STORIES BY ENGLISH AUTHORS
A LODGING FOR THE NIGHT, By Robert Louis Stevenson
A LEAF IN THE STORM, By Ouida
THE TRAVELLER'S STORY OF A TERRIBLY STRANGE BED, By Wilkie Collins
PROLOGUE TO THE FIRST STORY
THE TRAVELLER'S STORY OF A TERRIBLY STRANGE BED
MICHEL LORIO'S CROSS, By Hesba Stretton
A PERILOUS AMOUR, By S. J. Weyman
A LODGING FOR THE NIGHT, By Robert Louis Stevenson
It was late in November, 1456. The snow fell over Paris with rigorous,
relentless persistence; sometimes the wind made a sally and scattered it
in flying vortices; sometimes there was a lull, and flake after flake
descended out of the black night air, silent, circuitous, interminable.
To poor people, looking up under moist eyebrows, it seemed a wonder
where it all came from. Master Francis Villon had propounded an
alternative that afternoon, at a tavern window: was it only pagan
Jupiter plucking geese upon Olympus? or were the holy angels moulting?
He was only a poor Master of Arts, he went on; and as the question
somewhat touched upon divinity, he durst not venture to conclude. A
silly old priest from Montargis, who was among the company, treated the
young rascal to a bottle of wine in honour of the jest and grimaces with
which it was accompanied, and swore on his own white beard that he had
been just such another irreverent dog when he was Villon's age.
The air was raw and pointed, but not far below freezing; and the flakes
were large, damp, and adhesive. The whole city was sheeted up. An army
might have marched from end to end and not a footfall given the alarm.
If there were any belated birds in heaven, they saw the island like a
large white patch, and the bridges like slim white spars on the black
ground of the river. High up overhead the snow settled among the tracery
of the cathedral towers. Many a niche was drifted full; many a statue
wore a long white bonnet on its grotesque or sainted head. The gargoyles
had been transformed into great false noses, drooping toward the point.
The crockets were like upright pillows swollen on one side. In the
intervals of the wind there was a dull sound dripping about the
precincts of the church.
The cemetery of St. John had taken its own share of the snow. All the
graves were decently covered; tall white housetops stood around in grave
array; worthy burghers were long ago in bed, be-nightcapped like their
domiciles; there was no light in all the neighbourhood but a little peep
from a lamp that hung swinging in the church choir, and tossed the
shadows to and fro in time to its oscillations. The clock was hard on
ten when the patrol went by with halberds and a lantern, beating their
hands; and they saw nothing suspicious about the cemetery of St. John.
Yet there was a small house, backed up against the cemetery wall, which
was still awake, and awake to evil purpose, in that snoring district.
There was not much to betray it from without; only a stream of warm
vapour from the chimney-top, a patch where the snow melted on the roof,
and a few half-obliterated footprints at the door. But within, behind
the shuttered windows, Master Francis Villon, the poet, and some of the
thievish crew with whom he consorted, were keeping the night alive and
passing round the bottle.
A great pile of living embers diffused a strong and ruddy glow from the
arched chimney. Before this straddled Dom Nicolas, the Picardy monk,
with his skirts picked up and his fat legs bared to the comfortable
warmth. His dilated shadow cut the room in half; and the firelight only
escaped on either side of his broad person, and in a little pool between
his outspread feet. His face had the beery, bruised appearance of the
continual drinker's; it was covered with a network of congested veins,
purple in ordinary circumstances, but now pale violet, for even with his
back to the fire the cold pinched him on the other side. His cowl had
half fallen back, and made a strange excrescence on either side of his
bull-neck. So he straddled, grumbling, and cut the room in half with the
shadow of his portly frame.
On the right, Villon and Guy Tabary were huddled together over a scrap of
parchment; Villon making a ballade which he was to call the "Ballade of
Roast Fish," and Tabary sputtering admiration at his shoulder. The poet
was a rag of a man, dark, little, and lean, with hollow cheeks and thin
black locks. He carried his four and twenty years with feverish
animation. Greed had made folds about his eyes, evil smiles had puckered
his mouth. The wolf and pig struggled together in his face. It was an
eloquent, sharp, ugly, earthly countenance. His hands were small and
prehensile, with fingers knotted like a cord; and they were continually
flickering in front of him in violent and expressive pantomime. As for
Tabary, a broad, complacent, admiring imbecility breathed from his
squash nose and slobbering lips; he had become a thief, just as he might
have become the most decent of burgesses, by the imperious chance that
rules the lives of human geese and human donkeys.
At the monk's other hand, Montigny and Thevenin Pensete played a game of
chance. About the first there clung some flavour of good birth and
training, as about a fallen angel; something long, lithe, and courtly in
the person; something aquiline and darkling in the face. Thevenin, poor
soul, was in great feather; he had done a good stroke of knavery that
afternoon in the Faubourg St. Jacques, and all night he had been gaining
from Montigny. A flat smile illuminated his face; his bald head shone
rosily in a garland of red curls; his little protuberant stomach shook
with silent chucklings as he swept in his gains.
"Doubles or quits?" said Thevenin.
Montigny nodded grimly.
"Some may prefer to dine in state," wrote Villon, "on bread and cheese on
silver plate. Or, or—help me out, Guido!"
"Or parsley on a golden dish," scribbled the poet.
The wind was freshening without; it drove the snow before it, and
sometimes raised its voice in a victorious whoop, and made sepulchral
grumblings in the chimney. The cold was growing sharper as the night
went on. Villon, protruding his lips, imitated the gust with something
between a whistle and a groan. It was an eerie, uncomfortable talent of
the poet's, much detested by the Picardy monk.
"Can't you hear it rattle in the gibbet?" said Villon. "They are all
dancing the devil's jig on nothing, up there. You may dance, my
gallants; you'll be none the warmer. Whew, what a gust! Down went
somebody just now! A medlar the fewer on the three-legged medlar-tree! I
say, Dom Nicolas, it'll be cold to-night on the St. Denis Road?" he
Dom Nicholas winked both his big eyes, and seemed to choke upon his Adam's
apple. Montfaucon, the great, grisly Paris gibbet, stood hard by the St.
Denis Road, and the pleasantry touched him on the raw. As for Tabary, he
laughed immoderately over the medlars; he had never heard anything more
light-hearted; and he held his sides and crowed. Villon fetched him a
fillip on the nose, which turned his mirth into an attack of coughing.
"Oh, stop that row," said Villon, "and think of rhymes to 'fish'!"
"Doubles or quits? Said Montigny, doggedly.
"With all my heart," quoth Thevenin.
"Is there any more in that bottle?" asked the monk.
"Open another," said Villon. "How do you ever hope to fill that big
hogshead, your body, with little things like bottles? And how do you
expect to get to heaven? How many angels, do you fancy, can be spared to
carry up a single monk from Picardy? Or do you think yourself another
Elias—and they'll send the coach for you?"
"Hominibus impossible," replied the monk, as he filled his glass.
Tabary was in ecstasies.
Villon filliped his nose again.
"Laugh at my jokes, if you like," he said.
Villon made a face at him. "Think of rhymes to 'fish,' " he said. "What
have you to do with Latin? You'll wish you knew none of it at the great
assizes, when the devil calls for Guido Tabary, clericus—the
devil with the humpback and red-hot fingernails. Talking of the devil,"
he added, in a whisper, "look at Montigny!"
All three peered covertly at the gamester. He did not seem to be enjoying
his luck. His mouth was a little to a side; one nostril nearly shut, and
the other much inflated. The black dog was on his back, as people say,
in terrifying nursery metaphor; and he breathed hard under the gruesome
"He looks as if he could knife him," whispered Tabary, with round eyes.
The monk shuddered, and turned his face and spread his open hands to the
red embers. It was the cold that thus affected Dom Nicolas, and not any
excess of moral sensibility.
"Come now," said Villon—"about this ballade. How does it run so far?" And
beating time with his hand, he read it aloud to Tabary.
They were interrupted at the fourth rhyme by a brief and fatal movement
among the gamesters. The round was completed, and Thevenin was just
opening his mouth to claim another victory, when Montigny leaped up,
swift as an adder, and stabbed him to the heart. The blow took effect
before he had time to utter a cry, before he had time to move. A tremor
or two convulsed his frame; his hands opened and shut, his heels rattled
on the floor; then his head rolled backward over one shoulder, with eyes
wide open; and Thevenin Pensete's spirit had returned to Him who made
Every one sprang to his feet; but the business was over in two twos. The
four living fellows looked at each other in rather a ghastly fashion,
the dead man contemplating a corner of the roof with a singular and ugly
"My God!" said Tabary, and he began to pray in Latin.
Villon broke out into hysterical laughter. He came a step forward and
ducked a ridiculous bow at Thevenin, and laughed still louder. Then he
sat down suddenly, all of a heap, upon a stool, and continued laughing
bitterly, as though he would shake himself to pieces.
Montigny recovered his composure first.
"Let's see what he has about him," he remarked; and he picked the dead
man's pockets with a practised hand, and divided the money into four
equal portions on the table. "There's for you," he said.
The monk received his share with a deep sigh, and a single stealthy glance
at the dead Thevenin, who was beginning to sink into himself and topple
sideways off the chair.
"We're all in for it," cried Villon, swallowing his mirth. "It's a hanging
job for every man Jack of us that's here—not to speak of those who
aren't." He made a shocking gesture in the air with his raised right
hand, and put out his tongue and threw his head on one side, so as to
counterfeit the appearance of one who has been hanged. Then he pocketed
his share of the spoil, and executed a shuffle with his feet as if to
restore the circulation.
Tabary was the last to help himself; he made a dash at the money, and
retired to the other end of the apartment.
Montigny stuck Thevenin upright in the chair, and drew out the dagger,
which was followed by a jet of blood.
"You fellows had better be moving," he said, as he wiped the blade on his
"I think we had," returned Villon, with a gulp. "Damn his fat head!" he
broke out. "It sticks in my throat like phlegm. What right has a man to
have red hair when he is dead?" And he fell all of a heap again upon the
stool, and fairly covered his face with his hands.
Montigny and Dom Nicolas laughed aloud, even Tabary feebly chiming in.
"Cry-baby!" said the monk.
"I always said he was a woman," added Montigny, with a sneer. "Sit up,
can't you?" he went on, giving another shake to the murdered body.
"Tread out that fire, Nick!"
But Nick was better employed; he was quietly taking Villon's purse, as the
poet sat, limp and trembling, on the stool where he had been making a
ballade not three minutes before. Montigny and Tabary dumbly demanded a
share of the booty, which the monk silently promised as he passed the
little bag into the bosom of his gown. In many ways an artistic nature
unfits a man for practical existence.
No sooner had the theft been accomplished than Villon shook himself,
jumped to his feet, and began helping to scatter and extinguish the
embers. Meanwhile Montigny opened the door and cautiously peered into
the street. The coast was clear; there was no meddlesome patrol in
sight. Still it was judged wiser to slip out severally; and as Villon
was himself in a hurry to escape from the neighbourhood of the dead
Thevenin, and the rest were in a still greater hurry to get rid of him
before he should discover the loss of his money, he was the first by
general consent to issue forth into the street.
The wind had triumphed and swept all the clouds from heaven. Only a few
vapours, as thin as moonlight, fleeted rapidly across the stars. It was
bitter cold; and, by a common optical effect, things seemed almost more
definite than in the broadest daylight. The sleeping city was absolutely
still; a company of white hoods, a field full of little alps, below the
twinkling stars. Villon cursed his fortune. Would it were still snowing!
Now, wherever he went, he left an indelible trail behind him on the
glittering streets; wherever he went, he was still tethered to the house
by the cemetery of St. John; wherever he went, he must weave, with his
own plodding feet, the rope that bound him to the crime and would bind
him to the gallows. The leer of the dead man came back to him with new
significance. He snapped his fingers as if to pluck up his own spirits,
and, choosing a street at random, stepped boldly forward in the snow.
Two things preoccupied him as he went: the aspect of the gallows at
Montfaucon in this bright, windy phase of the night's existence, for
one; and for another, the look of the dead man with his bald head and
garland of red curls. Both struck cold upon his heart, and he kept
quickening his pace as if he could escape from unpleasant thoughts by
mere fleetness of foot. Sometimes he looked back over his shoulder with
a sudden nervous jerk; but he was the only moving thing in the white
streets, except when the wind swooped round a corner and threw up the
snow, which was beginning to freeze, in spouts of glittering dust.
