ^oung man darted 
on her, " we had better get into the car- 
riage ; the open air is not good for us," 

Marie turned sharply on her heel, and 
the stranger followed, pressing her arm 
with a vigor which was hardly respeiftful, 
but which expressed at once adoration and 



86 



THE HUMAN COMEDY, 



t N^rannous desire. She quickened her steps; 
the sailor perceived that she wished to 
avoid a perhaps inopportune declaration, 
but this onh' increased his fervor, and 
setting- all to the touch in order to gain 
a first favor from the girl, he said to her 
with an arch look : 

''Shall I tellj^ou a secret ? "' 

"Tell it at once, if it concerns your- 
self." 

" I am not in the service of the Republic. 
Whither are you going? I will go too." 

As he spoke, Marie trembled violently, 
drew her arm from his, and covered her 
face with both hands to veil, it might be 
a flush, it might be a pallor, which changed 
her appearance. But she uncovered it 
almost immediately, and said in a tender 
tone : ''You have begun, then, as you 
would have finished, by deceiving me ? " 

"Yes," he said. 

At this answer she turned her back on 
the bulky vehicle toward which they were 
advancing, and began almost to run in the 
opposite direction. 

"But," said the stranger, "just now 
the air did not agree with you ! " 

"Oh ! it has changed," said she grave- 
ly, and still walking on, a prey to storm^^ 
thoughts. 

"You are silent? " asked the stranger, 
whose heart was full of the sweet fiutter 
of apprehension which the expectation of 
pleasure brings with it. 

" Oh ! " she said shortly, " the tragedy 
has been prompt enough in beginning." 

" What tragedy do you mean ? " asked 
he. She stopped and scanned the cadet 
from head to foot, with an expression 
compact of fear and interest both ; then 
she hid the feelings which agitated her 
under an air of profound calm, showing 
that, for a young girl, she had no small 
experience of life. 

'•'Who are you?" she said. "But I 
know — when I saw aou, I suspected it : 
you arc the E,03^alist chief they call the 
Gars. The ex-bishop of Autun is right 
in telling us always to believe in presenti- 
ments of evil." 

" What concern have you in knowing 
thaJt person ? " 

" What concern could he have in hiding 



himself from me, who have already saved 
his life ? " 

She spoke with a forced laugh, and 
went on : "It was prudent of me to hin- 
der 3"our declaration of love. Know, sir, 
that I hate ^'ou ! I am a Republican, you 
a Royalist ; and I would give you up if 
xn.j word were not pledged to you, if I 
had not already saved 3'ou once, and if — " 

She stopped. This violent flux and re- 
flux of thought, this struggle which she 
cared no longer to hide, gave the stranger 
some uneasiness, and he tried, but in vain, 
to sound her intention. 

" Let us part at once ; I will have it so. 
Good-bj^ ! " she said, and turning abrupt- 
ly she made a step or two ; but then came 
back. 

" No ! " she continue^, " vny interest 
in learning who you are is too great. 
Hide nothing from me and tell me the 
truth. Who are you ? For are you just 
as much a cadet of the school as you are 
a boy of seventeen — " 

" I am a sailor, ready to quit the sea, 
and follow you whithersoever your fancy 
guides me. If I am fortunate enough to 
excite your curiosity by anything- myste- 
rious about me, I shall take good care 
not to put an end to it. What is the 
good of mixing up the serious concerns of 
every-day life with the life of the heart in 
which we were beginning to understand 
each other so well ? " 

" Our souls might have understood each 
other," she said graveh'. "But, sir, I 
have no right to claim your confidence. 
You will never know the extent of 3'our 
obligations to me ; and I shall hold my 
peace." 

They walked some distance without 
uttering a word. 

"You seem to take a great interest in 
my life," said the stranger. 

"Sir," she said, "I beg you tell me 
3'^our real name, or say nothing ! You 
are childish," she added, with a shrug of 
her shoulders, " and I am sorry for you.'" 

The fair traveler's persistency' in trying 
to divine his secret made the self-styled 
sailor hesitate between prudence and his 
desires. The vexation of a woman whom 
we covet is a powerful attraction : her 



THE CHOUANS. 



87 



very submission is as conquering- as her 
ang"er; it attacks so many chords in a 
man's heart that it penetrates and sub- 
jugates the heart itself. Was Mademoi- 
selle de Verneuil merelj"- trying- a fresh 
trick of coquetry? In spite of his pas- 
sion, the stranger had self-command 
enough to be mistrustful of a woman who 
was so desperately set on tearing" from 
him a secret of life and death. 

" Why," he said, taking' her hand, 
which she had let him take in absence 
of mind, ''why has ray indiscretion, 
Avhicli seemed to give a future to this 
day, destro3"ed its charm instead ? " But 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil, who seemed in 
distress, was silent. "How have I hurt 
you?" he went on, "and how can I 
soothe 3'ou? " 

" Tell me your name." 

Then the two walked in silence, and 
they made some progress thus. Sud- 
denly Mademoiselle de Verneuil halted, 
like a person who has made up her mind 
on a point of importance : 

'• Marquis of Montauran," said she with 
dignity, and yet not quite successfully dis- 
guising- an agitation that made her feat- 
ures quiver nervously, " whatever it may 
cost me, I am happy to be able to do you 
a service. We must part here. The es- 
cort and the coach are too necessary to 
your safety for you to refuse either one 
or the other. Fear nothing- from the Re- 
publicans : all these soldiers, look j'ou, 
are men of honor, and the adjutant will 
faithfully execute the orders which I am 
about to give him. For my part, I can 
easily regain Alencon with my maid ; 
some soldiers will accompany us. Heed 
me well, for your life is at stake. If be- 
fore 3-0U are in safety you meet the hide- 
ous dand}" whom you saw at the inn, fly, 
for he will g-ive you up at once. For me — " 
She paused. " For me, I plunge back with 
l^ride into the pettj- cares of life." And 
then she went on in a low voice, and 
choking- back her tears, "Good-by, sir! 
May you be happy ! Good -by I " And 
she beckoned to Captain Merle, who was 
just reaching- the brow of the hill. 

The 3^oung man was not prepared for 
so sudden an ending-. 



" Wait ! " he cried, with a kind of de- 
spair, cleverh^ enough feigned. The g-irl's 
strange whim surprised the stranger so 
much that, though he would at the mo- 
ment have laid down his life for her, he f 
devised a most reprehensible trick in or- 
der at once to hide his name and to sat- 
isf}'' Mademoiselle de Verneuil's curiosity. 

" You have nearly guessed it," he said. 
"I am an emigrant, under sentence of 
death, and I am called the Vicomte de Bau- 
van. Love of my country has brought 
me back to France, to m}' brother's side. 
I hope to have my name erased from the 
list hj the aid of Madame de Beauharnais, 
now the First Consul's wife ; but if I do 
not succeed in this, then I will die on my 
natal soil, fig-hting- by the side of my 
friend Montauran. My first object is to 
go and see, with the aid of a passport 
which he has given me, whether any of 
va.y estates in Brittany remain to me." 

As the young noble spoke. Mademoi- 
selle de Verneuil examined him with her 
keen eye. She tried to doubt the truth 
of his words; but, lulled into credulous 
confidence, she slowly regained her serene 
expression, and cried, "Sir ! is what 3'ou 
are telling me true ? " 

" Perfectly true," replied the stranger, 
whose standard of honor in dealing with 
women did not appear to be high. 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil drew a deep 
sigh like one who comes back to life. 

" Ah ! " cried she, " I am quite happy." 

" Then do you hate mj- poor Montauran 
very much? " 

"No," said' she. "You cannot under- 
stand me. I could not wish you to be 
exposed to dang-ers against which I will 
try to defend him, since he is your friend." 

" Who told you that Montauran is in 
dang-er ? " 

" Wh}', sir, even if I did not come from 
Paris, where every one is talking of his 
enterprise, the commandant at Alencon 
said enough to us about him, I should 
think." 

"Then I must askj'^ou how you can pre- 
seiwe him from danger? " 

" And suppose I do not choose to an- 
swer ? " said she, with the air of disdain 
under which women know so well how 



88 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



to conceal their emotions. "What rig-ht 
have 3^ou to know my secrets ? " 

"The rig-ht which belongs to a man 
who loves you." 
1 "What, already?" she said. "No, 

sir, you do not love me ! You see in me 
an object of passing- g-allantry, that is 
all. Did I not understand you at once ? 
Could any one who has been accustomed 
to g-ood. society make a mistake, in the 
present state of manners, when she heard 
a cadet of the Ecole Pol^^technique pick 
his words, and. disg-uise as clumsih' as you 
did, the breeding- of a g-entleman under 
a Republican outside ? Wh}^ your very 
hair has a trace of powder, and there is 
an atmosphere of g-entility about you 
which any woman of fashion must per- 
ceive at once. Therefore, trembling- lest 
my overseer, who is as sharp as a wo- 
man, should recog-nize 3^ou, I dismissed 
him at once. Sir, a real Republican offi- 
cer, who had just left the Ecole Pol;\'tech- 
nique, would not fancy himself about to 
make a conquest of me, or take me for a 
pretty adventuress. Permit me, Monsieur 
de Bauvan, to lay before you some slig-ht 
considerations of woman's wit on this 
point. Are you so young- as not to know 
that of all creatures of our sex the most 
difficult to conquer is she whose price is 
quoted in the market, and who is already 
weary of pleasure ? Such a woman, thej' 
say, requires immense efforts to win her, 
and yields only to her own caprices. To 
try to excite affection in her is the neplus 
ultra of coxcombry. Putting- aside this 
class of women, with whom you are g-al- 
lant enough (since they are all bound to 
be beautiful) to rank me, do you not un- 
derstand that a g-irl, young-, well-born, 
beautiful, witty (you allow me all these 
gifts), is not ■ for sale, and can be won 
' only in one way — by loving her*? You 
understand me ? If she loves and chooses 
to stoop to folly, she must at least have 
some greatness of feeling to excuse her. 
Pardon me this lavishness of logic, so 
rare with those of our sex. But for the 
sake of your happiness, and," she added, 
with a bow, "' of mine, I would not have 
either of us deceived as to the other's 
real worth, nor would I have you think 



Mademoiselle de Verneuil, be she angel 
or fiend, woman or girl, capable of 
being caught with commonplace gal- 
lantries." 

"Mademoiselle," said the pretended 
viscount, whose surprise, thoia^h he con- 
cealed it, was immense, and who at once 
became a man of the finest manners, " I 
beg you to believe that I take ^'ou for a 
ver}' noble person, great of heart, and full 
of lofty sentiments, or for a kind girl, just 
as you choose." 

" That is more than I ask for, sir," she 
said, laughing. ' ' Leave me my incognito. 
Besides, I wear my mask better than you 
do, and it jDleases me to keep it on, were 
it only for the purpose of knowing" whether 
people who talk to me of love are sin- 
cere. . . . Therefore, do not play too 
bold strokes with me. Listen, sir," she 
added, grasping his arm firmly, "if 3-ou 
could convince me that you love me trulj', 
no power on earth should tear us asunder. 
Yes ! I would gladly throw in my lot 
with some man's g-reat career, wed with 
some huge ambition, share some high 
thoughts. Noble hearts are not incon- 
stant, for fidelity is one of their strong 
points. I. should be loved always, always 
happy. But I should not be always ready 
to make myself a ladder whereon my be- 
loved might mount, to sacrifice mj^self 
for him, to bear all from him, to love him 
always, even when he had ceased to love 
me. I have never yet dared to confide to 
another heart the wishes of my own, the 
passionate enthusiasm which consumes 
me ; but I maj^ say something of the sort 
to ,you, since we shall part as soon as 3^ou 
are in safety." 

"Part? Never!" he cried, electrified 
b3^ the speech of this energetic soul, that 
seemed wrestling with mighty thoughts. 

" Are 3'ou 3- our own master ? " re- 
plied she, with a disdainful glance, which 
brought hhn to his level. 

" M3^ own master ? Yes, except for my 
sentence of death." 

"Then," she said, with a voice full of 
bitter feeling, " if all this were not a 
dream, how fair a life were ours ! But if 
I have talked follies, let us do none. When 
I think of all that you should be if 3^ou 



THE CHOUAXS. 



89 



are to rate me at my just worth, every- 
thing* seems to me doubtful." 

•'"'And I should doubt of nothing- if you 
would be mine." 

" Hush ! "she cried, hearing- these words 
spoken with a true accent of passion. 
" The fresh air is g-etting* really too much 
for \'0u ; let us g-o to our chaperons." 

The coach was not long- in catching- the 
couple up ; they took their seats once 
more, and for some leagues journeyed in 
profound silence. But if both had g-ath- 
ered matter for abundant thought, their 
eyes were no long-ei' afraid of meeting-. 
Both seemed equally concerned in watch- 
ing each other and in hiding- important 
secrets, but both felt the mutual attrac- 
tion of a desire which, since their conver- 
sation, had acquired the streng-th and 
range of a passion; for each had recog-- 
nized in the other qualities which prom- 
ised in their eyes jet livelier delights — it 
mig-ht be from conflict, it mig-ht be from 
union. Perchance each of them, already 
launched on an adventurous career, had 
arrived at that strange condition of mind 
when, either out of mere weariness or as 
a challenge to fate, men simply decline to 
reflect seriously on their situation, and 
abandon themselves to the chapter of ac- 
cidents as they pursue their object, pre- 
cisely because exit seems hopeless, and 
they are content to wait for the fated 
ending. Has not moral, like physical 
nature, gulfs and ab3^sses, where strong 
minds love to plung-e at the risk of life, 
as a gambler loves to stake his whole 
fortune ? 

The young- noble and Mademoiselle de 
A'erneuil had, as it were, a glimpse of 
such ideas as these, which both shared, 
after the conversation of which they were 
the natural sequel ; and thus they made 
a sudden and vast stride in intimacy, the 
sympathy of their souls following- that 
of their senses. Nevertheless, the more 
fatally they felt themselves drawn each 
to the other, the more interest they took 
in mutual study, were it only to aug-ment, 
by the result of unconscious calculation, 
the amount of their future joys. The 
young- mdn, still astonished at the strang-e 
g-irl's depth of thoug-ht, asked himself 



first how she managed to combine so 
much acquired knowledge with so much 
freshness and youth. Xext he thought 
that he could discern a certain strong de- 
sire of appearing- innocent in the extreme 
innocence with which Marie endeavored 
to imbue her ways ; he suspected her of 
feig-ning, found fault with himself for his 
delig-ht, and tried to see in the strange 
lady nothing- but a clever actress. He 
wass rig-ht. Mademoiselle de Verneuil, 
like all ^^oung- women who have g-one 
much into society, increased her apparent 
reserve the warmer were her real feelings, 
and assumed in the most natural way in 
the world the prudish demeanor under 
which women are able to veil their most 
violent desires. All of them would, if 
they could, present a virg-in front to pas- 
sion ; and if \A\Qy cannot, their semblance 
of it is still a homage paid to their love. 
The 3'oung- noble thoug-ht all this rapidly 
enoug-h, and it pleased liim. For both, in 
fact, this exchang-e of study was sure to 
be an advance in love ; and the lover soon 
came, by means of it, to that phase of 
passion when a man finds in the very 
faults of his mistress reasons for loving- 
her more. 

The pensiveness of Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil lasted longer than the emi- 
grant's; it might be that her lively 
fancy made her look forward to a long-er 
future. The young man merely obeyed 
a single one of the thousand feeling-s 
which his man's life was sure to make 
him experience ; the g-irl saw her whole 
life before her, and delig-hted in arrang-ing- 
it in beaut\% in filling- it Avith happiness, 
with honor, with noble sentiment. Happy 
in her own thoug-hts, as much enamored 
of her dreams as of reality, of the future 
as of the present, Marie tried to hark 
back, so as to clinch her hold of the 
young- man's heart — an instinctive move- 
ment with her, as with all women. She 
had made up her mind to surrender en- 
tirely ; but she still wished, so to say, to 
hag-g-le over details. She would have 
willingly revoked everything that she 
had done — in speech, in glance, in ac- 
tion — during- the past, so as to make it 
harmonize with the dignity of a woman 



90 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



who is loved. And so her e^^es exhibited 
now and then a kind of affright, as she 
thoug-ht of the past conversation in which 
she had tal^en so liig-h a ground. But as 
she looked on his face — so full of vigor — 
she thought that such a being must be 
generous as he was strong ; and felt her- 
self happy in a lot fairer than that of 
most other women, in that she had found 
a lover in a man with a character of his 
own — a man who, despite the sentence of 
death hanging over his liead, had come 
of his own accord to stake it, and to make 
Avar against the Republic. The thought 
of unshared dominion over such a soul 
soon presented the color of all actual 
things quite differently to her. 

There was the difference of a dead and 
a living universe between the time when, 
some five hours earlier, she had made up 
her face and voice to serve as baits for 
this gentletnan, and the present moment, 
when a look of hers could overcome him. 
Her cheerful laughs, her ga^"- coquetries, 
hid a depth of passion which presented it- 
self, like misfortune, with a smile. In the 
state of mind in which Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil then was,* outward existence 
seemed to her a mere phantasmagoria. 
The coach passed villages, valleys, hills, 
whereof no impiession charged her mem- 
ovy. She came to Mayenne ; the soldiers 
of the escort were relieved. Merle spoke 
to her, she answered, she crossed the city, 
she began her journey afresh ; but faces, 
houses, streets, landscapes, men, slipped 
by her like tlie unsubstantial shapes of a 
dream. Night fell. But Marie traveled 
on under a starry heaven, wrapped in 
soft light, along the Fougeres road, with- 
out even thinking that the face of the 
sky had changed, without even knowing 
what Mayenne meant, what Fougeres, or 
whither she was going. That she might 
in a few hours be parted from the man 
she had chosen, and who, as she thought, 
had chosen her, did not enter her thoughts 
as possible. Love is the only passion 
which knows nothing of past or future. 
If at times her thoughts translated them- 
selves into words, the words which es- 
caped her were almost destitute of mean- 
ing. Yet still they echoed in her lover's 



heart like a promise of delight. Both 
witnesses of this birth of passion saw 
that it grew with terrible rapidity. 
Francine knew Marie as well as the 
strange lady knew the young man ; and 
tlieir knowledge of the past filled them 
with silent expectation of some alarming 
catastrophe. Nor, as a matter of fact, 
were they long in seeing the end of the 
drama to which Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil had given, perhaps unconsciously, 
the ominous name of tragedy. 

The four travelers had journeyed about 
a league beyond Mayenne, when they 
heard a horseman galloping at the top 
of his speed toward them. He had no 
sooner caught up the carriage than he 
stooped to gaze at Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil, who recognized Corentin. This 
sinister person permitted himself a mean- 
ing gesture, the familiar nature of which 
was a kind of insult, and disappeared, 
after striking her blood cold with this 
vulgar signal. The incident seemed to 
strike the . emigrant disagreeably, and 
certainl}^ did not escape his so-called 
mother; but Marie touched him lightly 
and, b^^ a glance, seemed to implore a 
refuge in his heart, as if it were the onh^ 
asylum open to her on earth. The young 
man's brow cleared as he felt the pleasur- 
able influence of the gesture, in which his 
mistress had revealed, as though by over- 
sight, the extent of her attachment. A 
fear which she did not understand had 
banished all her coquetrj', and for an in- 
stant love showed himself unveiled ; they 
seemed not to dare to speak, as if for fear 
of breaking the sweet spell of the moment. 
Unluckily, the watchful eye of Madame 
du Gua was in their midst ; and she, like 
a miser presiding at a feast, seemed to 
count their morsels and dole them out 
their space of life. Given up to their 
happiness, the two lovers arrived, with- 
out consciousness of the long journey 
they had made, at that part of the road 
which is at the bottom of the valley of 
Ernee, the first of the three hollows form- 
ing- the scene of the events which open 
our histor\\ There Francine perceived, 
and pointed out to her mistress, some 
singular figures which seemed to flit like 



THE CffOUANS. 



91 



shadows across the trees and amid the 
ajoncs v/hich surrounded the fields. But 
when the carriage came within range of 
these shadows, a volley of musketry (the 
balls passing- over their heads) told the 
travelers that there was a solid reality in 
these apf)aritioiis. The escort had fallen 
into an ambuscade. 

At this lively fusillade Captain Merle 
felt a regret as lively, that he had shared 
the miscalculation of Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil, who, in her belief that a quick 
march by night would be exposed to no 
danger, had only allowed him to take 
some threescore men. Under Gerard's 
orders the captain at once divided his 
little force into two columns, so as to take 
the two sides of the road, and each officer 
set out at a brisk run across the fields of 
broom and ajoncs, desirous to engage the 
enemy without even waiting to discover 
their numbers. The Blues began to beat 
these thick bushes to left and to right 
with a valor by no means tempered with 
discretion, and replied to the Chouans' 
attack by a well-sustained fire into the 
broom-tufts whence the hostile shots 
came. Mademoiselle de Verneuil's first 
impulse had been to leap from the coach 
and run back, so as to put as long a space 
as possible between herself and the battle- 
field ; but then, ashamed of her fear, and 
influenced by the natural desire to show 
nobly in the eyes of a beloved object, she 
stood motionless, and tried to watch the 
combat calml3\ The emigrant followed 
her movements, took her hand and placed 
it on his heart, 

'•' I was afraid,'' she said, smiling, ''^but 
now — '^ 

At that moment her maid exclaimed 
in a fright, *' Marie! take care!" But 
Francine, who had made as though to 
spring from the carriage, felt herself 
stopped by a strong hand, the enormous 
weight of which drew a sharp cry from 
her. But when she turned her head and 
recognized the face of Marche-a-Terre, she 
became silent. 

"To your mistake, then," said the 
stranger to Mademoiselle de Verneuil, '' I 
shall owe the discovery of secrets the 
sweetest to the heart. Thanks to Fran- 



cine, I learn that 3'ou bear the lovely name 
of Marie — Marie, the name which I have 
always invoked in my moments of sor- 
row I Marie, the name that I shall hence- 
forth invoke in my joy, and which I can 
never mention without sacrilegiously min- 
gling religion and love. Yet can it be a 
crime to love and pray at the same time?" 
As he spoke each clutched the other's hand 
tight, and they gazed in silence at each 
other, the very excess of their feeling de- 
priving them of the ability to express it. 
"There is no danger for you," said 
Marche-a-Terre roughly to Francine, in- 
fusing into his voice, naturally harsh and 
guttural, a sinister tone of reproach, and 
emphasizing his words in a manner which 
struck the innocent peasant with terror. 
Never before had the poor girl seen feroc- 
ity in the looks of Marche-a-Terre. Moon- 
light seemed the only suitable illumina- 
tion for his aspect ; and the fierce Breton, 
his bonnet in one hand, his heavy rifle in 
the other, his form huddled together like 
a gnome's, and wrapped in those floods 
of pallid light which give such weird out- 
lines to all shapes, looked a creature of 
fairy -land rather than of the actual world. 
The appearance, and the reproach it ut- 
tered, had also a ghost-like rapidit3^ He 
turned abruptlj^ to Madame du Gua and 
exchanged some quick words with her, of 
which Francine, who had almost forgot- 
ten her Low-Breton, could catch nothing. 
The lady appeared to be giving repeated 
commands to Marche-a-Terre, and the 
brief colloquy ended by an imperious 
gesture with which she pointed to the 
two lovers. Before obeying, Marclie-a- 
Terre cast a final glance at Francine; 
he seemed to pity her, and to wish to 
speak to her; but the Breton girl under- 
stood that her lover's silence was due to 
orders. The man's tanned and rugged 
skin seemed to wrinkle on his forehead, 
and his eyebrows were strongly con- 
tracted. "Was he resisting a fresh order 
to kill Mademoiselle de Verneuil? The 
grimace no doubt made him look more 
hideous than ever to Madame du Gua ; 
but the flash of his eye took a gentler 
meaning for Francine, who, guessing 
from it that her woman's will could still 



92 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



master the energy of this wild man, hoped 
still to reig-n, under God, over his savage 
heart. The sweet converse in which 
Marie was eng-ag-ed was interrupted by 
Madame du Gua, who came up and 
caiig-ht hold of her, uttering- a cry as if 
there were some sudden dangrer. But 
her real object was merely to g-ive one of 
the members of the Alencon Royalist 
committee, whom she recognized, an 
opportunity of speaking freely to the 
emigrant. 

" Do not trust the girl you met at ' The 
Three Moors.' " 

Having whispered these words in the 
3'oung man's ear, the Chevalier de Va- 
lois, mounted on a Breton ponj^, disap- 
peared in the broom from which he had 
just emerged. At the same moment the 
musketry swelled into a rolling fire of as- 
tonishing briskness, but no close fighting 
took place. 

''Adjutant," said Clef -des-Coeurs, "may 
it not be a feigned attack, in order to carry 
off our travelers, and put them to ran- 
som? " 

"The devil take me if you have not hit 
it ! " cried Gerard, hastening back to the 
road. 

But at the same time the Chouans' fire 
slackened, for the real object of the skir- 
mish had been to effect the communication 
which the chevalier had made to the 
young man. Merle, who saw them mak- 
ing off in no great numbers across the 
hedges, did not think it worth while to 
entangle himself in a struggle which 
could not be profitable, and might be 
dangerous ; while Gerard with an order 
or two reformed the escort on the road, 
and began his march once more, having" 
suffered no losses. The captain had an 
opportunitj'' of offering his hand to Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil, that she might take 
her seat, for the young nobleman re- 
mained standing as if thunderstruck. 
Surprised at this, the Parisian girl got 
in without accepting the Republican's 
courtesy. She turned toward lier lover, 
saw his motionless attitude, and was 
stupefied at the change which the cheva- 
lier's mysterious words had produced. 
The young emigrant came slowly back, 



and his air showed a deep sense of dis- 
gust. 

"Was I not right?" whispered Ma- 
dame du Gua in his ear, as she walked 
Avith him back to the carriage; "we are 
certainly in the hands of a creature who 
has entered into a bargain for ^^^our life. 
But since she is fool enough to fall in love 
with 3^ou, instead of attending to her busi- 
ness, do not 3^ourself behave childishly, 
but feign love for her, till we have reached 
the Vivetiere. When we are once there — 
But can he be actually in love with her 
already ? " said she to herself, seeing the 
young man motionless in his place, like 
one asleep. 

The coach rolled almost noiselessly along 
the sand}^ road. At the first glance that 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil cast around 
her, all seemed changed. Death was 
alread}^ creei^ing upon her love. There 
was nothing, perhaps, but a mere shade of 
difference, but such a shade, in the eyes 
of a loving woman, affords as great a 
contrast as the liveliest colors. Francine 
had understood by March e-a-Terre's look 
that the destiny of Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil, over which she had bidden him 
watch, was in other hands than his ; and 
she exhibited a pale countenance, unable 
to refrain from tears, when her mistress 
looked at her. The unknown lady hid 
but ill, under feigned smiles, the spite of 
feminine revenge, and the sudden change 
which her excessive attentions toward 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil infused into her 
attitude, her voice, and her features, was 
of a nature to give alarm to a sharp- 
sighted person. So Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil instinctively shuddered, asking her- 
self the while, " Why did I shudder ? she 
is his mother;" and then she trembled 
all over as she suddenly said to herself, 
"But is she really his mother?" She 
saw before her an abyss which was finally 
illuminated by a last glance which she 
cast at the stranger. " The woman loves 
him ! " she thought, "But whj^ load me 
with attentions, after showing me so 
much coolness ? Am I lost ? Or is she 
afraid of me ? " 

As for the emigrant, he grew red and 
pale by turns, and preserved a. calm ap- 



THE CHOUANS. 



93 



pearance only by dropping' liis eyes so as 
to h^de the singular emotions which dis- 
turbed him. The ag-reeable curve of his 
lips was spoiled by their being- tig'htlj'- 
pinched, and his complexion yellowed 
with the violence of his stormy thoug"hts. 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil could not even 
discover whether there was any love left 
amid this rage. But the road, which at 
this spot was lined with trees, became 
dark, and prevented the silent actors in 
this drama from questioning* each other 
with their e^'es. The sig-hing- of the wind, 
the rustle of the tufted trees, the meas- 
ured pulse of the escort's tramp, gave 
the scene that solemn character which 
quickens the heart's beats. It was not 
possible for Mademoiselle de Verneuil to 
seek long in vain for the cause of the 
chang-e. The remembrance of Corentin 
passed like lightning across her mind, 
and brought with it the image, as it 
were, of her true destiny, suddenly ap- 
pearing- before her. For the first time 
since the morning she reflected seriously 
on her position. Till that moment she 
had simply let herself enjoy the happiness 
of loving without thinking- either of her- 
self or of the future. Unnble any longer 
to endure her anguish, she waited with 
the g-entle patience of love for one of the 
young man's glances, and returned it 
with one of such lively' supplication, with 
a pallor and a shudder possessing- so 
thrilling an eloquence, that he wavered. 
But the catastrophe was only the more 
thorough. 

''Are you ill, mademoiselle ? " he 
asked. 

The voice without a touch of. kindness, 
the question itself, the look, the gesture, 
all helped to convince the poor girl that 
the incidents of the day had been part of 
a soul-mirage, which was vanishing- like 
the shapeless wreck which the wind car- 
ries away. 

" Am I ill ? " she replied, with a forced 
laugh. *•' I was going- to put the same 
question to you." 

'■ I thought you understood each other," 
said*Madame du Gua, with assumed good- 
humor. 

But neither the 3'oung nobleman nor 



Mademoiselle de Verneuil answered. She, 
doubly offended, was indignant at finding- 
her mighty beauty without might. She 
knew well enoug-h that at any moment 
she pleased she could learn the enig-ma 
of the situation ; but she felt little curios- 
ity to penetrate it, and, for the first time, 
perhaps, a woman recoiled before a se- 
cret. Human life is sadly prolific of cir- 
cumstances where, in consequence it may 
be of too deep a study, it maj^ be of some 
sudden disaster, our ideas lose all co- 
herence, have no substance, no reg-ular 
starting--point ; where th*e present finds 
all the bonds cut which unite it to the 
future and the past. Such was Mademoi- 
selle de Verneuil's state. She reclined, 
her head bent, in the back of the car- 
riage, and lay like an uprooted shrub, 
speechless and suttering. Sue looked at 
no one, wrapped herself in grief, and 
abode with such persistence in the strange 
world of grief where the unhappy take 
refuge, that she lost sight of things 
around. Ravens passed, croaking, OA-er 
the heads of the party, but thoug-h, like 
all strong minds, she kept a corner of her 
soul for superstitions, she paid no atten- 
tion to them. The travelers journeyed 
for some time in total silence. 

'' Parted alread3^ ! " thought Mademoi- 
selle de Verneuil to herself. " Yet noth- 
ing round me has told tales! Can it.be 
Corentin ? He has no interest in doing- 
so. Who has arisen as my accuser? I 
had scarcely begun to be loved, and lo I 
the horror of desertion is already upon 
me. I sowed affection and I reap con- 
tempt. Is it my fate, then, always to 
come in sig-ht of happiness and always to 
lose it ? " 

She was feeling a trouble strange to 
her- heart, for she loved really and for the 
first time. Yet she was not so much given 
up to her grief but that she could find 
resources against it in the pride natural 
to a 3'oung and beautiful woman. She 
had not published the secret of her love — 
a secret which tortures will often fail to 
draw forth. She rallied ; and, ashamed 
of giving the measure of her passion by 
her silent suffering, she shook her head 
gayly, showed a smiling face, or rather a 



94 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



smiling- mask, and put constraint on her 
voice to disguise its altered tone. 

"Where are we ?" she asked of Captain 
Merle, who still kept his place at a little 
distance from the coach. 

" Three leag-ues and a half from Fou- 
g-eres, mademoiselle." 

"Then, we shall g-et there soon?" she 
said, to tempt him to enter on a conver- 
sation in which she intended to show the 
young captain some favor. 

" These leagues," answered Merle, over- 
joyed, " are not very long- in themselves ; 
but in this coantry they take the liberty 
of never coining- to an end. When you 
reach the summit of the ridge we are 
climbing, you will perceive a valley like 
that which we shall soon quit, and on the 
horizon you will then see the summit of 
the Pilgrim.* Pray God, the Chouans 
may not try to play a return match 
there ! Now you can understand that in 
g-oing up and down like this, one does not 
make much progress. From the Pilgrim 
you will then see — " 

As he spoke, the emigrant started a 
second time, but so slig-htly that only 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil noticed the 
start. 

"What is the Pilg-rim?" asked the 
young' lady briskly, interrupting- the 
captain's lecture on Breton topograph3\ 

"It is," answered Merle, "' a hilltop 
which gives its name to the valley of 
Maine, whereupon we are g'oing- to enter, 
and which separates that province frOm 
the valley of the Couesnon. At the other 
end of this valley is Fougeres, the first 
town in Brittany. We had a fight there, 
at the end of Vend emia ire, with the Gars 
and his brigands. We were escorting- 
isome conscripts, who, to save themselves 
from leaving their country, wanted to kill 
us on the border line. But Hulot is an 
ug-ly cjastomer, and he gave them — " 

" Then, you must have seen the Gars ?" 
asked she. " What sort of a man is he ? " 

And as she spoke she never took her 
piercing and sarcastic glance off the 
pretended Viscount de Bauvan. 

"Well, reall}', mademoiselle," said 
Merle, who was doomed to be inter- 
rupted, "he is so like the Citizen du 



Gua that if he did not wear the uniform 
of the Ecole Polytechnique, I would bet 
tliat it is he." 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil g-azed at the 
young- man, who, cool and motionless, 
continued to reg-ard her with contempt. 
She saw nothing- in him that could betray 
a feeling of fear ; but she let him know 
by a bitter smile that she was discovering- 
the secret he had so dishonorably kept. 
And then, in a mocking- voice, her nostrils 
quivering- with joy, her head on one side, 
so as to look at Merle and examine the 
3'Oung- noble at the same time, she said 
to the Republican : 

"The First Consul, captain, is very 
much concerned about this chief. He is 
a bold man, the^y saj'^ ; only, he has a 
habit of too giddily undertaking- cer-tain 
enterprises, especially when women are 
concerned." 

" That is just what we reckon upon," 
said the captain, " to pay off our score 
with him. Let us get hold of him for only 
a couple of hours, and we will put a little 
lead into his skull. If he met us, the g-en- 
tleman from Coblentz would do the same 
by us, and send us to the dark place, and 
so one good turn deserves another." 

"Oh!" said the emigrant, "there is 
nothing- to fear. Your soldiers will never 
get as far as the Pilgrim — they are too 
weary — and, if you please, they can rest 
but a step from here. My mother alig-hts 
at the Vivetiere, and there is the road to 
it some gunshots off. These two ladies 
will be glad to rest ; they must be tired 
after coming without a halt from Alencon 
here. And since mademoiselle," said he, 
turning with forced politeness toward 
her, "has been so g-enerous as to im- 
part to our journey at once safety and 
enjoyment, she will perhaps condescend 
to accept an invitation to sup with my 
mother? What is more, captain," he 
added, addressing Merle, "the times are 
not so bad but that a hogshead of cider 
may turn up at the Vivetiere for 3'our men 
to tap. The Gars can hardly have made 
a clean sweep ; at least, my mother thinks 
so—" 

" Your mother ? " interrupted Mademoi- 
selle de Verneuil, ironically catching him 



THE CHOUANS. 



95 



up, and making- no reply to the unusual 
Invitation which was made to her. 

''Has the evening- made my age in- 
credible to you, mademoiselle ? " answered 
Madame du Gua. ''I was unfortunate 
enough to be married very young; my 
son was born when I was fifteen — " 

" Surely you mistake, madame ; do you 
not mean thirty ? " 

Madame du Gua grew pale, as she had 
to swallow this insult ; she would have 
given much for vengeance, but found 
herself obliged to smile, for she was anx- 
ious at any price, even that of suffering 
the most biting epigrams, to find out 
what the girl's real intentions were, and 
so she pretended not to have understood. 

'' Tlie Chouans have never had a more 
cruel leader than the Gars, if we are to 
believe the reports about him," said she, 
addressing Francine and her mistress at 
the same time. 

''Oh! I do not think him cruel," an- 
swered Mademoiselle de Verneuil; "but 
he knows how to tell falsehoods, and 
seems to me very credulous. Now, a 
partisan chief should be no one's dupe." 

"You know him, then?" asked the 
young emigrant, coldly. 

"No," she replied, with a disdainful 
glance at him; " I thought I knew him — " 

" Oh ! mademoiselle, he is certainly a 
keen hand," said the captain, shaking 
his head, and giving to the word he used 
(malin), bj^ an expressive gesture, the 
special shade of meaning which it then 
had and has now lost. " These old stocks 
sometimes throw otf vigorous suckers. 
He comes from a country where the ci- 
devants are, they say, not exactly in 
clover ; and men, you see, are like med- 
lars — they ripen on the straw. If the 
fellow keeps his wits about him, he may 
give us a long- dance. • He has found out 
the way to meet our free companies with 
light companies, and to neutralize all the 
Government's attempts. If we burn a 
Royalist village, he burns two belonging 
to Republicans. He is carrying on opera- 
tions over an immense area ; and thus 
obliges us to employ a great number of 
troops at a moment when we have none 
to spare. Oh ! he knows his business." 



" He is the assassin of his country ! " 
said Gerard, interrupting the captain with 
a deep voice. 

"But," said the young noble, "if his 
death will deliver the country, shoot him 
as soon as you can." 

Then he plunged his glance into Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil's soul, and there 
passed between them one of those scenes 
without words whose dramatic vivacity 
and intangible finesse speech can very im- 
perfectlj'^ render. Danger makes men in- 
teresting, and when it is a question of life 
and death, the vilest criminal always ex- 
cites a little pit3\ Therefore, though 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil was now con- 
fident that her scornful lover was this 
redoubted chief, she would not ascertain 
the fact at the moment by procuring his 
execution. She had another curiosity to 
satisfy, and preferring to make her pas- 
sion the standard of her faith or doubt, 
began a ga,me of hazard with danger. 
Her glance, steeped in treacherous scorn, 
triumphantlj' pointed out the soldiers to 
the young chief, and, while holding up 
the image of his peril before him, she took 
pleasure in impressing on him the painful 
thought that his life depended on a word, 
and that her lips were on the point of 
opening to pronounce it. Like an Indian 
savage, she seemed to put the very linea- 
ments of her eneni}' to the question as he 
was bound to the stake, and shook her 
tomakawk delicately, as though relishing- 
a vengeance innocent in effect, and pun- 
ishing like a mistress who still loves. 

"Had I a son like yours," she said to 
the strange lady, who was in evident 
alarm, "I should begin to wear mourn- 
ing for him on the day when I exposed 
him to danger. ' ' 

She received no answer, and though she 
turned her head a score of times, first to- 
ward the officers, and then sharply back 
toward Madame du Gua, she could not 
catch between her and the Gars any se- 
cret signal which assured her of a corre- 
spondence which she at once suspected 
and wished not to suspect — so pleasant is 
it to a woman to remain undecided in a 
life and death struggle when the word of 
decision is hers. The young general wore 



96 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



the calmest of smiles, and endured with- 
out flinching- the torture to which Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil put him. His atti- 
tude, and the expression of his features, 
spoke a man careless of the danger to 
which he had knowing-lj^ exposed himself, 
and now and then he seemed to say : 
"Here is an opportunity of aveng-ing- 
your wounded vanity. Seize it ! I should 
be in despair at having- to relinquish my 
contempt for you." Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil on her side scrutinized the chief from 
the height of hervantag-e with, in appear- 
ance, a mixture of insolence and dig-nity — 
in appearance only, for at the bottom of 
her heart she admired his cool intrepidity. 
Delig-hted at discovering that her lover 
bore an ancient name (for privilege of this 
kind pleases all women), she felt an added 
pleasure at meeting him in a situation 
where, defending a cause ennobled b,y mis- 
for-tune, he was wrestling with all the 
might of a strong soul against the Re- 
public which had so often prevailed, and 
at seeing him grappling with danger and 
showing the prowess which has such 
power over women's hearts. So she 
tried him afresh a score' of times, fol- 
lowing perhaps the instinct which leads 
a woman to plaj'' with her victim as a cat 
plays with the captured mouse. 

" On what legal authority do you doom 
the Chouans to death ? " asked she of 
Merle. 

'•' Why, on that of the law of the 14th 
of l-ast Fructidor, which outlaws the 
revolted departments and establishes 
courts-martial in them," replied the Re- 
publican. 

" What is the immediate reason which 
gives me the honor of your attention ? " 
said she to the young chief, who was ex- 
amining her carefully. 

' • It is a feeling which a gentleman can- 
not express to any woman, whosoever she 
be," answered the Marquis of Montauran, 
in a low voice, stooping- toward her. " It 
was worth Avhile," added he aloud, "^ to 
live at this time, in order to see girls * 

* There is no word in which Frencli has a moi'e 
unfair advantage over its translators than the 
double sense of fille, which can be used indiffer- 
ently in the same breath as simply " girl," and as 



playing the executioner, and outvying 
him in their ax-play." 

She gazed at Montauran ; then, de- 
lighted at receiving a public insult from 
the man at the moment when his life was 
in her hands, she said in his ear, with a 
laugh of gentle mockery, "Your head is 
not good enough. No executioner would 
care for it, and I will keep it for myself." 

The astonished marquis stared for some 
time at this strange girl, whose love was 
still the lord of all, even of the most 
stinging insults, and who took her ven- 
geance by pardoning an offense which 
women never forgive. His eyes lost 
something of their cold severity, and a 
touch of melancholy suffused his features. 
His passion was already stronger than he 
himself knew. Mademoiselle de Verneuil, 
contented with this pledge, slight as it 
was, of the reconciliation she had sought, 
gave the chief a tender look, threw at 
him a smile which was very like a kiss, 
and then lay back in the carriage, un- 
willing- to play any more tricks with the 
future of this comedy of happiness, and 
thinking that she had knitted his bonds 
afresh by the smile. She was so beautiful ! 
She was so cunning in making the course 
of love run smooth ! She was so accus- 
tomed to take everything in sport, to 
walk as chance chose ! She was so fond 
of the unforeseen and the storms of life ! 

In accordance wath the marquis's orders, 
the carriage shortly after left the high- 
wa}^, and made for the Vivetiere along a 
hollow lane shut in by high slopes planted 
with apple trees, which turned it into a 
ditch rather than a road . The travelers 
left the Blues behind them to make their 
slow^ way to the manor-house, whose gray 
roofs appeared and disappeared by turns 
between the trees of the lane, where not 
a few soldiers had to fall out to wrench 
their shoes from the tenacious cla3^ 

" This looks very much like the road to 
Paradise ! " Cried Beau-Pied. 

Thanks to the postilion, who knew his 
way, no long time passed before Made- 
conveying a gross insult. It may not be an en- 
viable privilege, but it exists. The somewhat 
similar play on mauvaise Ute ' below ' is less 
idiomatic. 



THE CHOUANS. 



97 



moiselle de Verneuil saw the Chateau de 
la Vivetiere. The house, perched on a 
kind of promontory, was defended and 
surrounded by two deep ponds, which left 
no way of access but by following- a narrow 
causeway. The part of the peninsula on 
which the building-s and the gardens la^^ 
was further protected for a certain dis- 
tance behind the chateau by a wide moat, 
receiving the overflow of the ponds with 
which it communicated. It was thus in 
fact an almost impregnable island, and an 
invaluable refuge for any leader, since he 
could not be surprised except by treachery. 
As she heard the rusty hinges of the g-ate 
creak, and passed under the pointed arch 
of the gateway, which had been in ruin 
since the late war. Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil put her head out, and the sinister 
colors of the picture which met her eyes 
almost effaced the thoughts of love and of 
coquetry with which she had been lulling 
herself. The carriage entered a large 
courtyard, almost square in shape, and 
inclosed by the steep banks of the ponds. 
These wild embankments, bathed by 
waters covered with huge green patches, 
were unadorned save by leafless trees of 
aquatic species, whose stunted trunks and 
huge tufted heads, rising above rushes 
and brushwood, resembled grotesque stat- 
ues. These uncomely hedg'es seemed en- 
dowed with life and speech as the frogs 
left them croaking, and the water-hens, 
awaked by the noise of the coach, flut- 
tered flapping over the surface of the 
ponds. The court^^ard, surrounded by 
tall, withered grass, by ajoncs, by dwarf 
and climbing shrubs, was destitute of all 
appearance of neatness or splendor. The 
chateau itself appeared to have been long 
deserted ; the roofs seemed crumbling 
under their weight of vegetation ; the 
walls, though built of the solid schistous 
stone which the soil supplies in abundance, 
were full of cracks to which the ivy clung. 
Two wings, connected at right angles 
by a lofty tower, and facing the pond, 
made up the whole chateau, whose doors 
and blinds hanging rotten, whose rusty 
balustrades and shattered windows 
seemed likely to fall at the first breath 
of tempest. The night breeze whistled 
Balzac — d 



through the ruins, to which the moon 
with its uncertain light lent the character 
and semblance of a huge specter. The 
colors of this blue and gray granite, con- 
trasted with the black and yellow schist, 
must have been seen in order to recognize 
the truth of the image which this dark 
and empty carcass suggested. Its stones 
wrenched asunder, its unglazed casements, 
its crenelated tower, its roofs open to the 
sky, gave it exactly the air of a skeleton ; 
and the very birds which took to flight 
hooting gave an additional stroke to this 
vague resemblance. Some lofty fir trees, 
planted behind the house, waved their 
dark foliage above the roof, and some 
yews, originally trained to give ornament 
to the corners, now framed it with melan- 
choly drapery-like funeral palls. Lastly, 
the shape of the doors, the rude style of 
the ornamentation, the lack of uniformity 
in the buildings, were all characteristic of 
one of those feudal manor-houses whereon 
Brittany prides herself ; and not without 
reason, perhaps, inasmuch as they enrich 
this Gaelic country with a sort of history 
in monuments of the shadowy times pre- 
ceding the general establishment of the 
monarch3^ Mademoiselle de Verneuil, in 
whose fancy the word " chateau " always 
took the shape of a conventional type, 
was struck by the funereal aspect of the 
picture, jumped lightly from the coach 
and stood alone, gazing- full of alarm, 
and wondering what she had better do. 
Francine heard Madame du Gua give 
a sigh of joy at finding herself out of 
reach of the Blues, and an involuntary 
cry escaped her when the gate was shut 
and she found herself caged in this kind of 
natural fortress. Montauran had darted 
quickly to Mademoiselle de Verneuil, 
guessing the thoughts that occupied her. 

"This chateau," said he, with a touch 
of sadness, ''has been shattered by war, 
as the projects I built for our happiness 
have been shattered by you." 

" How so ? " she asked, in deep surprise. 

"Are you 'a woman, young, beautiful, 
noble, and witty ? ' " he said, with a tone 
of irony, repeating to her the words 
which she had said to him so coquettishly 
in their conversation on the road. 



98 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



** Who has told you the contrary ? " 

** Some trustworthy friends, who take 
an interest in my safety and are watch- 
ing to counterplot treachery." 

" Treachery !" she said, in a sarcastic 
tone. "Are Alencon and Hulot so far 
off ? You seem to lack memorj^, an awk- 
ward defect for a partisan chief. But 
from the moment when friends," she 
added, with studied insolence, ''reig-n in 
your heart with such omnipotence — he 
content with your friends. There is 
nothing- comparable to the pleasures of 
friendship. Farewell ! I will not set foot 
within these walls, nor shall the soldiers 
of the Republic." . 

She darted toward the gate with an 
impulse of scorn and wounded pride, but 
her action disclosed a nobility of feeling 
and a despair which entirely changed the 
ideas of the marquis, who felt the pain of 
renouncing his desires too much not to be 
imprudent and credulous. He too was 
already in love ; and neither of the lovers 
had any desire to prolong their quarrel. 

"Add one word and I will believe you," 
he said in a beseeching tone. 

"One word ? " she said ironically, and 
with clinched lips. " One word ? Will 
not even one gesture do ? " 

"Scold me at least/' said he, trying to 
seize a hand which she drew away, "if 
indeed you dare to sulk with a rebel 
chief who is now as mistrustful and 
somber as just now he was confiding 
and gay." 

Marie looked at the marquis without 
anger, and he added : 

" You have my secret, and I have not 
yours." 

But at these words her brow of alabas- 
ter seemed to darken. Marie cast an 
angry look at the chief, and answered, 
" My secret ? Never ! " 

In love, every word and every look has 
its momentary eloquence, but on this oc- 
casion Mademoiselle de Verneuil gave no 
precise indication of her meaning, and 
clever as Montauran was, the riddle of 
the exclamation remained unsolved for 
him, though her voice had betrayed some 
extraordinary emotion which must have 
strongly tempted his curiosity. 



"You have," he said, "an agreeable 
manner of dispelling suspicion." 

" Do you still entertain any ? " she said, 
looking him up and down as much as to 
say, "Have you any rights over me?" 

"Mademoiselle," answered the j'oung 
man, with an air at once humble antl 
firm, " the power which you exercise over 
the Republican troops, this escort — " 

"Ah ! 3-ou remind me. Shall I and my 
escort," asked she, with a touch of irony, 
"will your protectors, I should saj^ be in 
safety here ? " 

"Yes, on the faith of a gentleman. 
Whoever you are, you and yours have 
nothing to fear from me." 

This pledge was given with an air of 
such sincerity and generosity that Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil could not but feel 
fully reassured as to the fate of the Re- 
publicans. She was about to speak, when 
the arrival of Madame du Gua silenced 
her. This lady had been able either to 
hear or to guess part of the conversation 
between the lovers, and was not a little 
anxious at finding them in a posture 
which did not display the least unkindly 
feeling. When he saw^ her, the marquis 
offered his hand to Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil, and started briskly toward the 
house as if to rid himself of an unwelcome 
companion. 

" I am in their way," said the strange 
lady, remaining motionless where she 
stood, and gazing at the two reconciled 
lovers as they made their w^ay slowly 
toward the entrance-stairs, where they 
halted to talk as soon as they had put a 
certain distance between her and them- 
selves. "Yes ! yes ! I am in their w^ay," 
she went on, speaking to herself; "but 
in a little time the creature shall be no 
more in mine ! By Heaven ! the pond 
shall be her grave. Shall I not keep your 
' faith of a gentleman ' for you ? Once 
under water, what has any one to fear F 
Will she not be safe there ? " 

She was gazing steadily at the clear 
mirror of the little lake on the right when 
suddenly she heard the brambles on the 
bank rustle, and saw by moonlight the 
face of March e-a-Terre rising behind 
the knotty trunk of an old willow. Only 



THE CHOUANS. 



99 



those who knew the Chouan could have 
made him out in the midst of this crowd 
of pollarded stumps, among which his 
own form easily confounded itself. Ma- 
dame du Gua first threw a watchful look 
around her. She saw the postilion leading- 
his horses off to a stable in the wing of 
the chateau which faced the bank where 
Marche-a-Terre was hidden ; while Fran- 
cine was making her way toward the two 
lovers, who at the moment had forgotten 
everything on earth. Then the strange 
lady stepped forward with her finger on 
her lips to insist on complete silence; 
after which the Chouan understood rather 
than heard the following words : 

" How many of you are here ? " 

"Eighty-seven." 

"They are only sixty-five." 

" Good ! " said the savage, with fero- 
cious satisfaction. 

Then the Chouan, who kept an eye on 
Francine's least movement, dived behind 
the willow bark as he saw her turn back 
to look for the female foe of whom she 
was instinctively watchful. 

Seven or eight persons, attracted by 
the noise of the carriage-wheels, showed 
themselves on the top of the front stair- 
way, and cried, " 'Tis the Gars ! 'Tis he ! 
Here he is ! " At this cry others ran up, 
and their presence disturbed the lovers' 
talk. The Marquis of Montauran ad- 
vanced hastil}'^ toward these gentlemen, 
and bade them be silent with a command- 
ing gesture, pointing out to them the 
head of the avenue where the Republican 
troops were debouching. At sight of the 
well-known blue uniforms faced with red 
and the flashing bayonets, the astounded 
conspirators cried : 

" Have you come to betra}' us ? " 

'' If I had I should hardly warn you of 
the danger," answered the marquis, smil- 
ing bitterly. "These Blues," he con- 
tinued, after a pause, " are the escort of 
this young lady, whose generosity has 
miraculously^ delivered us from the dan- 
ger to which we had nearly fallen victims 
in an inn at Alencon.. We will tell 3'ou 
the story. Mademoiselle and her escort 
are here on my parole, and must be re- 
ceived as friends." 



Madame du Gua and Francine having 
arrived at the steps, the marquis gal- 
Ian tl}^ presented his hand to Mademoi- 
selle de Verneuil. The group of gentle- 
men fell back into two rows, in order 
to give them passage, and all strove to 
distinguish the stranger's features; for 
Madame du Gua had already heightened 
their curiosity by making some private 
signals. Mademoiselle de Verneuil be- 
held in the first apartment a large 
table handsomel}^ laid for some score of 
guests. This dining-room communicated 
with a large salon in which the company 
was shortly collected. Both chambers 
were in harmony with the spectacle of 
ruin which the exterior of the chateau 
presented. The wainscot, wrought in 
polished walnut, but of rough, coarse, 
ill-finished workmanship in very high re- 
lief, was wrenched asunder and seemed 
ready to fall. Its dark hue added yet 
more to the melancholy aspect of rooms 
without curtains or mirrors, where a few 
pieces of ancient and ramshackle furni- 
ture matched with the general effect of 
dilapidation. Marie saw maps and plans 
Ijdng unrolled on a large table, and in the 
corners of the room piles of swords and 
rifles. The whole bore witness to an im- 
portant conference between the Chouan 
and Vandean chiefs. The marquis led 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil to a vast worm- 
eaten armchair which stood by the fire- 
place, and Francine placed herself behind 
her mistress, leaning on the back of the 
venerable piece of furniture. 

"You will excuse me for a moment, 
that I may do my duty as host? " said 
the marquis, as he left the couple and 
mixed in the groups which his guests 
formed. 

Francine saw the chiefs, in consequence 
of a word from Montauran, hastily hiding 
their maps, their arms, and everything 
that could excite the suspicions of the 
Republican officers ; while some laid aside 
broad belts which contained pistols and 
hangers. The marquis recommended the 
greatest possible discretion, and went out 
with apologies for the necessity of looking 
after the reception of the troublesome 
guests that chance was giving him. 



100 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



Mademoiselle de Verneuil, who had put 
her feet to the fire, endeavoring to warm 
them, allowed Montauran to leave with- 
out turning- her head, and thus disap- 
pointed the expectation of the company, 
who were all anxious to see her. The gen- 
tlemen gathered round the unknown lady, 
and while she carried ©n with them a con- 
versation sotto voce, there was not one 
who did not turn round more than once 
to examine the two strangers. 

**You know Montauran," she said, 
" he fell in love with the girl at first sight; 
and 3'ou can quite understand that the 
best advice sounded suspicious to him 
when it came from my mouth. Our friends 
at Paris, and Messieurs de Valois and 
d'Esgrignon of Alencon as well, have all 
warned him of the snare that is being 
laid for him by throwing some baggage 
at his head ; and 3^et he takes up with the 
first he meets — a girl who, according to 
my information, has stolen a great name 
in order to disgrace it," and so forth. 

This lady, in whom the reader must 
have already recognized the woman who 
decided the Chouans on attacking the 
turgotine, shall keep henceforward in our 
historj^ the appellation which helped her 
to escape the dangers of her journey by 
Alencon. The publication of her real 
name could only offend a distinguished 
family, already deeply grieved at the 
misconduct of a daughter whose fate has 
moreover been the subject of another 
drama than this. But the attitude of 
inquisitiveness which the company took 
soon became impertinent and almost hos- 
tile. Some harsh exclamations reached 
Francine's ear, and she, after whispering 
to her mistress, took refuge in the em- 
brasure of a window. Marie herself rose, 
turned toward the insulting group, and 
cast on them dignified and even scornful 
glances. Her beauty, her elegant man- 
ners, and her haughtiness, suddenly 
changed the disposition of her enemies, 
and gained her a flattering murmur of 
admiration, which seemed to escape them 
against their will. Two or three men, 
whose exterior showed those habits of 
politeness and gallantry which are learned 
in the exalted sphere of a court, drew 



near Marie with a good grace. But the 
modesty of her demeanor inspired them 
with respect ; no one dared to address 
her, and she was so far from occupying 
the position of accused, that she seemed 
to be their judge. Nor had these chiefs 
of a war undertaken for God and the king 
much resemblance to the fancy portraits 
of them which she had amused herself with 
drawing. The struggle, great as it really 
was, shrunk and assumed mean propor- 
tions in her ej'es when she saw before her, 
with the exception of two or three vigor- 
ous faces, mere country squires destitute 
of character and vivacit3^ Marie dropped 
suddenly from poetry to plain prose. The 
countenances about her gave a first im- 
pression rather of a desire to intrigue 
than of the love of glor3% It was self- 
interest that had reallj^ called these 
gentlemen to arms ; and if they became 
heroic on actual service, here they showed 
themselves in their natural colors. 

The loss of her illusions made Mademoi- 
selle de Verneuil uajust, and prevented 
her from recognizing the sincere devo- 
tion which made some of these men so 
remarkable. Yet most of them certainlj- 
showed a want of distinction in manner, 
and the few characteristic heads which 
were notable among them were robbed 
of grandeur by the formal etiquette of 
aristocracy. Even though Marie was 
liberal enough to grant shrewdness and 
acuteness of mind to these persons, she 
found in them a complete lack of the 
magnificent simplicity to which she was 
accustomed in the successful men of the 
Republic. This nocturnal assembly, held 
in the ruined fortalice, under grotesque 
architectural devices which suited the 
faces well enough, made her smile as she 
chose to see in it a picture symbolizing the 
monarchy. Soon there came to her the 
delightful thought that at any rate the 
marquis played the most important part 
among these folk, whose only merit in 
her eyes was their devotion to a lost 
cause. She sketched in fancy the form 
of her lover among- the crowd, pleased 
herself with setting him off against them, 
and saw in their thin and meager person- 
alities nothing but tools of his great de- 



THE OHOUANS. 



101 



signs. At this moment the marquis's 
steps rang- in the neig'hboring room ; the 
conspirators suddenly melted into sepa- 
rate g-roups, and the whispering ceased. 
Like school-boys who had been planning- 
some trick during their master's absence, 
they eag-erly feig-ned g-ood behavior and 
silence. Montauran entered, and Marie 
had the happiness of admiring- him among- 
these men of whom he was the young-est, 
the handsomest, the first. 

As a king- does amid his courtiers, he 
went from group to g-roup, distributing- 
slight nods, hand-shakes, g-lances, words 
of intelligence or reproach, playing- his 
part of party chief with a grace and 
coolness difficult to anticipate in a young 
man whom she had at first taken for a 
mere g-iddy-pate. The marquis's presence 
put an end to the inquisitiveness which 
had been busy with Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil, but Madame du Gua's ill-nature 
soon produced its effect. The Baron du 
Guenic (surnamed Ulntime), who, among- 
all these men assembled by matte fs of 
such g-rave interest, seemed alone entitled 
\)y his name and rank to use familiarity 
with Montauran, took his arm, and led 
him aside. 

"Listen, my dear marquis," said he; 
" we are all in pain at seeing- you about 
to commit an eg-reg-ious piece of folly." 

" What do you mean by that ? " 

" Do you know where this girl comes 
from, who she reall}'' is, and what her 
designs on you are ? " 

" My dear L'Intime, be it said between 
ourselves, my fancy will have passed by 
to-morrow morning." 

" Granted ; but how if the bag-gage 
gives you up before daybreak ? " 

" I will answer 3^ou when you tell me 
why she has not done so already," re- 
plied Montauran, assuming in jest an 
air of coxcombry. 

**Why, if she likes you, she probably 
would not care to betray jou %il\ her 
fancy, too, has 'passed.' " 

''My dear fellow, do look at that 
charming girl. Observe her waj's, and 
then saj^, if you dare, that she is not a 
lad3'. If she cast favoring eyes on you, 
would you not in your inmost soul feel 



some respect for her ? A dame whom we 
know has prejudiced you against her. 
But after the conversation we have had, 
if I found her to be one of the wantons 
our friends speak of, I would kill her." 

" Do you think," said Madame du Gua, 
breaking into the talk, '•' that Fouche is 
fool enough to pick up the girl he sends 
against you at a street-corner ? He has 
proportioned her charms to your ability. 
But if 3'^ou are blind your friends must 
keep their eyes open to watch over 3'OU." 

" Madame," answered the Gars, dart- 
ing an angry glance at her, " take care 
not to attempt an3rthing against this 
young person, or against lier escort, 
otherwise nothing shall save you from 
my vengeance. I will have the young 
lad3'' treated with the greatest respect, 
and as one who belongs to me. We 
have, I believe, some connection with 
the Verneuils." 

The opposition with which the marquis 
met had the usual effect of similar ob- 
stacles on 3'oung people. Although he 
had in appearance treated Mademoiselle 
de Verneuil ver3'- cavalierh', and had made 
believe that his passion for her was a 
mere caprice, he had just, in an impulse 
of pride, taken a long step forward. After 
making the lady's cause his, he found his 
honor concerned in her being respectfully 
treated ; so he went from group to group 
giving assurances, after the fashion of a 
man dangerous to cross, that the stranger 
was really Mademoiselle de Verneuil ; and 
forthwith all murmurs were silenced. 
When Montauran had re-established a 
kind of peace in the salon and had satis- 
fied all exigencies, he drew near Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil with an eager air, 
and whispered to her : 

"These people have deprived me of some 
minutes of happiness." 

"I am glad to have you near me," an- 
swered she, laughing. " I warn you that 
I am curious ; so do not be too tired of my 
questions. Tell me fii-st who is that good 
man who wears a green cloth waistcoat?" 

'' 'Tis the well-known Major Brigaut, a 
man of the Marais, comrade of the late 
Mercier, called La Vendee." 

"And who is the fat, red-faced priest 



102 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



with whom he is just now talking- about 
me? " went on Mademoiselle de Verneuil. 

"You want to know what they are 
sa^'ing"? " 

" Do I want to know ? Do 3'ou call 
that a question?" 

" But I cannot tell you without insult- 
ing- you." 

''^ As soon as you allo^v me to be in- 
sulted without exacting vengeance for the 
insults proffered me in yonv house, fare- 
well, marquis ! I will not stay a moment 
long-er here ; as it is, I am ashamed of 
deceiving these poor Republicans who are 
so loyal and confiding; " and she made 
some steps, but the marquis followed 
her. 

*^My dear Marie, listen to me. On my 
honor, I silenced their unkind words before 
knowing whether they are true words or 
false. Nevertheless, in my situation, when 
our allies in theGovernment oflB.ces at Paris 
have warned me to mistrust every kind of 
woman 1 meet on my path, telling- me at 
the same time that Fouche has made up 
his mind to employ some street-walking 
Judith against me, my best friends may 
surel}'- be pardoned for thinking that you 
are too beautiful to be an honest wo- 
man — " 

And as he spoke the marquis plunged 
his eyes into those of Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil, who blushed, and could not keep 
back her tears. 

"1 deserved this insult," she said. " I 
would fain see you sure that I am a worth- 
less creature, and yet know myself loved; 
then I should doubt you no more. For 
mj part, I believed you when you deceived 
me, and j^ou disbelieve me when I speak 
the truth. Enough of this, sir," she said, 
frowning-, and with the paleness of ap- 
proaching death on her face ; " adieu ! " 

She dashed from the room with a de- 
spairing movement ; but the young- mar- 
quis said in her ear, ''Marie! my life is 
yours ! " 

She stopped and looked at him. " No ! 
no 1 " she said. ''I am g-enerous. Fare- 
well ! I thoug-ht not, as I came with .you, 
of my past or of your future . I was m ad ! " 
'- What ! you leave me at the moment 
when I offer you mj-^ life ? " 



" You are offering it in a moment of 
passion, of desire — " 

'' But without regret, and forever ! " 
said he. 

She re-entered the room, and to hide his 
emotion the marquis continued their con- 
versation : " The fat man whose name 
you asked me is a redoubtable person. 
He is the Abbe Gudin, one of those Jesuits 
who are certainly headstrong enough, 
and perhaps devoted enough, to remain in 
France notwithstanding the edict of 1763, 
which banished them. He is a fire-brand 
of war in these districts, and the organ- 
izer of the association called the Sacrod 
Heart. Accustomed to make religion his 
tool, he persuades the affiliated members 
that they will come to life again, and 
knows how to keep up their fanaticism by 
clever prophecies. You see, one has to 
make use of each man's private interest 
to gain a great end. In that lies the 
whole secret of politics." 

''And the other, in a green old age — 
the muscular man whose face is so repul- 
sive ? There ! the man dressed in a tat- 
tered lawyer's gown." 

" Lawyer ! he aspires to the rank of 
marechal de camp. Have you never 
heard speak of Longuy ? " 

"What! 'tis he?" said Mademoiselle 
de Verneuil, affrighted. "You emploj'' 
such men as that ? " 

"Hush! he might hear you. Do 3'ou 
see the other, engaged in criminal con- 
versation with Madame du Gua ? " 

"The man in black, who looks like a 
judge?" 

" He is one of our diplomatists, La Bil- 
lardiere, son of a counselor in the Breton 
Parliament, whose real name is something 
like Flamet, but he is in the princes' con- 
fidence." 

" And his neighbor, who is just now 
clutching his clay pipe, and who rests 
all the fingers of his right hand on the 
wainscot like a clown?" said Mademoi- 
selle de Verneuil, with a laugh. 

" You have guessed him, by heavens ! 
'Tis a former game-keeper of the lady's 
defunct husband. He commands one of 
the companies with which I meet the 
mobile battalions. He and Marche-a-Terre 



THE CHOUANS. 



103 



are perhaps the most conscientious ser- 
vants that the king- has hereabouts." 

" But she — who is she ? " 

"She," continued the marquis, "she is 
the last mistress that Charette had. She 
has great influence on all these people." 

"Has she remained faithful to him ? " 

Bat the marquis made no other answer 
than a slig-ht grimace, expressing doubt. 

" Do 3'ou think well of her ? " 

"Really, you are very inquisitive." 

"She is my enemy, because she no longer 
can be my rival," said Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil, laughing. " I forgive her her 
past slips ; let her forgive me ujine. And 
the officer with the mustaches ? " 

" Pardon me if I do not name him. He 
wants to get rid of the First Consul b^' 
attacking him arms in hand. Whether 
he succeeds or not, you will hear of him 
some day. He will be famous." 

"And you have come to take command 
of people like that ?" she said with horror. 
" These are the king's defenders ! Where, 
then, are the gentlemen, the great lords ?" 

"Well," said the marquis, somewhat 
tauntingly, " they are scattered about all 
the courts of Europe. Who else is enlist- 
ing kings, cabinets, armies in the service 
of the House of Bourbon, and urging them 
against this Republic, which threatens all 
monarchies with death, and social order 
with complete destruction ? " 

"Ah !" she said, with generous emotion, 
"be to me henceforth the pure source 
whence I may draw such further ideas as 
I must learn. I have no objection to that. 
But allow me to think that you are the 
only noble who does his dutj' b3'- attacking 
France with Frenchmen, and not with 
foreign aid. I am a woman, and I feel 
that if a child of mine struck me in anger, 
I could pardon him ; but if he looked on 
while a stranger tore me to pieces, I 
should regard him as a monster." 

"You will always be a Republican," 
said the marquis, delightfully intoxicated 
by the glowing tones which confirmed his 
hopes. 

" A Republican ? I am not that any 
more. I could not esteem you if you 
were to submit to the First Consul," 
she went on; "but neither would I see 



you at the head of men who put a corner 
of France to pillage, instead of attacking 
the Republic in front. For whom are 
you fighting ? What do you expect from 
a king restored .to the throne by your 
hands ? Once upon a time a woman un- 
dertook this same glorious task ; and the 
king, after his deliverance, let her be 
burned alive ! These royal folk are the 
anointed of the Lord, and there is danger 
in touching consecrated things. Leave 
God alone to place, displace, or replace 
them on their purple seats. If you have 
weighed the reward which will come to 
you, you are ten times greater in my 
eyes than I thought you ; and if so, you 
may trample me under your feet if you 
like; I will gladly permit 3'ou to do so." 

"You are charming! Do not teach 
your lessons to these gentlemen, or I 
shall be left without soldiers." 

" Ah ! if you would let me convert you, 
we would go a thousand miles hence." 

"These men whom you seem to de- 
spise," replied the marquis in a graver 
tone, "will know how to die in the strug- 
gle, and their faults will be forgotten ; 
besides, if my attempts meet with some 
success, will not the laurels of triumph 
hide all else? " 

" You are the only man here who seems 
to me to have anything to lose." 

" I am not the only one," said he, with 
real modesty ; " there are two new Ven- 
dean chiefs. The first, whom you heard 
them call Grand-Jacques, is the Comte 
de Fontaine ; the other is La Billardiere, 
whom I have pointed outto^'ou already." 

" And do you forget Quiberon, where 
La Billardiere played a very singular 
part ? " said she, struck by a sudden 
memorj". 

' ' La Billardiere took on himself a great 
deal of responsibility ; believe me, the ser- 
vice of princes is not a bed of roses." 

"Ah! you make me shudder," cried 
Marie. "Marquis!" she went on, in a 
tone seemingly indicating a reticence, 
the mystery of which concerned him 
personallj^, " a single instant is enough 
to destroy an illusion and to unveil 
secrets on which the life and happiness 
of many men depend — " She stopped 



104 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



herself, as if she feared to say too much, 
and added : " I would fain know that the 
Republican soldiers are safe," 

''I will be prudent," said he, smiUng-, 
to disg-uise his emotion; ''but speak to 
me no more of your soldiers. I have 
answered for them already, on my honor 
as a g-entleman." 

" And after all, what rig-ht have I to 
lead you ? " said she ; " be you always 
the master of us two. Did I not tell you 
that it would put me to despair to be 
mistress of a slave ? " 

''My lord marquis," said Major Brig-aut, 
respectfully interrupting this conversa- 
tion, "will the Blues stay long here?" 

"The3^ will go as soon as they have 
rested," cried Marie. 

The marquis, directing- inquiring- looks 
toward the company, saw that there was 
a flutter among- them, left Mademoiselle 
de Verneuil, and allowed Madame du Gua 
to come and take his place by her side. 
This lady wore a mask of laughing perfidy, 
which even the young- chief's bitter smile 
did not disturb. But at the same moment 
Francine uttered a cry which she herself 
promptly checked. Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil, astonished at seeing- her faithful 
country maid flj'ing toward the dining-- 
room, turned her gaze on Madame du 
Gua, and her surprise increased as she 
noted the pallor which had spread over 
the face of her enemy. Full of curiosity 
to know the secret of this abrupt depart- 
ure, she advanced toward the recess of 
the window, whither her rival followed 
her, with the object of removing- the sus- 
picions which her indiscretion might have 
excited, and smiled at her with an inde- 
finable air of malice, as, after both had 
cast a glance on the lake and its land- 
scape, they returned together to the fire- 
place ; Marie without having seen any- 
thing- to justif}^ Francine's flight, Madame 
du Gua satisfied that her orders were 
obeyed. 

The lake, at the edge of which Marche- 
^-Terre, like a spirit conjured up by the 
lady, had appeared in the court, ran to 
join the moat surrounding the g-ardens 
in a series of misty reaches, sometimes 
broadening- into ponds, sometimes con- 



tracted like canals in a park. The steeply 
shelving- bank which these clear waters 
washed was but some fathoms distant 
from the window. Now Francine, who 
had been absorbed in watching the bluck 
lines sketched b\' the heads of some old 
willows on the face of the waters, w^as 
g-azing- half absently at the regnlar curves 
which the light breeze gaA^e to their 
branches. Suddenly it seemed to her 
,that she saw one of these shapes moving- 
on the watery mirror, with the irregular 
and wilfull motion which shows animal 
life; the form was vague enoug'h, but 
seemed to be human. 

Francine at first set her vision down to 
the shadowy outlines w^hich ihe moon- 
lig-ht produced through the bi'anches ; 
but soon a second head showed itself, and 
then others appeared in the distance, the 
small shrubs on the bank bent and rose 
again sharply, and Francine perceived in 
the long line of the hedge a gradual mo- 
tion like that of a mig-hty Indian serpent 
of fabulous contour. Next, diA'^ers pomts 
of light flashed and shifted their position 
here and there among the brooms and 
the tall brambles. Marche-a-Terre's be- 
loved redoubled her attention, and in 
doing so she seemed to recognize the 
foremost of the black figures which were 
passing- along- this animated shore. The 
man's shape was very indistinct, but the 
beating- of her heart assured her that it 
w^as really Marche-a-Terre whom she saw. 
Convinced by a gesture, and eag-er to 
know whether this mysterious movement 
hid some treachery or not, she darted to- 
ward the court3'ard, and when she had 
reached the middle of this green expanse, 
she scanned by turns the tw^o wings and 
the two banks without observing any 
trace of this secret movement in the bank 
which faced the uninhabited part of the 
building. She strained her ear, and 
heard a slight rustle like that which the 
steps of a wild beast might produce in the 
silent woods ; she shuddered, but she did 
not tremble. Young and innocent as she 
still was, curiositj^ quicklj' suggested a 
trick to her. She saw the carriage, ran 
to it, hid herself in it, and only raised her 
head with the caution of the hare in 



THE CHOUANS, 



105 



whose ears the echo of the far-off hunt 
resounds. Then she saw Pille-Miche com- 
ing' out of the stable. The Chouan was 
accompanied by two peasants, all three 
carrying- trusses of straw ; these the^- 
spread out in such a manner as to make 
a long" bed of litter before the deserted 
wing- and parallel to the bank with the 
dwarf trees, where the Chouans were 
moving with a silence which g'ave evi- 
dence of the preparation of some hideous 
stratagem. 

" You are g"iving them as much straw 
as if they were really g-oing- to sleep here. 
Enough, Pille-Miche, enoug-h ! " said a 
low, harsh voice, which Francine knew. 

" Will fhey not sleep there ?" answered 
Pille - Miche, emitting a foolish guffaw. 
" But are you not afraid that the Gars 
will be ang-ry ? " he added, so low that 
Francine could not hear him. 

" Well, suppose he is ang-ry," replied 
Marche-a-Terre under his breath : " we 
shall have killed the Blues all the same. 
But," he went on, '* there is a carriage 
which we two must run in." 

Pille-Miche drew the coach b}' the pole 
and Marchc-a-Terre pushed one of the 
wheels so smartly that Francine found 
herself in the barn, and on the point of 
being- shut up there, before she had had 
time to reflect on her position. Pille- 
Miche went forth to help in bring-ing- in 
the cask of cider which the marquis had 
ordered to be served out to the soldiers 
of the escort, and Marche-a-Terre was 
passing- b^' the coach in order to g-o out 
and shut the door, when he felt himself 
stopped by a hand which caught the long- 
h-air of his goatskin. He met certain eyes 
whose sweetness exercised magnetic power 
over him, and he stood for a moment as 
if bewitched. Francine jumped briskly 
out of the carriage, and said to him in 
the aggressive tone which suits a vexed 
woman so admirably. 

" Pierre, what was the news you brought 
to that lady and her son on the highway ? 
"What are they doing here ? Why are you 
hiding ? I will know all ! " 

At these words the Chouan's face took 
an expression which Francine had never 
known him to wear. The Breton led his 



innocent mistress to the door-step, and 
there turning her face toward the white 
blaze of the moon, he answered, staring 
at her with a terrible look : 

*' Yes, Francine, I will tell you, by my 
damnation ! but oxi\j when 3'ou have 
sworn on these beads," and he drew an 
old rosarj^ from underneath the goatskin, 
'' on this relic which you know," he went 
on, **to answer me truly one single ques- 
tion." 

Francine blushed as she looked at the 
beads, which had doubtless been a love- 
token between them. 

" On this it was," said the Chouan, with 
a voice full of feeling, " that you swore — " 
but he did not finish. The peasant girl 
laid her hand on the lips of her wild 
lover to silence him. 

" Need I swear ? " said she. 

He took the young girl gently b}^ the 
hand, gazed at her for a minute and went 
on : '* Is the 3'^oung lady whom you serve 
really named Mademoiselle de Verneuil ? " 

Francine stood with her arms hanging 
by her sides, her e^'elids drooping, her 
head bent. She was pale and speechless. 

" She is a wanton ! " continued Marche- 
a-Terre in a terrible voice. As he spoke 
the pretty hand tried to cover his lips 
once more ; but this time he started \'io- 
lently back, and the Breton girl saw be- 
fore her no longer a lover, but a wild 
beast in all the savagery of its nature. 
The Chouan's eyebrows were fiercelj^ con- 
tracted, his lips were drawn back, and 
he showed his teeth like a dog at bay 
in his master's defense. "1 left you a 
flower, and I find you carrion ! Ah ! why 
did we ever part ? You have come to 
betray us — to dehver up the Gars ! " 

His v/ords were rather bellowings than 
articulate speech. But though Francine 
was in terror at this last reproach, she 
summoned courage to look at his fierce 
face, raised eyes as of an angel to his, 
and answered calmly : " I will stake my 
salvation that that is false. These are 
the notions of your ladj'^ there ! " 

He lowered his e3^es in turn. Then she 
took his hand, turned toward him with 
a caressing movement, and said : "■ Pierre, 
what have we to do with all this ? Listen 



106 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



to me : I cannot tell how 3^011 can under- 
stand anji^hing- of it, for I understand 
nothing- ! But remember that this fair 
and noble young- lady is my benefactress, 
that she is yours too, and that we live 
like two sisters. No harm must ever 
happen to her when we are by, at least 
in our life-time. Swear to me that it 
shall be so. I have no one here to trust 
to but you ! " 

" I am not master here ! " replied the 
Chouan, sulkily, and his face darkened. 
She took hold of his great flapping- ears 
and twisted them g-ently, as if she was 
playing with a cat. 

^'Well," said she, seeing- him look less 
stern, " promise me that you will use 
all the power j^ou have in the service of 
our benefactress." 

He shook his head, as if doubtful of 
success, and the g-esture made the Breton 
girl shudder. At this critical moment 
the escort reached the causewa.y. The 
tramp of the soldiers and the rattle 
of their arms woke the echoes of the 
courtyard, and seemed to decide Marche- 
a-Terre. 

"I will save her — perhaps," he said to 
his mistress, ''if you can manage to 
make her stay in the house ; " and he 
added, " Stay you by her there, and 
observe the deepest silence ; if not, I 
answer for nothing ! " 

" I promise," she answered in her 
affright. 

" Well, then, go in. Go in at once, 
and hide your fear from everybody, 
even your mistress." 

"Yes." 

She pressed the hand of the Chouan, 
who looked at her with a fatherly air 
while she flitted lig-htly as a bird to the 
entrance steps. Then he plunged into 
the hedge like an actor who runs into 
the wing-s when the curtain rises on a 
tragedy. 

" Do you know. Merle, that this place 
looks to me just like a mousetrap ! " 
said Gerard, as he reached the chateau. 

"1 see it myself," said the captain, 
thoughtfully. 

The two officers made haste to post 
sentries so as to make sure of the g-ate 



and the causeway; then they cast mis- 
trustful looks at the banks and the 
surrounding- landscape. 

''Bah! " said Merle, "we must either 
enter this old barrack with confidence 
or not g-o in at all." 

" Let us g-o in," said Gerard. 

The soldiers, dismissed from the ranks 
\)j a word of their leaders, quickly stacked 
their muskets and pitched the colors in 
front of the bed of straw, in the midst 
whereof appeared the cask of cider. Then 
they broke into groups, and two peasants 
began to serve out butter and rye-bread 
to them. The marquis came to receive 
the two officers, and conducted them to 
the salon ; but when Gerard had mounted 
the steps and had g-azed at the two wing-s 
of the building where the old larches 
spread their black boughs, he called Beau- 
Pied and Clef-des-Coeurs to him, 

" You two are to explore the g-ardens 
between you, and to beat the hedg-es. Do 
3'ou understand ? Then you will post a 
sentry by the stand of colors." 

" May we light our fire before beg-in- 
ning- the hunt, adjutant ?" said Clef-des- 
Coeurs ; and Gerard nodded. 

"Look you, Clef-des-Coeurs," said Beau- 
Pied, "the adjutant is wrong to run his 
head into this wasp's-nest. If Hulot was 
in command he would never have jammed 
himself up. We are in a kind of stew- 
pan ! " 

"You are a donkey," replied Clef-des- 
Coeurs. " Why, can't you, the king of 
all sly fellows, guess that this watch-box 
is the chateau of that amiable young- lady 
after whom our merrj^ Merle, the most 
accomplished of captains, is whistling ? 
He will marry her ; that is as clear as a 
well-polished bayonet. She will do the 
demi-brigade credit, a woman like that ! " 

"True," said Beau-Pied; "and you 
mig-ht add that this cider is g-ood. But 
I can't drink in comfort in front of these 
beastty hedg-es. I seem to be always see- 
ing before me Larose and Vieux-Chapeau 
as they tumbled into the ditch on the 
Pilgrim. I shall remember poor Larose's 
pig-tail all my life. It wagg-ed like a 
knocker on a street door." 

"Beau-Pied, my friend, you have too 



THE CHOUANS. 



107 



much imagination for a soldier. You 
ought to make song-s at the National In- 
stitute." 

**If I have too much imagination/'' re- 
plied Beau-Pied, "you have got none. It 
will he some time before they make you 
consul ! " 

A laugh from the soldiers put an end 
to the conversation, for Clef-des-Coeurs 
found he had no cartridge in his box as 
an answer to his adversary. 

" Are you going to make your rounds ? 
I will take the right hand," said Beau- 
Pied. 

''All right, I wiU take the left," an- 
swered his comrade ; "but wait a minute 
first. I want to drink a glass of cider ; 
my throat is gummed up like the stick- 
ing-plaster on Hulot's best hat." 

Now, the left-hand side of the garden, 
which Clef-des-Coeurs thus neglected to 
explore at once, was unluckily that very 
dangerous banlc where Francine had seen 
men moving. All is chance in war. 

As Gerard entered the salon and bowed 
to the company, he cast a penetrating 
glance on the men of whom that eompan3^ 
was composed. His suspicions returned 
upon his mind with greater strength than 
ever ; he suddenly went to Mademoiselle 
de Verneuil, and said to her in a low tone, 
"I think 3'ou had better withdraw quick- 
\y ; we are not safe here." 

" Are 3'ou afraid of an^'thing in my 
house?" she asked, laughing. "You 
are safer here than 30U would be at 
Mayenne." 

A woman always answers confidently 
for her lover ; and the two officers were 
less anxious. 

The companj^ immediately went into 
the dining-room, in spite of some casual 
mention of a somewhat important guest 
who was late. Mademoiselle de Verneuil 
was able, thanks to the usual silence at 
the beginning of dinner, to bestow some 
attention on this assembly, which in its 
actual circumstances was curious enough, 
and of which she was in a manner the 
cause, in virtue of the ignorance which 
women, who are accustomed to take 
nothing seriously, carr}- into the most 
critical incidents of life. One fact sud- 



denly struck her — that the two Repub- 
lican officers dominated the whole com- 
pany by the imposing character of their 
countenances. Their long hair drawn 
back from the temples, and clubbed in 
a huge pigtail behind the neck, gave to 
their foreheads the pure and noble out- 
line which so adorns youthful heads. 
Their threadbare blue uniforms, with the 
worn red facings, even their epaulets, 
flung back in marching, and showing (as 
they were wont to do throughout the 
army, even in the case of generals) evi- 
dence of the lack of great-coats, made a 
striking contrast between these martial 
figures and the company in which they 
were. 

" Ah ! there is the nation, there is lib- 
erty ! " thought she; then, glancing at 
the Royalists, ' ' and there is a single man, 
a king, and privilege ! " 

She could not help admiring the figure 
of Merle, so exactly did the lively soldier 
answer to the tj^pe of the French warrior 
who can whistle an air in the midst of 
bullets, and who never forgets to pass a 
joke on the comrade who makes a blun- 
der. Gerard, on the other hand, had a 
commanding presence, grave and cool. 
He seemed to possess one of those trul^"^ 
Republican souls who at the time thronged 
the French armies, and, inspiring them 
with a spirit of devotion as noble as it was 
unobtrusive, impressed on them a charac- 
ter of hitherto unknown energy-. 

" There is one of those wiio take long 
views," said Mademoiselle de Verneuil; 
"they take their stand on the present, 
and dominate it ; they destroy the past, 
but it is for the good of the future." 

The thought saddened her, because it 
did not apply to her lover, toward whom 
she turned, that she might avenge herself 
by a fresh feeling of admiration on the 
Republic, which she already began to hate. 
As she saw the marquis surrounded by 
men, bold enough, fanatical enough, and 
gifted with sufficient power of speculating 
on the future, to attack a vigorous Re- 
public, in the hope of restoring a dead 
monarchy, a religion laid under interdict, 
princes errant, and privileges out of date, 
she thought, " He at least looks as far as 



108 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



the other, for, amid the ruins where he 
ensconces himself, he is striving to make 
a future out of the past." 

Her mind, feeding- full on fancies, wav- 
ered between the new Tuins and the old. 
Her conscience indeed warned her one 
man was fighting* for a single individual, 
the other for his country ; but that senti- 
ment had carried her to the same point 
at which others arrive by a process of 
-reasoning — to the acknowledgment that 
the king is the country. 

The marquis, hearing the step of a man 
in the salon, rose to go and meet him. 
He recognized the belated guest, who, 
surprised at his compan3^, was about to' 
speak. But the Gars hid from the Re- 
publicans the sign w^hich he made desir- 
ing- the new-comer to be silent and join 
the feast. As the two ofQcers studied 
the countenances of their hosts, the sus- 
picions which they had first entertained 
revived. The Abbe Gudin's priestly garb 
and the eccentricity of the Chouans' attire, 
alarmed their prudence ; they became 
more Avatchful than ever, and soon made 
out some amusing contrasts between the 
behavior and the language of the guests. 
While the Republicanism which some 
show^ed was exaggerated, the waj's of 
others were aristocratic in the extreme. 
Some glances which they caught passing 
between the marquis and his guests, 
some phrases of double meaning indis- 
creetl}'- uttered, and, most of all, the full 
round beards which adorned the throats 
of several guests, and which were hidden 
awkwardly enough by their cravats, at 
last told the two officers a truth which 
struck both at the same moment. They 
communicated their common thought to 
each other by a single interchange of 
looks ; for Madame du Gua had dex- 
terously divided them, and they were 
confined to e3'e-language. Their situa- 
tion made it imperative tliat they should 
behave warily, for they knew^ not whether 
they were masters of the chateau or had 
fallen into an ambuscade — whether Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil was the dupe or the 
accomplice of tliis puzzling adventure. 

But an unforeseen event hastened the 
catastrophe before they had had time to 



estimate its full gravity. The new guest 
was one of those high-complexioned per- 
sons, squarely built throughout, who lean 
back as the}'' walk, who seem to make a 
commotion in the air around them, and 
who think that every one will take more 
looks than one as they pass. Despite his 
rank, he had taken life as a joke which 
one must make the best of ; but though 
a worshiper of self, he was good-natured, 
polite, and intelligent enough after the 
fashion of those country g'entlemen who, 
having finished their education at court, 
return to their estates, and will not admit 
the idea that they can even in a score of 
years have grown rust^^ there. Such men 
make a grave blunder with perfect self- 
possession, say silly things in a w-ittj'' 
way, distrust good fortune with a great 
deal of shrewdness, and take extraordi- 
nary pains to get themselves into a mess. 
When, by pl^dng knife and fork in the 
style of a good trencherman, he had 
made up for lost time, he cast his eyes 
over the company. His astonishment was 
redoubled as he saw the two officers, and 
he directed a questioning glance at Ma- 
dame du Gua, who by way of sole reply 
pointed Mademoiselle do Verneuil out to 
him. When he saw the enchantress 
w'hose beauty was already beginning to 
stifle the feelings which Madame du Gua 
had excited in the company's minds, the 
portly stranger let slip one of those in- 
solent and mocking smiles which seem 
to contain the whole of an equivocal story. 
He leaned toward his neighbor's ear, 
saying two or three words, and these 
words, which remained a secret for the 
officers and Marie, journeyed from ear 
to ear, from lip to lip, till they reached 
the heart of him on whom they were to 
inflict a mortal wound. The Vendean 
and Chouan chiefs turned their glances 
with merciless curiosity on the Marquis 
of Montauran, while those of Madame du 
Gua, flashing with joy, traveled from the 
marquis to the astonished Mademoiselle 
de Verneuil. The officers interrogated 
each other anxiously but mutely, as they 
w^aited for the end of this strange scene. 
Then, in a moment, the forks ceased to 
play in every hand, silence reigned in the 



THE CHOUANS. 



109 



hall, and all eyes were concentrated on 
the Gars. A frig-htful burst of rag-e 
flushed his face with ang-er, and then 
bleached it to the color of wax. The 
young chief turned to the g-uost from 
whom this train of slow match had 
started, and said in a voice that seemed 
muffled in crape : 

" Death of my life ! Count, is that 
true ? " 

^' On my honor," said the count, bow- 
ing gravely. 

The marquis dropped his eyes for a 
moment, and then, raising them quickly, 
directed them at Marie, who viias watch- 
ing- the struggle, and received a deadly 
g-lance. 

"1 would g"ive my life," said he in a 
low tone, " for instant vengeance ! " 
' The mere movement of his lips inter- 
preted this phrase to Madame du Gua, 
and she smiled on the young man as one 
smiles at a friend whose misery will soon 
be over. The scorn for Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil which was depicted on qxqyj 
face put the finishing touch to the wrath 
of the two Republicans, who rose ab- 
ruptly. 

'^ What do you desire, citizens ? " asked 
Madame du Gua. 

" Our swords, citizeness," said Gerard 
with sarcasm. * 

" You do not need them at table," said 
the marquis coldly. 

*' No ; but we are about to pla^^ a game 
which you know," answered Gerard.* 
" We shall have a little closer view of 
each other than we had at the Pilgrim ! " 

The assembly was struck dumb ; but at 
the same moment a volley, discharged 
with a regularity appalling to the offi- 
cers, crashed out in the courtyard. They 
darted to the entrance steps, and thence 
they saw some hundred Chouans taking 
aim at a few soldiers wlio had survived 
tlie first volle3^, and shooting them down 
like hares. The Bretons had come forth 
from the bank where Marche-a-Terre had 
posted them — a post occupied at the peril 

* The text has here en reparaissant, " reappear- 
ing-." It has not beea said that Gerard had left 
the room, nor could he well have done so. The 
words are probably an oversight. 



of their lives, for as they executed their 
movement, and after the last shots died 
away, there was heard above the groans 
of the dying the sound of some Chouans 
falling into the water with the splash of 
stones dropping into an abyss. Pille- 
Miche leveled his piece at Gerard, and 
Marche-a-Terre covered Merle. 

"Ciaptain," said the marquis coolly to 
Merle, repeating the words which the 
Republican had uttered respecting- him- 
self, "you see, men are like medlars, 
they ripen on straiv." And Avith a 
wave of his hand he showed him the 
whole escort of Blues stretched on the 
blood-stained litter, where the Chouans 
were dispatching the living and stripping 
the dead with incredible rapidity. "I 
was right in telling you that your sol- 
diers would not reach the Pilgrim," 
added the marquis; "^also I think your 
head will be full of lead before mine is. 
What say you ? ' ' 

Montauran felt a hideous desire to sate 
his rage, and his irony toward the van- 
quished, the savagery, and even the 
treachery of this military execution, 
which had been carried out without his 
orders, but for which he thus made him- 
self responsible, corresponded with the 
secret wishes of his heart. In his fury he 
would have annihilated France itself, and 
the murdered Blues, with the two officers 
who were still alive, though all were inno- 
cent of the crime for which he was de- 
manding vengeance, were in his hands like 
the cards which a desperate gamester 
tears with his teeth. 

*' I would rather perish thus than tri- 
umph like you ! " said Gerard, and as he 
saw his men lying naked in their blood, 
he cried, " You have foully murdered 
them ! " 

''Yes, sir, as Louis XVI. was mur 
dered," replied the marquis sharply. 

"Sir," replied Gerard haughtily, ''there 
is a mystery in the trial of a king which 
you will never comprehend." 

"What ! bring a king to trial ! " cried 
the mai'quis excitedly. 

" What ! bear arms against France ! " 
retorted Gerard in a tone of disdain. 

" Nonsense ! " said the marquis. 



110 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



" Parricide ! " cried the Republican. 

"Reg-icide ! " returned the other. 

" What ! " said Merle, merrily enoug-h, 
" are you seizing* the moment of your 
death to band}^ arg-uments ? " 

"You sa}'- well," said Gerard, C00II3'", 
turning" once more toward the marquis. 
" Sir, if it is your intention to kill us, do 
us at least the favor to shoot us at once." 

"How like j^ou !" struck in the captain; 
** always in a hurry to have done ! My 
good friend, when a man has a long- 
journey to make, and is not likely to 
breakfast next day, he takes time with 
his supper." 

But Gerard, without a word, walked 
swiftly and proudly to the wall. Pille- 
Miche took aim at him, and seeing- the 
marquis motionless, he took his chief's 
silence for an order, fired, and the adju- 
tant-major fell like a tree. Marche-a- 
Terre ran forward to share this new 
booty with Pille-Miche, and they wran- 
gled and g-rumbled like two hungry ra- 
vens over the still warm corpse. 

"If 3''0U wish to finish your supper, 
captain, you are free to come with me," 
said the marquis to Merle, whom he wished 
to keep for exchange. 

The captain went mechanically into the 
house with the marquis, saying in a low 
tone, as if reproaching- himself, "It is 
that devil of a wench who is the cause 
of this ! What will Hulot say ? " 

"Wench!" said the marquis, with a 
stifled cry ; " then she is really and truly 
a wench ? " 

It might have been thought tliat the 
captain had dealt a mortal blow to Mon- 
tauran, who followed him pale, gloomy, 
disordered, and with tottering steps. 
Meanwhile there had passed in the din- 
ing-room another scene, which in the ab- 
sence of the marquis took so sinister a 
character that Marie, finding herself with- 
out her champion, might reasonably be- 
lieve in the death-warrant she saw in her 
rival's eyes. At the sound of the volley 
every guest had risen save Madame du 
Gua. 

"Do not be alarmed," said she; "'tis 
nothing. Our folk are only killing the 
Blues ! " But as soon as she saw that 



the marquis had left the room, she started 
up. "This j'oung lady here," she cried, 
with the calmness of smothered fury, 
"came to carry off the Gars from us. 
She came to try and give him up to the 
Republic!" 

" Since this morning- I could have given 
him up twenty times over," replied Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil, "and I saved his 
life instead." 

But Madame du Gua dashed at her 
rival like a flash of lightning. In her 
blind excitement she wrenched open the 
flimsy frogs on the spencer of the girl 
(who wa^taken unawares by this sudden 
assault), violated with brutal hand the 
sacred asylum where the letter was hid- 
den, tore the stuff, the trimmings, the 
corset, the chemise, naj^ even made the 
most of this search so as to slake her 
jealous hatred, and so ardently and 
cruelly mauled the panting breast of her 
rival that she left on it the bloody traces 
of her nails, feeling a delight in subject- 
ing her to so vile a profanation. As 
Marie feebh' attempted to withstand the 
furious woman, her hood became unfast- 
ened and fell, her hair burst its bonds and 
rolled down in wavy curls, a modest blush 
glowed on her face, and then two tears 
made their moist and burning way down 
her cheeks, leaving her bright e3'es 
brighter still. In short, the disorder of 
the struggle exposed her shuddering to 
the gaze of the guests, and the most 
callous judges must have believed her 
innocent as they saw her suffer. 

Hatred is so blind that Madame du Gua 
did not notice that no one listened to her, 
as in her triumph she cried out, " See, 
gentlemen ! have I slandered the horrid 
creature ? " 

"Not so very horrid," whispered the 
portly guest who had been the cause of the 
misfortune; "for ray part, I am uncom- 
monly fond of horrid things like that ! " 

"Here," continued the vindictive Ven- 
dean lady, " is an order, signed * Laplace,' 
and countersigned 'Dubois."" At these 
names some persons raised their heads in 
attention. " And this is its tenor," went 
on Madame du Gua : " ' Citizen comman- 
dants of the forces of all ranks, district 



THE CHOU-ANS. 



Ill 



administrators, procurators, syndics, and 
so forth, in the revolted departments, and 
especially' those of the places where the 
ci-devant Marquis de Montauran, hrig-and- 
chief, surnamed the Gars, may be found, 
are to afford succor and help to the citi- 
zeness Marie Verneuil, and to obey any 
orders which she may g-ive them, each m 
such matters as concern him, etc., etc' " 

"To think of an opera girl taking- an 
illustrious name in order to soil it with 
such infamy ! " she added. The companj^ 
showed a movement of surprise. 

"■ The game is not fair if the Republic 
employs such pretty women ag-ainst us ! " 
said the Baron du Guenic, pleasantly. 

"Especially girls who have nothing 
left to stake," rejoined Madame du Gua. 

"Nothing-?" said the Chevalier du 
Vissard. "Wh3% mademoiselle has re- 
sources which must bring- her in a plen- 
teous income ! " 

' ' The Republic must be in verj' merry 
mood to send ladies of pleasure to lay 
traps for us ! " ci-ied Abbe Gudin. 

" But, unluckih^^, mademoiselle looks 
for pleasures which kill," said Madame 
du Gua, with an expression of hideous 
joy, which denoted the end of her jokes. 

"How^ is it, then, that you are still 
alive, madame ? " said the victim, regain- 
ing' her feet after repairing- the disorder 
of her dress. This stinging epigram pro- 
duced some respect for so undaunted a 
martyr, and struck silence on the com- 
pany. Madame du Gua saw flitting- over 
the chief's lips a sarcastic smile which 
maddened her ; and not perceiving- that 
the marquis and the captain had come in, 
"Pille-Miche," she said to the Chouan, 
" take her awaj^ she is vay share of the 
spoil, and I g-ive her to you. Do Avith her 
whatever you like." 

As she spoke the word "whatever," 
the company shuddered, for the frig-htful 
heads of Pille-Miche and Marche-a-Terre 
showed themselves behind the marquis, 
and the meaning- of the intended punish- 
ment appeared in all its horror. 

Francine remained standing-, her hands 
clasped, her eyes streaming, as if thun- 
derstruck. But Mademoiselle de Verneuil, 
who in the face of dang-er recovered all 



her presence of mind, cast a look of dis- 
dain at the assembly, repossessed herself 
of the letter which Madame du Gua held, 
raised her head, and with eyes dry, but 
flashing- fire, darted to the door where 
stood Merle's sword. Here she met the 
marquis, cold and motionless as a statue. 
There was no plea in her favor on, his face 
with its fixed and rigid features. Struck 
to the heart, she felt life become hateful. 

So, then, the man who had shown her 
such affection had just listened to the jeers 
which had been heaped upon her, and had 
remained an unmoved witness of the out- 
rage she had suffered when those beauties 
which a woman keeps as the privilege of 
love had been subjected to the common 
g-aze. She might perhaps have pardoned 
Montauran for his contemptuous feelings; 
she was indig-nant at having- been seen by 
him in a posture of disgrace. She darted 
at him a glance full of half-irrational 
hatred, and felt terrible desires of ven- 
g-eance springing- up in her heart. With 
death dog-ging her steps, her impotence 
choked her. As it were a whirlwind of 
madness rose to her brain, her boiling- 
blood made her see everything around in 
the glare of a conflagration ; and then, 
instead of killing- herself, she seized the 
sword, flourished it at the marquis, and 
drove it on him up to the hilt. But the 
blade slipped bet^.reen his arm and his 
side ; the Gars caught Marie b}^ the wrist 
and dragged her from the room, assisted 
by Pille-Miche, who threw himself on the 
mad woman at the moment when she tried 
to kill the marquis. At this spectacle 
Francine uttered piercing- cries. " Pierre ! 
Pierre! Pierre !" she shrieked in piteous 
tones, and as she cried she followed her 
mistress. 

The marquis left the company to its 
astonishment, and went forth, shutting 
the door after him. When he reached 
the entrance steps ^he was still holding- 
the girl's wrist and clutching it convul- 
sivel}^, while the nervous hands of Pille- 
Miche nearl3^ crushed the bones of her 
arm ; but she felt only the burning g-rasp 
of the young- chief, at whom she directed 
a cold g-aze. 

"Sir," she said, "you hurt me." 



112 



THE HUMAN COMEDY 



But the only answer of the marquis 
was to stare for a moment at her. 

•'Have you, then, something' to take 
base vengeance for, as well as that 
woman ? "' she said ; and then seeing- the 
corpses stretched on the straw, she cried 
with a sudder, " The faith of a gentle- 
man ! ha ! ha ! ha ! " and after this 
burst of hideous laughter, she added, ''A 
happy day ! " 

"Yes, a happy one," he answered, 
"and one without a morrow ! " 

He dropped Mademoiselle de Verneuil's 
hand, after gazing* with a long", last look 
at the exquisite creature whom he could 
hardl}' bring himself to renounce. Neither 
of these lofty spirits would bend. The 
marquis perhaps expected tears ; but the 
g-irl's eyes remained proudl}'^ dry. He 
turned bruskly away, leaving Pille-Miche 
his victim. 

" Marquis ! " she said, " God will hear 
me, and I shall praj'- Him to g-ive you a 
happy day without a morrow ! " 

Pille-Miche, who was somewhat em- 
barrassed with so fair a prey, drew her 
off gently, and with a mixture of respect 
and contempt. The marquis sighed, re- 
turned to the chamber, and showed his 
g-uests the face as of a dead man whose 
eyes have not been closed. 

That Captain Merle should still be there 
was unintelligible to the actors in this 
tragedy ; and they all looked at him with 
surprise, their looks questioning- each 
other. Merle observed the Chouans' as- 
tonishment, and still keeping up his part, 
he said to them, with a forced smile : 

" I hardly think, gentlemen, that you 
will refuse a g-lass of wine to a man who 
is about to take his last journe3^" At 
the very- same minute at which these 
words were spoken, with a Gallic g-ayety 
which ought to have pleased the Ven- 
deans, Montauran reappeared, and his 
pale face and glazed ej^es chilled all the 
gnests. 

"You shall see," said the captain, 
" that the dead man will set the living- 
ones g-oing." 

"Ah!" said the marquis, with the 
g-esture of a man suddenly awakening-, 
" you are there, my dear court-martial ? " 



And he handed him a bottle of vin de 
grave as if to fill his glass. 

" Ah ! no, thanks, citizen marquis. I 
might lose my head, you see." 

At this sallj^ Madame du Gua said to 
the g-uests, smiling : 

" Come, let us excuse him the dessert." 

" You are ver^' severe in your revenge, 
madame," said the captain. "You for- 
g-et my murdered friend, who is waiting" 
for me. I bide tryst." 

" Captain," said the marquis, throwing- 
his g-love to him, "you are a free man. 
There, that will be your passport. The 
King-'s Huntsmen know that one must not 
kill down all the g-ame." 

"Life, by all means ! " answered Merle. 
"But you are wrong-. I give you my 
word that I shall plaj' the game strictly 
with you. You will g-et no quarter from 
me. Clever as you may be, you are not 
Gerard's equal, and thoug-h 3" our head 
will never make amends to me for his, I 
must have it, and I will have it." 

"Whj^was he in such a hurry?" re- 
torted the marquis. 

" FarcAvell ! I could have drunk with 
my owm executioners, but 1 cannot stay 
with the murderers of my friend," said 
the captain, disappearing, and leaving- 
the guests in astonishment. 

"Well, g-entlemen, what do 3'ou sixy 
now of the aldermen, the doctors, the 
lawyers, who govern the Republic ? " said 
the Gars coolly. 

" God's death ! marquis," answered 
the Count de Bauvan, "whatever you 
ma}'- say, they are very ill-mannered. It 
seems to me that that fellow insulted 
us." 

But the captain's sudden retirement 
had a hidden motive. The girl who had 
been the subject of so much contumeh'' 
and humiliation, and who perhaps was 
falling a victim at the very moment, had, 
during the scene, shown him beauties so 
difficult to forget, that he said to himself 
as he went out : ' 

" If she is a wench, she is no common 
one ; and I can do with her as a wife." 

He doubted so little his ability to save 
her from these savages that his first 
thought after receiving- his own life had 



THE CHOUANS. 



113 



been to take her forthwith under his pro- 
tection. Unluckil\% when he arrived at 
the entrance, the captain found the court- 
yard deserted. He looked around him, 
listened in silence, and heard nothing- but 
the far-off laughter of the Chouans, who 
were drinking- in the gardens while shar- 
ing their booty. He ventured to look 
round the fatal wing in front of which 
his men had been shot down, and from 
the cot-ner, by the feeble light of a few 
candles, he could distinguish the various 
groups of the King's Huntsmen. Neither 
Pille-Miche nor Marche-a-Terre nor the 
young lady was there ; but at the same 
moment he felt the skirt of his coat 
gently pulled, and turning, he saw Fran- 
cine on her knees. 

"Where is she?" said he. 

''I do not know. Pierre drove me 
away, telling me not to stir." 

" Which way have they gone ? " 

''That way," said she, pointing to the 
causeway. The captain and Francine 
then saw in this direction certain sha- 
dows thrown b}^ the moonlight on the 
waters of the lake, and they recognized 
feminine outlines whose elegance, indis- 
tinct as they were, made both their 
hearts beat. 

''Oh, it is she ! " said the Breton girl. 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil appeared to 
be quietly standing in the midst of a 
group whose attitudes indicated discus- 
sion. 

" Thej'' are more than one ! " cried the 
captain. "Never mind ; let us go." • 

" You will get yourself killed to no 
profit," said Francine. 

•'I have died once to-da^'" already," 
answered he lightlj''. And both bent 
their steps toward the dark gateway 
behind which the scene was passing. In 
the midst of the way Francine halted. 

" No ! I will go no farther ! " said she 
gently. " Pierre told mc not to meddle. 
I know him ; and we shall spoil all. Do 
what you like, Mr. Officer, but pray de- 
part. If Pierre were to see you with me, 
he would kill you." 

At that moment Pille-Miche showed 
himself outside the gate, sav/ the cap- 
tain, and cried, leveling his gun at him : 



" Saint Anne of Auray ! the rector of 
Antrain was right when he said that the 
Blues made bargains with the devil ! 
Wait a bit ; I will teach you to come 
alive again, I will ! " 

" Ah ! but I have had my life given 
me," cried Merle, seeing the threat. 
"Here is your chief's glove." 

"Yes ! that is just like a ghost ! " re- 
torted the Chouan. "/ won't give you 
your life. Ave Maria !'^ 

He fired, and the bullet hit the captain 
in the head and di'opped him. When 
Francine drew near Merle she heard him 
murmur these words : "I had rather stay 
with them than return without them I " 

The Chouan plunged on the Blue to 
strip him, saying : " The good thing 
about these ghosts is that fhej come 
alive again with their clothes on." But 
when he saw, after the capta in 's gesture 
of showing the chief's glove, this sacred 
passport in his hand, he stood dum- 
founded. "I would I were not in the 
skin of my mother's son ! " he cried, and 
vanished with the speed of a bird. 

To understand this meeting, which 
proved so fatal to the captain, it is neces- 
sary to follow Mademoiselle de Verneuil. 
When the marquis, overcome with de- 
spair and rage, abandoned her to Pille- 
Miche, at that moment Francine convul- 
sively caught Marche-a-Terre 's arm, and 
reminded him with tears in her eyes of 
the promise he had made her. A few 
paces from them, Pille-Miche was drag- 
ging off his victim, just as he would have 
hauled after him any worthless burden. 
Marie, with streaming hair and bowed 
head, turned her e^'es toward the lake ; 
but, held back b^^ a grasp of steel, she 
was obliged slowly to follow the Chouan, 
who turned more than once either to look 
at her or to hasten her steps, and at each 
turn some festive thought sketched on 
his face a horrible smile. 

"Isn't she smart ? ^Wie cried, with 
clums}' emphasis. 

As she heard these words, Francine 
recovered her speech. 

" Pierre ! " she said. 

"Well?" 

"Is he going to kill mademoiselle ? " 



114 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



"Not at once," answered Marclie-a- 
Terre. 

'^'^But she will not take it quietly, and 
if she dies, I will die ! " 

"^Ah! very well — you are too fond of 
her. Let her die ! " said Marche-a-Terre. 

*' If we are ever rich and happy, it is to 
her that we shall owe our happiness. But 
what does that matter ? Did you not 
promise to save her from all evil ? " 

" I will try ; but stay you there, and do 
not budge." 

Marche-a-Terre's arm was at once re- 
leased, and Francine, a prey to the most 
terrible anxiety, waited in the court^'ard. 
March^-a-Terre rejoined his comrade at 
the moment when Pille-Miche had entered 
the barn and had forced his victim to g-et 
into the carriag-e. He now demanded the 
help of his mate to run it out. 

"What are .you going- to do with all 
this ? " asked Marche-a-Terre. 

"Well, the Grande-Garce has given 
me the woman ; and all she has is 
mine." 

" That is all very well as to the car- 
riage — you will make some money of it ; 
but the woman will scratch your eyes 
out." 

Pille-Miche laughed loudly, and replied : 

"Why,* I shall carry her to my place, 
and tie her hands." 

"Well, then, let us put the horses to," 
said Marche-a-Terre ; and a moment later, 
leaving his comrade to guard the prey, he 
brought the carriage out of the door on 
to the causeway. Pille-Miche got in by 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil, but did not 
notice that she was gathering herself up 
for a spring into the lake. 

"Hullo! Pille-Miche," cried Marche-a- 
Terre, suddenl}". 

"What?" 

"I will buy your whole booty from 
you." 

" Are you joking? " asked the Chouan, 
pulling his prisoner toward him by her 



* Balzac has put some jargon in Pille-Miche's 
mouth. He is said to have written "Les Chouans" 
on the spot ; but quien, itou, etc., are not, I 
think, Breton, and are suspiciously identical with 
the words in the famous patois-scenes in Moliere's 
"Don Juan." 



skirts as a butcher might pull a calf try- 
ing to escape. 

"Let me see her : I will make you a 
bid." 

The unhapp3" girl was obliged to alight, 
and stood between the two Chouans, each 
of whom held her by a hand, staring at 
her as the elders must have stared at Su- 
sanna in her bath. 

"Will you take," said Marche-a-Terre, 
heaving a sigh, " will you take thirty good 
livres a year ? " 

" You mean it ? " 

"Done!" said Marche-a-Terre, hold- 
ing out his hand. 

"And done ! There is plenty in that 
to get Breton girls with, and smart ones, 
too ! But whose is the carriage to be? " 
said Pille-Miche, thinking better of it. 

" Mine ! " said Marche-a-Terre, in a ter- 
rific tone of voice, exhibiting the kind of 
superiority over all his mates which was 
given him by his ferocious character. 

" But suppose there is gold in the car- 
riage ? " 

" Did you not say ' Done ' ? " 

"Yes, I did." 

" Well, then, go and fetch the postilion 
who lies bound in the stable," 

" But suppose there is gold in — " 

"Is there?" asked Marche-a-Terre 
roughl}' of Marie, jogging her arm. 

" I have about a hundred crowns," 
answered Mademoiselle de Verneuil. 

At these words the two Chouans ex- 
changed looks. 

"Come, good friend, let us not quarrel 
about a Blue girl," whispered Pille-Miche 
to Marche-a-Terre. " Let us tip her into 
the pond with a stone round her neck, and 
share the hundred crowns ! " 

"' I will give 3^ou them out of m^' share 
of D'Orgemont's ransom," cried Marche- 
a-Terre, choking down a grow^l caused by 
this sacrifice. 

Pille-Miche, with a hoarse cry of joy, 
went to fetch the postilion, and his alac- 
rity brought bad luck to the captain, who 
met him. When Marche-a-Terre heard 
the shot, he rushed quickly to the spot, 
where Francine, still aghast, was praying 
b3" the captain's body, on her knees and 
with clasped hands, so much terror had 



THE CHOUANS. 



115 



the sight of the murder struck into 
her. 

"Run to 3-our mistress," said the Chou- 
an to her abruptly ; " she is saved."' 

He himself hastened to fetch the pos- 
tilion, returned with the speed of light- 
ning-, and, as he passed again by the body 
of Merle, caught sight of the Gars' glove 
still clutched convulsively in the dead 
man's hand. 

"O ho!" cried he, " Pille-Miche has 
struck a foul blow there ! He is not sure 
of living- on his annuity!" He tore the 
glove away, and said to Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil, who had already taken her 
place in the coach b}'^ Francine's side, 
" Here ! take this glove. If any one at- 
tacks you on the way, cry ' Oh ! the 
Gars ! ' show this passport, and no harm 
will happen to 3'ou. Francine," he add- 
ed, turning to her and pressing her hand 
hard, "^we are quits with this woman. 
Come with me, and let the devil take 
her ! " 

"You would have me abandon her now?^^ 
answered Francine, in a sorrowful tone. 

Marche-a-Terre scratched his ear and 
his brow ; then lifted his head with a sav- 
age look in his eyes. 

"You are right!" he said. "1 will 
leave 3'ou to her for a week. If after 
that you do not come with me—" He 
did not finish his sentence, but clapped 
his palm fiercely on the muzzle of his 
rifle, and after taking aim at his mistress 
in pantomime, he made off without wait- 
ing for a reply. 

The Chouan had no sooner gone than a 
voice, which seemed to come from the 
pond, cried in a low tone, "Madame! 
madame ! " The postilion and the two 
women shuddered with horror, for some 
corpses had floated up to the spot. But 
a Blue, who had been hidden behind a 
tree, showed himself. 

" Let me get up on your coach-box, or 
I am a dead man," said he. "That 
damned glass of cider that Clef-des- 
Coeurs would drink has cost more than 
one pint of blood ! If he had done hke 
me, and made his rounds, our poor fel- 
lows would not be there floating like 
barges." 



While these things went on without, the 
chiefs who had been delegated from La 
Vendee, and those of the Chouans, were 
consulting, glass in hand, under the presi- 
dency of the Marquis of Montauran. The 
discussion, which was enlivened b}^ fre- 
quent libations of Bordeaux, became of 
serious importance toward the end of the 
meal. At dessert, when a common plcui 
of operations had been arranged, the 
Ro3'alists drank to the health of the 
Bourbons ; and just then Pille-Miche's 
shot gave, as it were, an echo of the 
ruinous war which these gay and noble 
conspirators wished to make on the Re- 
public. Madame du Gua started ; and 
at the motion, caused by her delight at 
thinking herself relieved of her rival, the 
company looked at each other in silence, 
while the marquis rose from table and 
went out. 

"After all, he was fond of her," said 
Madame du Gua sarcasticalh^ " Go and 
keep him company, Monsieur de Fontaine. 
He will bore us to extinction if we leave 
him to his blue devils." 

She went to the window looking on 
the courtyard to try to see the corpse of 
Marie, and from this point she was able 
to descry, by the last rays of the setting 
moon, the coach ascending the avenue 
with incredible speed, while the veil of 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil, blown out by 
the wind, floated from within it. Seeing 
this, Madame du Gua left the meeting in 
a rage. The marquis, leaning on the en- 
trance balustrade, and plunged in somber 
thought, was gazing at about a hundred 
and fifty Chouans, who, having- concluded 
the partition of the booty in the gardens, 
had come back to finish the bread and 
the cask of cider promised to the Blues. 
These soldiers (new style), on whom the 
hopes of the Monarchy rested, were drink- 
ing in knots ; while on the bank which 
faced the entrance seven or eight of them 
amused themselves with tying stones to 
the corpses of the Blues, and throwing 
them into the water. This spectacle, 
added to the various pictures made up 
by the strange costume and savage phy- 
siognomies of the reckless and barbarous 
gars, was so singular and so novel to 



116 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



Monsieur de Fontaine, who had had be- 
fore him in the Vendean troops some ap- 
proach to nobility and discipline, that he 
seized the occasion to sa^' to the Marquis 
of Montauran : 

"■ What do you hope to make of brutes 
like these ? " 

"Nothing much you think, my clear 
count? " answered the Gars. 

" Will they ever be able to maneuver 
in face of the Republicans ? " 

^' Never!" 

" Will they be able even to comprehend 
and carry out your orders? " 

"Never! " 

"Then, what good will they do jovl ? " 

" The good of enabling me to stab the 
Republic to the heart ! " answered the 
marquis in a voice of thunder. " The 
good of giving me Fougeres in three da^^s, 
and all Brittany in ten! Come, sir!" 
he continued, in a milder tone ; "' go 3'ou 
to La Vendee. Let D'Autichamp, Suzan- 
net, the Abbe Bernier, make only as much 
haste as I do ; let them not treat with the 
First Consul, as some would have me fear; 
and," he squeezed the Vendean's hand 
hard, "in twenty days we shall be within 
thirty leagues of Paris ! " 

"' But the Republic is sending against us 
sixty thousand men and General Brune !" 

" What, sixt}' thousand, really ? " said 
the marquis with a mocking laugh . ' ' And 
what will Bonaparte make the Italian 
campaign with ? As for General Brune, 
he is not coming. Bonaparte has sent 
him against the English in Holland ; and 
General Hedouville, the friend of our friend 
Barras, takes his place here. Do j^ou 
understand me ? " 

When he heard the marquis speak thus, 
Monsieur de Fontaine looked at him with 
an arch and meaning air, which seemed 
to reproach with not himself understand- 
ing the hidden sense of the words ad- 
dressed to him. The two gentlemen from 
this moment understood each other per- 
fectly ; but the young chief answered the 
thoughts thus expressed by looks with an 
indefinable smile. 

" Monsieur de Fontaine, do you know 
my arms ? Our motto is, Persevere unto 
death." 



The count took Montauran's hand, and 
pressed it, saying: " I was left for dead 
at the Four- Ways, so you are not likely 
to doubt me. But believe my experience ; 
times are changed." 

"They are, indeed," said La Billar- 
diere, who joined them ; ' ' you are young, 
marquis. Listen to me. Not all your 
estates have been sold — " 

" Ah ! can you conceive devotion with- 
out sacrifice ? " said Montauran. 

" Do j'^ou know the king well ? " said 
La Billardiere. 

"I do." 

" Then, I admire you." 

" King and priest are one ! " answered 
the young chief, "' and I fight for the 
faith ! " 

They parted, the Vendean convinced of 
the necessity of letting events take their 
course, and keeping his beliefs in his 
heart ; La Billardiere to return to Eng- 
land, Montauran to fight desperately, and 
to force the Vendeans, bj^ the successes of 
which he dreamed, to join his enterprises. 

The course of events had agitated Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil's soul with so many 
emotions that she dropped exhausted, 
and as it were dead, in the corner of the 
carriage, after giving the order to drive 
to Fougeres. Francine imitated her mis- 
tress's silence, and the postilion, who was 
in dread of some new adventure, made 
the best of his way to the high road, and 
soon reached the summit of the Pilgrim. 
Then Marie de Verneuil crossed in the 
dense white fog of early, morning the 
beautiful and spacious valley of the 
Couesnon, where our story began, and 
liardly noticed from the top of the hill 
the schistous rock whereon is built the 
town of Fougeres, from wliich the trav- 
elers were still some two leagues distant. 
Herself perished with cold, she thought 
of the poor soldier who was behind the 
carriage, and insisted, despite his refusals, 
on his taking the place next Francine. 
The sight of Fougeres drew her for a 
moment from her reverie ; and besides, 
since the guard at the gate of Saint 
Leonard refused to allow unknown per- 
sons to enter the town, she was obliged 
to produce her letter from the Govern- 



THE CHOUAXS. 



117 



ment. She found herself safe from all 
hostile attempts when she had entered 
the fortress, of which, at the moment, 
its inhabitants formed the sole g-arrison ; 
hut the postilion could find her no better 
resting-place than the auberge de la 
Poste. 

'•'Madame," said the Blue whom she 
had rescued, "if you ever want a saber 
cut administered to anj'^ person, my life 
is yours. I am good at that. M}^ name 
is Jean Faucon, called Beau-Pied, ser- 
geant in the first company of Hulot's 
boys, the seventy-second demi-brig-ade, 
surnamed the Mayengaise. Excuse my 
presumption, but I can only offer you a 
serg-eant's life, since, for the moment, 
I have nothing else to put at your ser- 
vice." He turned on his heel and went 
his way, whistling-. 

"The lower one goes in society," said 
Marie bitterly, "the less of ostentation 
one finds, and the more of generous senti- 
ment : a marquis returns me death for 
life ; a serg-eant — but there, enough of 
this ! " 

When the beautiful Parisian had be- 
stowed herself in a well-warmed bed, her 
faithful Francine expected, in vain, her 
usual affectionate g-ood-night ; but her 
mistress, seeing her uneasy, and still 
standing, made her a sign, full of sad- 
ness : 

' " They call that a day, Francine ! " 
she said. "I am ten years older." 

Next morning", as she was g-etting up, 
Corentin presented himself to call upon 
Marie, who permitted him to enter, say- 
ing to Francine : " My misfortune must 
be immense ; for I can even put up with 
the sig-ht of Corentin." 

Nevertheless, when she saw the man 
once more, she felt for the thousandth 
time the instinctive repugnance which 
two years' acquaintance had not been 
able to check. 

"Well?" said he, with a smile; "I 
thought 3''ou were going to succeed. Was 
it not he whom you had g-ot hold of ? " 

"Corentin," she said slowly, with a 
pained expression, " saj'' nothing- to me 
about this matter till I speak of it m}'- 
self." 



He walked up and down the room, cast- 
ing- sidelong looks at Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil, and trying- to divine the secret 
thoughts of this singular girl, whose 
g-lance was of force enough to disconcert, 
at times, the cleverest men. " I foresaw 
your defeat," he went on, after a min- 
ute's silence. "If it pleases you to make 
your headquarters in this town, I have 
already acquainted myself with matters. 
We are in the very heart of Chouanism. 
Will you stay here ? " 

She acquiesced with a nod of the head, 
which enabled Corentin to guess with 
partial truth the events of the night 
before. 

"I have hired you a house which has 
been confiscated, but not sold. They are 
much behindhand in this country, and 
nobody dared to buy the place, because 
it belongs to an emigrant who passes for 
being- ill-tempered. It is near Saint Leo- 
nard's Church, and 'pon honor, there is 
a lovel\' view from it. Something may 
be done with the cabin, which is con- 
venient. Will you come there ? " 

" Immediately," cried she. 

" But I must have a few hours more to 
g-et thing-s clean and in order, so that j'ou 
ma}^ find them to yo\iv taste." 

" What does it matter ? " said she. " I 
could live, without minding- it, in a clois- 
ter or a prison. Nevertheless, pray man- 
ag-e so that I may be able to rest there 
this evening in the most complete solitude. 
There ! leave me. Your presence is intol- 
erable. I wish to be alone with Francine, 
with wlioni I can perhaps g-et on better 
than with myself. Farewell ! Go ! do 
g-o!" 

These words, rapidly spoken, and dashed 
by turns with coquetry, tyrann^^ , and pas- 
sion, showed that she had recovered com- 
plete tranquillity. Sleep had no doubt 
slowly expelled her impressions of the 
day before, and reflection determined her 
on veng-eance. If, now and then, some 
somber thoug-hts pictured themselves on 
her face, they only showed the faculty 
which some women have of burying- the 
most passionate sentiments in their souls, 
and the dissimulation which allows them 
to smile graciously while they calculate 



118 



THE HUMAN COMEDY, 



a victim's doom. She remained alone, 
studying liow she could g-et the marquis 
alive into her hands. For the first time 
she had passed a portion of her life as she 
could have wished ; but nothing- remained 
with her of this episode hut one feeling — 
that of thirst for vengeance, vengeance 
vast and complete. This was her sole 
thought, her single passion. Francine's 
words and attentions found her dumb. 
She seemed to be asleep with her eyes 
open, and the whole long day passed with- 
out her making sign, by a single gesture 
or action, of that outward life which 
reveals our thoughts. She remained 
stretched on an ottoman which she had 
constructed out of chairs and pillows. 
Only at night-time did she let fall, care- 
lessly, the following words, looking at 
Francine as she spoke : 

*' Child, I learned yesterday that one 
may live for nothing but love ; and to- 
day I learn that one may die for nothing 
but vengeance. Yes ! to find him where- 
ever he may be, to meet him once more, 
to seduce him and make him mine, I 
would give my hfe ! But if in the 
course of a few da^^s I do not find, 
stretched at my feet in abject humility, 
this man who has scorned me — if I do 
not make him my slave — I shall be less 
than nothing — I shall be no more a wo- 
man — I shall be no more mj^self ! " 

The house which Corentin had sug- 
gested to Mademoiselle de Verneuil gave 
him opportunity enough to consult the 
girl's inborn taste for luxur^^ and ele- 
gance. He got together everj^thing 
which he knew ought to please her, 
with the eagerness of a lover toward 
his mistress, or better still, with the 
obsequiousness of a man of importance 
who is anxious to ingratiate himself with 
some inferior of whom he has need. Next 
daj'' he came to invite Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil to take up her quarters in these 
improvised lodgings. 

Although she did little or nothing but 
change her uncomfortable ottoman for a 
sofa of antique pattern which Corentin 
had managed to discover for her, the 
fanciful Parisian took possession of the 
bouse as though it had been her own 



propertj^. She showed at once a royal 
indifference for everything, and a sudden 
caprice for quite insignificant objects of 
furniture, which she at once appropriated 
as if they had been old favorites ; traits 
common enough, but still not to be re- 
jected in painting exceptional characters. 
She seemed as though she had already 
been familiar with this abode in dreams, 
and she subsisted on hatred there as she 
might have subsisted in the same place 
on love. 

''At any rate," said she to herself, " I 
have not excited in him a feeUng of the 
pity which is insulting and mortal. I do 
not owe him my life. Oh ! first, sole, and 
last love of mine, what an ending is 
yours ! " Then she made a spring on the 
startled Francine. " Are you in love ? 
Yes ! yes ! I remember that you are. 
Ah ! it is lucky for me that I have beside 
me a woman who can enter into my feel- 
ings. Well, my poor Francine, does not 
man seem to you a horrible creature ? 
Eh ? He said he loved me, and he could 
not stand the feeblest tests. Why, if the 
whole world had repulsed him, my heart 
should have been his refuge ; if the uni- 
verse had accused him, I would have 
taken his part. Once upon a time I saw 
the world before me full of beings who 
went and came, all of them indifferent to 
me; it was melancholy, but not odious. 
Now, what is the world without him ? 
Shall he live without me to be near him, 
to see him, to speak to him, to feel him, 
to hold him — to hold him fast ? Rather 
will 1 butcher him mj'self as he sleeps ! " 

Francine gazed at her in horror and 
silence for a minute. "Kill the man 
whom one loves ? " she said in a low 
voice. 

" Yes, when he loves no longer ! " 

But after this terrible speech she hid 
her face in her hands, sat down, and was 
silent. 

On the next day a man presented him- 
self abruptly before her without being 
announced. His countenance was stern. 
It was Hulot, and Corentin accompanied 
him. She raised her eyes, and .shud- 
dered. 

"Have you come," she said, "to de- 



THE CHOUAXS. 



119 



rnand account of your friends? They 
are dead ! " 

'•' I know it/' answered Hulot ; " but it 
was not in the Republic's service." 

" It was for uiy sake, and by my fault," 
she replied. •' You are about to speak to 
nie of the country. Does the country re- 
store life to those who die for her ? Does 
she even aveng-e them? I shall aveng-e 
these ! " she cried. The- mournful image 
of the catastrophe of ^vhich she had been 
victim had suddenly risen before her, and 
the g-racious creature in whose eyes mod- 
esty was the first artifice of woman strode 
like a maniac with convulsive step toward 
the astonished commandant. 

" In return for these massacred soldiers 
I will bring- to the ax of your scaffolds a 
head worth thousands of heads ! " she 
said. " Women are not often warriors ; 
but old as you are, you may learn some 
tricks of war in my school. I will hand 
over to your baj^onets his ancestors and 
himself, his future and his past. As I 
was kind and true to him, so now I will 
be treachei'ous and false. Yes, comman- 
dant, I will lure this young" noble into my 
embraces, and he shall quit them onl^^ to 
take his death journej'. I will take care 
never to have a rival. The Avretch has 
pronounced his own sentence, ' A day 
without a morrow ! ' We shall both be 
avenged — your Republic and I. Your 
Republic ! " she continued, in a voice 
whose strange variations of tone alarmed 
Hulot. ''But shall the rebel die for hav- 
ing borne arms against his country ? 
Shall France steal my vengeance from 
me ? Nay ; how small a thing is life ! 
One death atones for only one crime. 
Yet, if he has but one life to give, I 
shall have some hours in which to show 
him that he loses more than life. Above 
all, commandant (for you will have the 
killing of him)," and she heaved a sigh, 
*' take care that nothing betrays n\y 
treason, that he dies sure of m.y fidelity ; 
that is all I ask of you. Let him see noth- 
ing but me — me and my endearments !" 

She held her peace ; but, flushed as 
was her face, Hulot and Corentin could 
see that wrath and fury had not entirely 
extinguished modesty. Marie shuddered 



violently as she spoke the last words ; 
they seemed to echo in her ears as if she 
could not believe that she had uttered 
them ; and she gave a naive start, with 
the involuntary gesture of a woman 
whose veil drops. 

''But 3^ou had him in your hands!" 
said Corentin. 

"It is very likely," said she bitterly. 

" Wh}" did 3^ou stop me when I had got 
him ? " asked Hulot. 

••' Eh, commandant ? We did not know 
that it would prove to be he." 

Suddenly the excited woman, who was 
pacing the I'oom hastily, and flinging 
flaming glances at the spectators of the 
storm, became calm. 

"I had forgotten mj^self," she said, in 
a masculine tone. " What is the good of 
talking ? We must go and find him." 

"Go and find him!" said Hulot. 
" Take care, my dear child, to do noth- 
ing of the kind. We are not masters of 
the country districts, and if a'ou venture 
out of the town, you will be kUled or 
taken before you have gone a hundred 
yards." 

"Those who are eager for vengeance 
take no count of danger," she said, dis- 
dainfully dismissing from her presence 
the two men, whose sight struck her with 
shame. 

"What a woman ! " said Hulot, as he 
went out with Corentin. " What a no- 
tion it was of those police fellows in 
Paris ! But she will never give him up 
to us," he added, shaking his head. 

" Oh, yes, she will," replied Corentin. 

"Don't you see that she loves him?" 
rejoined Hulot. 

" That is exactly the reason. Be- 
sides," said Corentin, fixing his eyes on 
the astonished commandant, " I am here 
to prevent her making a fool of herself ; 
for in my opinion, comrade, there is no 
such thing as love worth three hundred 
thousand francs." 

When this diplomatist, who did not lie 
abroad, left the soldier, Hulot gazed after 
him, and as soon as he heard the noise of 
his step no longer, he sighed and said to 
himself : 

" Then it is sometimes a lucky thing 



120 



THE HUMAK COMEDY. 



to be only a fool like me ? — God's thun- 
der ! If I meet the Gars we will fight 
it out hand to hand, or my name is not 
Hulot ; for if that fox there broug-ht him 
before me as judge, now that they have 
set up courts-martial, I should think my 
conscience in as sorry a case as the shirt 
of a recruit who is g-oing" throug-h his bap- 
tism of fire ! " 

The massacre at the Vivetiere, and his 
own eag"erness to avenge his two friends, 
had been as influential in making- Hulot re- 
sume command of his demi-brigade as the 
answer in which a new minister, Berthier, 
iiad assured him that his resignation could 
not be accepted under the circumstances. 
With the ministerial dispatch there had 
come a confidential note, in which, with- 
out informing- him fully of Mademoiselle 
de Verneuil's mission, the minister wrote 
that the incident, which lay quite outside 
warlike operations, need have no obstruc- 
tive effect on them. " The share of the 
military leaders in this matter should be 
limited," said he, '^'to g-iving the honor- 
able citizeness such assistance as oppor- 
tunity afforded." Therefore, as it was 
reported to him that the Chouan move- 
ments indicated a concentration of their 
forces on Fougeres, Hulot had secretly 
brought up, by forced marches, two bat- 
talions of his demi-brigade to this impor- 
tant place. The danger his country ran, 
his hatred of aristocracy, whose partisans 
were threatening a great extent of ground, 
and his private friendship, had combined 
to restore to the old soldier the fire of his 
youth. 

" And this is the life I long-ed to lead ! " 
said Mademoiselle de Verneuil, when she 
found herself alone With Francine. " Be 
the hours as swift as thej^ may, they are 
to me as centuries in thoug-ht." 

Suddenl}'^ she caught Francine's hand, 
and in a tone like that of the robin which 
first gives tongue after a storm, slowly 
uttered these words: "I cannot help it, 
child ; I see always before me those 
charming- lips, that short and gently up- 
turned chin, those eyes full of fire. I 
hear the ' hie-up ' of the postilion. In 
short, I dream ; and why, when I wake, 
is my hatred so strong ? " 



She drew a long sigh, rose, and then for 
the first time bent her eyes on the coun- 
tr^^ which was being- delivered over to 
civil war b}^ the cruel nobleman whom, 
without allies, she designed to attack. 
Enticed by the landscape, she went 
forth to breathe the open air more 
freely, and if her road was chosen by 
chance, it must certainly have been by 
that black magic of our souls which 
makes us g-round our hopes on the ab- 
surd that she was led to the public walks 
of the town. The thoug-hts conceived 
under the influence of this charm not 
seldom come true; but the foresight is 
then set down to the power which men 
call presentiment — a power unexplained 
but real, which the passions find always 
at their service, like a flatterer who, 
amid his falsehoods, sometimes speaks 
the truth. 



III. 



A DAY WITHOUT A MORROW. 

As the concluding- events of this history 
had much to do with the disposition of the 
places in which thej^ occurred, it is indis- 
pensable to describe these places minutely ; 
for otherwise the catastrophe would be 
hard to comprehend. 

The town of Foug-eres is partly seated 
on a schistous rock, which might be 
thought to have fallen forward from the 
hills inclosing the great valley of the 
Couesnon to the west, and called by dif- 
ferent names in different places. In this 
direction the town is separated from these 
hills by a gorg-e, at the bottom of Avhich 
runs a small stream called the Nancon ; 
the eastward side of the rock looks to- 
ward the same landscape which is en- 
joyed from the summit of the Pilg-rim ; 
and the western commands no view Init 
the winding vallej^ of the Nancon. But 
there is a spot whence it is possible to 
take in a segment of the circle made b^'' 
the great valley, as well as the agreeable 
windings of the small one which de- 
bouches into it. This spot, which was 
chosen by the inhabitants for a prome- 



THE CHOUANS. 



121 



nade, and to which Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil was making- her way, was the precise 
stag"e on which the drama beg-un at the 
Yivetiere was to work itself out ; and so, 
picturesque as the other quarters of 
Foug-eres may be, attention must be ex- 
clusivelj'^ devoted to the details of the 
scene which discovers itself from the 
upper part of the promenade. 

In order to g"ive an idea of the appear- 
ance which the rock of Foug-eres has 
when viewed from this side, we may 
compare it to one of those hug-e towers 
round which Saracen architects have 
wound, tier above tier, wide balconies 
connected with others by spiral stair- 
cases. The rock culminates in a Gothic 
church, whose steeple, smaller spirelets, 
and buttresses, almost exactly complete 
the sug-ar-loaf shape. Before the g-ate of 
this church, which is dedicated to Saint 
Leonard, there is a small, irreg-ularl.y 
shaped square, the earth of which is held 
up by a wall thrown into the form of 
a balustrade, and communicating* b}' a 
flight of steps with the public walks. 
This esplanade runs round the rock like 
a second cornice, some fathoms below the 
Square of Saint Leonard, and affords a 
wide, tree-planted space, which abuts on 
the fortifications of the town. Next, 
some score of yards below the walls and 
rocks which support this terrace itself, 
due partly to the chance lie of the schist, 
and partly to patient industry, there is 
a winding" road called the Queen's Stair- 
case, wroug-ht in the rock, and leading- to 
a bridge built over the Nancon by Anne 
of Brittany. Last of all, under this road, 
which holds the place of a third cornice, 
there are gardens descending in terraces 
to the river bank, and resembling the tiers 
of a stage loaded with flowers. 

Parallel to the promenade, certain 
lofty rocks, which take the name of the 
suburb whence they rise, and are called 
the hills of Saint Sulpice, stretch along 
the river and sink in a gentle slope toward 
the great valley, wherein the}' curve 
sharph'- toward the north. These rocks, 
steep, barren, and bare, seem almost to 
touch the schists of the promenade; in 
some places they come within gunshot of 



' the in, and they protect from the north- 
erly winds a narrow valley some hundred 
fathoms deep, where the Nan con, split into 
three arms, waters a meadow studded with 
buildings and pleasantly wooded. 

Toward the south, at the spot where 
the town, properly so called, ends and the 
Faubourg Saint Leonard begins, the rock 
of Fougeres makes a bend, grows less 
scarped, diminishes in height, and winds 
into the great valley, following the course 
of the river, which it thus pushes close to 
the hills of Saint Sulpice, and making a 
narrow pass, whence the water escapes in 
two channels and empties itself into the 
Couesnon. This picturesque group of 
rocky heights is called the Nid-aux-Crocs; 
the glen which it forms is named the 
Valley of Gibarr}^, and its fat meadows 
supply a great part of the butter known 
to epicures under the name of Prevala^'^e 
butter. 

At the spot where the promenade abuts 
on the fortifications there rises a tower 
called the Papegaut's Tower, and on the 
other side of this square building (on the 
summit of which is the house where Made- 
moiselle de "Verneuil was lodged), there 
rises sometimes a stretch of wall, some- 
times the rock itself, when it happens to 
present a sheer face ; and the part of the 
town which is seated on this impregnable 
and lofty pedestal makes, as it were, a 
huge half-moon, at the end of which the 
rocks bend and sweep away, to give pas- 
sage to the Nangon. There lies the gate 
of Saint Sulpice, leading to the faubourg 
of the same name. Then, on a granite 
tor commanding three valleys where 
man}^ roads meet, rise the ancient crene- 
lated towers of the feudal castle of Fou- 
geres, one of the hugest of the buildings 
erected by the dukes of Brittany, with 
walls fifteen fathoms high and fifteen 
feet thick. To the east it is defended by 
a pond, whence issues the Nancon to fill 
the moats and turn the mills between the 
drawbridge of the fortress and the Porte 
Saint Sulpice ; to the west it is protected 
by the scarped masses of granite on which 
it rests. 

Thus from the walks to this splendid 
relic of the Middle Ages, swathed in its 



122 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



cloak of ivy and decked out with towers j* 
square or round, in each of which a whole 
reg-iment could be lodged, the castle, the 
town, and the rock on which it is huilt, all 
protected by straight curtains of wall or 
scarps of rock dressed sheer, make a huge 
horseshoe of precipices, on the face of 
which, time aiding- them, the Bretons have 
wrought some narrow paths. Here and 
there bowlders project like ornaments ; 
elsewhere "^vater drips from cracks out of 
which issue stunted trees. Further off, 
slabs of granite, at a less sharp angle 
than the others, support grass which at- 
tracts the goats. And everywhere the 
briars, springing from moist crevices, 
festoon the black and rugged surface with 
rosy garlands. At the end of what looks 
like a huge funnel the little stream winds 
in its meadow of perpetual greener}^, softly 
disposed like a carpet. 

At the foot of the castle, and amid 
some knolls of granite, rises the church 
dedicated to Saint Sulpice, which gives its 
name to the suburb on the other side of 
the Nangon. This suburb, lying, as it 
were, at the foot of an abyss, with its 
pointed steeple far less in height than the 
rocks, which seem about to fall on the 
church itself, and its surrounding hamlet, 
are picturesquely watered by some af- 
fluents of the Nancon, shaded b}^ trees 
and adorned with gardens. These cut 
irregularly into the half-moon made by 
the walks, the town, and the castle, and 
produce by their details a graceful con- 
trast to the solemn air of the amphi- 
theater which the^^ front. Finally, the 
whole of Fougeres, with its suburbs and 
churches, with the hills of Saint Sulpice 
themselves, is framed in by the heights 
of Rille, which form part of the general 
fringe of the great valley of the Couesnon. 

Such are the most prominent features 
of this natural panorama, whose main 
character is that of savage wildness, soft- 
ened here and there by smiling passages, 
by a happy mixture of the most imposing 
works of man with the freaks of a soil 
tormented by unlooked-for contrasts, and 
distinguished by an unexpectedness which 
produces surprise, astonishment, and al- 
most confusion. In no part of France does 



the traveler see such contrasts, on such a 
scale of grandeur, as those which are 
offered by the great basin of the Coues- 
non and the valleys which lurk between 
the rocks of Fougeres and the heights 
of Rille. These are of the rare kind of 
beauties, where chance is triumphant, and 
which yet lack none of the harmonies of 
nature. Here are clear, limpid, running 
waters ; mountains clothed with the lux- 
uriant vegetation of the district ; dark 
rocks and gay buildings ; strongholds 
thrown up by nature, and granite towers 
built by man ; all the tricks of light and 
shade, all the contrasts between different 
kinds of foliage, in which artists so much 
delight; groups of houses, where an ac- 
tive population swarms; and desert spaces, 
where the granite will not even tolerate 
the blanched mosses which are wont to 
cling to stone — in short, all the sugges- 
tions which can be asked of a landscape, 
grace and terror, poetr3' full of ever new 
magic, sublime spectacles, charming pas- 
torals. Brittanj'- is there in full flower. 

The tower called the Papegaut's 
Tower, on which the house occupied by 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil stands, springs 
from the very bottom of the precipice 
and rises to the staircase which runs cor- 
nice-wise in front of Saint Leonard's 
Church. From this house, which is 
isolated on three sides, the eye takes in 
at once the great horseshoe, which starts 
from the tower itself, the winding glen 
of the Nangon, and Saint Leonard's 
Square. It forms part of a range of 
buildings, three centuries old, built of 
wood, and lying parallel to the north 
side of the church, with which thej^ make 
a blind alley, opening on a sloping street 
which skirts the church and leads to the 
gate of Saint Leonard, toward which 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil was now de- 
scending. 

Marie naturally did not think of going 
into the square in front of the church, 
below which she found herself, but bent 
her steps toward the w^alks. She had no 
sooner passed the little green gate in front 
of the guard, which was then established 
in Saint Leonard's gate tower, than her 
emotions were at once subdued to silence 



THE CffOUAJVS. 



123 



by the splendor of the view. She first 
admired the great section of the Coues- 
non Valley, which her eyes took in from 
the top of the Pilgrim to the plateau over 
which passes the Vitre road. Then she 
rested them on the Nid-aux-Crocsand the 
windings of the Gibarry Glen, the crests 
of which were bathed by the misty light 
of the setting sun. She was almost 
startled at the depth of the Nancon Val- 
ley, whose tallest poplars scarcely reached 
the garden walks underneath the Queen's 
Staircase. One surprise after another 
opened before her as she went, until she 
reached a point whence she could perceive 
both the great valle}' across the Gibarry 
Glen and the charming landscape framed 
b^' the horseshoe of the town, by the rocks 
of Saint Sulpice, and b}' the heights of 
Rille. 

At this hour of the day the smoke from 
the houses in the suburb and the valle^-s 
made a kind of cloud in the air, which only 
allowed objects to be visible as if through 
a bluish canopy. The garish tints of day 
began to fade ; the firmament became 
pearl-gray in color ; the moon threw her 
mantle of light over the beautiful abj^ss, 
and the whole scene had a tendency to 
plunge the soul into reverie, and help it 
to call up beloved images. Of a sudden 
she lost all interest in the shingled roofs 
of the Faubourg Saint Sulpice, in the 
church, whose aspiring steeple is lost in 
the depths of the valley, in the hoary 
draperies of ivy and clematis that clothe 
the walls of the old fortresg, across which 
the ]!^ancon boils under the mill-wheels, 
in the whole landscape. The setting sun 
in vain flung gold dust and sheets of crim- 
son on the iDretty houses scattered about 
the rocks, by the waters, and in the mea- 
dows, for she remained gazing motionless 
at the cliffs of Saint Sulpice. The wild 
hope which had led her to the walks had 
miraculously come true. Across the ajoncs 
and the broom that grew on the opposite 
heights she thought she could distinguish, 
des^Dite their goatskin garments, several 
of the guests at the Vivetiere. The Gars, 
whose least movement stood out against 
the soft light of sunset, w^as particularly 
conspicuous. A few paces behind the 



principal group she saw her formidable 
foe, Madame de Gua. For an instant 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil thought she 
must be dreaming, but her rival's hate 
soon gave her proof that the dream was 
alive. Her rapt attention to the marquis's 
slightest gesture prevented her from ob- 
serving that Madame du Gua was care- 
fully taking aim at her with a long fowl- 
ing-piece. Soon a gunshot woke the echoes 
of the mountain, and a bullet w^histling 
close to Marie showed her her rival's 
skill. 

*'She leaves her card upon me1 " said 
she to herself, with a smile. 

At the same moment numerous cries 
of '"'Who goes there?" resounded from 
sentinel to sentinel, from the castle to 
the gate of Saint Leonard, and warned 
the Chouans of the watchfulness of the 
men of Fougeres, inasmuch as the least 
vulnerable part of their ramparts was so 
well guarded. 

"'Tis she; and 'tis he!" thought 
Marie. To go and seek the marquis, to 
follow him, to surprise hira, were thoughts 
which came to her like flashes of light- 
ning. " But I am unarmed ! " she cried, 
and she remembered that at the time of 
leaving Paris she had put in one of her 
boxes an elegant dagger, which had once 
been worn by a sultana, and with which 
she chose to provide herself on her way to 
the seat of war, like those pleasant folk 
who equip themselves with note-books to 
receive their impressions of travel. But 
she had then been less induced by the 
prospect of having blood to shed, than 
by the pleasure of wearing a pretty 
gemmed kandjar, and of placing with 
its blade, as clear as the glance of an 
eye. Three days earlier, when she had 
longed to kill herself in order to escape 
the horrible punishment which her rival 
designed for her, she had bitterlj'- re- 
gretted having left this weapon in her 
box. She quickly went home, found the 
dagger, stuck it in her belt, drew a large 
shawl close round her shoulders and waist, 
wrapped her hair in a black lace mantilla, 
covered her head with a flapping Chouan 
hat belonging to one of the servants, and, 
with the presence of mind which passion 



124 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



sometimes lends, took the marquis's glove 
whicli Marche-a-Terre had g-iven her for 
a passport. Then, replying to Francine's 
alarms, ''What would 3'ou have? I 
would go to seek him in hell ! ' ' she re- 
turned to the promenade. 

The Gars was still on the same spot, 
but alone. Judging from the direction 
of his telescope, he appeared to be exam- 
ining with a soldier's careful scrutinj^ the 
different crossings over the Nancon, the 
Queen's Staircase, and the road which, 
starting from the gate of Saint Sulpice, 
winds past the church and joins the 
highway under the castle guns. Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil slipped into the by- 
paths traced by the goats and their herds 
on the slopes of the promenade, reached 
the Queen's Staircase, arrived at the bot- 
tom of the cliff, crossed the Nancon, and 
traversed" the suburb. Then guessing, 
like a bird in the desert, her way across 
the dangerous scarps of the Saint Sulpice 
crags, she soon gained a slippery path 
traced over granite blocks, and in spite 
of the broom, the prickly ajoncs, and the 
screes with which it bristled, she set her- 
self to climb it with a degree of energy 
which it may be man never knows, but 
which woman, when hurried on by passion, 
may for a time possess. Night overtook 
her at the moment when, having reached 
the summit, she was looking about, by 
help of the pale moon's rays, for the road 
which the marquis must have taken. 
Persevering but fruitless explorations, 
and the silence which prevailed in the 
country, showed her that the Chouans 
and their chief had withdrawn. The 
exertion which passion had enabled her 
to make flagged with the hope which had 
inspired it. Finding herself alone, be- 
nighted and in the midst of a country 
unknown to her and beset by war, she 
began to reflect ; and Hulot's warning 
and Madame du Gua's shot made her 
shudder with fear. 

The stillness of night, so deep on the 
hills, allowed her to hear the smallest 
falling leaf even a great way off, and such 
slight'noises kept vibrating in the air as 
though to enable her^ to take sad meas- 
ure of the solitude and the silence. In the 



upper sky the wind blew fresh, and drove 
the clouds violently before it, producing 
waves of shadow and light, the effects of 
which increased her terror by giving a , 
fantastic and hideous appearance to the 
most harmless objects. She turned her 
eyes to the houses of Fougeres, whose 
homely lights burned like so many earthly 
stars ; and suddenly she had a distinct 
view of the Papegaut's Tower. The dis- 
tance which she must travel in order to 
return to it was nothing; but the road 
was a precipice. She had a good enough 
memory of the depths bordering the nar- 
row path b}' which she had come to know 
that she was in more danger if she re- 
traced her steps to Fougeres than if she 
pursued her adventure. The thought oc- 
curred to her that the marquis's glove 
would free her night walk from all danger 
if the Chouans held the country ; her only 
formidable foeAvas Madame du Gua. As 
she thought of her, Marie clutched her 
dagger, and tried to make her way to- 
ward a house whose roof she had seen 
by glimpses as she reached the crags of 
Saint Sulpice. But she made slow prog- 
ress, for the majestic gloom which 
weighs on a being who is alone in the 
night in the midst of a wild district, 
where lofty mountain-tops bow their heads 
on all sides, like a meeting of giants, was 
new to her. 

The rustle of her dress caught by the 
ajoncs made her start more than once, 
and more than once she hurried, slacken- ' 
ing her pace again as she thought that 
her last hour -sf as come. But before long 
the surroundings took a character to 
which the boldest inen might have suc- 
cumbed, and threw Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil into one of those panics which bear 
so hardly on the springs of life, that every- 
thing, strength or weakness, takes a touch 
of exaggeration in different individuals. 
At such times the feeblest show an extra- 
ordinary^ strength, and the strongest go 
mad Avith terror. Marie heard, at a short 
distance, curious noises, at once distinct 
and confused, just as the night w^as at 
once dark and clear. They seemed to 
show alarm and tumult, the ear straining 
itself in vain to comprehend them. They 



THE CHOUANS. 



125 



rose from the bosom of the earth, which 
seemed shaken under the feet of a vast 
multitude of men marching". An interval 
of lig-lit allowed Mademoiselle de Verneuil 
to see, a few paces from her, a long- file 
of g-hastly fig-ures, swajdng- like ears in a 
cornfield, and slipping- along- like g-hosts, 
but she could only just see them, for the 
darkness fell ag-ain like a black curtain, 
and hid from her a terrible picture full of 
yellow, flashing- eyes. She started briskly 
backward and ran to the top of a slope, 
so as to escape three of the terrible shapes 
who were coming- toward her. 

" Did you see him ? " asked one. 

"I felt a cold blast as he passed near 
me," answered a hoarse voice. 

''For me, I breathed the damp air and 
smell of a graveyard," said the third. 

"Was he white? " went on the first. 

"Why," said the second, "did he alone 
of all those who fell at the Pilg-rim come 
back?" 

"Why," said the third, " why are those 
who belong- to the Sacred Heart made 
favorites ? For my part, I would rather 
die without confession than wander as he 
does, without eating- or drinking-, without 
blood in his veins or flesh on his bones." 

"Ah!" 

This exclamation, or rather cry of hor- 
ror, burst from the g-roup as one of the 
three Chouans pointed out the slender 
form and pale face of Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil, who fled with terrifying- speed, 
and without their hearing- the least noise. 

"He is there!" "He is here!" 
" Where is he ? " " There ! " " Here ! " 
"Heisg-one!" "No!" "Yes!" "Do 
jou see him ? " The words echoed like 
the dull plash of waves on the shore. 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil stepped bold- 
ly out in the direction of the house, 
and saw the indistinct forms of a multi- 
tude of persons who fled, as she ap- 
proached, with sig-ns of panic terror. It 
was as thoug-h she was carried along- by 
an unknown power, whose influence was 
too much for her ; and the lightness of 
her body, which seemed inexplicable, be- 
came a new subject of alarm to herself. 
These forms, which rose in masses as she 
came near, and as if they came from be- 



neath the ground where they appeared to 
be stretched, uttered groans which were 
not in the least human. 

At last she gained, with some difficult}', 
a ruined garden whose hedges and gates 
were broken through. She was stopped 
by a sentinel ; but she showed him her 
glove, and, as the moonlight shone on 
her face, the rifle dropped from the Chou- 
an's hands as he leveled it at Marie, and 
he uttered the same hoarse cry which was 
echoing all over the country. She could 
see a large range of buildings where some 
lights indicated inhabited rooms, and she 
reached the walls without finding any 
obstacle. Through the very first window 
to which she bent her steps, she saw Ma- 
dame du Gua with the chiefs who had 
been assembled at the Vivetiere. Losing 
her self-command, partly at the sight, 
partly through her sense of danger, she 
flung herself sharply back on a small 
opening guarded by thick iron bars, and 
distinguished, in a long vaulted apart- 
ment, the marquis, alone, melancholy, 
and close to her. The reflections of the 
fire, before which he was sitting in a 
clumsN' chair, threw on his face ruddy 
flickers which gave the whole scene the 
character of a vision. Trembling, but 
otherwise motionless, the poor girl clung 
close to the bars, and in the deep silence 
which prevailed she hoped to hear him 
if he spoke. As she saw him dejected, 
discouraged, pale, she flattered herself 
that she was one of the causes of his sad- 
ness. And then her wrath changed to 
pity, her pity to affection ; and she felt 
all of a sudden that what had brought 
her there was not merely vengeance. The 
marquis turned his head and stood aghast 
as he saw, as if in a cloud, the face of 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil ; he let shp a 
gesture of scorn and impatience as he 
cried, " Must I, then, see this she-devil 
always, even when I am awake?" 

The profound disdain which he had con- 
ceived for her drew from the poor git-1 a 
frenzied laugh, which made the young 
chief start ; he darted to the casement, 
and Mademoiselle de Verneuil fled. Siie 
heard close behind her the steps of a man 
whom she thought to be Montauran -, and 



126 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



in order to escape him, nothing seemed to 
her an obstacle. She could have scaled 
walls and flown in the air, she could have 
taken the road to hell itself, in order to 
avoid reading- once more in letters of fire 
the words " He despises ,you ! " which 
were written on the man's forehead, and 
which her inner voice shouted to her, as 
she went, with trumpet sound. After 
going- she knew not whither, she stopped, 
feeling a damp air penetrate her being. 
Frightened at the steps of more persons 
than one, and urged by fear, she ran down 
a staircase which led her to the bottom of 
a cellar. When she had reached the low- 
est step she hearkened, trying to distin- 
guish the direction which her pursuers 
were taking ; but though there was noise 
enough outside, she could hear the doleful 
groanings of a human voice, which added 
to her terror. A flash of light which 
came from the top of the stair made her 
fear that her persecutors had discovered 
her retreat ; and her desire to escape them 
gave her new strength. She could not 
easily explain to herself, when shortly 
afterward she collected her thoughts, in 
what way she had been able to climb 
upon the dwarf wall where she bad hidden 
herself. She did not even at first perceive 
the cramped position which the attitude 
of her body inflicted on her. But the 
cramp became unbearable before long; 
for she looked, under a vaulted arch, 
like a statue of the crouching Venus 
stuck by an amateur in too narrow a 
niche. The wall, which was pretty wide 
and built of granite, formed a partition 
between the stairway itself and a cellar 
from whence the groans came. Soon she 
saw a man whom she did not know, cov- 
ered with goatskins, descending beneath 
her, and turning under the vaulting with- 
out giving any sign of hasty search. 

Impatient to know whether any chance 
of safety would present itself. Mademoi- 
selle de Verneuil anxiously waited for the 
light w^hich t^^e stranger carried to lighten 
the cellar, on whose floor she perceived a 
shapeless but living heap, which was mak- 
ing endeavors to reach a certain part of 
the wall hy a violent succession of move- 
ments, resembling the irregular writhings 



of a carp stranded on the bank. A small 
torch of resin soon diffused its bluish and 
uncertain light in the cellar. Despite the 
romantic gloom which Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil's imagination shed upon the 
vaults as they re-echoed the sounds of 
dolorous supplication, she could not help 
perceiving the plain fact that she was in 
an underground kitchen, long disused. 
When the light was thrown upon the 
shapeless heap, it became a short and 
very fat man, whose limbs had all been 
carefully tied, but who seemed to have 
been left on the damp flags without 
further attention by those who had seized 
him. At sight of the stranger, who held 
the torch in one hand and a fagot in the 
other, the prisoner muttered a deep groan, 
which had so powerful an effect on Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil's feelings that she 
forgot her own terror, her despair, and 
the horrible cramped position of her limbs, 
which were stiffening from being doubled 
up, and did all she could to remain motion- 
less. The Chouan threw his fagot into 
the fire-place after trjnng the strength of 
an old pot-hook and chain which hung 
down a tall iron fire-back, and lighted 
the wood with his torch. It was not 
without terror that Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil then recognized the cunning Pille- 
Miche, to whom her rival had delivered 
her up, and whose face, with the flame 
flickering on it, resembled the grotesque 
manikins that the Germans carve in box- 
wood. The wail which had escaped the 
captive brought a huge smile on his 
countenance, which was furrowed with 
wrinkles and tanned by the sun. 

" You see," he said to the victim, " that 
Christians like us do not break their word 
as you do. The fire here wall take the 
stiffness out of your legs, and your hands, 
and your tongue. But there ! there ! I 
can't see a dripping-pan to put under your 
feet : they are so plump, they might . put 
the fire out. Your house must be very 
ill furnished that a man cannot find where- 
withal to serve its master properly when 
he warms himself ! " 

The sufferer uttered a sharp yell, as if 
he hoped to make himself heard outside 
the vaults, and bring a deliverer. 



THE CHOUANS. 



12-; 



*' Oh ! 3''ou can sing^ to 3'our heart's con- 
tent, Monsieur d'Orgemont ! They have 
all g-one to bed upstairs, and Marche-a- 
Terre is coming* after me. He will shut 
the cellar door." 

As he spoke, Pille-Miche sounded with 
his rifle-butt the chimney-piece, the flags 
that paved the kitchen floor, the walls, 
and the stoves, to try and find the hiding- 
place where the miser had put his gold. 
The Starch was conducted with such skill 
that D'Orgemont held his breath, as if he 
feared to have been betrayed by some 
frightened servant ; for, though he had 
not made a confidant of any one, his ways 
of life might have given occasion to 
shrew^d inferences. From time to time 
Pille-Miche turned sharply round to look 
at his victim, as if he were playing the 
children's game where the^^ try to guess, 
by the unguarded expression of some one 
who has hidden a given object, whether 
they are "w^arm"or "^'cold." D'Orge- 
mont pretended a certain terror as he 
saw the Chouan striking the stoves, 
which returned a hollow sound, and 
seemed to wash tlius to amuse Pille- 
Miche's credulous greed for a time. At 
that moment three other Chouans, plung- 
ing into the staircase, made their appear- 
ance suddenty in the kitchen. 

'* Marie Lambrequin has come alive 
again ! " said Marche-a-Terre, with a 
look and gesture which showed that all 
other matters of interest grew trifling 
beside such important news. 

'•' I am not surprised at that," an- 
swered Pille-Miche. "He used to take 
the communion so often ! You would 
have thought that le bon Dieu was his 
private property." 

" Yes ! But," said Mene-a-Bien, "that 
did him as much good as shoes do to a 
dead man. It seems he had not received 
absolution before the affair at the Pil- 
grim ; he had played the fool with Go- 
guelu's girl, and thus was caught in 
mortal sin. So Abbe Gudin says that 
he will have to wait for two months as 
a ghost before coming back really and 
truly. We all of us saw him pass before 
us — pale, and cold, and unsubstantial, 
and smelling of the graveyard." 



" And his reverence says, that if the 
ghost can get hold of any one, he will 
carry him off as his mate," added the 
fourth Chouan. This last speaker's gro- 
tesque figure distracted Marche-a-Terre 
from the rehgious musings into which 
he had been plunged by a miracle, which, 
according to Abbe Gudin, fervent faith 
might repeat for the benefit of every 
pious defender of church and king. 

"You see, Galope-Chopine," said he to 
the neophyte, with some gravity, "what 
are the consequences of the slightest short- 
coming in the duties ordered b}" our holy 
religion. Saint Anne of Auray bids us 
have no merc\' for the smallest faults 
among ourselves. Your cousin Pille- 
Miche has begged for you the place of 
overeeer of Fougeres ; the Gars consents 
to intrust 3'ou with it, and j^ou will be 
well paid. But j^ou know what meal we 
bake traitor's cake of?" 

"Yes, Master Marche-a-Terre." 

" And you know why I say this to you ? 
There are people who say that you are 
too fond of cider and of big penny-pieces. 
But you must not try to make pickings ; 
you must stick to us, and us only." 

"Saving your reverence,Master Marche- 
a-Terre, cider and pennj'^-pieces are two 
good things, which do not hinder a man 
from saving his soul." 

" If m}" cousin makes any mistake," 
said Pille-Miche, "it will only be through 
ig-norance." 

" No matter how a misfortune comes," 
cried Marche-a-Terre, in a voice which 
made the vault quiver, "I shall not miss 
him. You will be surety for him," he 
added, turning to Pille-Miche; "for if 
he does wrong I shall ask ^n account of 
it at the lining of 3-our goatskins." 