Suddenly he saw, a long way before him, a black clump and a couple of
lanterns. The clump was in motion, and the lanterns swung as though
carried by men walking. It was a patrol. And though it was merely
crossing his line of march he judged it wiser to get out of eyeshot as
speedily as he could. He was not in the humour to be challenged, and he
was conscious of making a very conspicuous mark upon the snow. Just on
his left hand there stood a great hotel, with some turrets and a large
porch before the door; it was half ruinous, he remembered, and had long
stood empty; and so he made three steps of it, and jumped into the
shelter of the porch. It was pretty dark inside, after the glimmer of
the snowy streets, and he was groping forward with outspread hands, when
he stumbled over some substance which offered an indescribable mixture
of resistances, hard and soft, firm and loose. His heart gave a leap,
and he sprang two steps back and stared dreadfully at the obstacle. Then
he gave a little laugh of relief. It was only a woman, and she dead. He
knelt beside her to make sure upon this latter point. She was freezing
cold, and rigid like a stick. A little ragged finery fluttered in the
wind about her hair, and her cheeks had been heavily rouged that same
afternoon. Her pockets were quite empty; but in her stocking, underneath
the garter, Villon found two of the small coins that went by the name of
whites. It was little enough, but it was always something; and the poet
was moved with a deep sense of pathos that she should have died before
she had spent her money. That seemed to him a dark and pitiable mystery;
and he looked from the coins in his hand to the dead woman, and back
again to the coins, shaking his head over the riddle of man's life.
Henry V. of England, dying at Vincennes just after he had conquered
France, and this poor jade cut off by a cold draught in a great man's
doorway before she had time to spend her couple of whites—it seemed a
cruel way to carry on the world. Two whites would have taken such a
little while to squander; and yet it would have been one more good taste
in the mouth, one more smack of the lips, before the devil got the soul,
and the body was left to birds and vermin. He would like to use all his
tallow before the light was blown out and the lantern broken.
While these thoughts were passing through his mind, he was feeling, half
mechanically, for his purse. Suddenly his heart stopped beating; a
feeling of cold scales passed up the back of his legs, and a cold blow
seemed to fall upon his scalp. He stood petrified for a moment; then he
felt again with one feverish movement; then his loss burst upon him, and
he was covered at once with perspiration. To spendthrifts money is so
living and actual—it is such a thin veil between them and their
pleasures! There is only one limit to their fortune—that of time; and a
spendthrift with only a few crowns is the Emperor of Rome until they are
spent. For such a person to lose his money is to suffer the most
shocking reverse, and fall from heaven to hell, from all to nothing, in
a breath. And all the more if he has put his head in the halter for it;
if he may be hanged to-morrow for that same purse, so dearly earned, so
foolishly departed! Villon stood and cursed; he threw the two whites
into the street; he shook his fist at heaven; he stamped, and was not
horrified to find himself trampling the poor corpse. Then he began
rapidly to retrace his steps toward the house beside the cemetery. He
had forgotten all fear of the patrol, which was long gone by at any
rate, and had no idea but that of his lost purse. It was in vain that he
looked right and left upon the snow; nothing was to be seen. He had not
dropped it in the streets. Had it fallen in the house? He would have
liked dearly to go in and see; but the idea of the grisly occupant
unmanned him. And he saw besides, as he drew near, that their efforts to
put out the fire had been unsuccessful; on the contrary, it had broken
into a blaze, and a changeful light played in the chinks of door and
window, and revived his terror for the authorities and Paris gibbet.
He returned to the hotel with the porch, and groped about upon the snow
for the money he had thrown away in his childish passion. But he could
only find one white; the other had probably struck sideways and sunk
deeply in. With a single white in his pocket, all his projects for a
rousing night in some wild tavern vanished utterly away. And it was not
only pleasure that fled laughing from his grasp; positive discomfort,
positive pain, attacked him as he stood ruefully before the porch. His
perspiration had dried upon him; and although the wind had now fallen, a
binding frost was setting in stronger with every hour, and he felt
benumbed and sick at heart. What was to be done? Late as was the hour,
improbable as was his success, he would try the house of his adopted
father, the chaplain of St. Benoit.
He ran all the way, and knocked timidly. There was no answer. He knocked
again and again, taking heart with every stroke; and at last steps were
heard approaching from within. A barred wicket fell open in the
iron-studded door, and emitted a gush of yellow light.
"Hold up your face to the wicket," said the chaplain from within.
"It's only me," whimpered Villon.
"Oh, it's only you, is it?" returned the chaplain; and he cursed him with
foul, unpriestly oaths for disturbing him at such an hour, and bade him
be off to hell, where he came from.
"My hands are blue to the wrist," pleaded Villon; "my feet are dead and
full of twinges; my nose aches with the sharp air; the cold lies at my
heart. I may be dead before morning. Only this once, father, and, before
God, I will never ask again!"
"You should have come earlier," said the ecclesiastic, coolly. "Young men
require a lesson now and then." He shut the wicket and retired
deliberately into the interior of the house.
Villon was beside himself; he beat upon the door with his hands and feet,
and shouted hoarsely after the chaplain.
"Wormy old fox!" he cried. "If I had my hand under your twist, I would
send you flying headlong into the bottomless pit."
A door shut in the interior, faintly audible to the poet down long
passages. He passed his hand over his mouth with an oath. And then the
humour of the situation struck him, and he laughed and looked lightly up
to heaven, where the stars seemed to be winking over his discomfiture.
What was to be done? It looked very like a night in the frosty streets.
The idea of the dead woman popped into his imagination, and gave him a
hearty fright; what had happened to her in the early night might very
well happen to him before morning. And he so young! And with such
immense possibilities of disorderly amusement before him! He felt quite
pathetic over the notion of his own fate, as if it had been some one
else's, and made a little imaginative vignette of the scene in the
morning when they should find his body.
He passed all his chances under review, turning the white between his
thumb and forefinger. Unfortunately he was on bad terms with some old
friends who would once have taken pity on him in such a plight. He had
lampooned them in verses; he had beaten and cheated them; and yet now,
when he was in so close a pinch, he thought there was at least one who
might perhaps relent. It was a chance. It was worth trying at least, and
he would go and see.
On the way, two little accidents happened to him which coloured his
musings in a very different manner. For, first, he fell in with the
track of a patrol, and walked in it for some hundred yards, although it
lay out of his direction. And this spirited him up; at least he had
confused his trail; for he was still possessed with the idea of people
tracking him all about Paris over the snow, and collaring him next
morning before he was awake. The other matter affected him quite
differently. He passed a street-corner where, not so long before, a
woman and her child had been devoured by wolves. This was just the kind
of weather, he reflected, when wolves might take it into their heads to
enter Paris again; and a lone man in these deserted streets would run
the chance of something worse than a mere scare. He stopped and looked
upon the place with an unpleasant interest—it was a centre where several
lanes intersected each other; and he looked down them all, one after
another, and held his breath to listen, lest he should detect some
galloping black things on the snow or hear the sound of howling between
him and the river. He remembered his mother telling him the story and
pointing out the spot, while he was yet a child. His mother! If he only
knew where she lived, he might make sure at least of shelter. He
determined he would inquire upon the morrow; nay, he would go and see
her, too, poor old girl! So thinking, he arrived at his destination—his
last hope for the night.
The house was quite dark, like its neighbours; and yet after a few taps he
heard a movement overhead, a door opening, and a cautious voice asking
who was there. The poet named himself in a loud whisper, and waited, not
without some trepidation, the result. Nor had he to wait long. A window
was suddenly opened, and a pailful of slops splashed down upon the
door-step. Villon had not been unprepared for something of the sort, and
had put himself as much in shelter as the nature of the porch admitted;
but for all that he was deplorably drenched below the waist. His hose
began to freeze almost at once. Death from cold and exposure stared him
in the face; he remembered he was of phthisical tendency, and began
coughing tentatively. But the gravity of the danger steadied his nerves.
He stopped a few hundred yards from the door where he had been so rudely
used, and reflected with his finger to his nose. He could only see one
way of getting a lodging, and that was to take it. He had noticed a
house not far away, which looked as if it might be easily broken into;
and thither he betook himself promptly, entertaining himself on the way
with the idea of a room still hot, with a table still loaded with the
remains of supper, where he might pass the rest of the black hours, and
whence he should issue, on the morrow, with an armful of valuable plate.
He even considered on what viands and what wines he should prefer; and
as he was calling the roll of his favourite dainties, roast fish
presented itself to his mind with an odd mixture of amusement and
"I shall never finish that ballade," he thought to himself; and then, with
another shudder at the recollection, "Oh, damn his fat head!" he
repeated, fervently, and spat upon the snow.
The house in question looked dark at first sight; but as Villon made a
preliminary inspection in search of the handiest point of attack, a
little twinkle of light caught his eye from behind a curtained window.
"The devil!" he thought. "People awake! Some student or some saint,
confound the crew! Can't they get drunk and lie in bed snoring like
their neighbours? What's the good of curfew, and poor devils of
bell-ringers jumping at a rope's end in bell-towers? What's the use of
day, if people sit up all night? The gripes to them!" He grinned as he
saw where his logic was leading him. "Every man to his business, after
all," added he, "and if they're awake, by the Lord, I may come by a
supper honestly for once, and cheat the devil."
He went boldly to the door and knocked with an assured hand. On both
previous occasions he had knocked timidly and with some dread of
attracting notice; but now when he had just discarded the thought of a
burglarious entry, knocking at a door seemed a mighty simple and
innocent proceeding. The sound of his blows echoed through the house
with thin, phantasmal reverberations, as though it were quite empty; but
these had scarcely died away before a measured tread drew near, a couple
of bolts were withdrawn, and one wing was opened broadly, as though no
guile or fear of guile were known to those within. A tall figure of a
man, muscular and spare, but a little bent, confronted Villon. The head
was massive in bulk, but finely sculptured; the nose blunt at the
bottom, but refining upward to where it joined a pair of strong and
honest eyebrows; the mouth and eyes surrounded with delicate markings;
and the whole face based upon a thick white beard, boldly and squarely
trimmed. Seen as it was by the light of a flickering hand-lamp, it
looked perhaps nobler than it had a right to do; but it was a fine face,
honourable rather than intelligent, strong, simple, and righteous.
"You knock late, sir," said the old man, in resonant, courteous tones.
Villon cringed, and brought up many servile words of apology; at a crisis
of this sort, the beggar was uppermost in him, and the man of genius hid
his head with confusion.
"You are cold," repeated the old man, "and hungry? Well, step in." And he
ordered him into the house with a noble enough gesture.
"Some great seigneur," thought Villon, as his host, setting down the lamp
on the flagged pavement of the entry, shot the bolts once more into
"You will pardon me if I go in front," he said, when this was done; and he
preceded the poet upstairs into a large apartment, warmed with a pan of
charcoal and lit by a great lamp hanging from the roof. It was very bare
of furniture; only some gold plate on a sideboard, some folios, and a
stand of armour between the windows. Some smart tapestry hung upon the
walls, representing the crucifixion of our Lord in one piece, and in
another a scene of shepherds and shepherdesses by a running stream. Over
the chimney was a shield of arms.
"Will you seat yourself," said the old man, "and forgive me if I leave
you? I am alone in my house to-night, and if you are to eat I must
forage for you myself."
No sooner was his host gone than Villon leaped from the chair on which he
had just seated himself, and began examining the room with the stealth
and passion of a cat. He weighed the gold flagons in his hand, opened
all the folios, and investigated the arms upon the shield, and the stuff
with which the seats were lined. He raised the window curtains, and saw
that the windows were set with rich stained glass in figures, so far as
he could see, of martial import. Then he stood in the middle of the
room, drew a long breath, and retaining it with puffed cheeks, looked
round and round him, turning on his heels, as if to impress every
feature of the apartment on his memory.
"Seven pieces of plate," he said. "If there had been ten, I would have
risked it. A fine house, and a fine old master, so help me all the
And just then, hearing the old man's tread returning along the corridor,
he stole back to his chair, and began humbly toasting his wet legs
before the charcoal pan.
His entertainer had a plate of meat in one hand and a jug of wine in the
other. He set down the plate upon the table, motioning Villon to draw in
his chair, and going to the sideboard, brought back two goblets, which
"I drink your better fortune," he said gravely, touching Villon's cup with
"To our better acquaintance," said the poet, growing bold. A mere man of
the people would have been awed by the courtesy of the old seigneur, but
Villon was hardened in that matter; he had made mirth for great lords
before now, and found them as black rascals as himself. And so he
devoted himself to the viands with a ravenous gusto, while the old man,
leaning backward, watched him with steady, curious eyes.
"You have blood on your shoulder, my man," he said.
Montigny must have laid his wet right hand upon him as he left the house.
He cursed Montigny in his heart.
"It was none of my shedding," he stammered.