" But, ask your pardon. Master Marche- 
a-Terre," replied Galope-Chopine, "has 
it not happened to you more than once to 
believe that Anti-Chuins are Chuiiis ? " , 

"My friend," said Marche-a-Terre 
dryh^, "don't make tha,t mistake again, 
or I will sliver you like a turnip. As for 
the messengers of the Gars, they will 
have his glove ; but since that business 
at the Vivetiere the Grande-Garce puts 
a green ribbon in it." 



128 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



Pille-Miche jogged his comrade's elbow- 
sharply, pointing to D'Orgemont, who 
pretended to he asleep ; but both Marche- 
a-Terre and Pille-Miche himself knew^ by 
experience that nobody- had yet gone to 
sleep at their fireside. And though the 
last words to Galope-Chopine had been 
spoken in a low tone, since the victim 
might have understood them, the four 
Chouans all stared at him for a moment, 
and no doubt thought that fear had de- 
prived him of the use of his senses. Sud- 
denly, at a slight sign from Marche-a- 
Terre, Pille-Miche took off D'Orgemont's 
shoes and stockings, Mene-a-Bieu and 
Galope-Chopine seized him round the body 
and carried him to the fire. Then Marche- 
a-Terre himself took one of the cords that 
had bound the fagot and tied the miser's 
feet to the pot-hook. These combined 
proceedings, and their incredible swift- 
ness, made the victim utter cries which 
became heartrending when Pille-Miche 
brought the coals together under his 
legs. 

" My friends ! my good friends ! " cried 
D'Orgemont ; "yow. will hurt me ! I am 
a Christian like yourselves ! " 

" You lie in your throat ! " answered 
Marche-a-Terre. '^ Your brother denied 
God. As for 3^ou, you bought Juvignj^ 
Abbey. Abbe Gudin says tliat we need 
feel no scruple as to roasting renegades." 

" But, brethren in God, I do not refuse 
to pay you." 

" We gave von a fortnight. Two 
months have passed, and here is Galope- 
Chopine, who has not received a far- 
thing." 

"You received nothing, Galope-Cho- 
pine ? " asked the miser despairingly. 

*' Nothing, Monsieur d'Orgemont," an- 
swered Galope-Chopine, alarmed. 

The yells, which had changed into a 
continuous growl, like a man's death- 
rattle, began again w^ith unheard-of vio- 
lence, but the four Chouans, as much 
used to this spectacle as they were to see- 
ing their dogs walk without shoes, gazed 
so coolly at D'Orgemont as he writhed 
and howled, that they looked like trav- 
elers waiting by an inn fire till the roast 
was done enough to eat. 



*' I am dying ! I am dying ! " said the 
victim, '■' and you w^ill not get my 
money ! " 

Despite the energy of the yells, Pille- 
Miche noticed that the fire had not yet 
caught the skin ; and they poked the 
coals very artisticall}^, so as to make 
them blaze up a little, wiiereat D'Orge- 
mont said in a broken voice : 

" M3' friends ! Unbind me. . . . What 
do you want? A hundred crowns? A 
thousand ? Ten thousand ? A hundred 
thousand ? I offer two hundred crowns!" 

The voice w^as so pitiful that Mademoi- 
selle de Verneuil forgot her owai danger 
and allowed an exclamation to escape her. 

" Who spoke ? " asked Marche-a-Terre. 

The Chouans cast startled glances 
round them ; for, brave as they were be- 
fore the deadly mouths of gun§, they 
could not stand a ghost. Pille-Miche 
alone listened with un distracted attention 
to the confession w^hich increasing pain 
wrung from his victim. 

" Five hundred crowns ? . . . Yes ! I 
will give them ! " said the miser. 

"Bah! Where are they?" observed 
Pille-Miche calmly. 

"What? They are under the first 
apple-tree. . . . Holy Virgin ! At the 
end of the garden — on the left. . . . 
You are brigands ! robbers ! Ah ! I am 
dying. . . . There are ten thousand 
francs there ! " 

"I won't have francs," said Marche-a- 
Terre; "they must be livres. The Re- 
public's crowns have heathen figures on 
them w^hich will never pass." 

"' They are in livres, in good louis d'or. 
Untie me ! untie me ! You know^ where 
my life is — that is to say, my treasure." 

The four Chouans looked at each other, 
considering which of them could be trusted 
to go and unearth the money. But by 
this time their cannibal barbarity had so 
horrified Mademoiselle de Verneuil, that, 
without knowing whether or no the part 
which her pale face marked out for her 
would suffice to preserve her from danger, 
she boldly cried in a deep-toned voice : 
" Do you not fear the wrath of God ? 
Untie him, savages ! " 

The Chouans raised their heads, saw in 



THE CHOUANS. 



129 



the air eyes which flashed like two stars 
and fled in terror. Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil jumped down into the kitchen, flew 
to D'Org-emont, pulled him so sharply 
from the fire that the fagot cords gave 
way, and then, drawing- her dagger, cut 
the bonds with which he was bound. 
When the miser stood up, a free man, 
the first expression on his face was a 
laugh — one of pain, but still sardonic. 
" Go to the apple-tree ! Go, brigands ! " 
he said. "Aha! I have outwitted them 
twice. They shall not catch me a third 
time 1 " 

At the same moment a woman's voice 
sounded without. " A ghost ? " cried Ma- 
dame du Gua. ■'•'Fools! 'Tis she! A 
thousand crowns to him who brings me 
the harlot's head ! " 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil turned pale, 
but the miser smiled, took her hand, drew 
her under the chimney-mantel, and pre- 
vented her from leaving any trace of her 
passage \iy leading her so as not to dis- 
turb the fire, which filled but a small 
space. He touched a spring, the iron 
fire-back rose, and when their common 
foes re-entered the cellar, the heavj^ door 
of the hiding-place had alreadj^ noiselessl}'^ 
closed. Then the Parisian girl under- 
stood the carp-like wrigglings which she 
had seen the luckless banker make. 

" There, madame ! " cried Marche-a- 
Terre. "The ghost has taken the Blue 
for his mate I " 

The alarm must have been great, for so 
deep a silence followed these words that 
D'Orgemont and his fair companion heard 
the Chouans whispering " Ava Sancta 
Anna Auriaca gratia plena, Dominus 
tecum," etc. 

" The fools are praying ! " cried D'Or- 
gemont. 

"Are you not afraid," said Mademoi- 
selle de Yerneuil, interrupting her com- 
panion, " of discovering our — " 

A laugh from the old miser dissipated 
her fears. " The plate is bedded in a slab 
of granite ten inches thick. We can hear 
them, and they cannot hear us." 

Then taking his liberatress's hand 
gently, he led her toward a crack whence 
came puffs of fresh air ; and she under- 
Balzac — E 



stood that the opening had been worked 
in tlie chimney. 

"Ah!" went on D'Orgemont, "the 
devil ! My legs smart a little. That 
' Filly of Charette,' as they call her at 
Nantes, is not fool enough to contradict 
her faithful followers ; she knows well 
enough that if they were less brutishly 
ignorant, they would not fight against 
their own interests. There she is, pray- 
ing too ! It must be good to see her 
saying her Ave to Saint Anne of Auray ! 
She had much better rob a coach so as to 
pay me back the four thousand francs she 
owes me. With costs and interest it comes 
to a good four thousand seven hundred 
and eighty, besides centimes." 

Their prayer finished, the Chouans rose 
and went out. 

But old D'Orgemont clutched Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil's hand, to warn her 
that there was still danger. 

" No, madame ! " cried Pille-Miche, 
after some minutes' silence, " you may 
stay there ten years. They will not come 
back!". 

" But she has not gone out ; she must 
be here," said Charette's Filly, obsti- 
nately. 

" No, madame, no ! they have flown 
through the walls. Did not the devil 
carrj'- off a priest who had taken the oath 
in that very place before us ? " 

"What, Pille-Miche! do not you, who 
are as much of a miser as he is, see that 
the old skinflint might very well have 
spent some thousands of livres on making 
a recess with a secret entrance in the 
foundations of these vaults ? " 

The miser and the 3^oung girl heard 
Pille-Miche give a great laugh. 

"' Right ! very right ! " said he. 

" Stay here I " said Madame du Gua ; 
"' wait for them when they go out. For 
one gunshot I will give you all you can 
flnd in our usurer's treasury. If you wish 
me to forgive you for having sold the girl 
when I told 3'ou to kill her, obe}^ me ! " 

"Usurer!" said old D'Orgemont; 
"and yet I charged her no more than 
nine per cent. 'Tis true that I had a 
mortgage as security. But there ! you 
see how grateful she is. Come, madame. 



130 



THE HUMAN COMEDY, 



if God punishes us for doing- ill, the devil 
is there to punish us for doing good ; and 
man, placed between the two without 
knowledge of futuritA^, has alwa^^s given 
me the idea of a problem of proportion 
in which x is an undiscoverable quantity." 

He heaved a hollow sigh which was a 
characteristic of his, the air which passed 
through his larynx seeming to encounter 
and strike on two old and slack fiddle- 
strings. But the noise which Pille-Miche 
and Madame du Gua made as they once 
more sounded the walls, the vaulted ceil- 
ing, and tlie pavement, seemed to reassure 
D'Orgemont, who seized his deliverer's 
hand to help her in climbing a narrow 
corkscrew staircase worked in the thick- 
ness of a granite Avail. When they had 
climbed some score of steps the feeble 
glimmer of a lamp shone above their 
heads. The miser stopped, turned toward 
his comiDanion, gazed at her face as he 
would have scrutinized, handled, and re- 
handled a bill which was risky to dis- 
count, and uttered once more his boding 
sigh. 

"By placing you here," he said, "I 
have paid you back in full the service you 
did me. Therefore I do not see whj^ I 
should give you — " 

*' Sir ! leave me here. I ask nothing of 
you," she said. 

Her last words, and perhaps the disdain 
which her beautiful face expressed, reas- 
sured the little old man, for he answered, 
sighing again : 

"Ah ! I have done too much alreadj^'by 
bringing you here not to go on with it." 

He helped Marie politely to climb some 
steps of rather puzzling arrangement, and 
ushered her, half with a good grace, half 
reluctantly, into a tiny closet, four feet 
square, lighted by a lamp which hung 
from the vaulting. It was easy to see 
that the iniser had made all his arrange- 
ments for spending more than one day in 
this retreat if the events of the civil war 
forced him to do so. 

" Do not go close to the wall, the white 
will come off," said D'Orgemont suddenlj^ 
and with considerable haste he thrust his 
hand between the young girl's shawl and 
the wall, which seemed to have just been 



re-whitened. But the old miser's gesture 
produced an effect quite contrary to that 
which he intended. Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil instantly looked straight before her, 
and saw in a corner a sort of erection, the 
shape of which drew from her a cry of 
terror, for she could divine that a human 
form had been j)lastered over and stood 
up there. D'Orgemont imposed silence 
on her with a terrifying look, but his little 
china-blue eyes showed as much alarm as 
his companion's. 

" Sill}'' girl ! do you think I murdered 
him? 'Tis my brother," said he, with a 
melancholy A-ariation on his usual sigh, 
"the first rector who took the oath. This 
Avas the only refuge where he was safe 
from the rage of the Chouans and of the 
other priests. That they should perse- 
cute a worthy man, so well conducted ! 
He was my elder brother, and none but 
he had the patience to teach me decimal 
notation. Ah I he Avas a good priest, and 
a saving ; he knew Iioav to lay up ! 'Tis 
four years since he died, of what disease 
I knoAV not ; but look you, these priests 
have a habit of kneeling from time to 
time to praA', and perhaps he could not 
accustom himself to standing here as I 
do. I bestoAved him there ; anywhere else 
thcA^ Avould have unearthed him. Some 
day I may be able to bury him in holy 
ground, as the poor man (Avho only took 
the oaths for fear) used to say," 

A tear dropped from the little old 
man's dry e^'^es, and his red Avig looked 
less ugly thenceforward to the young 
girl. She averted her eyes out of secret 
reverence for his sorrow ; but in spite 
of his emotion, D'Orgemont repeated, 
"Don't go near the AA^all, you will — " 

Nor did his e^^es take themseh^es off 
those of Mademoiselle de Verneuil, as 
though he hoped thus to preA^ent her 
bestowing more particular attention on 
the side walls of the closet, where the 
air, half exhausted, gave scanty play to 
the lungs. Yet Marie succeeded in steal- 
ing" a g-lance from the surA^eillance of her 
Argus; and from the odd bumps on the 
walls she came to the conclusion that the 
miser had built them up himself Avith bags 
of silver and gold. For a moment's space 



THE CHOUANS. 



131 



D'Orgemont had plunged into a fantastic 
kind of ecstasy. The pain -which his 
scorched legs gave him, and his alarm 
at perceiving a human being in the midst 
of his treasures, were legible in every 
wrinkle ; but at the same time his dried- 
up eyes expressed by their unaccustomed 
luster the liberal passion which was caused 
in him by the dangerous vicinity of his 
deliveress, whose pink and white cheeks 
were a magnet to kisses, and whose vel- 
vety black e^'es made the blood flow so 
hotly through his heart, that he knew 
not whether it presaged life or death. 

•'•'Are you married?" he asked her in 
a quivering voice. 

" No I " she answered with a smile. 

''I am worth something," he said, 
heaving Ids sigh, '•' though I am not as 
rich as they all say. A girl like you 
ought to like diamonds, jewels, equi- 
pages and .gold ! "he added with a scared 
look round him ; ''I have all that to give 
after my death ; and if 3'ou liked — " 

The old man's eye showed so much 
calculation, even in this fleeting moment 
of passion, that as she shook her head 
negatively. Mademoiselle de Verneuil 
could not help thinking- that the miser's 
desire for her hand came chieflj'- from the 
wish to bury his secret in the heart of a 
second self. 

"Money!" she said, throwing at 
D'Orgemont a sarcastic glance which at 
once vexed and pleased hmi, "money is 
nothing to me. You would be thrice as 
rich as you are if all the money I have 
refused were there." 

"Don't touch the w — !" 

•'And yet nothing was asked of me in 
return but a kind glance," she added, 
with pride unbelievable. 

" You were wrong ; it was a very good 
bargain. Why, think — " 

'• Think 1/ow," interrupted Mademoiselle 
de Verneuil, •• that I have just heard yon- 
der the sound of a voice one accent of 
which is more precious to me than all 
your riches ! " 

"You do not know them — " 

But before the miser could hinder her, 
Marie displaced with a finger touch a 
small colored print of Louis XV. on horse- 



back, and suddenly saw beneath her the 
marquis, who was busily loading a blunder- 
buss. The opening, hidden by the little 
panel on which the print was pasted, no 
doubt corresponded to some decoration on 
the ceiling of the neighboring chamber, 
which appeared to be the Roj'ahst gen- 
eral's bedroom. D'Orgemont, with ex- 
treme precaution, pushed the old print 
back and looked sternly at the damsel. 

" Speak not a word, if you love your 
life ! You have cast yowc grapling," 
whispered he after a pause, " on a prett}^ 
vessel enough. Do you know that the 
Marquis of Montauran has a hundred 
thousand livres a year in leaseholds which 
have not ^-et been sold ? Now, a consular 
decree which I have read in the Ille-et- 
Vilaine ' Sunda}' Times ' * has just put 
a stop to sequestrations. Aha ! You 
think the Gars there a prettier man, do 
you not ? Your eyes flash like a pair of 
new louis d'or." 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil's glances had 
gained animation as she heard the well- 
known voice sound once more. Since she 
had been in her present situation, stand- 
ing, as it were, plunged in a gold and 
silver mine, the elasticity of her spirit, 
which had given way under the pressure 
of events, had renewed its vigor. She 
seemed to have taken a sinister resolve, 
and to see her way to put it in execution. 

" There is no recovery from such scorn 
as this," she was saying to herself, " and 
if it is written that he shall no more love 
me, I will kill him ! no other woman shall 
have him ! " 

"No, abbe ! no," cried the young chief, 
whose voice now reached them ; "it must 
be so." 

" M}" lord marquis," objected Abbe 
Gudin, in a haught}'- tone, "you will 
scandalize all Brittany if you give this 
ball at Saint James. Preachers, and not 
dancers, are wanted to put our villages in 
motion. You must get fusees, not fid- 
dles." 

" Abbe, 3' on are clever enough to know 

* In original " Primidi de I'llle-et-Vilaine," 
Primidi being the first day in each decade of that 
Republican calender which was one of the oddest 
recorded childishnesses of democracy. 



132 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



• that without a general assembly of our 
partj^ I cannot find out what I can 
undertake with them. No kind of es- 
pionage (which, by the way, I hate) 
seems to me more convenient for the 
examination of their countenances, and 
the discovery of tlieir minds, than a 
dinner. We will make them talk, glass 
in hand." 

Marie started as she heard the words, 
for she conceived the idea of going to this 
ball and avenging herself there. 

"Do you think I am a fool that you 
preach to me against dancing ? " went on 
Montauran. " Would you not j^ourself 
figure in a chaconne with all the good 
will in the world to get re-established 
under j'^our new name of Peres de la Foi ? 
Can you be ignorant that Bretons go 
straight from the mass to the dance? 
Can you be ignorant again that H^'de de 
Neuville and D'Andigne had an interview 
five days ago with the First Consul on the 
question of restoring His Majestj'^ Louis 
XVIII. ? If I am getting ready now to 
try so rash a coup de main, my sole rea- 
son is that I may throw the weight of our 
hob-nailed shoes in the scale of this ne- 
gotiation. Can you be ignorant that all 
the Vendean chiefs, even Fontaine, talk 
of surrender ? Ah ! sir, it is clear that the 
princes have been deceived as to the state 
of France. The devotion of which people 
talk to them is official devotion. Only, 
abbe, if I have dipped my foot in blood, I 
will not plunge in it up to vay waist with- 
out knowing what I am about. I have 
devoted myself to the king's service, and 
not to that of a parcel of hotheads, of 
men head over ears in debt like Rifoel, 
of chauffeurs, of — " 

" Sa}'^ at once, sir," interrupted the 
Abbe Gudin, " of abbes who take tithes 
on the highway to maintain the war ! " 

" Wh3^ should I not say it ? " answered 
the marquis sharply ; "I will say more : 
the heroic age of La Vendee is past ! " 

*'My lord marquis, we shall be able to 
do miracles without you." 

''Yes! miracles like Marie Lambre- 
quin's," said the marquis, laughing. 
" Come, abbe, do not let us quarrel. I 
know that you are not careful of your 



own skin, and can pick off a Blue as well 
as say an oremus. With God's help, I 
hope to make you take a part, miter on 
head, at the king's coronation." 

These last words must have had a 
magical effect on the abbe, for the ring of 
a rifle was heard, and he cried, ''M^^ lord 
marquis ! I have fifty cartridges in my 
pocket, and my life is the king's ! " 

" There is another of my debtors," said 
the miser to Mademoiselle de Verneuil ; 
"I am not speaking of a wretched five or 
six hundred crowns that he owes me, but . 
of a debt of blood which I hope will be 
paid some da}^. The accursed Jesuit can 
never have such bad luck as I wish him. 
He had sworn my brother's death, and 
he roused the whole country against him. 
And why ? Because the poor fellow 
feared the new laws ! " 

Then, after putting his ear to a certain 
spot in the hiding-place, "The brigands 
are making off — the whole pack of them," 
said he; "thex"^ are going to do some 
other miracle. Let us hope that they 
will not try to bid me good-by as they •• 
did last time, by setting fire to the house." 

Some half-hour later (during which time 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil and D'Orge- 
mont gazed at each other as each might m 
have gazed at a picture) the rough, coarse 
voice of Galope-Chopine cried, in a low 
tone, "There is no more danger. Mon- 
sieur d'Orgemont ! but this time I earned 
my thirtj^ crowns well ! " 

"My child," said the miser, "swear 
that you will shut jour eyes." 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil covered her 
eyelids with one of her hands ; but to 
make surer still the old man blew out the 
lamp, took his deliveress by the hand, 
and helped her to take five or six steps in 
an awkward passage. At the end of a 
minute or two he gently removed her 
hand from her eyes, and she found her- 
self in the room which Montauran had 
just quitted, and which was the miser's 
own. 

"My dear child," said the old man, 
" A'ou can go (do not stare round you like 
that). You are no doubt without money 
— here are ten crowns for you ; there are 
clipped ones among them, but they will 



THE CHOUANS. 



133 



pass. When you come out of the g-arden 
you will find a path leading- to the town, 
or as they say now, to the district. But 
the Chouans are at Foug-eres, and it is 
unlikeW that you will be able to enter 
there directly ; so you may have need, of 
a safe resting-place, Mark well what I 
am going- to say to you, and onl}^ make 
use of it in the extremit}^ of danger. You 
will see on the road which leads by the 
Gibarry Valle^^ to the Nid-aux-Crocs, a 
farm where Long Cibot, called Galope- 
Chopine, dwells. Go in, say to his wife, 
' Good-day, Becaniere ! ' and Barbette 
will hide you. If Galope-Chopine finds 
you out, he will take j^ou for the g-host if 
it is night, or ten crowns will tame him if 
it is da3\ Good-b^'^ ! we are quits. But 
if you chose," said he, pointing with a 
sweep of the hand to the fields surround- 
ing- his house, " all that should be yours I " 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil cast a g-rate- 
ful glance on this odd being, and suc- 
ceeded in drawing from him a sigh of 
unusually varied tone, 

"Of course, 3"ou will pay me my ten 
crowns ? (please observe that I say noth- 
ing about interest). You can pay them 
in to my credit with Master Patrat, the 
Fougeres notary — who, if you chose, 
would, draw up our marriage contract, 
my lovely treasure ! Farewell ! " 

*' Farewell ! " said she, with a smile 
and a wave of her hand. 

"If you want money," he cried after 
her, " I will lend it you at five per cent ! 
yes, at five merely ! did I say five ? " but 
she had g-one, " She seems aniceg-irl," 
added D'Org-emont ; "still, I will change 
the trick of my chimney." Then he took 
a twelve-pound loaf and a ham, and went 
back to his hiding--X)lace, 

When Mademoiselle de Verneuil stepped 
out in the open country she felt as thoug-h 
new born ; and the cool morning refreshed 
her face, which for some hours past 
seemed to her to have been stricken by 
a burning atmosphere. She tried to find 
the path which the miser had indicated, 
but since moonset the darkness had be- 
come so intense that she was obliged to 
g-o at a venture. Soon the fear of falling 
among- the cliffs struck a chill to her 



heart and saved her life ; for she made a 
sudden stop with the presentiment that 
another step would find the earth yawn- 
ing- beneath her. The cooler breeze which 
kissed her hair, the ripple of the waters, 
as well as her own instinct, g-ave her a 
hint that she had come to the end of the 
rocks of Saint Sulpice. She threw her 
arms round a tree, and waited for the 
dawn in a state of lively anxiety, for she 
heard a noise of weapons, of horses, and 
of human tong-ues. She felt thankful to 
the night which protected her from the 
danger of falling into the hands of the 
Chouans if they VQ2b\\y, as the miser had 
said, were surrounding- Fougeres. 

Like bonfires suddenly kindled by nig-ht, 
as a signal of liberty, some g-leams of faint 
purple ran along the mountain-tops, the 
lower slopes retaining- a bluish tinge in 
contrast with the dewy clouds fioating- 
over the valleys. Soon a crimson disk 
rose slowly on the horizon ; the skies g-ave 
answering light ; the ups and downs of the 
landscape, the steeple of St. Leonard's, 
the rocks, the meadows, which had been 
buried in shadow, reappeared little by 
little, and the trees on the hilltops showed 
their outlines in the nascent blaze. Rising- 
with a g-racef ul bound, the sun shook him- 
self free from his ribbons of flame-color, 
of ochre, and of sapphire. His lively lig-ht 
sketched harmonies of level lines from hill 
to hill, and flowed from vale to vale. The 
g-loom fled, and day overwhelmed all nat- 
ure. A sharp breeze shivered through 
the air ; the birds sang- ; on all sides life 
awoke. But the girl had hardlj'- had 
time to lower her gaze to the main body 
of this striking- landscape when, b\^ a 
phenomenon common enough in these 
well-watered countries, sheets of mist 
spread themselves, filling- the valleys, 
climbing the tallest hills, and burying- 
the fertile basin in a cloak, as of snow. 
And soon Mademoiselle de Verneuil could 
fancy that she saw before her one of 
those seas of ice wherewith the Alps are 
furnished. Then the cloudy air became 
billowy as the ocean, and sent up dense 
waves which, softly swinging- to and fro, 
undulating- and even whirling- rapidly, 
dyed themselves with bright rosy hues 



134 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



from the rays of the sun, with here and 
there clear patches hke lakes of liquid 
silver. Suddenly the north wind, breath- 
ing- on the phantasmag-oria, blew the fog- 
away, leaving- a heavy dew on the turf. 

Then Mademoiselle de Verneuil could 
see a hug-e brown mass installed on the 
rocks of Fougeres. Seven or eight hun- 
dred armed Chouans were swarming- in 
the Faubourg- Saint Sulpice like ants in an 
ant-heap, .and the precincts of the castle, 
where were posted three thousand men, 
who had come up as if by enchantment, 
were furiousl3^ attacked. The town, de- 
spite its grassy ramparts and its ancient, 
g-rizzled towers, mig-ht have succumbed 
in its sleep, if Hulot had not been on the 
watch. A battery, concealed on a height 
\ymg in the hollow of the ramparts, re- 
plied to the first fire of the Chouans by 
taking- them in flank on the road leading- 
to the castle, which was raked and swept 
clean by g*rape-shot. Then a company 
made a sortie from the Porte Saint Sul- 
pice, took advantag-e of the Chouans' 
surprise, formed on the roadwa^^, and 
beg-an a murderous fire on them. The 
Chouans did not even attempt resistance 
when they saw the ramparts of the castle 
covered with soldiers, as if the scene- 
painter's art had suddenly drawn long- 
blue lines round them, while the fire of the 
fortress protected that of the Republican 
sharp-shooters. However, another party 
of Chouans, having made themselves 
masters of the little valley of the Nancon, 
had climbed the rocky paths and reached 
the promenade, to which they mounted, 
the goatskins which covered it giving it 
the appearance of thatch browned by 
time. At the same moment heavy firing 
was heard in that part of the town which 
looks toward the valley of the Couesnon. 
It was clear that Fougeres was com- 
pletely surrounded and attacked on all 
sides. A conflagration which showed it- 
self on the east face of the rock, gave evi- 
dence that the Chouans were burning the 
suburbs ; but the showers of sparks which 
came from the shingled or broom-thatched 
roofs soon ceased, and columns of black 
smoke showed that the fire was going 
out. 



Once more gray and white clouds hid 
the scene from Mad moiselle de Verneuil, 
but the wind soon blew away this powder- 
fog. The Republican commander had al- 
ready changed the direction of his battery, 
so as successively to rake the Nancon 
Valley, the Queen's Staircase, and the 
rocks, as soon as he had seen from the 
top of the promenade the complete success 
of his earlier orders. Two guns placed by 
the guard-house of the Porte Saint Leo- 
nard mowed down the swarms of Chouans 
which had carried that position, while the 
Fougeres National Guard, which had 
hastily mustered in the church square, 
put the finishing touch to the rout of the 
enem3^ The fight did not last half an 
hour, and did not cost the Blues a hun- 
dred men. The Chouans, beaten crush- 
ingly, were already retiring in every di- 
rection under the orders of the Gars, 
whose bold stroke failed, though he knew 
it not, as a direct consequence of the affair 
at the Vivetiere, which had brought Hulot 
so secretly back to Fougeres. The guns 
had only come up that very night; for the 
mere news that ammunition was on its 
way would have been enough to make 
Montauran abandon an enterprise which 
was certain of defeat as soon as blown 
upon. Indeed, Hulot was as ardentl^^ de- 
sirous of giving the Gars a smart lesson, 
as the Gars could be of succeeding- in his 
dash, so as to influence the decisions of 
the First Consul. At the first cannon-shot 
the marquis saw" that it would be madness 
to go on, out of vanity, with a surprise 
which was already a failure. So, to avoid 
useless loss of his Chouans, he promptly 
sent half a dozen messengers with instruc- 
tions to effect a retreat at once on all 
sides. The commandant, catching sight 
of his foe surrounded by numerous ad- 
visers, Madame du Gua among the num- 
ber, tried to send them a volley on the 
rocks of Saint Sulpice. But the position 
had been too skillfull^" chosen for the 
young chief not to be out of danger. So 
Hulot suddenly changed his tactics, and 
became the attacker instead of the at- 
tacked. At the first movement which 
disclosed the marquis's intentions, the 
company posted under the castle walls 



THE CHOUANS. 



135 



set to work to cut off the retreat, by 
seizing the upper passes into the Nancon 
Valley. 

Despite her hatred, Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil could not help taking the side 
of the men whom her lover commanded ; 
and she turned quicklj^ toward the other 
end to see if it was free. But there she 
saw the Blues, who had no doubt gained 
the day on the other side of the town, re- 
turning from the Couesnon Vallej^ by the 
Gibarry Glen, so as to seize the ISTid-aux- 
Crocs and the part of the rocks of Saint 
Sulpice where lay the lower exit of the 
Nangon Valley. Thus the Chouans, shut 
up in the narrow meadow at the bottom 
of the gorge, seemed as if they must 
perish to the last man, so exact had 
been the foresight of the old Republican 
leader, and so skillfully had his measures 
been taken. But at these two spots the 
cannon which had served Hulot so well 
lost their efiicac3% a deperate liand-to- 
hand struggle took place, and, Fougeres 
once saved, the affair assumed the char- 
acter of an engagement to which the 
Chouans were well used. Mademoiselle 
de Verneuil at once understood the pres- 
ence of the masses of men she had seen 
about the country, the meeting of the 
chiefs at D'Orgemont's house, and all 
the events of the night ; though she 
could not conceive how she had managed 
to escape so man}^ dangers. The enter- 
prise, prompted by despair, interested 
her in so lively a manner that she re- 
mained motionless, gazing at the ani- 
mated pictures before her eyes. Soon 
the fight below the Saint Sulpice crags 
acquired a new interest for her. Seeing 
that the Blues had nearly mastered the 
Chouans, the marquis and his friends flew 
to their aid in the Nancon Valle3\ The 
foot of the rocks was covered by a multi- 
tude of knots of furious men, where the 
game of life and death was pla3-ed on 
ground and with arms much more favor- 
able to the Goatskins. 

Little by little the moving arena spread 
itself farther out, and the Chouans, scat- 
tering, gained the rocks \)y the help of 
the bushes which grew here and there. 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil was startled to 



see, almost too late, her enemies once 
more upon the heights, where they 
fought furiously to hold the dangerous 
paths which scaled them. As all the 
outlets of the high ground were held by 
one party or the other, she was afraid of 
finding herself surrounded, left the great 
tree beliind which she had kept herself, 
and took to flight, hoping to proflt by 
the old miser's directions. When she 
had hurried a long way on the slope of 
the heights of Saint Sulpice toward the 
great Couesnon Valley, she perceived a 
cow-shed some way oft", and guessed that 
it belonged to the house of Galope-Cho- 
pine, who was likely to have left his wife 
alone during the fight. Encouraged by 
this guess. Mademoiselle de Verneuil 
hoped to be well received in the house, 
and to be able to pass some hours there, 
till it might be possible for her to return 
without risk to Fougeres. To judge from 
appearances, Hulot was going to win. 
The Chouans fled so rapidly that she 
heard gunshots all roui;id her, and the 
fear of being hit by some bullet made her 
quickly gain the cottage whose chimney 
served her as a landmark. The path she 
had followed ended at a kind of shed, the 
roof of which, thatched with broom, was 
supported b^^ four large tree-trunks with 
the bar-k still on. A cobbed wall formed 
the end of the shed, in which were a 
cider press, a threshing-floor for buck- 
wheat, and some plowing gear. She 
stopped and leaned against one of the 
posts, without making up her mind to 
cross the muddy swamp serving as court- 
yard to the house, which, like a true Pa- 
risian, she had taken for a cow-stall. 

The cabin, protected fi*om the north 
wind by an eminence which rose above 
the roof and against which it rested, was 
not without touches of poetry, for ash- 
suckers, briars, and the flowers of the 
rocks wreathed their garlands round it. 
A rustic stair wrought between the shed 
and the house allowed the inhabitants to 
go and breathe a purer air on the rock- 
top. At the left of the cottage the hill 
sloped sharply down, and laid open to 
view a series of flelds, the nearest of 
which, no doubt, belonged to the farm. 



136 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



These fields gave the effect of a pleasant 
woodland, divided by banks of earth 
which were planted with trees, and the 
nearest of which helped to surround the 
courtyard. The lane which led to the 
fields was closed by a hug-e tree-trunk, 
half rotten, a kind of Breton gateway, the 
name of which may serve later as text for 
a final digression on local color. Between 
the stair wrought in the schist and the 
lane, with the swamp in front and the 
hanging rock behind, some granite blocks, 
roughly hewn, and piled the one on the 
other, formed the four corner-stones of 
the house and held up the coarse bricks, 
the beams, and the pebbles of which the 
walls were built. Half the roof was 
thatched with broom instead of straw, 
and the other half was shingled with 
slate-shaped i^ieces of wood, giving prom- 
ise of an interior divided in two parts ; 
and in fact one, with a clumsy hurdle as 
a door, served as stall, while the owners 
of the house inhabited the other. Though 
the cabin owed to the neig'hborhood of the 
town some conveniences which were com- 
pletely wanting a league or two further 
off, it showed well enough the unstable 
kind of life to which war and feudal cus- 
toms had so sternly subjected the man- 
ners of the serfs, so that to this day many 
peasants in these parts give the term 
•' abode " onl}^ to the chateau which their 
landlord inhabits. 

After examining the place with aston- 
ishment which may easily be imagined. 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil noticed here 
and there in the courtyard mud some 
pieces of granite so arranged as to serve 
as stepping stones toward the house — 
a mode of access not devoid of danger. 
But as she heard the roll of the musketry 
drawing audibly nearer, she skipped from 
stone to stone, as if crossing a brook, to 
beg for shelter. The house was shut in 
by one of those doors which are in two 
separate pieces, the lower of solid and 
massive wood, while the upper is filled by 
a shutter serving as window. Many 
shops in the smaller French towns exhibit 
this kind of door, but much more orna- 
mented, and provided in the lower part 
with an alarm-bell. The present speci- 



men opened with a wooden latch worthy 
of the Golden Age, and the upper part 
was never shut except at night, for this 
was the only opening b^^ which the light 
of day could enter the room. There was, 
indeed, a roughly -made casement ; but 
its glass seemed to be composed of bottle 
ends, and the leaden latticing which held 
them occupied so much of the space that 
it seemed rather intended to keep light 
out than to let it in. When Mademoi- 
selle de Verneuil made the door swing on 
its creaking hinges, whiffs of an appalling 
ammoniacal odor issued to meet her from 
the cottage, and she saw that the cattle 
had kicked through the interior partition. 
Thus the inside of the farm — for farm it 
was — did not match ill with the outside. 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil was asking- her- 
self whether it was possible that human 
beings could live in this deliberate state 
of filth, Avhen a small, ragged boy, ap- 
parently about eight or nine years old, 
suddenly showed his fresh white and red 
face, plump cheeks, bright eyes, teeth like 
ivory, and fair hair falling in tresses on 
his half-naked shoulders. His limbs were 
full of vigor, and his air had that agree- 
able wonder and savage innocence which 
makes children's eyes look larger than 
nature. The boy was perfectl3^ beautiful. 

''Where is your mother ? " said Marie, 
in a gentle voice, and stooping to kiss his 
eyes. 

When he had had his kiss, the child 
slipped awa}'^ from her like an eel, and dis- 
appeared behind a dunghill which lay be- 
tween the path and the house on the rise 
of the hill. Indeed, Galope-Chopine, like 
many Breton farmers, was accustomed, 
by a system of cultivation which is char- 
acteristic of them, to jmt his manure in 
elevated situations, so that when it comes 
to be used the rain has deprived it of all 
its virtues. Left to her own devices in the 
dwelling for a moment or two, Marie was 
not long in taking stock of its contents. 
The room in which she waited for Bar- 
bette was the onlj'' one in the house ; the 
most prominent and stately object in it 
was a huge chimney-piece, the mantel of 
which was formed of a slab of blue granite. 
The etymology of the word justified itself 



THE CHOUANS. 



137 



by a rag" of green serge edged with a pale- 
green ribbon, and cut out in rounds, hang- 
ing down the slab, in the midst of which 
stood a Virgin in colored plaster. On the 
pedestal of the statue Mademoiselle Ver- 
neuil read two verses of a sacred poem 
ver}^ jDopular in the country : 

" I am God's mother, full of grace, 
And the protectress of this place." 

Behind the Virg-in, a hideous picture, 
blotched with red and blue by way of 
coloring, presented Saint Labre. A bed, 
also of g-reen serge, of the shape called 
tomb-shaped, a roug-h cradle, a wheel, 
some clumsy chairs, and a carved dresser, 
furnished with some utensils, completed, 
with a few exceptions, the movable prop- 
erty of Galope-Chopine. In front of the 
casement there was a long- chestnut-wood 
table, with two benches in the same wood, 
to which such lig-ht as came throug-h the 
g-lass g-ave the tint of old mahog-any. 
An enormous cider cask, under whose 
spile Mademoiselle de Verneuil noticed 
some yellowish mud, the moisture of 
which was slowl}^ rotting- the floor, 
thoug-h it was composed of fragments 
of granite set in red clay, showed that 
the master of the house well deserved 
his Chouan nickname (Galope-Chopine, 
"tosspot"). Mademoiselle de Verneuil 
lifted her eyes as if to relieve them of this 
spectacle, and then it seemed to her that 
she saw all the bats in the world — so 
thick were the spiders' webs which hung 
from the ceiling. Two Imge pichefs full 
of cider stood on the long table. These 
vessels are a kind of jug of brown earth, 
the curious pattern of which is found in 
more than one district of France, and 
which a Parisian can imagine bj'- fanc}'- 
ing the jars in which epicures serve up 
Brittany butter, with the belly some- 
what swollen, varnished here and there 
in patches and shaded over with dark 
yellow like certain shells. The jugs end 
in a sort of mouth not unlike that of a frog 
taking in air above water. Marie's atten- 
tion had fixed on these pitchers, but the 
noise of the fighting, which sounded more 
and more distinct, urged her to seek a 
place more suitable for hiding without 



waiting for Barbette, when the woman 
suddenly appeared . 

'•' Good da}^, Becaniere ! " said she to 
her, suppressing an involuntary smile, 
as she saw a face which was not unlike 
the heads that architects place as orna- 
ments over the keystones of window- 
arches. 

" Aha I 3'ou come from D'Orgemont," 
answered Barbette, with no great air of 
alacrity. 

" Where are you going to put me ? for 
the Chouans are coming ! " 

" There ! " said Barbette, equally as- 
tounded at the beauty and the strange 
dress of a creature whom she dared not 
take for one of her own sex. " There ! 
in the priest's hole." 

She led her to the head of her own bed 
and made her go into the alcove. But 
they were both startled by hearing a 
stranger plashing through the swamp. 
Barbette had scarcely time to draw a 
bed-curtain and wrap Marie up in it, 
when she found herself face to face with 
a fugitive Chouan. 

" Old woman ! Avhere can one hide 
here? I am the Comte de Bauvan." 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil shuddered as 
she recognized the voice of the guest whose 
words — ^few as they were, and secret as 
they had been kept from her — had brought 
about the disaster at the Vivetiere, 

" Alas ! monseigneur, you see there is 
nothing of the kind here. The best I can 
do is to go out and keep watch. If the 
Blues come, I will warn you. If I stayed 
here, and they found me with 3^ou, they 
would burn my house." 

And Barbette left the room ; for she 
was not clever enough to adjust the 
claims of two mutual enemies who were, 
thanks to her husband's double part, 
equally entitled to the use of the hiding- 
place. 

" I have two shots still to fire, " said the 
count despairingh^, " but they have got 
in front of me already. Never mind ! I 
shall be much out of luck if, as they come 
back this waj', they take a fancy to look 
under the bed ! " 

He put his gun gently down by the bed- 
post where Marie was standing wrapped 



138 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



in the green serg-e, and he stooped to 
make sure that he could find room under 
the bed. He must infallibly have seen 
the feet of the concealed girl, but in this 
supreme moment she caught up his gun, 
leaped briskly into the open hut, and 
threatened the count, who burst out 
laughing as he recognized her ; for in 
order to hide herself, Marie had discarded 
her great Cliouan hat, and her hair fell 
in thick tufts from underneath a lace net. 

''Don't laugh, count I you are my pris- 
oner ! If you make a single movement 
you shall know what an offended woman 
is capable of." 

While the count and Marie were star- 
ing at each other with very different feel- 
ings, confused voices shouted from the 
rocks, " Save the Gars ! Scatter your- 
selves ! Save the Gars ! Scatter 3'our- 
selves ! " 

Barbette's voice rang over the tumult 
outside, and was heard in the cottage 
with very different sensations \)y the two 
foes ; for she spoke less to her son than 
to them. 

" Don't you see the Blues ? " cried Bar- 
bette, sharpl3% "Are you coming here, 
wicked little brat ! or shall I come to 
you ? Do you want to be shot ? Get 
away quickl}^ ! " 

During these details, which took little 
time, a Blue jumped into the swamp. 
" Beau-Pied !" cried Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil to him. 

Beau-Pied ran in at her voice, and took 
rather better aim at the count than his 
deliveress had done. 

" Aristocrat ! " said the sly soldier, 
" don't stir, or I will demolish you like 
the Bastille in two jiffies ! " 

"Monsieur Beau-Pied." continued Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil in a coaxing tone, 
" you will answer to me for this prisoner. 
Do what 3^ou like with him ; but you must 
get him safe and sound to Fougeres for 
me. 

''Enough, madame ! " 

" Is the road to Fougeres clear now ? " 

" It is safe enough, unless the Chouans 
come alive again." 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil armed herself 
gayly with the light fowling-piece, smiled 



sarcasticallj^ as she said to her prisoner, 
" Good-b3% Monsieur le Comte ; we meet 
again," and fled to the path, after put- 
ting on her great hat once more. 

''I see," said the count bitterly, "a 
little too late, that one ought never to 
make jests on the honor of women who 
have none left." 

"Aristocrat !" cried Beau-Pied harshly, 
" if you don't want me to send you to that 
ci-devant paradise of yours, say nothing 
against that fair lady ! " 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil returned to 
Fougeres by the paths which connect the 
crags of Saint Sulpice and the Nid-aux- 
Crocs. When she reached this latter 
eminence and was hastening along the 
winding path which had been laid in the 
rough granite, she admired the beautiful 
little valley of the Nancon, just before so 
noisy, now perfectly quiet. From wiiere 
she was the valley looked like a green 
lane. She entered the town by the gate 
of Saint Leonard, at which the little path 
ended. The townsmen — still alarmed by 
the fight, which, considering the gun- 
shots heard afar off, seemed likely to last 
throughout the day — Avere awaiting the 
return of the National Guard in order to 
learn the extent of their losses. When 
the men of Fougeres saw the girl in her 
strange costume, her hair disheveled, a 
gun in her hand, her shawl and gown 
whitened by contact with walls, soiled 
with mud and drenched with dew, their 
curiosity was all the more vividly excited 
in that the power, the beaut}', and the 
eccentricity of the fair Parisian already 
formed their staple subject of conversa- 
tion. 

Francine, a prey to terrible anxiety, 
had sat up for her mistress the whole 
night, and when she saw her she was 
about to speak, but was silenced by a 
friendly gesture. 

"I am not dead, child," said Marie. 
"Ah ! when I left Paris I pined for ex- 
citing adventures — I have had them,'' 
added she, after a pause. But when 
Francine was about to go and order break- 
fast, remarking to her mistress that she 
must be in great need of it. Mademoiselle 
de Verneuil cried, " Oh, no I A bath I 



THE CHOUANS. 



139 



a bath first ! The toilet before all." And 
Francine was not a little surprised to hear 
her mistress ask for the most elegant and 
fashionable dresses which had been packed 
up. When she had finished her breakfast, 
Marie sat about dressing- with all the 
elaborate care which a woman is wont to 
bestow on this all-important business when 
she has to show herself in the midst of a 
ball-room to the e^^es of a beloved object. 
The maid could not understand her mis- 
tress's mocking ga^^ety. It was not the 
joy of loving- (for no woman can mistake 
that expression) ; it was concentrated 
spite, which boded ill. Marie arranged 
the curtains of the window, whence the 
e3'e fell on a magnificent panorama ; then 
she drew the sofa near the fire-place, set 
it in a light favorable to her face, bade 
Francine get flowers so as to give the 
room a festal appearance, and when they 
were brought, superintended their disposal 
in the most effective manner. Then, after 
throwing a last glance of satisfaction on 
her apartment, she told Francine to send 
to the commandant and ask for her pris- 
oner. 

^he stretched herself voluptuously on 
the couch, half for the sake of resting, 
half in order that she might assume an 
attitude of frail elegance, which in certain 
women has an irresistible fascination. 
Her air of languid softness, the provok- 
ing arrangement of her feet, the tips of 
which just peeped from the skirt of her 
gown, the abandon of her body, the bend 
of her neck, even the angle formed by her 
taper fingers, which hung from a cushion 
like the petals of a tuft of jasmine, made 
up, with her glances, a harmony of al- 
lurement. She burned some perfumes to 
give the air that soft influence which is so 
powerful on the human frame, and which 
often smootlies the way to conquests 
which women wish to gain without ap- 
parently inviting them. A few moments 
latei- the old soldier's heavy step echoed 
in the antechamber. 

'•Well ! commandant, where is my cap- 
tive?" 

" I have just ordered out a picket of 
twelve men to shoot him as one taken 
arms in hand." 



" What ! you have settled the fate of 
my prisoner ?" she said. "Listen, com- 
mandant ! I do not think, if I may 
trust your face, that the death of a man 
in cold blood is a thing particularly de- 
lightful to you. Well, then, give me back 
my Chouan, and grant him a reprieve, 
for which I will be responsible. I assure 
you that this aristocrat has become in- 
dispensable to me, and that he will help 
in executing our projects. Besides, to 
shoot a man like this, who is playing at 
Chouannerie, would be as silly a thing 
as to send a volley at a balloon, which 
needs only a pin-prick to shrivel it up. 
For God's sake, leave cruelty to aristo- 
crats ; Republics should be generous. 
Would you not, if it had lain with you, 
have pardoned the victims of Quiberon 
and many others ? There, let your twelve 
men go and make the rounds, and come 
and dine with me and my prisoner. There 
is only another hour of daylight, and you 
see," added she, with a smile, '"'if you 
are not quick, my toilet will miss its 
eft'ect." 

''But, mademoiselle — " said the com- 
mandant in surprise. 

" Well, what ? I know what you mean. 
Come, the count shall not escape a'ou. 
Sooner or later the plump butterfly will 
burn his wings in 3^ our platoon fire." 

The commandant shrugged his shoul- 
ders slightly, like a man who is forced to 
obey, willy-nill^'^, the wishes of a pretty 
woman, and came back in half an hour, 
followed by the Comte de Bauvan. 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil pretended to 
be caught unawares by her guests, and 
showed some confusion at being seen by 
the count in so careless an attitude. But 
as she saw in the nobleman's eyes that 
her first attack had succeeded, she rose 
and devoted herself to her company with 
the perfection of grace and politeness. 
Nothing forced or studied in her posture, 
her smile, her movements, or her voice, be- 
traj^ed a deliberate design. Everything 
was in harmony, and no exaggeration 
suggested that she was affecting the 
manners of a society in which she had 
not lived. When the Royalist and the 
Republican had taken their seats, she 



140 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



bent a look of severity on the count. 
He knew women well enoug-h to be aware 
that the insult of which he had been 
g-uilty was likely to be rewarded with 
sentence of death. But though he sus- 
pected as much, he preserved the air, 
neither g-ay nor sad, of a man who at 
any rate does not expect any such tragic 
ending-. Soon it seemed to him absurd 
to fear death in the presence of a beautiful 
woman, and finally Marie's air of severity 
began to put notions in his head. 

'''Who knows," thought he to himself, 
*'if a count's coronet, still to be had, ma}^ 
not please her better than a marquis's that 
is lost ? Montauran is a dry stick enough, 
while I — " and he looked at himself with 
. satisfaction. "'So^x, the least that I can 
g-ain is to save my head I " 

But his diplomatic reflections did not 
do him much good. The liking which he 
had made up his mind to feig'n for Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil became a violent 
fancy which the dangerous girl took 
pleasure in stimulating. 

" Count," she said, '' you are wry prison- 
er, and I have the right to dispose of you. 
Your execution will not take place with- 
out my consent, and, as it happens, I am 
too full of curiosity to let you be shot 
now." 

''But suppose I were to be obstinately 
discreet?" answered he, merrily. 

' ' With an honest woman perhaps 3-0U 
might; but with a 'wench!' Come, 
come ! count, that would be impos- 
sible." 

These words, full of bitter irony, were 
hissed out (as Sully says, speaking- of the 
Duchess of Beaufort) from so sharp a beak 
that the nobleman in his surprise merely 
g-azed at his ferocious adversary. 

"Come," she went on mockingly, "not 
to contradict you, I will be, like these 
creatures, 'a kind girl.' To begin with, 
here is j^our g-un ; " and she handed him 
his weapon with a gesture of g-entle sar- 
casm. 

" On the faith of a gentleman, made- 
moiselle, you are acting — " 

'•Ah ! " she said, breaking in, "I have 
had enough of the faith of gentlemen. That 
was the assurance on which I entered the 



Vivetiere. Your chief swore to me that 
I and mine should be safe there ! " 

" Infamous ! " cried Hulot, with froA\Ti- 
ing brows. 

"It was Monsieur le Comte's fault," 
she said, pointing to him. " The Gars 
certainly meant quite sincerely to keep 
his word ; but this gentleman threw on 
me some slander or other which confirmed 
all the tales that ' Charette's Filly' had 
been kind enough to imagine." 

"Mademoiselle," said the count, dis- 
ordered, " if my head were under the ax, 
I could swear that I said but the truth — " 

" In saying what ? " 

"That you had been the — " 

" Out with the word ! — the mistress — " 

" Of the Marquis (now Duke) of Lenon- 
court, who is one of my friends," said the 
count. 

"Now, I might let you go to execu- 
tion," said Marie, unmoved in appearance 
b}^ the deliberate accusation of the count, 
who sat stupefied at the real or feigned 
indifference which she showed toward the 
charge. But she went on, with a laugh, 
"Dismiss forever from your mind the 
sinister image of those pellets of lead ! 
for you have no more offended me than 
this friend of yours whose — what is it ? — 
fie on me ! — you would have me to haA'e 
been. Listen, count, have you not visited 
my father, the Duke de Verneuil ? Eh ? " 

Thinking, no doubt, that tlie confidence 
which she was about to make was of too 
great importance for Hulot to be admit- 
ted to it. Mademoiselle de Verneuil beck- 
oned the count to her and said some words 
in his ear. Monsieur de Bauvan let slip 
a half-uttered exclamation of surprise, 
and looked Avith a puzzled air at Marie, 
who suddenly completed the memory to 
which she had appealed b}^ leaning against 
the chimney-piece in a child's attitude of 
innocent simplicity. The count dropped 
on one knee. 

" Mademoiselle ! " he cried, " I implore 
3'ou to grant me pardon, however un- 
worthy I may be of it." 

" I have nothing to forgive," she said. 
"You are as far from the truth now in 
your repentance as you Avere in your 
insolent supposition at the Vivetiere. 



THE CH0UAN8. 



141 



But tlicse secrets are above your under- 
standing. Know onh'', count," added 
she, gravely, "that the Duke de Ver- 
neuil's daughter has too much loftiness of 
soul not to take a lively interest in you." 

" Even after an insult ? " said the count, 
with a sort of regret. 

"Are not some persons too highh^ 
placed to be within the reach of insult ? 
Count, I am one of them." 

And as she spoke these words the girl 
assumed an air of noble pride, which over- 
awed her prisoner and made the whole 
comedy much less clear to Hulot. The 
commandant put his hand to his mus- 
tache as though to twist it up, and looked 
with a somewhat disturbed air at Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil, who gave him to 
understand by a sign that she was mak- 
ing no change in her plan. 

"Now," she said, after an interval, 
"let us talk. Francine, give us lights, 
child." 

And she brought the conversation very 
cleverly round to that time which a few 
short years had made the cmcien regime. 
She carried the count back to this period 
so well by the vivacity of her remarks 
and her sketches, she supplied him with 
so man}' occasions of showing his wit by 
the complaisant ingenuity with which she 
indulged him in repartees, that he ended 
by thinking to himself that he had never 
been more agreeable, and, his j-outh re- 
stored by the notion, he tried to com- 
municate to this alluring person the good 
opinion which he had of himself. The 
malicious girl took delight in tr^ang upon 
him all the devices of her coquetry, and 
was able to play the game all the more 
skillfully that for her it was a game, and 
nothing more. And so at one moment 
she let him believe that he had made a 
quick advance in her favor; at another, 
as though astonished at the liveliness of 
her feelings, she showed a coldness which 
charmed the count, and helped sensibly 
to increase his impromptu j^assion. She 
behaved exactly like an angler who from 
time to time pulls up his line to see if a 
fish has bitten. The poor count allowed 
himself to be caught by the innocent man- 
ner in which his deliveress had accepted a 



compliment or two, neatly turned enough. 
The emigration, the Republic, Brittany, 
the Cliouans, were things a thousand 
miles away from his thoughts. Hulot sat 
bolt upright, motionless and solemn as the 
god Terminus. His want of breeding in- 
capacitated him entirely for this stjde of 
conversation. He had, indeed, a shrewd 
suspicion that the two speakers must be 
very droll people, but his intelligence could 
soar no higher than the attempt to under- 
stand them so far as to be sure that they 
were not plotting against the Republic 
under cover of ambiguous language. 

" Mademoiselle," said the count, " Mon- 
tauran is well-born, well-bred, and a pretty 
fellow enough ; but he is absolutely igno- 
rant of gallantry. He is too young to have 
seen Versailles. His education has been 
a failure, and instead of playing mischiev- 
ous tricks, he is a man to deal dagger- 
blows. He can love fiercely, but he will 
never acquire the perfect flower of man- 
ners by which Lauzim, Adhemar, Coignj^ 
and so many others were disting'uished. 
He does not possess the pleasing talent of 
saying to women those pretty nothings 
which after all suit them better than ex- 
plosions of passion, whereof they are soon 
tired. Yes ! though he be a man who has 
been fortunate enough with the sex, he 
has neither the ease nor the grace of the 
character." 

"' Idid not fail to perceive it," answered 
Marie. 

"Aha ! " said the count to himself, "that 
tone and look meant that we shall soon be 
on the very best terms together; and, 
faith I in order to be hers, I will believe 
anything she wishes me to believe ! " 

Dinner being announced, he offered his 
hand to her. Mademoiselle de Verneuil 
did the honors of the meal with a polite- 
ness and tact which could onh' have been 
acquired by a court education and in the 
polished life of the court. 

"' You hnd better go," said she to Hulot, 
as they rose from the table ; "you would 
frighten him ; while if we are alone I shall 
soon find out what I want to know. He 
has come to the pitch Avhere a man. tells 
me everything he thinks, and sees every- 
thing through my eyes." 



142 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



" And afterward ?" asked the comman- 
dant, as if demanding- the extradition of 
his prisoner. 

" Oh ! he must be free," said she, " free 
as air ! " 

" Yet he was caught with arms in his 
hands." 

''No," said slie, with one of the jesting- 
sophistries which women love to oppose 
to peremptory reason, "1 had disarmed 
him before. Count," she said to the 
nobleman, as she re-entered the room, 
" I have just begg-ed your freedom ; but 
nothing for nothing ! " she added, with a 
smile and a sidelong motion of her head, 
as if putting questions to him. 

" Ask me for anything, even my name 
and my honor ! " he cried in his intoxica- 
tion. "I lay all at your feet!" and he 
darted forward to grasp her hand, en- 
deavoring to represent his desire as 
gratitude. But Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil was not a girl to mistake the two ; 
and therefore, smiling all the while, so as 
to give some hope to this new lover, but 
stepping back a pace or two, she said, 
''Will you give me cause to repent my 
trust ? " 

"A girl's thoughts run faster than a 
woman's," he replied, laughing. 

"A girl has more to lose than a 
woman." 

" True ; those who carr3^ treasures 
should be mistrustful." 

"Let us drop this talk," said she, " and 
speak seriously. You are going to give a 
ball at Saint James. I have been told 
that 3"ou have established there yowo 
stores, your arsenals, and the seat of 
your government. When is the ball ? " 

"To-morrow night." 

"You will not be surprised, sir, that a 
slandered woman should wish, with a 
woman's obstinacy, to obtain a signal 
reparation for the insults which she has 
undergone in the presence of those who 
witnessed them. Therefore, I will go to 
your ball. I ask you to grant me your 
protection from the moment I appear there 
to the moment I leave. I will not have 
your word," said she, noticing that he 
was placing his hand on his heart. "I 
hate oaths ; the^^ are too like precautions. 



Simply tell me that you will undertake to 
hold my person scathless from all criminal 
or shameful attempt. Promise to redress 
the wrong you have done me by announc- 
ing that I am really the Duke de Vemeuil's 
daughter, and by holding your tongue 
about all the ills I owed to a lack of pa- 
ternal protection. We shall then be quits. 
What ? Can a couple of hours' protection 
given to a lady at a ball be too heavy a 
ransom ? Come ! you are worth no more!" 
But she took all the bitterness out of her 
words with a smile. 

"What do you ask, then, for my gun's 
ransom ? " said the count with a laugh. 

" Oh ! more than for yourself." 

"What?" 

" Secrecy. Believe me, Bauvan, only 
women can detect women. I know that 
if 3' ou say a word I may be murdered on 
the road. Yesterday certain bullets gave 
me warning of the danger I have to run 
on the highway. That lady is as clever 
at the chase as she is deft at the toilet. 
No waiting -maid ever undressed me so 
quickly. For Heaven's sake ! " she said, 
" take care that I have nothing of that 
kind to fear at the ball." 

"You will be under my protection 
there ! " said the count proudly. " But," 
he asked with some sadness, " are j'ou 
going to Saint James for Montauran's 
sake?" 

" You want to know more than I know 
myself ! " she said with a laugh, adding, 
after a pause, "Now go! I will myself 
escort you out of the town ; for you all 
wage war like mere savages here." 

" Then, you care a little for me? " cried 
the count. " Ah, mademoiselle, allow me 
to hope that you will not be insensible to 
my friendship, for I suppose I must be con- 
tent with that, must I not ? " he added, 
with an air of coxcombr3\ 

"Go away, yon conjurer!" said she, 
with the cheerful expression of a woman 
who confesses something that compro- 
mises neither her dignity nor her secrets. 

Then she put on a jacket and accom- 
panied the count to the Nid-aux-Crocs. 
When she had come to the end of the 
path, she said to him, "Sir! observe the 
most absolute secrecy, even with the mar- 



THE CHOUANS. 



143 



quis," and she placed her fing-er on her 
lips. The count, emboldened by her air 
of kindness, took her hand (which she let 
him take as though it were the greatest 
favor) and kissed it tenderly. 

"Oh! mademoiselle," cried he, seeing- 
himself out of all dang-er, '-'count on me 
in life and in death. Thoug-h the grati- 
tude I owe you is almost equal to that 
Avhich I owe my mother, it will be very 
difficult for me to feel toward you only 
respect."' 

He darted up the path, and when she 
had seen him gain the crags of Saint Sul- 
pice, Marie nodded her head with a satis- 
fiea . ir, and whispered to herself, "The 
fat fellow has given me more than his life 
for his life. I could make him my creat- 
ure at very small expense. Creature or 
creator, that is all the difference between 
one man and another ! " 

She did not finish her sentence, but cast 
a despairing glance to heaven, and slowly 
made her way back to the Porte Saint 
Leonard, where Hulot and Corentin were 
waiting for her. 

" Two days more ! " she cried, " and — " 
but she stopped, seeing that she and 
Hulot were not alone — "and he shall fall 
under your guns," she whispered to the 
commandant. He stepped back a pace, 
and gazed, with an air of satire not easy 
to describe, on the girl whose face and 
bearing showed not a touch of remorse. 
There is in women this admirable quality, 
that the}'- never think out their most 
blameworthy actions. Feeling carries 
them along ; they are natural even in 
their very dissembling, and in them alone 
crime can be found without accompany- 
ing baseness, for in most cases "they 
know not Avhat they do." 

" I am going to Saint James, to the 
ball given by the Chouans, and — " 

"But," said Corentin, interrupting her, 
" it is five leagues off. Would you like 
me to go with you?" 

" You are vcr}^ busy," said she to him, 
" with a subject of which I never think — 
with yourself ! " 

The contempt wliich Marie showed for 
Corentin pleased Hulot particularh*, and 
he made his grimace as she vanished 



toward Saint Leonard's. Corentin fol- 
lowed her with his eyes, showing in his 
countenance a silent consciousness of the 
fated superiority which, as he thought, 
he could exercise over this charming 
creature, by governing the passions on 
which he counted to make her one day 
his. When Mademoiselle de Verneuil got 
home she began eagerly to meditate on 
her ball-dresses. Fiancine, accustomed 
to obey without ever comprehending her 
mistress's objects, rummaged the band- 
boxes, and proposed a Greek costume — 
everything at that time obeyed the Greek 
influence. The dress which Marie settled 
upon would travel in a box easy to carry. 

" Francine, my child, I am going to 
make a country excursion. Make up your 
mind whether you will stay here or come 
with me." 

"Stay here!" cried Francine; "and 
who is to dress 3'ou ? " 

" W^here did jon put the glove which I 
gave you back this morning ? " 

"' Here it is." 

" Sew a green ribbon in it ; and, above 
all, take money wath you." But when 
she saw that Francine had in her hands 
newly coined pieces, she cried, "' You have 
only to do that if you want to get us mur- 
dered ! Send Jeremy to wake Corentin ; 
but no — the wretch would follow us. Send 
to the commandant instead, to ask him, 
from me, for crowns of six francs." 

Marie thought of everything with that 
woman's wit which takes in the smallest 
details. While Francine was finishing the 
preparations for her unintelligible depart- 
ure, she set herself to attempt the imita- 
tion of the owl's hoot, and succeeded in 
counterfeiting Marche-a-Terre's signal so 
as to deceive anybody. As midnight 
struck she sallied from the Porte Saint 
Leonard, gained the little path on the 
ISTid-aux-Crocs, and, followed by Francine, 
ventured across the valley of Gibarry, 
walking with a steady step, for she was 
inspired by that strong will which imparts 
to the gail and to the body an air of 
power. How to leave a ball-room with- 
out catching a cold is for women an im- 
portant matter ; but let them feel passion 
in their hearts, and their bod}^ becomes as 



144 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



it were of bronze. It might have taken 
even a daring- man a long time to resolve 
on the undertaking, yet it had scarcely 
showed its first aspect to Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil when its dangers became attrac- 
tions for her. 

" You are going without commending 
yourself to God !" said Francine, who had 
turned back to gaze at Saint Leonard's 
steeple. 

The pious Breton girl halted, clasped 
her hands, and said an Ave to Saint 
Anne of Auray, begging her to bless the 
journey ; while her mistress stood lost in 
thought, looking by turns at the simple 
attitude of her maid, who was praying 
fervently, and at the effects of the misty 
moonlight which, gliding through the 
carved work of the church, gave to the 
granite the lightness of filigree. The two 
travelers lost no time in reaching Galope- 
Chopine's hut ; but light as was the 
'Sound of their steps, it woke one of the 
large dogs to whose fidelity the Bretons 
commit the guardianship of the plain 
wooden latch Avhich shuts their doors. 
The dog ran up to the two strangers, and 
his bark became so threatening that they 
were obliged to cry for help and retrace 
their steps some Avay. But nothing 
stirred. Mademoiselle de Verneuil whis- 
tled the owl's hoot ; at once the rusty 
door-hinges creaked sharply in answer, 
and Galope-Chopine, who had hastily 
risen, showed his somber face. 

"I have need," said Marie, presenting 
Montauran's g'love to the surveillant of 
Fougeres. '"'to travel quickly to Saint 
James. The Count de Bauvan told me 
til at A'ou Avould act as vay guide and pro- 
tector thither. Therefore, my dear Ga-' 
lope-Chopine, get us two donkeys to ride, 
and be ready to bear us compan}'. Time 
is precious, for if we do not reach Saint 
James before to-morrow evening, we shall 
sec neither the Gars nor the ball." 

Galope-Chopine took the glove Avith a 
puzzled air, turned it this way and that, 
and kindled a candle, made of resin, as 
thick as the little finger and of the color 
of gingerbread. These AA-ares, imported 
into Brittany from the north of Europe, 
show, like CA^erything that meets the e3'e 



in this strange country, ignorance of even 
the commonest commercial principles. 
After inspecting the green ribbon, and 
staring at Mademoiselle de Verneuil, after 
scratching his ear, after drinking a pitcher 
of cider himself and offering a glass of it 
to the fair lady, Galope-Chopine left her 
before the table, on the bench of polished 
chestnut-wood, and Avent to seek two 
donkeys. The deep blue light which the 
outlandish candle cast was not strong 
enough to master the fantastic pla^" of the 
moonbeams that A-aried with dots of light 
the dark colorings of the floor and furni- 
ture of the smoky cabin. The little boy 
had raised his startled head, and ;*jst 
above his fair hair two cows shoAved, 
through the holes in the stable-wall, their 
pink muzzles and their great, flashing 
eyes. The big dog, Avhose countenance 
was not the least intelligent of the family 
group, appeared to be examining the tAA^o 
strangers with a curiosity equal to that 
of the child. A painter might haA-e spent 
a long time in admiring the effects of this 
night-piece ; but Marie, not anxious to 
enter into talk with Barbette, who Avas 
sitting up in bed like a specter, and began 
to open her ca'Cs A^ery wide as she recog- 
nized her A'isitor, went out to escape at 
once the pestiferous air of the ho\'el, and 
the questions Avhich '' La Becaniere " was 
likely to put to her. She climbed with 
agilit}'- the staircase up the rock which 
sheltered Galope-Chopine's hut, and ad- 
mired the A'ast assembly of details in a 
landscape where the point of view changed 
with every step forward or backward, up- 
Avard or downward. 

At the moment the moonlight en- 
veloped the valley of the Couesnon as 
with luminous fog, and sure enough a 
woman Avho carried slighted loA-e in her 
heart must have relished the melancholy 
which this soft light produces in the soul 
b}"" the fantastic shapes which it impresses 
on solid bodies, and the tints which it 
throAA's upon the AA'aters. Then the si- 
lence was broken \)j the bray of the asses. 
Marie quicklj'' descended to the Chouan's 
hut, and they set off at once. Galope- 
Chopine, Avho was armed Avith a double- 
barreled fowling-piece, wore a goatskin, 




Mademoiselle de Verneuil. 
" I am horrid 1 I hav^e the air of a statue of Liberty." 



Balzac, Volume Three. 



The Chouans. 



THE CHOUANS, 



145 



which gave him the appearance of Robin- 
son Crusoe. His wrinkled and pimpled 
countenance was scarcely visible under 
the broad hat which the peasants still 
keep as a vestig-e of old time, feeling 
pride at having- gained, in spite of their 
serfdom, the sometime decoration of lord- 
\y heads. This nocturnal procession, 
guarded by a guide whose dress, atti- 
tude, and general appearance had some- 
thing patriarchal, resembled the scene of 
the Flight into Egypt, which we owe to 
the somber pencil of Rembrandt. Galope- 
Chopine avoided the highway with care, 
and guided the travelers through the vast 
labj^rinth of the Breton cross-roads. 

Then Mademoiselle de Verneuil began 
to understand the Chouan fashion of w^ar- 
fare. As she traversed these roads she 
could better appreciate the real condition 
of districts which, seen from above, had 
appeared to her so charming, but which 
must be penetrated in order to grasp 
their danger and their inextricable diffi- 
culty. Around each field the peasants 
have raised, time out of mind, an earthen 
wall, six feet high, of the form of a trun- 
cated pyramid, on the top whereof chest- 
nut trees, oaks, and beeches grow. This 
wall, planted after such a fashion, is 
called a " hedge " — the Norman style of 
hedge — and the long branches of the 
trees which crown it, flung, as they al- 
most always are, over the pathway, make 
a huge arbor overhead. The roadways, 
gloomily walled in by these clay banks 
or walls, have a strong resemblance to 
the fosse of a fortress, and when the 
granite, which in this country almost 
always crops up flush with the surface 
of the ground, does not compose a kind 
of uneven pavement, the}^ become so im- 
passable that the smallest cart cannot 
travel over them without the help of a 
pair of oxen or horses, small but gener- 
ally stout. These roads are so constantly 
muddy that custom has established for 
foot passengers a path inside the field 
and along the hedge — a path called a 
rote, beginning and ending with each 
holding of land. In order to get from 
one field to another it is thus necessary 
to climb the hedge by means of several 



steps, which the rain often makes slippery 
enough. 

But these were by no means the only 
obstacles which travelers had to over- 
come in these tortuous lanes. Each 
piece of land, besides being fortified in 
the manner described, has a regular en- 
trance about ten feet wide, and crossed 
by what is called in the West an echalier. 
This is the trunk or a stout branch of a 
tree, one end of w^hich, drilled through, 
fits, as it were, into a handle composed of 
another piece of shapeless wood serving 
as a pivot. The extreme butt-end of the 
ec/ia^^er extends a little beyond the pivot, 
so as to be able to carry a heavy burden 
in the shape of a counter-weight, and to 
allow even a child to Avork this strange 
kind of countr\^ gate. The other end of 
it rests in a hole made on the inside of the 
hedge. Sometimes the peasants econ- 
omize the counter-weight stone by letting 
the heavy end of the trunk or branch 
hang over. The style of the barrier is 
altered according to the fancy of each 
owner. It often consists of a single 
branch, the two ends of which are sock- 
eted into the hedge by earth ; often also 
it looks like a square gate built up of sev- 
eral thin branches fixed at intervals like 
the rungs of a ladder set crosswise. 
This gate turns like the echalier 
itself, and its other end plays on a 
small wheel of solid wood. These 
hedges and gates give the ground the 
appearance of a huge chess-board, each 
field of which makes an inclosure com- 
pleteh'' isolated from the rest, walled in 
like a fortress, and like it possessing 
ramparts. 

The gate, easy to defend, gives the as- 
sailant the least easy of all conquests; 
for the Breton peasant thinks that he 
fertilizes his fallows by allowing them to 
grow huge broom bushes — a shrub which 
finds such congenial treatment in this 
district that it soon grows to the height 
of a man. This notion — worthy of people 
who put their manure on the highest 
patch of their farmyards — keeps upon 
the soil, in one field out of every four, 
forests of broom, in the midst of which 
all manner of ambuscades can be ar- 



146 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



rang-ed. And, to conclude, there is 
hardly a field where there are not 
some old cider -apple trees dropping- 
their branches low over it and killing- 
the crops which they cover. Thus, if 
the reader will remember how small 
the fields are where everj'- hedg-e sup- 
ports far ranging- trees, whose g-reedy 
roots monopolize a fourth of the g-round, 
he will have an idea of the ag-ricultural 
arrangement and general appearance of 
the countrj^ which Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil was now traversing-. 

It is difficult to saj' whether anxiety to 
avoid disputes about title, or the custom, 
dear to laziness, of shutting- in cattle 
without having to herd them, has most 
to do with the construction of these for- 
midable inclosures, whose enduring ob- 
stacles make the country impenetrable, 
and forbid all war with large bodies of 
men. When the lay of the g-round has 
been examined step by step, it is clear 
what must be the fated ill-success of a 
war between regular and irregular 
troops ; for five hundred men mig-ht 
laugh at the army of a king-dom. In 
this was the whole secret of the Chouan 
war. And Mademoiselle de Verneuil at 
once understood the need which the Re- 
public had of stifling disorder b^^ means 
of police and diplomacy rather than by 
the useless use of military force. What 
could be done, indeed, against men clever 
enough to scorn the holding of towns, and 
make sure of holding the country, with 
its indestructible fortifications ? How do 
aught but negotiate, when the whole 
strength of these blinded peasants lay 
in a skillful and enterprising chief ? She 
admired the genius of the minister who 
had guessed in his study the secret of 
peace ; she thought she could see the 
considerations working- on men power- 
ful enough to hold a whole empire under 
their glance, and whose deeds, criminal 
to the vulgar eye, are only the workings 
of a vast thought. 

These awe-inspiring souls are divided, 
one knows not how, between the power of 
fate and destiny, and they possess a fore- 
sight the first evidence of which exalts 
them. The crowd looks for them among 



itself, then lifts its eyes and sees them 
soaring above it. This consideration ap- 
peared to justify and even to ennoble the 
thoughts of veng-eance which Mademoi- 
selle de Verneuil had formed ; and in con- 
sequence her reflections and her hopes 
gave her energy enough to bear the 
unwonted fatigues of her journey. At 
the end of each property Galope-Chopine 
was obliged to make the two travelers 
dismount and to help them to climb the 
difficult stiles ; while, when the rotes 
came to an end, they had to g-et into the 
saddle again and venture into the muddy 
lanes, which alread}^ g-ave tokens of the 
approach of winter. The joint action of 
the great trees, of the hollow waj^s, and 
of the field inclosures, kept up in the 
lower g-rounds a dampness which often 
wrapped the travelers as in a cloak of 
ice. After toilsome exertions they reached 
b}'- sunrise the woods of Marig-naj'', and 
the journey in the wide forest path then 
became less difiicult. The vault of branches 
and the thickness of the tree-trunks shel- 
tered the voyag-ers from the inclemency 
of the sky, and the manifold difficulties 
which they had at first to surmount dis- 
appeared. 

They had scarcely journeyed a league 
across the wood when they heard afar off 
a confused murmur of voices and the sound 
of a bell, whose silvery tinkle was free 
from the monotonous tone given by cattle 
as fhQj walk. As he went along, Galope- 
Chopine listened to this music with much 
attention, and soon a g-ust of wind brought 
to his ear a snatch of psalmody which 
seemed to produce a great effect on him. 
He at once drove the wear^^ beasts into a 
path diverging from that which would 
lead the travelers to Saint James ; and 
he turned a deaf ear to the representa- 
tions of Mademoiselle de Verneuil, whose 
fears increased with the gloomy character 
of the landscape. 

To right and left huge g-ranite rocks, 
piled the one on the other, presented sin- 
gular outlines, while between them enor- 
mous roots crawled, like g-reat snakes, 
in search of distant nourishment for im- 
memorial beeches. The two sides of the 
road resembled those subterranean grot- 



THE CHOUAXS. 



14'; 



toes which are famous for their stalac- 
tites. Vast festoons of \\j, among- which 
the dark verdure of holh^ and of heath 
miingled with the g-reenish or whitish 
patches of moss, veiled the crag's and the 
entrance of some deep caves. When the 
three travelers had gone some steps in a 
narrow path a most surprising- spectacle 
presented itself to Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil's eyes, and explained to her Galope- 
Chopine's obstinacy. 

A semi-circular basin, wholly composed 
of masses of granite, formed an amphi- 
theater on whose irreg-ular tiers tall black 
pines and 3-ellowing chestnuts rose one 
above the other like a great circus, into 
which the wintry sun seemed rather to 
instill a pale coloring- than to pour its 
lig-ht, and where autumn had already 
thrown the tawny carpet of its withered 
leaves on all sides. In the middle of this 
hall, which seemed to have had the del- 
ug-e for its architect, there rose three 
enormous druidic stones, composing- a vast 
altar, upon which was fastened an old 
church banner. Some hundred men knelt, 
bareheaded and fervently prating-, in the 
inclosure, while a priest, assisted by two 
other ecclesiastics, was saying mass. The 
shabbiness of the sacred vestments, the 
thin voice of the priest, which scarcely 
murmured an echo throug-h space, the 
devout congregation unanimous in senti- 
ment, and prostrate before an altar de- 
void of pomp, the cross bare of ornament, 
the stern rusticity of the temple, the hour, 
the place — all g-ave to the scene the char- 
acter of simplicity which distinguished 
the early ages of Christianity, 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil was and re- 
mained struck with admiration. This 
mass, said in the heart of the w^oods ; this 
worship, driven by persecution back to 
its own sources ; this poetrj'' of ancient 
times boldh'' contrasted with natural sur- 
roundings of fantastic strangeness; these 
Chouans at once armed and unarmed, 
cruel and devout, childlike and manly — the 
whole scene, in short, was unlike an3-thing- 
that she had before seen or imagined. 
She remembered well enough that in her 
childhood she had admired the pomp of 
the Roman Church/which appeals socun- 



ning-ly to the senses ; but she had never 
yet seen God alone, His cross on the altar, 
His altar on the bare ground, the autumn 
trees supporting- the dome of heaven in 
place of the fretted moldings which crown 
the Gothic arches of cathedrals, the sun 
stealing with difficulty its ruddy rays and 
duller reflections upon the altar, the priest 
and the congregation, instead of the thou- 
sand hues flung- by stained glass. Here 
men represented a fact, and not a system; 
here was prayer, and not formality". But 
human passions, whose momentary sup- 
pression gave the picture all its harmon}', 
soon reappeared in this scene of mystery, 
and infused in it a powerful animation. 

The g-ospel was drawing to a close as 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil came up. With 
no small alarm she recognized in the cele- 
brant the Abbe Gudin, and hid herself 
quickly from his sig-ht, availing herself 
of a huge fragment of g-ranite for a hiding- 
place, into which she briskly drew Fran- 
cine. But she tried in A-ain to tear Galope- 
Chopine from the place which he had 
chosen in order to share in the advantages 
of the ceremony. She entertained, how- 
ever, hopes of being- able to escape the 
danger which threatened her, when she 
noticed that the nature of the g-round 
gave her the opportunity of withdrawing- 
before the rest of the congregation. By 
the help of a wide crack in the rock she 
could see Abbe Gudin mounting- a mass 
of g-ranite which served him as pulpit. 
He began his sermon in these ternjs : 

''In the name of the Father, and of 
the Son, and of the Holy Ghost!'' 

At which words the whole congregation 
piously made the sig-n of the cross, 

'•' My dear brethren," the abbe went on 
in a loud voice, " let us first pray for the 
dead — Jean Cochegrue, Nicolas Laferte, 
Joseph Brouet, Frangois Parquoi, Sulpice 
Coupiau — all of this parish, who died of 
the wounds they received at the fight on 
the Pilg'rim and at the siege of Fougeres." 

Then was recited the '•' De Profundis," 
according to custom, by the congreg-ation 
and the priest antiphonally, and with a 
fervor which gave good augury of the suc- 
cess of the preaching. When this psalm 
for the dead was finished. Abbe Gudin 



148 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



went on in a voice of ever-increasing- 
strength, for the old Jesuit did not forget 
that energy of delivery was the most 
powerfLil of arguments to persuade his 
uncultivated hearers. 

"Christians!" he said, "these cham- 
pions of God have set 3'ou an example of 
your dut3^ Are you not ashamed of what 
the^^ may be saying of you in Paradise ? 
But for those blessed ones, who must have 
been received there with open arms by all 
the Saints, our Lord might believe that 
your parish is inhabited by followers of 
Mahound ! Do you know, my gars, what 
they say of you in Brittany and at court ? 
You do not know it, do you ? Then, I will 
tell you ; they say : ' What ! the Blues 
have thrown down the altars ; they have 
killed the rectors ; the.y have murdered the 
king and the queen ; they would fain take 
all the parishioners of Brittany to make 
Blues of them like themselves, and send 
them to fight far from their parishes, in 
distant lands, where men run the risk of 
dying without confession, and so going to 
hell for all eternity. And do the gars 
of Marignay, whose church they have 
burned, staj^ with their arms dangling 
by their sides ? 

" ' Oh ! oh ! This Republic of the damned 
has sold the goods of God and the seig- 
neurs by auction ; it has shared the price 
among its Blues, and now, in order to 
feast on monej' as it has feasted on blood, 
it has just resolved to take three livres on 
each crown of six francs, just as it levies 
three men out of every six. And have 
not the gars of Marignay caught up their 
guns to drive the Blues out of Brittany ? 
Aha ! The door of Paradise shall be shut 
on them, and the}'^ shall never againvbe 
able to gain salvation.' That is what 
they are sa3ing of j^ou. So, Christian 
brethren, it is your salvation which is at 
stake : you will save your souls by fight- 
ing for the faith and for the king. Saint 
Anne of Auray herself appeared to me 
yesterday at half-past two. She said 
to me just as I tell it to you, 'You are 
a priest of Marignay?' Yes, madame, 
at your service. 'Well, then, I am Saint 
Anne of Auray, aunt of God after the 
fashion of Brittan3^ I am still at Auray, 



but I am here, too, because I have come 
to bid 3'ou tell the gars of Marignay that 
they have no salvation to hope for if they 
do not take up arms. Therefore you shall 
refuse them absolution of their sins if they 
will not serve God. You shall bless their 
guns, and those gars who are sinless shall 
not miss the Blues, because their guns are 
holy.' And she disappeared, leaving a 
smell of incense under the Goosefoot Oak. 
I made a mark at the spot, and the rector 
of Saint James has put up a fair wooden 
Virgin there. What is more, the mother 
of Pierre Leroy, called Marche-a-Terre, 
came to pray there in the evening, and 
was cured of her pains because of her 
son's good works. There she is, in the 
midst of you, and you can see her with 
your own eyes walking alone. This 
miracle has been done, like the resur- 
rection of the blessed Marie Lambrequin, 
to show 3'ou that God will never desert 
the cause of Bretons when the^' fight for 
His servants and for the king. There- 
fore, dear brethren, if you would save your 
souls, and show 3'ourselves champions of 
3^our lord the king, you must obey the 
orders of him whom the king has sent, 
and v/hom we call the Gars. Then shall 
3"0u no more be like the followers of Ma- 
hound, and men will find you with all the 
gars of all Brittan^^ under the banner 
of God. You can take back out of the 
Blues' pockets all the money they have 
stolen ; for if, while you fig"ht, your fields 
be not sown, the Lord and the king make 
over to 3^ou the spoils of your enemies. 
Shall it be said. Christian brethren, that 
the gars of Marignay are behind the gars 
of Morbihan, of Saint Georges, of Vitre, 
of Antrain, who are all serving God and 
the king? Will you leave them all the 
boot}^ ? Will you stay like heretics, with 
folded arms, while so many Bretons se- 
cure their salvation and serve their king ? 
'Ye shall give up all for me,' the Gospel 
saj^s. Have not we already given up the 
tithes ? Do you, then, give up all in order 
to make this holy war ! You shall be 
like the Maccabees ; all .your sins shall be 
forgiven you : you shall find your rectors 
and their curates in your midst ; and you 
shall triumph ! Pay attention to this. 



THE CHOUAXS. 



149 



Christian brethren," concluded he ; ''to- 
day, to-day only we have the power of 
blessing- your g-uns. Those who do not 
avail themselves of this grace will not 
find the Holy One of Auray so merciful 
another time ; and she will not listen to 
them as she did in the last war ! " 

This sermon, supported by the thunder 
of obstreperous lungs and b}'' a variety of 
gesticulations which made the speaker 
perspire, had in appearance little effect. 
The peasants, standing- motionless, v^•ith 
eyes riveted on the orator, looked like 
statues. But Mademoiselle de Verneuil 
soon perceived that this g-eneral attitude 
was the result of the spell which the abbe 
had cast over the crowd. He had, like 
all great actors, swayed his whole audi- 
tor^" as one man by appealing- to their 
interests and their passions. Had he not 
given them absolution for their excesses 
beforehand, and cast loose the ties which 
still kept these \A"ild men to the observ- 
ance of social and religious laws ? True, 
he had prostituted his priesthood to po- 
litical j)urposes ; but in these times of 
revolution each man made what he had 
a weapon in the cause of his party, and 
the peace-giving cross of Jesus was beaten 
into a sword as well as the food-giving 
plowshare. As she saw no being before 
her who could enter into her feelings, she 
turned to Francine, and was not a little 
surprised to see her sharing* the enthusi- 
asm and telling her beads devoutly on 
the rosary of Galope-Chopine, who had 
no doubt lent it to her during- the sermon, 

''Francine," she said in a low tone, 
"are you, too, afraid of being a Ma- 
humetische 9 " 

" Oh, mademoiselle !" replied the Breton 
girl, "look at Pierre's mother walking 
there I " And Francine's attitude showed 
such profound conviction that Marie un- 
derstood at once the secret of this preach- 
ing, the influence of the clergy in the 
country districts, and the wonderful re- 
sults of such scenes as now began. The 
peasants nearest to the altar advanced 
one by one and knelt down, presenting 
their pieces to the preacher, who laid them 
on the altar, Galope-Chopine being one of 
the first to offer his old duck gun. The 



three priests then chanted the hj'mn Veni 
Creator, while the celebrant enveloped 
the murderous implements in a cloud of 
bluish incense smoke, weaving what 
seemed interlaced patterns with it. As 
soon as the wind had dissipated this 
smoke, the guns were given back in suc- 
cession, and each man received his own, 
kneeling, from the hands of the priests, 
who recited a Latin prayer as they re- 
turned the pieces. When the armed men 
had returned to their places, the deep 
enthusiasm of the congregation, speech- 
less till then, broke out in a manner at 
once terrible and touching. 

Domine, salvum fac regem! 

Such was the prayer which the preacher 
thundered with echoing voice, and which 
was sung twice over with vehement 
shouts which were at once wild and war- 
like. The two notes of the word regem, 
which the peasants translated without 
difficulty, were poured out with such 
energy that Mademoiselle de Verneuil 
could not help thinking Avith emotion of 
the exiled Bourbons. Their memory evoked 
that of her own past life, and she re- 
called the festivities of the court, now 
scattered far and wide, but in which she 
herself had been a star. The form of the 
marquis intruded itself into this reverie, 
and with the rapid change of thought 
natural to women, she forgot the spec- 
tacle before her, and returned to her, 
projects of vengeance — projects where 
life was at stake, and which might be 
wrecked by a glance. While meditating 
how to make herself beautiful in this the 
most critical moment of her existence, 
she remembered that she had nothing to 
wear in her hair at the ball, and was en- 
ticed by the notion of wearing a holly 
branch — the crinkled leaves and scarlet 
berries of which caught her attention at 
the moment. 

" Aha ! " said Galope-Chopine, nodding 
his head contentedl}^, "my gun may 
miss if I fire at birds now, but at Blues, 
never !" 

Marie looked more curiously at her 
guide's face, and found it typical of all 
those she had just seen. The old Chouan 
seemed to be more destitute of ideas than 



150 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



an averag-e child. His cheeks and brow 
wrinkled with simple joy as he looked at 
his g-un ; but the expression of this joy 
was tinged with a fanaticism which for a 
moment gave his savage countenance a 
touch of the faults of civilization. 

Soon they reached a village, or rather 
a collection of four or five dwellings re- 
sembling that of Galope-Chopine ; and 
the newly-recruited Chouans arrived 
there while Mademoiselle de Yerneuil was 
finishing a meal composed solely of bread, 
butter, milk, and cheese. This irregular 
band was led by the rector, who held in 
his hand a rude cross in guise of a stand- 
ard, and was followed by a gars, proud of 
his post as parish ensign. Mademoiselle 
de Verneuil found it necessary to join this 
detachment, which was, like herself, mak- 
ing for Saint James, and whicli protected 
her, as a matter of course, from all danger 
from the moment when Galope-Chopine, 
with luckj^ indiscretion, told the leader 
that the pretty garce whom he was guid- 
ing was a dear friend of the Gars. 

About sunset the travelers arrived at 
Saint James, a little town owing its name 
to the English who built it in the four- 
teenth century, when t\i&j were masters 
of Brittany. Before entering it. Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil witnessed a singular 
military spectacle, to which she paid little 
attention, fearing to be recognized by some 
of her enemies, and hastening her steps 
owing to this fear. Five or six thousand 
peasants were encamped in a field. Their 
costumes, which pretty closely resembled 
those of the requisitionaries at the Pil- 
grim, had nothing in the least warlike 
about them ; and their tumultuous assem- 
bly was like that at a great fair. It was 
even needful to look somewhat narrowly 
in order to discover that these Bretons 
were armed, for their goatskins, differ- 
ently arranged as they were, almost hid 
their guns, and their most visible weapon 
was the scythe with which some supplied 
the place of the guns which were to be 
served out to them. Some ate and drank ; 
some fought or loudly wrangled ; but most 
of them lay asleep on the ground. There 
was no semblance of order or of discipline. 
An oflicer in red uniform caught Made- 



moiselle de Verneuil's e,ye, and she sup- 
posed that he must be in the English 
service. Further off, two other officers 
seemed to be trying to instruct some 
Chouans, more intelligent than the rest, 
in the management of two cannon which 
appeared to constitute the whole park of 
ar-tillery of the Ilo3^alist army that was 
to be. 

The arrival of the gars of Marignay, 
who were recognized by their banner, 
was greeted with yells of welcome ; and 
under cover of the excitement which the 
troop and the rectors aroused in the 
camp. Mademoiselle de Verneuil was able 
to cross it and enter the town without 
danger. She betook herself to an inn of 
modest appearance, and not far from the 
house where the ball was to be held ; but 
the town was so crowded that, with the 
greatest possible trouble, she could only 
obtain a small and inconvenient room. 
When she was established there, and 
when Galope-Chopine had handed to 
Francine the band-box containing her 
mistress's clothes, he remained standing 
in an indescribable attitude of expectancy 
and irresolution. At another time Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil might have amused 
herself with the spectacle of a Breton 
peasant out of his own parish. But she 
broke the spell b}' taking from her purse 
four crowns of six francs each, which she 
presented to him. ''Take them," she 
said, "and if you will do me a favor, 
go back at once to Fougeres without 
passing through the camp, and without 
tasting cider."' 

The Chouan, astounded at such gener- 
osity-, shifted his eyes by turns from the 
crowns he had received to Mademoiselle 
de Verneuil ; but she waved her hand and 
he departed. 

'• How can ,you send him away, made- 
moiselle ? " asked Francine. "Did you 
not see how the town was surrouifded ? 
How are we to get away ? And who will 
protect us here? " 

"Have you not got a protector ? " said 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil, with a low, 
mocking whistle, after the manner of 
Marche-a-Terre, whose ways she tried to 
imitate. 



THE CHOUAXS. 



151 



Francine blushed, and smiled rather 
sadl}^ at her mistress's merriment. 

'^•'But where is your protector?" she 
said. « 

Mademoiselle de Vernevil drew her 
dag"g"er with a brusk movement, and 
showed it to the terrified Breton girl, 
who dropped on a chair with clasped 
hands. 

" What have you come to look for here, 
Marie ? " she cried, in a beseeching- voice, 
but one which did not call for an answer. 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil, who was 
busj'ing- herself in twisting" about the 
holly twigs she had g-athered, said only, 
'' I am not sure whether this holly will 
look reall}^ well in my hair. A face must 
be as brig-ht as mine is to endure so dark 
a head-dress. What do you think, Fran- 
cine ? ' ' 

Not a few other remarks of the same 
kind indicated that the strang-e g-iii was 
perfectly unconcerned, as she made her 
toilet; and anyone overhearing- her would 
have had some dilRculty in understanding- 
the gravity of the crisis in wiiich she was 
risking- her life. A dress of India muslin, 
rather short, and clinging like damp 
linen, showed the delicate outlines of her 
shape. Then she put on a red overskirt, 
whose folds, numerous and leng-thening- 
as they fell to one side, had the g-raceful 
sweep of a Greek tunic. This passion- 
provoking garment of pag-an priestesses 
lessened the indelicacy of the costume 
which the fashion of the day permitted 
to women in dressing-, and, to reduce it 
still further, Marie threw a g-auze veil 
over her white shoulders, wiiich the tunic 
left bare all too low. She twisted the 
long- plaits of her hair so as to form at 
the back of her head the truncated and 
flattened cone which, by artificially 
leng-thening- the head, g-ives such g-race 
to the appearance of certain antique 
statues, while a few curls, left loose 
above the forehead, fell on each side of 
her face in long-, g-listening- ring-lets. 

In such a g-arb and head-dress Marie 
exactl}'- resembled the most famous mas- 
terpieces of the Greek chisel. When she 
had by a smile sig-nified her approbation 
of this coiffure, whose least detail set olT 



the beauties of her face, she placed on it 
the holly wreath which she had arranged, 
and the numerous scarlet berries of which 
happily reproduced in her hair the shade 
of her tunic. As she twisted some of the 
leaves so as to make fantastic contrast 
between their two sides. Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil contemplated the whole of her 
toilet in the glass to judge its effect. 

''' I am hideous to-night,'' she said (as 
if she were in a circle of flatterers). "I 
look like a statue of Libert^'." 

Then she carefully stuck the dagger in 
the center of her corset, so that the ru- 
bies of its hilt might protrude, and hj 
their ruddy reflections attract eyes to the 
beauties which her rival had so unworth- 
ily violated. Francine could not make up 
her mind to quit her mistress, and when 
she saw her ready to start, she devised 
pretexts for accompanying her out of all 
the obstacles which ladies have to over- 
come when they go to a merry-making in 
a little town of Lower Brittany. Must 
she not be there to relieve Mademoiselle 
de Verneuil of her cloak, of the overshoes 
wliich the mud and dirt of the streets 
made it necessary (though the precaution 
of spreading- gravel over them had been 
taken) for her to wear, and of the gauze 
veil in which she hid her head from the 
g-aze of the Chouans whom curiosity 
brought round the house where the fes- 
tival took place ? The crowd was so 
great that the two girls walked between 
rows of Chouans. Francine made no fur- 
ther attempt to keep lier mistress back ; 
but having- put the last touches to a toi- 
let \vhose merit consisted in its extreme 
freshness, she remained in the courtyard 
that she might not leave her to the 
chances of her fate without being able to 
fiy to her help ; for the poor girl foresaw 
nothing but misfortune. 

A sufficiently curious scene was taking 
place in Montauran's apartment while 
Marie made her way to the ball. Tlie 
young marquis was flnishing his toilet and 
putting on the broad red ribbon which 
was to indicate him as the most promi- 
nent personage in the assembly, when the 
Abbe Gudin entered with a troubled air. 

''My lord marquis," said he, "pray 



152 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



come quickly. You alone can calm the 
storm which has arisen, I hardly know on 
what occasion, among our chiefs. They 
are talking- of quitting the king's service. 
I believe that devil of a Rifoel to be the 
cause of the whole disturbance, for brawls 
of this kind are always brought about by 
some folh\ They tell me that Madame 
du Gua upbraided him with coming to the 
ball very ill dressed." 

" The woman must be mad ! " cried the 
marquis, '^Ho wish — " 

^' The Chevalier du Vissard," went on 
the abbe, cutting his leader short, '^re- 
plied that if you had given him the money 
which was promised him in the king's 
name — " 

''Enough, abbe, enough ! I understand 
the whole thing now. The scene was ar- 
ranged beforehand, was it not ? and you 
are the ambassador — " 

" I ? " continued the abbe, interrupting 
again ; " I, my lord marquis ? I am go- 
ing to give you the heartiest support, and 
I trust you will do me the justice to be- 
lieve that the re-establishment of our al- 
tars in France, the restoration of the king 
to the throne of his fathers, are far more 
powerful stimulants of my humble efforts 
than that bishopric of Rennes which 
you—" 

The abbe dared not finish, for a bitter 
smile had come upon the marquis's face. 
But the young leader immediately choked 
down the sad thoughts which came to 
him, his brow assumed a stern look, and 
he followed the Abbe Gudin into a room 
echoing with noisy clamor. 

" I acknowledge no man's authority 
here ! " cried Rifoel, casting fiery glances 
at all those around him, and laying his 
hand on his sword-hilt. 

" Do you acknowledge the authorit}^ 
of common sense ? " asked the marquis 
cooll3^ And the young Chevalier du Vis- 
sard, better known by his family name of 
Rifoel, was silent before the commander- 
in-chief of the Catholic armies.* 

" What is the matter, gentlemen ? " 
said the young leader, scrutinizing the 
faces of the company. 

"The matter is, my lord marquis," 
answered a famous smuggler — with the 



awkwardness of a man of the people who 
is at first hampered by the restraints of 
prejudice in the presence of a grand seig- 
neur, but who kn<jws no limits when he 
has once crossed the barrier which sepa- 
rates them and sees before him only an 
equal — "the matter is that you have just 
come at the nick of time. I am not good 
at gilded words ; so I will speak plumply 
and plainl3^ Throughout the last war I 
commanded five hundred men. Since we 
took up arms once more I have been able 
to put at the king's service a thousand 
heads as hard as my own. For seven 
long 3-ears I have been risking my life for 
the good cause. I am not throwing it in 
your teeth, but the laborer is worthy of 
his hire. Therefore, to begin with, I 
would be called M. de Cottereau, and I 
would have the rank of colonel accorded 
to me, otherwise I shall tender my sub- 
mission to the First Consul. You see, my 
lord marquis, I and my men have a devil 
of a dunning creditor whom we must 
satisfy. He is here ! " he added, striking 
his stomach. 

" Has the band come ? " asked the mar- 
quis of Madame du Gua, in a mocking 
tone. 

But the smuggler had broached, how- 
ever brutally, too important a subject, 
and these bold spirits, as calculating as 
they were ambitious, had been already 
too long in doubt as to what they might 
hope from the king, for mere disdain on 
the young chief's part to close the inci- 
dent. The young and fiery Chevalier du 
Vissard started brisklj^ before Montauran, 
and seized his hand to prevent his moving. 

*•' Take care, my lord marquis ! " said 
he ; '' 3'ou treat too lightly men who have 
some right to the gratitude of him whom 
you represent here. We know that his 
ma jest}" has given you full powers to put 
on record our services which are to be 
rewarded in this world — or the next, for 
the scaffold stands ready for us every 
day. I know, for my part, that the rank 
of marechal de camp — " 

"You mean colonel?" 

"No, marquis; Charette made me 
colonel. The rank I have mentioned is 
my incontestable right; and therefore I 



THE CHOUANS. 



153 



do not speak for myself at this moment, 
but for all m^^ bold brethren in arms 
whose services have need of recog-nition. 
For the present 3'our signature and your 
promise Avill content tliem; and," he 
added, dropping- his voice, " I confess 
that they are easily contented. But," 
he went on, raising- it again, '^when the 
sun rises on the Palace of Versailles, 
bringing' happier days for the monarchy, 
will those faithful men who have helped 
the king- to conquer France in France — 
will the^'^ be easily able to obtain fa- 
vors for their families, pensions for their 
widows, the restoration of the estates 
which have been so wrong-fully confis- 
cated ? I doubt it. Therefore, my lord 
marquis, attested proof of serrice will not 
be useless then. I will never mistrust the 
king-, but I very heartily distrust his cor- 
morants of ministers and courtiers, who 
will din into his ears considerations about 
the public welfare, the honor of France, 
the interests of the crown, and a hundred 
other rubbishy phrases. Men will make 
mock, then, of a brave Vendean or Chouan 
because he is old, and because the blade 
he has drawn for the g'ood cause beats 
ag-ainst legs wizened b}^ suffering. Can 
you say we are wrong ? " 

" You speak admirablj'- well. Monsieur 
du Vissard," answered the marquis, " but 
a little prematurely." 

"Hark you, marquis," whispered the 
Count de Bauvan, " Rifoel has, by my 
faith ! said yhyj pretty things. For jouy 
part, 3'ou are sure of always having- the 
king-' s ear ; but as for us, we shall only 
visit our master at long intervals, and I 
confess to you, that if you were to refuse 
your w^ord as a g-entleman to obtain for 
me in due time and place the post of 
Grand Master of the Waters and Forests 
of France, devil take me if I would risk 
my neck ! It is no small thing- to g-ain 
Normandy for the king, and so I think I 
may fairl}^ hope to have the Order. But," 
he added, with a blush, " there is time to 
think of all that. God keep me from imi- 
tating these rascals, and worrying- you. 
You will speak of me to the king, and all 
will go right." 

Then each chief managed to inform the 



marquis, in a more or less ingenious fash- 
ion, of the extravagant price which he 
expected for his services. One modestly 
asked for the g-overnorship of Brittany-, 
another for a barony, a third for promo- 
tion, a fourth for the command of a place, 
and all wanted pensions. 

"Why, baron!" said the marquis to 
M. du Guenic, " do you want nothing- ? " 

'' Faith ! marquis, these g-entlemen have 
left me nothing- but the crown of France, 
but perhaps I could put up with that ! " 

"Why, gentlemen!" said the Abbe 
Gudin, in his thundering- voice, "remem- 
ber that if you are so eager, you will 
spoil all in the day of victory. Will not 
the king be forced to make concessions to 
the Revolutionaries them.selves ? " 

"To the Jacobins?" cried the smug-- 
g-ler. " If his majesty will leavQ them 
to me, I will undertake to employ my 
thousand men in hanging- them, and we 
shall soon g-et them off our hands ! " 

"Monsieur de Cottereau," said the 
marquis, "I perceive that some invited 
g-uests are entering- the room. We oug-ht 
all to vie in zeal and pains so as to in- 
duce them to join our holy enterprise ; and 
3^ou must understand that it is not the 
time to attend to your demxands, however 
just they may be." And as he spoke he 
made his way toward the door as if to 
welcome some nobles from the neighbor- 
ing country of whom he had caught sig-ht. 
But the bold smuggler barred his waj^ 
,though with a submissive and respectful 
air. 

"' No ! no ! my lord marquis, excuse me, 
but the Jacobins taught us too well in 
1793 that the man who reaps the harvest 
is not the man who eats the cake. Sign 
this strip of paper, and to-morrow I will 
bring yott fifteen hundred g'ars. If not, 
I shall treat with the First Consul." 

Throwing a haug-hty glance round him, 
the marquis saw that the old g-uei'illa's 
boldness and resolute air were not dis- 
pleasing- to any of the spectators of the 
dispute. One man only, who sat in a 
corner, seemed to take no part in the 
scene, and was busih' filling a white clay 
pipe with tobacco. The contemptuous 
air with which he regarded the spokes- 



154 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



man, his unassuming' attitude, and the 
compassion for himself which the marquis 
read in his e\'es, made Montauran scru- 
tinize this generous-minded servant, in 
whom he recog-nized Major Brig-aut. The 
chief walked quickly up to him. 

"And you," he said, "what is yoiir 
demand ? " 

" Oh ! my lord marquis, if the king- 
comes back, I shall he satisfied." 

" But for yourslf ?" 

" For myself ? Your lordship is joking-. " 

The marquis squeezed the Breton's hornj^ 
hand, and said to Madame du Gua, near 
whom he was standing, " Madame, I va-Ay 
fail in my enterprise before having time 
to send the king an exact report as to the 
state of the Catholic^ armj^ in Brittany. 
If you live to see the restoration, forget 
neither this honest fellow nor the Baron 
du Guenic. There is more devotion in 
these two men than in all these people 
here." 

And he pointed to the chiefs who were 
waiting, not without impatience, for the 
young marquis to comply with their de- 
mands. They all held in their hands open 
papers, in which, it would seem, their ser- 
vices had been certified by the Ro^^alist 
leaders in former wars ; and a general 
murmur began to rise from them. In 
their midst the Abbe Gudin, the Baron 
du Guenic, and the Comte de Bauvan 
were consulting how to aid tlie marquis 
in checking such exaggerated preten- 
sions; for the}^ could not but think the 
chief's position a very awkward one. 

Suddenly the marquis ran his blue ej-es, 
with an ironic flash in them, over the com- 
pany, and said, in a clear voice : '•' Gen- 
tlemen, I do not know whether the powers 
which the king- has graciously intrusted 
to me are wide enough to enable me to 
satisfy your demands. He may not have 
anticipated so much zeal and devotion ; 
you shall judge for yourselves of my dutj^, 
and perhaps I shall be able to do it." 

He disappeared, and came back prompt- 
ly, holding in his hand an open letter bear- 
ing the royal seal and sign manual. 

" Here," he said, '' are the letters patent 
in virtue of which your obedience is due 
to me. They authorize me to govern the 



provinces of. Brittany, Normandy, Maine, 
and Anjou in the king's name, and to 
take cognizance of the services of officers 
who distinguish themselves iu his maj- 
esty's armies." 

A movement of content passed through 
the assembly, and the Chouans came 
nearer to the marquis, respectfully encir- 
cling him, with their eyes bent on the 
king's signature. But the young chief, 
who was standing before the chimney- 
piece, suddenly threw the letter in the 
fire, where, in a moment, it was con- 
sumed. 

"I will no more command," cried the 
3"oung man, "any but those who see in 
the king a king, and not a prey to be 
devoured. Gentlemen, you are at liberty 
to leave me ! " 

Madame du Gua, Abbe Gudin, Major 
Brigaut, the Chevalier du Vissard, the 
Baron du Guenic, the Comte de Bauvan, 
gave an enthusiastic cry of Vive le Roi, 
and if at first the other chiefs hesitated 
for a moment to echo it, they were 
soon carried away b^^ the marquis's noble 
conduct, begged him to forget what had 
happened, and assured him that, letters 
patent or none, he should alwaj's be their 
chief. 

"Let us go and dance!" cried the 
Comte de Bauvan, "come Avhnt may! 
After all, friends," added he merrily, "it 
is better to pray to God himself than to 
His saints. Let us fight first, and see 
what happens afterward." 

" That is very true," whispered Major 
Brigaut to the faithful Baron du Guenic. 
" Saving your reverence, my lord baron, 
I never heard the day's wage asked for 
in the morning." 

The company scattered themselves 
about the rooms, where several persons 
were already'' assembled. But the mar- 
quis vainlj' endeavored to shake off the 
gloomy expression which, had changed 
his looks. The chiefs could not fail to 
perceive the unfavorable impression which 
the scene had produced on a man whose 
loyalty was still associated with the fair 
illusions of youth ; and they were 
ashamed. 

Still, a riotous joy broke out in the 



THE CHOUANS. 



155 



meeting, composed, as it was, of the 
most distinguished persons in the Roy- 
alist party, who, in tlie depths of a re- 
volted province, had never been able to 
appreciate the events of the Revolution 
justl3', and naturallj' took the most 
doubtful hopes for realities. The bold 
operations which Montauran had under- 
taken, his name, his fortune, his ability, 
made all men pluck up their courage, and 
broug-ht about that most dang-erous of 
all intoxications, the intoxication jDolitic, 
which can never be cooled but hy tor- 
rents of blood, almost always shed in 
vain. To all the compan}^ the Revolu- 
tion was but a passing- trouble in the 
kingdom of France, where, as it seemed 
to them, no real change had taken place. 
The countr^^ was still the propertj'' of the 
House of Bourbon, and the Roj'alists were 
so completeh'' dominant there, that, four 
years before, Hoche had secured not so 
much a peace as an armistice. Therefore 
the nobles made small account of the 
Revolutionists: in their eyes Bonaparte 
was a Marceau somoAvhat luckier than 
his predecessors. So the ladies were 
ready to dance very merrily. 

Only a few of the chiefs, who had actu- 
ally fought with the Blues, comprehended 
the gravity of the actual crisis, and as 
they knew that if they spoke of the First 
Consul and his power to their benighted 
comrades, the^' would not be understood, 
they talked among themselves, looking at 
the ladies with a carelessness which these 
latter avenged by private criticisms. Ma- 
dame du Gua, who seemed to be doing the 
honors of the ball, tried to amuse the im- 
patience of the lady dancers by addressing' 
to each of them conventional compliments. 
The screech of the instruments, which 
w^ere being tuned, was already audible 
when she perceived the marquis, his face 
still bearing some traces of sadness ; and 
she went rapidly up to him. 

*' I hope you are not disordered by the 
very ordinary inconvenience which these 
clowns here have caused you ? " she ^aid. 

But she received no answer ; for the 
marquis, absorbed in reverie, thought he 
heard certain of the considerations which 
Marie had prophetically laid before him 



amid these very chiefs at the Vive- 
tiere, to induce him to throw up the 
struggle of king against people. But 
the young man had too lofty a soul, too 
much pride, perhaps too much sincerity 
of belief, to abandon the work he had 
begun, and he made up his mind at this 
moment to follow it out boldl}', in spite of 
obstacles. He lifted his head proudly, 
and only then understood what Madame 
du Gua was saying to him. 

"Your thoughts are at Fougeres, I 
suppose ! " she said, with a bitterness 
which showed her sense of the uselessness 
of the efforts she had made to distract 
the marquis. ''All! my lord, I would 
give my life to put her into your hands, 
and see you happy with her." 

" Then, why did you take so good a 
shot at her ? " 

'•' Because I should like to see her either 
dead or in your arms. Yes ! I could have 
loved the Marquis of Montauran while I 
thought him a hero. Now, I have for 
him nothing but friendship mingled with 
sorrow, when I see him cut oil from glory 
by the wandering heart of an opera girl !"' 

''As far as love goes," said the marquis 
in a sarcastic tone, "j'ou judge me ill. If 
I loved the girl, madame, I should feel 
less desire for her — and if it were not for 
you, perhaps, I should not think of her 
at all." 

'' There she is ! " said Madame du Gua, 
suddenh". 

The poor lady was terribl^^ hurt b}- the 
haste with which the marquis turned his 
head ; but as the bright ligiit of the 
candles enabled her to see the smallest 
changes in the features of the man so 
madly loved, she thought she could see 
some hope of return, when he once more 
presented his face to her, smiling at her 
woman's stratagem. 

" What are 3"0U laughing at ? " said 
the Comte de Bauvan. 

"At the bursting of a bubble," an- 
swered Madame du Gua jo3^fully. '*' Our 
marquis, if we are to believe him, cannot 
understand to-day how he felt his heart 
beat a moment for the baggage* who 

*Hei-e is the old difficulty of fille. No word 
used ill modern Englisli meets it. 



156 



THE HUMAN COMEDY, 



called herself Mademoiselle de Verneuil— 
you remember ? " 

^^ Bag-g-ag-e, madame ? '' repeated the 
count, in a reproachful tone. " It is 
the duty of the author of a wrong- to 
redress it, and I give you my word of 
honor that she is reall}'- the Duke de 
Verneuil's daughter." 

" Count," said the marquis, in a voice 
of deep emotion, '^ which of your 'words' 
are we to believe — that given at the 
Vivetiere, or that given at Saint 
James?" 

A loud voice announced Mademoiselle 
de Verneuil. The count darted to the 
door, offered his hand to the beautiful 
stranger with tokens of the deepest re- 
spect, and, usliering her through the 
inquisitive crowd to the marquis and 
Madame du Gua, answered the astonished 
chief, " Believe only the word I give you 
to-day ! " 

Madame du Gua grew pale at the sight 
of this girl, who always presented herself 
at the wrong moment, and who, for a 
time, drew herself to her full height, 
casting haughty glances over the com- 
panj^, among whom she sought the guests 
of the Vivetiere. She waited for the salu- 
tation which her rival was forced to give 
her, and without even looking at the mar- 
quis, allovx'^ed herself to be conducted to a 
place of honor by the count, who seated 
her near Madame du Gua herself. Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil had replied to this 
lady's g-reeting- by a slight condescending- 
nod, but, with womanly instinct, Madame 
du Gua show^ed no vexation, and promptly 
assumed a smiling and friendly air. Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil's singular dress and 
her great beauty drew for a moment a 
murmur of admiration from the com- 
pan^'^ ; and when the marquis and Madame 
du Gua turned their eyes to the guests of 
the Vivetiere, they found in them an air 
of respect which seemed to be sincere, 
each man appearing to be looking for a 
way to recover the good graces of the 
fair Parisian whom he had mistaken. 
And so the adversaries were fairly met. 

" But this is enchantment, mademoi- 
selle," said Madame du Gua. ''I^obody 
in the world but you could surprise people 



in this way. What ! you have come here 
all by yourself? " 

"All by mj^self," echoed Mademoiselle 
dc Verneuil. "And so, madame, this 
evening you will have nobody but my- 
self to kill." 

" Do not be too severe," rephed Madame 
du Gua. " I cannot tell you how glad I 
am to see you again. I was really aghast 
at the thought of my misconduct toward 
you, and I was looking for an opportunity 
which might allow me to set it right." 

"As for 3'our misconduct, madame, I 
pardon you without difficulty that toward 
myself. But I take to heart the death of 
the Blues whom you murdered. Perhaps, 
too, I might complain of the weight}^ char- 
acter of 3^our dispatches ; but there, I for- 
give everything in consideration of the 
service jow have done me ! " 

Madame du Gua lost countenance as 
her fair rival squeezed her hand and 
smiled on her with insolent grace. The 
marquis had remained motionless, but 
now he clutched the count's arm. 

"' You deceived me disgraceful!}^," said 
he, "and you have even tarnished my 
honor. I am not a stage dupe ; and I 
must have your life, or you mine." 

"Marquis," answered the count haugh- 
tily, " I am ready to give you every satis- 
faction that you can desire." 

And they moved toward the next room. 
Even those guests who had least inkling- 
of the meaning of the scene began to 
understand the interest of it, so that 
when the fiddlers struck up the dance 
not a soul stirred. 

"Mademoiselle," asked Madame du 
Gua, clinching her lips in a kind of fury, 
" what service have I had the honor of 
doing you to deserve this gratitude ? " 

' ' Did 3^ou not enlighten me on the true 
character of the Marquis of Montauran, 
madame ? How calmly the odious man 
let me perish ! I give him up to jon with 
the greatest pleasure." 

"Then, what have you come to seek 
here.? " said Madame du Gua sharply. 

" The esteem and the reputation of 
which you robbed me at the Vivetiere, 
madame. As for anything else, do not 
disturb yourself. Even if the marquis 



THE CHOUANS. 



157 



came back to me, you know that a re- 
newal of love is never love." 

Madame dii Gua tliereupon took Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil's hand with the 
ostentatious endearment of gesture which 
women, especially in men's company, like 
to display toward one another. 

''Well, dear child, I am delighted to 
find you so reasonable. If tlje service I 
did 5'OU seemed rough at first,'' said she, 
pressing- the hand she held, though she 
felt a keen desire to tear it as her fingers 
told her its delicate softness, '' it shall be 
at least a thorough one. Listen to me," 
she went on, with a treacherous smile ; 
"I know the character of the Gars. He 
would have deceived you. He does not 
wish to marry, and cannot marry any- 
body." 

"Really ? " 

''Yes, mademoiselle ; he onh^ accepted 
this dangerous mission in order to earn 
the hand of Mademoiselle d'Uxelles, an 
alliance in which his majesty has promised 
him full support." 

"What, really?" 

And Mademoiselle de Verneuil added 
no word to this sarcastic exclamation. 
The young and handsome Chevalier du 
Vissard, eager to obtain pardon for the 
pleasantr3^ which had set the example 
of insult at the Vivetiere, advanced to- 
ward her with a respectful invitation to 
dance ; and, extending her hand to him, 
she rapidly took her place in the quadrille 
where Madame du Gua also danced. The 
dress of these ladies, all of whose toilets 
recalled the fashions of the exiled court, 
and who wore powdered or frizzled hair, 
seemed absurd in comparison with the 
costume, at once rich, elegant, and 
severe, which the actual fashion allowed 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil to wear, and 
which, though condemned aloud, was 
secretly en\ded by the other women. 
As for the men, they were never weary 
of admiring the beauty of hair left to 
itself, and the details of a dress whose 
chief grace consisted in the shape that 
it displayed. 

At this moment the marquis and the 
count re-entered the ball-room and came 
up behind Mademoiselle de Verneuil, who 



did not turn her head. Even if a mirror, 
which hung opposite, had not apprised her 
of the marquis's j)resence, she could have 
gnessed it from the countenance of Ma- 
dame du Gua, who hid but ill, under an 
outward air of indifference, the impatience 
with which she expected the contest cer- 
tain to break out sooner or later between 
the two lovers. Although Montauran 
was talking to the count and two other 
persons, he could nevertheless hear the 
remarks of the dancers of both sexes, 
who, according to the change of the 
figures, were brought from time to time 
into the place of Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil and her neighbors. 

"O, ja^s; certainlj^, madame," said one; 
" she came by herself." 

"She must be very brave," said his 
partner. 

"Why, if I were dressed like that, I 
should think I had nothing on," said an- 
other lady. 

" W^ell, the costume is hardl}' proper," 
replied the gentleman ; " but she is so 
pretty, and it suits her so well ! " 

" Really, I am quite ashamed, for her 
sake, to see how p^rfectl}^ she dances. 
Don't you think she has exactly'" the air 
of an opera girl?" answered the lady, 
with a touch of jealousy. 

" Do you think she has come here as an 
ambassadress from the First Consul ? " 
asked a third. 

" What a joke ! " replied the gentle- 
man. 

" Her innocence will hardly be her 
dowry," said the lady, with, a laugh. 

The Gars turned round sharplj^ to see 
what woman it was who allowed herself 
such a gibe, and Madame du Gua looked 
him in the face, as who would sa}'- plain- 
ly, '•' You see what the}^ think of her ! " 

'•'Madame," said the count, with an- 
other laugh, to Marie's enemy, "it is 
only ladies who have as yet deprived her 
of innocence." 

The marquis inwardly pardoned Bauvan 
for all his misdeeds ; but when he ventured 
to cast a glance at his mistress, whose 
beauties, like those of all women, were 
enhanced b}'- the candle-light, she turned 
her back to him as she returned to her 



158 



THE HUMAN COMEDY 



place, aud began to talk to her partner, 
so that the marquis could overhear her 
voice in its most caressing- tones. 

'• The First Consul sends us very dan- 
gerous ambassadors," said the chevalier. 

"Sir," she replied, "that observation 
was made before, at the Vivetiere." 

" But you have as good a memory as 
the king ! " rejoined the gentleman, vexed 
at his blunder. 

" One must needs remember injuries in 
order to pardon them," said she briskly, 
and relieving his embarrassment with a 
smile. 

" Are we all included in this amnesty ?" 
asked the marquis. 

But she darted out to dance with the 
excitement of a child, leaving him un- 
answered and abashed. He gazed upon 
her with a melancholy coldness, which she 
I)erceived. And then she bent her head 
in one of the coquettish attitudes in which 
her exquisiteh^ proportioned neck allowed 
her to indulge, forgetting no possible 
movement which could show the rare per- 
fection of her form. Enticing as Hope, 
she was as fugitive as Memory ; and to 
see her thus was lo desire the possession 
of her at any cost. She knew this well, 
and her consciousness of beauty shed an 
inexpressible charm over her face. Mon- 
tauran felt a whirlwind of love, of rage, 
of madness, rising in his heart; he pressed 
the count's hand strongly, and withdrew. 

"What! has he gone?" asked Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil, as she came back 
to her place. 

The count darted to the neighboring 
room, and made a knowing gesture to his 
protegee as he brought the Gars back 
to her. 

"He is mine!" she thought, as she 
perused in the mirror the countenance 
of Montauran, whose face was slightly 
agitated, but bright with hope. 

She received the young chief at first 
with glum silence, but she did not leave 
him again without a smile. His look of 
distinction was so great, that she felt 
proud of being able to tyrannize over 
him, and determined to make him pay 
dearly for a kind word or two, that he 
might know their value— thereby obeying 



an instinct which all women follow in one 
degree or another. The dance finished, 
all the gentlemen of the Vivetiere party 
surrounded Marie, each begging pardon 
for his error with compliments more or 
less well turned. But he whom she 
wished to see at her feet kept aloof from • 
the group of her subjects. 

"He thinks I still love him," she 
thought, " and he will not be lost in 
the common herd." 

She refused the next dance ; and then, 
as though the festival had been given in 
her honor, she went from quadrille to 
quadrille leaning on the arm of the Comte 
de Bauvan, with whom she chose to be in 
a way familiar. The adventure of the 
Vivetiere was b}' this time known in its 
minutest details to the Avhole company, 
thanks to the pains taken by Madame du 
Gua, who hoped, by thus publiclj'- con- 
necting Mademoiselle de Verneuil and the 
marquis, to throw another stumbling- 
block in the way of their reunion. Hence 
the sundered lovers were the object of 
general attention. Montauran dared not 
enter into conversation with his mistress; 
for the consciousness of his misdoings and 
the violence of his rekindled desires made 
her almost terrible to him ; while, on her 
side, the girl kept watching his face of 
pretended calm, while she seemed to be 
looking at the dancing. 

"It is terribly hot here ! " she said to 
her cavalier. "' I see Monsieur de Mon- 
tauran's forehead is quite moist. Take 
me somewhere else where I can breathe — 
I feel stifled." 

And, with a nod, she indicated to the 
count a neighboring apartment, which 
was occupied only by some card-players. 
The marquis followed his mistress, whose 
words he had g-uessed by the mere motion 
of her lips. He ventured to hope that she 
was only withdrawing from the crowd in 
order to give him an interview, and this 
supposed favor added a A'iolence as y&t 
unknown to his passion ; for every at- 
tempt which he had made to conquer his 
love during the last few daA^s had but in- 
creased it. Mademoiselle de Verneuil took 
pleasure in tormenting the young chief ; 
and her glance, soft as velvet when it lit 



THE CHOUANS. 



159 



upon the count, became dark and harsh 
when it chanced to meet the marquis's 
eyes. Montauran seemed to make a 
painful effort, and said in a choked 
voice : 

"Will you not, then, forgive me ? " 

"Love," she answered coldly-, "par- 
dons nothing, or pardons all. But," she 
went on, seeing him give a start of J03', 
"it must be love — " 

She had once more taken the count's 
arm, and passed rapidly into a kind of 
boudoir, serving as antechamber to the 
card-room. The marquis followed her. 

" You shall hear me ! " he cried. 

" Sir," answered she, "you will make 
people believe that I came here for 3^our 
sake, and not out of self-respect. If 3^ou 
do not cease this hateful persecution I 
must withdraw." 

"Well, then," said he, remembering 
one of the maddest actions of the last 
Duke of Lorraine, " give me leave to 
speak to you for the time onl^'" during 
which I can hold this live coal in my 
hand." He stooped to the hearth, picked 
up a brand, and grasped it hard. Made- 
moiselle de Verneuirs face flushed ; she 
suddenly dropped the arm of the count 
(who quietly retired, leaving the lovers 
alone), and stared in wonder at Mon- 
tauran. So mad an act had touched 
her heart, for in love there is nothing 
more effective than a piece of senseless 
courage. 

"All that you prove by this," said 
she, as she tried to make him throw the 
brand awaj', " is that you might give mo 
up to the most cruel tortures. You are 
always in extremes. On the faith of a 
fool's Avord and a woman's slander, you 
suspected her who had just saved your 
life of being capable of selling j^ou." 

"Yes," said he with a smile, "I was 
cruel to you. Forget it forever ; I shall 
never forget it. But listen : I was abomi- 
nably deceived ; but so many circum- 
stances during that fatal day Avere 
against you." 

" And were these circumstances enough 
to extinguish your love ? " 

As he hesit?uted to answer, she rose 
with a gesture of scorn. 



" Oh ! Marie, from this time I will be- 
lieve none but you I " 

"Throw away that fire, I tell you! 
You are mad ! Open your hand— I will 
have it ! " 

He chose to oppose some resistance to 
his mistress's gentle violence, in order to 
prolong the keen pleasut-e which he felt 
in being closely pressed b}^ her tiny, 
caressing fingers. But she at last suc- 
ceeded in opening the hand, which she 
would gladly have kissed. A flow of 
blood had quenched the glowing wood. 

"Now, what good did that do j'ou ? " 
she said ; and making a bandage of her 
handkerchief, she applied it to the wound, 
which was not deep, and which the mar- 
quis quickly covered with his glove. Ma- 
dame du Gua had come on tiptoe into the 
card-room, and cast furtive glances at 
the lovers, whose eyes she adroitl}^ es- 
caped by leaning back at their least 
movement. But she could not very easily 
understand their conversation from what 
she saw of their action. 

"If all they told you of me were true, 
confess that I should be well avenged 
at this moment," said Marie, with a 
malicious air which turned the marquis 
pale. 

" But what were the feelings, then, 
that brought 3'ou here?" 

"My dear boy, you are a verj' great 
coxcomb. Do you really think that 3'ou 
can despise a woman like me with im- 
punit}'? I came both for 3'our sake and 
for mj' own," she went on after a pause, 
putting her hand to the cluster of rubies 
which lay in the center of her breast, 
and showing him the blade of her dagger. 

'•What does all this mean ? " thought 
Madame du Gua. 

" But," continued Marie, " you still love 
me — at an}- rate, you still feel a desire for 
me, and the folly j'-ou have just com- 
mitted," said she, taking his hand, "has 
given me proof of it. I have reco veered 
the position I wished to hold, and I can 
go away satisfied. He who loves is al- 
wa.vs sure of pardon. For my part, I am 
loved : I have regained the esteem of the 
man who is all the world to me ; I can 
die ! " 



160 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



"Then, you love me still?" said Mon- 
tauran. 

"Did I say so ?" she answered mock- 
ingly, and following- with joy the progress 
of the horrible torture which, at her first 
coming, she had begun to apply to him. 
"Had I not to make sacrifices in order 
to get here ? I saved Monsieur de Bau- 
van's life, and he, more grateful than 
you, has offered me his name and fortune 
in exchange for my protection. It did not 
occur to you to do that ! " 

The marquis, aghast at these last 
words, checked the most violent access 
of wrath which he had yet suffered at 
feeling himself duped \)y the count, but 
did not answer. 

" Ah ! you are considering ! " she said, 
with a bitter smiiC. 

"Mademoiselle,'' answered the young 
man, "3-our doubts justify mine." 

"Sir! let us quit this room!'' cried 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil, as she saw 
the skirt of Madame du Gua's gown. 
And she rose ; but her wish to drive her 
rival desperate made her linger. 

"' Do you wish to plunge me into hell ?" 
asked the marquis, taking her hand and 
pressing it hard. 

" Is it not five days since 3'ou plunged 
me there ? At this very moment are you 
not leaving me in the crudest uncertainty 
whether your love is sincere or not ? "' 

" But how can I tell if you are not push- 
ing your vengeance to the point hj mak- 
ing yourself mistress of my life, for the 
purpose of tarnishing it, instead of plan- 
ning my death ? " 

" Ah ! joM do not love me ! You think 
of yourself, not of me ! ' ' said she, furi- 
ously, and weeping, for the coquette knew 
well the power of her eyes when they 
were drowned in tears. 

"Well, then," said he, no longer mas- 
ter of himself, " take my life, but dry 
your tears ! " 

" Oh ! my love ! " cried she in a stifled 
voice, " these are the words, the tones, 
the looks, that I waited for before setting 
your happiness above vay own. But, sir," 
she went on, " I must ask you for a last 
proof of your affection, whicli you say is 
so great. I wiU stay here no longer than 



is necessary to make it thoroughly'' known 
that you are mine. I would not even 
drink a glass of water in a house where 
lives a woman who has twice tried to kill 
me, who is perhaps now plotting some 
treason against us, and who at this very 
moment is listening to our talk," said 
she, guiding the marquis's eyes with her 
fing'er to the floating folds of Madame du 
Gua's dress. Then she dried her tears, 
and bent toward the ear of the j^oung 
chief, who shivered as he felt himself 
caressed by her sweet, moist breath. 

" Get ready for our departure," said 
she. "You shall take me back to Fou- 
geres, and there, and there only, you shall 
know whether I love you or .not. For the 
second time I trust myself to you : will 
you trust yourself a second time to me ? '"' 

"Ah, Marie! you have brought me to 
such a pass that I know no more what I 
am doing. Your words, your looks, your- 
self, have intoxicated me, and I am ready 
to do anything 3^ou wish." 

"Well, then, make me for a moment 
quite happ3^ Let me enjoj^ the only tri- 
umph I have longed for. I want to 
breathe freel}' once, to live the life I have 
dreamed, and to fill myself full of my 
dreams, before they vanish. Let us go 
back; come and dance with me." 

They returned together to the ball- 
room, and although Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil had received as complete and 
heart}'- a satisfaction of her vanity as 
ever woman could, the mysterious sweet- 
ness of her ej'es, the delicate smile on her 
lips, the brisk movement of a lively dance, 
kept the secret of her thoug'hts as the sea 
keeps those of a murderer who drops into 
it a heav3^ corpse. ISTevertheless, the com- 
pany uttered an admiring murmur when 
she threw herself into the arms of her 
lover for the waltz, and the two, voluptu- 
ousty clasping each other, with languish- 
ing eyes and drooping heads, whirled 
round, clasping each other with a kind 
of frenz3^ 

'- Count," said Madame du Gua to Mon- 
sieur de Bauvan, "go and find out if Pille- 
Miche is in camp ; bring him to me ; and 
be certain that you shall obtain from me 
in return for this slight service anything 



THE CHOUANS. 



161 



j'ou wish, even my hand. My vengeance, " 
continued she to herself, as she saw him 
g-o off, ''will cost me dear ; but this time 
I v;ill not miss it." 

A few moments later. Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil and the marquis were seated in 
a berline horsed with four stout steeds. 
Francine, surprised at finding the two 
supposed enemies with clasped hands and 
on the best terms, sat speechless, and did 
not dare to ask herself whether this was 
treachery or love on her mistress's part. 
Thanks to the silence and to the darkness 
of night; Montauran could not perceive 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil's agitation as 
she drew near Fougeres. At length the 
feeble glimmer of dawn gave a far-off 
sight of the steeple of Saint Leonard's, 
and at the same moment Marie said to 
herself, " Death is near ! '' 

At the first rising ground the same 
thought occurred to each of the lovers. 
They alighted from the carriage and 
climbed the hill on foot, as though in re- 
membrance of their first meeting. When 
Marie had taken the marquis's arm and 
walked a short distance, she thanked the 
young man with a smile for ha\ang re- 
spected her silence. Then, as they reached 
the crown of the hill whence Fougeres 
was visible, she threw aside her reverie 
altogether. 

"You must come no further," she said. 
" My power would not again avail to save 
you from the Blues to-day." 

]\Iontauran looked at her with some sur- 
prise ; she gave a sad smile, pointed to a 
bowlder as if bidding him sit down, and 
herself remained standing in a melancholy 
posture. The emotions which tore her 
soul no longer permitted her to practice 
the artifices of which she had been so 
prodigal, and for the moment she could 
have knelt on burning coals without feel- 
ing them more than the marquis had felt 
the lighted wood which he had grasped 
to attest the violence of his passion. She 
gazed at her lover with a look full of the 
profound est grief before she said to him 
the appalling words : 

"All your suspicions of me are true ! " 

The marquis gave a sudden movement, 
but she said, clasping her hands : " For 
Balzac — f 



pity's sake, hear me without interruption. 
I am really and truly," she went on in a 
faltering tone, " the daughter of the Duke 
de Verneuil, but his natural daughter only. 
My mother, who was of the house of Cas- 
teran, and who took the veil to escape the 
sufferings which her family were prepar- 
ing for her, atoned for her fault by fifteen 
years of weeping, and died at Seez. Only 
on her death-bed did the dear abbess ad- 
dress to the man who had abandoned her 
an entreaty in my favor ; for she knew 
that I had neither friends, prospects, nor 
fortune. This man, never forgotten under 
the roof of Francine 's mother, to whose 
care I had been committed, had himself 
forgotten his child. Nevertheless, the 
duke received me with pleasure, and ac- 
knowledged me because I was beautiful ; 
perhaps, also, because I reminded him of 
his youth. 

" He was one of those grande seigneurs 
who, in the former reign, prided them- 
selves on showing how a man may pro- 
cure pardon for a crime by committing it 
gratefully. I will sa}' no more — he was 
wry father ! But permit me to show you 
the evil effect which my sojourn at Paris* 
could not help producing on my mind. 
The society which the Duke de Verneuil 
kept, and that to which he introduced 
me, doted on the mocking philosophy 
which then charmed all France, because 
it was the rule to make witty profession 
of it. The brilliant talk which pleased 
my ear was recommended b^' its ingen- 
ious observations, or by a neatly-turned 
contempt of religion and of truth gener- 
ally. As they mocked certain feelings 
and thoughts, men drew them all the 
better that they ^\A not share them; 
and they were as agreeable by dint of 
their skill in epigram, as by the spriglit- 
liness with which they could put a whole 
story in a phrase. But they too often 
made the mistake of excessive esprit, and 
wearied women by making love a business 
rather than an affair of the heart. 

" I made but a weak resistance to this 
torrent. I had a soul (pardon my vani- 
ty!) sufficiently full of passion to feel that' 
esprit had withered all hearts ; but the 
life which I then led had the result of 



162 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



bringing about a perpetual conflict be- 
tween my natural sentiments and the 
vicious habits I had contracted. Some 
persons of parts had delighted to foster 
in me that freedom of thought, that con- 
tempt of public opinion, which deprives 
woman of the modesty of soul that gives 
her half her charm. Alas! adversity 
could not eradicate the faults which pros- 
perity had caused. My father," she con- 
tinued, after heaving a sigh, "the Duke 
de Verneuil, died after formally acknowl- 
edging me, and making in my favor a will 
which considerably diminished the fortune 
of my brother, his legitimate son. 

'' One morning I found myself without 
a shelter and without a guardian. My 
brother contested the will which made 
me a rich woman. Three years spent in 
a wealth}' household had developed my 
vanity, and , my father, by gratifying my 
ever}' wish, had created in me a craving 
for luxury and habits of indulgence, the 
tyranny of which my young and simple 
mind did not comprehend. A friend of 
my father's, the Marshal-Duke de Lenon- 
court, who was seventy years old, offered 
to be my guardian ; I accepted, and a few 
days after the beginning of the hateful 
lawsuit, I found mj'self once more in a 
splendid establishment, where I enjoyed 
all the advantages which my brother's 
cruelty had refused me over my father's 
coffin. Every evening the marshal spent 
some hours with me, and the old man 
spoke all the time nothing but words of 
gentle consolation. His whole air and 
the various touching proofs of paternal 
tenderness which he gave me, seemed to 
guarantee that his heart held no other 
sentiments than my own ; and I was glad 
to think myself his daughter. I accepted 
the jewels he offered me, and hid from him 
none of the fancies which I found him so 
glad to satisfy. 

" One evening I learned that the whole 
town thought me the poor old man's mis- 
tress. It was demonstrated to me that 
it was out of my power to regain the 
reputation for innocence of which society 
causelessly robbed me. The man who 
had practiced on my inexperience could 
not be my lover, and would not be my 



husband . In the very same week in which 
I made the hideous discovery — on the very 
eve of the day fixed for my marriage witli 
him (for I had insisted on bearing his 
name, the only reparation he could make 
me) — he fled to Coblentz. I was insulting- 
ly driven from the little house in which 
the marshal had placed me, and which 
did not belong to him. So far I have 
told you the truth, as if I were in the 
presence of God Himself ; but from this 
point ask not, I pray you, from a wretched 
girl, an exact account of the miseries 
buried in her memory. 

' ' One daj', sir, I found myself united* to 
Danton ! A few days later the huge oak 
round which I had cast my arms was up- 
rooted by the storm. When I saw myself 
once more immersed in poverty, I made 
up ni}' mind to die. I know not whether 
I was unconsciously counseled by love of 
life, b}' the hope of wearing out my ill- 
luck and finding at the bottom of this in- 
terminable abyss the happiness which fled 
my grasp, or whether I was won over by 
the arguments of a young man of Ven- 
dome, who for two years past has fast- 
ened himself on me like a serpent on a 
tree, in the belief, no doubt, that some 
extremity of misfortune may induce me 
to yield to him. In fine, I cannot tell why 
I accepted the odious mission of making 
mj'self beloved by a stranger whom I was 
to betray for the price of three hundred 
thousand francs. I saw 3'ou, sir, and I 
recognized you at once b}' one of those 
presentiments which never deceive us ; 
yet I amused myself by doubting, for the 
more I loved you, the more the conviction 
of my love was terrible to me. 

" Thus, in saving you from the hands 
of Commandant Hulot, I threw up my 
part, and resolved to deceive the execu- 
tioners, and not their victim. I was 
wrong to play thus with men's lives, 
with policy, and with my own self, after 
the fashion of a careless girl who sees 
nothing in the world but sentiment. I 
thought I was loved, and in the hope 
of a new beginning of life I let myself 
drift. But all things, mj'self perhaps 
included, betrayed my past excesses; for 
you must have had your suspicions of a 



THE CHOUANS. 



163 



woman so full of passion as I am. Alas ! 
can any one refuse pardon to my love, 
and my dissembling- ? Yes, sir ! it seemed 
to me that I was awaking- from a long and 
painful sleep, and that at my waking I 
found myself once more sixteen. Was 
I not in Alencon, which was connected 
with the chaste and pure memories of my 
3''outh ? I was simple enough, I was mad 
enough, to believe that love would give 
me a baptism of innocence. For a mo- 
ment I thought myself still a maid be- 
cause I had never yet loved. But yes- 
terday evening yowv passion seemed to 
me a real passion, and a voice asked me, 
* 'Why deceive him ? ' 

"Know, then, lord marquis," she con- 
tinued in a deep tone, which seemed proud- 
ly to challenge reprobation, " know it well 
that I am but a creature without honor, 
unworthy of you. From this moment I 
take up m}^ part of wanton once more, 
weary of playing that of a woman to 
whom you had restored all the chastities 
of the heart. Virtue is too heavy a load 
for me ; and 1 should despise you if you 
were weak enough to wed me. A Count 
de Bauvan might commit a folly of that 
kind, but you, sir, be worthy of your own 
future, and leave me without a regret. 
The courtesan in me, look you, would be 
too exacting ; she would love you in an- 
other fashion from that of the simple, 
innocent girl who felt in her heart for 
one instant the exquisite hope of some 
day being- jout companion, of making- 
you ever happy, of doing- you honor, of 
becoming a noble and worthy wife to you; 
and who, from this sentiment, has drawn 
the courage to revive her evil nature of 
vice and infamy, in order to set an eternal 
barrier between you and herself. To you 
I sacrifice honor and fortune ; my pride 
in this sacrifice will support me in my 
miserj'^, and fate may do with me as it 
will. I will never give you up to them. 
I shall return to Paris, where your name 
shall be to me as another self, and the 
splendid distinction which you will give 
•it will console me for all my woes. As for 
you, you are a man ; you will not forget 
me. Farewell ! " 

She darted away in the direction of the 



valleys of Saint Sulpice, and disappeared 
before the marquis could rise to stop her. 
But she doubled back on her steps, availed 
herself of a hollow rock as a hiding-place, 
raised her head, scrutinized Montauran 
with a curiosity which was ming-led with 
doubt, and saw him walking he knew not 
whither, like a man overwhelmed. 

"Is he, then, but a weakling?" she 
said, when he was lost to sight, and she 
felt that they were parted. "Will he 
understand me ? " 

She shuddered ; then she bent her steps 
suddenly and rapidlj^ toward Fougeres, 
as if she feared that the marquis would 
follow to the town, where death awaited 
him, 

" Well, Francine, what did he say to 



you 



she asked her faithful Breton 



maid when they met again. 

"Alas ! Marie, I pity him ! You great 
ladies make your tongues daggers to stab 
men with." 

"What did he look like, then, when he 
met you ? " 

"Do you think he even saw me? Oh, 
Marie, he loves you ! " 

"Ah, yes," answered she, "he loves 
me, or he loves me not — two words which 
mean heaven or hell to me. Between the 
extremes I see no middle space on which 
I can set my foot." 

Having thus worked out her terrible 
fate, Marie could give herself up entirely 
to sorrow ; and the countenance which 
she had kept up hitherto by a mixture of 
diverse sentiments experienced so rapid 
a change that, after a daj^ in which she 
hovered unceasingly between presages of 
happiness and forebodings of despair, she 
lost the fresh and radiant beauty whose 
first cause lies either in the absence of all 
passion or in the intoxication of happi- 
ness. 

Curious to know the result of her wild 
enterprise, Hulot and Corentin had called 
upon Marie shortly after her arrival. She 
received them with a smiling air. 

" Well," said she to the commandant, 
whose anxious face expressed considerable 
inquisitiveness, "the fox has come back 
within range of your guns, and you will 
soon gain a glorious victory ! " 



164 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



"What has happened, then?" asked 
Corentin carelessly, but casting- on Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil one of the sidelong- 
g-lances b^'' which diplomatists of this 
stamp spy out others' thoughts. 

"Why," she answered, "the Gars is 
more in love with me than ever, and I 
made him come with us up to the very 
g-ates of Foug-eres." 

" It would appear that your power 
ceased there," retorted Corentin, " and 
that the ci-devanVs fear is strong-er than 
the love with which 3^ou inspired him." 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil threw a scorn- 
ful look at Corentin. 

" You judge him by yourself," an- 
swered she. 

"Well," said he, without showing any 
emotion, "why did you not bring- him 
straigrht to us ? " 

"If he really loves me, commandant," 
said she to Hulot, with a malicious look, 
" would you never forg-ive me if I saved 
him by taking- him away from France? " 

The old soldier stepped briskly up to 
her, and seized her hand to kiss it, with 
a kind of enthusiasm. But then he looked 
steadily at her and said, his face darken- 
ing: 

"You forget my two friends and my 
sixty-three men ! " 

" Ah ! commandant," she said, with all 
the naivete of passion, "that was not his 
fault. He was duped by a wicked woman, 
Charette's mistress, who I believe would 
drink the blood of the Blues." 

"Come, Marie," said Corentin, "do 
not pla^'^ tricks with the commandant ; 
he does not understand your pleasantries 
yet." 

"Be silent," she answered, " and know 
that the day when you become a little too 
repulsive to me will be your last." 

"I see, mademoiselle," said Hulot with- 
out bitterness, " that I must make ready 
for battle." 

" You are not in case to give it, my 
dear colonel. At Saint James I saw that 
t\v&y had more than six thousand men, 
with regular troops, artiller}^ and En- 
ghsh officers. But what would become 
of all these folk without him ? I hold 
With Fouche, that his head is everything." 



" Well, shall we have his head ? " asked 
Corentin, out of patience. 

" I don't know," said she carelessly. 

"English ! " cried Hulot angrily; " that 
was the only thing wanting to make him 
out and out a brigand ! Ah, I'll English 
you, I will ! " But he added to Corentin, 
when they were a little distance from the 
house, " It would appear, citizen diplo- 
matist, that you let yourself be routed at 
regular intervals by that g'irl." 

"It is very natural, citizen comman- 
dant," answered Corentin thoughtfully, 
" that you should not have known what 
to make of all she said to us. You mili- 
tary gentlemen do not perceive that there 
are more ways of making war than one. 
To make cunning use of the passions of 
men and women, as though they were 
springs worked upon for the benefit of 
the state, to adjust all the wheels in the 
mighty machine which we call a govern- 
ment, to take delight in shutting up in it 
the most refractory sentiments like catch- 
springs, to be watched over for amuse- 
ment — is not this to be an actual creator, 
and to put one's self, like God, at the 
center of the universe ? " 

"You will be good enough to let me 
prefer my trade to 3^ours," replied the 
soldier dryl3\ " You ma^'^ do what you 
like with your machinery, but I acknowl- 
edge no other superior than the Minister 
of War. I have m}' orders ; I shall begin 
my operations with fellows who will not 
sulk or shirk, and I shall meet in front 
the foe whom you want to steal on from 
behind." 

" Oh, you can get into marching order 
if you like,'-' answered Corentin. " From 
what the girl lets me guess, enigmatic as 
she seems to you, you will have some 
skirmishing, and I shall procure you be- 
fore long the pleasure of a tete-a-tdte 
with the brigand chief." 

" How so ? " said Hulot, stepping back 
to get a better view of this strange per- 
sonage. 

"Mademoiselle de Verneuil loves the 
Gars," said Corentin, in a stifled voice,, 
" and perhaps he loves her. A marquis 
with the red ribbon, j^oung, able, perhaps 
evei (for who knows ?) still rich — there 



THE CHOUANS. 



165 



are sufficient temptations for you. She 
would be a fool not to fight for her own 
hand, and try to many him rather than 
g-ive him up. She is tr^nng- to throw dust 
in our eyes ; but I read in her ow^n some 
irresolution. In all probability the two 
lovers will have an assignation ; perhaps 
it is already arranged. Well, then, to- 
morrow I shall have my man fast ! Hith- 
erto he has only been the Republic's ene- 
my ; a few minutes since he became mine* 
'Now, every man who has taken a fancy 
to get betAveen me and that girl has died 
on the scaffold." 

When he had finished, Corentin fell 
back into a stud^^, which prevented him 
from seeing the intense disgust depicted 
on the countenance of the generous soldier, 
as he fathomed the depth of the intrigue 
and the working of the engines employed 
by Fouche. And so Hulot made up his 
mind to thwart Corentin in every point 
not absolutely hurtful to the success and 
the objects of the Government, and to give 
the Republic's foe the chance of dying 
with honor and sword in hand before be- 
coming the prey of the executioner, whose 
jackal this agent of the superior police 
avowed himself to be. 

''If the First Consul would listen to 
me," said he to himself, turning his back 
on Corentin, ''he would let these foxes 
and the aristocrats, who are worthy of 
each other, fight it out between them, and 
employ soldiers on very different business." 

Corentin on his side looked coolly at the 
soldier (whose face had now betra3^ed his 
thoughts), and his eyes recovered the 
sardonic expression which show^ed the 
superior intelligence of this subaltern 
Machiavel. 

"Give three yards of blue cloth to 
brutes of this kind," thought he, "stick 
a piece of iron by their sides, and the}^ 
will fancy that in politics there is only 
one proper way of killing a man." He 
paced up and down slowly for a few mo- 
ments ; then he said to himself suddenly : 
" Yes ! the hour is come. The woman 
shall be mine ! For five years the circle 
I have drawn round her has narrowed, 
little by little. I have her now, and with 
her help I will climb as high in the 



Government as Fouche. Yes ! let her 
lose the one man she has loved, and 
grief will give her to me body and soul. 
It only remains to watch night and day 
in order to discover her secret." 

A minute later, an observer might have 
descried Corentin's pale face across the 
window-panes of a house whence he could 
inspect every living thing that entered 
the cul-de-sac formed by the row of 
houses running parallel to Saint Leo- 
nard's Church. With the patience of 
a cat watching a mouse, Corentin was 
still, on the morning of the next day, 
giving heed to the least noise, and severe- 
ly scrutinizing every passer-b^". The day 
then beginning was a market day. Al- 
though in these unfortunate times the 
peasants were with difficulty induced to 
risk themselves in the town, Corentin 
saw a man of a gloomy countenance, 
dressed in a goatskin, and carrying on 
his arm a small round flat basket, 
who was making his way toward Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil's house, after casting 
round him glances indifferent enough. 
Corentin went downstairs, intending to 
wait for the peasant when he came out ; 
but suddenly it occurred to him that if 
he could make a sudden appearance at 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil's he might per- 
haps surprise at a single glance the 
secrets hid in the messenger's basket. 
Besides, common fame had taught him 
that it was almost impossible to get the 
better of the impenetrable answers of 
Bretons and Normans. 

" Galope-Chopine !" cried Mademoiselle 
de Verneuil, when Francine ushered in 
the Chouan. " Can it be that I am 
loved?" she added in a whisper to her- 
self. 

An instinct of hope shed the brightest 
hues over her complexion, and diffused 
joy throughout her heart. Galope- 
Chopine looked from the mistress of 
the house to Francine, his glances at 
the latter being full of mistrust; but a 
gesture from Mademoiselle de Verneuil 
reassured him. 

"Madame," said he, "toward the 
stroke of two he will be at my house, 
and will wait for you there." 



166 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



Her emotions allowed Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil to make no other reply than an 
inclination of the head, but a Samoyede 
could have understood the full meaning" 
of this. At the very same moment the 
steps of Corentin echoed in the salon. 
Galope-Chopine did not disturb himself 
in the least when Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil's start and her looks at once 
showed him a dang-er-sig-nal ; and as 
soon as the spy exhibited his cunning- 
face, the Chouan raised his voice ear- 
piercing-ly : 

'•'Oh, yes ! " said he to Francine, 
" there is Breton butter and Breton but- 
ter. You want Gibarr^' butter, and 3'ou 
will only g-ive eleven sous the pound. 
You ought not to have sent for me. That 
is g-ood butter, that is ! " said he, opening- 
his basket and showing- two little pats 
of butter of Barbette's making. " You 
must paj^ a fair price, g-ood lady. Come, 
let us say another sou ! " 

His hollow voice showed not the least 
anxiety, and his g-reen eyes, shaded by 
thick, g-rizzly eyebrows, bore without 
flinching Corentin's piercing gaze. 

" Come, good fellow, hold your tongue. 
You did not come here to sell butter; 
for you are dealing with a lady who 
never cheapened anything in her life. 
Your business, old boy, is one which will 
make you a head shorter some day ! " 
And Corentin, with a friendly clap on 
the shoulder, added, " You can't go on 
long serving both Chouans and Blues." 

Galope-Chopine had need of all his 
presence of mind to gulp down his wrath 
without denying this charge, which, ow- 
ing to his avarice, was a true one. He 
contented himself with replying : 

*'The gentleman is pleased to be 
merry — " 

Corentin had turned his back on the 
Chouan, but in the act of saluting Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil, whose heart was in 
her mouth, he was easily able to keep an 
eye on him in the mirror. Galope-Cho- 
pine, who thought himself out of the sp.y 's 
sight, questioned Francine with a look, 
and Francine pointed to the door, sa.ying: 
" Come with me, good man ; we shall 
come to terms, no doubt." 



Nothing had escaped Corentin, neither 
the tightened lips which Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil's smile hid but ill, nor her blush, 
nor her altered expression, nor the Chou- 
an's anxiety, nor Francine's gesture. He 
had seen it all ; and, convinced that Ga- 
lope-Chopine was an emissary of the mar- 
quis, he stopped him as he was going out, 
b}^ catching hold of the long hair of his 
goatskin, brought him in front of himself, 
and looked straight at him, saying : 

" Where do you live, good friend ? I 
want some butter." 

"Good gentleman," answered the 
Chouan, "^ all Fougeres knows where I 
live. I am, as you ma}^ say — " 

'•'Corentin!." cried Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil, interrupting Galope-Chopine's 
answer, '''3'ou are very forward to pay 
me visits at this hour, and to catch me 
like this, scarcely dressed. Let the peas- 
ant alone. He does not understand yowc 
tricks any more than I understand their 
object. Go, good fellow." 

Galope-Chopine hesitated for a moment 
before going. His irresolution, whether 
it were real or feigned, as of a poor wretch 
who did not know which of the two to 
obe^', had already begun to impose on 
Corentin, when the Chouan, at a com- 
manding signal from the young lady, de- 
parted with heavy steps. Mademoiselle 
de Verneuil and Corentin gazed at each 
other in silence ; and this time Marie's 
clear eyes could not endure the blaze of 
dry light which poured from the man's 
looks. The air of resolve with which the 
spy had entered the room, an expression 
on his face which was strange to Marie, 
the dull sound of his squeak3'' voice, his 
attitude — all alarmed her ; she understood 
that a secret struggle was beginning be- 
tween them, and that he w^as straining 
all the power of his sinister influence 
against her. But if at the moment she 
caught a full and distinct view of the 
abj^ss toward which she was hastening, 
she drew from her love strength to shake 
off the icy chill of her presentiments. 

" Corentin ! " she said, merrily enough, 
''I hope 3^ou will be good enough to allow 
me to finish my toilet." 

"Marie," said he — "yes, give me leave 



THE CHOUANS, 



167 



to call you so — you do not know me yet. 
Listen ! a less sharp-sig-hted man than 
m^'self would have already discovered 
your affection for the Marquis of Mon- 
tauran. I have again and again offered 
you my heart and my hand. You did not 
think me worth}' of you, and perhaps ,you 
are right. But if you think j^our station 
too lofty, your heauty or your mind too 
great for me, I can find means to draw 
you down to my level. My ambition and 
my precepts have not inspired 3'ou with 
much esteem for me, and here, to speak 
frank]}', you are wrong. Men, as a rule, 
are not worth even my estimate of them, 
which is next to nothing. I shall attain 
of a certainty to a high position, the 
honors of which will please ^-ou. Who 
can love you better, who can make you 
more completely mistress of himself than 
the man who has alread}'- loved you for 
five years ? Although I run the risk of 
seeing you conceive an unfavorable idea 
of me (for you do not believe it possible 
to renounce the person one adores through 
mere excess of love), I will give ^-ou the 
measure of the disinterestedness of my 
affection for you. Do not shake your 
pretty head in that waj'. If the mar- 
quis loves you, marry him ; but make 
yourself quite sure first of his sincerity. 
I should be in despair if I knew you had 
been deceived, for I prefer your happi- 
ness to m}'- own. My resolution maj^ sur- 
prise you ; but pray attribute it to nothing 
but the commonsense of a man who is not 
fool enough to wish to possess a woman 
against her will. And so it is myself, 
and not you, whom I hold g'uilty of the 
uselessness of my efforts. I hope to gain 
3'ou b}'^ force of submission and devotion, 
for, as you know, I have long soug'ht to 
make 3'OU happ}' after my own fashion, 
but you have never chosen to reward me 
in an}' way." 

"I have endured your company," she 
said haughtily. 

"Add that you are sorry for ha\ing 
done so. '5* 

"After the disgraceful plot in which 
you have entangled me, must I still thank 
you ? " 

"When I suggested to you an enter- 



prise which was not blameless in the 
eyes of timid souls," answered he boldly, 
" I had nothing but your good fortune in 
view. For my own part, whether I win 
or fail, I shall find means of making 
either result useful to the success of my 
designs. If you married Montauran, I 
should be charmed to do yeoman's ser- 
vice to the Bourbon cause at Paris, 
where I belong to the Clichy Club. Any 
incident which put me in communication 
with the princes would decide me to aban- 
don the interests of a Republic which 
is rapidly hastening to its decline and 
fall. General Bonaparte is too clever not 
to feel that he cannot be in Germany, in 
Italy, and here, where the Revolution is 
succumbing, all at once. It is pretty clear 
that he brought about the ISth Brumaire 
only to stand on better terms with the 
Bourbons in treating with them concern- 
ing France, for he is a fellow Avith his 
wits about him, and with foresight 
enough. But men of policy must antici- 
pate him on his own road. A scruple 
about betraying France is but one more 
of those which we men of parts leave to 
fools. I will not hide from you that I 
have all necessary powers for treating 
with the Chouan chiefs, as well as for 
arranging their ruin. My patron, Fouche, 
is deep enough, and has always played a 
double game. During the Terror he was 
at once for Robespierre and for Danton — " 

" Whom you basely deserted," said she. 

"Nonsense ! " answered Corentin. " He 
is dead ; think not of him. Come ! speak 
to me frankly, since I have set you the 
example. This demi-brigadier is sharper 
than he looks, and if you wish to outwit 
his vigilance I might be of some service 
to you. Remember that he has filled the 
valleys with counter-Chouans, and would 
quickly get wind of your rendezvous. If 
you stay here under his eyes, }ou are at 
the mercy of his police. Only see how 
quickly he found out that this Chouan 
was in your house I Must not his sagac- 
ity as a soldier show him that your least 
movements will be a tell-tale to him of 
those of the marquis, if the marquis loves 
you ? " 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil had never 



168 



THE HUMAN COMEDY, 



heard a voice so gently affectionate. 
Corentin seemed to speak in entire g-ood 
faith and full trust. The poor girl's heart 
was so susceptible to generous impressions 
that she was on the point of yielding her 
secret to the serpent who was winding his 
coils round her. But she bethought her 
that there was no proof of the sincerity 
of this artful language, and so she had 
no scruple in duping him who was acting 
the spy on her. 

''Well, Corentin," said she, ''you have 
guessed aright. Yes, I love the marquis, 
but he loves not me ; at least, I fear it, 
for the rendezvous which he has given me 
seems to hide some trap." 

"But," said Corentin, "you told us 
yesterday that he had accompanied you 
to Fougeres. Had he wished to use vio- 
lence toward you, you would not be 
here." 

" Corentin, your heart is seared. You 
can calculate scientifically on the course 
of human life in general, and yet not on 
those of a single passion. Perhaps this 
is the reason of the constant repulsion I 
feel for j^ou. But since jou are so perspi- 
cacious, tr}' to guess \y\\j a man from 
whom I parted roughly the day before 
yesterda}^ is impatiently expecting me to- 
day on the Mayenne road, in a house at 
Florigny, toward evening." 

At this confession, which seemed to 
have escaped her in a moment of excite- 
ment natural enough to a creature so 
frank and so passionate, Corentin flushed ; 
for he was still young. He cast sidewise 
on her one of those piercing glances which 
quest for the soul. Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil's naivete was so well feigned that 
she deceived the spy, and he answered 
with artificial good-nature : 

"Would you like me to accompany you 
at a distance ? I would take some dis- 
guised soldiers with me, and we should 
be at your orders." 

" Agreed," she said ; " but promise me 
on your honor — ah, no ! I do not believe 
in that ; on your salvation — but you do 
not believe in God ; on jour soul — but 
perhaps you have none. What guarantee 
of fidelity can you give me ? Still, I will 
trust you, and I put in your hands what 



is more than my life — either ray ven- 
geance or my love ! " 

The faint smile which appeared on Co- 
rentin 's pale countenance acquainted 
Mademoiselle de Verneuil with the danger 
she had just avoided. The agent, his nos- 
trils contracting instead of dilating, took 
his victim's hand, kissed it Avith marks 
of the deepest respect, and left her with 
a bow which was not dcA'oid of elegance. 
Three hours after this interview. Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil, who feared Coren- 
tin 's return, slipped furtively" out of the 
gate of Saint-Leonard and gained the little 
path of the Nid-aux-Crocs, leading to the 
Nancon Valley. She thought herself safe 
as she passed unnoticed through the lab\'- 
rinth of tracks leading to Galope-Chopine' s 
cabin, whither she advanced gaylj^, led 
by the hope of at last finding happiness, 
and by the desire of extricating her lover 
from his threatened fate. Meanwiiile Co- 
rentin was engaged in hunting for the 
commandant. It was with difficulty that 
he recognized Hulot when he found him 
in a small open space, where he was busy 
with some military preparations. The 
brave veteran had indeed made a sacrifice 
the merit of which can hardly be put 
sufficiently high. His pigtail and his 
mustaches were shaved, and his hair, 
arranged like a priest's, had a dash of 
powder. Shod with great hobnailed shoes, 
his old blue uniform and his sword ex- 
changed for a goat-skin, a belt garnished 
with pistols, and a heavy rifle, he w^as 
inspecting two hundred men of Fougeres, 
whose dress might have deceived the ej^es 
of the most experienced Chouan. The 
warlike spirit of the little town and the 
Breton character were both exhibited 
in this scene, which was not the first of 
its kind. Here and there mothers and 
sisters were bringing to their sons and 
brothers brand y-fiasks or pistols which 
had been forgotten. More than one old 
man was examining the number and good- 
ness of the cartridges carried by these 
National Guards, who were digguised as 
counter-Chouans, and w^hose cheerfulness 
seemed rather to indicate a hunting-party 
than a dangerous expedition. 

For them, the skirmishes of the Chou- 



THE CHOUANS. 



169 



an war, where the Bretons of the towns 
f oug-ht with the Bretons of the country, 
seemed to have taken the place of the 
tourney's of chivalry. This patriotic en- 
thusiasm perhaps owed its orig-in to the 
acquisition of some of the confiscated 
property ; but much of its ardor was also 
due to the better appreciation of the bene- 
fits of the Revolution which existed in the 
towns, to party fidelity, and to a certain 
love of war, characteristic of the race. 
Hulot was struck with admiration as he 
went throug-h the ranks asking- informa- 
tion from Gudin, on whom he had be- 
stowed all the friendly feeling which had 
formerly been allotted to Merle and Ge- 
rard. A considerable number of the 
townsmen were spectators of the prepar- 
ations for the expedition, and were able 
to compare the bearing of their noisy 
comrades with that of a battalion of 
Hulot's demi-brigade. The Blues, mo- 
tionless, in faultless line, and silent, waited 
for the orders of the commandant, whom 
the e^^es of each soldier followed as he 
went from group to group. When he 
came up to the old officer, Corentin could 
not help smiling- at the change in Hulot's 
appearance. He looked like a i^ortrait 
which has lost its resemblance to the 
original. 

" What is up ? " asked Corentin of him. 

" Come and fire a' shot with us, and you 
will know," answered the commandant. 

''Oh! I am not a Fougeres man," re- 
plied Corentin. 

''We can all see that, citizen," said 
Gudin ; and some mocking laughter came 
from the neighboring- groups. 

"Do you think," retorted Corentin, 
''that there is no w^ay of saving France 
but with bayonets?" and he turned his 
back on the laug-hers, and addressed 
himself to a woman in order to learn 
the purpose and destination of this ex- 
pedition. 

" Alas ! g-ood sir, the Chouans are al- 
readN^ at FlorigTiy. "Tis said that there 
are more than three thousand of them, 
and that they are coming to take Fou- 
g-eres." 

" Florigny I " cried Corentin, growing- 
pale ; "then, that cannot be the meet- 



ing-place ! Do you mean," he went on, 
" Florigny on the Mayenne road ? " 

"There are not two Florignys," an- 
swered the woman, pointing to the road 
which ended at the top of the Pilgrim. 