"I had not supposed so," returned his host, quietly. "A brawl?"
"Well, something of that sort," Villon admitted, with a quaver.
"Perhaps a fellow murdered?"
"Oh no, not murdered," said the poet, more and more confused. "It was all
fair play—murdered by accident. I had no hand in it, God strike me
dead!" he added, fervently.
"One rogue the fewer, I dare say," observed the master of the house.
"You may dare to say that," agreed Villon, infinitely relieved. "As big a
rogue as there is between here and Jerusalem. He turned up his toes like
a lamb. But it was a nasty thing to look at. I dare say you've seen dead
men in your time, my lord?" he added, glancing at the armour.
"Many," said the old man. "I have followed the wars, as you imagine."
Villon laid down his knife and fork, which he had just taken up again.
"Were any of them bald?" he asked.
"Oh yes, and with hair as white as mine."
"I don't think I should mind the white so much," said Villon. "His was
red." And he had a return of his shuddering and tendency to laughter,
which he drowned with a great draught of wine. "I'm a little put out
when I think of it," he went on. "I knew him—damn him! And then the cold
gives a man fancies—or the fancies give a man cold, I don't know which."
"Have you any money?" asked the old man.
"I have one white," returned the poet, laughing. "I got it out of a dead
jade's stocking in a porch. She was as dead as Caesar, poor wench, and
as cold as a church, with bits of ribbon sticking in her hair. This is a
hard winter for wolves and wenches and poor rogues like me."
"I," said the old man, "am Enguerrand de la Feuillee, seigneur de
Brisetout, bailie du Patatrac. Who and what may you be?"
Villon rose and made a suitable reverence. "I am called Francis Villon,"
he said, "a poor Master of Arts of this university. I know some Latin,
and a deal of vice. I can make Chansons, ballades, lais, virelais, and
roundels, and I am very fond of wine. I was born in a garret, and I
shall not improbably die upon the gallows. I may add, my lord, that from
this night forward I am your lordship's very obsequious servant to
"No servant of mine," said the knight. "My guest for this evening, and no
"A very grateful guest," said Villon, politely, and he drank in dumb show
to his entertainer.
"You are shrewd," began the old man, tapping his forehead, "very shrewd;
you have learning; you are a clerk; and yet you take a small piece of
money off a dead woman in the street. Is it not a kind of theft?"
"It is a kind of theft much practised in the wars, my lord."
"The wars are the field of honour," returned the old man, proudly. "There
a man plays his life upon the cast; he fights in the name of his lord
the king, his Lord God, and all their lordships the holy saints and
"Put it," said Villon, "that I were really a thief, should I not play my
life also, and against heavier odds?"
"For gain, but not for honour."
"Gain?" repeated Villon, with a shrug. "Gain! The poor fellow wants
supper, and takes it. So does the soldier in a campaign. Why, what are
all these requisitions we hear so much about? If they are not gain to
those who take them, they are loss enough to the others. The men-at-arms
drink by a good fire, while the burgher bites his nails to buy them wine
and wood. I have seen a good many ploughmen swinging on trees about the
country; ay, I have seen thirty on one elm, and a very poor figure they
made; and when I asked some one how all these came to be hanged, I was
told it was because they could not scrape together enough crowns to
satisfy the men-at-arms."
"These things are a necessity of war, which the low-born must endure with
constancy. It is true that some captains drive overhard; there are
spirits in every rank not easily moved by pity; and indeed many follow
arms who are no better than brigands."
"You see," said the poet, "you cannot separate the soldier from the
brigand; and what is a thief but an isolated brigand with circumspect
manners? I steal a couple of mutton-chops, without so much as disturbing
people's sleep; the farmer grumbles a bit, but sups none the less
wholesomely on what remains. You come up blowing gloriously on a
trumpet, take away the whole sheep, and beat the farmer pitifully into
the bargain. I have no trumpet; I am only Tom, Dick, or Harry; I am a
rogue and a dog, and hanging's too good for me—with all my heart; but
just ask the farmer which of us he prefers, just find out which of us he
lies awake to curse on cold nights."
"Look at us two," said his lordship. "I am old, strong, and honoured. If I
were turned from my house to-morrow, hundreds would be proud to shelter
me. Poor people would go out and pass the night in the streets with
their children, if I merely hinted that I wished to be alone. And I find
you up, wandering homeless, and picking farthings off dead women by the
wayside! I fear no man and nothing; I have seen you tremble and lose
countenance at a word. I wait God's summons contentedly in my own house,
or, if it please the king to call me out again, upon the field of
battle. You look for the gallows; a rough, swift death, without hope or
honour. Is there no difference between these two?"
"As far as to the moon," Villon acquiesced. "But if I had been born lord
of Brisetout, and you had been the poor scholar Francis, would the
difference have been any the less? Should not I have been warming my
knees at this charcoal pan, and would not you have been groping for
farthings in the snow? Should not I have been the soldier, and you the
"A thief?" cried the old man. "I a thief! If you understood your words,
you would repent them."
Villon turned out his hands with a gesture of inimitable impudence. "If
your lordship had done me the honour to follow my argument!" he said.
"I do you too much honour in submitting to your presence," said the
knight. "Learn to curb your tongue when you speak with old and
honourable men, or some one hastier than I may reprove you in a sharper
fashion." And he rose and paced the lower end of the apartment,
struggling with anger and antipathy. Villon surreptitiously refilled his
cup, and settled himself more comfortably in the chair, crossing his
knees and leaning his head upon one hand and the elbow against the back
of the chair. He was now replete and warm; and he was in no wise
frightened for his host, having gauged him as justly as was possible
between two such different characters. The night was far spent, and in a
very comfortable fashion after all; and he felt morally certain of a
safe departure on the morrow.
"Tell me one thing," said the old man, pausing in his walk. "Are you
really a thief?"
"I claim the sacred rights of hospitality," returned the poet. "My lord, I
"You are very young," the knight continued.
"I should never have been so old," replied Villon, showing his fingers,
"if I had not helped myself with these ten talents. They have been my
nursing mothers and my nursing fathers."
"You may still repent and change."
"I repent daily," said the poet. "There are few people more given to
repentance than poor Francis. As for change, let somebody change my
circumstances. A man must continue to eat, if it were only that he may
continue to repent."
"The change must begin in the heart," returned the old man, solemnly.
"My dear lord," answered Villon, "do you really fancy that I steal for
pleasure? I hate stealing, like any other piece of work or of danger. My
teeth chatter when I see a gallows. But I must eat, I must drink; I must
mix in society of some sort. What the devil! Man is not a solitary
animal—cui Deus foeminam tradit. Make me king's pantler, make me
Abbot of St. Denis, make me bailie of the Patatrac, and then I shall be
changed indeed. But as long as you leave me the poor scholar Francis
Villon, without a farthing, why, of course, I remain the same."
"The grace of God is all powerful."
"I should be a heretic to question it," said Francis. "It has made you
lord of Brisetout and bailie of the Patatrac; it has given me nothing
but the quick wits under my hat and these ten toes upon my hands. May I
help myself to wine? I thank you respectfully. By God's grace, you have
a very superior vintage."
The lord of Brisetout walked to and fro with his hands behind his back.
Perhaps he was not yet quite settled in his mind about the parallel
between thieves and soldiers; perhaps Villon had interested him by some
cross-thread of sympathy; perhaps his wits were simply muddled by so
much unfamiliar reasoning; but whatever the cause, he somehow yearned to
convert the young man to a better way of thinking, and could not make up
his mind to drive him forth again into the street.
"There is something more than I can understand in this," he said at
length. "Your mouth is full of subtleties, and the devil has led you
very far astray; but the devil is only a very weak spirit before God's
truth, and all his subtleties vanish at a word of true honour, like
darkness at morning. Listen to me once more. I learned long ago that a
gentleman should live chivalrously and lovingly to God and the king and
his lady; and though I have seen many strange things done, I have still
striven to command my ways upon that rule. It is not only written in all
noble histories, but in every man's heart, if he will take care to read.
You speak of food and wine, and I know very well that hunger is a
difficult trial to endure; but you do not speak of other wants; you say
nothing of honour, of faith to God and other men, of courtesy, of love
without reproach. It may be that I am not very wise,—and yet I think I
am,—but you seem to me like one who has lost his way and made a great
error in life. You are attending to the little wants, and you have
totally forgotten the great and only real ones, like a man who should be
doctoring toothache on the judgment day. For such things as honour and
love and faith are not only nobler than food and drink, but indeed I
think we desire them more, and suffer more sharply for their absence. I
speak to you as I think you will most easily understand me. Are you not,
while careful to fill your belly, disregarding another appetite in your
heart, which spoils the pleasure of your life and keeps you continually
Villon was sensibly nettled under all this sermonising. "You think I have
no sense of honour!" he cried. "I'm poor enough, God knows! It's hard to
see rich people with their gloves, and you blowing in your hands. An
empty belly is a bitter thing, although you speak so lightly of it. If
you had had as many as I, perhaps you would change your tune. Anyway,
I'm a thief,—make the most of that,—but I'm not a devil from hell, God
strike me dead! I would have you to know I've an honour of my own, as
good as yours, though I don't prate about it all day long, as if it was
a God's miracle to have any. It seems quite natural to me; I keep it in
its box till it's wanted. Why, now, look you here, how long have I been
in this room with you? Did you not tell me you were alone in the house?
Look at your gold plate! You're strong, if you like, but you're old and
unarmed, and I have my knife. What did I want but a jerk of the elbow
and here would have been you with the cold steel in your bowels, and
there would have been me, linking in the streets, with an armful of
golden cups! Did you suppose I hadn't wit enough to see that? and I
scorned the action. There are your damned goblets, as safe as in a
church; there are you, with your heart ticking as good as new; and here
am I, ready to go out again as poor as I came in, with my one white that
you threw in my teeth! And you think I have no sense of honour—God
strike me dead!"
The old man stretched out his right arm. "I will tell you what you are,"
he said. "You are a rogue, my man, an impudent and black-hearted rogue
and vagabond. I have passed an hour with you. Oh, believe me, I feel
myself disgraced! And you have eaten and drunk at my table. But now I am
sick at your presence; the day has come, and the night-bird should be
off to his roost. Will you go before, or after?"
"Which you please," returned the poet, rising. "I believe you to be
strictly honourable." He thoughtfully emptied his cup. "I wish I could
add you were intelligent," he went on, knocking on his head with his
knuckles. "Age! age! the brains stiff and rheumatic."
The old man preceded him from a point of self-respect; Villon followed,
whistling, with his thumbs in his girdle.
"God pity you," said the lord of Brisetout at the door.
"Good-bye, papa," returned Villon, with a yawn. "Many thanks for the cold
The door closed behind him. The dawn was breaking over the white roofs. A
chill, uncomfortable morning ushered in the day. Villon stood and
heartily stretched himself in the middle of the road.
"A very dull old gentleman," he thought. "I wonder what his goblets may be
A LEAF IN THE STORM, By Ouida
The Berceau de Dieu was a little village in the valley of the Seine. As a
lark drops its nest among the grasses, so a few peasant people had
dropped their little farms and cottages amid the great green woods on
the winding river. It was a pretty place, with one steep, stony street,
shady with poplars and with elms; quaint houses, about whose thatch a
cloud of white and gray pigeons fluttered all day long; a little aged
chapel with a conical red roof; and great barns covered with ivy and
thick creepers, red and purple, and lichens that were yellow in the sun.
All around it were the broad, flowering meadows, with the sleek cattle
of Normandy fattening in them, and the sweet dim forests where the young
men and maidens went on every holy day and feast-day in the summer-time
to seek for wood-anemones, and lilies of the pools, and the wild
campanula, and the fresh dog-rose, and all the boughs and grasses that
made their house-doors like garden bowers, and seemed to take the
cushat's note and the linnet's song into their little temple of God.
The Berceau de Dieu was very old indeed. Men said that the hamlet had been
there in the day of the Virgin of Orleans; and a stone cross of the
twelfth century still stood by the great pond of water at the bottom of
the street under the chestnut-tree, where the villagers gathered to
gossip at sunset when their work was done. It had no city near it, and
no town nearer than four leagues. It was in the green care of a pastoral
district, thickly wooded and intersected with orchards. Its produce of
wheat and oats and cheese and fruit and eggs was more than sufficient
for its simple prosperity. Its people were hardy, kindly, laborious,
happy; living round the little gray chapel in amity and good-fellowship.