" Are you going after the Marquis of 
Montauran ? " asked Corentin of the com- 
mandant. 

" Rather," answered Hulot roughl3\ 

" He is not at Florignj^" replied Coren- 
tin. " Send 3'our battalion and the Na- 
tional Guards thither, but keep some of 
3'our counter-Chouans with 3'ourself, and 
wait for me." 

"He is too sh^ to be mad," cried the 
commandant, as he saw Corentin stride 
hastily off. " 'Tis certainly the king of 
spies." 

At the same time he gave his battalion 
the order to march, and the Republican 
soldiers went silently, and without beat 
of drum, through the narrow suburb 
which leads to the Mayenne road, mark- 
ing against the houses and the trees a 
long line of blue and red. The disguised 
National Guards followed them, but 
Hulot remained in the little square, with 
Gudin and a score of picked young towns- 
men, waiting for Corentin, ^vhose air of 
mystery had excited his curiosity. Fran- 
cine herself told the warj^ spy of the de- 
parture of Mademoiselle de Verneuil ; all 
his suspicions at once became certainties, 
and he went forth to gain new light on 
this deservedly questionable absence. 
Learning from the guard at the Porte 
Saint Leonard that the fair stranger had 
passed by the Nid-aux-Crocs, Corentin 
ran to the walks, and, as ill-luck would 
have it, reached them just in time to per- 
ceive all Marie's movements. Although 
she had put on a gown and hood of green 
in order to be less conspicuous, the quick 
motion of her almost frenzied steps showed 
clearly enough through the leafless and 
hoar-frosted hedges, the direction of her 
journey. 

" Ah ! " cried he, [" you ought to be 
making for Florignj^, and you are going 
down toward the valley of Gibarry ! I 
am but a simpleton : she has duped me. 
But patience ! I can light my lamp by 
day as well as by night." And then. 



170 



THE HUMAN COMEDY, 



having- pretty nearly guessed the place of 
the lovers' assignation, he ran to the 
square at the very moment when Hulot 
was about to quit it and follow up his 
troops. 

''Halt, g-eneral ! " he cried to the com- 
mandant, who turned back. 

In a moment Corentin had acquainted 
the soldier with incidents, the connecting- 
web of which, thoug-h hid, had allowed 
some of its threads to appear : and Hulot, 
struck by the agent's shrewdness, clutched 
his arm briskly. 

" A thousand thunders ! Citizen In- 
quisitive, you are right ! The brigands 
are making a feint down there ! The two 
flying columns that I sent to beat the 
neighborhood between the Antrain and 
the Vitre roads have not come back yet, 
and so wesh all find in the country re-en- 
forcements which will be useful, for the 
Gars is not fool enough to risk himself 
without his cursed screech-owls at hand. 
G udin ! ' ' said he to the young Fougeres 
man, '"'run and tell Captain Lebrun that 
he can do without me in drubbing the 
brigands at Florigny, and then come back 
in no time. You know the by-paths, I 
shall wait for you to hunt up the ci-de- 
vant and avenge the murders at the Vi- 
vetiere. God's thunder ! how he runs !" 
added he, looking at Gudin, who vanished 
as if by magic. ''Would not Gerard 
have loved the boy ! " 

When he came back, Gudin found Hu- 
lot's little force increased by some sol- 
diers drawn from the various g'uard- 
houses of the town. The commandant 
bade the young man pick out a dozen of 
his fellow-townsmen who had most expe- 
rience in the difficult business of counter- 
feiting the Chouans, and ordered him to 
make his way by Saint Leonard's Gate, 
so as to take the route to the rear of the 
heights of Saint Sulpice facing the great 
valley of the Couesnon, where was the 
cottage of Galope-Chopine. Then he put 
himself at the head of the rest of the 
force, and left by the Porte Saint Sulpice, 
meaning to gain the crest of the hills 
where he, according to his plans, expected 
to meet Beau-Pied and his men. With 
these he intended to strengthen a cordon 



of sentries whose business was to watch 
the rocks from the Faubourg Saint Sulpice 
to the Nid-aux-Crocs. Corentin, confident 
that he had placed the fate of the Chouan 
chief in the hands of his most implacable 
enemies, went rapidly to the promenade 
in order to get a better view of Hulot 's 
dispositions as a whole. It was not long 
before he saw Gudin's little party de- 
bouching by the Nancon dale, and follow- 
ing the rocks along the side of the great 
Conesnon Valley; while Hulot, slipping 
out along the castle of Fougeres, climbed 
the dangerous path which led to the crest 
of the Saint Sulpice crags. In this man- 
ner the two parties were working on par- 
allel lines. 

The trees and bushes, richly arabesqued 
by the hoar-frost, threw over the country 
a white gleam, against which it was easy 
to see the two detachments moving like 
gray lines. As soon as he had arrived at 
the table-land on the top of the rocks, 
Hulot separated from his force all those 
soldiers who were in uniform ; and Coren- 
tin saw them, under the skillful orders of 
the commandant, drawing up a line of 
perambulating sentinels, parted each from 
each by a suitable space ; the first was to 
be in touch with Gudin and the last with 
Hulot, so that not so much as a bush 
could escape the bayonets of these three 
moving lines who were about to track 
down the Gars across the hills and fields. 

"He is cunning, the old watch-dog! " 
cried Corentin, as he lost sight of the 
last flashes of the gun barrels amid the 
ajoncs. "The Gars's goose is cooked! 
If Marie had betrayed this d— d marquis, 
she and I should have been united by the 
firmest of all ties, that of disgrace. But 
all the same, she shall be mine ! " 

The twelve young men of Fougeres, 
led by Sub-lieutenant Gudin, soon gained 
the slope where the Saint Sulpice crags 
sink down in smaller hills to the valley of 
Gibarry. Gudin, for his part, left the 
roads, and jumped lightly over the bar of 
the first broom-field he came to, being fol- 
lowed by six of his fellows ; the others, 
by his orders, made their way into the 
fields toward the right, so as to beat the 
ground on each side of the road. Gudin. 



THE CHOUANS. 



171 



darted briskly toward an apple-tree which 
stood in the midst of the broom. At the 
rustle made by the march of the six 
counter-Chouans whom he led across this 
broom forest, trying- not to disturb its 
frosted tufts, seven or eight men, at 
whose head was Beau-Pied, hid them- 
selves behind some cliestnut trees which 
crowned the hedge of the field. Despite 
the white gleam which lighted up the 
country, and despite their own sharp eye- 
sight, the Fougeres party did not at first 
perceive the others, who had sheltered 
themselves behind the trees. 

"Hist ! here they are !" said Beau- 
Pied, the first to raise his head, " the 
brigands have got in front of us ; but 
as we have got them at the end of our 
guns, don't let us miss them, or, by Jove ! 
we shan't deserve to be even the Pope's 
soldiers ! " 

However, Gudiu's piercing eyes had at 
last noticed certain gun-barrels leveled at 
his little party. At the same moment, 
with a bitter mockery, eight deep voices 
cried "Qui vivef'' and eight gunshots 
followed. The balls whistled round the 
counter-Chouans, of whom one received a 
wound in the arm, and another fell. The 
five men of Fougeres who remained un- 
hurt answered with a volley, shouting 
" Friends ! " Then they rushed upon their 
supposed enemies so as to close with them 
before they could reload. 

" We did not know we spoke so much 
truth ! " cried the young sub-lieutenant, 
as he recognized the uniform and the bat- 
tered hats of his own demi-brigade. '' We 
have done like true Bretons — fought first, 
and asked questions afterward." 

The eight soldiers stood astounded as 
they recognized Gudin. ''Confound it, 
sir ! Who the devil would not have taken 
you for brigands with your goatskins?" 
cried Beau-Pied mournfully. 

"It is a piece of ill-luck, and nobody is 
to blame, since 3^ou had no notice that 
our counter-Chouans were going to make 
a sally. But what have you been doing?" 

" We are hunting a dozen Chouans, sir, 
who are amusing themselves by breaking 
our backs. We have been running like 
poisoned rats; and what with jumping 



over these bars and hedges (may thunder 
confound them ! ) our legs are worn out, 
and we were taking a rest. I think the 
brigands must be now somewhere about, 
the hut where you see tlie smoke rising." 

" Good ! " cried Gudin. " Fall back," 
added he to Beau-Pied and his eight men, 
''across the fields to the Saint Sulpice 
rocks, and support the line of sentries 
that the commandant has posted there. 
You must not stay with us, because you 
are in uniform. Odds cartridges ! We 
are tr^ang to get hold of the dogs, for 
the Gars is among them. Your comrades 
will tell you more than I can. File to the 
right, and don't pull trigger on six others 
of our goatskins that you may meet ! 
You will know our counter-Chouans by 
their neckerchiefs, which are coiled round 
without a knot." 

Gudin deposited his two wounded men 
under the apple-tree, and continued his 
way to Galope-Chopine's house, which 
Beau-Pied had just pointed out to him, 
and the smoke of which served as a land- 
mark. While the young officer had thus 
got on the track of the Chouans by a col- 
lision common enough in this war, but 
which might have had more fatal resul ts, 
the little detachment which Hulot himself 
commanded had reached on its own line 
of operations a point parallel to that at 
which Gudin had arrived on his. The old 
soldier, at the hea d of his counter-Chouans, 
slipped silently among the hedges with all 
the eagerness of a young man, and jumped 
the bars with sufficient agility-, directing 
his restless eyes to all the points that 
commanded them, and pricking up his 
ears like a hunter at the least noise. 

In the third field which he entered he 
perceived a woman, some thirty j^ears 
old, busy in hoeing the soil, and working 
hard in a stooping posture ; while a little 
boy, about seven or eight years old, 
armed with a bill-hook, was shaking" 
rime off some ajoncs which had sprung 
up here and there, cutting" them down, 
and piling them in heaps. At the noise 
which Hulot made in alighting" hea"^ly 
across the bar, the little gars and his 
mother raised their heads. Hulot natur- 
ally enough mistook the woman, young 



172 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



as she was, for a crone. Premature 
wrinkles furrowed her forehead and 
neck, and she was so oddh^ clothed in 
a w^orn g-oatskin, that had it not been 
that her sex was' indicated by a dirty 
yellow linen gown, Hulot would not 
have known whether she was man or 
woman, for her long- black tresses were 
hidden under a red woolen night-cap. 
The rags in which the small bo}' Avas 
clothed, after a fashion, showed his skin 
through them. 

"Hullo, old woman ! " said Hulot in a 
lowered voice to her as he drew near, 
"where is the Gars?" At the same 
moment the score of counter-Chouans 
who followed him crossed the boundary 
of the field. 

" Oh ! to g-et to the Gars you must go 
back the waj'^ you came," answered the 
woman, after casting a distrusful g-lance 
on the part^^ 

" Did I ask you the way to the suburb 
of the Gars at Foug-eres, old bag of 
bones ? " replied Hulot roughly. " Saint 
Anne of Auray! Have you seen the Gars 
pass ? " 

" I do not know what you mean," said 
the woman, bending down to continue her 
work. 

"D — d garce that 3'ou are I Do j^ou 
want the Blues, who are after us, to g"ob- 
ble us up ? " cried Hulot. 

At these words the woman lifted her- 
self up and cast another suspicious look 
at the counter-Chouans as she answered, 
" How can the Blues be after you ? I saw 
seven or eight of them just now g'oing' 
back to Fougeres by the road down 
there." 

" Would not a man say that she looks 
like biting us ? " said Hulot. " Look 
there, old Nanm^ ! " 

And the commandant pointed out to 
her, some fiftj'^ paces behind, three or four 
of his sentinels, whose uniforms and g-uns 
were unmistakable. 

" Do you want to have our throats 
cut, when Marche-a-Terre has sent us 
to help the Gars, whom the men of Fou- 
geres are trying to catch ? " he went on 
angrily. 

"Your pardon," answered the woman ; 



" but one is so easily deceived ! What 
parish do you come from? "asked she. 

" From Saint Georg-e ! " cried two or 
three of the men of Fougeres in Low 
Breton ; " and we are dying- of hung-er ! " 

"Well, then, look- here," said the wo- 
man ; " do 3^ou see that smoke there ? 
that is m^^ house. If j^ou take the paths 
on the rig-ht and keep up, you will g-et 
there. Perhaps j-ou will meet my hus- 
band by the way — Galope-Ch opine has 
g-ot to stand sentinel to warn the Gars, 
for you know he is coming- to our house 
to-day," added she with pride. 

"Thanks, good woman," answered 
Hulot. " Forward, men ! By God's 
thunder ! " added he, speaking- to his fol- 
lowers, "we have g-ot him!" 

At these words the detachment, break- 
ing- into a run, followed the commandant, 
who plunged into the path pointed out to 
him. When she heard the self-styled 
Chouan's by no means Catholic impre- 
cation, Galope-Chopine's wife turned pale. 
She looked at the gaiters and goatskins 
of the Foug-eres youth, sat down on the 
g-round, clasped her child in her arms, 
and said : 

" The Holy Virg-in of Auray and the 
blessed Saint Labre have mercy upon us ! 
I do not believe that they are our folk : 
their shoes have no nails ! Run by the 
lower road to warn your father : his head 
is at stake ! " said she to the little boy, 
who disappeared like a fawn throug-h the 
broom and the ajoncs. 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil, however, had 
not met on her way an}' of the pa rties of 
Blues or Chouans Avho were hunting- each 
other in the maze of fields that lay round 
Galope-Chopine's cottage. When she 
saw a bluish column rising- from the half- 
shattered chimney of the Avretched dwell- 
ing-, her heart underwent one of those 
violent palpitations, the quick and sound- 
ing throbs of Avhich seem to surg-e up to 
the throat. She stopped, leaned her hand 
ag-ainst a tree-branch, and stared at the 
smoke which was to be a beacon at once 
to the friends and enemies of the young- 
chief. Never had she felt such over- 
powering emotion. 

" Oh ! " she said to herself with a sort 



THE CHOUANS. 



173 



of despair, " I love him too much ! It 
may be I shall lose command of myself 
to-day ! '' 

Suddenly she crossed the space which 
separated her from the cottage, and found 
herself in the yard, the mud of which had 
been hardened b}" the frost. The great 
dog- once more flew at her, barking- ; but 
at a sing-le word pronounced by Galope- 
Chopine, he held his tong-ue and wag-ged 
his tail. As she entered the cabin. Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil thretv into it an all- 
embracing- g-lance. The marquis was not 
there ; and Marie breathed more freely. 
She observed with pleasure that the 
Chouan had exerted himself to restore 
some cleanliness to the dirty sing-le cham- 
ber of his lair. Galope-Chopine grasped 
his duck-gun, bowed silently'- to his g-uest, 
and went out with his dog-. She followed 
him to the doorstep, and saw him depart- 
ing \)y the path which went to the rig-ht 
of his hut, and the entrance of which was 
g-uarded by a ]arg-e rotten tree, which 
served as an echalier, thoug-h one almost 
in ruins. Thence she could perceive a 
range of fields, the bars of which showed 
like a vista of g-ates, for the trees and 
hedg-es, stripped bare, allow'ed full view 
of the least details of the landscape. 

When Galope-Chopine's broad hat had 
suddenly disappeared. Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil turned to the left to look for the 
church of Foiigeres, but the outhouse hid 
it from her wholly. Then she cast her 
eyes on the Couesnon Vallej', lying- be- 
fore them like a huge sheet of muslin, 
whose whiteness dulled yet further a sky 
g-ra3'--tinted' and loaded with snow. It 
was one of those days when nature 
seemed speechless, and w^hen the atmos- 
phere sucks up all noises. Thus, thoug-h 
the Blues and their counter-Chouans were 
marching on the hut in three lines, form- 
ing- a triangle, which thej'- contracted as 
they came nearer, the silence was so pro- 
found that Mademoiselle de Verneuil felt 
oppressed b^^ surroundings which added 
to her mental anguish a kind of physical 
sadness. There was ill-fortune in the air. 
At last, at the point where a little cur- 
tain of wood terminated the vista of echa- 
liers, she saw a young- man leaping- the 



barriers like a squirrel, and running with 
astonishing- speed. 

" 'Tis he ! " she said to herself. 

The Gars, dressed plainly like a Chou- 
an, carried his blunderbuss slung- behind 
his g-oatskin, and, but for the eleganbe of 
his movements, would have been unrecog-- 
nizable. Marie retired hurriedly into the 
cabin, in obedience to one of those instinc- 
tive resolves which are as little explicable 
as fear. But it was not long- before the 
3-oung- chief stood only a step from her, 
in front of the chimney, where burned a 
clear and crackling fire. Both found 
themselves speechless, and dreaded to 
look at each other, or even to move. One 
hope united their thoughts, one doubt 
iparted them. It was anguish and rapt- 
ure at once. 

" Sir ! '' said Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil at last, in a broken voice, " anx- 
iety for your safety alone has broug-ht 
me hither." 

" My safety ? ", he asked bitterh\ 

" Yes ! " she answered. " So long' as I 
stay at Fougeres your life is in dang-er ; 
and I love you too well not to depart this 
evening. Therefore seek me no more." 

"■ Depart, beloved ang-el ? I will follow 
you ! " 

" Follow me ? Can you think of such a 
thing- ? And the Blues ? " 

" Why, dearest Marie, what have the 
Blues to do with our love?" 

" It seems to me difficult for you to 
stay in France near me, and more diflQ.- 
cult still for you to leave it with me." 

" Is there such a thing- as the impos- 
sible to a g-ood lover ? " 

" Yes ! I believe that everything- is pos- 
sible. Had J not courage enoug-h to give 
you up for your own sake ? " 

''What ! You g-ave yourself to a hor- 
rible creature whom you did not love, and 
you will not g-rant happiness to a man 
who adores you, whose whole life you 
fill, who swears to you to be forever 
onl}" yours ? Listen, Marie : do you 
love me ? " 

"Yes," she said. 

'• Well, then, be mine I " 

'' Have you forg-otten that I have re- 
sumed the base part of a courtesan, and 



174 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



that it is you who must be mine ? If I 
have determined to fly, it is that I may 
not let the contempt which I may incur 
fall on your head. Were it not for this 
fear I might — " 

" But if I fear nothing- ? ' 

" Who will guarantee me that ? I am 
mistrustful ; and in \ny situation, who 
would not be so ? If the love that we 
inspire be not lasting, at least it should 
be complete, so as to make us support 
the world's injustice with J03'. What 
have you done for me ? You desire me. 
Do you think that exalts you very high 
above those who have seen me before ? 
Have 5^ou risked 3'our Chouans for an 
hour of rapture as carelessly as I dis- 
missed the remembrance of the massa- 
cred Blues when aU was lost for me ? 
Suppose I bade jow renounce all your 
principles, all your hopes, your king who 
stands in m}^ way, and who very likely 
will make mock of you when -yow have 
laid down your life for him, while I would 
die for you with a sacred devotion ? Sup- 
pose I would have you send your submis- 
sion to the First Consul, so that you 
might be able to follow me to Paris ? 
Suppose I insisted that we should go to 
America to live, far from a world where 
all is vanity, that I might know whether 
you really love me for myself as at this 
moment I love you? In one word, sup- 
pose I tried to make you fall to my level 
instead of raising myself to yours, what 
would 3'ou do ? " 

" Hush, Marie ! Do not slander your- 
self. Poor child, I have found you out. 
Even as my first desire transformed it- 
self into passion, so my passion has trans- 
formed itself into love. I know, dearest 
soul of my soul, that you are noble as 
your name, great as you are beautiful. 
And I myself am noble enough and feel 
myself great enough to force the world 
to receive you. Is it because I foresee 
unheard-of and incessant delights with 
you ? Is it because I seem to recognize 
in 3^our soul that precious quality' Which 
keeps us ever constant to one woman ? I 
know not the cause ; but my love is 
boundless, and I feel that I cannot live 
without you — that my life, if you were 



not near me, would be full of mere dis- 
gust."' 

" What do you mean b^'^ ' near me ? ' " 

' ' Oh, Marie ! will you not understand 
3^our Alphonse ? " 

" Ah ! you think you are paying me a 
great compliment in offering me your 
hand and name ? " she said, with af- 
fected scorn, but eying the marquis 
closely to catch his slightest thoughts. 
" How do you know whether you would 
love me in six mpnths' time ? And if yo\i 
did not, what would become of me ? No, 
no ! a mistress is the only woman who is 
certain of the affection which a man shows 
her ; she has no need to seek such pitiful 
allies as duty, law, societj' , the interests 
of children ; and if her power lasts, she 
finds in it solace and happiness which 
make the greatest vexations of life en- 
durable. To be 3^our wife, at the risk of 
one daj^ being a burden to you ? To such 
a fear I would prefer a love fleeting, 
but true while it lasted, though death 
and ruin were to come after it. Yes ! I 
could well, and even better than another, 
be a virtuous mother, a devoted wife. But, 
in order that such sentiments maybe kept 
up in a woman's heart, a man must not 
marry her in a mere gust of passion. 
Besides, can I tell myself whether I shall 
care for you to-morrow ? No ! I will not 
bring a curse on you ; I will leave Brit- • 
tany," said she, perceiving an air of ir- 
resolution in his looks. " I will return to 
Paris, and you will not come to seek me 
there—" 

" Well, then ! the daj'' after to-morrow, if 
in the morning you see smokp on the rocks 
of Saint Sulpice, that evening I shall be 
at your house as lover, as husband, which- 
ever you will. I shall have put all to the 
touch I " 

" Then, Alphonse, you reallj^ love me," 
she cried with transport, "that you risk 
your life thus before you give it to me ? " 

He answered not, but looked at her. 
Her eyes fell ; but he read on the passion- 
ate countenance of his mistress a madness 
equal to his own, and he held out his arms 
to her. A kind of frenzy seized Marie. 
She was on the point of falling in lan- 
guishment on the marquis's breast, with 



THE CH0UAN8, 



175 



a mind made up to complete surrender, 
so as out of this fault to forge the great- 
est of blessings, and to stake her whole 
future, which, if she came out conqueror 
from this last test, she would make more 
than ever certain. But her head had 
scarcely rested on her lover's shoulder, 
when a slight noise was heard outside. 

She tore herself from his arms as if 
suddenly waked from sleep, and darted 
from the cabin. Only then could she re- 
cover a little coolness and think of her 
position . 

" Perhaps he would have taken me and 
laughed at me afterward I" thought she. 
*' Could I believe that, I would kill him ! 
But not yet ! " she went on, as she caught 
sight of Beau-Pied, to whom she made a 
sign, which the soldier perfectly well 
understood. 

The poor fellow turned on his heel, pre- 
tending to have seen nothing, and Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil suddenly re-entered 
the room, begging the young chief to 
observe the deepest silence by pressing 
the first finger of her right hand on her 
lips. 

" They are there ! " she said, in a stifled 
voice of terror. 

"Who?" 

''The Blues!" 

" Ah ! I will not die at least without 
having — " 

"Yes, take it— " 

He seized her cold and unresisting form, 
and gathered from her lips a kiss full both 
of horror and delight, for it might well be 
at once the first and the last. Then they 
went "together to the door-step, putting 
their heads in such a posture as to see all 
without being seen. The marquis per- 
ceived Gudin at the head of a dozen men, 
holding the foot of the Couesnon Valley. 
He turned toward the series of echaliers, 
but the great rotten tree-trunk was 
guarded by seven soldiers. He chmbed 
the cider-butt, and drove out the shingled 
roof so as to be able to jump on the knoll; 
but he quickly drew his head back from 
the hole he had made, for Hulot was on 
the heights, cutting off the road to Fou- 
geres. For a moment he stared at his 
mistress, w^ho uttered a cry of despair as 



she heard the tramp of the three detach- 
ments all round the house. 

" Go out first," he said , " vou will save 
me." 

As she heard these words, to her sub- 
lime, she placed herself, full of happiness, 
in front of the door, wiiile the marquis 
cocked his blunderbuss. After carefully 
calculating the distance between the cot- 
tage door and the great tree-trunk, the 
Gars flung himself upon the seven Blues, 
sent a hail of slugs upon them from his 
piece, and forced his way through their 
midst. The three parties hurried down 
to the barrier which the chief had leaped, 
and saw him running across the field with 
incredible speed, 

" Fire ! fire ! A thousand devils ! are 
you Frenchmen ? Fire, dogs ! " cried 
Hulot in a voice of thunder. 

As he shouted these words from the top 
of the knoll, his men and Gudin 's delivered 
a general volley, luckily ill-aimed. The 
marquis had already reached the barrier 
at the end of the first field ; but just as 
he passed into the second he was nearly 
caught by Gudin, who had rushed furi- 
ously after him. Hearing this formid- 
able enemy a few steps behind, the Gars 
redoubled his speed. Nevertheless, Gudin 
and he reached the bar almost at the same 
moment ; but Montauran hurled his blun- 
derbuss with such address at Gudin's 
head, that he hit him and stopped his 
career for a moment. It is impossible to 
depict the anxiety of Marie, or the inter- 
est which Hulot and his men showed at 
this spectacle. All unconsciously mimicked 
the^gestures of the two runners. The Gars 
and Gudin had reached, almost together, 
the curtain, whitened with hoar-frost, 
which the little wood formed, when sud- 
denly the Republican officer started back 
and sheltered himself behind an apple- 
tree. A score of Chouans, Avho had not 
fired before for fear of killing their chief, 
now showed themselves, and riddled the 
tree with bullets. 

Then all Hulot's little force set off at a 
run to rescue Gudin, who, finding himself 
weaponless, retired from apple-tree to 
apple-tree, taking for his runs the in- 
tervals when the Kiner's Huntsmen were 



176 



THE HUMAK COMEDY. 



reloading. His dang-er did not last long-, 
for the counter-Chouans and Blues, Hulot 
at their head, came up to support the 
young- officer at the spot where the mar- 
quis had thrown away his blunderbuss. 
Just then Gudin saw his foe sitting- ex- 
hausted under one of the trees of the 
clump, and, leaving- his comrades to ex- 
change shots with the Chouans, who 
were ensconced behind the hedge at the 
side of the field, he outflanked these, and 
made for the marquis with the eagerness 
of a wild beast. When they saw this 
movement, the King's Huntsmen uttered 
hideous yells to warn their chief, and 
then, having fired on the counter-Chou- 
ans with poachers' luck, they tried to 
hold their ground against them. But 
the Blues valiantly stormed the hedge 
which formed the enem^^'s rampart, and 
exacted a bloody vengeance. 

Then the Chouans took to the road bor- 
dering the field in the inclosure of which 
this scene had passed, and seized the 
heights which Hulot liad made the mis- 
take of abandoning. Before the Blues 
had had time to collect their ideas, the 
Chouans had intrenched themselves in 
the broken crests of the rocks, under 
cover of which they could, without ex- 
posing themselves, fire on Hulot's men if 
these latter showed signs of coming to 
attack them.'^ While the commandant 
with some soldiers went slowly toward 
the little wood to look for Gudin, the 
Fougerese stayed behind to strip the dead 
Chouans and dispatch the living — for in 
this hideous war neither party made pris- 
oners. 

The marquis once in safety, Chouans 
and Blues alike recognized the strength 
of their respective positions and the oise- 
lessness of continuing the strife. Both 
therefore thought only of withdrawing. 

"If i lose this young fellow," cried 
Hulot, scanning the wood carefully, "I 
will never make another friend," 

"Ah!" said one of the young men of 
Fougeres, who was busy stripping the 
dead, " here is a bird with yellow feath- 
ers ! " 

And he showed his comrades a purse 
. full of gold-pieces, which he had just 



found in the pocket of a stout man 
dressed in black. 

" But what have we here ? " said an- 
other, drawing a breviary from the dead 
man's overcoat. " Why, 'tis \io\y ware ! 
He is a priest!" cried he, throwing the 
volume down. 

"This thief has turned bankrupt on 
our hands ! " said a third, finding only 
two crowns of six francs in the pockets 
of a Chouan whom he was stripping. 

" Yes ; but he has a capital pair of 
shoes," answered a soldier, making* as 
though to take them. 

" You shall have them if t\\ey fall to 
your share," replied one of the Fougerese, 
plucking them from the dead man's feet, 
and throwing them on the pile of goods 
already heaped together. 

A fourth counter-Chouan acted as re- 
ceiver of the coin, with a view to sharing 
it out when all the men of the expedition 
had come together. When Hulot came 
back with the 3^oung officer, whose last 
attempt to come up with the Gars had 
been equally dangerous and futile, he 
found a score of his soldiers and some 
thirty counter-Chouans standing round 
eleven dead enemies, whose bodies had 
been thrown into a furrow drawn along 
the foot of the hedge. 

" Soldiers !" cried the commandant in a 
stern voice, " I forbid you to share these 
rags. Fall in, and that in less than no 
time ! " 

" Commandant," said a soldier to Hu- 
lot, pointing to his own shoes, at whose 
tips his five bare toes were visible, " all 
right about the mone3' ; but those shoes, 
commandant ?" added he, indicating with 
his musket-butt the pair of hobnails, 
^•' those shoes would fit me like a glove." 

" So, you want English shoes on your 
feet ? " answered Hulot. 

" But," said one of the Fougerese, re- 
spectfully enough, " we have always, 
since the war begun, shared the booty." 

" I do not interfere with you other 
fellows," said Hulot, interrupting him 
roughly; " follow your customs." 

' ' Here, Gudin, here is a purse which is 
not badl}?^ stocked with louis. You have 
had hard work ; your chief will not mind 



THE CHOUANS. 



177 



your taking it," said one of his old com- 
rades to the young" officer. 

Hulot looked askance at Gudin, and 
saw his face g-row pale. 

'"Tis my uncle's purse," cried the 
young- man ; and, dead tired as he was, 
he walked towai-d the heap of corpses. 
The first that met his eyes was, in fact, 
his uncle's ; but he had hardly caught 
sight of the ruddy face furrowed with 
bluish streaks, the stiffened arms, and 
the wound which the gunshot had made, 
than he uttered a stifled cry, and said, 
"Let us march, commandant! " 

The troop of Blues set off, Hulot lending" 
his arm to support his young' friend. 

" God's thunder ! you will get over 
that," said the old soldier. 

"But he is dead!" replied Gudin. 
''Dead ! He was my only relation; and 
thoug-h he cursed me, he loved me. Had 
the king- come back, the whole country 
mig-ht have clamored for vay head, but 
the old boy would have hid me under his 
cassock." 

"The foolish fellow ! " said the National 
Guards who had stayed behind to share 
the spoils. "The old boy was rich; and 
thing's being- so, he could not have had 
time to make a will to cut Gudin off." 
And when the division was made the 
counter - Chouans caught up the little 
force of Blues and followed it at some 
interval. 

As night fell, terrible anxiety came 
upon Galope-Chopine's hut, where hith- 
erto life had passed in the most careless 
simplicity. Barbette and her little boy, 
cari-ying' on their backs, the one a heavy 
load of ajoncs, the other a supply of grass 
for the cattle, returned at the usual hour 
of the family evening- meal. When the}^ 
entered the house, mother and son looked 
in vain for Galope-Chopine ; and never 
had the wretched chamber seemed to 
them so large as now in its emptiness. 
The fireless hearth, the darkness, the 
silence, all gave them a foreboding of 
misfortune. When night came, Bar- 
bette busied herself in lighting- a bright 
fire and two oribus — the name given to 
candles of resin in the district from the 
shores of Armorica to the Upper Loire, 



and still used in the Vendome country 
districts this side of Amboise. 

She went through these preparations 
with the slowness naturally affecting 
action when it is dominated by some 
deep feeling. She listened for the small- 
est noise ; but though often deceived by 
the whistling- squalls of wind, she always 
returned sadly from her journeys to the 
door of her wretched hut. She cleaned 
two pitchers, filled them with cider, and 
set them on the long- walnut table. Again 
and again she gazed at the boy, who was 
watching the baking of the buckwheat 
cakes, but without being able to speak 
to him. For a moment the little bo3''s 
eyes rested on the two nails which served 
as supports to his father's duck-gun, and 
Barbette shuddered as they both saw that 
the place was empty. The silence was 
broken only by the lowing of the cows or 
b}'^ the steady drip of the cider drops from 
the cask-spile. The poor woman sighed 
as she got readv in three platters of 
brown earthenware a sort of soup com- 
posed of milk, cakes cut up small, and 
boiled chestnuts. 

" They fought in the field that belongs 
to the Beraudiere," said the little bo3^ 

"Go and look there," answered his '. 
mother. 

The boy ran thither, perceived by the 
moonlight the heap of dead, found that 
his father was not among them, and came 
back whistling cheerfully, for he had 
picked up some five-franc pieces which 
had been trodden under foot by the vic- 
tors, and forgotten in the mud. He found « 
his mother sitting on a stool at the fire- 
side, and bus3^ spinning hemp. He shook 
his head to Barbette, who hardly dared 
believe in an3^ good news ; and then, ten 
o'clock having struck from Saint Leo- 
nard's, the child went to bed, after mut- 
tering a prayer to the Holy Virgin of 
Aura3^ At daybreak. Barbette, who 
had not slept, uttered a cry of joy as 
she heard, echoing afar off, a sound of 
heavy hobnailed shoes which she knew ; 
and soon Galope-Chopine showed his sul- 
len face. 

"Thanks to Saint Lab re, to whom I 
have promised a fine candle, the Gars is 



178 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



safe ! Do not forget that we owe the 
saint three candles now." 

Then Galope-Chopine seized a pitcher 
and drained the whole of its contents 
without drawing- breath. When his wife 
had served up his soup and had relieved 
him of his duck-gun, and when he liad sat 
down on the walnut bench, he said, draw- 
ing closer to the fire : 

' ' How did the Blues and the counter- 
Chouans get here ? The fighting was at 
Florigny. What devil can have told them 
that the Gars was at our house ? for no- 
body but himself, his fair wench, and our- 
selves knew it." 

The woman grew pale. ''The counter- 
^Chouans persuaded me that they were 
gars of Saint George," said she, trem- 
bling; ''and it was I who told them 
where the Gars was." 

Galope-Chopine's face blanched in his 
turn, and he left his plate on the table- 
edge. 

"I sent the child to tell you," went on 
Barbette in her terror ; " but he did not 
meet you." 

The Chouan rose and struck his wife so 
fierce a blow that she fell half dead on the 
bed. "Accursed wench," he said, "you 
have killed me ! " Then, seized with fear, 
he caught his wife in his arms. "Bar- 
bette ! " he cried ; " Barbette ! Holy Vir- 
gin ! my hand was too heavy ! " 

"Do 3^ou think," she said, opening her 
eyes, "that Marche-a-Terre will come to 
know of it? " 

"The Gars," answered the Chouan, 
• "has given orders to inquire whence the 
treachery came." 

" But did he tell Marche-a-Terre ? " 

" Pille-Miche and Marche-a-Terre were 
at Florigny." 

Barbette breathed more freely. " If 
they touch a hair of your head," said 
she, " 1 will rinse their glasses with vine- 



gar 



"Ah! mj'^ appetite is gone!" cried 
Galope-Chopine sadly. His wife pushed 
another full jug in front of him, but he 
did not even notice it ; and two great 
tears furrowed Barbette's cheek, moist- 
ening the wrinkles of her withered face. 

"Listen, wife: You must pile some 



fagots to-morrow morning on the Saint 
Sulpice rocks, to the right of Saint Leo- 
nard's, and set fire to them. 'Tis the 
signal arranged between the Gars and 
the old rector of Saint George, who is 
coming to say mass for him." 

" Is he going to Fougeres, then ? " 

"Yes, to his fair wench. I have got 
some running about to do to-day by 
reason of it. I think he is going to 
marry her and carry her off, for he bade 
me go and hire horses and relaj^ them on 
the Saint-Malo road." 

Thereupon the weary Galope-Chopine 
went to bed for some hours ; and then he 
set about his errands. The next morn- 
ing he came home, after having punctu- 
alh' discharged the commissions with 
which the marquis had intrusted him. 
When he learned that Marche-a-Terre 
and Pille-Miche had not appeared, he 
quieted the fears of his wife, who set 
out, almost reassured, for the rocks of 
Saint Sulpice, where the day before she 
had prepared, on the hummock facing 
Saint Leonard's, some fagots covered 
with' hoar-frost. She led by the hand 
her little boy, who carried some fire in 
a broken sabot. Hardly had his wife 
and child disappeared round the roof of 
the shed, when Galope-Chopine heard two 
men leaping over the last of the series 
of barriers, and little by little he saw, 
through a fog which was pretty thick, 
angular shapes, looking like uncertain 
shadows. 

" 'Tis Pille-Miche and Marche-a-Terre!" 
he said to himself with a start. The two 
Chouans, who had now reached the httle 
court\^ard, showed their dark faces, re- 
sembling, under their great, shabby hats, 
the figures that engravers put into land- 
scapes. 

"Good-daj'^, Galope-Chopine!" said 
Marche-a-Terre gravely. 

"Good-daj", Master Marche-a-Terre," 
humbly replied Barbette's husband. 
" Will you come in and drink a pitcher 
or two ? There is cold cake and fresh- 
made butter." 

"We shall not refuse, cousin," said 
Pille-Miche; and the two Chouans en- 
tered. 



THE CHOUANS. 



179 



This overture had nothing- in it alarm- 
ing" to Galope-Chopine, who bustled about 
to fill three pitchers at his g-reat cask, 
while Pille-Miche and Marche-a-Terre, 
seated at each side of the long table on 
the glistening- benches, cut the bannocks 
for themselves, and spread them with 
luscious yellow butter, which shed little 
bubbles of milk under the knife. Galope- 
Chopine set the foam-crowned pitchers 
full of cider before his g-uests, and the 
three Chouans beg-an to eat ; but from 
time to time the host cast sidelong- 
g-lances on Marche-a-Terre, eager to 
satisfy his thirst. 

"Give me your snuff-box, " said Marche- 
a-Terre to Pille-Miche ; and after sharply 
shaking several pinches into the hollow of 
his hand, the Breton took his tobacco like 
a man who wished to wind himself up for 
some serious business. 

'^'Tis cold," said Pille-Miche, rising to 
go and shut the upper part of the door. 
' The da^^light, darkened by the fog, had 
no further access to the room than by the 
little window, and lighted but feebly the 
table and the two benches ; but the fire 
shed its ruddy glow over them. At the 
same moment, Galope-Chopine, who had 
finished filling his guests' jugs a second 
time, set these before them. But the}' 
refused to drink, threw down their flap- 
ping hats, and suddenly assumed a solemn 
air. Their gestures and the inquiring- 
looks they cast at one another made 
Galope-Chopine shudder, and the red 
woolen caps which were on their heads 
seemed to him as though they were blood. 

" Bring us 3'our hatchet," said Marche- 
a-Terre. 

" But, Master Marche-a-Terre, what do 
you want it for? " 

" Come, cousin," said Pille-Miche, put- 
ting up the mull which Marche-a-Terre 
handed to him, 'm^ou know well enough 
— 3'ou are sentenced." And the two Chou- 
ans rose together, clutching their rifles. 

"Master Marche-a-Terre, I have not 
said a word about the Gars — " 

"1 tell you to fetch your hatchet," 
answered the Chouan. " 

The wretched Galope-Chopine stum- 
bled against the rough wood-work of his 



^Shild's bed, and three five-franc pieces 
fell on the fioor. Pille-Miche picked them 
up. 

"Aha ! the Blues have given you new 
coin," cried Marche-a-Terre. 

" 'Tis as true as that Saint Labre's 
image is there," replied Galope-Chopine, 
" that I said nothing. Barbette mistook 
the counter-Chouans for the gars of Saint 
George's ; that is all." 

"Why do 3"ou talk about business to 
your wife? " answered Marche-a-Terre 
savagely. 

" Besides, cousin, we are not asking for 
explanations, but for your hatchet. You 
are sentenced." And at a sign from his 
comrade, Pille-Miche helped him to seize 
the victim. When he found himself in 
the two Chouans' grasp, Galope-Chopine 
lost all his fortitude, fell on his knees, and 
raised despairing hands toward his two 
executioners. 

" My good friends ! m3^ cousin ! what 
is to become of my little boy?" 

" I will take care of him," said Marche- 
a-Terre. 

"Dear comrades," said Galope-Cho- 
pine, whose face had become of a ghastly 
whiteness, " I am not ready to die. Will 
you let me depart without confessing ? 
You have the right to take my life, but 
not to make me forfeit eternal happi- 
ness." 

"'Tis true!" said Marche-a-Terre, 
looking at Pille-Miche ; and the two 
Chouans remained for a moment in the 
greatest perplexity, unable to decide this 
case of conscience. Galope-Chopine lis- 
tened for the least rustle that the wind 
made, as if he still kept up some hope. 
The sound of the cider dripping regularly 
from the cask made him cast a mechani- 
cal look at the barrel and give a melan- 
choly sigh. Suddenly Pille-Miche took 
his victim b}^ the arm, drew him into the 
corner, and said : 

" Confess all your sins to me. I will 
tell them over to a priest of the true 
church ; he shall give me absolution ; and 
if there be penance to do, I will do it for 
you." 

Galope-Chopine obtained some respite 
by his manner of acknowledging his 



180 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



transgressions; but despite the leng-th 
and details of the crimes, he came at last 
to the end of the hst. 

" Alas ! " said he in conclusion, " after 
all, cousin, since I am addressing you as 
a confessor, I protest to 3'ou by the holy 
name of God that I have nothing" to re- 
proach myself with, except having" but- 
tered my bread too much here and there ; 
and I call Saint Labre, who is over the 
chimne}^, to witness that I said nothing* 
about the Gars. N'o, my g-ood friends, I 
am no traitor ! " 

'' Go to, cousin ; 'tis well ! Get up : 
3"0u can arrang-e all that with the g-ood 
God at one time or another." 

" But let me say one little g-ood-by to 
Barbe— " 

" Come," answered Marche-a-Terre, 
" if you wish us not to tliink worse of you 
than is needful, behave like a Breton, and 
make a clean end ! " 

The two Chousans once more seized 
Galope-Chopine and stretched him on the 
bench, where he g-ave no other sign of re- 
sistance than the convulsive movements 
of mere animal instinct. At the last he 
uttered some smothered shrieks, which 
ceased at the moment that the heavy 
thud of the ax was heard. The head was 
severed at a sing"le blow. 

Marche-a-Terre took it b}^ a tuft of hair, 
left the room, and, after searching-, found 
a stout nail in the clums\'^ frame-work of 
the door, round which he twisted the hair 
he held, and left the bloody head hang-- 
ing" there, without even closing- the eyes. 
Then the two Chouans washed their hands 
without the least hurry in a great pan 
full of water, took up their hats and their 
rifles, and clambered over the barrier, 
whistling the air of the ballad of ''The 
Captain." * At the end of the field Pille- 



* This famous folk-song has been Englished by 
Mr. Swinburne in " May Janet," and I think by 
others. It might have been wiser to borrow a 
version from one of these. But silk on homespun 
is bad heraldry. The following is at any rate 
pretty close, and in verse suiting its neighbor 
prose. If the third stanza does not seem clear, I 
can only say that no one can be very sure what 
On lui tendait les voiles Dans tout le regiment does 
meaa. 



Miche shouted in a huskj^ voice some 
stanzas chosen by chance from this simple 
song, the rustic strains of which were car- 
ried afar off by the wind : 

"At the first town where they did alight, 
Her lover dressed her in satin white. 

." At the second town, her lover bold 
He dressed her in silver and eke in gold. 

" So fair she was that their stuff they lent 
To do her grace through the regiment." 

The tune grew slowly indistinct as 
the two Chouans retired ; but the si- 
lence of the country was so deep that 
some notes reached the ear of Barbette, 
who was coming home, her child in her 
hand. So popular is this song in the west 
of France, that a peasant woman never 
hears it unmoved; and thus Barbette 
unconsciously struck up the first verses 
of the ballad : 

" Come to the war, come, fairest May; 
Come, for we must no longer stay. 

" Captain brave, take thou no care, 
Not for thee is my daughter fair. 

" Neither on land, nor yet on sea ; 
Shall aught but treason give her to thee. 

" The father strips his girl, and he 
Takes her and flings her into the sea. 

" But wiser, I trow, was the captain stout; 
He swims, and fetches his lady out. 

" Come to the war, etc." 

At the same moment at which Barbette 
found herself catching up the ballad at 
the point where Pille-Miche had begun it, 
she reached her own courtj^ard ; her 
tongue froze to her mouth, she stood 
motionless, and a loud shriek, suddenly 
checked, issued from her gaping lips. 

'*' What is the matter, dear mother ? " 
asked the child. 

''Go by yourself," muttered Barbette, 
drawing her hand from his, and pushing 
him forward with strange roughness. 
"You are fatherless and motherless now! " 

The child rubbed his shoulder as he 
cried, saw the liead nailed on the door, 
and his innocent countenance speechlessly 
kept the neiwous twitch which tears give 



THE CHOUANS. 



181 



to the features. He opened his eyes wide 
and g-azed long" at his father's head, with 
a stolid and passionless expression, till 
his face, brutalized by ignorance, changed 
to the exhibition of a kind of savage cu- 
riosity. Suddenly Barbette caught her 
child's hand once more, squeezed it fierce- 
ly, and drew him with rapid steps toward 
the house. As Pille-Miche and Marche- 
a-Terre were stretching Galope-Chopine 
on the bench, one of his shoes had fallen 
off under his neck in such a fashion that 
it was filled with his blood ; and this was 
the first object that the widow saw. 

'' Take your sabot off! " said the mother 
to the son. " Put your foot in there. 'Tis 
well! And now," said she in a hollow 
voice, "remember always this shoe of 
your father's ! Never put shoe on your 
own foot without thinking of that which 
was full of blood shed by the Churns — 
and kill the Chuins ,' " 

As she spoke, she shook her head with 
so spasmodic a movement that the tresses 
of her black hair fell back on her neck, 
and gave a sinister look to her face. 

"1 call Saint Labre to witness," she 
went on, "that I devote 3'ou to the Blues. 
You shall be a soldier that you may 
avenge your father. Kill the Chuins! 
Kill them, and do as I do ! Ha ! they 
have taken m\' husband's head; I will 
give the head of the Gars to the Blues ! " 

She made one spring to the bed-head, 
'took a little bag of money from a hiding- 
place, caught once more the hand of her 
astonished son, and dragged him off 
fiercely without giving him time to re- 
place his sabot. They both walked rapid- 
13^ toward Fougeres without turning 
either of their heads to the hut they were 
leaving. When they arrived at the crest 
of the crags of Saint Sulpice, Barbette 
stirred the fagot-fire, and the child helped 
to heap it with green broom-shoots cov- 
ered with rime, so that the smoke might 
be thicker. 

"That will last longer than your fa- 
ther's life, than mine, or than the Gars !^" 
said Barbette to her boy, pointing savage- 
ly to the fire. 

At the same moment as that at which 
Galope-Chopine 's widow and his son Tsith 



the bloody foot were watching the eddy- 
ing- of the smoke with a gloomy air of 
vengeance and curiosity. Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil had her eyes fixed on the same 
rock, endeavoring, but in vain, to dis- 
cover the marquis's promised signal. 
The fog, which had gradually thickened, 
buried the whole country under a veil 
whose tints of gray hid even those parts 
of the landscape which were nearest to 
the town. She looked by turns, with an 
anxiety which did not lack sweetness, to 
the rocks, the castle, the buildings which 
seemed in the fog like patches of fog- 
blacker still. Close to her window some 
trees stood out of the blue-gray back- 
ground like madrepores of which the sea 
gives a glimpse when it is calm. The sun 
communicated to the sky the dull tint of 
tarnished silver, while its rays tinted 
with dubious red the naked branches of 
the trees, on which some belated leaves 
still hung. But Marie's soul was too de- 
lightfully agitated for her to see any evil 
omens in the spectacle, out of harmony, 
as it was, with the joy on which she was 
banqueting in anticipation. During the 
last two days her ideas had altered 
strangely. The ferocity, the disorderly 
bursts of her passion, had slowlj'- under- 
gone the influence of that equable warmth 
which true love communicates to life. 

The certainty of being- loved — a certain- 
ty after which she had quested through 
so many dangers — had produced in her 
the desire of returning to those conven- 
tions of societj^ which sanction happiness, 
and which she had herself only abandoned 
in despair. A mere moment of love seemed 
to her a futility. And then she saw her- 
self suddenly restored from the social 
depths, where she had been plunged b}' 
misfortune, to the exalted rank in which 
for a brief space her father had placed 
her. Her vanity, which had been stifled 
under the cruel changes of a passion by 
turns fortunate and slighted, woke afresh, 
and showed her all the advantages of a 
high position. Born, as she had been, to 
be "her ladyship,"' would not the effect 
of marrjang Montauran be for her action 
and life in the sphere which was her own ? 
After ha\ing- known the chances of a 



182 



THE HUMAN COMEDY, 



wholly adventurous life, slie could, better 
than another \Yoman, appreciate the great- 
ness of the feeling-s which lie at the root 
of the family relation. Nor would mar- 
riage, motherhood, and the cares of both be 
for her so much a task as a rest. She loved 
the calm and virtuous life, a glimpse of 
which opened across this latest storm, 
with the same feeling- which makes a wo- 
man virtuous to satiety cast longing looks 
on an illicit passion. 

" Perhaps," she said, as she came back 
from the window without having seen fire 
on the rocks of Saint Sulpice, " I have 
trifled with him not a little ? But have I 
not thus come to know how much I was 
loved ? Francine ! 'tis no more a dream ! 
This night I shall be Marquise de Mon- 
tauran ! What have I done to deserve 
such complete happiness ? Oh ! I love 
him ; and love alone can be the price of 
love. Yet God, no doubt, deigns to re- 
ward me for having kept my heart warm 
in spite of so many miseries, and to make 
me forget my sufferings ; for you know, 
child, I have suffered much ! " 

" To-night, Marie ? You Marquise de 
Montauran ? For my part, till it is ac- 
tually true, I shall think I dream. Who 
told him all your real nature ? " 

" Why, dear child, he has not only fine 
eyes, but a soul too ! If you had seen 
him, as I have, in the midst of danger ! 
Ah ! he must know how to love well, he 
is so brave ! " 

" If yovL love him so much, why do you 
allow him to come to Fougeres ? " 

' ' Had we a moment to talk together 
when they took us by surprise ? Besides, 
is it not a proof of his love ? And can 
one ever have enough of that ? Mean- 
while, do my hair." 

But she herself, with electric move- 
ments, disarranged a hundred times the 
successful arrangements of her head- 
dress, mingling thoughts wiiich were still 
stormy with the cares of a coquette. 
While adding a fresh wave to her hair, or 
making its tresses more glossy, she kept 
asking herself, with remains of mistrust, 
whether the marquis was not deceiving 
her ; and then she concluded that such 
trickery would be inexplicable, since he 



exposed himself boldly to immediate ven- 
geance by coming to seek her at Fou- 
geres. As she studied cunningh' at her 
glass the effects of a sidelong glance, of a 
smile, of a slight contraction of the fore- 
head, of an attitude of displeasure, of love, 
or of disdain, she was still seeking some 
woman's wile to test the young' chief's 
heart up to the very last moment. 

''You are right, Francine!" she said. 
"I would, like 3'ou, that the marriage 
were over. This day is the last of my 
days of cloud — it is big either with my 
death or with our happiness. This fog is 
hateful," she added, looking over toward 
the still mist-wrapped summits of Saint 
Sulpice. Then she set to work to arrange 
the silk and muslin curtains which decked 
the window, amusing herself with inter- 
cepting the light, so as to produce in the 
apartment a voluptuous clear-obscure. 

" Francine," said she, " take these toys 
which encumber the chimne^^-piece away, 
and leave nothing there but the clock and 
the two Dresden vases, in which I will 
myself arrange the winter flowers that 
Corentin found for me. Let all the chairs 
go out ; I will have nothing here but the 
sofa and one armchair. When you have 
done, child, you shall sweep the carpet, 
so as to bring out the color of it ; and 
then you shall put candles into the chim- 
ne^^ sconces and the candlesticks. 

Marie gazed long and attentively at 
the old tapestry which covered the walls 
of the room. Led by her native taste, 
she succeeded in finding, amid the warp, 
bright shades of such tints as might es- 
tablish connection between this old-w^orld 
decoration and the furniture and acces- 
sories of the boudoir, either by harmony 
of colors or b}^ attractive contrasts. The 
same principle guided her in arranging 
the flowers with which she filled the 
twisted vases that adorned the room. 
The sofa was placed near the fire. At 
each side of the bed, which stood by the 
wall parallel to that where the fireplace 
was, she put, on two little gilt tables, 
great Dresden vases full of foliage and 
flowers which exhaled the sweetest per- 
fumes. She shivered more than once as 
she arranged the sweeping drapery of 



THE CHOUANS. 



183 



green damask that overhung' the bed, 
and as she studied the curving- lines of 
the flowered coverlet wherewith she hid 
the bed itself. Preparations of this kind 
always have an indefinable, secret joy, and 
bring with them so delightful a provoca- 
tive that ofttimes in the midst of such 
provision of delight a woman forgets all 
her doubts, as Mademoiselle de Verneuil 
was then forgetting hers. 

Is there not a kind of religion in this 
abundant care taken for a beloved object 
who is not there to see it or reward it, 
but who is to pay for it later with the 
smile of approbation, which graceful 
preparations of this kind, always so well 
understood, obtain ? Then, so to speak, 
do women yield themselves up beforehand 
to love ; and there is not one who does 
not saj'' to herself, as Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil thought, " To-night how happy 
I shall be ! " The most innocent of them 
at these times inscribes this sweet hope 
in the innermost folds of muslin or of 
silk, and then the harmony which she 
establishes around her insensibly stami)S 
all things with a love-breathing- look. In 
the center of this voluptuous atmosphere, 
thing-s become for her living- being-s, wit- 
nesses; and already she transforms them 
into accomplices of her coming- joys. At 
each movement, at each thoug-ht, she is 
bold to rob the future. Soon she waits 
no more, she hopes no more, but she finds 
fault with silence, and the least noise is 
challeng-ed to give her an omen, till at 
last doubt comes and places its crooked 
claws on her heart. She burns, she is 
agitated, she feels herself tortured b}^ 
thoug-hts which exert themselves like 
purely physical forces ; by turns she 
triumphs and is martyred, after a fash- 
ion which, but for the hope of joy, she 
could not endure. 

Twenty times had Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil lifted the curtains in hopes of seeing* 
a pillar of smoke rising- above the rocks ; 
but the fog- seemed to g-row g-rayer and 
g-rayer each moment, and in these g-ra}^ 
tints her fancy at last showed her sinis- 
ter omen. Finally, in a moment of im- 
patience, she dropped tlie curtain, assuring- 
herself that she would come and lift it no 



more. She looked discontentedly at the 
room into which she had breathed a soul 
and a voice, and asked herself whether it 
Avould all be in vain. The thought re- 
called her to her arrang-ements. 

''Little one," she said to Francine, 
drawing- her into a dressing--room close 
to her own, and lighted by a round win- 
dow looking* upon the dark corner where 
the town ramparts join the rocks of the 
promenade, ''put this right, and let all 
be in order. As for the drawing-room, 
you can leave it untidy if you like," she 
added, accompanying- her words by one 
of those smiles which women reserve for 
their intimates, and the piquant delicacy 
of Avhich men can never know. 

" Ah, how beautiful you are ! " said the 
little Breton g-irl. 

" Why, fools that we all are ! is not a 
lover always our greatest adornment?" 

Francine left her lying- languidly on the 
ottoman, and withdrew step by step, 
guessing- that whether she were loved or 
not, her mistress would never give up 
Montauran. 

"Are you sure of what yon are telling- 
me, old woman?" said Hulot to Bar- 
bette, who had recognized him as she 
entered Fougeres. 

" Have you got eyes ? Then, my good 
sir, look at the rocks of Saint Sulpice — 
there, to the right of Saint Leonard ! " 

Corentin turned his ej^es toward the 
summit in the direction in which Bar- 
bette's finger pointed ; and as the fog 
began to lift, he was able to see clearly 
enough the pillar of white smoke of which 
Galope-Chopine's widow had spoken. 

"But when will he come? eh, old wo- 
man ? Will it be at even, or at night ? " 

"Good sir," answered Barbette, "I 
know nothing of that." 

" Why do you betray your own side ? " 
said Hulot quickly, after drawing the 
peasant woman some steps away from 
Corentin. 

" Ah ! my lord general, look at my 
boy's foot ! Well ! it is d3'ed in the blood 
of m}^ husband, killed by the Chuins, sav- 
ing j'our reverence, like a calf, to punish 
him for the word or two you got out of 



184 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



me the day before yesterday when I was 
at work in the field. Take my boy, since 
you have deprived him of father and mo- 
ther ; but make him a true Blue, good sir ! 
and let him kill ihany CJiuins. There are 
two hundred crow^ns ; keep them for him : 
if he is careful, he should g-o far with 
them, since his father took twelve j^ears 
to g"et them tog'ether." 

Hulot stared with wonder at the pale 
and wrinkled peasant w^oman, whose eyes 
were tearless. 

''But, mother," said he, ''how about 
yourself ? What is to become of you ? 
It would be better for you to keep this 
monej'." 

" For me ? " she said, sadlj^ shaking- 
her head ; "I have no more need of anj^- 
thing". You might stow^ me away in the 
innermost corner of Melusine's tower," 
and she pointed to one of the castle tur- 
rets, "but the Chuins w^ould find the 
way to come and kill me." 

She kissed her boy with an expression 
of g"loom3' sorrow, g-azed at him, shed a 
tear or two, g-azed at him once more, and 
disappeared. 

"Commandant," said Corentin, "this 
is one of those opportunities to profit by 
which needs rather two g-ood heads than 
one. We know all, and we know noth- 
ing. To surround Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil's house at this moment would be to 
set her against us ; and you, I, your coun- 
ter-Chouans, and your two battalions all 
put together, are not men enoug-h to fight 
against this girl if she takes it into her 
head to save her ci-devant. The fellow 
is a courtier, and therefore wary ; he is a 
young man, and a stout-hearted one. We 
shall never be able to catch him at his 
entry into Fougeres. Besides, he is 
very likely here already. Are we to 
search the houses ? That would be fu- 
tile; for it tells you nothing, it gives 
the alarm, and it disquiets the towns- 
folk—" 

' " I am going," said Hulot, out of tem- 
per, " to order the sentinel on guard at 
Saint Leonard to lengthen his beat by 
three paces, so that he will come in front 
of Mademoiselle de Verneuil's house. I 
s^all arrange a signal with each sentry ; 



I shall take up my own post at the guard- 
house, and when the entrance of any 
young man is reported to me I shall take 
a corporal with four men, and — " 

"And," said Corentin, interrupting 
the eager soldier, "what if the 3"oung 
man is not the marquis? if the marquis 
does not enter by the gate ? if he is al- 
read}^ with Mademoiselle de Verneuil ? 
if— if— ?" 

And with this Corentin looked at the 
commandant with an air of superiority 
which w^as so humiliating that the old 
warrior cried out, " A thousand thun- 
ders ! go about your own business, citi- 
zen of hell ! What have I to do with 
all that ? If the cockchafer drops into 
one of my guard-houses, I must needs 
shoot him ; if I hear that he is in house, 
I must needs go and surround him, catch 
hun, and shoot him there. But the devil 
take me if I puzzle my brains in order to 
stain my own uniform ! " 

"Commandant, letters signed by three 
ministers bid you obey Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil." 

" Then, citizen, let her come herself 
and order me. I will see what can be 
done then." 

"Very well, citizen," replied Corentin 
haughtily ; " she shall do so without 
dela}^ She shall tell you herself the very 
hour and minute of the ci-devant's ar- 
rival. Perhaps, indeed, she will not be at 
ease till she has seen you posting your 
sentinels and surrounding her house." 

" The devil has turned man ! " said the 
old demi-brigadier sorrowfully to himself, 
as he saw Corentin striding hastily up 
the Queen's Staircase, on which this scene 
had passed, and reaching the gate of Saint 
Leonard. " He will hand over Citizen 
Montauran to me bound hand and foot," 
went on Hulot, talking to himself ; " and 
I shall have the nuisance of presiding over 
a' court-martial. After all," said he, 
shrugging his shoulders, " the Gars is an 
enemy of the Republic : he killed my poor 
Gerard, and it will be at worst one noble 
the less. Let him go the devil ! " And 
he turned briskly on his boot-heel, and 
went the rounds of the town whistling 
the Marseillaise. 



THE CHOUANS. 



185 



Mademoiselle de Vemeuil was deep in 
one of those reveries whose secrets re- 
main, as it were, buried in the abysses 
of the soul, and whose crowd of contra- 
dictoiy thoug-hts often show their vic- 
tims that a stormy and passionate life 
may be held between four walls, without 
leaving- the couch on which existence is 
then passed. In presence of the catas- 
trophe of the drama which she had come 
to seek, the girl summoned up before her 
by turns the scenes of love and ang-er 
which had so powerfully ag-itated her life 
during- the ten days that had passed since 
her first meeting- with the marquis. As 
she did so the sound of a man's step 
echoed in the salon beyond her apart- 
ment ; she started, the door opened, she 
turned her head sharply, and saw — Cor- 
rentin. 

'•' Little traitress ! " said the head- 
agent of police, " will the fancy take 
you to deceive me again ? Ah, Marie, 
Marie ! You are playing- a verN'- dang-er- 
ous g-ame in leaving" me out of it, and ar- 
ranging- your coups without consulting 
mel If the marquis has escaped his fate — '' 

" It is not your fault, you mean ? " an- 
swered Mademoiselle de Verneuil, with 
profound sarcasm. "Sir!" she went on 
in a grave voice, '^by what right have you 
once more entered my house ? " 

" Your house?" asked he, Avith bitter 
emphasis. 

'•' You remind me," replied she, with an 
air of nobility, " that I am not at home. 
Perhaps you intentionally chose this house 
for the safer commission of your murders 
here ? I will leave it ; I would take ref- 
ug-e in a desert rather than any long-er 
receive — " 

" Say the word — spies I " retorted Co- 
rentin. " But this house is neither yours 
nor mine : it belongs to Government ; and 
as to leaving it, you would do nothing" of 
the kind," added he, darting a devilish 
look at her. 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil rose in an 
impulse of wrath, and made a step or 
two forward: but she stopped suddenly 
as she saw Corentin lift the window cur- 
tain and. beg-in to smile as he requested 
her to come close to him. 



"Do you see that pillar of smoke?" 
said he with the intense calm which he 
knew how to preserve on his pallid face, 
however deeply' he was moved. 

" AVhat connection can there be between 
my departure and the weeds that they are 
burning- there ? " asked she. 

"Why is 3-our voice bo changed in 
tone ? " answered Corentin. " Poor little 
girl I " he added g-enth% "I know all. 
The marquis is coming- to-day to Fou- 
g-eres, and it is not with the intention of 
giving- him up to us that you have ar- 
ranged this boudoir, these flowers, these 
wax-lights, in so luxurious a fashion." 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil grew pale as 
she saw the marquis's death written in the 
ejxs of this tiger with a human counte- 
nance ; and the passion which she felt for 
her lover rose near madness. Every hair 
of her head seemed to pour into it a fierce 
and intolerable pain, and she fell upon the 
ottoman. Corentin stood for a minute 
with his arms folded, half pleased at a 
torture which aveng"ed him for the sar- 
casm and scorn which this woman had 
heaped upon him, half vexed at seeing" 
the sufferings of a creature whose yoke, 
heavy as it might be, always had some- 
thing agreeable. 

" She loves him I " muttered he. 

"Love him?" cried she, "what does 
that word mean ? Corentin ! he is my 
life, my soul, the breath of my being- ! " 
She flung- herself at the feet of the man, 
whose calm was terrible to her. 

"Soul of mud I " she said, "I would 
rather abase m^'self to gain his life than 
to lose it. I would save him at the price 
of every drop of my blood ! Speak ! What 
will you have ? " 

Corentin started. 

" I came to put mj'self at yomt orders, 
Marie," he said, the tones of his voice 
full of gentleness, and raising- her up with 
graceful politeness. "Yes, Marie! j'our 
insults will not hinder me from being all 
yours, provided that you deceive me no 
more. You know, Marie, that no man 
fools me with impunity." 

" Ah ! if you would have me love you, 
Corentin, help me to save him ! " 

" Well, at what hour does the marquis 



186 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



come?" said he, constraining himself to 
make the inquiry in a calm tone. 

"Alas! I know not." 

TYiej gazed at each other without 
speaking. 

"1 am lost!" said Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil to herself. 

"She is deceiving me," thought Coren- 
tin. "Marie," he continued aloud, "I 
have two maxims: the one is, never to 
believe a word of what w^omen say, which 
is the way not to be their dupe ; the other 
is, always to inquire whether they have 
not some interest in doing the contrary 
of what they sa^^, and behaving in a 
manner the reverse of the actions which 
the}^ are good enough to confide to us. I 
think we understand each other now ? " 

"Excellently," replied Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil, " You want proofs of my good 
faith ; but I am keeping them for the 
minute when you shall have given me 
some proofs of 3'ours." 

" Good-by, then, mademoiselle," said 
Corentin dryly. 

" Come," continued the girl, smiling, 
"take a chair. Sit there, and do not sulk, 
or else I shall manage ver}^ well to save 
the marquis without yon. As for the 
three hundred thousand francs, the pros- 
pect of which is always before ^-our e\"es, 
I can tell them out for you in gold there 
on the chimney-piece the moment that 
the marquis is in safety." 

Corentin rose, fell back a step or two, 
and stared at Mademoiselle de Verneuil. 

" You have become rich in a very short 
time," said he, in a tone the bitterness of 
which was still disguised. 

" Montauran," said Marie, with a smile 
of compassion, "' could himself offer you 
much more than that for his ransom ; so 
prove to me that you have the means of 
holding him scathless, and — " 

"Could not you," said Corentin sud- 
denly, " let him escape the same moment 
that he comes ? For Hulot does not know 
the hour and — " 

He stopped, as if he reproached himself 
with having said too much. 

' ' But can it be you who are applying 
to me for a device ? " he went on, smiling 
in the most natural manner. " Listen, 



Marie ! I am convinced of your sincerity. 
Promise to make me amends for all that 
I lose in your service, and I will lull the 
blockhead of a commandant to sleep so 
neatly that the marquis will enjoy as 
much liberty at Fougeres as at Saint 
James." 

" I promise you ! " replied the girl with 
a kind of solemnit3^ 

"Not in that way," said he. "Swear 
it by your mother." 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil started ; but 
raising a trembling hand, she gave the 
oath demanded by this man, whose man- 
ner had just changed so suddenly. 

" You can do with me as you will," said 
Corentin. "Do not deceive me, and you 
w^ill bless me this evening." 

" I believe you, Corentin I " cried Made- 
moiselle de Verneuil, quite touched. 

She bowed farewell to him with a gentle 
inclination of her head, and he on his side 
smiled with amiability, mingled with sur- 
prise, as he saw the expression of tender 
melancholy on her face. 

"What a charming creature!" cried 
Corentin to himself as he departed. 
"Shall I never possess her, and make 
her at once the instrument of my fort- 
une and the source of my pleasures ? 
To think of her throwing herself at my 
feet ! Oh, yes ! the marquis shall perish ; 
and if I cannot obtain the girl except by 
plunging her into the mire, I will plunge 
her. Anyhow," he thought, as he came 
to the square whither his steps had led 
him without his knowledge, "perhaps 
she really distrusts me no longer. A 
hundred thousand crowns at a mo- 
ment's notice ! She thinks me avari- 
cious. Either it is a trick, or she has 
married him alread}'." 

Corentin, lost in thought, could not 
make up his mind to any certain course 
of action. The fog, which the sun had 
dispersed toward midday, was regaining 
all its force by degrees, and became so 
thick that he could no longer make out 
the trees even at a short distance. 

" Here is a new piece of ill-luck," said he 
to himself, as he went slowly home. " It 
is impossible to see anything half a dozen 
paces off. The weather is protecting our 



THE CHOUANS. 



187 



lovers. How is one .to watch a house 
which is guarded by such a fog- as this ? 
Who g-oes there?" cried he, clutching- 
the arm of a stranger wlio appeared to 
have escaladed the promenade across the 
most dang-erous crag-s. 

'' 'Tis I," said a childish voice simplj', 

" Ah ! the httle boy Redfoot. Don't 
you wish to avenge your father ? " asked 
Corentin. 

" Yes ! " said the child. 

" 'Tis well. Do you know the Gars? " 

''Yes." 

" Better still. Well, do not leave me. 
Do exactly whatsoever I tell 3"0u, and 
3'ou will finish your mother's work and 
gain big sous. Do you like big sous ? " 

..Yes." 

"You like big sous, and you want to 
kill the Gars ? I will take care of you. 
Come, Marie," said Corentin to himself 
after a pause, ''you shall give him up to 
us yourself I She is too excitable to judge 
calmly of the blow I am going to deal her ; 
and besides, passion never reflects. She 
does not know the marquis's handwriting, 
so here is the moment to spread a net for 
her into which her character will make 
\ her rush blindly. But to assure the suc- 
cess of my trick, I have need of Hulot, 
and I must hasten to see him." 

At the same time, Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil and Francine were debating* the 
means of extricating the marquis from 
the dubious generosity of Corentin and 
the bayonets of Hulot. 

"I Avill go and warn him," said the 
Breton girl. 

"Silly child ! do 3'ou know where he is ? 
Why, I, with all my heart's instinct to 
aid me, might search long without meet- 
ing him." 

After having devised no small number 
of the idle projects which are so easy to 
carry ottt hy the fireside. Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil cried, "When I see him, his 
danger will inspire me ! " 

Then she amused herself, like all ardent 
spirits, with the determination not to re- 
solve till the last moment, trusting in her 
star, or in that instinctive address which 
seldom deserts women. Never, perhaps, 
had her heart throbbed so wildl3^ Some- 



times she remained as if thunderstruck, 
with fixed eyes ; and then, at the least 
noise, she quivered like the half-uprooted 
trees which the wood-cutter shakes strong- 
ly with a rope to hasten their fall. Sud- 
denly a violent explosion, produced by the 
discharge of a dozen guns, echoed in the 
distance. Mademoiselle de Verneuil turned 
pale, caught Francine's hand, and said to 
her : 

'•' I die : they have killed him ! " 

The heavA' tread of a soldier was heard 
in the salon, and the terrified Francine 
rose and ushered in a corporal. The Re- 
publican, after making a military salute 
to Mademoiselle de Verneuil, presented 
to her some letters written on not very 
clean paper. The soldier, receiving no 
answer from the young lady, withdrew, 
observing, "Madame, 'tis from the com- 
mandant." 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil, a prey to sin- 
ister forebodings, read the letter, which 
seemed to have been hastily written b}" 
Hulot : 

' ' ' Mademoiselle, my counter-Chouans 
have seized one of the Gars' messengers, 
who has just been shot. Among the let- 
ters found on him, that which I inclose 
may be of some concern to you, etc' " 

" Thank Heaven ! 'tis not he whom they 
have killed," cried she, throwing the let- 
ter into the fire. 

She breathed more freely, and greedily 
read the note which had been sent her. 
It was from the marquis, and appeared to 
be addressed to Madame du Gua : 

" ' No, my angel, I shall not go to-night 
to the Vivetiere. To-night yo\i will lose 
your wager with the count, and I shall 
triumph over the Republic in the person 
of this delicious girl, who, you will agree, 
is surelj^ worth one night. 'Tis the only 
real advantage that I shall reap from this 
campaign, for La Vendee is submitting. 
There is nothing more to do in France ; 
and, of course, we shall return together 
to England. But to-morrow for serious 
business ! ' " 

The note dropped from her hands ; she 
closed her ej'es, kept the deepest silence, 
and remained leaning back, her head rest- 
ing on a cushion. After a long pause. 



188 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



she raised her ej^es to the clock, which 
marked the hour of four. 

" And monsieur keeps me waiting- ! " 
she said with savage irony. 

*'0h! if he only would not come!" 
cried Francine. 

"If he did not come," said Marie in a 
stifled voice, '•' I would go mj^self to meet 
him ! But no ! he cannot be long- now. 
Francine, am I very beautiful ? " 

"You are very pale." 

"Look!" went on Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil, "look at this perfumed cham- 
ber, these flowers, these lights, this in- 
toxicating vapor! Might not all this 
give a foretaste of heaven to him whom 
to-night I would plung-e in the joys of 
love?" 

"What is the matter, mademoiselle ? " 

"I am. betrayed, deceived, abused, 
tricked, cheated, ruined ! And I will 
kill him ! I wall tear him in pieces ! 
Why, yes ! there was always in his man- 
ner a scorn which he hid but ill, and which 
I did not choose to see. Oh ! it will kill 
me ! Fool that I am," said she, with a 
laugh. " He comes ! I have the night 
in which to teach him that, whetlier I be 
married or no, a man who has once pos- 
sessed me can never abandon me ! I will 
suit my vengeance to his offense, and he 
shall die despairing- ! I thought he had 
some greatness in his soul ; but doubtless 
'tis a lackey's son. Assuredly he was 
clever enoug-h in deceiving me, for I still 
can hardly believe that the man who was 
capable of handing me over without com- 
passion to Pille-Miche could descend to a 
trick worthy of Scapin. 'Tis so easy to 
dupe a loving woman, that it is the basest 
of coward's deeds ! That he should kill 
me, well and g-ood ! That he should lie 
— he whom I have exalted so high ! To 
the scaffold ! To the scaffold ! Ah ! I 
would I could see him guillotined ! And 
am I after all so very cruel ? He will die 
covered with kisses and caresses which will 
have been worth to him twent}-^ years of 
life ! " 

"Marie," said Francine, with an an- 
gelic sweetness, " be your lover's victim, 
as so many others are ; but do not make 
yourself either his mistress or his execu- 



tioner. Keep his. image at the bottom of 
your heart, witliout making it a torture 
to yourself. If there were no 303'' in hope- 
less love, what would become of us, weak 
women that we are ? That God, Marie, 
on whom you never think, will reward us 
for having followed our vocation on earth 
— our vocation to love and to suffer ! " 

"Kitten!" answered Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil, patting Francine'shand. "Your 
voice is very sweet and very seductive. 
Reason is attractive indeed in your shape. 
I would I could obey you." 

"You pardon him? You would not 
give him up ? " 

" Silence ! Speak to me no more of that 
man. Compared with him, Corentin is 
a noble being. Do you understand me ? " 

She rose, hiding under a face of hideous 
calm both the distraction which seized 
her and her inextinguishable thirst of 
vengeance. Her gait, slow and meas- 
ured, announced a certain irrevocable- 
ness of resolve. A prey to thought, 
devouring the insult, and too proud to 
confess the least of her torments, she 
went to the picket at the gate of Saint 
Leonard to ask where the commandant 
was staying. She had hardly left her 
house when Corentin entered it. " 

" Oh, Monsieur Corentin ! " cried Fran- 
cine, " if you are interested in that young 
man, save him ! Mademoiselle is going 
to give him up. This wretched paper has 
ruined all ! " 

Corentin took the letter carelessly, 
asking, "And where has she gone ? " 

"I do not know." 

"I will hasten," said he, "to save her 
from her own despair." 

He vanished, taking the letter with 
him, left the house quickly, and said to 
the little boy who was playing before the 
door, " Which waj' did the lady Avho has 
just come out go ? " 

Galope-Chopine's son made a step or 
two with Corentin to show him the steep 
street which led to the Porte Saint 
Leonard. "That way," said he, without 
hesitation, obe3dng the instinct of ven- 
geance with which his mother had in- 
spired his heart. 

At the same moment four men in dis- 



THE CHOUANS. 



189 



guise entered Mademoiselle de Verneuil's 
house without being- seen either by the 
little boy or by Corentin. 

"Go back to your post," said the spy. 
"Pretend to amuse yourself by twisting- 
the shutter latches ; but keep a shai-p 
lookout and watch everything-, even on 
the housetops.'' 

Corentin darted quickly in the direc- 
tion pointed out by the boy, thought he 
recognized Mademoiselle de Verneuil 
throug-h the fog-, and actually cauglit her 
up at the moment when she reached the 
g-uard at Saint Leonard's. 

"Where are 3'ou g-oiiig-?" said he, 
holding- out his arm. " You are pale. 
What has happened ? Is it proper for 
you to go out alone like this ? Take my 
arm." 

"Where is the commandant ?" asked 
she. 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil had scarcely 
finished the words when she heard the 
movement of a reconnoitering party out- 
side Saint Leonard's Gate, and soon she 
caught Hulot's deep voice in the midst of 
the noise. 

" God's thunder ! " cried he, " I never 
saw darker weather than this to make 
rounds in. The ci-devant has the clerk 
of the weather at his orders." 

"What are you g-rumbling- at?" an- 
swered Mademoiselle de Verneuil, press- 
ing his arm hard. "This fog- is good to 
cover vengeance as well as perfidy. Com- 
mandant," added she, in a low voice, 
" the question is how to concert measures 
with me so that the Gars cannot escape 
to-day." 

"Is he at 3^our house ? " asked Hulot, 
in a voice the emotion of which showed 
his wonder. 

"No," she answered. "But you must 
give me a trusty man, and I will send him 
to warn you of the marquis's arrival." 

" What are you thinking of? " said Co- 
rentin eagerly, to Marie. "A soldier in 
your house would alarm him ; but a child 
(and I know w^here to find one) will inspire 
no distrust." 

" Commandant," went on Mademoiselle 
de Verneuil, " thanks to the fog you are 
cursing, you can surround vay house this 



very moment. Set soldiers everywhere. 
Place a picket in Saint Leonard's Church, 
to make sure of the esplanade on which 
the windows of my drawing-room open. 
Post men on the promenade, for though 
the window of my room is twenty feet 
above the ground, despair sometimes 
lends men strength to cover the most 
dangerous distances. Listen ! I shall 
probably send this gentleman away by 
the door of my house ; so be sure to give 
none but a brave man the duty of watch- 
ing it, for," said she, with a sigh, "no 
one can deny him courage, and he will 
defend himself ! " 

"' Gudin ! " cried the commandant, and 
the young Fougerese started from the 
midst of the force which had come back 
with Hulot, and which had remained 
drawn up at some distance. 

" Listen, my boy," said the old soldier 
to him in a low voice; "this brimstone of 
a girl is giving up the Gars to us. I do 
not know why, but that does not matter; 
it is no business of ours. Take ten men 
with you, and post yourself so as to watch 
the close at the end of w^hich the girl's 
house is ; but take care that neither you 
nor your men are seen." 

" Yes, commandant ; I know the 
ground." 

"Well, my bo}^" went on Hulot; 
" Beau-Pied shall come and tell you from 
me when you must draw fox. Tr}- to get 
up with the marquis 3'ourself, and kill 
him if you can, so that I may not have to 
shoot him by form of law. You shall be 
lieutenant in a fortnight, or my name is 
not Hulot. Here, mademoiselle, is a fel- 
low who will not shirk," said he to the 
young lady, pointing to Gudin. " He will 
keep good watch before your house, and 
if the ci-devant comes out or tries to get 
in, he will not miss him." 

Gudin went off with half a score of 
soldiers. 

"' Are you quite sure what you are do- 
ing?" whispered Corentin to Mademoi- 
selle de Verneuil. She answered him not, 
but watched with a kind of satisfaction 
the departure of the men who, under the 
sub-lieutenant's orders, went to take up 
their post on the promenade, and of thoso 



190 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



who, according to Hulot's instructions, 
posted themselves along the dark walls of 
Saint Leonard's. 

^^ There are houses adjoining mine," 
she said to the commandant. " Surround 
them too. Let us not prepare regret for 
ourselves by neglecting one single pre- 
caution that we ought to take." 

" She has gone mad ! " thought Hulot. 

" Am I not a prophet ? " said Corentin 
in his ear. ^''The child I mean to send 
into the house is the little boy Bloody 
Foot, and so — " 

He did not finish. Mademoiselle de 
Verneuil had suddenlj^ sprung toward her 
house, whither he followed her, whistling 
cheerfully, and when he caught her up 
she had already gained the door, where 
Corentin also found Galope - Chopine's 
son. 

" Mademoiselle," said he to her, ''take 
this little hoy with you. You can have 
no more unsuspicious or more active mes- 
senger. When " (and he breathed as it 
were in the child's ear) " you see the Gars 
come in, whatever they tell you, run away, 
come and find me at the guard-house, and 
I will give you enough to keep you in 
cakes for tlie rest of jomy life." 

The youthful Breton pressed Corentin's 
hand hard at these words, and followed 
Mademoiselle de Yerneuil. 

"Now, mj^ good friends!" cried Co- 
rentin, when the door shut, ''come to 
an explanation when jon like ! If you 
make love now, my little marquis, it will 
be on 3"our shroud ! " 

But then, unable to make up his mind 
to lose sight of the fateful abode, he di- 
rected his steps to the promenade, where 
he found the commandant busy in giving 
some orders. Soon night fell ; and two 
hours passed without the different sen- 
tinels, who were stationed at short dis- 
tances, perceiving anything which gave 
suspicion that the marquis had crossed 
the triple line of watchful lurkers who 
beset the three accessible sides of the 
Papegaut's Tower, A score of times 
Corentin had gone from the promenade 
to the g'uard-house ; as often his expecta- 
tion had been deceived, and his youthful 
emissary had not come to meet him. 