Nothing troubled it. War and rumours of war, revolutions and
counter-revolutions, empires and insurrections, military and political
questions—these all were for it things unknown and unheard of, mighty
winds that arose and blew and swept the lands around it, but never came
near enough to harm it, lying there, as it did in its loneliness like
any lark's nest. Even in the great days of the Revolution it had been
quiet. It had had a lord whom it loved in the old castle on the hill at
whose feet it nestled; it had never tried to harm him, and it had wept
bitterly when he had fallen at Jemmapes, and left no heir, and the
chateau had crumbled into ivy-hung ruins. The thunder-heats of that
dread time had scarcely scorched it. It had seen a few of its best youth
march away to the chant of the Marseillaise to fight on the plains of
Champagne; and it had been visited by some patriots in bonnets rouges
and soldiers in blue uniforms, who had given it tricoloured cockades and
bade it wear them in the holy name of the Republic one and indivisible.
But it had not known what these meant, and its harvests had been reaped
without the sound of a shot in its fields or any gleam of steel by its
innocent hearths; so that the terrors and the tidings of those noble and
ghastly years had left no impress on its generations.
Reine Allix, indeed, the oldest woman among them all, numbering more than
ninety years, remembered when she was a child hearing her father and his
neighbours talk in low, awe-stricken tones one bitter wintry night of
how a king had been slain to save the people; and she remembered
likewise—remembered it well, because it had been her betrothal night and
the sixteenth birthday of her life—how a horseman had flashed through
the startled street like a comet, and had called aloud, in a voice of
fire, "Gloire! gloire! gloire!—Marengo! Marengo! Marengo!" and
how the village had dimly understood that something marvellous for
France had happened afar off, and how her brothers and her cousins and
her betrothed, and she with them, had all gone up to the high slope over
the river, and had piled up a great pyramid of pine wood and straw and
dried mosses, and had set flame to it, till it had glowed in its scarlet
triumph all through that wondrous night of the sultry summer of victory.
These and the like memories she would sometimes relate to the children at
evening when they gathered round her begging for a story. Otherwise, no
memories of the Revolution or the Empire disturbed the tranquility of
the Berceau; and even she, after she had told them, would add, "I am not
sure now what Marengo was. A battle, no doubt, but I am not sure where
nor why. But we heard later that little Claudis, my aunt's
youngest-born, a volunteer not nineteen, died at it. If we had known, we
should not have gone up and lit the bonfire."
This woman, who had been born in that time of famine and flame, was the
happiest creature in the whole hamlet of the Berceau. "I am old; yes, I
am very old," she would say, looking up from her spinning-wheel in her
house-door, and shading her eyes from the sun, "very old—ninety-two last
summer. But when one has a roof over one's head, and a pot of soup
always, and a grandson like mine, and when one has lived all one's life
in the Berceau de Dieu, then it is well to be so old. Ah, yes, my little
ones,—yes, though you doubt it, you little birds that have just tried
your wings,—it is well to be so old. One has time to think, and thank
the good God, which one never seemed to have a minute to do in that
work, work, work when one was young."
Reine Allix was a tall and strong woman, very withered and very bent and
very brown, yet with sweet, dark, flashing eyes that had still light in
them, and a face that was still noble, though nearly a century had
bronzed it with its harvest suns and blown on it with its winter winds.
She wore always the same garb of homely dark-blue serge, always the same
tall white head-gear, always the same pure silver ear-rings that had
been at once an heirloom and a nuptial gift. She was always shod in her
wooden sabots, and she always walked abroad with a staff of ash. She had
been born in the Berceau de Dieu; had lived there and wedded there; had
toiled there all her life, and never left it for a greater distance than
a league, or for a longer time than a day. She loved it with an intense
love. The world beyond it was nothing to her; she scarcely believed in
it as existing. She could neither read nor write. She told the truth,
reared her offspring in honesty, and praised God always—had praised Him
when starving in a bitter winter after her husband's death, when there
had been no field work, and she had had five children to feed and
clothe; and praised Him now that her sons were all dead before her, and
all she had living of her blood was her grandson Bernadou.
Her life had been a hard one. Her parents had been hideously poor. Her
marriage had scarcely bettered her condition. She had laboured in the
fields always, hoeing and weeding and reaping and carrying wood and
driving mules, and continually rising with the first streak of daybreak.
She had known fever and famine and all manner of earthly ills. But now
in her old age she had peace. Two of her dead sons, who had sought their
fortunes in the other hemisphere, had left her a little money, and she
had a little cottage and a plot of ground, and a pig, and a small
orchard. She was well-to-do, and could leave it all to Bernadou; and for
ten years she had been happy, perfectly happy, in the coolness and the
sweetness and the old familiar ways and habits of the Berceau.
Bernadou was very good to her. The lad, as she called him, was five and
twenty years old, tall and straight and clean-limbed, with the blue eyes
of the North, and a gentle, frank face. He worked early and late in the
plot of ground that gave him his livelihood. He lived with his
grandmother, and tended her with a gracious courtesy and veneration that
never altered. He was not very wise; he also could neither read nor
write; he believed in his priest and his homestead, and loved the ground
that he had trodden ever since his first steps from the cradle had been
guided by Reine Allix. He had never been drawn for the conscription,
because he was the only support of a woman of ninety; he likewise had
never been half a dozen kilometres from his birthplace. When he was
bidden to vote, and he asked what his vote of assent would pledge him to
do, they told him, "It will bind you to honour your grandmother so long
as she shall live, and to get up with the lark, and to go to mass every
Sunday, and to be a loyal son to your country. Nothing more." And
thereat he had smiled and straightened his stalwart frame, and gone
right willingly to the voting-urn.
He was very stupid in these things; and Reine Allix, though clear-headed
and shrewd, was hardly more learned in them than he.
"Look you," she had said to him oftentimes, "in my babyhood there was the
old white flag upon the chateau. Well, they pulled that down and put up
a red one. That toppled and fell, and there was one of three colours.
Then somebody with a knot of white lilies in his hand came one day and
set up the old white one afresh; and before the day was done that was
down again and the tricolour again up where it is. Now, some I know
fretted themselves greatly because of all these changes of the flags;
but as for me, I could not see that any one of them mattered: bread was
just as dear and sleep was just as sweet whichever of the three was
Bernadou, who had never known but the flag of three colours, believed her,
as indeed he believed every word that those kindly and resolute old lips
ever uttered to him.
He had never been in a city, and only once, on the day of his first
communion, in the town four leagues away. He knew nothing more than this
simple, cleanly, honest life that he led. With what men did outside his
little world of meadow-land and woodland he had no care nor any concern.
Once a man had come through the village of the Berceau, a travelling
hawker of cheap prints,—a man with a wild eye and a restless brain,—who
told Bernadou that he was a downtrodden slave, a clod, a beast like a
mule, who fetched and carried that the rich might fatten, a dolt, an
idiot, who cared nothing for the rights of man and the wrongs of the
poor. Bernadou had listened with a perplexed face; then with a smile,
that had cleared it like sunlight, he had answered, in his country
dialect, "I do not know of what you speak. Rights? Wrongs? I cannot
tell, But I have never owned a sou; I have never told a lie; I am strong
enough to hold my own with any man that flouts me; and I am content
where I am. That is enough for me."
The peddler had called him a poor-spirited beast of burden, but had said
so out of reach of his arm, and by night had slunk away from the Berceau
de Dieu, and had been no more seen there to vex the quiet contentment of
its peaceful and peace-loving ways.
At night, indeed, sometimes, the little wine-shop of the village would be
frequented by some half-dozen of the peasant proprietors of the place,
who talked communism after their manner, not a very clear one, in
excited tones and with the feverish glances of conspirators. But it
meant little, and came to less. The weather and the price of wheat were
dearer matters to them; and in the end they usually drank their red wine
in amity, and went up the village street arm in arm, singing patriotic
songs until their angry wives flung open their lattices and thrust their
white head-gear out into the moonlight, and called to them shrewishly to
get to bed and not make fools of themselves in that fashion; which
usually silenced and sobered them all instantly; so that the revolutions
of the Berceau de Dieu, if not quenched in a wine-pot, were always
smothered in a nightcap, and never by any chance disturbed its repose.
But of these noisy patriots Bernadou was never one. He had the instinctive
conservatism of the French peasant, which is in such direct and tough
antagonism with the feverish socialism of the French artisan. His love
was for the soil—a love deep-rooted as the oaks that grew in it. Of
Paris he had a dim, vague dread, as of a superb beast continually
draining and devouring. Of all forms of government he was alike
ignorant. So long as he tilled his little angle of land in peace, so
long as the sun ripened his fruits and corn, so long as famine was away
from his door and his neighbours dwelt in good-fellowship with him, so
long he was happy, and cared not whether he was thus happy under a
monarchy, an empire, or a republic. This wisdom, which the peddler
called apathy and cursed, the young man had imbibed from nature and the
teachings of Reine Allix. "Look at home and mind thy word," she had said
always to him. "It is labour enough for a man to keep his own life clean
and his own hands honest. Be not thou at any time as they are who are
for ever telling the good God how He might have made the world on a
better plan, while the rats gnaw at their hay-stacks and the children
cry over an empty platter."
And he had taken heed to her words, so that in all the country-side there
was not any lad truer, gentler, braver, or more patient at labour than
was Bernadou; and though some thought him mild even to foolishness, and
meek even to stupidity, he was no fool; and he had a certain rough skill
at music, and a rare gift at the culture of plants, and made his little
home bright within the winter-time with melody, and in the summer gay
without as a king's parterre.
At any rate, Reine Allix and he had been happy together for a quarter of a
century under the old gray thatch of the wayside cottage, where it stood
at the foot of the village street, with its great sycamores spread above
it. Nor were they less happy when in mid-April, in the six and twentieth
year of his age, Bernadou had come in with a bunch of primroses in his
hand, and had bent down to her and saluted her with a respectful
tenderness, and said softly and a little shyly, "Gran'mere, would
it suit you if I were ever—to marry?"
Reine Allix was silent a minute and more, cherishing the primroses and
placing them in a little brown cupful of water. Then she looked at him
steadily with her clear, dark eyes. "Who is it, my child?" He was always
a child to her, this last-born of the numerous brood that had once dwelt
with her under the spreading branches of the sycamores, and had now all
perished off the face of the earth, leaving himself and her alone.
Bernadou's eyes met hers frankly. "It is Margot Dal. Does that please you,
gran'mere, or no?"
"It pleases me well," she said, simply. But there was a little quiver
about her firm-set mouth, and her aged head was bent over the primroses.
She had foreseen it; she was glad of it; and yet for the instant it was
a pang to her.
"I am very thankful," said Bernadou, with a flash of joy on his face. He
was independent of his grandmother; he could make enough to marry upon
by his daily toil, and he had a little store of gold and silver in his
bank in the thatch, put by for a rainy day; but he would have no more
thought of going against her will than he would have thought of lifting
his hand against her. In the primitive homesteads of the Berceau de Dieu
filial reverence was still accounted the first of virtues, yet the
simplest and the most imperative.
"I will go see Margot this evening," said Reine Allix, after a little
pause. "She is a good girl and a brave, and of pure heart and fair name.
You have chosen well, my grandson."
Bernadou stooped his tall, fair, curly head, and she laid her hands on him
and blessed him.
That evening, as the sun set, Reine Allix kept her word, and went to the
young maiden who had allured the eyes and heart of Bernadou. Margot was
an orphan; she had not a penny to her dower; she had been brought up on
charity, and she dwelt now in the family of the largest landowner of the
place, a miller with numerous offspring, and several head of cattle, and
many stretches of pasture and of orchard. Margot worked for a hard
master, living indeed as one of the family, but sharply driven all day
long at all manner of housework and field work. Reine Allix had kept her
glance on her, through some instinctive sense of the way that Bernadou's
thoughts were turning, and she had seen much to praise, nothing to
chide, in the young girl's modest, industrious, cheerful, uncomplaining
life. Margot was very pretty, too, with the brown oval face and the
great black soft eyes and the beautiful form of the Southern blood that
had run in the veins of her father, who had been a sailor of Marseilles,
while her mother had been a native of the Provencal country. Altogether,
Reine Allix knew that her beloved one could not have done better or more
wisely, if choose at all he must. "Some people, indeed," she said to
herself as she climbed the street whose sharp-set flints had been
trodden by her wooden shoes for ninety years—"Some people would mourn
and scold because there is no store of linen, no piece of silver plate,
no little round sum in money with the poor child. But what does it
matter? We have enough for three. It is wicked indeed for parents to
live so that they leave their daughter portionless, but it is no fault
of the child's. Let them say what they like, it is a reason the more
that she should want a roof over her head and a husband to care for her
So she climbed the steep way and the slanting road round the hill, and
went in by the door of the mill-house, and found Margot busy in washing
some spring lettuces and other green things in a bowl of bright water.
Reine Allix, in the fashion of her country and her breeding, was about
to confer with the master and mistress ere saying a word to the girl,
but there was that in Margot's face and in her timid greeting that lured
speech out of her. She looked long and keenly into the child's downcast
countenance, then touched her with a tender smile. "Petite Margot, the
birds told me a little secret to-day. Canst guess what it is? Say?"
Margot coloured and then grew pale. True, Bernadou had never really spoken
to her, but still, when one is seventeen, and has danced a few times
with the same person, and has plucked the leaves of a daisy away to
learn one's fortune, spoken words are not very much wanted.
At sight of her the eyes of the old woman moistened and grew dimmer than
age had made them; she smiled still, but the smile had the sweetness of
a blessing in it, and no longer the kindly banter of humour. "You love
him, my little one?" she said, in a soft, hushed voice.
"Ah, madame!" Margot could not say more. She covered her face with her
hands, and turned to the wall, and wept with a passion of joy.
Down in the Berceau there were gossips who would have said, with wise
shakes of their heads, "Tut, tut! how easy it is to make believe in a
little love when one is a serving-maid, and has not a sou, nor a roof,
nor a friend in the world, and a comely youth well-to-do is willing to
But Reine Allix knew better. She had not lived ninety years in the world
not to be able to discern between true feeling and counterfeit. She was
touched, and drew the trembling frame of Margot into her arms, and
kissed her twice on the closed, blue-veined lids of her black eyes.
"Make him happy, only make him happy," she murmured; "for I am very old,
Margot, and he is alone, all alone."
And the child crept to her, sobbing for very rapture that she, friendless,
homeless, and penniless, should be thus elected for so fair a fate, and
whispered through her tears, "I will."
Reine Allix spoke in all form to the miller and his wife, and with as much
earnestness in her demand as though she had been seeking the hand of
rich Yacobe, the tavern-keeper's only daughter. The people assented;
they had no pretext to oppose; and Reine Allix wrapped her cloak about
her and descended the hill and the street just as the twilight closed in
and the little lights began to glimmer through the lattices and the
shutters and the green mantle of the boughs, while the red fires of the
smithy forge glowed brightly in the gloom, and a white horse waited to
be shod, a boy in a blue blouse seated on its back and switching away
with a branch of budding hazel the first gray gnats of the early year.
"It is well done, it is well done," she said to herself, looking at the
low rosy clouds and the pale gold of the waning sky. "A year or two, and
I shall be in my grave. I shall leave him easier if I know he has some
creature to care for him, and I shall be quiet in my coffin, knowing
that his children's children will live on and on and on in the Berceau,
and sometimes perhaps think a little of me when the nights are long and
they sit round the fire."
She went in out of the dewy air, into the little low, square room of her
cottage, and went up to Bernadou and laid her hands on his shoulders.
"Be it well with thee, my grandson, and with thy sons' sons after thee,"
she said solemnly. "Margot will be thy wife. May thy days and hers be
long in thy birthplace!"
A month later they were married. It was then May. The green nest of the
Berceau seemed to overflow with the singing of birds and the blossoming
of flowers. The corn-lands promised a rare harvest, and the apple
orchards were weighed down with their red and white blossoms. The little
brown streams in the woods brimmed over in the grass, and the air was
full of sweet mellow sunlight, a cool fragrant breeze, a continual music
of humming bees and soaring larks and mule-bells ringing on the roads,
and childish laughter echoing from the fields.
In this glad springtime Bernadou and Margot were wedded, going with their
friends one sunny morning up the winding hill-path to the little gray
chapel whose walls were hidden in ivy, and whose sorrowful Christ looked
down through the open porch across the blue and hazy width of the river.
Georges, the baker, whose fiddle made merry melody at all the village
dances, played before them tunefully; little children, with their hands
full of wood-flowers, ran before them; his old blind poodle smelt its
way faithfully by their footsteps; their priest led the way upward with
the cross held erect against the light; Reine Allix walked beside them,
nearly as firmly as she had trodden the same road seventy years before
in her own bridal hour. In the hollow below lay the Berceau de Dieu,
with its red gables and its thatched roofs hidden beneath leaves, and
its peaceful pastures smiling under the serene blue skies of France.
They were happy—ah, heaven, so happy!—and all their little world rejoiced
They came home and their neighbours entered with them, and ate and drank,
and gave them good wishes and gay songs, and the old priest blessed them
with a father's tenderness upon their threshold; and the fiddle of
Georges sent gladdest dance-music flying through the open casements,
across the road, up the hill, far away to the clouds and the river.
At night, when the guests had departed and all was quite still within and
without, Reine Allix sat alone at her window in the roof, thinking of
their future and of her past, and watching the stars come out, one by
another, above the woods. From her lattice in the eaves she saw straight
up the village street; saw the dwellings of her lifelong neighbours, the
slopes of the rich fields, the gleam of the broad gray water, the
whiteness of the crucifix against the darkened skies. She saw it all—all
so familiar, with that intimate association only possible to the peasant
who has dwelt on one spot from birth to age. In that faint light, in
those deep shadows, she could trace all the scene as though the
brightness of the moon shone on it; it was all, in its homeliness and
simplicity, intensely dear to her. In the playtime of her childhood, in
the courtship of her youth, in the joys and woes of her wifehood and
widowhood, the bitter pains and sweet ecstasies of her maternity, the
hunger and privation of struggling desolate years, the contentment and
serenity of old age—in all these her eyes had rested only on this small,
quaint, leafy street, with its dwellings close and low, like bee-hives
in a garden, and its pasture-lands and corn-lands, wood-girt and
water-fed, stretching as far as the sight could reach. Every inch of its
soil, every turn of its paths, was hallowed to her with innumerable
memories; all her beloved dead were garnered there where the white
Christ watched them; when her time should come, she thought, she would
rest with them nothing loath. As she looked, the tears of thanksgiving
rolled down her withered cheeks, and she bent her feeble limbs and knelt
down in the moonlight, praising God that He had given her to live and
die in this cherished home, and beseeching Him for her children that
they likewise might dwell in honesty, and with length of days abide
beneath that roof.
"God is good," she murmured, as she stretched herself to sleep beneath the
eaves,—"God is good. Maybe, when He takes me to Himself, if I be worthy,
He will tell His holy saints to give me a little corner in His kingdom,
that He shall fashion for me in the likeness of the Berceau." For it
seemed to her that, than the Berceau, heaven itself could hold no
sweeter or fairer nook of Paradise.
The year rolled on, and the cottage under the sycamores was but the
happier for its new inmate. Bernadou was serious of temper, though so
gentle, and the arch, gay humour of his young wife was like perpetual
sunlight in the house. Margot, too, was so docile, so eager, so bright,
and so imbued with devotional reverence for her husband and his home,
that Reine Allix day by day blessed the fate that had brought to her
this fatherless and penniless child. Bernadou himself spoke little;
words were not in his way; but his blue, frank eyes shone with an
unclouded radiance that never changed, and his voice, when he did speak,
had a mellow softness in it that made his slightest speech to the two
women with him tender as a caress.
"Thou art a happy woman, my sister," said the priest, who was well-nigh as
old as herself.
Reine Allix bowed her head and made the sign of the cross. "I am, praise
be to God!"
And being happy, she went to the hovel of poor Madelon Dreux, the
cobbler's widow, and nursed her and her children through a malignant
fever, sitting early and late, and leaving her own peaceful hearth for
the desolate hut with the delirious ravings and heartrending moans of
the fever-stricken. "How ought one to dare to be happy if one is not of
use?" she would say to those who sought to dissuade her from running
Madelon Dreux and her family recovered, owing to her their lives; and she
was happier than before, thinking of them when she sat on the settle
before the wood fire roasting chestnuts and spinning flax on the wheel,
and ever and again watching the flame reflected on the fair head of
Bernadou or in the dark, smiling eyes of Margot.
Another spring passed and another year went by, and the little home under
the sycamores was still no less honest in its labours or bright in its
rest. It was one among a million of such homes in France, where a sunny
temper made mirth with a meal of herbs, and filial love touched to
poetry the prose of daily household tasks.
A child was born to Margot in the springtime with the violets and daisies,
and Reine Allix was proud of the fourth generation, and, as she caressed
the boy's healthy, fair limbs, thought that God was indeed good to her,
and that her race would live long in the place of her birth. The child
resembled Bernadou, and had his clear, candid eyes. It soon learned to
know the voice of "gran'mere," and would turn from its young
mother's bosom to stretch its arms to Reine Allix. It grew fair and
strong, and all the ensuing winter passed its hours curled like a
dormouse or playing like a puppy at her feet in the chimney-corner.
Another spring and summer came, and the boy was more than a year old,
with curls of gold, and cheeks like apples, and a mouth that always
smiled. He could talk a little, and tumbled like a young rabbit among
the flowering grasses. Reine Allix watched him, and her eyes filled.
"God is too good," she thought. She feared that she should scarce be so
willing to go to her last sleep under the trees on the hillside as she
used to be. She could not help a desire to see this child, this second
Bernadou, grow up to youth and manhood; and of this she knew it was wild
It was ripe midsummer. The fields were all russet and amber with an
abundance of corn. The little gardens had seldom yielded so rich a
produce. The cattle and the flocks were in excellent health. There had
never been a season of greater promise and prosperity for the little
traffic that the village and its farms drove in sending milk and sheep
and vegetable wealth to that great city which was to it as a dim,
wonderful, mystic name without meaning.
One evening in this gracious and golden time the people sat out as usual
when the day was done, talking from door to door, the old women knitting
or spinning, the younger ones mending their husbands' or brothers'
blouses or the little blue shirts of their infants, the children playing
with the dogs on the sward that edged the stones of the street, and
above all the great calm heavens and the glow of the sun that had set.
Reine Allix, like the others, sat before the door, for once doing nothing,
but with folded hands and bended head dreamily taking pleasure in the
coolness that had come with evening, and the smell of the limes that
were in blossom, and the blithe chatter of Margot with the neighbours.
Bernadou was close beside them, watering and weeding those flowers that
were at once his pride and his recreation, making the face of his
dwelling bright and the air around it full of fragrance.
The little street was quiet in the evening light, only the laughter of the
children and the gay gossip of their mothers breaking the pleasant
stillness; it had been thus at evening with the Berceau centuries before
their time; they thought that it would thus likewise be when the
centuries should have seen the youngest-born there in his grave.
Suddenly came along the road between the trees an old man and a mule; it
was Mathurin, the miller, who had been that day to a little town four
leagues off, which was the trade-mart and the corn-exchange of the
district. He paused before the cottage of Reine Allix; he was dusty,
travel-stained, and sad. Margot ceased laughing among her flowers as she
saw her old master. None of them knew why, yet the sight of him made the
air seem cold and the night seem near.
"There is terrible news," he said, drawing a sheet of printed words from
his coat-pocket—"terrible news! We are to go to war."
"War!" The whole village clustered round him. They had heard of war,
far-off wars in Africa and Mexico, and some of their sons had been taken
off like young wheat mown before its time; but it still remained to them
a thing remote, impersonal, inconceivable, with which they had nothing
to do, nor ever would have anything.
"Read!" said the old man, stretching out his sheet. The only one there who
could do so, Picot, the tailor, took it and spelled the news out to
their wondering ears. It was the declaration of France against Prussia.
There arose a great wail from the mothers whose sons were conscripts. The
rest asked in trembling, "Will it touch us?"
"Us!" echoed Picot, the tailor, in contempt. "How should it touch us? Our
braves will be in Berlin with another fortnight. The paper says so."
The people were silent; they were not sure what he meant by Berlin, and
they were afraid to ask.
"My boy! my boy!" wailed one woman, smiting her breast. Her son was in the
"Marengo!" murmured Reine Allix, thinking of that far-off time in her dim
youth when the horseman had flown through the dusky street and the
bonfire had blazed on the highest hill above the river.
"Bread will be dear," muttered Mathurin, the miller, going onward with his
foot-weary mule. Bernadou stood silent, with his roses dry and thirsty
"Why art thou sad?" whispered Margot, with wistful eyes. "Thou art exempt
from war service, my love?"
Bernadou shook his head. "The poor will suffer somehow," was all he
Yet to him, as to all the Berceau, the news was not very terrible, because
it was so vague and distant—an evil so far off and shapeless.
Monsieur Picot, the tailor, who alone could read, ran from house to house,
from group to group, breathless, gay, and triumphant, telling them all
that in two weeks more their brethren would sup in the king's palace at
Berlin; and the people believed and laughed and chattered, and, standing
outside their doors in the cool nights, thought that some good had come
to them and theirs.