The spy, lost in thought, paced the 
promenade, a victim to the tortures of 
three terrible contending passions — love, 
ambition, and greed. Eight struck on 
all the clocks. The moon rose very late, 
so that the fog and the night wrapped in 
ghastly darkness the spot where the 
traged}^ devised by this man was about 
to draw to its catastrophe. The* agent 
of police managed to stifle his passions, 
crossed his arms tightly on his breast, 
and never turned his eyes from the win- 
dow which rose like a phantom of light 
above the tower. When his steps led 
him in the direction of the glens which 
edged the precipice, he mechanically 
scrutinized the fog, which was furrowed 
\)y the pale glow of some lights burning 
here and there in the houses of the town 
and suburbs above and below the ram- 
part. The deep silence which prevailed 
was only disturbed by the murmur of 
the Nancon, by the mournful peals from 
the belfry at intervals, by the heavy 
steps of the sentinels, or by the clash of 
arms as they caine, hour after hour, to 
relieve guard. Mankind and nature 
alike — all had become solemn. 

It was just at this time that Pille- 
Miche observed, "It is as black as a 
wolf's throat ! " 

" Get on with you !' ' answered Marche- 
a-Terre, " and don't speak any more than 
a dead dog does ! " 

'•' I scarcely dare draw my breath," re- 
joined the Chouan. 

" If the man who has just displaced a 
stone wants my knife sheathed in his 
heart, he has only got to do it again," 
whispered Marche-a-Terre in so low a 
voice that it blended with the ripple of 
the Nan^on waters. . 

" But it was me," said Pille-Miche. 

" Well, you old money-bag," said the 
leader, "slip along on your belly like a 
snake, or else we shall leave our carcasses 
here before the time ! " 

" I say, Marche-a-Terre ! " went on the 
incorrigible Pille-Miche, helping himself 
with his hands to hoist himself along on 
his stomach and reach the level where 
was his comrade, into whose ear he whis- 



THE CHOUAXS. 



191 



pered, so low that the Chouans who fol- 
lowed them could not catch a syllable, 
*' I sa3', Marche-a-Terre ! if we may trust 
our Grande-Garce, there must be famous 
booty up there! Shall we tw^o share?" 

''Listen, Pille-Miche ! " said Marche-a- 
Terre, halting-, still flat on his stomach ; 
and the whole body imitated his move- 
ment, so exhausted were the Chouans by 
the diflB-Culties which the scarped rock 
offered to their progress. " I know you, ' ' 
went on Marche-a-Terre, ''to be one of 
those honest Jack Take-alls who are quite 
as ready to give blows as to receive them 
when there is no other choice. We have 
not come here to put on dead men's 
shoes : we are devil ag-ainst devil, and 
woe to those who have the shortest nails. 
The Grande-Garce has sent us here to 
save the Gars. Come, lift your dog-'s 
face up and look at that window above 
the tower! He is there." 

At the same moment midnig-ht struck. 
The moon rose, and g-ave to the fog" the 
aspect of a white smoke. Pille-Miche 
clutched Marche-a-Tei're's arm violent- 
ly', and, without speaking-, pointed to the 
triang-ular steel of some g-lancing bayo- 
nets ten feet above them. 

"The Blues are there already!" said 
he; "we shall do nothing- by force." 

'* Patience ! " answered Marche-a-Terre; 
" if I examined the whole place rightl.y 
this morning-, we shall find at the foot of 
the Papegaut's Tower, between the ram- 
parts and the promenade, a little space 
where they constantly store manure, and 
on which a man can drop from above as 
on a bed." 

"If Saint Labre," said Pille-Miche. 
"would graciously change the blood 
which is going to flow into good cider, 
the men of Fougeres would find stores of 
it to-morrow ! " 

Marche-a-Terre covered his friend's 
mouth with his broad hand. Then a 
caution, given under his breath, ran 
from file to file to the ver^^ last Chouan 
who hung in the air, clinging to the 
briars of the schist. Indeed, Corentin's 
ear was too well trained not to have heard 
the rustle of some bushes which the Chou- 
ans had pulled about, and the slight noise 



of the pebbles rolling to the bottom of the 
precipice, standing, as he did, on the edge 
of the esplanade. Marche-a-Terre, who 
seemed to possess the gift of seeing in 
the dark, or whose senses, from their con- 
tinual exercise, must have acquired the 
delicacy of those of savages, had caught 
sight -of Corentin. Perliaps, like a well- 
broken dog, he had even scented him. 
The detective listened in vain through the 
silence, stared in vain at the natural wall 
of schist ; he could discover nothing there. 
If the deceptive glimmer of the fog al- 
lowed him to perceive some Chouans, he 
took them for pieces of rock, so well did 
these human bodies preserve the air of 
inanimate masses. The danger which 
the party ran was of brief duration. Co- 
rentin was drawn off by a very distinct 
noise which was audible at the other end 
of the promenade, where the supporting 
wall ceased and the rapid slope of the 
cliff began. A path traced along the 
border of the schist, and communicating 
with the Queen's Staircase, ended exactly 
at this meeting-place. As Corentin ar- 
rived there, he saw a figure rise as if by 
magic, and when he put out his hand to 
grasp this form — of whose intentions, 
wiiether it was real or fantastic, he did 
not augur well — he met the soft and 
rounded outlines of a woman. 

" The deuce take jou, my good wo- 
man ! " said he in a low tone; "if you 
had met any one but me, 3'ou would have 
been likely to get a bullet through 3-our 
head ! But whence do you come, and 
whither are you going at such an hour 
as this ? Are you dumb ? It is really a 
woman, though," said he to himself. 

As silence was becoming dangerous, 
the stranger replied, in a tone which 
showed great fright, "Oh!, good man, 
I be coming back from the veillee.'' 

" 'Tis the marquis's pretended mother," 
thought Corentin. " Let us see what she 
is going to do." 

" Well, then, go that way, old woman," 
he weht on aloud, and pretending not to 
tecognize her; "keep to the left if you 
don't want to get shot." 

He remained where he was : but as soon 
as he saw Madame du Gua making her 



192 



THE HUMAN COMEDY 



way to the Papeg-aut's Tower, he followed 
her afar off with devilish cunning. Dur- 
ing- this fatal meeting- the Chouans had 
very cleverly taken up their position on 
^ the manure heaps to which Marche-a- 
Terre had guided them, 

" Here is the Grande-Garce ! " whis- 
pered Marche-a-Terre, as he rose on his 
feet against the tower, just as a hear 
might have done. ''We are here ! " said 
he to the lady. 

" Good ! " answered Madame du Gua. 
" If you could find a ladder in that house 
where the garden ends, six' feet below the 
dunghill, the Gars would he saved. Do 
you see that round window up there ? It 
opens on a dressing-room adjoining the 
bedroom, and that is where you have to 
go. The side of the tower at the bottom 
of which you are, is the only one not 
watdied. The horses are ready ; and if 
you have made sure of the passage of the 
Nan^on, we shall get him out of danger 
in a quarter of an hour, for all his mad- 
ness. But if that strumpet wants to 
come with him, poniard her ! " 

When Corentin saw that some of the 
indistinct shapes which he had at first 
taken for stones were cautiously moving, 
he at once went off to the guard at the 
Porte Saint Leonard, where he found the 
commandant, asleep, but fully dressed, on 
a camp-bed. 

" Let him alone ! " said Beau-Pied 
rudely to Corentin ; " he has only just 
lain down there." 

" The Chouans are here !" cried Coren- 
tin into Hulot's ear. 

" It is impossible ; but so much the bet- 
ter ! " cried the commandant, dead asleep 
as he was. ''At any rate, we shall have 
some fighting." 

When Hulot arrived on the promenade, 
Corentin showed hira in the gloom the 
strange position occupied by the Chouans. 
'•' They must have eluded or stifled the 
sentinels I placed between the Queen's 
Staircase and the castle," cried the com- 
mandant. " Oh, thunder ! what a fog ! 
But patience ! I will send fifty men under 
a lieutenant to the foot of the rock. It is 
no good attacking them where they are, 
for the brutes are so tough that they 



would let themselves drop to the bottom 
of the precipice like stones, without break- 
ing a limb." 

The cracked bell of the belfry was sound- 
ing two when the cominandant came back 
to the promenade, after taking the strict- 
est military precautions for getting hold 
of the Chouans commanded by Marche-a- 
Terre. By this time, all the guards hav- 
ing been doubled. Mademoiselle de Ver- 
ne uil's house had become the center of a 
small army. The commandant found Co- 
rentin plunged in contemplation of the 
window which shone above the Pape- 
gaut's Tower. 

" Citizen," said Hulot to him, "I think 
the ci-devant is making fools of us, for 
nothing has stirred." 

" He is there ! " cried Corentin, pointing 
to the window. " I saw the shadow of a 
man on the blind. But I cannot under- 
stand what has become of my little boy. 
They must have killed him, or gained him 
over. Why, commandant, there is a man 
for you ! Let us advance ! " 

" God's thunder !" cried Hulot, who had 
his own reasons for waiting ; "1 am not 
going to arrest him in bed ! If he has 
gone in he must come out, and Gudin will 
not miss him." 

" Commandant, I order 3^ou in the name 
of the law to advance instantly upon this 
house ! " 

" You are a pretty fellow to think you 
can set me going ! " 

But Corentin, without disturbing him- 
self at the commandant's wrath, said 
coollj^ "You will please to obey me. 
Here is an order in regular form, signed 
b}^ the Minister of War, which will oblige 
you to do so," he continued, drawing a 
paper from his pocket. "Do you fancy 
us fools enough to let that girl do as she 
pleases ? 'Tis a civil war that we are 
stifling, and the greatness of the result 
excuses the meanness of the means." 

" I take the liberty, citizen, of bid- 
ding you go and — you understand me ? 
Enough ! Put your left foot foremost, 
leave me alone — and do it in less than no 
time ! " 

"But read," said Corentin. 

" Don't bother me with your commis- 



THE CHOUANS. 



193 



sions ! " cried. Hulot, in a rage at receiv- 
ing-orders from a creature whom he held 
so despicable. But at the same moment 
Galope-Chopine's son appeared in their 
midst, like a rat coming out of the 
ground. 

" The Gars is on his way ! " he cried. 

''Which way?" 

*'By Saint Leonard's Street." 

'•'Beau-Pied," whispered Hulot in the 
ear of the corporal who was near him, 
'•run and tell the lieutenant to advance 
on the house, and keep up some nice little 
file-firing ! You understand ? File to 1 he 
left, and march on the tower, you there ! " 
he cried aloud. 

In order perfectly to comprehend the 
catastrophe, it is necessary now to return 
with Mademoiselle de Verneuil to her 
house. When passion comes to a crisis, 
it produces in us an intensity of intoxica- 
tion far ahove the trivial stimulus of 
opium or of wane. The lucidity which 
ideas then acquire, the delicacy of the 
overexcited senses, produce the strangest 
and the most unexpected effects. 

When they find themselves under the 
tyranny of a single thought, certain per- 
sons clearly perceive things the most diffi- 
cult of perception, while the most palpable 
objects are for them as though they did 
not exist. Mademoiselle de Verneuil was 
suffering from this kind of intoxication, 
which turns real life into something re- 
sembling the existence of sleep-walkers, 
when, after reading the marquis's letter, 
she eagerly made all arrangements to 
prevent his escaping her vengeance, just 
as, but the moment before, she had made 
every preparation for the first festival of 
her love. But when she saw her house 
carefully surrounded, by her own orders, 
with a triple row of bayonets, her soul 
was suddenly enlightened. She sat in 
judgment on her own conduct, and de- 
cided, with a kind of horror, that what 
she had just committed was a crime. In 
her first moment of distress she sprang 
toward the door -step, and stood there 
motionless for an instant, endeavoring to 
reflect, but unable to bring any -reasoning 
process to a conclusion.. She was so abso- 
Balzac — G 



lutely uncertain what she had just done, 
that she asked herself why slie was stand- 
ing in the vestibule of her own home, 
holding a strange child by the hand. 

Before her eyes thousands of sparks 
danced in the air like tongues of fire. 
She began to walk in order to shake off 
the hideous stupor which had enveloped 
her, but like a person asleep, she could 
not realize the true form or color of any 
object. She clutched the little boy's hand 
with a violence foreign to her usual nature, 
and drew him along with so rapid a step 
that she seemed to possess the agility of 
a mad woman. She saw nothing at all 
in the drawing-room, as she crossed it, 
and yet she received there the salutes of 
three men, who drew aside to make way 
for her. 

'• Here she is ! " said one. 

" She is very beautiful ! " cried the 
priest. 

"Yes," answered the first speaker; 
"but how pale and agitated she is! " 

"And how absent!" said the third. 
"She does not see us." 

At her own chamber door Mademoiselle 
de Verneuil perceived the sweet and joy- 
ful face of Francine, who whispered in her 
ear, " He is there, Marie ! " 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil roused her- 
self, was able to collect her thoughts, 
looked at the child whose hand she 
held, and answered Francine : " Lock 
this little boy up somewhere, and if 
you wish me to live, take good care 
not to let him escape." 

As she slowl}'' uttered these words she 
had been fixing her eyes on the chamber 
door, on which the}'' remained glued with 
so terrible a stillness that a man might 
have thought she saw her victim through 
the thickness of the panels. She gently 
pushed the door open, and shut it without 
turning her back, for she perceived the 
marquis standing in front of the fire- 
place. The young noble's dress, without 
being too elaborate, had a certain festal 
air of ornament, which heightened the 
dazzling effect that lovers produce on 
women. As she saw this. Mademoiselle 
de Verneuil recovered all her presence of 
mind. Her lips — strongly'- set though 



194 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



half open — exhibited the enamel of her 
white teeth, and outlined an incomplete 
smile, the expression of which was one 
of terror rather than of delight. She 
stepped slowly toward the young man, 
and pointed with her finger toward the 
clock. 

" A man who is worth loving is worth 
the trouble of waiting for him," said she 
with feigned gayet3^ 

And then, overcome by the violence of 
her feelings, she sank upon the sofa which 
stood near the fire-place. 

" Dearest Marie, you are very attrac- 
tive when you are angry ! " said the 
marquis, seating himself beside her, tak- 
ing a hand which she abandoned to him, 
and begging for a glance which she would 
not give. "I hope," he went on in a 
tender and caressing tone, ''that Marie 
will in a moment be vexed with herself for 
having hidden her face from her fortu- 
nate husband." 

When she heard these words she turned 
sharply, and stared him straight in the 

" What does this formidable look 
mean?" continued he, laughing. "But 
3'our hand is on fire, my love ; what is 
the matter? " 

" Your love ? ' ' she answered in a broken 
and stifled tone. 

"Yes!" said he, kneeling before her 
and seizing both her hands, which he 
covered with kisses. "Yes, my love! 
I am yours for life ! " 

She repulsed him violently and rose ; 
her features Avere convulsed, she laughed 
with the laugh of a maniac, and said : 
" You do not mean a word you saj^ ! O, 
man more deceitful than the lowest of 
criminals ! " She rushed to the dagger 
which la3' by a vase of flowers, and flashed 
it within an inch or two of the astonished 
young man's breast. 

"Bah!" she said, throwing it down, 
" I have not respect enough for you to 
kill you. Your blood is even too vile to 
be shed by soldiers, and I see no ,fit end 
for you but the hangman ! " 

The words were uttered with difficulty 
in a low tone, and she stamped as she 
spoke, hke an angr^'^ spoiled child. The 



marquis drew near her, trying to em- 
brace her. 

" Do not touch me ! " she cried, start- 
ing back with a movement of horror. 

"She is mad ! " said the marquis de- 
spairingly to himself. 

" Yes ! " she repeated, " mad ! but not 
mad enough yet to be your plaything ! 
What would I not pardon to passion ? 
But to wish to possess me without loving 
me, and to write as much to that — " 

"To whom did I write?" asked he, 
with an astonishment which was clearly 
not feigned. 

," To that virtuous woman who wanted 
to kill me ! " 

Then the marquis turned pale, grasped 
the back of the armchair, on which he 
leaned so fiercely that he broke it, and 
cried, " If Madame du Gua has been 
guilty of any foul trick — " 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil looked for the 
letter, found it not, and called Francine. 
The Breton girl came. 

" Where is the letter ? " 

" Monsieur Corentin took it." 

" Corentin ! Ah, I see it all ! He forged 
the letter and deceived me, as he does de- 
ceive, with the fiend's own art ! " 

Then uttering a piercing shriek, she 
dropped on the sofa to which she stag- 
gered, and torrents of tears poured from 
her e3''es. Doubt and certainty were 
equally horrible. The marquis flung 
himself at her feet, and pressed her to 
his heart, repeating a dozen times these 
words, the only ones he could utter : 

" Why weep, my angel ? Where is the 
harm ? Even your reproaches are full of 
love ! Do not weep ! I love you ! I love 
you forever ! " 

Suddenly he felt her embrace him with 
more than human strength, and heard 
her, amid her sobs, say, " You love me 
still ? " 

"You doubt it?" he answered, in a 
tone almost melancholy. 

She disengaged herself sharply from his 
arms, and fled, as if frightened and con- 
fused, a pace or two from him. " Do I 
doubt it ? " she cried. 

But she saw the marquis smile with 
such sweet sarcasm that the words died 



THE CHOUANS. 



195 



on her lips. She allowed him to take her 
hand and lead her to the threshold. Then 
Marie saw at the end of the salon an altar, 
which had been hurriedly arranged during 
her absence. The priest had at that mo- 
ment arrayed himself in his sacerdotal 
vestments ; lighted tapers cast on the 
ceiling a glow as sweet as hope ; and she 
recognized in the two men who had bowed 
to her the Count de Bauvan and the 
Baron du Guenic, the two witnesses 
chosen by Montauran. 

'*' Will you again refuse me ? " whis- 
pered the marquis to her. 

At this spectacle she made one step 
back so as to regain her chamber, fell on 
her knees, stretched her hand toward the 
marquis, and cried : " Oh, forgive me ! 
forgive ! forgive ! " 

Her voice sank, her head fell back, her 
eyes closed, and she remained as if lifeless 
in the arms of the marquis and of Fran- 
cine. When she opened her eyes again 
she met those of the young chief, full of 
loving kindness. 

" Patience, Marie ! This storm is the 
last," said he. 

"The last !" she repeated. 

Francine and the marquis looked at 
each other in astonishment, but she bade 
them to be silent by a gesture. 

" Call the priest," she said, " and leave 
me alone with him." 

They withdrew. 

" Father ! " she said to the priest, who 
suddenly appeared before her. " Father ! 
in my childhood an old man, white-haired 
like yourself, frequently repeated to me 
that, with a lively faith, man can obtain 
everything from God. Is this true ? " 

"It is true," answered the priest. 
" Everything is possible to Him who has 
created everything." 

Mademoiselle de Verneuil threw herself 
on her knees with wonderful enthusiasm. 
" Oh, my God ! " said she in her ecstasy, 
'•'my faith in Thee is equal to my love 
for him ! Inspire me now : let a miracle 
be done, or take my life ! " 

"Your prayer will be heard," said the 
priest. 

Then Mademoiselle de Verneuil pre- 
sented herself to the gaze of the company. 



leaning on the arm of the aged, white- 
haired ecclesiastic. Now, when her deep 
and secret emotion gave her to her lover's 
love, she was more radiantly beautiful 
than she had ever been before, for a 
serenity resembling that which painters 
delight in imparting to martyrs stamped 
on her face a character of majesty. She 
held out her hand to the marquis, and 
they advanced together to the altar, at 
which thej'' knelt down. 

This marriage, which was about to be 
celebrated but a few steps from the nup- 
tial couch, the hastily-erected altar, the 
cross, the vases, the chalice brought se- 
cretly by the priest, the incense smoke 
eddj'^ing round cornices which had as yet 
seen nothing but the steam of banquets, 
the priest vested only in cassock and stole, 
the sacred tapers in a profane salon, com- 
posed a strange and touching scene which 
may give a final touch to our sketch of 
those times of unhappy memorv^, when 
civil discord had overthrown the most 
holy institutions. Then religious cere- 
monies had all the attraction of myste- 
ries. Children were baptized in the cham- 
bers where their mothers still groaned. 
As of old, the Lord came in simplicity 
and poverty to console the dying. Nay, 
young girls received the H0I3" Bread for 
the first time in the very place where they 
had played the night before. The union 
of the marquis and Mademoiselle de Ver- 
neuil was about to be hallowed, like many 
others, by an act contravening the new 
legislation ; but later, these marriages, 
celebrated for the most part at the foot 
of the oak trees, were all scrupulously 
legalized. 

The priest who thus kept up the old 
usages to the last moment was one of 
those men who are faithful to their prin- 
ciples through the fiercest of the storm. 
His voice, guiltless of the oath which the 
Republic had exacted, uttered amid the 
tempest only words of peace. He did 
not, as Abbe Gudin had done, stir the 
fire of discord. But he had, with many 
others, devoted himself to the dangerous 
mission of performing the rites of the 
priesthood for the Catholic remnant of 
souls. In order to succeed in this perilous 



196 



THE HUMAN COMEDY, 



ministry, he employed all the pious arti- 
fices which persecution necessitates ; and 
the marquis had only succeeded in dis- 
covering- him in one of the lurking-places 
which even in our days bear the name of 
Priests' Holes. The mere sight of his 
pale and suffering face had such power 
in inspiring devotion and respect, that 
it was enough to give to the worldly 
drawing-room the air of a holy place. 
All was ready for the act of misfortune 
and of joy. Before beginning the cere- 
mony, the priest, amid profound silence, 
asked the name of the bride. 

" Marie Nathalie, daughter of Made- 
moiselle Blanche de Casteran, deceased, 
sometime abbess of our Lady of Seez, 
and of Victor Amadeus, duke of Ver- 
neuiL" 

"Born?" 

"At La Chasterie, near Alencon." 

" I did not think," whispered the baron 
to the count, " that Monta,uran would be 
silly enough to marry her. A duke's 
natural daughter ! Fie ! fie ! " 

" Had she been a king's, it were a dif- 
ferent thing," answered the Count de 
Bauvan with a smile. "But I am not 
the man to blame him. The other pleases 
me ; and it is with 'Charette's Filly,' as 
they call her, that I shall make my cam- 
paign. She is no cooing dove." 

The marquis's name had been filled in 
beforehand ; the two lovers signed, and 
the witnesses after them. The ceremony 
began, and at the same moment Marie, 
and she alone, heard the rattle of the 
guns and the heavy, measured tramp of 
the soldiers, who, no doubt, were coming 
to reUeve the guard of Blues that she had 
had posted in the church. She shuddered, 
and raised her eyes to the cross on the 
altar. 

"She is a saint at last!" murmured 
Fran cine. 

And the count added, under his breath, 
" Give me saints like that, and I will be 
deucedly devout ! " 

When the priest put the formal ques- 
tion to Mademoiselle de Verneuil, she an- 
swered with a "Yes!" followed by a 
deep sigh. Tlien she leaned toward her 
husband's ear, and said to him : 



" Before long you will know why I am 
false to the oath I took never to marry 
you." 

When, after the ceremon}^ the company 
had passed into a room where dinner had 
been served, and at the verj'- moment 
when the guests were taking their places, 
Jeremy entered in a state of alarm. The 
poor bride rose quickly, went, followed by 
Francine, to meet him, and with one of 
the excuses which women know so well 
how to invent, begged the marquis to do 
the honors of the feast by himself for a 
short time. Then she drew the servant 
aside before he could commit an indiscre- 
tion, which would have been fatal. 

" Ah ! Francine. To feel one's self dy- 
ing and not to be able to say *I die ! ' " 
cried Mademoiselle de Verneuil, who did 
not return to the dining-room. 

Her absence was capable of being in- 
terpreted on the score of the just-con- 
cluded rite. At the end of the meal, and 
just as the marquis's anxiety had reached 
its height, Marie came back in the full 
gala costume of a bride. Her face was 
joyous and serene, while Francine, who 
was with her, showed such profound 
alarna in all her features that the guests 
thought they saw in the two counte- 
nances some eccentric picture where the 
wild pencil of Salvator Rosa had repre- 
sented Death and Life hand in hand. 

"Gentlemen," said she to the priest, 
the baron, and the count, "you must be 
my guests this night ; for you would run 
too much risk in trying to leave Fougeres. 
My good maid has her orders, and will 
guide each of 3"ou to his apartment. No 
mutiny ! " said she to the priest, who was 
about to speak. " I hope you will not 
disobey a lady's orders on the day of her 
marriage." 

They were alone, at last. Marie looked 
at the clock, and said to herself, " Six 
hours more to live ! ' ' 

She awoke with a start in one of those 
sudden movements that disturb us when 
we have arranged with ourselves to wake 
next day at a certain time. "I have 
actually slept ! " she exclaimed, seeing by 
the glimmer of the candles that the clock 



THE CHOUAXS. 



197 



hand would soon point to the hour of two 
in the morning. 

She went and grazed at the marquis, 
who was asleep, his head resting on one 
hand, as children sleep, a half smile on 
his face. "Ah!" she whispered, "he 
sleeps like a child ! But how could he 
mistrust me — me, who owe him ineffable 
happiness?" 

She touched him gently; he woke and 
finished the smile. 

Rapidly examining the exquisite picture 
which his wife's face presented, attribut- 
ing to some melancholy thought the cloud 
that shadowed Marie's brows, tlie marquis 
asked gently : 

" Why this shadow of sadness, love ? " 

" Poor Alphonse ! Whither do you 
think I have brought you ? " asked she, 
trembling. 

'^To happiness — " 

''To death!" 

And with a shudder of horror she 
sprang to the window. The astonished 
marquis followed her. His wife drew the 
curtain, and pointed out to him with her 
finger a score of soldiers on the square. 
The moon, which had chased away the 
fog, cast its white light on the uniforms, 
the guns, the impassive figure of Corentin, 
who paced to and fro like a jackal waiting 
for his prey, and the commandant, wh^ 
stood motionless, his arms crossed, his 
face lifted, .his lips drawn back, ill at 
ease, and on the watch.. 

" Well, Marie ! never mind them ! " 

"Why do you smile, Alphonse ? 'Twas 
1 who placed them there ! " 

" You are dreaming ! " 

"No!" 

They looked at each other for a mo- 
ment : the marquis guessed all, and, 
clasping her in his arms, said : 

" There ! I love you still ! " 

"Then, all is not lost I " cried Marie. 
"Alphonse," she said, after a pause, 
"there is still hope!" 

At this moment tliey distinctly heard 
the low owl's hoot, and Francine came 
suddenly out of the dressing-room. 
"Pierre is there !" she cried, with a J03' 
bordering on delirium. 

Then she and the marchioness dressed 



Montauran in a Chouan's garb with the 
wonderful rapidity which belongs only to 
women. When the marchioness saw her 
husband busy loading the weapons which 
Francine had brought, she slipped out 
deftly, after making a sign of intelligence 
to her faithful Breton maid. Then Fran- 
cine led the marquis to the dressing-room 
which adjoined the chamber ; and the 
young chief, seeing a number of sheets 
strong'ly knotted together, could appreci- 
ate the careful activity with which the 
girl had worked to outwit the vigilance 
of the soldiers. 

" I can never get through there," said 
the marquis, scanning the narrow em- 
brasure of the osil-de-bce^cf. 

But at the same moment a huge, dark 
face filled its oval, and a hoarse voice, 
well known to Francine, cried in a low 
tone : 

"Be quick, general! These toads of 
Blues are stirring." 

" Oh ! one kiss more ! " said a sweet, 
quivering voice. 

The marquis, whose foot was already on 
the ladder of deliverance, but a part of 
whose body was still in the loop-hole, felt 
himself embraced despairingly. He ut- 
tered a cry as he perceived that his wife 
had put on his own garments. He would 
have held her, but she tore herself fiercely'' 
from his arms, and he found hunself 
obliged to descend. He held a rag of 
stuff in his hand, and a sudden gleam of 
moonlight coming to give him light, he 
saw that the fragment was part of the 
waistcoat he had worn the night before. 

" Halt ! Fire by platoons ! " 

These words, uttered by Hulot in the 
midst of a silence which was terrifying, 
broke the spell that seemed to reign over 
the actors and the scene. A salvo of bul- 
lets coming from the depths of the valley 
to the foot of the tower succeeded the 
volleys of the Blues stationed on the 
promenade. The Republican fire was 
steady, continuous, unpitjing ; but its 
victims uttered not a single cry, and 
between each volley the silence Avas 
terrible. 

Still Corentin, who had heard one of the 
aerial forms which he had pointed out to 



198 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



the commandant falling' from the upper 
part of the ladder, suspected some trick. 

"Not one of our birds sings," said he 
to Hulot. " Our two lovers are quite 
capable of playing some trick to amuse 
us here, while they are perhaps escaping 
by the other side." 

And the sp3^ eager to clear up the puz- 
zle, sent Galope-Chopine's son to fetch 
torches. 

Corentin's suggestion was so well un- 
derstood by Hulot that the old soldier, 
attentive to the noise of serious fighting 
in front of the guard at Saint Leonard's, 
cried, '' 'Tis true ; there cannot be two 
of them." And he rushed toward the 
guard-house. 

" We have washed his head with lead, 
commandant," said Beau-Pied, coming 
to meet him, '" But he has killed Gudin 
and wounded two men. The madman 
broke through three lines of our fellows, 
and would have gained the fields but for 
the sentinel at the Porte Saint Leonard, 
who skewered him with his bayonet." 

When he heard these words, the com- 
mandant hurried into the guard-house, 
and saw on the camp-bed a bleeding form 
which had just been placed there. He 
drew near the seeming marquis, raised 
the hat which covered his face, and 
dropped upon a chair. 

" I thought so ! " he cried fiercely, fold- 
ing his arms. " Holy thunder ! she had 
kept him too long ! " 

None of the soldiers stirred. The com- 
mandant's action had displaced the long 
black hair of a woman, which fell down. 
Then suddenly the silence was broken by 
the tramp of many armed men. Coren- 
tin entered the guard-house in front of 
four soldiers carrying Montauran, both 
whose legs and both whose arms had been 
broken by many gunshots, on a bier 
formed by their guns. The marquis was 
laid on the camp-bed by the side of his 
wife, saw her, and summoned up strength 
enough to clutch her hand convulsively. 
The dying girl painfully turned her head, 
recognized her husband, shuddered with 
a spasm horrible to see, and murmured 
these words in an almost stifled voice : 



''A Day without a Morrow ! God has 
heard my prayer too well ! " 

" Commandant," said the marquis, 
gathering all his strength, but never 
quitting Marie's hand, " I count on your 
honor to announce my death to my young- 
er brother, who is at London. Write to 
him not to bear arms against France, if 
he would obey my last words, but never 
to abandon the king's service." 

'• It shall be done ! " said Hulot, press- 
ing the dying man's hand. 

''Take them to the hospital there!" 
cried Corentin. 

Hulot seized the spy by his arm so as to 
leave the mark of the nails in his flesh, 
and said, " As your task is done here, get 
out ! and take a good look at the face of 
Commandant Hulot, so as to keep out 
of his way, unless you want him to sheathe 
his toasting-iron in your belly. ' ' And the 
old soldier half drew it as he spoke. 

" There is another of your honest folk 
who will never make their fortune ! " said 
Corentin to himself when he was well away 
from the guard-house. 

The marquis had still strength to thank 
his foe by moving his head, as a mark of 
the esteem which soldiers have for gen- 
erous enemies. 

, In 1S27 an old man, accompanied by his 
wife, was bargaining for cattle on the 
market-place of Fougeres, without any- 
body saying anj'thing to him, though he 
had killed more than a hundred men. 
They did not even remind him of his sur- 
name of Matche-a-Terre. The person to 
whom the writer owes much precious in- 
formation as to the characters of this 
story saw him leading off a cow with 
that air of simplicity and probit3'-, as he 
went, which makes men say, "That's an 
honest fellow ! " 

As for Cibot, called Pille-Miche, his 
end is already known. It may be that 
Marche-a-Terre made a vain attempt to 
save his comrade from the scaftold, and 
was present on the square of Alencon at 
the terrible riot which was one of the 
incidents of the famous trial of Rifoel, 
Briond, and La Chanterie. 



A PASSION IN THE DESERT. 



199 



III. 



A PASSION IN THE DESERT. 



I WAS at the menagerie. 

The first time I saw Monsieur Martin 
enter the cages I uttered an exclamation 
of surprise I found myself next to an old 
soldier with the right leg amputated, who 
had come in with me. His face had at- 
tracted my attention. He had one of those 
intrepid heads, stamped with the seal of 
warfare, and on which the battles of Na- 
poleon are written. Besides, he had that 
frank good-humored expression that al- 
wa3's impresses me favorably. He was 
without doubt one of those troopers who 
are surprised at nothing, who find matter 
for laughter in the contortions of a dying 
comrade, who bury or plunder him quite 
hghtheartedly, who stand intrepidly in 
the w^j of bullets ; — in fact, one of those 
men who waste no time in deliberation, 
and would not hesitate to make friends 
with the devil himself. After looking 
very attentively at the proprietor of the 
menagerie getting out of his box, my 
companion pursed up his lips with an air 
of mockery and contempt, with that pe- 
culiar and expressive twist which superior 
people assume to show they are not taken 
in. Then, when I was expatiating on the 
courage of Monsieur Martin, he smiled, 
shook his head knowingly, and said, 
" Easy enough ! " 

" How ' easy enough ' ? " I said. '-' If 
you would only explain me the mystery 
I should be obliged." 

After a few minutes, during which we 
made acquaintance, we went to dine at 
the first restaurateur^ s whose shop 
caught our eye. At dessert a bottle of 
champagne completely refreshed and 
brightened up the memories of this odd 
old soldier. He told me his story as 
follows : — 



During the expedition in Upper Egypt 
under General Desaix, a Provencal soldier 
fell into the hands of the Mangrabins, and 
was taken by these Arabs into the deserts 
beyond the falls of the Nile. 

In order to place a sufficient distance 
between themselves and the French army, 
the Mangrabins made forced marches and 
only rested during the night. They 
camped round a well overshadowed by 
palm trees under which they had pre- 
viously concealed a store of provisions. 
Not surmising that the notion of flight 
would occur to their prisoner, they con- 
tented themselves with binding his hands, 
and after eating a few dates, and given 
provender to their horses, went to sleep. 

When the brave Provencal saw that 
his enemies were no longer watching him, 
he made use of his teeth to steal a scimitar, 
fixed the blade between his knees, and cut 
the cords which prevented him using his 
hands ; in a moment he was free. He at 
once seized a rifie and a dagger, then tak- 
ing the precaution to provide himself with 
a sack of dried dates, oats, and powder 
and shot, and to fasten a scimitar to his 
waist, he leaped on to a horse and spurred 
on vigorously in the direction where he 
thought to find the French army. So im- 
patient was he to see a bivouac again that 
he pressed on the already tired courser at 
such speed that its flanks were lacerated 
with his spurs, and at last the poor animal 
died, lea\ing the Frenchman alone in the 
desert. 

After walking some time in the sand 
with all the courage of an escaped convict, 
the soldier was obliged to stop, as the day 
had already ended. In spite of the beauty- 
of an oriental skj" at night, he felt he had 
not strength enough to go on. Fortu- 



200 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



nately he had been able to find a small 
hill, on the summit of which a few palm 
trees shot up into the air ; it was their 
verdure seen from afar which had brought 
hope and consolation to his heart. His 
fatig-ue was so great that he lay down 
upon a rock of granite, capriciously cut 
out like a camp-bed ; there he fell asleep 
without taking any precaution to defend 
himself while he slept. He had made the 
sacrifice of his life. His last thought was 
one of regret. He repented having left 
the Mangrabins, whose nomad life seemed 
to smile on him now that he was far from 
them and without help. He was awakened 
by the sun, whose pitiless rays fell with 
all their force on the granite and produced 
an intolerable heat — for he had had the 
stupidity"- to place himself inversely to the 
shadow thrown by the verdant majestic 
heads of the palm trees. He looked at 
the solitary trees and shuddered — they 
reminded him of the graceful shafts 
crowned with foliage which characterize 
the Saracen columns in the cathedral of 
Aries. 

But when, after counting the palm trees, 
he cast his eyes around him, the most 
horrible despair was infused into his soul. 
Before him stretched an ocean without 
limit. The dark sand of the desert spread 
further than sight could reach in every 
direction, and glittered like steel struck 
with bright light. It might have been a 
sea of looking-glass, or lakes melted to- 
gether in a mirror. A fiery vapor carried 
up in streaks made a perpetual whirlwind 
over the quivering land. The sky was lit 
with an oriental splendor of insupportable 
purity, leaving naught for the imagina- 
tion to desire. Heaven and earth were 
on fire. 

The silence was awful in its wild and 
terrible majesty. Infinity', immensity, 
closed in upon the soul from every side. 
Not a cloud in the sky, not a breath in 
the air, not a flaw on the bosom of the 
sand, ever moving in diminutive waves ; 
the horizon ended as at sea on a clear day, 
with one line of light, definite as the cut 
of a sword. 

The Provencal threw his arms round 
the trunk of one of the palm trees, as 



though it were the body of a friend, and 
then in the shelter of the thin straight 
shadow that the palm cast upon the 
granite, he wept. Then sitting down he 
remained as he was, contemplating with 
profound sadness the implacable scene, 
which was all he had to look upon. He 
cried aloud, to measure the solitude. His 
voice, lost in the hollows of the hill, 
sounded faintly and aroused no echo — the 
echo was in his own heart. The Provencal 
was twenty -two years old : — he loaded his 
carbine. 

" There'll be time enough," he said to 
himself, laying on the ground the weapon 
which alone could bring him deliverance. 

Looking by turns at the black expanse 
and the blue expanse, the soldier dreamed 
of France— he smelled with delight the 
gutters of Paris— he remembered the 
towns through which he had passed, the 
faces of his fellow-soldiers, the most mi- 
nute details of his life. His southern fancy 
soon showed him the stones of his beloved 
Provence, in the play of the heat which 
waved over the spread sheet of the desert. 
Fearing the dang'er of this cruel mirage, 
he went down the opposite side of the hill 
to that by which he had come up the day 
before. The remains of a rug showed 
that this place of refug-e had at one time 
been inhabited ; at a short distance he 
saw some palm trees full of dates. Then 
the instinct which binds us to life awoke 
again in his heart. He hoped to live long 
enough to await the passing of some 
Arabs, or perhaps he might hear the 
sound of cannon ; for at this time Bona- 
parte was traversing Egypt. 

This thought gave him new life. The 
palm tree seemed to bend with the weight 
of the ripe fruit. He shook some of it 
down. When he tasted this unhoped-for 
manna, he felt sure that the palms had 
been cultivated \)-y a former inhabitant — 
the savory, fresh meat of the dates were 
proof of the care of his predecessor. He 
passed suddenly from dark despair to an 
almost insane joy. He went up again to 
the top of the hill, and spent the rest of 
the day in cutting down one of the sterile 
palm trees, which the night before had 
served him for shelter. A vague mem- 



A PASSION IN THE DESERT. 



201 



ory made him think of the animals of 
the desert ; and in case they might come 
to drink at the spring", visible from the 
base of the rocks but lost farther down, 
he resolved to guard himself from their 
"visits by placing a barrier at the entrance 
of his hermitage. 

In spite of his diligence, and the strength 
which the fear of being devoured asleep 
gave him, he was unable to cut the palm 
in pieces, though he succeeded in cutting 
it down. At eventide the king of the 
desert fell ; the sound of its fall resounded 
far and wide, like a sigh in the sohtude ; 
the soldier shuddered as though he had 
heard some voice predicting* woe. 

But like an heir who does not long be- 
wail a deceased parent, he tore off from 
this beautiful tree the tall broad green 
leaves which are its poetic adornment, 
and used them to mend the mat on which 
he Avas to sleep. 

Fatigued by the heat and his work, he 
fell asleep under the red curtains of his 
wet cave. 

Ill tlie middle of the night his sleep was 
troubled by an extraordinary noise ; he 
sat up, and the deep silence around al- 
lowed him to distinguish the alternative 
accents of a respiration whose savage 
energy could not belong to a human 
creature. 

A profound terror, increased still fur- 
ther b3'^ the darkness, the silence, and his 
waking images, froze his heart within 
him. He almost felt his hair stand on 
end, when by straining his eyes to their 
utmost he perceived through the shadow 
two faint yellow lights. At first he at- 
tributed these lights to the reflection of 
his own pupils, but soon the vivid bril- 
liance of the night aided him gradually to 
distinguish the objects around him in the 
cave, and he beheld a huge animal Ijing 
but two steps from him. Was it a lion, 
a tiger, or a crocodile ? 

The Provencal was not educated enough 
to know under what species his enemy 
ought to be classed ; but his fright was 
all the greater, as his ignorance led him 
to imagine all terrors at once ; he endured 
a cruel torture, noting every variation 
of the breathing close to him without 



daring to make the slightest movement. 
An odor, pungent like that of a fox, but 
more penetrating, profounder — so to 
speak — filled the cave, and when the Pro- 
vencal became sensible of this, his terror 
reached its height, for he could no longer 
doubt the proximity of a terrible compan- 
ion, whose royal dwelling served him for 
a shelter. 

Presently the reflection of the moon 
descending on the horizon, lit up the den, 
rendering gradually visible and resplend- 
ent the spotted skin of a panther. 

This lion of Egypt slept, curled up like 
a big dog, the peaceful possessor of a 
sumptuous niche at the gate of a hotel ; 
its eyes opened for a moment and closed 
again ; its face was turned toward the 
man. A thousand confused thoughts 
passed through the Frenchman's mind ; 
first he thought of killing it with a bullet 
from his gun, but he saw there was not 
enough distance between them for him to 
take proper aim — the shot would miss the 
mark. And if it were to wake! — the 
thought made his limbs rigid. He list- 
ened to his own heart beating in the 
midst of the silence, and cursed the too 
violent pulsations which the flow of blood 
brought on, fearing to disturb that sleep 
which allowed him time to think of some 
means of escape. 

Twice he placed his hand on his scimi- 
tar, intending to cut oflF the head of his 
enemy ; but the difficulty of cutting the 
ctiff short hair compelled him to abandon 
this daring project. To miss would be to 
die for certain, he thought ; he preferred 
the chances of fair fight, and made up 
his mind to wait till morning; the morn- 
ing did not leave him long to wait. 

He could now examine the panther at 
ease ; its muzzle was smeared with blood. 

" She's had a good dinner," he thought, 
without troubling himself as to whether 
her feast might have been on human 
flesh. ''She won't be hungry when she 
gets up." 

It was a female. The fur on her belly 
and flanks was glistening white ; many 
small marks like velvet formed beautiful 
bracelets round her feet ; her sinuous tail 
was also white, ending with black rings ; 



203 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



the overpart of her dress, yellow like un- 
burnished gold, very lissom and soft, had 
the characteristic blotches in the form of 
rosettes, which disting-uish the panther 
from every other feline species. 

This tranquil and formidable hostess 
snored in an attitude as graceful as that 
of a cat lying- on a cushion. Her blood- 
stained paws, nervous and well armed, 
were stretched out before her face, which 
rested upon them, and from which ra- 
diated her straight slender whiskers, like 
threads of silver. 

If she had been like that in a cage, the 
Provencal would doubtless have admired 
the grace of the animal, and the vigorous 
contrasts of vivid color which gave her 
robe an imperial splendor ; but just then 
his sight was troubled by her sinister 
appearance. 

The presence of the panther, even 
asleep, could not fail to produce the ef- 
fect which the magnetic eyes of the ser- 
pent are said to have on the nightingale. 

For a moment the courage of the soldier 
began to fail before this danger, though 
no doubt it would have risen at the mouth 
of a cannon charged with shell. Never- 
theless, a bold thought brought daylight 
to his soul and sealed up the source of 
the cold sweat which sprang forth on his 
brow. Like men driven to baj', who defy 
death and offer their body to the smiter, 
so he, seeing in this merel}'^ a tragic epi- 
sode, resolved to plaj^ his part with honor 
to the last. 

''The day before yesterday the Arabs 
would hnve killed me perhaps." he said ; 
so considering himself as good as dead 
already, he waited bravely, with excited 
curiosity, his enemy's awakening. 

When the sun appeared, the panther 
suddenly opened her eyes ; then she put 
out her paws with energy, as if to stretch 
them and get rid of cramp. At last she 
yawned, showing the formidable appa- 
ratus of her teeth and pointed tongue, 
rough as a file. 

She licked off the blood which stained 
her paws and muzzle, and scratched her 
head with reiterated gestures full of pret- 
tiness. 

''All right, make a little toilet," the 



Frenchman said to himself, beginning to 
recover his gayety with his courage ; 
" we'41 say good-morning to each other 
presently," and he seized the small short 
dagger which he had taken from the 
Mangrabins. At this moment the pan- 
ther turned her head toward the man and 
looked at him fixedly without moving. 

The rigidity of her metallic eyes and 
their insupportable luster made him shud- 
der, especially when the animal walked 
toward him. But he looked at her caress- 
ingly^, staring into her eyes in order to 
magnetize her, and let her come quite 
close to him ; then with a movement both 
gentle and affectionate, as though he were 
caressing the most beautiful of women, he 
passed his hand over her whole body, from 
the head to the tail, scratching the flexi- 
ble vertebrae which divided the panther's 
yellow back. The animal waved her tail, 
and her eyes grew gentle ; and when for 
the third time the Frenchman accom- 
plished this interested flatter}^ she gave 
forth one of those purrings by which our 
cats express their pleasure ; but this mur- 
mur issued from a throat so powerful and 
so deep, that it resounded through the 
cave like the last vibrations of an organ 
in a church. The man, understanding 
the importance of his caresses, redoubled 
them. When he felt sure of having ex- 
tinguished the ferocity of his capricious 
companion, whose hunger had so fortu- 
nately been satisfied the day before, he got 
up to go out of the cave ; the panther let 
him go out, but when he had reached the 
summit of the hill she sprang with the 
lightness of a sparrow hopping from twig 
to twig, and rubbed herself against his 
legs, putting up her back after the man- 
ner of all the race of cats. Then regard- 
ing her guest with eyes whose glare had 
softened a little, she gave vent to that 
wild cry which naturalists compare to the 
grating of a saw. 

" She is exacting," said the Frenchman, 
smiling. 

He was bold enough to play with her 
ears; he scratched her head as hard as 
he could. When he saw he was success- 
ful he tickled her skull with the point of 
his dagger, watching for the moment to 



A PASSIOJV m THE DESERT, 



203 



kill her, but the hardness of her bones 
made him tremble for his success. 

The sultana of the desert showed her- 
self g-racious to her slave : she lifted her 
head, stretched out her neck, and mani- 
fested her delig-ht by the tranquillity of 
her attitude. It suddenly occurred to the 
soldier that to kill this savage princess 
with one blow he must poniard her in 
the throat. 

He raised the blade, when the panther, 
satisfied, no doubt, laid herself gracefully 
at his feet, and cast up at him glances in 
which, in spite of their natural fierceness, 
was mingled confusedly a kind of good- 
will. The poor Provencal ate his dates, 
leaning against one of the palm trees, and 
casting his eyes alternately on the desert 
in quest of some liberator and on his ter- 
rible companion to watch her uncertain 
clemency. 

The panther looked at the place where 
the date stones fell, and every time that he 
threw one down, her eyes expressed an 
incredible mistrust. 

She examined the man with an almost 
commercial prudence. However, this ex- 
amination was favorable to him, for when 
he had finished his meager meal she licked 
his boots with her powerful rough tongue, 
brushing off with marvelous skill the dust 
gathered in the creases. 

'^ Ah, but when she's really hungry ! " 
thought the Frenchman. 

In spite of the shudder this thought 
caused him, the soldier began to measure 
curiously the proportions of the panther, 
certainly one of the most splendid speci- 
mens of its race. She was three feet high 
and four feet long without counting her 
tail; this powerful weapon, rounded like 
a cudgel, was nearh' three feet long. The 
head, large as that of a. lioness, was dis- 
tinguished by a rare expression of refine- 
ment. The cold cruelty of a tiger was 
dominant, it was true, but there was also 
a vague resemblance to the face of a sen- 
sual woman. 

Indeed, the face of this solitary queen 
had something of the gayety of a drunken 
Nero : she had satiated hei'self with blood, 
and she wanted to pla3^ 

The soldier tried if he might walk up 



and down, and the panther left him free, 
contenting herself with following him with 
her eyes, less like a faithful dog than a 
big Angora cat, observing everything, 
and every movement of her master. 

When he looked round, he saw, b}'^ the 
spring, the remains of his horse ; the 
panther had dragged the carcass all 
that way ; about two-thirds of it had 
been devoured already. The sight re- 
assured him. 

It was easy to explain the panther's 
absence, and the respect she had had 
for him while h& slept. The first piece 
of good luck emboldened him to tempt 
the future, and he conceived the wild 
hope of continuing on good terms with 
the panther during the entire day, neg- 
lecting no means of taming her and re- 
maining in her good graces. 

He returned to her, and had the unspeak- 
able joy of seeing her wag her tail with 
an almost imperceptible movement at his 
approach. He sat down then, without 
fear, by her side, and they began to play 
together ; he took her paws and muzzle, 
pulled her ears, rolled her over on her 
back, stroked her warm, delicate flanks. 
She let him do whatever he liked, and 
when he began to stroke the hair on her 
feet she drew her claws in carefully. 

The man, keeping the dagger in one 
hand, thought to plunge it into the belh' 
of the too confiding panther, but he was 
afraid that he would be immediately 
strangled in her last convulsive strug- 
gle ; besides, he felt in his heart a sort 
of remorse which bid him respect a 
creature that had done him no harm. 
He seemed to have found a friend, in a 
boundless desert; half unconsciously he 
thought of his first sweetheart, whom he 
had nicknamed ''Mignonne " by way of 
contrast, because she was so atrocioush- 
jealous, that all the time of their love he 
was in fear of the knife with which she 
had always threatened him. 

This memory of his early days sug- 
gested to him the idea of making the 
young panther answer to this name, now 
that he began to admire with less terror 
her swiftness, suppleness, and softness. 
Toward the end of the day he had famil- 



204 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



iarized himself with his perilous position ; 
he now almost liked the painfulness of it. 
At last his companion had got into the 
habit of looking- up at him whenever he 
cried in a falsetto voice, '' Mig-nonne/' 

At the setting of the sun Mignonne 
gave, several times running, a profound 
melancholy cry. 

"She's been well brought up," said 
the light-hearted soldier ; " she says her 
prayers." But this mental joke only oc- 
curred to him when he noticed what a 
pacific attitude his companion remained 
in. '*^ Come, ma petite blonde, I'll let 
you go to bed first," he said to her, 
counting on the activity of his own legs 
to run awa}' as quickly as possible, direct- 
13^ she was asleep, and seek another shel- 
ter for the night. 

The soldier awaited with impatience the 
hour of his flight, and when it had ar- 
rived he walked vigoroush' in the direc- 
tion of the Nile ; but hardly had he made 
a quarter of a league in the sand when 
he heard the panther bounding after him, 
crying with that saw-like cry, more dread- 
ful even than the sound of her leaping. 

'' Ah ! " he said, '•' then she's taken 
a fancy to me ; she has never met any 
one before, and it is really quite flattering 
to have her first love." 

That inst-ant the man fell into one of 
those movable quicksands so terrible to 
travelers and from which it is impossible to 
save one's self. Feeling himself caught, 
he gave a shriek of alarm ; the panther 
seized him with her teeth by the collar, 
and, springing vigorously backward, drew 
him, as if by magic, out of the whirling- 
sand . 

''Ah, Mignonne!" cried the soldier, 
caressing her enthusiasticall}'- ; " we're 
bound together for life and death — ^but 
no jokes, mind ! " and he retraced his 
steps. 

From that time the desert seemed in- 
habited. It contained a being to whom 
the man could talk, and whose ferocity 
was rendered gentle by him, though he 
could not explain to himself the reason 
for their strange friendship. Great as 
was the soldier's desire to stay up on 
guard, he slept. 



On awakening he could not find Mig- 
nonne ; he mounted the hill, and in the dis- 
tance saw her springing toward him after 
the habit of these animals, w^ho cannot 
run on account of the extreme flexibility 
of the vertebral column. Mignonne ar- 
rived, her jaws covered with blood; she 
received the wonted caress of her com- 
panion, showang with much purring how 
happj'^ it made her. Her eyes, full of 
languor, turned still more gentlj'- than 
the da}^ before toward the Provencal, who 
talked to her as one would to a tame 
animal. 

" Ah ! mademoiselle, you are a nice girl, 
aren't you ? Just look at that ! so we 
like to be made much of, don't we ? Aren't 
you ashamed of yourself ? So yon have 
been eating some Arab or other, have 
you ? that doesn't matter. They're ani- 
mals just the same as you are ; but don't 
you take to eating Frenchmen, or I shan't 
like you any longer." 

She played like a dog with its master, 
letting herself be rolled over, knocked 
about, and stroked, alternately; some- 
times she herself w^ould provoke the sol- 
dier, putting up her paw with a soliciting 
gesture. 

Some da^'S passed in this manner. This 
companionship permitted the Provencal to 
appreciate the sublime beauty of the des- 
ert; now that he had a living thing to 
think about, alternations of fear and 
quiet, and plenty to eat, his mind became 
filled with contrasts, and his life began to 
be diversified. 

Solitude revealed to him all her se- 
crets, and enveloped him in her delights. 
He discovered in the rising and setting 
of the sun sights unknown to the world. 
He knew what it was to tremble when he 
heard over his head the hiss of a bird's 
wdngs, so rarely did they pass, or when 
he saw the clouds, changing and many- 
colored trav(!lers, melt into one another. 
He studied in the night time the effects of 
the moon upon the ocean of sand, where 
the simoom made w^aves swift of move- 
ment and rapid in their change. He lived 
the life of the Eastern day, marveling at 
its wonderful pomp ; then, after having 
reveled in the sight of a hurricane over 



A PASSION IN THE DESERT. 



205 



the plain where the whirling* sands made 
red, dry mists and death-bearing clouds, 
he would welcome the nig"ht with joy. for 
then fell tlie healthful freshness of the 
stars, and lie listened to imaginary music 
in the skies. Then solitude taught him 
to unroll the treasures of dreams. He 
passed wliole hours in remembermg mere 
nothings, and comparing his present life 
with his past. 

At last he grew passionatelj'^ fond of the 
tigress ; for some sort- of affection was a 
necessity. 

Whether it was that his will powerfully 
projected had modified the character of 
his companion, or whether, because she 
foimd abundant food in her predatory ex- 
cursions in the deserts, she respected the 
man's life, he began to fear for it no 
longer, seeing her so well tamed. 

He devoted the greater part of his time 
to sleep, but he was obliged to watch like 
a spider in its web that the moinent.of his 
deliverance might not escape him, if any 
one should pass the line marked by the 
horizon. He had sacrificed his shirt to 
make a flag with, which he hung at the 
top of a palm tree, whose foliage he had 
torn off. Taught by necessity, he found 
the means of keeping it spread out, by 
fastening it with little sticks ; for the wind 
might not be blowing at the moment when 
the passing traveler was looking through 
the desert. 

It was during the long hours, when he 
had abandoned hope, that he amused him- 
self with the panther. He had come to 
learn the different inflections of her voice, 
the expressions of her eyes ; he had studied 
the capricious patterns of all the rosettes 
which marked the gold of her robe. Mig- 
nonne was not even angry when he took 
hold of the tuft at the end of her tail to 
count the rings, those graceful ornaments 
which glittered in the sun like jewelry. 
It gave him pleasure to contemplate the 
supple, fine outlines of her form, the 
graceful pose of her head. But it was 
especially when she was playing that he 
felt most pleasure in looking at her ; the 
agilit3' and youthful lightness of her 
movements were a continual surprise to 
him ; he wondered at the supple way 



which she jumped and climbed, washed 
herself and arranged her fur, crouched 
down and prepared to spring. However 
rapid her spring might be, however slip- 
pery the stone she was on, she would 
always stop short at the word " Mig- 
nonne." 

One day, in a bright mid-day sun, an 
enormous bird coursed through the air. 
The man left his panther to look at this 
new guest ; but after waiting a moment 
the deserted sultana growled deeply. 

'•'My goodness ! I do believe she's jeal- 
ous," he cried, seeing her eyes become 
hard again; "the soul of Virginie has 
passed into her bod^'-, that's certain." 

The eagle disappeared into the air, while 
the soldier admired the curved contour of 
the panther. 

But there Avas such youth and grace in 
her form ! she was beautiful as a woman ! 
the blond fur of her robe mingled well 
with the delicate tints of faint white which 
marked her flanks. 

The profuse light cast down by the sun 
made this living gold, these russet mark- 
ings, to burn in a way to give them an 
indefinable attraction. 

The man and the panther looked at one 
another with a look full of meaning ; the 
coquette quivered when she felt her friend 
stroke her head ; her eyes flashed like 
lightning — then she shut them tightly. 

'' She has a soul," he said, looking at 
the stillness of this queen of the sands, 
golden like them, white like them, solitary 
and burning like them. 



Ah ! how did it all end ? 

Alas; as all great passions do end — in 
a misunderstanding. From some reason 
one suspects the other of treason ; the.\ 
don't come to an explanation througl 
pride, and quari-el and part from sheei 
obstinacy. Yet sometimes at the best 
moments a single word or a look are 
enough. 

"Well," the old fellow continued, 
" with her sharp teeth she one day 
caught hold of my leg — gently, I dare- 
say ; but I, thinking she would devour 



206 



THE HUMAN COMEDY, 



me, plunged my dagger into her throat. 
She rolled over, giving a cry that froze 
my heart ; and I saw her dying, still look- 
ing at me without anger. I would have 
given all the world — my cross even, which 
I had not got then — to have brought her 
to life again. It was as though I had 
murdered a real person ; and the soldiers 
who had seen my flag, and were come to 
my assistance, found me in tears. 

''Well, sir," he said, after a moment 
of silence, ''since then I have been in war 
in Germany, in Spain, in Russia, in 
France ; I've certainly carried my car- 



cass about a good deal, but never have I 
seen anything like the desert. Ah ! yes, 
it is very beautiful ! " 

"What did you feel there?" I asked 
him. 

" Oh ! that can't be described, young 
man ! Besides, I am not always regret- 
ting my palm trees and my panther. I 
should have to be very melancholy for 
that. In the desert, you see, there is 
everything, and nothing." 

" Yes, but explain — " 

"Well," he said, with an impatient 
gesture, "it is God without mankind." 



IV. 

A TRAGEDY OF THE PEASANTRY. 



THE CHATEAU. 



To Monsieur Nathan 



" Les Aigues, Aug. 6, 1833. 

"My dear Nathan — You, whose fan- 
cies give the public such delicious dreams, 
come with me and dream truth. Then 
you may tell me whether this century can 
bequeath such dreams to the Nathans and 
Blondets of the year 1923. You shall 
measure our distance from the time when 
the Florines of the 18th century found, 
upon awakening, a chateau like that of 
les Aigues in their contract. 

"My dear boy, if 3^ou receive my letter 
in the morning, I want jo\x, from your 
bed, to look at two little pavilions built 
of red brick, and united, or rather sepa- 
rated, by a green gate. Thej lie about 
fifty miles from Paris, on the borders of 
Burgundy, on the king's highway. That 
is the place where the diligence deposited 
your friend. 

" On either side of these pavilions winds 
a hedge of living green, from whence 
brambles stray, like straggling locks of 
hair. Here and there shoots of young 
trees rise arrogantly. Beside the ditch, 



beautiful flowers bathe their feet in still 
green water. On the right and left, this 
hedge joins two lines of trees, and the 
meadow on each side which it serves to 
inclose has been cleared and redeemed 
from waste land. 

" A magnificent avenue has its begin- 
ning at these old, crumbling pavilions ; 
it is bordered with elms a hundred j^ears 
old, whose umbrella-like heads incline 
toward each other and form a long, ma- 
jestic canopy. Grass grows in the ave- 
nue ; the wheel- tracks are scarcely dis- 
cernible. The age of the elms, the width 
of the footpaths beside the avenue, the 
venerable appearance of the pavilions, 
with their brownish stone corners, all 
indicate that this is the approach to a 
chateau that is almost royal. 

"Before I reached this gate, when I 
was at the top of a hill which we French 
are vain enough to call a mountain, and 
at whose foot lies the village of Conches, 
which is the stopping-place of the post- 
chaise, I saw the long valley of les Aigues, 
at the end of which the high-road turns, 
and goes straight to the little sub-prefect- 
ure of Ville-aux-Fayes, which is ruled over 
by the nephew of our friend Lupeaulx. 
Immense forests along the horizon on a 
high hill bordered by a river overlook 



A TRAGEDY OF THE PEASANTRY. 



207 



this rich valley, which is framed in the 
distance by the mountains of a little 
Switzerland called the Morvan. These 
extensive forests belong" to les Aigues, to 
the Marquis de Ronquerolles and to the 
Count de Soulanges, whose chateaux and 
parks and far-off villag-es resemble the fan- 
tastic landscapes of Breug-hel de Velours. 

'•' If these details do not put j^ou in mind 
of all the chateaux en Espagne which you 
have long-ed to possess in France, you are 
not worthy of this story which is g-iven 
you by a bewildered Parisian. I have at 
last found a place where art ming-les with 
nature, and where neither is spoiled b^^ 
the other ; where art seems like nature, 
and where nature is artistic. I have 
come to the oasis of which we have so 
often dreamed after reading* some ro- 
mance : a nature luxuriant and decor- 
ated, containing" accidents of picturesque- 
ness without confusion, something wild 
and mysterious, secret, and out of the 
commonplace. Let us pass the g"ate and 
walk on. 

" When my curious eye strives to pierce 
the leng"th of the avenue, where the sun 
penetrates onl}'' at its rising" and setting", 
at which time it stripes the g"round with 
zebra-like rays, my glance is checked by 
a small elevation ; but after making a 
detour around this little hill, the long" 
avenue is cut off by a small g"rove, and 
we find ourselves in an open square, in 
the midst of which stands a stone obelisk, 
like an eternal exclamation point of ad- 
miration. Between the stones of this 
monument, which ends in a spiked ball 
(onl}'- fanc}^ !), hang" purple or j^ellow 
flowers, according to the season. Les 
Aig'ues must certainly have been built 
by a woman, or for a woman ; no man 
would have had such coquettish ideas ; 
the architect must have had special in- 
structions. 

'•' After crossing" the wood, which seems 
placed there for a sentinel, I reach a 
delicious bit of ground, at the bottom 
of whose slope rushes ii brook, which I 
cross upon a little stone arch, covered 
with superb mosses — the prettiest of 
Time's mosaics. The avenue follows the 
course of the brook, by a gentle ascent. 



In the distance I can see the first picture : 
a mill, with its dam, its causeway and its 
trees, its ducks, its linen spread out to 
dry, its thatched house, its nets and its 
fish-pond, to say nothing" of its miller, 
who is examining" me curiously. Where- 
ever you go in the countr^^ no matter 
how certain you may be that you are 
alone, you are sure to be the target for 
two eyes shaded by a cotton cap ; the 
laborer drops his hoe, the vine-dresser 
lifts his bowed back, the little g-uardian 
of g-oats or cows or sheep climbs into a 
willow to spy upon you. 

' ' Soon the avenue changes to an alley 
bordered b^^ acacias, which leads to a 
g"ate that is evidently contemporary with 
the period when the iron-workers fash- 
ioned those airy filag"rees that resemble 
nothing" so much as the scrolls a writing"- 
master sets for a copy. On each side of 
the g"rating" there extends a small ditch 
whose crest is g"arnished with menacing- 
spears and barbs, like iron porcupines. 
This g-ate is also flanked by two lodg-es, 
which are similar to those at the palace 
of Versailles, and is surmounted by colos- 
sal vases. The gold of the arabesques is 
turning" red, for rust has painted it ; but 
this g-ate, called the avenue grate, which 
reveals the hand of the g"reat dauphin, to 
whom les Aigues owes it, is to me very 
beautiful. 

" At the end of the hedge come walls of 
smooth stone, massed tog-ether with mor- 
tar made' of a red earth ; the stones have 
manifold tints ; the bright yellow of the 
silex, the white of the chalk, and the red- 
dish brown of the sandstone, in man}"^ a 
capricious form. The park at first seems 
gloomy ; its walls are hidden by climbing 
vines and by trees which ^ave not heard 
for fifty years the sound of the ax. The 
place seems to have gone back to its vir- 
g-in state, hy a phenomenon peculiar to 
forests. The trunks of the trees are cov- 
ered with cling-ing creepers which festoon 
themselves from one tree to another. 
Shining green mistletoe hang"s from the 
forks of the branches, wherever it can find 
sufficient moisture. I come across g-igan- 
tic ivies, those wild arabesques which only 
flourish at fifty leag'ues from Paris, where 



208 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



the land is not too expensive to allow 
them room to grow. Landscape, in the 
true sense of the word, requires plenty of 
room. Here nothing- is put in order ; the 
rake is never used ; the wheel-ruts are full 
of water ; frog-s live their tranquil life ; 
the beautiful forest flowers bud and 
bloom, and the heather is as fine as that 
which was broug-ht to you by Florine in 
Januar3^ 

" This m^'stery excites me, and inspires 
me with vag-ue desires. The forest odors, 
which delight poetic epicures, who care 
for the most innocent mosses, the most 
venomous plants, the moist earth, the 
willows, the balsams, the wild thj^me, 
the green water of a pool, the rounded 
star of the yellow water-lil}^ : all these 
vig-orous growths send their frag-rance 
to my nostrils, and in all of them I find 
one thought, which is perhaps their soul. 
I dream of a rose-colored dress fluttering 
along the winding path. 

'' The allej^ ends abruptly with a final 
thicket, composed of birches, poplars, and 
all the rest of that intelligent family of 
trees with graceful limbs and elegant 
form, whose leaves tremble constantly. 
From there, my dear boy, I see a pond 
covered with water-lilies, and their broad, 
flat leaves ; on the pond a whitaand black 
boat, coquettish as the shallop of a barge- 
man of the Seine, and light as a nut-shell. 
Beyond the water rises a chateau, bear- 
ing the date 1560^ it is built of red brick, 
with stone trimmings at the comers and 
windows, which still preserve their loz- 
enge-shaped panes. The stone is cut in 
diamond points, but hollowed, as in the 
ducal palace at Venice, on the fagade of 
the Bridge of Sighs. 

" This chateau is irregularly built, ex- 
cept in the center, from which descends a 
double flight of steps, stately and wind- 
ing, with rounded balustrades w^hich are 
slender at the top and thicker as they 
descend. This main part of the chateau 
is flanked hy clock-towers, where the 
flower-beds are stiffly outlined, and mod- 
ern pavilions have railings and vases 
which are more or less Greek. No sym- 
metr^'^ here, you see. These buildings, 
brought together as if by chance, are 



guarded by several evergreen trees, whose 
foliage showers upon the roofs in thou- 
sands of tinj^ brown arrows, which nourish 
the mosses, and vivifv the picturesque 
cracks where the eye rests gladly. There 
is the pine of Italy, with its red bark and 
its majestic umbrella of foliage ; there is 
a cedar two hundred years old ; a few- 
weeping willows, a Northern fir tree, and 
a beech which towers above it. In front 
of the principal tower there are several 
singular trees ; a clipped yew, which re- 
calls some ancient French garden, long 
since destro^^ed ; there are magnolias with 
hydrangeas at their feet ; the place is like 
a hospital for out-of-date heroes of horti- 
culture, who have in turn been the fashion, 
and in turn have, like all heroes, been for- 
gotten. 

''A chimney of original shape, which is 
smoking plentifully at one of the angles, 
assures me that this delightful picture is 
not a set scene in an opera. Since there 
is a kitchen, there are living* beings. Can 
3'ou see me, Blondet, I who think myself 
in the polar regions w^hen I am at Saint- 
Cloud, can you see me in the midst of this 
glowing Burgundy landscape? The sun is 
pouring down its most vivifying warmth; 
there is a kingfisher at the border of the 
pond ; the grasshoppers and crickets are 
chirping; the grain-pods are cracking 
open ; the poppies are dropping their mor- 
phine in luscious tears, and everything is 
sharply outlined beneath the deep blue of 
the sky. Above the reddish earth of the 
terraces escape the joj'-ous flames of that 
natural punch which intoxicates insects 
and flowers, and which burns our e\'es and 
browns our faces. The grape is ripening, 
and its tendrils hang in a network of 
white threads that put laces to shame. 
Along the house blue larkspurs, nastur- 
tiums and sw^eet-peas are glowing. A 
few tube-roses stand at a distance, and 
orange trees perfume the air. After the 
poetic exhalations of the woods come the 
intoxicating pastilles of this botanical se- 
raglio. 

" At the top of the steps, like the queen 
of the flowers, I see a woman dressed in 
white beneath an umbrella lined with 
white silk. But she is herself whiter than 



A TRAGEDY OF THE PEASANTRY. 



209 



the silk, whiter than the hlies at her feet, 
whiter than the jasmine stars which thrust 
themselves boldh- through the balus- 
trades ; she is a Frenchwoman, born in 
Russia, and she says : ' I had ceased to 
expect you. ' She had seen me from the 
turn in the road. With what perfection 
do all women, even the most innocent, 
■understand how to pose for effect ! The 
sound of preparations within tell me that 
they have "v^'aited breakfast until the arri- 
val of the dilig-ence. 

" Is not this our dream, the dream of 
all lovers of the beautiful, no matter 
under what form it comes, whether in 
the seraphic beauty which Luini has put 
into 'The Marriage of the Virgin,' his 
beautiful fresco at Sarono, or the beauty 
which Rubens has found in his ' Battle of 
the Therraodon,' or the beauty which it 
took five centuries to elaborate in the 
cathedrals of Seville and Milan, the 
beauty of the Saracens at Grenada, 
the beauty of Louis XIV. at Versailles, 
the beauty of the Alps or the beauty of 
the Limagne ? 

'' This estate has nothing either too 
princelj'" or too financial about it, al- 
though prince and farmer-general have 
both lived here, which serves to explain 
its peculiarities. It has, depending upon 
it, four thousand acres of woodland, a 
park of nine hundred acres, the mill, 
three farms, and another immense farm 
at Conches, besides its vineyards ; the 
whole thing must bring in an income of 
seventy-two thousand francs. That is 
les Aigues, my friend, where I have been 
expected for the last two years, and 
where I am at this moment, in the 
'chintz room,' which is kept for inti- 
mate friends. 

'* At the upper end of the park, toward 
Conches, a dozen clear, limpid streams 
from out the jMorvan flow down to empty 
themselves into the pond, after having 
ornamented with their liquid ribbons the 
valleys of the park and its magnificent 
gardens. The name of les Aigues comes 
from these charming water-courses. In 
the old title-deeds the place was called 
Aigues -Vives, in contradistinction to 
AigTies - Mortes, but of late years the 



word Vives has been dropped. The 
pond empties into the stream which 
runs parallel with the avenue, through 
a large, straight channel, bordered its 
whole length with weeping willows. This 
channel, thus ornamented, produces a de- 
lightful effect. Floating down, seated in 
the little boat, it is easy to imagine one's 
self beneath the nave of an immense ca- 
thedral, whose choir is represented by 
the main building* of the chateau which 
is seen in the perspective. When the 
setting sun throws upon the building its 
orange tints, mingled with shadows, and 
lighting up the window-panes, it is easy 
to imagine that the windows are of 
stained glass. 

" At the end of the stream can be seen 
Blangy, the principal town of the com- 
mune, which contains about sixty houses, 
together with a village church, a tumble- 
down building, ornamented with a wooden 
belfrj^ which seems to hold together a roof 
of broken tiles. The house of a well-to- 
do citizen, and the parsonage, can be 
distinguished from all the others. The 
commune is a large one, and contains at 
least two hundred scattered houses be- 
sides, to which this collection forms the 
nucleus. The commune is here and there 
cut up into little gardens ; the roads are 
remarkable for their fruit trees. The gar- 
dens are typical peasant gardens, and 
contain everything : flowers, onions, cab- 
bages and vines, currants, and plent^^ of 
manure. The village has an innocent air; 
it is rustic ; it has a certain ornamental 
simplicit}'' of which artists are alwaj's in 
search. In the distance is the little town 
of Soulanges, overhanging the borders of 
a vast lake, like a building on the lake 
of Thoune. 

" When Avalking in this park, which has 
four gates, each one superb in style, the 
Arcadia of m3^thology seems flat and 
stale. Arcadia is in Burgundy and not 
in Greece ; Arcadia is at les Aig-ues and 
nowhere else. A river, made up of sev- 
eral brooks, crosses the lower part of the 
park, in a serpentine course, and gives an 
air of freshness and quiet and solitude 
which reminds one of the old monasteries; 
all the more so, since upon an artificial 



210 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



island there is really a ruined monastery, 
whose elegant interior is worth}"^ of the 
voluptuous financier who founded it. Les 
Aig-ues, my friend, belonged to that 
Bouret who once spent two millions in en- 
tertaining- Louis XV. How many stormy 
passions, distinguished intellects and iort- 
unate circumstances have been necessary 
in order to create this beautiful place ! 
One of Henri IV. 's mistresses rebuilt the 
chateau on the spot where it now stands, 
and joined the forest to it. The favorite 
of the grand dauphin, to whom the place 
was given, increased the property by 
several farms. Bouret furnished it Avith 
all the exquisite trifles he could find, 
for one of the celebrities of the opera. 
The place owes to Bouret the restora- 
tion of the ground floor in the style of 
Louis XV. 

" I am lost in astonishment and admira- 
tion when I see the dining-room. The eye 
is at first attracted by a ceiling painted in 
fresco in the Italian style, and displaying 
the most wonderful arabesques. Female 
forms in stucco, ending in leaves and 
branches, sustain at equal distances bas- 
kets of fruit, upon which the foliage of the 
ceiling rests. In the panels which sepa- 
rate each female figure, unknown artists 
have painted admirable representations of 
the glories of the table — salmon, boars' 
heads, shell-fish, in fact, the whole world 
of edibles, which by fantastic resemblances 
recall men, women and children, and which 
vie with the oddest imaginations of the 
Chinese; the people who, to my thinking, 
understand decoration better than anj^ 
other. Beneath her feet the mistress of 
the house has a little bell, by which she 
can call her domestics just at the right 
moment, without ever fearing that they 
will interrupt a conversation or derange 
an attitude. All the embrasures of the 
windows are of marble mosaics. The 
room is warmed from beneath. Each 
window gives a delicious view. 

" This room communicates on one side 
with a bath-room, and on the other with 
a boudoir which opens into the salon. 

" The bath-room is lined with tiles of 
Sevres porcelain, painted in cameo ; the 
floor is mosaic, and the bath marble. An , 



alcove, concealed by a picture painted 
upon copper, which turns on a pivot, con- 
tains a couch of gilded wood in the ultra- 
Pompadour style. The ceiling is of lapis- 
lazuli, starred with gold. The cameos 
are painted from designs by Boucher. 

" Beyond the salon, which displays all 
the magnificence of the style of Louis 
XIV., comes a magnificent billiard-room, 
which has not, to my knowledge, its equal 
in Paris. The entrance to this ground - 
floor is a semi-circular antechamber, at 
the further end of which is one of the 
most coquettish of staircases, lighted 
from above, which leads to rooms which 
were all built at different epochs. And 
to think that they cut off the heads of 
the farmers-general in 1793 ! How was 
it possible for them to be so blind as not 
to understand that the marvels of art are 
impossible in a country which has no 
great fortunes, no assured g-reat exist- 
ences ? If the Left feels that it must kill 
all the kings, why not leave us a few lit- 
tle princes, who are a good deal better 
than nothing at all. 

"These accumulated riches belong at 
the present time to a little artistic wo- 
man, who, not content with having them 
magnificently restored, takes care of them 
lovingl3^ Pretended philosophers, who 
seem to study humanity, while they are 
in reality studying themselves, call these 
beautiful things extravagances. They 
fall down before the manufactories of 
calico and the commonplace inventions 
of modern industry, as if we were greater 
and happier to-day than in the time of 
Henri IV., Louis XIV. and Louis XVI., 
who have all left the seal of their reign 
at les Aigues. What palaces, what 
royal chateaux, what great dwellings, 
what fine works of art, what stuft's 
brocaded in gold shall we leave behind 
us ? Nowadaj^s we hunt up our grand- 
mothers' skirts, and cover our armchairs 
with them. We are so selfish and stingy 
that we level everj^'thing with the ground, 
and plant cabbages where marvels of art 
once rose. Yesterday the plow passed 
over Persan, that magnificent domain 
which gave a title to one of the wealth- 
iest families of the Parisian government ', 



A TRAGEDY OF THE PEASANTRY. 



211 



the hammer has demolished Montmorency, 
which cost one of the Italians of Napoleon's 
coterie enormous sums ; Val, the creation 
of Regnaud de Saint Jean d'Ang-ely, and 
Cassan, built by a mistress of the Prince 
de Conti, have also disappeared, making- 
four which have gone from the valley of 
the Oise alone. We are preparing the 
Campagna of Rome around Paris, in an- 
ticipation of an overturning of things, the 
tempest of which shall blow from the 
North on our plaster palaces and paste- 
board decorations. 

" You see, my dear boy, how far the 
habit of writing bombast for a journal 
will lead one ! I have actually composed 
an article. Does the mind, like the high- 
way, have its ruts ? I must stop, for I 
am robbing the Government and m^^self, 
and I am probably boring 3'ou. More to- 
morrow ; I hear the second bell, which 
announces one of those plentiful dinners 
that have long since gone out of date in 
the dining-rooms of Paris. 

'''The following is the history of my 
Arcadia. In 1815, there died at les 
Aigues one of the most famous women 
of the last centurj^, a cantatrice who had 
been forgotten b}' the guillotine and the 
aristocracy, by literature and by finance, 
after having had a part in the last three, 
and barely escaped the first ; she was 
forgotten, as are so many charming old 
women who take the naemory of an adored 
youth into the country with them, and 
replace the lost love of the past, by the 
love of nature. Such women live in the 
flowers, the woodland scents, the skies, 
and the sunshine, with everything that 
sings, flutters, shines or grows ; with the 
birds, the lizards, the flowers and the 
grasses ; tliey do not understand it, they 
do not analj'ze it, but they love it ; so 
well, that they forget dukes, marshals, 
rivalries, and farmers-general, their fol- 
lies and their effeminate luxury, their 
precious stones, high-heeled slippers and 
rouge, for the pleasures of the country''. 

" I have looked up consklerable informa- 
tion concerning the last years of Made- 
moiselle Ln guerre, for I confess that I 
feel occasionally a little curiosity concern- 
ing the old age of such women, much as 



a child might wonder what becomes of 
the old moons. 

" In 1790, frightened by the aspect of 
public affairs. Mademoiselle Laguerre 
came to take up her abode at les Aigues, 
which had been given her by Bouret. 
The fate of Du Barry so startled her that 
she buiied all her diamonds. She was 
then only fifty -three years old ; and ac- 
cording to her maid, who afterward mar- 
ried the mayor, ' Madame was more beau- 
tiful than ever.' Nature doubtless has 
its reasons for treating these women like 
spoiled children ; the life of excitement 
which the3^ lead, instead of kilUng them, 
seems to improve their health, and re- 
juvenate them ; beneath a lymphatic ap- 
pearance they have nerves strong enough 
to sustain their marvelous physique ; and 
for some mysterious reason, they remain 
always beautiful. 

Mademoiselle Laguerre lived an irre- 
proachable life at les Aigues. When she 
came there she gave up lier former name, 
and called herself Madame des Aigues, 
the better to merge her identity in the 
estate, and she pleased herself by making 
improvements in the place which were 
truly artistic. When Bonaparte became 
first consul, she increased her property 
\)y adding some of the church lands to it, 
purchasing them with her diamonds. As 
an opera singer knows very little about 
taking care of her property, she gave up 
the management of the land to a steward, 
only busying herself with the park, her 
flowers, and her fruits. 

When this lady was dead and buried at 
Blagny, the notary of Soulanges (the lit- 
tle village situated between the Ville-aux- 
Fayes and Blangj^ the principal town of 
the canton) made an elaborate inventory\ 
and finally discovered the singer's heirs, 
who had been entirely unknown to her. 
Eleven families of poor peasants in the 
neighborhood of Amiens went to sleep in 
rags and awoke one fine morning to find 
themselves between sheets of gold. The 
property was sold at auction. Les Aigues 
was bought by Montcornet, who had 
saved in Spain and Pomerania enough 
money for the purchase, which was made 
for something like eleven hundred thou- 



212 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



sand francs, including* the furniture. 
The general doubtless felt the influence 
of these luxurious apartments, and I 
was telling- the countess ^''esterdaj'" that 
I looked upon her marriage as a direct 
result of the purchase of les Aigues. 