Only Reine Allix looked up to the hill above the river and murmured, "When
we lit the bonfire there, Claudis lay dead;" and Bernadou, standing
musing among his roses, said, with a smile that was very grave, "Margot,
see here! When Picot shouted, 'A Berlin!' he trod on my Gloire de
Dijon rose and killed it."
The sultry heats and cloudless nights of the wondrous and awful summer of
the year 1870 passed by, and to the Berceau de Dieu it was a summer of
fair promise and noble harvest, and never had the land brought forth in
richer profusion for man and beast. Some of the youngest and
ablest-bodied labourers were indeed drawn away to join those swift
trains that hurried thousands and tens of thousands to the frontier by
the Rhine. But most of the male population were married, and were the
fathers of young children; and the village was only moved to a thrill of
love and of honest pride to think how its young Louis and Jean and Andre
and Valentin were gone full of high hope and high spirit, to come back,
maybe,—who could say not?—with epaulets and ribbons of honour. Why they
were gone they knew not very clearly, but their superiors affirmed that
they were gone to make greater the greatness of France; and the folk of
the Berceau believed it, having in a corner of their quiet hearts a
certain vague, dormant, yet deep-rooted love, on which was written the
name of their country.
News came slowly and seldom to the Berceau. Unless some one of the men
rode his mule to the little town, which was but very rarely, or unless
some peddler came through the village with a news-sheet or so in his
pack or rumours and tidings on his lips, nothing that was done beyond
its fields and woods came to it. And the truth of what it heard it had
no means of measuring or sifting. It believed what it was told, without
questioning; and as it reaped the harvests in the rich hot sun of
August, its peasants laboured cheerily in the simple and firm belief
that mighty things were being done for them and theirs in the far
eastern provinces by their great army, and that Louis and Jean and Andre
and Valentin and the rest—though indeed no tidings had been heard of
them—were safe and well and glorious somewhere, away where the sun rose,
in the sacked palaces of the German king. Reine Allix alone of them was
serious and sorrowful, she whose memories stretched back over the wide
space of near a century.
"Why art thou anxious, gran'mere?" they said to her. "There is no
cause. Our army is victorious everywhere; and they say our lads will
send us all the Prussians' corn and cattle, so that the very beggars
will have their stomachs full."
But Reine Allix shook her head, sitting knitting in the sun. "My children,
I remember the days of my youth. Our army was victorious then; at least,
they said so. Well, all I know is that little Claudis and the boys with
him never came back; and as for bread, you could not get it for love or
money, and the people lay dead of famine out on the public roads."
"But that is so long ago, gran'mere!" they urged.
Reine Allix nodded. "Yes, it is long ago, my dears. But I do not think
that things change very much."
They were silent out of respect for her, but among themselves they said,
"She is very old. Nothing is as it was in her time."
One evening, when the sun was setting red over the reapen fields, two
riders on trembling and sinking horses went through the village using
whip and spur, and scarcely drew rein as they shouted to the cottagers
to know whether they had seen go by a man running for his life. The
people replied that they had seen nothing of the kind, and the horsemen
pressed on, jamming their spurs into their poor beasts' steaming flanks.
"If you see him, catch and hang him," they shouted, as they scoured
away; "he is a Prussian spy!"
"A Prussian!" the villagers echoed, with a stupid stare—"a Prussian in
One of the riders looked over his shoulder for a moment. "You fools! do
you not know? We are beaten,—beaten everywhere,—and the Prussian pigs
march on Paris."
The spy was not seen in the Berceau, but the news brought by his pursuers
scared sleep from the eyes of every grown man that night in the little
village. "It is the accursed Empire!" screamed the patriots of the
wine-shop. But the rest of the people were too terrified and
down-stricken to take heed of empires or patriots; they only thought of
Louis and Jean and Andre and Valentin; and they collected round Reine
Allix, who said to them, "My children, for love of money all our fairest
fruits and flowers—yea, even to the best blossoms of our maidenhood—were
sent to be bought and sold in Paris. We sinned therein, and this is the
will of God."
This was all for a time that they heard. It was a place lowly and obscure
enough to be left in peace. The law pounced down on it once or twice and
carried off a few more of its men for army service, and arms were sent
to it from its neighbouring town, and an old soldier of the First Empire
tried to instruct its remaining sons in their use. But he had no apt
pupil except Bernadou, who soon learned to handle a musket with skill
and with precision, and who carried his straight form gallantly and
well, though his words were seldom heard and his eyes were always sad.
"You will not be called till the last, Bernadou," said the old soldier;
"you are married, and maintain your grandam and wife and child. But a
strong, muscular, well-built youth like you should not wait to be
called; you should volunteer to serve France."
"I will serve France when my time comes," said Bernadou, simply, in
answer. But he would not leave his fields barren, and his orchard
uncared for, and his wife to sicken and starve, and his grandmother to
perish alone in her ninety-third year. They jeered and flouted and
upbraided him, those patriots who screamed against the fallen Empire in
the wine-shop; but he looked them straight in the eyes, and held his
peace, and did his daily work.
"If he is called, he will not be found wanting," said Reine Allix, who
knew him better than did even the young wife whom he loved.
Bernadou clung to his home with a dogged devotion. He would not go from it
to fight unless compelled, but for it he would have fought like a lion.
His love for his country was only an indefinite, shadowy existence that
was not clear to him; he could not save a land that he had never seen, a
capital that was only to him as an empty name; nor could he comprehend
the danger that his nation ran, nor could he desire to go forth and
spend his life-blood in defence of things unknown to him. He was only a
peasant, and he could not read nor greatly understand. But affection for
his birthplace was a passion with him, mute indeed, but deep-seated as
an oak. For his birthplace he would have struggled as a man can only
struggle when supreme love as well as duty nerves his arm. Neither he
nor Reine Allix could see that a man's duty might lie from home, but in
that home both were alike ready to dare anything and to suffer
everything. It was a narrow form of patriotism, yet it had nobleness,
endurance, and patience in it; in song it has been oftentimes deified as
heroism, but in modern warfare it is punished as the blackest crime.
So Bernadou tarried in his cottage till he should be called, keeping watch
by night over the safety of his village, and by day doing all he could
to aid the deserted wives and mothers of the place by the tilling of
their ground for them and the tending of such poor cattle as were left
in their desolate fields. He and Margot and Reine Allix, between them,
fed many mouths that would otherwise have been closed in death by
famine, and denied themselves all except the barest and most meagre
subsistence, that they might give away the little they possessed.
And all this while the war went on, but seemed far from them, so seldom
did any tidings of it pierce the seclusion in which they dwelt.
By-and-by, as the autumn went on, they learned a little more. Fugitives
coming to the smithy for a horse's shoe; women fleeing to their old
village homes from their base, gay life in the city; mandates from the
government of defence sent to every hamlet in the country; stray
news-sheets brought in by carriers or hawkers and hucksters—all these by
degrees told them of the peril of their country, vaguely indeed, and
seldom truthfully, but so that by mutilated rumours they came at last to
know the awful facts of the fate of Sedan, the fall of the Empire, the
siege of Paris. It did not alter their daily lives; it was still too far
off and too impalpable. But a foreboding, a dread, an unspeakable woe
settled down on them. Already their lands and cattle had been harassed
to yield provision for the army and large towns; already their best
horses had been taken for the siege-trains and the forage-waggons;
already their ploughshares were perforce idle, and their children cried
because of the scarcity of nourishment; already the iron of war had
entered their souls.
The little street at evening was mournful and very silent; the few who
talked spoke in whispers, lest a spy should hear them, and the young
ones had no strength to play—they wanted food.
"It is as it was in my youth," said Reine Allix, eating her piece of black
bread and putting aside the better food prepared for her, that she might
save it, unseen, for the "child."
It was horrible to her and to all of them to live in that continual terror
of an unknown foe, that perpetual expectation of some ghastly, shapeless
misery. They were quiet,—so quiet!—but by all they heard they knew that
any night, as they went to their beds, the thunder of cannon might
awaken them; any morning, as they looked on their beloved fields, they
knew that ere sunset the flames of war might have devoured them. They
knew so little too; all they were told was so indefinite and garbled
that sometimes they thought the whole was some horrid dream—thought so,
at least, until they looked at their empty stables, their untilled land,
their children who cried from hunger, their mothers who wept for the
But as yet it was not so very much worse than it had been in times of bad
harvest and of dire distress; and the storm which raged over the land
had as yet spared this little green nest among the woods on the Seine.
November came. "It is a cold night, Bernadou; put on some more wood," said
Reine Allix. Fuel at the least was plentiful in that district, and
He sat at the table, working at a new churn for his wife; he had some
skill at turnery and at invention in such matters. The child slept
soundly in its cradle by the hearth, smiling while it dreamed. Margot
spun at her wheel. Reine Allix sat by the fire, seldom lifting her head
from her long knitting-needles, except to cast a look on her grandson or
at the sleeping child. The little wooden shutter of the house was
closed. Some winter roses bloomed in a pot beneath the little crucifix.
Bernadou's flute lay on a shelf; he had not had heart enough to play it
since the news of the war had come.
Suddenly a great sobbing cry rose without—the cry of many voices, all
raised in woe together. Bernadou rose, took his musket in his hand,
undid his door, and looked out. All the people were turned out into the
street, and the women, loudly lamenting, beat their breasts and strained
their children to their bosoms. There was a sullen red light in the sky
to the eastward, and on the wind a low, hollow roar stole to them.
"What is it?" he asked.
"The Prussians are on us!" answered twenty voices in one accord. "That red
glare is the town burning."
Then they were all still—a stillness that was more horrible than their
Reine Allix came and stood by her grandson. "If we must die, let us die
here," she said, in a voice that was low and soft and grave.
He took her hand and kissed it. She was content with his answer.
Margot stole forth too, and crouched behind them, holding her child to her
breast. "What can they do to us?" she asked, trembling, with the rich
colours of her face blanched white.
Bernadou smiled on her. "I do not know, my dear. I think even they can
hardly bring death upon women and children."
"They can, and they will," said a voice from the crowd.
None answered. The street was very quiet in the darkness. Far away in the
east the red glare glowed. On the wind was still that faint, distant,
ravening roar, like the roar of famished wolves; it was the roar of fire
and of war.
In the silence Reine Allix spoke: "God is good. Shall we not trust in
With one great choking sob the people answered; their hearts were
breaking. All night long they watched in the street—they who had done no
more to bring this curse upon them than the flower-roots that slept
beneath the snow. They dared not go to their beds; they knew not when
the enemy might be upon them. They dared not flee; even in their own
woods the foe might lurk for them. One man indeed did cry aloud, "Shall
we stay here in our houses to be smoked out like bees from their hives?
Let us fly!"
But the calm, firm voice of Reine Allix rebuked him: "Let who will, run
like a hare from the hounds. For me and mine, we abide by our
And they were ashamed to be outdone by a woman, and a woman of ninety
years old, and no man spoke any more of flight. All the night long they
watched in the cold and the wind, the children shivering beneath their
mothers' skirts, the men sullenly watching the light of the flames in
the dark, starless sky. All night long they were left alone, though far
off they heard the dropping shots of scattered firing, and in the
leafless woods around them the swift flight of woodland beasts startled
from their sleep, and the hurrying feet of sheep terrified from their
folds in the outlying fields.
The daybreak came, gray, cheerless, very cold. A dense fog, white and raw,
hung over the river; in the east, where the sun, they knew, was rising,
they could only see the livid light of the still towering flames and
pillars of black smoke against the leaden clouds.
"We will let them come and go in peace if they will," murmured old
Mathurin. "What can we do? We have no arms, no powder hardly, no
soldiers, no defence."
Bernadou said nothing, but he straightened his tall limbs, and in his
grave blue eyes a light gleamed.
Reine Allix looked at him as she sat in the doorway of her house. "Thy
hands are honest, thy heart pure, thy conscience clear. Be not afraid to
die if need there be," she said to him.
He looked down and smiled on her. Margot clung to him in a passion of
weeping. He clasped her close and kissed her softly, but the woman who
read his heart was the woman who had held him at his birth.
By degrees the women crept timidly back into their houses, hiding their
eyes so that they should not see that horrid light against the sky,
while the starving children clung to their breasts or to their skirts,
wailing aloud in terror. The few men there were left, for the most part
of them very old or else mere striplings, gathered together in a hurried
council. Old Mathurin, the miller, and the patriots of the wine-shop
were agreed that there should be no resistance, whatever might befall
them; that it would be best to hide such weapons as they had and any
provisions that still remained to them, and yield up themselves and
their homes with humble grace to the dire foe. "If we do otherwise,"
they said, "the soldiers will surely slay us, and what can a miserable
little hamlet like this achieve against cannon and steel and fire?"
Bernadou alone raised his voice in opposition. His eye kindled, his cheek
flushed, his words for once sprang from his lips like fire. "What!" he
said to them, "shall we yield up our homes and our wives and our infants
without a single blow? Shall we be so vile as to truckle to the enemies
of France and show that we can fear them? It were a shame, a foul shame;
we were not worthy of the name of men. Let us prove to them that there
are people in France who are not afraid to die. Let us hold our own so
long as we can. Our muskets are good, our walls strong, our woods in
this weather morasses that will suck in and swallow them if only we have
tact to drive them there. Let us do what we can. The camp of the
francs-tireurs is but three leagues form us. They will be certain to
come to our aid. At any rate, let us die bravely. We can do little, that
may be; but if every man in France does that little that he can, that
little will be great enough to drive the invaders off the soil."
Mathurin and the others screamed at him and hooted. "You are a fool!" they
shouted. "You will be the undoing of us all. Do you not know that one
shot fired, nay, only one musket found, and the enemy puts a torch to
the whole place?"
"I know," said Bernadou, with a dark radiance in his azure eyes. "But then
it is a choice between disgrace and the flames; let us only take heed to
be clear of the first—the last must rage as God wills."
But they screamed and mouthed and hissed at him: "Oh yes! fine talk, fine
talk! See your own roof in flames if you will; you shall not ruin ours.
Do what you will with your own neck; keep it erect or hang by it, as you
choose. But you have no right to give your neighbours over to death,
whether they will or no."
He strove, he pleaded, he conjured, he struggled with them half the night,
with the salt tears running down his cheeks, and all his gentle blood
burning with righteous wrath and loathing shame, stirred for the first
time in all his life to a rude, simple, passionate eloquence. But they
were not persuaded. Their few gold pieces hidden in the rafters, their
few feeble sheep starving in the folds, their own miserable lives, all
hungry, woe-begone, and spent in daily terrors—these were still dear to
them, and they would not imperil them. They called him a madman; they
denounced him as one who would be their murderer; they threw themselves
on him and demanded his musket, to bury it with the rest under the altar
in the old chapel on the hill.
Bernadou's eyes flashed fire; his breast heaved; his nerves quivered; he
shook them off and strode a step forward. "As you live," he muttered, "I
have a mind to fire on you, rather than let you live to shame yourselves
Reine Allix, who stood by him silent all the while, laid her hand on his
shoulder. "My boy," she said in his ear, "you are right, and they are
wrong. Yet let not dissension between brethren open the door for the
enemy to enter thereby into your homes. Do what you will with your own
life, Bernadou,—it is yours,—but leave them to do as they will with
theirs. You cannot make sheep into lions, and let not the first blood
shed here be a brother's."
Bernadou's head dropped on his breast. "Do as you will," he muttered to
his neighbours. They took his musket from him, and in the darkness of
the night stole silently up the wooded chapel hill and buried it, with
all their other arms, under the altar where the white Christ hung. "We
are safe now," said Mathurin, the miller, to the patriots of the tavern.
"Had that madman had his way, he had destroyed us all."
Reine Allix softly led her grandson across his own threshold, and drew his
head down to hers, and kissed him between the eyes. "You did what you
could, Bernadou," she said to him; "let the rest come as it will."
Then she turned from him, and flung her cloak over her head, and sank
down, weeping bitterly; for she had lived through ninety-three years
only to see this agony at the last.
Bernadou, now that all means of defence was gone from him, and the only
thing left to him to deal with was his own life, had become quiet and
silent and passionless, as was his habit. He would have fought like a
mastiff for his home, but this they had forbidden him to do, and he was
passive and without hope. He shut to his door, and sat down with his
hand in that of Reine Allix and his arm around his wife. "There is
nothing to do but to wait," he said, sadly. The day seemed very long in
The firing ceased for a while; then its roll commenced afresh, and grew
nearer to the village. Then again all was still.
At noon a shepherd staggered into the place, pale, bleeding, bruised,
covered with mire. The Prussians, he told them, had forced him to be
their guide, had knotted him tight to a trooper's saddle, and had
dragged him with them until he was half dead with fatigue and pain. At
night he had broken from them and had fled. They were close at hand, he
said, and had burned the town from end to end because a man had fired at
them from a housetop. That was all he knew. Bernadou, who had gone out
to hear his news, returned into the house and sat down and hid his face
within his hands. "If I resist you are all lost," he muttered. "And yet
to yield like a cur!" It was a piteous question, whether to follow the
instinct in him and see his birthplace in flames and his family
slaughtered for his act, or to crush out the manhood in him and live,
loathing himself as a coward for evermore.
Reine Allix looked at him, and laid her hand on his bowed head, and her
voice was strong and tender as music: "Fret not thyself, my beloved.
When the moment comes, then do as thine own heart and the whisper of God
in it bid thee."
A great sob answered her; it was the first since his earliest infancy that
she had ever heard from Bernadou.
It grew dark. The autumn day died. The sullen clouds dropped scattered
rain. The red leaves were blown in millions by the wind. The little
houses on either side the road were dark, for the dwellers in them dared
not show any light that might be a star to allure to them the footsteps
of their foes. Bernadou sat with his arms on the table, and his head
resting on them. Margot nursed her son. Reine Allix prayed.
Suddenly in the street without there was the sound of many feet of horses
and of men, the shouting of angry voices, the splashing of quick steps
in the watery ways, the screams of women, the flash of steel through the
gloom. Bernadou sprang to his feet, his face pale, his blue eyes dark as
night. "They are come!" he said, under his breath. It was not fear that
he felt, nor horror; it was rather a passion of love for his birthplace
and his nation—a passion of longing to struggle and to die for both. And
he had no weapon!
He drew his house-door open with a steady hand, and stood on his own
threshold and faced these his enemies. The street was full of them, some
mounted, some on foot; crowds of them swarmed in the woods and on the
roads. They had settled on the village as vultures on a dead lamb's
body. It was a little, lowly place; it might well have been left in
peace. It had had no more share in the war than a child still unborn,
but it came in the victors' way, and their mailed heel crushed it as
they passed. They had heard that arms were hidden and francs-tireurs
sheltered there, and they had swooped down on it and held it hard and
fast. Some were told off to search the chapel; some to ransack the
dwellings; some to seize such food and bring such cattle as there might
be left; some to seek out the devious paths that crossed and recrossed
the fields; and yet there remained in the little street hundreds of
armed men, force enough to awe a citadel or storm a breach.
The people did not attempt to resist. They stood passive, dry-eyed in
misery, looking on while the little treasures of their household lives
were swept away for ever, and ignorant what fate by fire or iron might
be their portion ere the night was done. They saw the corn that was
their winter store to save their offspring from famine poured out like
ditch-water. They saw oats and wheat flung down to be trodden into a
slough of mud and filth. They saw the walnut presses in their kitchens
broken open, and their old heirlooms of silver, centuries old, borne
away as booty. They saw the oak cupboards in their wives' bed-chambers
ransacked, and the homespun linen and the quaint bits of plate that had
formed their nuptial dowers cast aside in derision or trampled into a
battered heap. They saw the pet lamb of their infants, the silver
ear-rings of their brides, the brave tankards they had drunk their
marriage wine in, the tame bird that flew to their whistle, all seized
for food or seized for spoil. They saw all this, and had to stand by
with mute tongues and passive hands, lest any glance of wrath or gesture
of revenge should bring the leaden bullet in their children's throats or
the yellow flame amid their homesteads. Greater agony the world cannot
Under the porch of the cottage, by the sycamores, one group stood and
looked, silent and very still: Bernadou, erect, pale, calm, with a
fierce scorn burning in his eyes; Margot, quiet because he wished her
so, holding to her the rosy and golden beauty of her son; Reine Allix,
with a patient horror on her face, her figure drawn to its full height,
and her hands holding to her breast the crucifix. They stood thus,
waiting they knew not what, only resolute to show no cowardice and meet
Behind them was the dull, waning glow of the wood fire on the hearth which
had been the centre of all their hopes and joys; before them the dim,
dark country, and the woe-stricken faces of their neighbours, and the
moving soldiery with their torches, and the quivering forms of the
Suddenly a voice arose from the armed mass: "Bring me the peasant hither."
Bernadou was seized by several hands and forced and dragged from his door
out to the place where the leader of the uhlans sat on a white charger
that shook and snorted blood in its exhaustion. Bernadou cast off the
alien grasp that held him, and stood erect before his foes. He was no
longer pale, and his eyes were clear and steadfast.
"You look less a fool than the rest," said the Prussian commander. "You
know this country well?"
"Well!" The country in whose fields and woodlands he had wandered from his
infancy, and whose every meadow-path and wayside tree and flower-sown
brook he knew by heart as a lover knows the lines of his mistress's
"You have arms here?" pursued the German.
"What have you done with them?"
"If I had had my way, you would not need ask. You would have felt them."
The Prussian looked at him keenly, doing homage to the boldness of the
answer. "Will you confess where they are?"
"You know the penalty for concealment of arms is death?"
"You have made it so."
"We have, and Prussian will is French law. You are a bold man; you merit
death. But still, you know the country well?"
Bernadou smiled, as a mother might smile were any foolish enough to ask
her if she remembered the look her dead child's face had worn.
"If you know it well," pursued the Prussian, "I will give you a chance.
Lay hold of my stirrup-leather and be lashed to it, and show me straight
as the crow flies to where the weapons are hidden. If you do, I will
leave you your life. If you do not—"
"If I do not?"
"You will be shot."
Bernadou was silent; his eyes glanced through the mass of soldiers to the
little cottage under the trees opposite. The two there were straining to
behold him, but the soldiers pushed them back, so that in the flare of
the torches they could not see, nor in the tumult hear. He thanked God
"Your choice?" asked the uhlan, impatiently, after a moment's pause.
Bernadou's lips were white, but they did not tremble as he answered, "I am
no traitor." And his eyes, as he spoke, went softly to the little porch
where the light glowed from that hearth beside which he would never
again sit with the creatures he loved around him.
The German looked at him. "Is that a boast, or a fact?"
"I am no traitor," Bernadou answered, simply, once more.
The Prussian gave a sign to his troopers. There was the sharp report of a
double shot, and Bernadou fell dead. One bullet had pierced his brain,
the other was bedded in his lungs. The soldiers kicked aside the warm
and quivering body. It was only a peasant killed!
With a shriek that rose above the roar of the wind, and cut like steel to
every human heart that beat there, Reine Allix forced her way through
the throng, and fell on her knees beside him, and caught him in her
arms, and laid his head upon her breast, where he had used to sleep his
softest sleep in infancy and childhood. "It is God's will! it is God's
will!" she muttered; and then she laughed—a laugh so terrible that the
blood of the boldest there ran cold.
Margot followed her and looked, and stood dry-eyed and silent; then flung
herself and the child she carried in her arms beneath the hoof of the
white charger. "End your work!" she shrieked to them. "You have killed
him—kill us. Have you not mercy enough for that?"
The horse, terrified and snorting blood, plunged and trampled the ground;
his fore foot struck the child's golden head and stamped its face out of
all human likeness. Some peasants pulled Margot from the lashing hoofs;
she was quite dead, though neither wound nor bruise was on her.
Reine Allix neither looked nor paused. With all her strength she had begun
to drag the body of Bernadou across the threshold of his house. "He
shall lie at home, he shall lie at home," she muttered. She would not
believe that already he was dead. With all the force of her earliest
womanhood she lifted him, and half drew, half bore him into the house
that he had loved, and laid him down upon the hearth, and knelt by him,
caressing him as though he were once more a child, and saying softly,
"Hush!"—for her mind was gone, and she fancied that he only slept.
Without, the tumult of the soldiery increased. They found the arms hidden
under the altar on the hill; they seized five peasants to slay them for
the dire offence. The men struggled, and would not go as the sheep to
the shambles. They were shot down in the street, before the eyes of
their children. Then the order was given to fire the place in
punishment, and leave it to its fate. The torches were flung with a
laugh on the dry thatched roofs; brands snatched from the house fires on
the hearths were tossed among the dwelling-houses and the barns. The
straw and timber flared alight like tow.
An old man, her nearest neighbour, rushed to the cottage of Reine Allix
and seized her by the arm. "They fire the Berceau," he screamed. "Quick!
quick! or you will be burned alive!"
Reine Allix looked up with a smile. "Be quiet! Do you not see! He sleeps."
The old man shook her, implored her, strove to drag her away; in
desperation pointed to the roof above, which was already in flames.