" My dear friend, to appreciate the 
countess, you must know that the gen- 
eral is a violent, passionate man, five feet 
nine inches tall, round as a tower, with a 
thick neck and the shoulders of a black- 
smith, which must have ampl^^ filled a 
cuirass. Montcornet commanded the cui- 
rassiers at the battle of Essling-, which 
the Austrians call Gross- Aspern, and al- 
most perished there when the noble corps 
was driven back toward the Danube. He 
succeeded in crossing the river astride of 
an enormous log. The cuirassiers, when 
they found the bridg-e was broken, were 
spurred on by Montcornet's voice to the 
sublime determination to turn and face 
the whole Austrian army, who, on the 
following daj^, carried off more than thirt}^ 
wag"on-loads of cuirasses. The Germans 
have invented for these cuirassiers a single 
word which means 'men of iron.' * 

* On principle I object to foot-notes, and this is 
the first one that I have allowed myself ; its his- 
toric interest must serve as its excuse; it will fur- 
thermore prove that battles may be described 
otherwise than by the dry terms of technical 
writers, who for three thousand years have talked 
only of the right or left wing-, or the center, but 
vv^ho do not say a word of the soldier, his heroism 
and his suffering-. The conscientious manner in 
which I prepared my " Scenes in Military Life " 
led me to all the battlefields watered by French 
and foreign blood; and in the course of this pil- 
grimage I visited the field of Wagram. Wiien I 
reached the borders of the Danube, opposite Lo- 
bau, I saw upon the banks, which were covered 
with fine grass, undulations similar to those in a 
field of lucern. I asked the reason for this dis- 
position of the earth, thinking I should receive an 
answer explaining some method of agriculture. 
"There," replied the peasant who served as my 
guide, " there sleep the cuirassiers of the Imperial 
Guard; those are their graves." The words made 
me shudder; Prince Frederic de Schwartzenberg, 
who translated them, added that this was the 
very peasant who had conducted the convoy of 
wagons loaded with the cuirasses. By one of 
those odd coincidences so frequent in war, our 
guide had also furnislied Napoleon's breakfast on 
the morning of the battle of Wagram. Although 



'* Montcornet looks like one of the heroes 
of antiquity. His arms are large and 
muscular, his chest is broad and deep ; 
his head is of the magnificent leonine type; 
his voice is fit to command a charge in the 
heat of battle ; but he has no more than 
ordinary courag-e, and he lacks intelligence 
and daring. Like many g-enerals, to whom 
military g-ood sense, the natural boldness 
of a man who is always in the midst of 
danger, and the habit of command, g-ive 
an appearance of superioritj^ Montcornet 
is at first imposing- ; he is taken for a 
Titan, but he conceals within him a dwarf, 
like the pasteboard g-iant who welcomed 
Elizabeth at the entrance of Kenilworth 
Castle. Choleric but good-hearted, and 
full of imperial pride, he has a soldier's 
brevity, a prompt repartee, and a hand 
still more prompt. He was superb on the 

he was a poor man, he always kept the double 
Napoleon wliich the emperor had given him for 
his eggs and milk. The cure of Gross-Aspern was 
our guide to the famous cemetery where French 
and Austrians fought, in blood up to their knees, 
with a courage and persistence equally glorious 
upon either side. He told us that a marble tablet 
upon which our attention was riveted, and which 
bore the name of the owner of Gross-Aspern, who 
was killed on the third day, was the sole recom- 
pense awarded to the family; and he added nnourn- 
fullj': " It was a time of great suffering and great 
promises; but to-day is the time of forgetful ness." 
These words seemed to me magnificently simple; 
but when I reflected upon them, I found a reason 
for the apparent ingratitude of the house of Aus- 
tria. Neither peoples nor kings are rich enough 
to reward all the devotion to which great wars 
give rise. Those who serve a cause with a secret 
desire for reward set a price upon their blood, and 
make of themselves condottieri. Those who wield 
the sword or the pen for their country should 
think only of " doing good," as our fathers said, 
and should accept glory only as a fortunate ac- 
cident. 

It was when he was on the way to recapture 
this famous cemetery for the third time, that 
Massena, wounded, and carried in the box of a 
wagon, rallied his soldiers with this sublime apos- 
trophe : " What ! n'ou rascals, j'ou have only five 
sous a daj'', and I have forty millions ; will a-ou let 
me go ahead of j'ou ! " The emperor's order of the 
day, given to his lieutenant, and brought by Mon- 
sieur de Sainte-Croix, who swam thrice across the 
Danube, is well known : " Die, or recapture the 
village ; the arm^'^'s safety depends upon it. The 
bridges are broken." — The Author. 



TRAGEDY OF THE PEASANTRY. 



213 



battlefield, but he is detestable in the 
household ; he knows how to love only 
with the love of a soldier, whose love-g-od, 
according- to the ancients, is Eros, the 
son of Mars and Venus. These delig-htful 
chroniclers of religions provided at least a 
dozen different g-ods of love, and in study- 
ing- them, 3'ou will discover a most com- 
plete social nomenclature ; and we think 
that we invent things ! When the g-lobe 
shall turn, like a sick man in his dreams ; 
when the seas shall become continents, 
the Frenchmen of that time will find at 
the bottom of the ocean of to-day a steam- 
engine, a cannon, a newspaper and a chart, 
tang-led up in the marine plants. 

'' The Countess de Montcornet is a 
small, frail, delicate, timid woman. 
What do 3''ou say to such a marriage 
as that ? To a man who knows the 
world, a well-assorted marriage is the 
exception. I have come here to see how 
this little slender woman manag-es to 
g-uide this great big, square g-eneral, 
as he guided his cuirassiers. 

'•' If Montcornet speaks in a loud tone 
before his Virginie, madame puts her 
(ing-er on her lips, and he is dumb. The 
soldier g-oes to a kiosk, a short distance 
from the chateau, to smoke his pipe and 
liis cig-ars, and he returns perfumed. 
Proud of his subjection, he turns toward 
her when anything is proposed, as if to 
sa3- : 'If madame wishes.' When he 
comes to his ^^'^fe's room, with that 
heavy step of his which shakes the 
pavements as if they had been planks, 
if she calls out hastily : ' Do not come 
in ! ' he makes a military about-face, 
and says humbly: 'Send for me when I 
can speak to 3'ou,' in the same tones with 
which, on the Danube, he shouted to his 
cuirassiers : "' My boys, we must die, and 
die like men, if there is nothing else to be 
done.' I heard him say of his wife : 'I 
not only love her, bat I venerate her.' 
When he gets one of his ang-ry fits, which 
go beyond all bounds, the little Avoman 
goes to her own room and leaves him to 
have it out ; but four or five days later 
she says to him : ' Do not put j'-ourself 
in a passion : you might break a blood 
vessel, to say nothing of the pain which 



you give me.' And the lion of Essling- 
runs to wipe away a tear. When he 
comes to the salon where we are talking, 
she says to him : ' Leave us ; he is read- 
ing" something to me ; ' and he goes awa^'. 

" There is nothing like these great, 
strong, passionate men, these thunder- 
bolts of war, these Olympian-headed 
diplomats, these men of genius, for this 
confidence, this generosity toward feeble- 
ness, this faithful protection, this love 
without jealousy, this good-nature with 
a wife. Upon m^'- word ! I set the science 
of the countess's management of her hus- 
band as far above dry and peevish virtues, 
as the satin of an armchair is preferable 
to the Utrecht velvet of a dirty bourgeois 
sofa. 

''I have been here six days, and I am 
never weary of admiring the marvels of 
this park, surrounded by gloomy forests, 
whose pretty paths follow the course of 
the stream. Nature, with its silence and 
its tranquil joys, has taken poesession of 
me. This is the true literature ; there is 
never anj'- fault of style in a meadow. 
True happiness here consists in forgetting 
everything, even the 'Debats.' Perhaps 
you can guess that it has rained two 
mornings since I have been here. While 
the countess has slept, and Montcornet 
had been riding about the property, I 
have kept perforce the promise to write 
to you, which I so imprudentlv gave. 

*'' Until now, although I was bom in 
Alencon, and am tolerably'- well acquaint- 
ed with the fruits of the earth, the exist- 
ence of landed property capable of bring- 
ing in an income of four or five thousand 
francs a month has always seemed like a 
fable to me. Money, for me, is equivalent 
to four horrible words — work, the book- 
shops, newspapers and politics. When 
shall we have a country where money 
will grow in some pretty landscape? 
That is my wish for you, in the name of 
the theater, the press, and book-making. 
Amen. 

'•Will Florine be jealous of the late 
Mademoiselle Laguerre ? Our modern 
Bourets have no longer the French no- 
bilitj'- which teaches them to live. They 
share a box at the opera among three of 



214 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



them, divide the expenses of a pleasure 
trip, and no longer cut down mag-niflcent 
quartos and have them rebound to match 
the octavos of their library ; in fact, they 
scarcely buy paper-covered books nowa- 
days. What are we coming to ? 

"Adieu, my friends ; do not forget to 
love Your dear Blondet." 

If this letter, from one of the idlest 
pens of our time, had not been preserved 
by a miraculous cliance, it would have 
been impossible to describe les Aigues. 
And without this description the horrible 
occurrences which took place there would 
perhaps be less interesting. 

Probabl}'^ many people expect to see the 
colonel's cuirass lighted up, and to watch 
his anger flame out, falling like a thun- 
derbolt upon his little wife, and to meet 
at the end of the story the domestic trag- 
edy which comes at the end of so many 
modern dramas. Will the climax take 
place in this prett}^ salon, behind its blue 
cameo doors, where pretty m^^thological 
scenes are painted, where beautiful fan- 
tastic birds are apparently flying upon 
the ceiling and the blinds, where china 
monsters laugh, open-mouthed, upon the 
mantelpiece ; where, on the richest vases, 
blue dragons wind their tails around the 
border which the fanciful Japanese have 
enameled with the most delicate colored 
lace ; where the sofas, the lounges, the 
mirrors and the etageres inspire that 
contemplative idleness which takes away 
all energj^? 

No, this drama is not confined to pri- 
vate life ; it reaches higher — or lower. 
Do not expect passion ; the truth will be 
only too dramatic. Besides, the historian 
should never forget that his mission is to 
do justice to all ; the unfortunate and the 
rich are equal beneath his pen ; for him, 
the peasant has the grandeur of his pov- 
erty, as the rich man has the pettiness of 
liis folly ; since the rich man has his pas- 
sions, and the peasant has onl}' his needs, 
the peasant is doubly poor ; and though, 
politically, his pretensions are pitilessl}^ 
repressed, humanly and religiously he is 
sacred. 



II. 



A BUCOLIC FORGOTTEN BY VIRGIL. 

When a Parisian finds himself in the 
countrj^ he discovers that he is cut off 
from all his habits, and soon feels the 
weight of the dragging hours, in spite of 
the most ingenious efforts of his friends. 
And in the impossibility of forever talk- 
ing the nothings of a tete-a-tete, which 
are so soon exhausted, the hosts say to 
you tranquilh^ : "You are getting bored 
here." In fact, in order to taste the 
delights of the country one must share 
in its interests, understand its labors, and 
its alternate harmony of pain and pleas- 
ure, the eternal sj^mbol of human life. 

When the power of sleep has once more 
regained its equilibrium, when the fatigues 
of the journey have been repaired, and 
the country customs and habits have been 
fully mastered, the most diflQcult moment 
in life at a chateau, for a Parisian who is 
neither a sportsman nor an agriculturist, 
and who wears thin shoes, is the first 
morning. Between the time of awaken- 
ing and the breakfast hour, the ladies are 
either sleeping or making their toilet, and 
are unapproachable : the master of the 
house has gone out early to look after his 
own affairs, and a Parisian therefore 
finds himself alone from eight o'clock 
until eleven, which is the almost universal 
breakfast hour in the countr3^ 

Although he lengthens his toilet as 
much as possible, by wa\^ of diversion, he 
soon loses this resource ; he may have 
brought some work, but he usuallj^ puts 
it back untouched, after having mastered 
nothing but a knowledge of its difficulties ; 
a writer is then obliged to wander around 
the park, and gape at the rooks, or count 
the big trees. Now, the more uncon- 
strained is the life at one of these houses, 
the more tiresome are these occupations, 
unless a man belongs to the shaking 
Quakers, or the honorable ho&y of car- 
penters or bird-stuffers. If one is obliged, 
like the landed proprietors, to live in the 
countrj'^, he should fortify himself against 
ennui b}^ some geological, mineralogical, 
entomological or botanical hobb^'- ; but a 



A TRAGEDY OF THE PEASANTRY. 



215 



reasonable man does not set up a vice for 
the sake of g-etting- rid of a fortnight. 
The most mag-nificent property, and the 
most beautiful castles, therefore, become 
insipid without delay to those who possess 
only the sight of them. The beauties of 
nature seem mean and niggardly, com- 
pared with their representation at the 
theater. Paris sparkles then at every 
facet. Without some particular interest 
to attach a man, as Blondet was attached, 
to a place which was " honored b}' the 
steps and lig-hted by the eyes" of some 
particular person, he would envy the birds 
their wings, that he mig-ht fly away to 
the constantly moving- sig-hts and heart- 
rending- strug-g-les of Paris. 

The long- letter written by the journalist 
will reveal to penetrating- minds the fact 
that he had reached that acme of satis- 
faction attained by certain wing-ed things 
when they are being- fattened for the mar- 
ket, when they remain with their heads 
sunk in their breasts, without either the 
wishor the power to taste even the most ap- 
petizing- food. Thus, when his formidable 
letter was finished, Blondet felt the need 
of strolling forth from the gardens of Ar- 
mida and filling- in some manner the mor- 
tal blank of the first three hours of the day; 
for the time between breakfast and dinner 
belongs to the chatelaine, who knows how 
to make it fly. To keep a man of intellect, 
as Madame Montcornet was doing-, for a 
month in the country, without being- able 
to detect a look of ennui on his face, is one 
of woman's g-reatest triumphs. An affec- 
tion which can resist such a trial as that 
must certainly be lasting-. It is difficult 
to understand why women do not oftener 
make use of this, as a test of friendship 
and devotion ; it would be impossible for 
a fool, an eg-otist, or a man of little mind, 
to pass through it successfully. Philip II. 
himself, the Alexander of dissimulation, 
would have told all his secrets during a 
month's tete-a-tete in the country. Per- 
haps that is why kings live in the midst of 
excitement, and do not give any one the 
rig-ht to see them for more than a quarter 
of an hour at a time. 

Emile Blondet, notwithstanding: his Pa- 
risian habits, was still capable of enjoy- 



ing the long-forg-otten delights of plaj^- 
ing truant. The day after his letter was 
finished, he caused himself to be awakened 
by Francois, the head valet, who was de- 
tailed for his special service, with the 
intention of exploring- the valley of the 
Avonne. 

The Avonne is the little river which, 
g-rowing- larg-er above Conches by means 
of numerous brooks, some of which rise 
at les Aig-ues, empties itself at Ville-aux- 
Fayes into one of the largest of the trib- 
utaries of the Seine. The g-eogfraphical 
position of the Avonne, which is navig-able 
for shallow craft for about four leagues, 
gives their true value to the forests of les 
Aigues, Soulang-es and Roquerolles, which 
are situated on the ridge of the small hills 
at whose base flows the charming river. 
The park of les Aigues occupies the 
greater part of the valley, between the 
river which is bordered on two sides by 
the forests of les Aigues, and the g-reat 
high-road which is defined by old, twisted 
elms on the horizon, running parallel to 
the Avonne hills, the first step of the 
magnificent amphitheater called the Mor- 
van. 

However vulgar the comparison may 
be, it is nevertheless true that the park, 
thus located in the valley, resembles an 
immense fish whose head touches the 
village of Conches, and its tail the bourg 
of Blangj^ ; for, being longer than it is 
wide, it spreads out in the middle to a 
width of nearly two hundred acres, while 
in the direction of Conches there are 
scarcely thirty, aud toward Blangy 
about forty. The situation of the place, 
between three villages, a league from 
the little town of Soulanges, from which 
place the first plunge into this Eden is 
taken, has led to the strife and encour- 
aged the excesses which form the princi- 
pal interest of the scene. If, seen from 
the high-road above Ville-aux-Fayes, the 
paradise of les Aigues causes travelers to 
commit the sin of envy, what better can 
be expected of the rich burghers of Sou- 
langes and Ville-aux-Fayes, when they 
have it constantly before their admiring 
eyes ? 

This final topographical detail is neces- 



216 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



sary in order to make the reader under- 
stand the situation, and the utiUty of the 
four g-ates by which the park of les 
Aig-ues is entered; the grounds are en- 
tirely inclosed by walls, except in spots 
where nature has arrang-ed fine points 
of view, at which places sunk fences are 
arranged. These four g-ates, called the 
gate of Conches, the Avonne g"ate, the 
Blang-y g-ate and the Avenue gate, illus- 
strate so well the genius of the different 
epochs at which they are constructed, 
that in the interests of archaeology they 
will be described, but as briefl}^ as Blondet 
has already described that of the Avenue. 

After a week of explorations with the 
countess, the illustrious reviewer of the 
"Journal des Debats" knew by heart 
the Chinese pavilion, ■ the bridges, the 
islands, the nionaster^^ the chalet, the 
ruins of the temple, the Babj^lonian gla- 
cier, the kiosks, and all the other inven- 
tions of landscape gardeners, which 
covered a space of perhaps nine hundred 
acres ; he wished therefore to reach the 
sources of the Avonne, which had been 
often praised "by the general and the 
countess, but a visit to which, although 
planned each evening, had been forgotten 
each morning. 

Above the park of les Aigues, the 
Avonne looks like an Alpine torrent. 
Here it hollows itself a bed among the 
rocks ; there it buries itself in an im- 
mense hollow ; now the streams fall 
abruptly in cascades, and anon it spreads 
itself out after the fashion of the Loire, 
flooding the soil and rendering naviga- 
tion impracticable by reason of its con- 
stantly changing channel. 

Blondet took the shortest way across 
the labyrinths of the park to reach the 
Conches gate. This gate deserves a few 
words, which will also throw some light 
on a few historic details connected with 
the pro pert \^ 

The founder of les Aigues was a j^ounger 
son of the house of Soulanges, who had 
made a wealthy marriage, and who wished 
to make his brother jealous. It is to this 
sentiment that we owe the fairy-like Isola- 
Bella, on Lake Maggiore. In the Middle 
Ages the chateau of les Aigues was situ- 



ated upon the Avonne. Of this castle 
nothing now remains but the door, com- 
posed of a porch similar to that of forti- 
fied cities, and flanked by two pepper-box 
towers. Above the arch of the porch 
rises powerful masonry', ornamented with 
vegetation and pierced by three large 
window-frames with crossbars. A wind- 
ing staircase in one of the towers leads 
to two rooms, and the kitchen is In the 
second tower. The porch roof, which is 
pointed, like all old carpentry, is distin- 
guished by two weathercocks, perched at 
the two ends of a ridge-pole ornamented 
with odd-shaped ironwork. Many a large 
place cannot boast of so fine a town-hall. 
On the outside, the keystone of the arch 
still shows the escutcheon of the Sou- 
langes, preserved by the hardness of the 
cliosen stone upon which the chisel of 
the engraver had carved it : Azure, with 
three staves on a pale, argent ; a fesse 
over aU, gules, charged with five crosses, 
or, aiguise ; and it bore the heraldic bar 
imposed upon younger sons. The device, 
which Blondet deciphered, was: ''I act 
alone." The gate, which was opened for 
Blondet by a pretty girl, was of old wood, 
made heavy with corners of iron. The 
keeper, awakened by the grinding of the 
hinges, peeped out of the window and thus 
showed himself in his night-shirt. 

"Ah ! are our keepers still asleep at 
this hour?" thought the Parisian, who 
believed himself to be well up in forest 
customs. 

A quarter of an hour's walk brought 
him to the sources of the river, above 
Conches, and his eyes were charmed by 
one of those landscapes, the description of 
which, like the history of France, can be 
told in one volume or in a thousand. We 
will content ourselves with a few words. 

A projecting rock, covered with dwarf 
trees, and hollowed at the base by the 
Avonne, by which combination of circum- 
stances it somewhat resembles an enor- 
mous tortoise lying across the water, 
makes an arch through which can be 
seen a little sheet of water, clear as a 
mirror, where the Avonne seems to have 
fallen asleep, and which ends on the other 
side in cascades and great rocks, where 



A TRAGEDY OF THE PEASANTRY, 



317 



little elastic willows sway back and forth 
constantly with the motion of the water. 

Beyond these cascades the sides of the 
hill are cut as steep as the rocks of the 
Rhine, and covered with mosses and 
heather ; but, like them, they are slashed 
with fissures, through which pour here 
and there boiling- white brooks, to which 
a little meadow, always watered and al- 
ways green, serves as a cup. In contrast 
to this wild and solitary scene, the last 
gardens of Conches show on the other 
side of the picturesque chaos, at the end 
of the meadows, together with the re- 
mainder of the village, including its 
church-tower. 

There are the few words, but the rising 
sun, the purity of the air, the dewy sharp- 
ness, the concert of woods and waters ! — 
imagine them ! 

" Upon my word ! that is almost as 
fine as the Opera ! " thought Blondet, as 
he made his way up the Avonne, which 
was here unnavigable, and whose caprices 
contrasted finely with the straight, deep, 
silent channel of the lower Avonne, 
shaded by the great trees of the forest 
of les Aigues. 

Blondet did not carrj'^his morning walk 
very far, before he was stopped by one 
of the peasants who are to pla^' such an 
important part in this drama that it 
will perhaps be difficult to Ivnow which 
character has the leading role. 

When he reached the group of rocks 
between which the principal source of the 
river is confined as between two gates, 
Blondet saw a man whose immobility 
would have been enough to arouse the 
curiosity of a journalist, if the figure and 
dress of the animated statue had not 
already awakened his interest. 

He recognized in this humble personage 
one of those old men so dear to the pencil 
of Charlet ; he resembled the troopers of 
this Homer of soldiers by reason of the 
solidity of a figure well able to endure 
hardship ; his face was reddened, knotty, 
and discontented. A hat of thick felt, 
whose brim was held to the crown by 
stitches, protected his partially bald head 
from the inclemencies of the weather. 
From it there fell two locks of hair which 



a painter would have paid four francs an 
hour to copy — a dazzling mass of snow, 
arranged like that of all the classic pict- 
ures of the Father. By the way in which 
the sunken cheeks continued the lines of 
the mouth, it was easy to guess that the 
toothless old man was more addicted to 
the bottle than to the trencher. His thin 
white beard gave a menacing look to his 
profile by means of the stiffness of the 
close-cut hairs. His eyes, too small for 
his enormous face, and slanting like those 
of a pig, gave indications of both cunning 
and idleness : but at this moment the3^ 
seemed to emit sparks, as they darted 
upon the river. 

The poor fellow's clothing consisted of 
an old blouse which had once been blue, 
and trousers made of the coarse burlap 
which is used in Paris to wrap bales. 
Any dweller in a city would have shud- 
dered at sight of his broken sabots, with- 
out even a wisp of straw to cover the 
cracks. And certainl}'- his blouse and 
trousers were of no value to any one ex- 
cept a rag man. 

As he examined this Diogenes of the 
fields, Blondet admitted the possibility of 
the type of peasants which is seen on old 
tapestries, old pictures, and old sculpt- 
ures, and which until then had seemed 
to him out of the range of anything but 
fancy. He no longer condemned abso- 
lutely the school of ugliness, for he now 
understood that among men the beauti- 
ful is. only the flattering exception ; a 
chimera Ih which man struggles to be- 
lieve. 

'' What can be the ideas and the mor- 
als of such a being ? " thought Blondet, 
curiously ; "of what can he be thinking ? 
Is he like me ? We have nothing in com- 
mon except form, and yet — " 

He studied the rigidity' peculiar to the 
tissues of men who live in the open air, 
and who are accustomed to the inclemen- 
cies of the weather, and to the excesses 
of heat and cold ; who are, in fact, used 
to almost all kinds of hardship, by reason 
of which their skin is almost like tanned 
leather, and their nerves serve as an ap- 
paratus against phj^sical ills, almost as 
effectual as that of the Arabs or Russians. 



218 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



" This is one of Cooper's red-skins/' lie 
thought. " There is no need of g"oing- to 
America to see a savage." 

Although the Parisian was only a few 
steps awaj^ from him, the old man did 
not turn his head, hut stood looking at 
the opposite hank with that fixity which 
the fakirs of India give to their glassy 
eyes and stiffened joints. Conquered by 
this species of magnetism, which is more 
common than might be believed, Blondet 
finally looked at the water. 

* ' Well, my good man, what are you 
looking at ? " he asked finally, after a 
good quarter of an hour, during which he 
had been unable to discover anything 
which could merit this profound atten- 
tion. 

" Hush ! " whispered the old man, mak- 
ing a sign to Blondet not to disturb the 
air with his voice, '•' you will frighten it — " 

*'What?" 

" An otter, my good sir. If it should 
hear us, it would go under water. I am 
certain that it jumped there ; see ! there 
where the water is bubbling. Oh ! it is 
after a fish ; but when it comes back 
again, my boy will get it. You know an 
otter is one of the rarest things in the 
world. It is scientific game, and very 
delicate ; they would give me ten francs 
for it at les Aigues, for the lady fasts 
there, and to-morrow is fast day. In the 
old time, the late madame paid me as high 
as twenty francs, and gave me back the 
skin. Mouche ! " he called in a low voice, 
" watch carefull3\" 

On the other side of this branch of the 
Avonne, Blondet now saw two shining 
eyes like the eyes of a cat, beneath a 
tuft of alders ; then he saw the tanned 
forehead and tangled hair of a boy of 
twelve or thereabouts, who was lying flat 
on his stomach ; the boy made a sign to 
point out the otter, and to let the old man 
know that he had not lost sight of him. 
Blondet, falling under the influence of 
the old man and the boy, allowed him- 
self to be bitten by the demon of the 
chase. 

This demon with two claws, hope and 
curiositj'', leads a man where it will. 

"The hat-makers will take the skin," 



continued the old man. " It is so beauti- 
ful, so soft ! They cover caps with it." 

" Do you think so, my good old man ? " 
asked Blondet, smiling. 

" Well, of course, monsieur, you ought 
to know better than I, although I am 
seventy years old," replied the old man 
humbly and respectfully ; " and you can 
perhaps tell me why it is that conductors 
and wine-merchants are so pleased with 
them." 

Blondet, a master in irony, and already 
on his guard on account of the word scien- 
tific, suspected some mocker^'^ on the part 
of the peasant, but he was reassured by 
the naivete of his attitude and the stupid- 
ity of his expression. 

''In my young days we had lots of 
otters," continued the peasant, "but 
they have driven them out, until it is as 
much as we can do to see the tail of one 
once in seven j^ears, now. And the sub- 
prefect of Ville-aux-Fayes — perhaps mon- 
sieur knows him ? — although he is a Pari- 
sian, he is a brave young man like yourself, 
and he loves curiosities. And hearing of 
my talent for catching otters, for I know 
them as well as jow know your alphabet, 
he said to me like this, says he : ' Pere 
Fourchon, when you find an otter, bring 
it to me, and I will paj'" you well for it,' 
says he ; ' and if it should happen to have 
some white spots on the back,' says he, 
' I will give you thirtj'^ francs for it. ' 
That is what he said to me at the gate 
of Ville-aux-Payes, as true as I believe in 
God the Father, God the Son, and God 
the Holy Ghost. There is another wise 
man at Soulanges, a Monsieur Gourdon, 
our doctor, who is making, they say, a 
natural history collection, which has not 
its like at Dijon ; he is the first among 
the learned men in this part of the coun- 
try, and he will pay me a handsome price 
for it. He knows how to stuff men and 
beasts ! And my boy there insists upon 
it that this otter has some white hairs. 
' If that is so, ' I said to him, ' the good 
God wishes us luck this morning.' Do 
you see the water bubbling there ? Oh ! 
there it is. Although it lives in a kind of 
burrow, it stays for entire days under 
water. Ah ! it heard you then, mon- 



A TRAGEDY OF THE PEASANTRY. 



219 



sieur ; it suspected something' ; there is 
no animal more cunning- than the otter ; 
it is worse than a woman." 

'•'So you think women are cunning, do 
you ? " said Blondet. 

'^Oh! monsieur, you have come from 
Paris, and you ought to know more about 
that than I do ; "but you would have done 
better for us if you had stayed asleep this 
morning ; for, did you see that wake 
there ? it has just gone under — Come, 
Mouche ! the otter heard monsieur, and 
it may keep us dancing here till mid- 
night ; come awa3^ Our thirty francs 
have swum away." 

Mouche rose regretfully ; he looked at 
the place where the water was bubbling, 
and pointed hopefully toward it. This 
boy, with his curl}^ hair, and his face as 
brown as those of the angels in the pict- 
ures of the fifteenth century, looked as 
if he had on breeches, for his trousers 
stopped at the knees with a fringe of 
rags ornamented with brambles and 
dead leaves. This necessary garment 
was fastened on him by two strings of 
tow, which took the place of suspenders. 
A shirt of the same burlap as that of the 
old man's trousers, but made thicker by 
coarse darns, showed a sunburned little 
chest. Mouche's costume was thus even 
more primitive than that of Pere Four- 
chon. 

" They are good fellows in this part of 
the country," said Blondet to himself; 
" the people around Paris would have 
called a man some pretty hard names 
if he had driven away their game." 

And as he had never seen an otter, 
even at the museum, he was delighted 
with his little adventure. 

" Come ! " he said, touched at seeing 
the old man turning away without asking 
for anything, "you call yourself a good 
hunter of otters. If you are sure that the 
otter is there — ? " 

From the other side, Mouche pointed 
with his finger to some bubbles which 
rose from the depths of the Avonne and 
burst on its surface in the middle of the 
basin. 

*'He has come back there," said Four- 
chon ; ''he breathed that time, the beg- 



gar ! He made those bubbles. How does 
he contrive to breathe under water ? But 
he is such a rogue, he can get the better 
even of science." 

"Well," continued Blondet, to whom 
this last remark seemed a joke, due 
rather to the peasant mind than to the 
individual, " stay here and catch the 
otter?" 

" And our day, Mouche's and mine ? " 
" What is your day worth ? " 
'• To both of us? Five francs," replied 
the old man, looking askance at Blondin, 
with a hesitation which revealed an enor- 
mous overcharge. 

The journalist drew ten francs from his 
pocket, saying — 

"Here are ten, and I will give you as 
man}' more for the otter." 

"And it won't cost you dear at that, 
if it has white spots ; for the sub-prefect 
told me there wasn't a museum as had 
one of that kind. He is a learned man, 
and he knows what he is talking about. 
He is no fool ! If I am after the otter, he. 
Monsieur des Lupeaulx, is after Monsieur 
Gaubertin's daughter, who has a fine white 
spot of a dowry on her back. Here, sir, 
if I may make so bold, get on to that stone 
yonder, in the middle of the Avonne. 
When we have driven the otter out, he 
will come down with the current, for that 
is one of the cunning ways of the beast ; 
they go up above their hole to feed, and 
when they are loaded with their fish, they 
know that they can easily come down 
stream. Didn't I tell you they were cun- 
ning ? If I had taken lessons of them, I 
should be living on my income to-day. I 
learned too late in fife that it was neces- 
sary to go up stream early in the morn- 
ing in order to find food before others got 
it. Well, what was to be, is. Perhaps 
the three of us together can be more cun- 
ning than the otter." 

" And how, my old magician ? " 
" Oh ! we peasants are so much like 
the animals that we finally get to under- 
stand them. This is how we will do. 
When the otter wants to go home, we will 
frighten him here, and you will frighten 
him there ; frightened by all of us, he will 
make for the bank; if he takes to bare 



220 



THE HUMAN COMEDY, 



ground, he is lost. He can't walk. His 
duck's feet are made for swimming-. Oh ! 
it will amuse you ; it is a fine g-ame ; fish- 
ing- and hunting- at the same time. The 
g-eneral, there where you are stopping-, 
came to see it three days in succession, he 
was so carried away with it." 

Blondet, armed with a whip which the 
old man cut for him, with instructions to 
whip the river with it when he gave the 
word of command, went to his station in 
the middle of the Avonne, leaping- from 
stone to Stone. 

'* There! that's it, monsieur." 

Blondet stopped where he was, and 
stood there without noticing- the flight of 
time; for, from moment to moment a 
g-esture from the old man made him ex- 
pect a fortunate denouement ; and nothing- 
makes the time pass more quickly than 
the expectation of quick action which is to 
succeed the profound silence of watchful- 
ness. 

*'Pere Fourchon," said the boy, softly, 
when he found himself alone with the old 
man, 'Hhere is really an otter." 

"Do you see it? " 

"There it is." 

The old man was astounded to see under 
water the red-brown fur of an otter. 

"He is coming this w^ay," said the boy. 

"Give him a sharp little blow on the 
head, and throw yourself into the water 
to hold him down : don't let him go." 

Mouche dove into the river like a fright- 
ened frog. 

"Come, come, my dear monsieur," said 
Pere Fourchon to Blondet, jumping- also 
into the Avonne, after first kicking off 
his sabots on the bank, "frighten him 
now ! Do you see him ? there, toward 
you ! " 

The old man ran toward Blondet, beat- 
ing- the water and calling out to him with 
the serious manner which the country 
people preserve even in the midst of their 
greatest excitements : 

"Do you see him, there, along- the 
rocks? " 

Blondet, who had been placed \>j the 
old man in such a position that the sun 
came full in his eyes, thrashed the water 
in blind obedience. 



" There ! there ! over by the rocks ! " 
cried Pere Fourchon ; " the hole is over 
there, at j^our left." 

Carried away by his excitement, which 
had only been stimulated by his long 
waiting-, Blondet slipped off of the stone, 
and stood in the water. 

" Carefully, my good sir, carefull3'' ! 
there you are ! Ah ! twenty g-ood gods ! 
he has g-one between your legs ! he has 
gone ! he has gone ! " said the old man 
despairingly'. 

And carried away by the excitement of 
the hunt, the old peasant waded into the 
river until he reached Blondet. 

''It was all your fault that we lost 
him," continued Pere Fourchon, taking 
hold of Blondet 's hand and emerging from 
the water like a vanquished Triton. " The 
beggar is there, under the rocks. He left 
his fish behind him," he added, looking 
back to where something was floating 
upon the water. " We'll have him 3'et." 

Just then a servant in livery, on horse- 
back, and leading another horse by the 
bridle, came galloping- along the Conches 
road. 

" There is one of the people from the 
castle, who seems to be looking for you," 
said the man. " If you want to get across 
the river again, I will give you my hand. 
Oh ! I don't mind getting wet ; it will save 
the trouble of washing." 

"And how about rheumatism ? " asked 
Blondet. 

"Pshaw!" he replied. "Do you not 
see that the sun has clothed us, Mouche 
and me, with a skin as brown as a tobacco 
pipe ? Lean on me, my dear sir. You are 
from Paris, and you do not know how to 
balance 3'ourself on our rocks, although 
you know so many things. If j-ou stay 
here long, you will learn a great many 
things in the book of nature, you who, 
they say, write for the newspapers." 

Blondet reached the other bank of the 
Avonne before Charles, the valet, saw 
him. 

"Ah! monsieur," he exclaimed, "j^ou 
cannot imagine how uneasy madame was 
when she heard that you had gone out 
through the Conches gate. She thinks 
you are drowned. They have rung the 



A TRAGEDY OF THE PEASANTRY. 



221 



great bell three times, and called you 
everywhere in the park, where Monsieur 
le Cure is still looking- for 3''0u." 

'' What time is it, Charles ? " 

" A quarter of twelve." 

''Help me to mount." 

"Perhaps monsieur has been taken in 
by Pere Fourchon's otter ? " ventured the 
valet, noticing- the water which was drip- 
ping- from Blondet's boots and panta- 
loons. 

The words enlightened the journalist. 

'•'Don't say a w-ord about it, Charles, 
and I'll make it right with you," he cried 
hastily. 

" Oh ! Monsieur le Comte himself was 
taken in hj that otter," replied the serv- 
ant. "As soon as a stranger comes to 
les Aig-ues, Pere Fourchon is on the 
watch for him, and if the visitor comes 
to visit the sources of the Avonne, he 
sells him his otter. He pla^'^s it so well 
that Monsieur le Comte came here three 
days in succession, and paid him six days 
for watching- the water run." 

" And I believed I had seen in Potier, 
the young-er Baptiste, Michot and Mon- 
rose, the greatest comedians of the age !" 
thoug-ht Blondet ; " what are they be- 
side this beggar? " 

"Oh! he knows his little g-ame ver}'^ 
well," continued Charles. "He has, be- 
sides, another string- to his bow, for he 
calls himself a ropemaker. He has a 
shop by the wall near the Blang-y g-ate. 
If you happen to g-o near his rope, he will 
g-et around you so well that he will make 
you want to turn the wheel and make a 
little rope f or 3'ourself ; then he will ask 
the gratuity due to the master from the 
apprentice. Madame was taken in by him 
to the tune of twenty francs. He is the 
prince of trickery," he ended. 

This g-ossip caused Blondet to indulge 
in reflections upon the profound astute- 
ness of the peasantry, and to remember 
all that he had heard from his father, the 
judge of Alencon, on the subject. Then, 
recalling all the hidden meanings in the 
apparently guileless talk of Pere Four- 
chon, he confessed to himself that he had 
been well taken in by the old Burgundy 
beggar. 



"You would never believe, monsieur," 
said Charles, as Xihey reached the door- 
step, ' ' how necessary it is to be suspicious 
of everybody in the countrj', particularly 
here, where the general is not much liked." 

"Why not?" 

"I don't know," replied Charles, as- 
suming the air of stupidity beneath which 
sers'^ants know how to shelter their mean- 
ings, and which gave Blondet much food 
for thought. 

" There you are, runaway ! " said the 
general, attracted to the door by the 
sound of the horses' hoofs. " He is here, 
do not be alarmed," he called to his wife, 
whose little feet were heard approaching. 
"Now every one is here except the Abbe 
Brossette ; go and look for him, Charles," 
he added to the servant. 



III. 



THE WINE-SHOP. . 

The Blangy gate was built by Bouret, 
and consisted of two rough-hewn pilasters, 
each surmounted by a dog sitting on his 
haunches and holding an escutcheon be- 
tween his two forepaws. As the stew- 
ard's cottage was in the immediate vicin- 
ity, the financier had not been obliged 
to build a porter's lodge. Between the 
two pilasters an elegant gate, like those 
forged in the time of Buffon for the Jar- 
din des Plantes, opened upon a paved 
causewa}^ which led to the high-road, 
formerly kept carefully in order b}' les 
Aigues and the house of Soulanges, and 
which connected Conches, Cerneux, Blan- 
gy, Soulanges and Ville-aux-Fayes like a 
garland, for the whole road was lined 
with estates surrounded hj flowering 
hedges, and little houses covered with 
rose trees, honeysuckle and climbing 
plants. 

There, beside a pretty wall which ex- 
tended as far as a sunk fence, where the 
chateau grounds fell abruptly down the 
valley, as far as Soulanges, could be found 
the rotten posts, the old W'heel and the 
forked stakes which constituted the w^ork- 
shop of the village ropemaker. 



222 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



About half past twelve, while Blondet 
was sitting" at table opposite the Abbe 
Brossette, and listening to the caressing- 
reproaches of the countess, Pei-e Four- 
chon and Mouche arrived at their estab- 
lishment, where the old man, under pre- 
text of makmg rope, could keep a Avatch 
on les Aigues, and see who went out or 
in. Thus nothing could escape the watch- 
fulness of the old man — open blinds, tete- 
a-tete walks, or the smallest incidents in 
the life of the chateau. He had only set 
up this business within the last three 
years, but this circumstance had not as 
yet been noticed, either by the keepers, the 
masters, or the servants of les Aigues. 

" Go around b}^ the Avonne gate while 
I g-o and put away the things," said Pere 
Fourchon, " and when 3'ou have done the 
talking, they will probably send to the 
Grand-I-vert for me, where I am going- 
for a little refreshment ; for it makes me 
terribly thirstj'" to be under water like 
that. If you do as I have just told you, 
you will probably hook on to a good 
breakfast ; try and g-et a word with the 
countess, and give a slap at me, so that 
they will want to come and preach to 
me. There are plenty of g-ood g-lasses of 
wine to be got out of it." 

After these instructions, which were 
rendered almost superfluous by Mouche's 
sly appearance, the old rope-maker, hold- 
ing- his otter under his arm, disappeared 
upon the high-road. 

Halfway between the gate and the vil- 
lage there was, at the time of Emile Blon- 
det 's visit to les Aigues, one of those 
houses which can be found only in France, 
where stones are rare. The pieces of 
brick picked up here and there, the g-reat 
pebbles inserted like diamonds in the 
clayej" earth which formed the solid, 
though time-eaten walls, the roof held 
up by great branches and covered with 
rushes and straw, the thick shutters, and 
the door, all bore evidence of lucky finds 
or treasures begged. 

The peasant has for his dwelling the 
same instinct that the animal has for its 
nest or burrow, and this instinct shone 
forth in all the arrangements of the cot- 
tage. In the first place, the window and 



door faced the north. The house, placed 
on a little rise of ground in the most 
gravelly part of a vineyard, was nec- 
essarily healthy. The ascent to it was 
by means of three steps which had been 
laboriously made of stakes and planks, 
and filled in with little stones. The drain- 
age was therefore good. Then, as rain in 
Burgundj'^ rarely comes from the north, 
no dampness could rot the foundations, 
although they were slightly built. Below, 
a rustic paling bordered the path, which 
was covered with a hedge of hawthorn 
and sweet-brier. A trellis, beneath 
which some rickety tables, flanked by 
long benches, invited the passers-by to 
sit down, covered with its canopy the 
space which separated the cottage from 
the road. On the bank by the house 
grew roses, wall-flowers, violets, and 
other of the more common flowers. A 
hone3^suckle and a jasmine threw their 
tendrils up to the roof, which was al- 
ready covered with moss, notwithstand- 
ing its recent date. 

At the right of the house the owner had 
put up a stable for two cows. There was 
a space of trodden earth before this 
wretched building, and in one corner was 
an enormous heap of dung. On the other 
side of the house and the trellis stood a 
thatched shed, supported b}^ trunks of 
trees, under which were stored the vine- 
dressers' tools and their empty casks; and 
fagots of wood were piled around the hump 
of earth which formed the oven, whose 
mouth, in peasants' houses, almost al- 
ways opens beneath the mantel-piece. 

Belonging to the house was about an 
acre of land, surrounded by a quick-set 
hedge, and planted with vines, as well 
cared for as those of most peasants, 
which are so well planted, manured and 
dug about, that their branches grow 
green before any others for three leagues 
around. A few trees, almonds, plums and 
apricots, showed their delicate heads in 
this inclosure. Between the rows were 
planted potatoes and beans. On the side 
toward the village, and behind the little 
courtyard, there was another small piece 
of ground, low and moist, which was fav- 
1 orable for the growth of cabbages and 



A TRAGEDY OF THE PEASANTRY. 



233 



onions, vegetables which are favorites 
with the laboring- classes ; the place was 
closed by a railed gate, throug-h which 
the cows passed, trampling the earth and 
covering it with dung. 

This house, composed of two rooms on 
the ground-floor, was entered through 
the vineyard. On that side a wooden 
staircase, fastened to the wall of the 
house and covered with a thatched roof, 
led to the garret, which was lighted by a 
round window. Beneath this rustic stair- 
case a cellar, made of Burgund^^ bricks., 
contained several casks of wine. 

Although the cooking utensils of the 
peasant usually consist of two articles, 
with which every kind of cooking is done, 
namely, a frying-pan and an iron pot, 
exceptions to this rule, in the shape of 
two great saucepans, hung beneath the 
mantel-piece above a small portable stove, 
were to be found in this cottage. But in 
spite of this indication of comfortable cir- 
cumstances, the furniture was in harmo- 
ny with the outside of the hut. There was 
a jar to hold the water ; the spoons were 
of wood or pewter; the dishes of clay, 
brown without and white within, showed 
traces of having been broken and mended; 
there was a solid table, with chairs of 
white wood, and the floor was of hard 
earth. Every five years the walls re- 
ceived a coating of whitewash, as well as 
the narrow beams of the ceiling, from 
which hung hams, strings of onions, 
bundles of candles, and the bags in which 
peasants put their seeds ; near the knead- 
ing-trough an old cupboard of black 
walnut held the scanty linen, the change 
of clothes, and the Sunday garments of 
the family. 

Over the mantel shone an old poacher's 
gun ; it was apparently not worth five 
francs ; the wood was scorched, and the 
barrel looked as if it had never been 
cleaned. It would seem that a cabin 
wttich was fastened with nothing but a 
latch, and whose outer gate, cut in the 
palings, was never shut, would require 
nothing better in the way of defense, and 
that the weapon Avas useless. But in the 
first place, while the wood was of the 
cheapest, the barrel, carefully chosen. 



came from a valuable gun, one that was 
doubtless given to some gamekeeper. And 
the owner of this gun never missed his 
aim. There existed between him and his 
weapon that intimate acquaintance which 
the workman has with his tool. If his 
gun needs to be raised or lowered the 
thousandth part of an inch, because it 
carries just a trifle above or below the 
aim, the poacher knows it, and unfailing- 
ly obeys this law. The essential parts of 
this weapon were in goo^ condition, but 
that was all. In everything which is 
necessary to him, and which can be of 
use to him, the peasant emploj^s the 
required amount of energy ; but he does 
not strive for anji^hing that is not abso- 
lutely'- necessary. He never understands 
exterior perfection. He is an infallible 
judge of necessities, and knows just what 
degree of strength he must exert ; and 
when he is working for others, he under- 
stands how to give the least possible 
labor for the most possible value. This 
apparently contemptible gun was one of 
the important factors in the existence 
of the famil}', as will be seen later. 

Has the reader taken in all the details 
of this hut, which was set down not more 
than five hundred feet from the pretty 
gate of les Aigues ? Does he see it, 
crouched there like a beggar before a pal- 
ace ? But its roof, covered with velvety 
mosses, its clucking hens, its wallowing 
pig, and its straying heifer, all these rural 
poems had a horrible meaning. At the 
gate in the paling, a great pole held up a 
withered bouquet, composed of three pine 
branches and an oak bough, tied with a 
rag. Above the door a roving artist had 
earned his breakfast by painting- on a 
white background, two feet square, a huge 
capital '' I " in green, and for the benefit 
of those who knew how to read, this pun : 
'' Au Grand-I-vert (hiver)." On the left 
of the door was a rude sign, bearing in 
bright colors the words : '' Good March 
beer," together with the picture of a 
foaming pot of the beer, on one side of 
which was a woman in an exceedingly 
decollete dress, and on the other a hussar, 
both highly colored. Thus, in spite of the 
flowers and the country air, the cottage 



224 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



breathed forth the same strong- and nause- 
' ating- odor of ardent spirits and food which 
is noticeable in Paris in passing- the cheap 
eating houses of the faubourg. 

So much for the place ; now for the in- 
mates and their history ;, which contains 
more than one lesson for philanthropists. 

The proprietor of the Grand-I-vert, 
named Francois Tonsard, commends him- 
self to the attention of philosophers by the 
manner in which he solved the problem, of 
life in such a manner as to make idleness 
profitable, and industry unnecessary. 

Being a Jack at all trades, he knew how 
to work, but he did it for himself alone. 
For others, he dug ditches, gathered fag- 
ots, peeled the bark from trees or cut 
them down. In these employments, the 
employer is at the mercy of the workman. 

Tonsard owed his little corner to the 
generosity of Mademoiselle Laguerre. In 
his early youth he had worked by the daj^ 
for the gardener at the chateau, for there 
was not an}^ where his equal for trimming 
the trees and hedges and horse-chestnuts. 
His very name indicates an hereditary 
talent in this direction. In remote coun- 
try places privileges exist which are ob- 
tained and preserved with as much art 
as merchants emplo}^ in acquiring theirs. 
One day when she was out walking, ma- 
dame heard Tonsard, then a g-ood-looking- 
young fellow, saj^ : " An acre of ground 
would make me perfectly happy." The 
good woman, who delighted in making 
others happy, gave him the acre of vine- 
yard beside the Blangy gate, in return 
for a hundred days' work (a delicacy 
which was vqyj little understood) ; he 
was at the same time allowed to live 
at les Aigues, where he fraternized with 
the servants at the chateau, who soon 
pronounced him the best fellow in Bur- 
gundy. 

Poor Tonsard, as everybody called him, 
worked about thirt}^ days of the allotted 
hundred ; the rest of the time he idled 
away. 

When he was fairly in possession of 
his land, Tonsard said to the first one 
who alluded to it as a gift : 

" I have bought it and paid for it. Do 
the great folks ever give us anything ? Is 



a hundred days' work nothing ? It cost 
me three hundred francs, and it is all 
stony ground." 

But he never said that to an 3^ one out- 
side of his own class. 

Tonsard then built his house himself, 
taking materials here and there, making- 
every one give him a helping hand, 
gleaning- discarded rubbish from the cha- 
teau, and ahvaj's getting what he asked 
for. A defective door, which had been 
broken up in order to be carried off, 
served him as a door to his stable. The 
window came from an old hot-house. 
Thus the debris from the chateau served 
to build this fatal hut. 

Saved from conscription b^'- Gaubertin, 
the steward of les Aigues, whose father 
was prosecuting-attorney for the depart- 
ment, Tonsard married as soon as his 
house was finished and his vine in a con- 
dition to bear. The rogue, twenty-three 
years old, who was on intimate terms at 
les Aigues, to whom madame had just 
g-iven an acre of g-round, and who had the 
appearance of being industrious, was art- 
ful enough to make a great show with his 
negative values, and he obtained for a 
wife the daughter of a tenant on the 
estate of Ronquerolles, beyond the forest 
of les Aigues. 

This farmer rented half a farm, which 
was going to ruin in his hands, for want 
of a wife. Being a widower, and incon- 
solable, he tried, after the English fash- 
ion, to drown his sorrows in wine ; but 
when he had succeeded in forg-etting- his 
dear dead wife, he found that he had es- 
poused the wine-cup instead. In a short 
time the father-in-law ceased to be a 
farmer, and became once more a com- 
mon laborer; but he was a drunken, idle 
workman, quarrelsome and vindictive, 
capable of anything, like all of the lower 
class who, from a state of comparative 
affluence, return once more to poverty. 
This man, who, b}^ his practical knowl- 
edge and his reading and writing, was 
above the other workmen, but who was 
held b}'^ his vices to the level of pauper- 
ism, had just measured wits, as we have 
seen, with one of the most spirituel men 
of Paris. 



A TRAGEDY OF THE PEASANTRY. 



225 



Pere Fourchon, who was first a school- 
master at Blangy, lost his place on ac- 
count of misconduct and heterodox ideas 
upon public instruction. He was more in 
the habit of helping the children to make 
little boats and plaything's with their 
alphabet books than of teaching- them to 
read ; he scolded them in such a peculiar 
manner when fhej had stolen fruit, that 
his reprimands might have passed for 
lessons upon the best method of scaling- 
the walls. 

From schoolmaster he beame postman. 
In this position, which is the refug-e of so 
many old soldiers, Pere Fourchon was 
continually g-etting" into trouble. Now 
he forg-ot the letters in the wine-shops, 
and now he neg-lected to deliver them. 
When he was drunk, he sent the mail 
for one commune to another, and when 
he was sober he read the letters. He 
was therefore promptly dismissed. 

Failing- to hold any position in the 
State, Pere Fourchon finally became a 
manufacturer. In the country every one 
works at something-, and all have at least 
the appearance of being- industrious and 
honest. At the ag-e of sixty-eig-ht, the 
old man undertook the trade of rope- 
maker on a small scale. It is one of 
those industries which require very little 
capital. The workshop is, as we have 
seen, the nearest convenient wall ; the 
machines are worth scarcely ten francs, 
and the apprentice, like his master, sleeps 
in a barn, and lives on whatever he can 
pick up. The rapacity of the law in the 
matter of doors and windows expires sub 
dio. The materials for the first bit of 
rope can easily be borrowed. 

But the principal revenues of Pere Four- 
chon and his apprentice Mouche came from 
their otter hunts, and from the breakfasts 
or dinners which were given them by those 
people who, not"" knowing- how to read or 
write, made use of Pere Fourchon 's tal- 
ents in the case of a letter to be written 
or a bill to be rendered. Furthermore, 
he knew how to play the clarionet, and 
accompanied one of his friends, called 
Vermichel, the fiddler of Soulanges, to 
the village weddings, or to the great balls 
at the Tivoli of Soulanges. 
Balzac — h 



Vermichel was named Michel Vert ; but 
the transposition was so generally used 
that Brunet, the clerk of the justice of 
the peace of Soulanges, put it : "' Michel 
Jean Jerome Vert, called Vermichel, prac- 
titioner." Vermichel, who was distin- 
guished as a violinist in the old regiment 
of Burgundy, in gratitude for services 
which Pere Fourchon rendered him pro- 
cured for him the appointment of practi- 
tioner, or witness, which devolved upon 
those in the country who could sign their 
na mes. Pere Fourchon served as witness, 
therefore, for judiciary acts, when the 
Sieur Brunet came to administer justice 
in the communes of Cerneux, Conches 
and Blangy. Vermichel and Fourchon, 
allied b^^ twenty years of tippling to- 
gether, might almost be considered a 
business firm. 

Mouche and Fourchon, allied by vice, 
as Mentor and Telemachus formerly were 
by virtue, journeyed, like them, in search 
of bread, " panis angelorum," the only 
Latin words which the old man remem- 
bered. They went about, picking up the 
remnants and scrapings from' the Grand- 
I-vert and the neighboring chateaux ; for 
both of them together, in their busiest 
and most prosperous 3'ears, had not made 
more than three hundred and sixty fath- 
oms of rope. In the first jDlace, no mer- 
chant within a radius of twenty leagues 
would trust Fourchon and Mouche with 
tow for their rope. The old man, improv- 
ing on the miracles of modern chemistry, 
knew too well the process of changing 
tow into the blessed juice of the vine. Be- 
sides, he excused himself by saying that 
his triple functions of public writer for 
three townships, witness for the justice of 
the peace, and clarionet pla3'er, left him 
no time for the development of his busi- 
ness. 

Thus Tonsard was at once undeceived 
in his hope of acquiring comfort and prop- 
erty by means of his marriage. The idle 
son-in-law, by an ordinarj' accident, en- 
countered a good-for-nothing father-in- 
law. Affairs became still more compli- 
cated since Tonsard, who was endowed 
with a kind of rustic beaut}-, being tall 
and well-made, did not like to work in the 



226 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



open air. He therefore took his wife to 
task for her parent's failures, by reason 
of that vengeance common among" peas- 
ants, whose e3^es, solely occupied by the 
effect, are rai"ely lifted to the cause. 

The woman found her chain too heav3^, 
and soug-ht to lighten it. She made use 
of Tonsard's vices to make herself mis- 
tress of him. He was a g-ourmand, and 
he loved his ease, and she encouraged 
him in his idleness and g-luttony. In the 
first place, she knew how to obtain favors 
from the chateau, and Tonsard never 
troubled himself with inquiring- into the 
means as long- as he enjoyed the results. 
He cared very little what his wife did, so 
long- as she did what he required of her. 
Tonsard's wife therefore set up the wine- 
shop of the Grand-I-vert, whose first pa- 
trons were the domestics of les Aig-ues, 
the guards and the chasseurs. 

Gaubertin, Mademoiselle Laguerre's 
steward, one of Madame Tonsard's best 
friends, gave her a few casks of excellent 
wine to start her business. The eftect of 
these presents, and the celebrated beauty 
of the woman, gave the Grand-I-vert a 
fine start. Being a lover of g-ood eating. 
La Tonsard was naturally a good cook, 
and although her talents were exercised 
only upon the commoner country dishes, 
such as stewed rabbit, g-ame sauce, fish 
stew and omelet, she had the reputation 
in the country round about for knowing 
how to cook a dinner fit to make one's 
mouth water, seasoned with plenty'- of 
spices, to make a man thirst}'". By the 
end of two j^ears, she had thus obtained 
complete ascendency over Tonsard, and 
pushed him to evil courses, in wiiich he 
was only too willing" to indulge. 

The rascal poached constantly, with 
perfect impunity, and as soon as his chil- 
dren were big- enough he made them use- 
ful, without showing himself at all scrupu- 
lous as to their morals. He had two 
daughters and two sons. Tonsard, who, 
like his wife, lived from hand to mouth, 
might have soon come to the end of his 
joyous life, if he had not constantly main- 
tained in his house the quasi-martial law 
of working for the preservation of his 
comfort, which all the family obeyed. 



When they were fairly grown up, at the 
expense of others, the following rules 
and regulations were in force at the 
Grand-I-vert. 

Tonsard's old mother, and his two 
daughters, Catherine and Marie, went 
twice a day to the w^oods, and returned 
bowed down beneath the weight of a bun- 
dle of fagots which drooped to their an- 
kles and came two feet out beyond their 
heads. Although the outer layer was of 
dry wood, the inside was composed of 
green wood, often cut from the young 
trees. Literally, Tonsard took all his 
winter fire-wood from the forest of les 
Aigues. The father and the two sons 
poached continually. From September 
to March, hares, rabbits, partridges, and 
deer, all the game which they did not eat 
themselves, was sold at Blangy, in the 
little town of Soulanges, the chief town 
in the canton, where Tonsard's two sons 
furnished milk, and whence thej^ brought 
back news each day, in return for that 
which the.y peddled concerning les Aigues, 
Cerneux and Conches. In the months 
when they could not hunt, they set traps ; 
and if the traps yielded more than suffi- 
cient for their own needs, the wife made 
game pies and sent them to Ville-aux- 
Fayes. In the harvest time the seven of 
them — the old mother, the two boys, un- 
til they were seventeen years old ; the two 
daughters, old Fourchon, and Mouche — 
gleaned and brought in about sixteen 
bushels a day, of rye, barlej^- and wheat, 
all good to be ground. 

The two cows, which were taken by 
the youngest girl to browse along the 
roads, usually escaped into the fields of 
les Aigues ; but as, at anj^ trespass which 
was so flagrant as to oblige the keepers 
to take notice of it, the children were 
either beaten or deprived of food, they 
soon acquired remarkable dexterity in 
hearing the footsteps of the enemy, and 
they were rarely caught. The beasts, led 
by long ropes, obeyed willingly a single 
twitch of recall, or a particular cry which 
brought them back to their lawful past- 
ure ; they came all the more willingly 
because they knew that when the peril 
was passed they would be allowed to 



A TRAGEDY OF THE PEASANTRY. 



227 



return once more to the neighboring- 
meadows. 

Old mother Tonsard, who grew more 
and more feeble, took Mouche's place, 
since Fourchon kept the boy with him, 
under the pretext of caring for his edu- 
cation. Marie and Catherine made hay 
in the woods ; they knew where to find 
the best forest-grass, and they cut, spread, 
raked and garnered it, finding there two 
thirds of the food w^hich their cows re- 
quired in winter ; leading them, besides, 
on fine days, to sheltered places where the 
grass was yet green. There are, in cer- 
tain places in the vallej'^ of les Aigues, as 
in all countries which are overlooked by 
ranges of mountains, places which, as in 
Piedmont and Lombardy, give grass in 
winter. These meadows, called in Italy 
marciti, are of great value ; but in France 
the}'' are threatened with too much ice and 
snow. This phenomenon is doubtless due 
to some particular location, and to infiltra- 
tions of water, which keep the ground at 
a warm temperature. 

The two calves brought in about eighty 
francs. The milk, allowing for the time 
when the cows were dry or were calving, 
brought about a hundred and sixty francs, 
besides supplying their own family with 
milk. Tonsard earned about a hundred 
and fifty more by odd jobs. 

The food and the wine which they sold 
gave a net profit of about three hundred 
francs, for the drinking-bouts only came 
at certain seasons, and Tonsard and his 
wife, being warned of them beforehand, 
went to the town for the wine and pro- 
visions needed for the occasion. The wine 
from Tonsard's vineyard was sold usually 
for twenty francs a cask, the cask to be 
returned ; a wine-house keeper of Sou- 
langes, a friend of Tonsard's, bought it. 

On certain plentiful years, Tonsard 
realized twelve caskfuls from his vine- 
j'^ard, but the average yield was eight, 
of which Tonsard kept half for himself. 
In the vine country, the gleanings of the 
vine^^ards give good perquisites, and 'by 
this means the Tonsard family realized 
about three casks more of wine. But this 
family had no conscience whatever ; they 
entered the vineyards before the harvest- 



ers left them, and they rushed into the 
wiieat fields while the heaped-up sheaves 
were still awaiting the cart. 

Thus the seven or eight casks of wine, 
as much stolen as cultivated, sold for 
quite a sum. But out of this sum, a con- 
siderable part had to go for the support 
of Tonsard and his wife, who both wanted 
the best of everything to eat, and the best 
of wine to drink — better, in fact, than that 
which they sold, since it was furnished 
them in payment for their own. The 
money brought in by this family, there- 
fore, amounted to about nine hundred 
francs, for they fattened two pigs every 
year, one for their own use, and another 
to sell. 

The laborers, the profligates of the 
country, felt a certain amount of affec- 
tion for the cabaret of Grand-I-vert, both 
on account of the culinary talents of Ton- 
sard's wife, and because of the good fel- 
lowship existing between this family and 
the lesser people of the valle3\ The two 
daughters were both remarkably beauti- 
ful. And besides all else, the ancient date 
of the establishment, which went back to 
1795, made it a sacred thing in the coun- 
try. From Conches to Ville-aux-Fayes, 
the workmen came there to conclude their 
bargains, and to learn the latest news 
gathered by Tonsard's daughters, by 
Mouche, and by Fourchon, and told by 
Vermichel and by Brunet, the most cele- 
brated official in Soulanges, when he came 
in search of his witness. There were es- 
tablished the prices of hay and wine, of 
day -labor, and that done by the job. 
Tonsard, the sovereign judge in these 
matters, gave his opinions, while drink-, 
ing with the others. Soulanges passed 
throughout the country-side for being a 
town of society and gayetj^ and Blangy 
was the commercial borough, although it 
was crushed b}^ the great center of Ville- 
aux-Faj^es, which had become in twenty- 
five years the capital of this magnificent 
valley. The market of animals and grains 
was held at Blangy, on the market-place, 
and the price there served as an index for 
all the country around. 

By reason of remaining always in the 
house, Madame Tonsard had remained 



228 



THE HUMAJ\^ COMEDY. 



fresh and white and plump, in contrast to 
the women who worked in the fields, and 
who faded as rapidly as the flowers, and 
were old women at thirtj^. Madame Ton- 
sard liked to look well. She was only 
neat, but in a village this quality is in 
itself a luxur3^ The daughters, better 
dressed than their station warranted, fol- 
lowed their mother's example. Beneath 
their dress skirt, which was relatively 
eleg-ant, tlicy wore linen which was finer 
than that of the richest peasants. On fete 
days they appeared in pretty dresses which 
they obtained Heaven knows how ! The 
servants at les Aigues sold to them at 
low prices dresses which the ladies-maids 
had cast off, and which, after having 
swept the streets of Paris, had come into 
the possession of Marie and Catherine, 
and shone triumphantly beneath the sign 
of the Grand-I-vert. These two girls, the 
bohemians of the valley, did not receive a 
cent from their parents, who gave them 
nothing but their food and their wretched 
beds. 

Although every one knew that the 
family had no principles, no one ever took 
the trouble to try and convert them. At 
the outset it may be explained, once for 
all, that the morality of the peasant is at 
a low ebb. The children, until they are 
taken by the State, are nothing but so 
much capital. Self-interest, particularly 
since 1789, has become their sole motive ; 
they never stop to question whether an 
action is legal, but onl}^ whether it is prof- 
itable. An absolutely honest man, among 
the peasantry, is the exception. The rea- 
son for this state of things may be found 
in the fact that the peasants live a ]3urel3'" 
material life, which approaches as nearly 
as possible to the ultra-primitive ; and 
their labor, while bowing them down phys- 
ically, takes away their purity of thought. 

Mingling in all interests, Tonsard list- 
ened to ever}^ one's complaints, and ar- 
ranged those frauds which would benefit 
the needy. His wife, who was a good- 
looking woman, had a good word for the 
evil-doers of the country, and never re- 
fused her approbation and help to any- 
thing that was undertaken against the 
" bourgeois." And thus in this cabaret, 



which was like a nest of vipers, was nour- 
ished the living, venomous, warm and 
stirring hate of the workingman and the 
peasant for the master and the rich man. 

The comfortable life led by the Ton- 
sards was therefore a very bad example. 
Each one asked himself why he, like the 
Tonsards, should not take his wood for 
the fire, the cook-stove, and the winter 
fuel from the forest of les Aigues ? "Why 
should he not have pasturage also for his 
cow, and snare game to eat or to sell ? 
Why should he not garner, without sow- 
ing, the harvest and the grape ? Thus 
the cunning theft which ravages the 
woods, and decimates the fields, the 
meadows and the vines, became general 
in the valley, and soon grew to be a right 
in the communes of Blang}', Conches and 
Cerneux, which bordered upon the domain 
of les Aigues. This plague-spot, for rea- 
sons which will be told in their time and 
place, did more harm to the domains of 
les Aigues than to the property of Ron- 
queroUes and Soulanges. 

It must not be supposed that Tonsard, 
his wife, his old mother and his children 
ever said to themselves deliberately, "We 
will live b^' theft, and we will do it as clever- 
ly as possible." Such habits grow slowl3^ 
To the dead wood the family at first added 
one or two sticks of green ; then, embold- 
ened b}^ the habit, and their immunit^^ from 
detection, which was a necessity to the 
plans which this story will develop, in the 
course of twenty years they had reached 
the point of calling it "their wood," and 
of stealing all they needed. The pastur- 
age of the cows, and the abuse of the 
privileges of gleaning and harvesting", 
also grew by degrees. When once this 
famil3% together with the other do-noth- 
ings of the valley, had thus tasted the 
benefits of these four rights which had 
been wrested from the rich, and which 
amounted to pillage, it will be readily 
seen that nothing short of a force supe- 
rior to their own audacity would compel 
them to give them up. 

At the time of the beginning of this story 
Tonsard was about fifty years old. He 
was a large, strong man, rather fat, with 
curl}'- black hair, a very red face, streaked. 



A TRAGEDY OF THE PEASANTRY. 



229 



like a brick, with violet veins ; his eyes 
were reddened, and his ears were large 
and flabby; his constitution was muscu- 
lar, but he was enveloped in soft flesh ; 
his forehead was flattened, and his lower 
lip hung- down; he concealed his true 
character beneath a stupidity which was 
occasionally ming-led with flashes of ex- 
perience that resembled intellig-ence, part- 
ly because he had acquired a habit of ban- 
tering- talk, much affected by Vermichel 
and Fourchon. His nose, which was 
flattened at the end, as if the finger of 
God had marked him, gave to his voice 
tones which came from the palate, as in 
those in whom some illness has closed 
communication between the nasal pas- 
sages, through which the air passes with 
difficulty. His upper teeth, which over- 
lapped each other, showed this defect 
(called terrible b}' Lavater) all the more 
plainly since his teeth were as white as 
those of a dog. Beneath the easj^ good- 
nature of a lazy man, and the carelessness 
of the drunkard, this man was frightful. 

Tonsard's portrait, together with a de- 
scription of his shop and his father-in-law, 
occup3^ a prominent place, because such a 
place is due to the man, the cabaret, and 
the family-. In the first place, this exist- 
ence, which has been so minutely de- 
scribed, is the type of that of hundreds 
of others in the valley of les Aigues. 
Then again, Tonsard, without being more 
than the instrument of active and deep 
hatred, was destined to have an active 
and enormous influence in the battle that 
was about to be waged ; for he was coun- 
sel for all the complainants of the lower 
class. His wine-shop served as a rendez- 
vous for the assailants, and he became 
their chief, in consequence of the terror 
which he inspired in the valley, not so 
much because «f his actions as because 
of what it was feared he might do. The 
threats of this poaching rascal were as 
effective as deeds, and he was never 
obliged to execute any of them. 

Everj^ revolt, whether open or secret, 
has its banner. The banner of the ma- 
rauders, the do-nothings and the drunk- 
ards was this terrible roost of the Grand- 
I-vert. It was a place v/here amusement 



was to be found, and that is something 
as rare in the country as in the city. 
There was no other inn for a space of 
four leagues on the high-road which 
loaded Avagons could easily travel in the 
space of three hours ; therefore all those 
on the way from Conches to Ville-aux- 
Fayes stopped at the Grand-I-vert, if 
only for refreshment. And finally, the 
miller of les Aigues, who was deputy'' 
to the mayor, came there with his boj^s. 
Even the domestics at the great house 
did not disdain to frequent the place, and 
so the Gtand-I-vert communicated in an 
underhand and secret way with the 
chateau, through its people, and knew 
all that they . knew. It is impossible, 
either for love or monej'', to break the 
understanding that exists between the 
domestic and the people. He comes from 
the people, and is firmly attached to them. 
This comradeship will serve to explain 
the reticence of the groom, Charles, when 
he replied to Blondet, as they reached 
the steps before the house. 



IV. 



ANOTHER IDYLL. 



''^Ah! by all that's holy ! papa," said 
Tonsard, as he saw his father-in-law 
enter, and suspected him of being hun- 
§"i*y j ''your mouth is open early this 
morning. We have nothing to give you. 
And what about that rope that you were 
going to make us ? It is astonishing how 
much you can j^romise to make over night, 
and how little of it is done in the morning. 
You ought to have made one long ago 
that would have gone about your own 
neck, for you cost altogether too much." 

The pleasantries of the peasant and the 
laborer are Attic in their simplicity ; they 
consist in telling his whole mind, with gro- 
tesque exaggerations. It is not so very 
different in the salons. Delicacy of wit 
takes the place of grossness, but that is 
all. 

''Come! none of that!" said the old 
man ; '*' let us talk business. I want a 
bottle of your best wine." 



230 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



So saying, Fourchon tapped with a five- 
franc piece^ which shone brilliantly in his 
hand, upon the ricketj' table at which he 
was seated, whose greasy covering-, black 
scorches, wine stains and gashes, made it 
a curiosity. At the sound of the money, 
Marie Tonsard, dressed as trimly as a 
corvette ready for the chase, cast upon 
her grandfather a sly look which flashed 
from her blue eyes like a spark. Her 
mother also came out of the next room, 
attracted by the chink of the metal. 

" You are always abusing my poor 
father,'"' she said to Tonsard; ''but he 
brings in a good deal of money in the 
course of the j^ear ; God grant he comes 
by it honestly ! Let's see it," she added, 
darting suddenly upon the money, and 
snatching it from Fourchon's hand. 

''Marie," said Tonsard gravely, "go 
and get some of the bottled wine from 
above the plank." 

In the country, the wine is only of one 
quality, but it is sold as two kinds, cask 
wine and bottled wine. 

"Where did that come from? "asked 
Madame Tonsard, slipping the coin into 
her pocket. 

"Philippine, you will come to a bad 
end," said the old man, shaking his head, 
but not attempting to recover the money. 

He had doubtless long since recognized 
the futility of a struggle between his -ter- 
rible son-in-law, his daughter, and him- 
self. 

" This makes another bottle that you 
have sold for five francs," he said bitter- 
ly; "but it will be the last. I shall give 
my custom to the Cafe de la Paix." 

"Hold your tongue, father," replied 
the fat, white daughter, who looked like 
a Roman matron ; " you need a shirt, 
and a suitable pair of trousers, and an- 
other hat, and I want to see a waistcoat 
on you." 

"I have told 3'ou before now that that 
would be my ruin ! " exclaimed the old 
man. " I should look as if I were rich, 
and no one would give me anything." 

The bottle, which was just then brought 
by the blonde Marie, put a stop to the 
eloquence of the old man, who was not 
without that trait, peculiar to those whose 



language permits them to say ever^'^thing, 
without stopping at the expression of any 
thought, no matter how atrocious. 

"Then you won't tell us where you 
hooked the money ? " demanded Tonsard. 
"We might go and get some too." 

While he finished a snare that he was 
making, the ferocious innkeeper was ey- 
ing his father-in-law's pantaloons, and he 
soon discovered the round protuberance 
whose dirt}^ circle betraj^ed the presence 
of the second five-franc piece. 

" To 3'our health ! I am becoming a 
capitalist," said Pere Fourchon. 

"If 3^ou wanted to, you could be," said 
Tonsard. "You have chances enough. 
But the devil has put a hole m your head 
through which everything runs away." 

" Oh ! I just played the otter trick on 
that fellow at Aigues, who has just come 
from Paris; that's all." 

" If many people came to see the sources 
of the Avonne, j^ou would get rich, grand- 
pa," said Marie. 

"Yes," he replied, draining his bottle ; 
"but I have played with the otters so 
long, they are getting angry, and 1 act- 
ually caught one to-day, for which I am 
to get more than twenty francs." 

" I'll wag-er, papa, that j^ou made an 
otter out of tow?" said his .daughter, 
looking at him with a wink. 

" If you will give me some trousers, and 
a waistcoat and some list suspenders, so 
that Vermichel may not be ashamed of 
me on our platform at Tivoli, where Pere 
Socquard is alwaj^s scolding about me, I 
will leave that money with you, my 
daughter, for that idea is well worth it. 
Perhaps I might work that fellow at 
Aigues again with it, for he seems as if 
he might make a business of otters." 

"Go and get another bottle for us," 
said Tonsard to his daughter. "If he had 
an otter, reall}^, 3'our fattier would show 
it to us," he added, addressing his wife, 
and trying to excite the spirit of contra- 
diction in Fourchon. 

" I am too much afraid of seeing him in 
your f rj'ing-pan, " replied the old man, 
winking one of his little greenish eyes 
askance at his daughter. "Philippine 
has already cabbaged my money ; I 



A TRAGEDY OF THE PEASANTRY. 



231 



should like to know how many pieces 
of money you have already cheated me 
out of, under pretense of feeding- and 
clothing me. And you to tell me that 
my mouth is always open for something 
to eat ! and I never have anything to 
wear." 

" You sold 3^our last clothes for boiled 
wine at the Cafe de la Paix/' said his 
daughter ; " for Vermichel, who tried to 
stop you — " 

' "' Vermichel ! the man I treated ! Ver- 
michel is incapable of betraying a friend. 
It must have been rather that old hundred- 
weight of lard on two feet whom he is not 
ashamed to call his wife ! " 

'•'He or she," replied Tonsard, ''or 
Bonnebault." 

"If it was Bonnebault," cried Four- 
chon, " one of the pillars of the cafe — I — 
he — It is enough ! " 

" But, 5^ou old sot, what has that got 
to do with selling 3'our clothes ? You 
sold them because you wanted to ; you 
are of age," said Tonsard, slapping* the 
old man on the knee. " Come, do honor 
to my wine, and wet 3'our whistle. My 
wife's father has a right to it, and had 
much better take it than carry good 
money to Socquard." 

'•' To think that you have been fiddling 
for folks at Tivoli for fifteen years, and 
haven't g-uessed Socquard's secret of the 
boiled wine, you who are so cunning," 
said the daughter. "You know very 
well that with that secret we should be 
as rich as Rigou." 

In the Morvan, and in that part of Bur- 
gundy which lies at its feet on the side 
toward Paris, this cooked wine, of which 
Madame Tonsard spoke, is a rather ex- 
pensive beverage which plaj^s an impor- 
tant part in the lives of the peasants, and 
is made by all g-rocers and coffee-house 
keepers, wherever there are cafes. This 
chosen liquor, composed of good wine, 
sugar, cinnamon and other spices, is pre- 
ferred to all the disguises or mixtures 
of brandy called ratafia, hundred and 
seventy, water of braves, black currant, 
vespetro, spirit of sunshine, and the like. 
It is found as far as the frontiers of France 
and Switzerland. In the Jura, in those 



wild places where only a few tourists pene- 
trate, the innkeepers give the name of 
wine of Syracuse to this industrial prod- 
uct, which is excellent, and for which 
those who find a ravenous appetite by 
ascending the mountains willingly pay 
three or four francs a bottle. 

In the households of the Morvan and 
of Burgund}', the slightest ailment, the 
least disarrangement of the nerves, is a 
pretext for drinking boiled wine. Before 
and after confinement the women take it, 
with the addition of burned sugar. It has 
devoured peasant fortunes, and it has, 
therefore, more than once necessitated 
marital correction. 

'•' Oh ! there's no way of getting" that 
secret," said Fourchon. "Socquard al- 
ways shuts himself up when he cooks his 
wine. He did not even tell the secret to 
his late wife. He g-ets all his materials 
from Paris." 

" Don't bother your father," cried Ton- 
sard. "He doesn't know, and that is all 
there is of it. A man cannot know every- 
thing." 

Fourchon became alarmed when he saw 
his son-in-law 's face and speech beginning- 
to soften. 

" What do you want to steal from me 
now? " he asked bluntly. 

"I don't take anything but what be- 
longs to me," replied Tonsard; "if I 
take anything from you, it amounts to 
no more than the payment of the dowry 
you promised me." 

Fourchon, reassured by this brutality, 
lowered his head like a man conquered 
and convinced. 

"There is a pretty snare," continued 
Tonsard, approaching his father-in-law 
and placing the snare on his knees ; " they 
need game at les Aigues, and if we have 
any luck, w^e will furnish it to them." 

"That is good, solid work," replied 
the old man, examining the mischievous 
machine. 

"Leave us alone to pick up the sous, 
papa," said his daughter. "We shall 
have our share in the cake of les 
Aigues I " 

" Oh ! the chatterboxes," said Tonsard. 
" If I am ever hung, it will not be for 



232 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



shooting- a man, but on account of your 
daughter's toug-ue." 

" And do you reallj^ suppose that les 
Aig-ues will be cut up in pieces and sold 
for 3'our benefit?" replied Fourchon. 
"During the twenty- years that Pere 
Rigou has been sucking the marrow of 
your bones, haven't you learned that the 
middle-class folks w^ould be worse than 
the nol51es? When that affair happens, 
my children, the Soudrys, the Gaubertins 
and the Rigous will make j^ou dance on 
air to the tune of ' I have good snuff and 
you have none,' which is the national air 
of the rich. The peasant will always be 
a peasant. Can't you see (but you don't 
understand politics) that the Government 
put such heav}^ taxes on wine, just for 
the sake of pinching us and keeping us 
poor? The bourgeois and the Govern- 
ment are all one. What would become 
of them if w^e were to get rich ? Would 
they Avork in the fields ? would they reap 
the harvest ? They must have poor peo- 
ple. I was rich for ten years, and I know 
what I thought of beggars." 

"But we must hunt with them," said 
Tonsard, "because they are going to por- 
tion off the great estates ; afterward we 
can turn against them. If I had been in 
the place of Courtecuisse, Avhom Rigou is 
ruining, I should long ago have settled 
his account with other metal than that 
which the poor fellow is giving him." 

"You are right," replied Fourchon. 
"As Father Niseron, who remained a 
Republican after every one else, said : 
'The people are tough; tliey do not die ; 
there is time enough for them.' " 

Fourchon fell into a reverie, and Ton- 
sard took advantage of it to recover his 
snare ; but wiien he took it, he cut a 
gash in Pere Fourchon 's trousers, w^hile 
the old man w^as lifting his glass to drink, 
and put his foot over the five franc piece, 
w^hich fell upon a place w^here the ground 
was always damp, where those who drank 
emptied the dregs from their glasses. 
Although it was slyl}^ done, the old man 
might perhaps have discovered the ab- 
straction, if his attention had not been 
attracted by Vermichel's entrance. 

" Tonsard, do you know where to find 



the papa ? " called that functionary from 
the foot of the steps. 

Vermichel's question, the fall of the 
piece of money, and the emptying of the 
glass, came simultaneously'. 

"Present!" said Pere Fourchon, hold- 
ing out his hand to Yermichel to help him 
mount the steps to the wine-shop. 

Vermichel was a typical Burgundian in 
appearance. His face was not red, but 
scarlet. It was covered with dried-uj) 
eruptions, which were defined by flat 
greenish places, called poetically by Four- 
chon " flowers of wine." This fiery face, 
whose features were terribly swollen by 
continual intoxication, was like that of a 
Cj^clops, since it was illumined on the 
right side by a gleaming eyeball, and 
darkened on the other by a yellow patch 
over the left eje. Red hair which was 
always erect, and a beard like that of 
Judas, made Yermichel as formidable in 
appearance as he was gentle in reality. 

His prominent nose looked like an inter- 
rogation point, to which the wide mouth 
seemed to be alwaj^s replying, even when 
it was closed. He was short, and he wore 
hob-nailed shoes, pantaloons of bottle- 
green velvet, an old waistcoat w^hich had 
been patched with different materials until 
it looked as if it had been made of a coun- 
terpane, a vest of coarse blue cloth, and a 
broad-brimmed gray hat. This luxury, 
required by the town of Soulanges, where 
Yermichel united the functions of door- 
keeper to the city hall, drummer, jailer, 
fiddler and practitioner, was cared for by 
Madame Yermichel, a terrible opponent 
of the Rabelaisian philosophy. This mus- 
tached virago, a A^ard wide, and weighing 
a hundred and twenty kilogrammes, not- 
withstanding which she was still agile, 
had established her domination over Yer- 
michel, who was beaten b^^ her when he 
was drunk, and who allowed her to con- 
tinue the process when he was sober. For 
this reason Pere Fourchon, when speak- 
ing of his comrade's finery, was wont to 
say : " It is the livery of a slave." 

" Speak of the sun and you feel his 
rays," said Fourchon, inspired by Yer- 
michel's glowing face, which did in truth 
resemble those golden suns painted on 



A TRAGEDY OF THE PEASANTRY. 



233 



the sig-ns of inns in the provinces. '' Has 
Madame Vermichel found too much dust 
on your back, that you are running- away 
at this liour from your four-fifths — for the 
woman can't be called 3'our half ? What 
bring-s 3' ou here so earl}^, in battle array ?" 
" Politics ! " replied Vermichel, evi- 
dently'' accustomed to these jokes. 

" Ah ! is trade in Blangy in a bad way ? 
are w^e going- to protest some notes ? '' 
asked Pere Fourchon, pouring- out a glass 
of wine for his friend. 

"Our monkey is right on my heels," 
replied Vermichel, motioning with his 
elbow. 

In laborer's slang, monkey meant mas- 
ter. This phraseology'" made part of the 
dictionar^'^ of Vermichel and Fourchon. 

'•' What is he prowling about here for ?"' 
asked Madame Tonsard. 

"Oh! you folks," said Vermichel, 
" have brought him in, for the last three 
years, more than 30U are worth ; ah ! 
the master of Aigues has his e^'e on you. 
He is after you, the bourgeois ! As father 
Brunet says : ' If there were three pro- 
prietors like him in the valley, my fort- 
une would be made.' " 

" What have they got against us poor 
folks now ? " asked Marie. 

"Oh! they have got you this time," 
replied Vermichel. " How can you help 
it ? They have been after j^ou for two 
years, with three keepers, besides a 
mounted one, all as active as ants, and 
a garde champetre who is a terror. Well, 
the mounted police are all up in arms 
against 3'ou now, and they are going to 
crush you." 

"Pshaw ! " said Tonsard ; " w^e are too 
flat. The ground resists when the tree 
cannot." 

"Don't you be too sure of it," said 
Pere Fourchon to his son-in-law; "you 
have some landed property." 

"Yes," continued Vermichel, "these 
people must love you, for they think of 
you from morning to night. They say to 
themselves, ' The cows belonging to these 
people eat our grass ; we will take the 
cows, and then they can't steal the grass, 
for they can't eat it themselves.' And so 
they have given our monkey orders to 



seize j-our cows. We are to begin this 
morning at Conches, and take the cows 
belonging to Mother Bonnebault, Godain 
and Mitant." 

As soon as she heard the name of 
Bonnebault, Marie, who was the sweet- 
heart of Bonnebault, the grandson of the 
old woman who had the cow, made a 
sign to her father and mother, and sprang- 
out into the vineyard. She slipped like 
an eel througli a hole in the hedge, and 
darted toward Conches with the swift- 
ness of a hunted hare. 

" They will do so much," observed 
Tonsard tranquilly, "that thej'' will get 
their bones broken, and that would be a 
pity, for their mothers could not give 
them an3'' more." 

"It might be as well," remarked Pere 
Fourchon. "But see here, Vermichel, I 
cannot go with you for an hour ; I have 
important business at the chateau." 

"More important than serving three 
warrants at five sous each ? ' You should 
not spit on the vintage,' as Father Noah 
says." 

"I tell 3'ou, Vermichel, that business 
calls me to the chateau," said old Four- 
chon, assuming a comical air of impor- 
tance. 

"Besides," said Madame Tonsard, "it 
would be just as well for m\^ father to be 
out of the wa^'. Do you really want to 
find those cows ? " 

" Monsieur Brunet, who is a good fel- 
low, asks nothing better than to find 
onlj'- their tracks," replied Vermichel. 
" A man who, like him, is obliged to 
be on the roads late at night should be 
prudent." 

"He would do well to be," said Ton- 
sard dr3'l3^ 

" So he said like this to Monsieur Mi- 
ch and," continued Vermichel: " "^ I will 
go as soon as court is over.' If he had 
really wanted to find the cows, he would 
have g-one to-morrow morning at seven 
o'clock. But he will have to march just 
the same. Michaud can't be caught 
twice ; he is a trained hunting dog. Ah ! 
what a brigand ! " 

"' Swaggerers like that ought to stay 
in the army," said Tonsard. " Good for 



234 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



nothing but to let loose on the enemy. 
I wish he would ask me vay name ; it 
wouldn't he an}^ use for him to call him- 
self a veteran of the young* guard, for I 
am sure that if we measured spurs I 
would have the best of it." 

''Well," said Tonsard to Vermichel, 
" and when will the bills be out for the 
fdte at Soulanges ? Here it is the 8th of 
August." 

"^I carried them yesterday to Mon- 
sieur Bournier, the printer at Ville-aux- 
Fayes ; " replied Vermichel. "At Ma- 
dame Soudry's they were talking about 
fireworks on the lake." 

"What a lot of people we shall have ! " 
exclaimed Fourchon. 

"So much profit for Socquard," said 
the inn-keeper, enviously. 

"Oh! if it doesn't rain," added his 
wife, as if to keep up her own hopes. 

Just then a horse was heard, coming 
from Soulanges, and five minutes later 
the officer of the law fastened his horse 
to a post placed for the purpose at the 
railing through which the cows passed ; 
then he showed his head at the door of 
the Grand-I-vert. 

" Come, come, boys, don't let's lose any 
time," he said, pretending to be in a great 
hurry. 

"Ah ! " said Vermichel, "you have a 
refractory assistant here, Monsieur 
Brunot. Pere Fourchon wants to drop 
out." 

"He has had several drops already," 
replied the officer; "but the law does not 
require that he shall be sober." 

" I beg your pardon. Monsieur Brunet," 
said Fourchon, " but I am expected on 
business up at les Aigues; we are in 
treaty for an otter." 

Brunet was a withered little man, with 
a bilious complexion, and was dressed in 
black cloth. His eye was sl}^ his hair 
curling, his mouth tight-shut, his nostrils 
pinched, his manner uneasy, and his 
speech hoarse. He presented the phe- 
nomenon of a face and manner in har- 
mony with his profession. He understood 
law, or rather chicanery, so well that he 
was at once the terror and the adviser of 
the canton. He did not lack a certain 



popularity among the peasants, from 
whom he usually took his paj^ in some of 
their products . All these active and nega- 
tive qualities gave him most of the client- 
age of the canton, to the exclusion of his 
brother practitioner Plissaud, of whom we 
shall have more to say later. This acci- 
dent of one sheriff who does everything, 
and of another who does nothing, is very 
common in the country, among the jus- 
tices of the peace. 

" So matters are getting warm ? " re- 
marked Tonsard to Brunet. 

"' Well, what can you expect ? " asked 
the sheriff. "You go too far with this 
man, and now he is defending himself. 
Your affairs will turn out badly ; the 
Government will take the thing up." 

" Then must we poor wretches die ? " 
asked Madame Tonsard, offering a little 
glass on a saucer to the sheriff. 

" The wretches may die, yet there will 
always be enough of them left," said 
Fourchon, sententiously. 

"You are taking too much from the 
woods," continued the officer, 

" Don't you believe it, Monsieur Brunet ; 
they are making a great fuss over a few 
miserable fagots," said Madame Tonsard. 

" The rich were not crushed low enough 
during the Revolution, that's what is the 
trouble," remarked Tonsard. 

Just then a horrible and seemingly inex- 
plicable noise was heard. The clatter of 
two hasty feet, mingled with the rattling 
of arms, sounded above the rustling of 
branches and foliage, borne along by 
steps that were yet more hasty. Two 
voices, as different as the two sets of 
footsteps, were shouting noisy exclama- 
tions. Every one guessed that some man 
was pursuing some woman ; but why ? 

Their uncertainty did not last long. 

" It is the mother," said Tonsard, stand- 
ing up. "I know her shriek." 

And suddenly, after climbing the rick- 
ety steps of the Grand-I-vert, by a final 
effort of whose energy none but a smug- 
gler would be capable, old Mother Ton- 
sard fell sprawling into the cabaret. The 
immense mass of fagots she carried made 
a terrible noise as it struck against the 
top of the doorway and on the floor. 



A TRAGEDY OF THE PEASANTRY, 



235 



Everybody sprang out of the way. The 
tables, bottles and chairs which were hit 
by the branches were overturned and 
scattered. The clatter would not have 
been as great if the cottage itself had 
fallen down. 

" I am dead ; the wretch has killed 
me ! " 

The exclamation, the actions, and the 
flight of the old woman were explained by 
the appearance upon the threshold of a 
keeper dressed in green cloth, with a hat 
edged with silver cord, a sabre at his 
side, his leather shoulder-belt bearing the 
arms of Montcornet over those of the 
Troisvilles, his waistcoat of the regula- 
tion red, and his leathern gaiters coming 
nearly up to his knees. 

After a moment of hesitation, the 
guard, seeing Brunet and Vermichel, 
said : 

" I call you to witness." 

" To what ? " said Tonsard. 

''This woman has in her bundle of 
fagots a ten-year-old oak cut up into 
firewood. It's a regular crime ! " 

Vermichel, as soon as he heard the 
word witness, judged it advisable to go 
at once and take the air in the vineyard. 

''What! what!" said Tonsard, plac- 
ing himself before the keeper while his 
wife raised her mother-in-law ; " are you 
going to show your claws, Vatel ? Seize 
your prisoners on the high-road, if 3'ou 
will ; you are at home there, brigand ; but 
get out of here. My house is my own, I'd 
have you know. I am master here." 

"She was caught in the act, and she 
must come Avith me." 

" Arrest my mother in my house ? You 
have no right to do that. My house is 
inviolable, as you know very well. Have 
you a warrant from Monsieur Guerbet, 
our magistrate ? Ah ! you can't come in 
here without the law to back you. You 
are not the law, although you have sworn 
to starve us out, you miserable forest- 
ranger, you ! " 

The keeper's anger had reached such 
a pitch that he attempted to seize the 
fagots ; but the old woman, who resem- 
bled a frightful piece of living black parch- 
ment, and whose like was never seen ex- 



cept in David's picture of the "Sabines," 
cried out : 

" Don't touch it, or I will scratch your 
eyes out." 

"Well, I dare you to untie the bundle 
of fagots in the presence of Monsieur 
Brunet," said the keeper. 

Although the sheriff affected an indif- 
ference which familiarity with such aflairs 
gives to officers, he winked gravely at the 
innkeeper and his wife, as much as to say: 
"A bad business!" But old Fourchon 
looked at his daughter, and pointed to 
the ashes that were h'ing in the fire-place. 
Madame Tonsard at once understood both 
her father's suggestion and her mother- 
in-law's danger, and she snatched up a 
handful of the ashes and threw them full 
in the keeioer's eyes. Vatel began to 
howl lustily. Tonsard, who could see, if 
the keeper could not, pushed him roughly 
down the outside steps, which were in 
such good condition to trip up the feet 
of a blinded man that Vatel rolled fairly 
down to the road, dropping his gun as he 
went. 

In a twinkling the fagot was unbound, 
and the live wood snatched out and con- 
cealed with a dexterity impossible to de- 
scribe. Brunet, not wishing to be a witness 
of this performance, which he had fore- 
seen, hastened to the relief of the guard ; 
he seated him upon the side of the ditch 
and dipped his handkerchief into the 
w:ater, to bathe the eyes of the patient, 
who, in spite of his suffering, had man- 
aged to drag himself toward the brook. 

"Vatel, you are wrong," said the 
sheriff; "you have no right to enter 
people's houses, you know." 

The little old woman, who was almost 
humpbacked, stood on the threshold of 
her door, with her hands on her hips, 
darting lightning flashes from her eyes, 
and curses from her toothless, foaming 
mouth, which could be heard nearly to 
Blangy. 

"Ah ! you rascal, that was well done. 
May the furies take 3^ou ! To suspect me 
of cutting down trees ! me, the most hon- 
est woman in the village ; and to chase 
me like a wild beast ! I wish you might 
lose your cursed eyes ! the country would 



236 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



be the better off. You are all mischief- 
makers, you and your companions, who 
imag-ine crimes in order to stir up quar- 
rels between your master and us ! " 

The g-uard allowed the sheriff to bathe 
his eyes while the latter kept telling 
him that in point of law he was to 
blame. 

" The old beg-gar ! she has tired us 
out," said Vatel at leng-th. "She has 
been in the woods all night." 

Everybody had taken hold to help con- 
ceal the stolen wood, and thing's were 
promptl}'- put to rights in the cabaret. 
Then Tonsard went to the door and called 
out insolently- : 

'' Vatel, my boy, if you try to violate 
my domicile ag-ain, I will answer you 
with my g'un. You have had nothing- 
but ashes to-da^--, but next time jon will 
have the fire. You do not know your 
business. But you seem to be warm. If 
you would like to have a g-lass of wine, 
you can ; 3'ou may see that my mother's 
fag-ot has not an atom of live wood in it ; 
it is all brushwood." 

" Scoundrel ! " said the keeper in a low 
voice to the sheriff, more enrag-ed by this 
irony than he had been by the cinders in 
his eyes. 

Just then Charles, the footman, who 
had that morning- been sent in search 
of Blondet, appeared at the door of the 
Grand-I-vert. 

"What's the matter, Vatel?" he 
asked. 

a Oh ! " replied the keeper, wiping^ his 
eyes, which he had plunged wide open 
into the brook, to finish cleansing them, 
'•'I owe these people something-, and I 
will make them curse the day when they 
first saw the light." 

"If that is what you intend. Monsieur 
Vatel," said Tonsard, coldly, "you will 
find that we are not wanting- in courage 
in Burgundy." 

Vatel disappeared. 

Rather curious to know the key to 
this riddle, Charles looked into the wine- 
shop. 

"Bring jonv otter up to the chateau, 
if you really have one," he said to Pere 
Fourchon. 



The old man rose hastily and followed 
Charles. 

"Well, where is your otter?" asked 
Charles, smiling suspiciously. 

"This way," said the old man, g-oing- 
toward the Thune. 

This was the name g-iven to the brook 
formed from the overflow of the waters 
of the mill-dam and the park of les 
Aig-ues. The Thune runs along the 
highway as far as the little lake of 
Soulanges, which it crosses, and where 
it rejoins the Avonne, after feeding the 
mills and the streams of the chateau of 
Soulanges. 

" Here it is ; I hid it here in the chan- 
nel, with a stone at its neck." 

As he stooped down and rose up again, 
the old man missed the feeling of the five 
franc piece in his pocket, where he so 
seldom had money that he was likely to 
notice its presence or its absence. 

" Oh ! the sharks ! " he cried ; "I hunt 
otters, but they hunt their father. They 
take away ever3d:hing that I get, and 
pretend that it is for my good. For my 
good, indeed ! If it were not for my poor 
Mouche, who is the consolation of my old 
age, I would drown myself. Children are 
the ruin of their parents. You are not 
married, are you. Monsieur Charles ? 
Never get married ! then 3'ou will not 
have to reproach ^^ourself with spreading 
bad blood. I thought I could buy tow 
with my money, and now it is gone ! The 
gentleman, who is a fine fellow, gave me 
ten francs ; well, the price of my otter 
will have to go up now." 

Charles was so suspicious of Pere Four- 
chon that he took his laments, which were 
this time sincere, for a sort of rehearsal 
of what he intended to say later, and he 
made the mistake of expressing his opin- 
ion in a smile which was detected b}^ the 
malicious old man. 

" Come, Pere Fourchon, you must be on 
your best behavior now ; you know you 
are going to see madame," said Charles, 
noticing the ruby flame on the old man's 
nose and cheeks. 

" I know what I am about, Charles; and 
to prove it, if you care to take me into 
the kitchen and give me some of the 



A TRAGEDY OF THE PEASANTRY. 



237 



leaving-s of breakfast and a bottle or two 
of Spanish wine, I will give you a pointer 
that will save you from a foul." 

" Tell it, and Francois shall have mon- 
sieur's order to get you a glass of wine," 
replied the footman. 

'' Is it a bargain ? " 

'at is." 

"Well, then, you are in the habit of 
going to talk with my granddaughter 
Catherine beneath the arch of the bridge 
of Avonne; Godain loves her; he has 
seen you, and he is jealous. Now, if you 
dance with her on the day of the fete of 
Soulanges at Tivoli, 3'ou will dance more 
than you like. Godain is a miser, and he 
is a bad man ; he is capable of breaking 
your arm before you could stop him. " 

'*' That is too dear ; Catherine is a fine 
girl, but she is not worth all that," said 
Charles. ''But why should Godain be so 
jealous ? " 

'•' He wants to marry her." 

"Then he will beat her," said Charles. 

'•' That depends," said the old man. 
" She takes after her mother, upon whom 
Tonsard has never laid his hand, for he is 
too much afraid of what she might do in 
return, A woman who knows how to 
hold her own is very useful. Besides, if 
it came to blows with Catherine, Godain 
w^ould not give the last one, although he 
is so strong." 

"Here, Pere Fourchon, here are forty 
sous to drink my health, in case I can't 
get 3'ou the sherry." 

Pere Fourchon turned his head while 
he pocketed the money, so that Charles 
should not see the expression of pleasure 
and irony which he could not repress. 

"Catherine," continued the old man, 
" is a proud minx, and she likes sherry ; 
5'ou had better tell her to come and get 
some at Aigues." 

Charles looked at Pere Fourchon with 
naive admiration, not suspecting the im- 
mense interest which the general's ene- 
mies had in getting one spy the more 
within the chateau. 

"I suppose the general feels happy," 
continued the old man, "now that the 
peasants are all so quiet. What does he 
say about it ? does he still like Sibilet ? " 



" Monsieur Michaud is the only one who 
finds fault with Monsieur Sibilet ; they 
say that he will get him dismissed." 

" That's the jealousy of the trade," re- 
plied Fourchon. "I'll bet you would like 
to get Francois dismissed, and step into 
his place of head valet." 

" Confound it, he has twelve hundred 
francs," said Charles ; " but they can't 
send him away ; he knows all the gen- 
eral's secrets." 

" As Madame Michaud knows those of 
the countess," replied Fourchon, watch- 
ing Charles carefully. "See here, my 
boy, do 3'ou know whether monsieur and 
madame have separate rooms ? " 

"Yes, they do," replied Charles. 

But just then they came beneath the 
windows, and could say no more. 



THE ENEMIES FACE TO FACE. 

At the beginning of breakfast Fran- 
cois, the head valet, came to Blond et, 
and whispered softly, but loud enough 
for the count to hear him : 

" Monsieur, Pere Fourchon 's boy claims 
that they caught an otter after all, and 
wants to know whether 3'ou want it, or 
whether he shall take it to the sub-pre- 
fect of Ville-aux-Fayes." 

Although Emile Blondet was an adept 
at mystification, he could not help blush- 
ing like a girl. 

" Oh, ho ! so you hunted the otter this 
morning with Pere Fourchon," cried the 
general, shouting with laughter. 

"What is it?" asked the countess, 
made uneasy by her husband's laughter. 

" If a man of wit like him," continued 
the general, "can be taken in by Pere 
Fourchon, an old cuirassier need not 
blush to have hunted that otter, which is 
very much like the third horse that the 
postilion always makes .you pay for, but 
never lets you have." 

In the midst of fresh explosions of 
laughter, the general managed to add : 

"I know now why j^ou changed your 



238 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



boots and pantaloons ; you got into the 
water. I did not carry it quite so far as 
you, for I stayed on the bank ; and ye,t 
you are much cleverer than I." 

"You forget, my dear," observed Ma- 
dame de Montcornet, " that I have not 
the least idea of what you are talking." 

At these words, which betrayed the 
pique that the countess felt on account of 
Blondin's confusion, the general regained 
his seriousness, and Blondin related his 
adventure. 

*'But," said the countess, "if these 
poor people really have an otter, they 
are not so much to blame." 

" Yes ; but the otter has not been seen 
for the last ten years," retorted the gen- 
eral. 

"■'Monsieur le Comte," said Francois, 
"the bo}'- swears upon his honor that he 
has one now." 

" If they have one, I will pay them for 
it," said the general. 

" God has not left the Avonne without 
any otters at all," observed the Abbe 
Brossette. 

"Ah! monsieur, if you bring the Al- 
mighty against me — " exclaimed Blondet. 

"Who is here?" asked the countess, 
quickly. 

" Mouche, madame ; the little bo}^ who 
always goes withPere Fourchon," replied 
the footman. 

" Let him come in — if madame will per- 
mit, ' ' said the general. ' ' Perhaps he will 
amuse us." 

"At least we can find out the truth of 
it," added the countess. 

Mouche appeared a few minutes later, 
in his partial nudity. The sight of this 
personification of poverty in the midst of 
the elegant dining-room, where the price 
of one of the mirrors alone would have 
been a fortune to the boy, with his bare 
legs, breast and head, made it almost im- 
possible not to yield to the inspirations of 
charity. Mouche 's eyes, like two burn- 
ing coals, examined eagerly the wealth of 
the room and the viands. 

"Then you have no mother?" asked 
the countess, who could explain the child's 
neglected condition in no other way. 
"No, madame; m'ma died of grief 



when p'pa did not come back from the 
wars, in 1813, where he got frozen— sav- 
ing your presence. But I have my 
grandpa, Fourchon, who is a very good 
man, although he beats me sometimes 
like fury." 

"How does it happen, my dear, that 
there are people on j^our land who are so 
wretched ? " asked the countess, looking 
at the general. 

"Madame la Comtesse," said the cure, 
^'the people in this commune are poor 
only because they choose to be so ; Mon- 
sieur le Comte means well ; but we have 
to deal with people who have no religion, 
and whose sole thought is to exist at 
your expense." 

" But, my dear sir," said Blondet, " are 
you not here to attend tp their morals ? " 

"I have been sent here by the bishop," 
replied the cure, " as a sort of mission- 
ary ; but, as I had the honor of telling 
him, the savages of France are unap- 
proachable ; it is a point of honor among 
them not to listen to us, while it is pos- 
sible to gain the ear and the interest of 
the American savage." 

" Monsieur le Cure, they do help me a 
little bit now ; but if I went to your 
church they would not help me at all, 
and the folks would make fun of my 
clothes." 

" Religion should begin with giving him 
some pantaloons, my dear abbe," said 
Blondet. " In your missions, do you not 
begin by winning the confidence of the 
savages ? " 

" He would sell them at once," replied 
the abbe in a low voice, " and I have no 
authority for beginning such proceed- 
ings." 

" Monsieur le Cure is right," said the 
general, looking at Mouche. 

The policy of the ragamuffin consists in 
appearing to understand nothing of what 
is being said, when its tenor is against 
him. 

"The intelligence of the little rascal 
proves that he knows good from evil," 
continued the count. " He is of an age 
to work, but his only aim is to break the 
law without being found out. He is well 
known to the keepers. Before I became 



A TRAGEDY OF THE PEASANTRY. 



239 



mayor, he knew perfectly well that a 
landed proprietor, althoug-h he may be a 
witness of some trespass on his property, 
yet has no right to arrest the trespasser; 
he therefore boldly remained in my mead- 
ows with his cows, without going- away 
even when he saw me ; while now he 
runs off at once." 

"Ah! that is very wrong," said the 
countess ; " you must not take what does 
not belong to you, my little bo3^" 

" Madame, a body must eat ; my grand- 
pa gives me more blows than loaves, 
and those don't fill the stomach, slaps 
don't ! When the cows have milk I draw 
a little, and that helps me along. Is the 
gentleman so poor that he cannot let me 
drink a little of his g-rass ? " 

" Perhaps he has not had anything to 
eat to-day," said the countess, moved by 
the sight of such miser3^ " Give him 
some bread and the rest of that chicken ; 
give him some breakfast," she added, 
looking at the footman. " Where do you 
sl^ep, little bo}^? " 

"Anywhere that they will let me, in 
winter, madame ; when it is warm enough 
I sleep out of doors." 

" How old are you ? " 

"Twelve." 

" There is still time to teach him bet- 
ter," said the countess to her husband. 

'' He will make a soldier," returned the 
general, gruffly ; " this is good training 
for him. I went through as many hard- 
ships as he, and look at me now ! " 

" Excuse me, general, I can't be 
drafted," said the boy. "I don't be- 
long to any one. I was born in the fields, 
and my name isn't any more Mouche 
than anything else. Grandpa has told 
me how lucky I am. They can't take 
me." 

" Do you love j^our grandpa ? " asked 
the countess, trying to read the twelve- 
3'^ear-old heart. 

' ' He boxes my ears when he feels like 
it, but he is great fun ; he is such a good 
fellow ! And he says he paj's himself 
that way for teaching me to read and 
write." 

" Can you read ? " asked the count. 

" Yes, indeed. Monsieur le Comte, and 



write too, grandly, as true as we have 
a real otter." 

"What is that?" asked the count, 
handing him a newspaper, 

" The Qu-o-ti-dienne," replied Mouche, 
hesitating only three times. 

Everybody laughed, even the Abbe 
Brossette. 

"Well, you made me read a news- 
paper," cried Mouche, exasperated. "My 
grandpa says that they are made for the 
rich, and that ever^'- one is sure to know 
some time what is in them." 

" The boy is right, general," said Blon- 
det. "He makes me long to meet again 
m}' conqueror of this morning." 

Mouche understood perfectly well that 
he was posing for the amusement of the 
company ; Pere Fourchon's pupil was 
worthy of his teacher ; he began to cry. 

" How can you tease a child who has 
bare feet ? " asked the countess. 

" And who thinks it perfectly natural 
that his grandfather should reimburse 
himself for his education, by boxing his 
ears," added Blondet. 

'' My little boy, have you really an 
otter?" asked the countess. 

" Yes, madame, just as true as you are 
the most beautiful lady I have ever seen 
or ever expect to," said the boy, wiping 
his e3-es. 

"Show it to us," said the general. 

"Oh ! monsieur, my grandpa has hid- 
den it ; but how it did kick when we gat 
it to the rope-walk ! You can send for 
my grandpa, for he wants to sell it him- 
self." 

"Take him to the kitchen," said the' 
countess to Francois ; "' let him have 
some breakfast. You may send Charles 
for Pere Fourchon. See if you cannot 
find some shoes, pantaloons and a vest 
for this child. Those who come here 
naked should go away clothed." 

" May God bless you, dear lad}^" said 
Mouche, as he went away. "Monsieur 
le Cure may feel quite sure that I will 
keep the things and wear them on fete 
days, since you gave them to me." 

Emile, Madame de Montcornet and the 
cure exchanged glances which seemed to 
say : " He is not such a fool, after all." 



240 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



" Certainly, madame," said the cure, 
when tlie child had left them, " Ave can- 
not keep a strict reckoning- with the poor. 
I believe that they have hidden excuses 
which can be judg-ed by God alone ; ex- 
cuses both ph3^sical and moral, that are 
born in them, and that are produced by 
an order of things which we accuse, but 
which is sometimes the result of qualities 
that, unfortunately for societj^, have no 
vent. The miracles accomplished upon 
the battlefield have taught us that the 
poor scoundrels can upon occasion trans- 
form themselves into heroes. But here, 
3"0ur circumstances are exceptional, and 
if your charity is not judiciously admin- 
istered, 3'ou run the risk of supporting 
your enemies." 

''Our enemies!" exclaimed the coun- 
tess. 

"Cruel enemies," added the general, 
gravely. 

" Pere Fourchon, with his son-in-law 
Tonsard, " observed the cure, "represents 
the intelligence of the lower class of peo- 
ple in the vallej'^ ; they are consulted about 
everything. These people are incrediblj^ 
malicious. Ten peasants, assembled in a 
wine-shop, are, so to speak, the small 
change of a great polic3^" 

Just then Francois announced Monsieur 
Sibilet. 

"He is my minister of finance," said 
the general, smiling ; "let him come in. — 
He will explain to j^ou the gravity of the 
situation," he added, turning to his wife 
and Blondet. 

"And he will not keep any of it from 
you," added the cure in a low tone. 

Blondet then saw the person of whom 
he had heard ever since his arrival, and 
whom he had greatl}^ desired to meet, the 
land-steward of les Aigues. He saw a 
man of medium height, about thirty years 
old, with a sulky look and a discontented 
face, which did not seem made for smiles. 
Beneath an anxious brow, eyes of a 
changeable green seemed to be trying to 
evade each other, and thus to disguise 
their owner's thoughts. He was dressed 
in brown pantaloons and a black coat and 
vest ; he wore his hair long and straight, 
which gave him a clerical appearance. 



The pantaloons could not disguise the fact 
that he was bow-legged. Although his 
pallid complexion and his soft flesh gave 
the impression that he was sickly, he was 
in reality robust. The sound of his voice, 
which was a little harsh, corresponded 
with the rest of his unflattering exte- 
rior. 

Blondet exchanged a secret glance with 
the abbe, and the look which he received 
in return for his own told the journalist 
that his suspicions with regard to the 
steward were shared by the young priest. 

"Sibilet," said the general, "did you 
not estimate that the amount stolen from 
us by the peasants amounted to a quarter 
of the revenues ? " 

"To much more," replied the steward. 
"Your poor take from you more than 
the State exacts of you in taxes. Even 
a little rascal like Mouche g-leans his two 
bushels a da^' ; and the old women, who 
would seem to you only fit to die, re- 
cover in harvest time the agilitj^ and the 
strength of youth. You will be able to| 
witness this phenomenon," he added, 
turning" to Blondet, " for the harvest, 
which has been put back by the July 
rains, will begin in six days. The rye 
will be cut next week. The people are 
not allowed to glean unless fhey have a 
certificate of pauperism given 'by the 
mayor of the commune ; and no commune 
should allow any one to glean on its terri- 
tory except its own paupers; but the 
communes of a canton g-lean from each 
other indiscriminately, without any cer- 
tificate. While we have sixty poor people 
in the commune, there are at least forty 
do-nothings who join their ranks. And 
even people who have a business leave it 
to go and glean in the fields. Here, all 
these people collect three hundred bushels 
a day ; the harvest lasts fifteen days, and 
there are four thousand five hundred 
bushels carried off into the canton. Thus 
the gleanings amount to more than the 
tithes. As for tlie abuse of the pastur- 
age, it takes off about a sixth of the 
produce of our meadows. As for the 
wood, that is incalculable ; they have got 
so they cut six-j^ear-old trees. The dep- 
redations beneath which you are suffer- 



A TRAGEDY OF THE PEASANTRY. 



241 



mg, Monsieur le Comte, amount to over 
twenty thousand francs a year." 

"There, madame," said the general to 
the countess, " do you hear that ? " 

" Is it not exag-g-erated ? " she asked. 

*' Unfortunately, no," replied the cure. 
" Poor Niseron, the old fellow with the 
white head, who unites the functions of 
bell-ring-er, beadle, grave-digger, sexton 
and clerk, in spite of his republican opin- 
ions — the grandfather of that little Gene- 
vieve whom you have placed with Madame 
Michaud." 

''La Pechina," said Sibilet, interrupt- 
ing the abbe. 

*'What do you mean by Pechina?" 
asked the countess. 

''Madame, when you met Genevieve by 
the roadside, in such a wretched condition, 
you cried out in Italian : ' Piccina ! ' this 
word became a nickname for her, and was 
corrupted to such an extent that to-day 
the whole commune calls your protegee 
Pechina. The poor child is the only one 
who comes to church, with Madame Mi- 
chaud and Madame Sibilet." 

" And she is not much better off for 
it," said the steward, "for they abuse 
her and ill-treat her on account of her 
religion." 

" Well," continued the cure, " tliis poor 
old man, seventy-two years old, picks up, 
honestl}^ and otherwise, about a bushel 
and a half a day ; but the rectitude of his 
opinions prevents him from selling his 
gleanings, as all the others do ; he keeps 
them for his own consumption. At my 
request Monsieur Langlume, 3' our deput}", 
grinds his grain for nothing, and m}'" ser- 
vant bakes his bread with my own." 

"I had forgotten my little protegee," 
said the countess, who had been startled 
by Sibilet's words. " Your arrival here," 
she added, turning- to Blondet, "has 
turned my head. But after breakfast 
we will go together to the Avonne gate, 
and I will show you a living figure like 
those the painters of the fifteenth century 
delighted to copy." 

Just then Pere Fourchon, who had been 
brought by Francois, went clattering 
along in his broken sabots, which he de- 
posited at the kitchen door. The countess 



made a sign of assent with her head when 
Francois announced the old man, and Pere 
Fourchon, followed by Mouche, who had 
his mouth full, appeared in the doorway, 
holding his otter in his hand, hanging by 
a cord tied around its yellow paws, which 
were in the form of a star, like those of 
all web-footed animals. He glanced at 
the four at the table, and at Sibilet, with 
the look of mingled defiance and servility 
which serves the peasants as a veil, and 
then he brandished the otter triumphant- 
ly^ in tlie air. 

" Here it is ! " he said, addressing 
Blondet. 

" That is my otter," said the Parisian ; 
" I paid you well for it." 

" Oh ! my dear sir," replied Pere Four- 
chon, "yours got away. It is snug in its 
hole b}^ this time. This one is a very dif- 
ferent one. Mouche saw it coming from 
a long way off, after you had gone away. 
As true as Monsieur the Comte covered 
himself and his cuirassiers witli glory at 
Waterloo, the otter is mine, as much as 
les Aig'ues belongs to him. But you can 
have him for twenty francs, or I will carry 
it to our sub-prefect. If Monsieur Gour- 
don thinks it is too dear, as we hunted 
together this morning, I will give you the 
preference, for that is onty right." 

"Twenty francs ? " said Blondet. "You 
don't call that good French for ' prefer- 
ence,' do 3"ou ? " 

"Oh!" exclaimed the old man, "I 
know so little French that, if .you like, 
I will ask for the sum in Burgundian ; 
and if I only get it, I don't care what 
language it comes in. I will speak Latin 
if you like : latinus, latina, latinum. 
After all, it is no more than you prom- 
ised me this morning. Besides, my chil- 
dren have already taken your money 
away from me; I was bemoaning it on 
the way here. Ask Charles if I wasn't. 
I don't want to have them arrested for 
ten francs, and publish their wickedness 
before the court. As soon as I have 
a few sous fhey give me something to 
drink, and take my money away. It is 
ver}^ hard, to be driven to taking a glass 
of wine somewhere else than in m\'^ own 
daughter's house. But that is the way 



242 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



with all the children nowadays. That is 
what" we have gained by the Revolution. 
Everything is for the children, and noth- 
ing for the fathers. Ah ! I am bringing 
Mouche up in a very different way; he 
loves me, the little rascal," he added, 
giving a little tap to the boy's cheek. 

" You seem to be making a thief of 
him, like all the others," said Sibilet; 
''\\Q never goes to bed without some piece 
of wrong-doing on his conscience." 

" Ah ! Monsieur Sibilet, his conscience 
is easier than your own. Poor boy! what 
does he take ? A little grass ; that is 
better than killing a man. He knows 
nothing of mathematics, like you ; he 
can't subtract and add and multiply. 
You do us a great deal of harm. You 
say that we are a lot of thieves, and yoM 
are the cause of the rupture between our 
lord, there, who is a worthy man, and 
ourselves, who are worthy people. And 
there is not a better country than this 
one. See here ! do we have any incomes ? 
do we not go nearly naked ? We go to 
sleep in beautiful sheets, which are washed 
every morning by the dew, and unless 
you grudge us the air we breathe and 
the rays of sun that warm us, I do not 
see what we have that you can want to 
take from us. The bourgeois steals at 
his fireside ; it is more profitable than 
picking up a few sticks in the corner of 
the woods. There are no keepers, mount- 
ed or on foot, for Monsieur Gaubertin, 
who came liere without a sou to his name, 
and now he has two millions. It is all 
very well to say robbers ! For fifteen 
years Pere Guerbel, the tax-gatherer of 
Soulanges, has been going away from 
our villages at night with his money, and 
no one has ever taken so much as a sou 
from him. A country of thieves would 
not have done like that. We don't get 
rich by thieving. Show me now which 
of us, we, or you. bourgeois, can sit down 
and live without working." 

" If you had worked, you would have 
some money now," Said the cure. " God 
blesses labor." 

" I do not like to give you the lie, mon- 
sieur, for you know a great deal more 
than I do, and so perhaps you can explain 



this thing to me. Here I am, the idler, 
the do-nothing, the drunkard, the good- 
for-nothing Pere Fourchon, who has had 
some education, who has been a farmer, 
but who fell into the depths of misfort- 
une and never got out again. Well, now, 
what difference is there between me and 
the worthy and honest Father Niseron — a 
vine-dresser, sevent}^ years old, for he is 
just my age — who for sixty years was a 
ditch-digger, who got up before daylight 
every morning to go to his work, who 
has an iron body and a beautiful soul ? 
He is just as poor as I am. La Pechina, 
his granddaughter, is at service with 
Ma'am Michaud, while little Mouche is as 
free as air. Is the poor man rewarded 
for his virtues in the same way that I 
am punished for my vices ? He does not 
know what wine is ; he is as sober as an 
apostle ; he buries the dead, while I make 
the living dance ; he is always in trouble, 
while I am as happy as you please. We 
have kept right along together ; we have 
the same snow on our heads, and the 
same emptiness in our pockets, and I 
furnish him the rope with which he rings 
the bell. He is a republican, while I am 
not even a publican. That's all the differ- 
ence. Whether the peasant is good or 
bad, according to j'ou, he goes as he 
came, in rags, while you wear fine linen." 

No one interrupted Pere Fourchon, who 
seemed to owe his eloquence to the bot- 
tled wine ; Sibilet wanted to stop him 
at first, but a gesture from Blondet re- 
strained him. The cure, the general and 
the countess understood from the jour- 
nalist's glances that he wished to stud}'- 
pauperism from the life, and perhaps 
take his revenge upon Pere Fourchon. 

''And what kind of an education are 
jT^ou giving Mouche ? " asked Blondet. 
" What are you doing- to make him bet- 
ter than 3'our daughters ? " 

" Do you ever speak to him of God ? " 
asked the cure. 

" Oh ! no, no, sir ; I do not tell him to 
fear God, but men. God is good, and 
you saj'- He has promised to give us the 
kingdom of heaven, since the kingdoms of 
this world are kept by the rich. I say to 
him : ' Mouche, fear the prison ; that is 



A TRAGEDY OF THE PEASANTRY, 



243 



the road that leads to the scaffold. Do 
not steal, but g-et things given to 3'ou. 
Theft leads to murder, and that calls 
down the justice of men. The sword of 
justice is what you must fear ; that is 
what makes the rich sleep easy and dis- 
turbs the slumbers of the poor. Learn 
to read. When j'ou have learning-, jow. 
will know how to get rich under cover of 
the law, like this fine Monsieur Gaubertin ; 
you will be a steward, perhaps, like Mon- 
sieur Sibilet, who has his rations given 
him by the count. The thing is to keep 
close to the rich, for there are plent}'^ of 
crumbs under their table.' That's what 
I call a good, solid education. So the 
little fellow always keeps on the right 
side of the law. He will be a good sub- 
ject, and take care of me." 

" And what are you going to make of 
him ? " asked Blondet. 

''A servant, first," replied Fourchon ; 
'^ because, when he sees the masters close 
to, he can learn a good deal from them. 
A good example will teach him how to 
make his fortune lawfullj^, like you all. 
If the count would put him in his stables, 
to learn to rub down the horses, the boy 
would be very glad ; for, if he fears men, 
he does not fear beasts." 

"You have a good deal of intelligence, 
Pere Fourchon," said Blondet; ''you 
know what you are talking about, and 
what you say has some sense in it." 

*' Oh ! sense ? no. I left my sense at 
the Grand-I-vert, with my two five-franc 
pieces." 

'' How could a man like you allow him- 
self to fall so low,? for, as things are, a 
peasant has only himself to thank for his 
poverty; he is free, and he can become 
rich. Times are not as they were once. 
If a peasant knows how to lay by a little 
moncA', he can find a piece of ground for 
sale, and buy it, and then he is his own 
master." 

' ' I have seen the old times, and I have 
seen the new," replied Fourchon; ''the 
label is changed, it is true, but the wine 
is the same. To-day is only the younger 
brother of yesterday. Come ! put that 
in your journals. Are we free? We be- 
long to the same village still, and the 



same lord is there ; his name is labor. 
The hoe, our only fortune, has never left 
our hand. Whether it is a nobleman or 
taxes that takes the most of what we 
have, we must spend our life in toil." 

"But you could try 3'our fortune at 
something else," said Blondet. 

" You talk of seeking my fortune. But 
where should I go ? To get out of my 
own department I should have to have a 
passport which would cost me forty sous. 
For the last forty years I have never had 
a forty-sou piece in my pocket, with any- 
thing else to chink against it. To go 
anj^where takes as many crowns as there 
are villages, and there are not many 
Fourchons who have enough money to 
visit six villages. There is nothing but 
the drafting to take us away from our 
villages. And what are we good for in 
the army ? To let the colonel live by 
means of the soldier, just as the bour- 
geois lives by means of the peasant. Out 
of a hundred colonels, is there one that 
came from our ranks ? There, as every- 
where else, a hundred fall for one that 
rises. And whose fault is it that they 
fall ? God and the usurers know ! The 
best thing for us to do is to stay in our 
communes, where we are penned in like 
sheep by the force of circumstances, as 
we were formerly by the noblemen. And 
I mock at that which keeps me here. 
Whether a man is held fast by the law 
of necessit}', or by that of the manor, he 
is in either case compelled to dig the 
ground. Wherever we are, we dig the 
soil, and we spade it and manure it and 
work it for you, Avho are born rich, as 
we are born poor. The masses will al- 
ways be the same ; they will alwaj's re- 
main what they are. Those among us 
who rise are not as numerous as those 
among you who fall. We know that, if 
we are not scholars. You need not come 
after us to arrest us all the time. We 
leave you alone — let us live. Otherwise, 
if this keeps on, 3^ou will have to support 
us in your prisons by-and-by, where we 
would be more comfortable than on our 
pallets. You want to be our masters, 
and we are enemies, to-day, as much as 
we were thirty' years ago. You have all. 



244 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



and we have nothing- ; you cannot expect 
our friendship." 

" This sounds hke a declaration of war," 
said the g-enei-al. 

"^ My lord/' replied Fourchon, *'when 
les Aigues belonged to the poor madame 
(may God rest her soul !) we were happy. 
She let us pick up our living- in her fields, 
and our wood in her forests; she was 
none the poorer for it. And you, who 
are at least as rich as she, you hunt us 
out, as if we were wild beasts, and you 
drag- us before the courts. Well, it will 
end badly. You will cause harm. I just 
saw your keeper, Vatel, almost kill a poor 
old woman for a bit of wood. You will 
become the enemy of the people, and they 
will do to you as the}^ did in the old days ; 
they will curse you as heartily as they 
blessed the old nladame. The curse of 
the poor, my lord, g-rows ; and it becomes 
g-reater than the g-reatest of your oaks, 
and the oak furnishes the scaffold. No 
one here tells you the truth ; there it is ! 
I expect death any day, and I do not risk 
much in g-iving- the truth to you, over and 
above our barg-ain. I make the peasants 
dance at the g-reat fetes, when I go with 
Vermichel to the Cafe de la Paix, at Sou- 
langes, and I hear what they say ; well, 
they are badh^ disposed toward j^ou, and 
they will make it difQculb for you to stay 
here. If your damned Michaud does not 
change, they'll make you chang-e him. 
Come ! — that opinion, together with the 
otter, is well worth twentj^ francs." 

While the old man was speaking- the 
last sentence, there was a sound of steps 
without, and the man whom Fourchon 
had just menaced entered without being 
announced. At the look which Michaud 
bestowed upon the poor man's orator, it 
was evident that the threat had reached 
his ear, and all Fourchon's audacity" col- 
lapsed. The look produced upon the otter 
fisherman had the effect that the police- 
man produces upon the thief; Fourchon 
knew himself to be in the wrong, and 
Michaud seemed to have the right to call 
him to account for a discourse which was 
evidently intended to alarm the inhabi- 
tants of the chateau. 

^'Here is my minister of war," said the 



general, addressing Blondet and motion- 
ing to Michaud. 

" I beg 3^our pardon, madame," said 
the latter, "for entering without stop- 
ping to be announced, but the urgency'' 
of affairs demands that I speak with the 
general." 

Michaud, while he was excusing him- 
self, was looking at Sibilet, to whom 
Fourchon's bold remarks caused an ex- 
quisite delight, which was not, however, 
noticed by any of those seated at the 
table, for they were giving their undi- 
vided attention to Fourchon ; Michaud, 
however, who, for reasons of his own, was 
always watching Sibilet, v/as struck by 
his expression and manner. 

" As he says, he has well earned his 
twent}' francs, monsieur," exclaimed Sibi- 
let ; "the otter is not dear." 

"Give him twenty francs," said the 
count to the footman. 

"Then you take it from me?" asked 
Blondet of the general. 

"I want to have it stuffed," replied the 
count. 

"Ah ! this good sir left me the skin," 
said Pere Fourchon. 

"Well," exclaimed the countess, "j^ou 
can have a hundred sous for the skin; 
but go now." 

The strong, uncultivated odor of the 
two habitues of the highway so poisoned 
the air of the dining-room for Madame de 
Montcornet, whose delicate senses were 
offended by it, that she would have been 
obliged to leave the room herself if Four- 
chon and Mouche had stayed much longer. 
It was to this inconvenience that the old 
man owed his twenty-five francs. As he 
went out, he looked at Michaud timidly, 
and made him countless salutations. 

" What I just said to my lord, Michaud, 
was for your good," he said. 

" Or for that of the people who pay 
you," returned Michaud, eying him 
sharply. 

"When you have served the coffee, 
leave us," said the general to the ser- 
vants, " and be sure that you shut the 
doors." 

Blondet, w^ho had not hitherto seen the 
head keeper of les Aigues, received, in 



A TRAGEDY OF THE PEASANTRY. 



245 



looking" at him, very different impressions 
from those that Sibilet had g-iven him. 
Micliaud commanded as much esteem and 
confidence as Sibilet had inspired repul- 
sion. 

The head keeper attracted attention in 
the first place by a fine face, of a perfect 
oval, and reg^ular drawing, including* the 
nose, which is usually wanting" in regu- 
larity in most French faces. The feat- 
ures, while correctly drawn, did not want 
expression, perhaps because of a com- 
plexion composed of those tones of ochre 
and red which indicate physical courag"e. 
^ The eyes, of a clear brown, quick and 
piercing, did not conceal their owner's 
thoughts, but looked frankly out. The 
forehead, large and pure, was set off by 
masses of black hair. Honesty, decision, 
and a confidence in g"ood, animated this 
beautiful face, where a soldier's life had 
left some furrows on the brow. Suspicion 
and mistrust could be read there, as soon 
as formed in his mind. Like all men 
drawn for the elite of the cavalry, his 
figure, still beautiful and slender, showed 
tliat the keeper was a powerful man. 

Michaud, who wore mustaches, whisk- 
ers and a beard, reminded one of the 
tj'pe of that martial figure which the 
deluge of patriotic painting-s and engrav- 
ing's has made almost ridiculous. This 
type had the fault of being* common in 
the French army; but it is possible that 
the continuity of the same einotions, the 
sufferings of the bivouac from which 
neither high nor low Avere exempt, and 
the efforts common both to chiefs and 
soldiers on the field of battle, contributed 
to make this physiognomy a uniform 
one. 

Michaud was dressed throug-hout in 
blue cloth, and still kept to the black 
satin collar and military boots, as he did 
to the rather stiff attitude. His shoul- 
ders were drawn back and his chest ex- 
panded, as thoug"h he were still under 
arms. The red ribbon of the Leg"ion of 
Honor fluttered at his button-hole. Fi- 
nally, to finish, with a single word of moral 
description, this purely' physical picture, 
we may add that while the steward had 
never failed to address his master as M. 



le Comte, Michaud had never named him 
otherwise than as '*g-eneral." 

Blondet exchang-ed another look with 
the abbe, which seemed to say : " What 
a contrast ! " motioning' to the steward 
and the head keeper ; then in order to 
learn Avhether his character, thought and 
speech harmonized with the stature, face 
and expression, he looked at Michaud, 
and said : 

" I went out earl^"- this morning, and 
found your keepers still asleep." 

" At what hour ? " asked the head 
keeper, anxiously. 

''At half-past seven." 

Michaud looked almost mischievously 
at his g-eneral. 

" And by which g"ate did monsieur go 
out ? " asked Michaud. 

''The Conches g-ate," replied Blondet. 
" The keeper looked at me from the win- 
dow, and he was still in his night shirt." 

" Gaillard had probably just g-one to 
bed," replied Michaud. "When jo\x said 
that you went out early, I thought you 
meant by daylig'ht, and I knew that if 
the keeper was in bed at that time, he 
must be sick ; but at half -past seven, 
he had just gone to bed. We watch all 
night," continued Michaud, in answer to 
an astonished look from the countess, 
"but our vigilance is always at fault. 
You have just given twenty-five francs to 
a man who a little while ago coolly helped 
to conceal the traces of a theft which 
was committed on your propertj^ this 
morning. We must speak of this when 
you have finished, g-eneral, for something" 
must be done." 

" You are always standing" up for your 
rights, Michaud," said Sibilet, "and sum- 
mum jus, summa injuria. If you do not 
show some tolerance, you will get j'-our- 
self into trouble. I wish you had heard 
Pere Fourchon just now, when the wine 
made him speak a little more frankly than 
usual." 

" He frightened me," said the countess. 

"He did not say an3^thing- which I have 
not known for a long-time," observed the 
g-eneral. 

" Oh ! the scoundrel was not drunk ; he 
was playing his part for the benefit of 



246 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



some one. Perhaps you know whom ? " 
added Michaud, making Sibilet blush by 
the sudden look which he turned upon 
him. 

"O rus!" exclaimed Blondet, with 
another glance at the abbe. 

"These poor people suffer," said the 
countess, " and there was some truth in 
what Fourchon shouted to us — for he 
cannot be said to have spoken it." 

''Madame," replied Michaud, ''do you 
think that the emperor's soldiers were on 
rose-leaves for fourteen years ? The gen- 
eral is a count, and a great officer of the 
Legion of Honor ; but am I jealous of 
him, I who fought with him ? Do I want 
to cheat him of his glory, to refuse him 
the honors due to his grade ? The peas- 
ant must obey, as soldiers obey ; he should 
have the honesty of the soldier, and his 
respect for acquired rights, and should 
try to become an officer loyally, by his 
own toil and not tlirough theft. The 
plow-share and the saber are twins. 
The soldier has a harder time than the 
peasant, for death is constantly hovering 
over his head." 

" I should like to tell them that from 
the pulpit," exclaimed the abbe. 

"Tolerance?" continued the keeper, 
still replying to Sibilet. "I would toler- 
ate a loss of ten per cent of the gross 
revenues of les Aigues ; but as things are 
going now, you are losing thirty per cent, 
general; and if Monsieur Sibilet has so 
* many per cent on his receipts, I cannot 
understand his tolerance, for he is benevo- 
lently giving up a thousand or twelve 
hundred francs every year." 

"My dear Michaud," returned Sibilet, 
sourlj'-, " as I have told Monsieur le Comte, 
I would rather lose twelve hundred francs 
than my life. Think of it seriously; I 
have given yon warnings enough." 

"Life!" cried the countess. "Is any 
one's life in danger ? " 

"We must not discuss the affairs of the 
state here," said the general, laughing. 
" All this, madame, signifies that Sibilet, 
in his character of financier, is timid 
and cowardly, while my minister of war 
is brave, and, like his general, fears 
nothing." 



" Say rather, prudent. Monsieur le 
Comte," exclaimed Sibilet. 

" Are we here, like Cooper's heroes in 
the forests of America, surrounded by 
snares laid by savages ? " asked Blondet, 
mockingly. 

"Your business, gentlemen," said Ma- 
dame de Montcornet, " is to carry on the 
administration without alarming us by 
the grinding of the wheels." 

"Perhaps it is just as well, countess, 
that you should know the cost of one of 
those pretty bonnets that you wear," 
said the cure. 

" No, for I might then go without them, 
become respectful before a twenty-franc 
piece, and grow miserly, like all the coun- 
try people, and I should be losing too 
much," replied the countess, laughing. 
" Give me your arm, my dear abbe ; let 
us leave the general between his two min- 
isters, and go to the Avonne gate to see 
Madame Michaud, whom I have not vis- 
ited since my arrival; it is time that I 
looked after my little protegee." 

And the pretty woman, forgetting al- 
read3^ the rags of Fourchon and Mouche, 
their looks of hatred and Sibilet's terrors, 
went to put on her shoes and her hat. 

The Abbe Brossette and Blondet obej^ed 
the countess's call, and waited for her on 
the terrace in front of the house. 

" What do you think of all this ? " asked 
Blondet. 

" I am a jDariah ; they spy upon me, as 
their common enemy ; I am forced to keep 
the eyes and the ears of prudence con- 
stantly open, in order to escape the nets 
which they spread to embarrass me," the 
abbe replied. " Between ourselves, I 
sometimes wonder if they will not shoot 
me." 

" And yet you stay here ? " said Blon- 
det. 

" One does not desert the cause of God, 
any more than that of the emperor," re- 
plied the abbe, with striking simplicity. 

The journalist took the priest's hand 
and pressed it cordially. 

"You therefore understand," added the 
abbe, "whj^ it is impossible for me to 
know anything of what is being plotted. 
Nevertheless it seems to me that the gen- 



A TRAGEDY OF THE PEASANTRY. 



24'; 



eral is flghting- what in Artois and Bel- 
g-ium they call ill-will.'" 

A few words will not he out of place 
here concerning' the cure of Blang-j*. 

He was the fourth son of a good hour- 
g"eois family of Autun, and was a man of 
intelligence. He was small and thin, but 
his insignificant appearance was redeemed 
by that air of obstinacy which belongs to 
the people of Burgundy. He had accepted 
this secondary position out of pure devo- 
tion, for to his religious convictions he 
joined political opinions that were equall}^ 
strong". He had in him the stuff of which 
the priests of the olden time were made ; 
he held to the Church and the clerg-y pas- 
sionately ; he \iewed things as a whole, 
and his ambition was not spoiled by ego- 
tism ; to sei^ve was his motto, to serve 
the Church and the monarchy at the 
point most threatened ; to serve in the 
last ranks, like a soldier who feels him- 
self destined sooner or later to become a 
g"eneral, by his desire to do well, and by 
his courag'e. He did not trifle with his 
vows of chastitj^ poverty and obedience ; 
he fulfilled them, as he fulfilled all the 
other duties of his position, with simplicity 
and g-entleness, the certain indices of an 
honest soul, vowed to g-ood by the inclina- 
tion of the natural instinct, as well as by 
the power and solidity of religious con- 
victions. 

Almost every evening- he came to the 
chateau to make the fourth at whist. The 
journalist, who recognized his true worth, 
showed so much deference for him that 
they soon g-rew to be in sympathy with 
each other, as are all men of intelligence 
when they find a compeer, or a listener. 
Every sword loves its scabbard. 

''But you, who find yourself b}' your 
devotion above your position, to what do 
you attribute this state of things ? " 

'' I will not answer you with common- 
places, after such a flattering parenthe- 
sis," replied the abbe, smiling. "What 
is passing" in this valley is taking place 
everywhere in France, and is a result of 
the hopes which the movement of 1789 
infiltrated, so to speak, into the minds 
of the peasants. The Revolution affected 
certain countries more powerfully than 



others, and this strip of Burg-undy, so 
near Paris, is one of the places where the 
movement has been understood as a tri- 
umph of the Gaul over the Frank. His- 
torically, the peasants are still in the 
morrow of the Jacquerie, and their de- 
feat is inscribed upon their brain. The 
fact itself is no longer remembered ; it 
has become an instinctive idea. This 
idea is in the peasant blood, as the idea 
of superiority was formerly. The Revolu- 
tion of 1TS9 was the revenge of the con- 
quered. The peasants have g-ot a foot- 
hold in the possession of the soil, which 
was interdicted to them for twelve hun- 
dred years by the feudal law. Hence 
their love for the land, which they share 
among" themselves, even to cutting a fur- 
row in two, which often prevents the col- 
lection of the taxes, for the value of the 
property is not sufficient to cover the ex- 
pense of the legal costs." 

" Their obstinacy and defiance is such," 
interrupted Blondet, "that in a thousand 
out of the three thousand cantons of which 
French territor^^ is composed, it is impos- 
sible for a rich man to purchase the prop- 
erty of a peasant. The peasants, who 
will sell their little bits of land to each 
other, will not part with them at anj' 
price to a bourgeois. The more money 
a large proprietor offers the more does 
the vague distrust of the peasant in- 
crease. Legal dispossession alone will 
bring the property of the peasant under 
the common law of barter. Many have 
observed this fact, but no one seems to 
know the reason for it." 

"The reason is this," replied the abbe, 
rightly construing Blondet's pause as 
equivalent to an interrogation. " Twelve 
centuries are nothing for a caste which the 
historic spectacle of civilization has never 
diverted from its principal thought, and 
which still wears proudly'' the broad- 
brimmed, silk-wound hat of its masters, 
ever since an abandoned fashion left it 
for them. The love whose root lies in 
the innermost parts of the people, and 
which attached itself violently to Napo- 
leon, who was less in its secret than he 
imagined himself to be, and which may 
explain the miracle of his return in 1815, 



248 



THE HUM AX COMEDY. 



proceeded solely from this idea. In the 
eyes of the people, Napoleon, who was 
everlastingly bound to them by his mil- 
lion of soldiers, is the king* who has come 
forth from the loins of the Revolution, 
the man who assures to them the posses- 
sion of landed property. His coronation 
was steeped in this idea." 

'^ An idea upon which 1814 had a dis- 
astrous effect, and which the monarchy 
should hold sacred," said Blondet quick- 
ly ; '•' for the people may find near the 
throne a prince to whom his father be- 
queathed the head of Louis XVI. as an 
heirloom." 

" Here is madame ; say no more," said 
Brossette in a low voice. " Fourchon 
frightened her; and we must keep her 
here, in the interests of religion and the 
throne, to say nothing of the estate 
itself." 

Michaud had probably been brought to 
the chateau by the attempt perpetrated 
beneath Vatel's e^' es. But before giving 
the result of the deliberation which had 
just taken place in the council of state, 
the march of events demands a concise 
narrative of the circumstances under 
which the general had purchased les 
Aigues, the grave reasons which had 
made Sibilet the land-steward of this 
magnificent property, the causes w^hich 
had led to the appointment of Michaud 
as head keeper, and the antecedents 
which had led to the situation of mind 
and the fears expressed by Sibilet. 

This rapid review will have the advan- 
tage of introducing some of the principal 
actors in the drama, of outlining their in- 
terests, and of describing the dangers of 
the situation in which General Montcornet 
now found himself. 



VI. 



* A TALE OF ROBBERY. 

When pacing a visit to her property 
about 1791, Mademoiselle Laguerre en- 
gaged as steward the son of the former 
bailiff of Soulanges, a man by the name 



of Gaubertin. The little city of Soulanges, 
now nothing more than the county town 
of a canton, was the capital of a consider- 
able district in the times when the houses 
of France and Burgundy were waging 
war against each other. Ville-aux-Fayes, 
■where the sous-prefecture is located to- 
day, was then subject to Soulanges, as 
were Aigues, Ronquerolles, Cerneux, 
Conches and fifteen other parishes. The 
Soulanges have remained simple counts, 
while at the present day the Ronquerolles 
are marquises, thanks to that sovereign 
power called the court which raised the 
son of Captain du Plessis to a dukedom 
and gave him precedency over the first 
families of the conquest. This proves that 
the destiny of cities, like that of families, 
is variable. 

The bailiff's son, a penniless bachelor, 
succeeded to a steward who had grown 
rich during his thirty years of power and 
chose to step down and out in oi-der to 
take a third share in the famous Minoret 
company that collected the revenues of 
Aigues. It was in his own interest that 
the future commissary nominated as in- 
tendant Francois Gaubertin, who had 
been his accountant for five years and 
w^ho, to show his gratitude to the master 
who had initiated him into the secrets 
of their profession, promised to obtain 
for him an acquittance from Mademoi- 
selle Laguerre, whose mind was ill at 
ease on account of the Revolution. The 
ex-bailiff, now public prosecutor of the 
department, w^as the protector of the 
timid songstress. This provincial Fou- 
quier-Tinville incited a spurious emeute 
against a queen of the stage, who w^as 
evidently become suspected by reason of 
her connection with the aristocracy, in 
order that his son might have the merit 
of being her apparent savior, and in this 
way they obtained an acquittance for the 
former incumbent. Thereon Citizeness 
Laguerre made Francois Gaubertin her 
prime minister, partly from policy, partly 
from gratitude. 

The future purveyor of provisions to 
the armies of the Republic had not wished 
to spoil mademoiselle by high living : he 
transmitted to Paris about thirty thou- 



A TRAGEDY OF THE PEASANTRY. 



249 



sand livres annually, whereas Aig-ues 
must have produced at the very least 
forty thousand in those days ; the diva in 
her innocence was consequently greatly 
surprised when Gaubertin promised her 
thirt^'-'Six. 

In order to account for the fortune of 
the regisseur of Aig-ues we must go hack 
to the beginning". Through his father's 
influence young- Gaubertin was elected 
mayor of Blangy. He was able, there- 
fore, in spite of the law of the land, 
having- it in his power to intensify or 
mitig-ate the severity of the crushing 
requisitions of the Republic, by terror- 
izing (a newly coined expression) the 
debtors of the State to extract from them 
g-old and silver in payment of their dues. 
The worthy steward turned in assignats 
to his employer in settlement of his ac- 
counts so long- as this paper money con- 
tinued to be current, which, if it did not 
increase the public wealth, made many 
private fortunes. In the course of three 
years, from 179'3 to 1795, 3'oung- Gauber- 
tin made at Aigues a hundred and fift^^ 
thousand livres, with which he operated 
at Paris. Mademoiselle Lag-uerre, with 
more assignats than she knew what to do 
with, was obliged to raise money on her 
diamonds, which were of no further use to 
her; she g-ave them to Gaubertin, who 
sold them and faithfully returned the ]Dro- 
ceeds in silver. Such an instance of prob- 
ity touched mademoiselle deeply; her 
confidence in Gaubertin after that was as 
g-reat as in Piccini. 

In 1T96, when he took to wife the Citi- 
zeness Isaure Mouchon, daughter of an 
old friend of his father in the daA's of the 
Convention, Gaubertin was worth three 
hundred and fifty thousand francs in coin, 
and as the stability of the Directorate ap- 
peared to him a matter of some doubt, he 
wished to have mademoiselle approve the 
accounts of his five years' stewardship, 
excusing- himself on the g-round that he 
was about to make a new departure. 

^'1 shall be a family man," said he. 
" You know the reputation that intend- 
ants generally have ; my father-in-law is 
a P.epublican of more than Roman integ- 
rity, and a man of influence besides ; I 



desire to show him that I am worthy to 
be connected with him." 

Mademoiselle Laguerre approved Gau- 
bertin's accounts in the most flattering 
terms. 

In order to gain the confidence of the 
lady of Aig-ues the regisseur tried in the 
beginning- to keep the peasants in check, 
fearing-, and with good reason, that the 
revenue would suffer from their devasta- 
tions, and that his own bonus from the 
wood-merchant would be cut down ; but 
in those times the sovereig-n people were 
everywhere making- themselves very much 
at home ; madame, on seeing- her kings 
so hear at hand, was afraid of them, and 
told her Richelieu that it was her desire, 
above all thing-s, to die in peace. The in- 
come of the former ornament of the stage 
was so much in excess of her expenditure 
that she allowed the most fatal prece- 
dents to be established. To avoid a law- 
suit she suffered her neig-hbors to trench 
on her property. Her park being- sur- 
rounded b}^ walls too lofty to be scaled, 
she had no fear of being- disturbed in her 
present enjoyments, and, like the true 
philosopher she was, demanded nothing 
but tranquillity. A few thousand francs 
of income more or less, the reductions in 
his lease exacted by the wood-merchant 
to pay for the depredations committed by 
the peasants, what were those thing-s to 
the careless, prodig-al ex-cantatrice, whose 
hundred thousand francs of yearly rev- 
enue had all been spent on her pleasures 
and who had submitted without a mur- 
mur to a reduction of two-thirds on her 
sixty thousand francs of rental ? 

''Ha ! " said she, with the insouciance 
of the high liver of the old regime, " every 
one must live, even the Republic ! " 

Mademoiselle Cochet, confidential maid 
and female g-rand vizier to her ladj^ship, 
had attempted to enlighten her mistress, 
when she saw the ascendency that Gau- 
bertin was acquiring- over her whom he at 
first called Madame, notwithstanding- the 
laws concerning equalitj^ ; but Gaubertin, 
in turn, enlightened Mademoiselle Cochet, 
by producing a denunciation said to have 
been received by his father, the public 
prosecutor, in which she was accused of 



250 



THE HUMAN COMEDY, 



being in correspondence with Pitt and 
Coburg-. From that time forth the pair 
reigned with divided authority, but after 
the fashion of Montgomery ; Cochet would 
speak a good word for Gaubertin in Made- 
moiselle Laguerre's ear, and he would do 
the same for her. The female attend- 
ant's bed was already made, moreover ; 
she knew that she was down in madame's 
will for sixty thousand francs. Madame 
was so habituated to the Cochet that she 
could not dispense with her; the girl 
knew all the secrets of her dear mistress's 
toilet, she had a thousand pretty tales 
with which to bring sleep to dear mis- 
tress's eyes at night, and a store of flat- 
teries with which to awake her in the 
morning ; finally, she never could see any 
change in dear mistress up to the day of 
her death, and when dear mistress was in 
her grave, she doubtless found her better 
looking there than ever. 

The j^early pickings of Gaubertin and 
Mademoiselle Cochet, in the way of salary 
and perquisites, became so considerable, 
that had they been the dear creature's 
own father and mother their affection 
for her could not have been greater. No 
one can tell the extent to which the rogue 
makes much of and pets his dupe ; no 
mother is so loving and attentive toward 
a cherished daughter as is one of these 
Tartuffes toward the cow that he is milk- 
ing for his own special benefit. What suc- 
cess attends the representation of " Tar- 
tuff e" played before a private audience ! 
That shows the value of friendship. Mo- 
liere died too early ; he should have given 
us Orgon maddened b}'^ the persecutions 
of his family and children, longing for 
Tartuffe's flatteries, and saving : " Those 
were the good old times ! " 

During the last eight years of her life. 
Mademoiselle Laguerre did not receive 
more than thirt}' thousand francs of the 
fifty which the Aigues property actually 
yielded. Gaubertin, as we maj^ see, had 
attained the same administrative results 
as his predecessor, althoug'h rents and the 
price of all kinds of country produce had 
materially increased between 1791 and 
1815, to say nothing of the additions 
that Mademoiselle Laguerre was con- 



stantly making to her domain. But the 
scheme b,y virtue of which Gaubertin 
hoped to obtain possession of Aigues at 
madame's death compelled him to keep 
this magnificent estate in a condition of 
apparent poverty as to its visible income. 
The Cochet had been initiated into the 
project and was to have a share of the 
profits. As the former ornament of the 
stage in her declining days, with a fort- 
une in the funds styled consolidated (the 
language of finance often serves to con- 
ceal a good joke) which paid her an an- 
nual interest of twenty thousand livres, 
spent barely the twenty thousand francs 
aforesaid, it amazed her to hear of the 
fresh acquisitions her steward was mak- 
ing year after year to employ the surplus 
funds, for she had hitherto alwaj^s spent 
her income before she received it. She 
attributed the diminishing requirements 
of her old age to the honesty of Gauber- 
tin and Mademoiselle Cochet. 

" They are a pair of pearls ! " she said 
to those who came to see her. 

Gaubertin, moreover, was careful that 
his accounts should appear perfectly reg- 
ular. He charged himself rigorously on 
the books with all the rentals; everything 
that was to undergo the inspection of the 
cantatrice, whose strong point was not 
arithmetic, was clear, lucid and precise. 
It was in the items of expenditure that 
the steward found his profits : the cost of 
breaking up new land, fencing and drain- 
ing, commissions to brokers, repairs, the 
new processes he invented, details which 
madame never thought of investigating, 
and which he oftentimes made double 
what they should be, thanks to the con- 
nivance of contractors, whose silence was 
purchased by advantageous bargains. 
This easy way of doing business acquired 
for Gaubertin the esteem of the public, 
and madame's praises were in the mouth 
of every one ; for besides what she distrib- 
uted in works of public utility, she spent 
a great deal in charity. 

'' God bless and save her, dear lady ! " 
was what every one said. 

Everybody, in fact, got something from 
her, either as a gift out and out or indi- 
rectly. As if in atonement for the errors 



A TRAGEDY OF THE PEASANTRY. 



251 



of her youth the aged artiste was con- 
scientiously pillaged, and pillaged in such 
an artistic way that every one imposed a 
certain degree of restraint on himself, 
so that the matter should not be carried 
to such a length as to open her ej-es and 
make her sell Aigues and return to Paris 
to live. 

It is to this interest of banded plun- 
der that is to be attributed the murder 
of Paul Louis Courier, who was so im- 
prudent as to mention his intention of 
selling his propert^^ and removing his 
wife, off whom several Tonsards of Tou- 
raine were living. With this example 
before their eyes, the plunderers of Aigues 
hesitated to kill the goose that laid them 
golden eggs ; they would not cut down a 
young tree except as a measure of last 
necessity, when their longest poles were 
too short to reach the persimmons in the 
topmost branches. In the interest of 
their own j)eculations, the\'' did as little 
mischief as possible. In spite of all, how- 
ever, during the last years of Mademoi- 
selle Laguerre's life, the usage of going 
to the forest to collect wood had degener- 
ated into a most shameless abuse ; on 
some moonlight nights, no less than two 
hundred fagots would be bundled up and 
carried off. And as for gleanage and 
ballebotage, Aigues lost by them one- 
fourth of its products, as Sibilet has 
shown. 

Mademoiselle Laguerre had laid an in- 
junction on Cochefs marrying during her 
lifetime, prompted by a sort of proprietary 
feeling as between mistress and maid, of 
which examples are not infrequent, and 
which is not more ridiculous than our 
mania for holding on until our last gasp 
to wealth that can do us no earthl}^ good, 
at the risk of being poisoned by our im- 
patient heire. Twenty days after Made- 
moiselle Laguerre's funeral, therefore, 
Mademoiselle Cochet was married to the 
corporal of the gendarmerie of Soulanges, 
a man by the name of Soudry, very good- 
looking and about forty-two years old, 
who, ever since the time when the gen- 
darmerie was created in 1800, had been 
coming to Aigues almost daily to visit 
her, and was in the habit of dining at 



least four days out of the seven with her 
and Gaubertin. 

All her life long ma dame had taken her 
meals in solitarj'- state, unless when she 
had company. Never, notwithstanding 
the terms of familiarity on which the\' 
lived, were Cochet and the Gaubertins 
admitted to the table of the leading lady 
of the Royal Academy of Music and the 
Dance, who, to the last breath she drew, 
retained all the awlful majesty her position 
gave her, with all the paraphernalia — car- 
riage, horses, servants, rouge and high- 
heeled slippers — thereto pertaining. She 
reigned upon the stage, she reigned in 
social life, and she continued to reign in 
the retirement of the country, where her 
memory is still respected and where she 
occupies, to the minds of the best society 
of Soulanges, a position certainly not in- 
ferior to any member of the court of Louis 
Seize. 

This man Soudry, who commenced to 
make love to the Cochet almost as soon 
as he made his appearance in the countr}-, 
was the owner of the finest house in Sou- 
langes ; his pay was about six thousand 
francs and he had a prospect of a pension 
of four hundred francs whenever he should 
leave the service. The Cochet, once she 
had changed her name to Soudry, was 
treated with the highest consideration 
in Soulanges. She maintained the strict- 
est silence as to the amount of her sav- 
ings, which, like Gaubertin's funds, were 
invested at Paris with a person named 
Leclercq, agent for the wine-dealers of 
the department and himself a native of 
the country, in whose business the stew- 
ard had a silent interest ; but if public 
opinion was to be believed, the ci-devant 
lady's maid was one of the first fortunes 
in that little town of some twelve hun- 
dred souls. 

Much to the surprise of the entire 
country-side. Monsieur and Madame Sou- 
dry in their marriage contract legiti- 
mized a natural son of the gendarme, 
whom this action would entitle to in- 
herit Madame Sondrj^'s fortune. On the 
very day when this son had a mothei* 
officially bestowed upon him, he con- 
cluded his law studies at Paris, where 



252 



THE HUMAN COMEDY. 



lie proposed to serve liis apprenticeship 
in order to prepare himself for a place 
in the mag'istrac3% 

It is hardl3'" necessar3^ to state that a 
mutual understanding- extending- over a 
period of twenty years had eng-endered 
a friendship of the firmest kind between the 
Gauhertins and the Soudrys. To the very 
last day of their lives they g-ave themselves 
out, urhi et orhi, to he the most uprig-ht, 
the honestest, the best people in the entire 
re?Jm of France. This mutual liking that 
two men be^r each other, based on the re- 
ciprocal knowledge of the dark stains there 
are on the white tunic of their conscience, 
constitutes one of the most difficult ties 
to loosen there are in this wide world. 
You, vary friend, who are reading- this 
social drama, are so well assured of this 
that to explain the duration of certain 
friendships that put your egotism to the 
blush, you sa}'' of the two devoted ones : 
" Surely fhey must have committed some 
awful crime together ! " 

After an incumbency of five and twenty 
years the steward found himself owner of 
a snug- fortune of six hundred thousand 
francs, and the fair Cochet had in the 
neighborhood of two hundred and fift^^ 
thousand. The activity with which these 
funds were turned over and over by the 
firm of Leclercq & Co., Quai de Bethune, 
He Saint Louis, rivals in business of the 
house of Grandet & Co., assisted materi- 
ally in building up the huge fortune of the 
commission merchant as well as that of 
Gaubertin. At Mademoiselle Laguerre's 
death Jenny, the intendant's oldest daugh- 
ter, was sought in marriage by Leclercq, 
the head of the house in the Quai de Be- 
thune. Gaubertin was at that time flat- 
tering- himself with hopes of becoming- 
master of Aigues, by virtue of a plot 
hatched in the office of Maitre Lupin, the 
notary, whom he had set up in business 
at Soulanges twelve years previously. 

Lupin, son of the last intendant of the 
Soulang-es family, had lent himself to 
various not strictly honorable practices : 
appraisements at fifty per cent under 
value, advertisements published in ob- 
scure journals ; all the methods, in fine, 
that are unfortunately so common in the 



country by which g-reat properties are 
frequently knocked down to favored par- 
ties for a g-reat deal less than they are 
worth. Of late, they say, a company 
has been formed at Paris that has for its 
object to extort money from these wil}'' 
individuals by threatening- to outbid them. 
But in 181G the fierce light of the daily 
press did not beat upon France as it does 
at the present day, and the accomplices 
might safely count on the success of their 
scheme for partitioning- the Aigues prop- 
erty in secret between la Cochet, the 
notary and Gaubertin, who promised 
himself, in petto, to secure the others' 
shares by a payment of ready money as 
soon as the property should be in his 
name. The lawj^er employed by Lupin to 
look after the partition sale had sold his 
business on credit to Gaubertin for the 
latter's son, so that he was quite read3'' 
to wink at this robbery if so be that any 
of the eleven farmers of Picardy, to whom 
this inheritance was such an unexpected 
windfall, should consider himself robbed. 
Just as all the parties in interest were 
soothing- themselves with the belief that 
their fortunes were to be increased two- 
fold, there came a lawyer from Paris on 
the very day before the sale, whose object 
was to commission one of the lawyers of 
Ville-aux-Fayes (who had formerly been a 
clerk in the Parisian lawyer's ofl3.ce) to 
purchase Aig-ues, and the property was 
knocked down to him for a million one 
hundred thousand and fifty francs. None 
of tlie conspirators dared g-o above the 
bid of eleven hundred thousand francs. 
Gaubertin believed there was foul play on 
Soudry's part, just as Lupin and Soudry 
believed themselves defrauded 'bj Gau- 
bertin, but the decree of sale reconciled 
them. The lawyer of Ville-aux-Fayes, 
although suspecting the existence of a 
plot on the part of Gaubertin, Lupin and 
Soudry, did not think best to inform his 
old emploj'^er, and for this reason : Should 
the new owners see fit to blab, the con- 
spirators would soon make it so hot for 
the ministerial functionary that he would 
have to leave the countr\^ This reticence, 
quite characteristic of the provincial, will 
be fully justified; moreover, by the out- 



A TRAGEDY OF THE PEASANTRY. 



253 



come of this story. If the provincial is 
sly and secretive, it is because he is com- 
pelled to be ; his justification lies in the 
perils that environ him, expressed most 
admirably in the proverb : ' ' One must 
hoivl icith the wolves!" which explams 
the meaning- of the character of Philmte. 

When General Montcornet took posses- 
sion of Aig-ues, Gaubertin did not con- 
sider himself sufficiently wealth^'- to g-ive 
up his place. In order to secure the rich 
banker as his son-in-law, he had had to 
pay a dowry of two hundred thousand 
francs with his oldest daughter ; the 
business he had purchased for his son 
would cost him thirty thousand francs; 
there were left him therefore only three 
hundred and seventy thousand francs, 
from which he would sooner or later 
have to take the dowry of Eliza, his sec- 
ond daughter, for whom he proposed to 
arrang-e a match fully as advantag-eous 
as that of her elder sister. The regis- 
seur thought he would study the Comte 
de Montcornet for a while to see if there 
was not a possibility of his becoming- dis- 
gusted with Aigues, in which event he 
would turn to his own individual account 
the conception that had come to naught. 

"With the cunning- peculiar to those 
who have acquired their wealth by un- 
derhanded means, Gaubertin thoug-ht, 
and not without a good deal of reason, 
too, that between an old soldier and an 
old cantatrice there must be many points 
of resemblance. A child of the Opera, an 
old general of Napoleon's, must not their 
habits of prodigality, their reckless insou- 
ciance be indentical ? Does not wealth 
bestow its favors capriciously, blindly, 
on the soldier as well as on the actress ? 
If we encounter military men who are 
shrewd, politic and far-seeing-, is it not 
the exception rather than the rule ? 
Most frequently, on the contrary", the 
sojdier, especially when he is a hard- 
riding, tough old cavalry officer, is 
simple, confiding, a g-reenhorn in busi- 
ness and not likely to bother his head 
with the wearisome, countless details in- 
volved in a supervision of his property. 
Gaubertin flattered himself that he sliould 
be able to take and keep the g-eneral in 



the same toils in which Mademoiselle La- 
guerre had ended her da3^s. But it so 
chanced that the emperor had once, of 
malice prepense, suffered Montcornet to 
be in Pomerania what Gaubertin now 
was at Aigues; the g-eneral therefore 
had some knowledge of stewards and 
their ways. 

In coming- to Aigues to plant cabbag-es, 
to use the first Due de Biron's expression, 
the old cavalrj'- officer wished to have an 
occupation to occupy his mind in order 
that he might cease to remember his dis- 
grace. He had turned his arm}' corps 
over to the Bourbons, a service that had 
been performed by many another g-eneral 
and st^ied the disbandment of the Army 
of the Loire; but never could he atone for 
his crime in having ridden behind the 
Man of the Hundred Days on his last 
battlefield. It was impossible for the 
peer of 1815, in presence of the foreigner, 
to keep his name on the army list ; still 
less could he remain at the Luxembourg-. 
Montcornet, therefore, accepted the ad- 
vice of a marshal, disgraced like himself, 
and took himself off to cultivate carrots 
and turnips. The g-eneral had his share 
of that acuteness that is often met with 
among- the old wolves of the watch-fire, 
and he had not much more than begun to 
look into his