Reine Allix looked. At that sight her mind cleared, and regained
consciousness; she remembered all, she understood all; she knew that he
was dead. "Go in peace and save yourself," she said, in the old, sweet,
strong tone of an earlier day. "As for me, I am very old. I and my dead
will stay together at home."
The man fled, and left her to her choice.
The great curled flames and the livid vapours closed around her; she never
moved. The death was fierce, but swift, and even in death she and the
one whom she had loved and reared were not divided. The end soon came.
From hill to hill the Berceau de Dieu broke into flames. The village was
a lake of fire, into which the statue of the Christ, burning and
reeling, fell. Some few peasants, with their wives and children, fled to
the woods, and there escaped one torture to perish more slowly of cold
and famine. All other things perished. The rapid stream of the flame
licked up all there was in its path. The bare trees raised their
leafless branches, on fire at a thousand points. The stores of corn and
fruit were lapped by millions of crimson tongues. The pigeons flew
screaming from their roosts, and sank into the smoke. The dogs were
suffocated on the thresholds they had guarded all their lives. The sheep
ran bleating with the wool burning on their living bodies. The little
caged birds fluttered helpless, and then dropped, scorched to cinders.
The aged and the sick were stifled in their beds. All things perished.
The Berceau de Dieu was as one vast furnace, in which every living
creature was caught and consumed and changed to ashes. The tide of war
has rolled on, and left it a blackened waste, a smoking ruin, wherein
not so much as a mouse may creep or a bird may nestle. It is gone, and
its place can know it nevermore.
Nevermore. But who is there to care? It was but as a leaf which the great
storm swept away as it passed.
THE TRAVELLER'S STORY OF A TERRIBLY STRANGE BED, By Wilkie Collins
PROLOGUE TO THE FIRST STORY
Before I begin, by the aid of my wife's patient attention and ready pen,
to relate any of the stories which I have heard at various times from
persons whose likenesses I have been employed to take, it will not be
amiss if I try to secure the reader's interest in the following pages by
briefly explaining how I became possessed of the narrative matter which
Of myself I have nothing to say, but that I have followed the profession
of a travelling portrait-painter for the last fifteen years. The pursuit
of my calling has not only led me all through England, but has taken me
twice to Scotland and once to Ireland. In moving from district to
district, I am never guided beforehand by any settled plan. Sometimes
the letters of recommendation which I get from persons who are satisfied
with the work I have done for them determine the direction in which I
travel. Sometimes I hear of a new neighbourhood in which there is no
resident artist of ability, and remove thither on speculation. Sometimes
my friends among the picture-dealers say a good word on my behalf to
their rich customers, and so pave the way for me in the large towns.
Sometimes my prosperous and famous brother artists, hearing of small
commissions which it is not worth their while to accept, mention my
name, and procure me introductions to pleasant country houses. Thus I
get on, now in one way and now in another, not winning a reputation or
making a fortune, but happier, perhaps, on the whole, than many men who
have got both the one and the other. So, at least, I try to think now,
though I started in my youth with as high an ambition as the best of
them. Thank God, it is not my business here to speak of past times and
their disappointments. A twinge of the old hopeless heartache comes over
me sometimes still, when I think of my student days.
One peculiarity of my present way of life is, that it brings me into
contact with all sorts of characters. I almost feel, by this time, as if
I had painted every civilised variety of the human race. Upon the whole,
my experience of the world, rough as it has been, has not taught me to
think unkindly of my fellow-creatures. I have certainly received such
treatment at the hands of some of my sitters as I could not describe
without saddening and shocking any kind-hearted reader; but, taking one
year and one place with another, I have cause to remember with gratitude
and respect, sometimes even with friendship and affection, a very large
proportion of the numerous persons who have employed me.
Some of the results of my experience are curious in a moral point of view.
For example, I have found women almost uniformly less delicate in asking
me about my terms, and less generous in remunerating me for my services,
than men. On the other hand, men, within my knowledge, are decidedly
vainer of their personal attractions, and more vexatiously anxious to
have them done full justice to on canvas, than women. Taking both sexes
together, I have found young people, for the most part, more gentle,
more reasonable, and more considerate than old. And, summing up, in a
general way, my experience of different ranks (which extends, let me
premise, all the way down from peers to publicans), I have met with most
of my formal and ungracious receptions among rich people of uncertain
social standing; the highest classes and the lowest among my employers
almost always contrive—in widely different ways, of course—to make me
feel at home as soon as I enter their houses.
The one great obstacle that I have to contend against in the practice of
my profession is not, as some persons may imagine, the difficulty of
making my sitters keep their heads still while I paint them, but the
difficulty of getting them to preserve the natural look and the
every-day peculiarities of dress and manner. People will assume an
expression, will brush up their hair, will correct any little
characteristic carelessness in their apparel—will, in short, when they
want to have their likenesses taken, look as if they were sitting for
their pictures. If I paint them under these artificial circumstances, I
fail, of course, to present them in their habitual aspect; and my
portrait, as a necessary consequence, disappoints everybody, the sitter
always included. When we wish to judge of a man's character by his
handwriting, we want his customary scrawl dashed off with his common
workaday pen, not his best small text traced laboriously with the finest
procurable crow-quill point. So it is with portrait-painting, which is,
after all, nothing but a right reading of the externals of character
recognisably presented to the view of others.
Experience, after repeated trials, has proved to me that the only way of
getting sitters who persist in assuming a set look to resume their
habitual expression is to lead them into talking about some subject in
which they are greatly interested. If I can only beguile them into
speaking earnestly, no matter on what topic, I am sure of recovering
their natural expression; sure of seeing all the little precious
every-day peculiarities of the man or woman peep out, one after another,
quite unawares. The long maundering stories about nothing, the wearisome
recitals of petty grievances, the local anecdotes unrelieved by the
faintest suspicion of anything like general interest, which I have been
condemned to hear, as a consequence of thawing the ice off the features
of formal sitters by the method just described, would fill hundreds of
volumes and promote the repose of thousands of readers. On the other
hand, if I have suffered under the tediousness of the many, I have not
been without my compensating gains from the wisdom and experience of the
few. To some of my sitters I have been indebted for information which
has enlarged my mind, to some for advice which has lightened my heart,
to some for narratives of strange adventure which riveted my attention
at the time, which have served to interest and amuse my fireside circle
for many years past, and which are now, I would fain hope, destined to
make kind friends for me among a wider audience than any that I have yet
Singularly enough, almost all the best stories that I have heard from my
sitters have been told by accident. I only remember two cases in which a
story was volunteered to me; and, although I have often tried the
experiment, I cannot call to mind even a single instance in which
leading questions (as lawyers call them) on my part, addressed to a
sitter, ever produced any result worth recording. Over and over again I
have been disastrously successful in encouraging dull people to weary
me. But the clever people who have something interesting to say seem, so
far as I have observed them, to acknowledge no other stimulant than
chance. For every story, excepting one, I have been indebted, in the
first instance, to the capricious influence of the same chance.
Something my sitter has seen about me, something I have remarked in my
sitter, or in the room in which I take the likeness, or in the
neighbourhood through which I pass on my way to work, has suggested the
necessary association, or has started the right train of recollections,
and then the story appeared to begin of its own accord. Occasionally the
most casual notice, on my part, of some very unpromising object has
smoothed the way for the relation of a long and interesting narrative. I
first heard one of the most dramatic stories merely through being
carelessly inquisitive to know the history of a stuffed poodle-dog.
It is thus not without reason that I lay some stress on the desirableness
of prefacing the following narrative by a brief account of the curious
manner in which I became possessed of it. As to my capacity for
repeating the story correctly, I can answer for it that my memory may be
trusted. I may claim it as a merit, because it is, after all, a
mechanical one, that I forget nothing, and that I can call long-past
conversations and events as readily to my recollection as if they had
happened but a few weeks ago. Of two things at least I feel tolerably
certain before-hand, in meditating over its contents: first, that I can
repeat correctly all that I have heard; and, secondly, that I have never
missed anything worth hearing when my sitters were addressing me on an
interesting subject. Although I cannot take the lead in talking while I
am engaged in painting, I can listen while others speak, and work all
the better for it.
So much in the way of general preface to the pages for which I am about to
ask the reader's attention. Let me now advance to particulars, and
describe how I came to hear the story. I begin with it because it is the
story that I have oftenest "rehearsed," to borrow a phrase from the
stage. Wherever I go, I am sooner or later sure to tell it. Only last
night I was persuaded into repeating it once more by the inhabitants of
the farm-house in which I am now staying.
Not many years ago, on returning from a short holiday visit to a friend
settled in Paris, I found professional letters awaiting me at my agent's
in London, which required my immediate presence in Liverpool. Without
stopping to unpack, I proceeded by the first conveyance to my new
destination; and, calling at the picture-dealer's shop where
portrait-painting engagements were received for me, found to my great
satisfaction that I had remunerative employment in prospect, in and
about Liverpool, for at least two months to come. I was putting up my
letters in high spirits, and was just leaving the picture-dealer's shop
to look out for comfortable lodgings, when I was met at the door by the
landlord of one of the largest hotels in Liverpool—an old acquaintance
whom I had known as manager of a tavern in London in my student days.
"Mr. Kerby!" he exclaimed, in great astonishment. "What an unexpected
meeting! the last man in the world whom I expected to see, and yet the
very man whose services I want to make use of!"
"What! more work for me?" said I. "Are all the people in Liverpool going
to have their portraits painted?"
"I only know of one," replied the landlord, "a gentleman staying at my
hotel, who wants a chalk drawing done of him. I was on my way here to
inquire for any artist whom our picture-dealing friend could recommend.
How glad I am that I met you before I had committed myself to employing
"Is this likeness wanted at once?" I asked, thinking of the number of
engagements that I had already got in my pocket.
"Immediately—to-day—this very hour, if possible," said the landlord. "Mr.
Faulkner, the gentleman I am speaking of, was to have sailed yesterday
for the Brazils from this place; but the wind shifted last night to the
wrong quarter, and he came ashore again this morning. He may, of course,
be detained here for some time; but he may also be called on board ship
at half an hour's notice, if the wind shifts back again in the right
direction. This uncertainty makes it a matter of importance that the
likeness should be begun immediately. Undertake it if you possibly can,
for Mr. Faulkner is a liberal gentleman, who is sure to give you your
I reflected for a minute or two. The portrait was only wanted in chalk,
and would not take long; besides, I might finish it in the evening, if
my other engagements pressed hard upon me in the daytime. Why not leave
my luggage at the picture-dealer's, put off looking for lodgings till
night, and secure the new commission boldly by going back at once with
the landlord to the hotel? I decided on following this course almost as
soon as the idea occurred to me; put my chalks in my pocket, and a sheet
of drawing-paper in the first of my portfolios that came to hand; and so
presented myself before Mr. Faulkner, ready to take his likeness,
literally at five minutes' notice.
I found him a very pleasant, intelligent man, young and handsome. He had
been a great traveller, had visited all the wonders of the East, and was
now about to explore the wilds of the vast South American continent.
Thus much he told me good-humouredly and unconstrainedly while I was
preparing my drawing materials.
As soon as I had put him in the right light and position, and had seated
myself opposite to him, he changed the subject of conversation, and
asked me, a little confusedly as I thought, if it was not a customary
practice among portrait-painters to gloss over the faults in their
sitters' faces, and to make as much as possible of any good points which
their features might possess.
"Certainly," I answered. "You have described the whole art and mystery of
successful portrait-painting in a few words."
"May I beg, then," said he, "that you will depart from the usual practice
in my case, and draw me with all my defects, exactly as I am? The fact
is," he went on, after a moment's pause, "the likeness you are now
preparing to take is intended for my mother; my roving disposition makes
me a great anxiety to her, and she parted from me this last time very
sadly and unwillingly. I don't know how the idea came into my head, but
it struck me this morning that I could not better employ the time while
I was delayed here on shore than by getting my likeness done to send to
her as a keepsake. She has no portrait of me since I was a child, and
she is sure to value a drawing of me more than anything else I could
send to her. I only trouble you with this explanation to prove that I am
really sincere in my wish to be drawn unflatteringly, exactly as I am."
Secretly respecting and admiring him for what he had just said, I promised
that his directions should be implicitly followed, and began to work
immediately. Before I had pursued my occupation for ten minutes, the
conversation began to flag, and the usual obstacle to my success with a
sitter gradually set itself up between us. Quite unconsciously, of
course, Mr. Faulkner stiffened his neck, shut his mouth, and contracted
his eyebrows—evidently under the impression that he was facilitating the
process of taking his portrait by making his face as like a lifeless
mask as possible. All traces of his natural animated expression were
fast disappearing, and he was beginning to change into a heavy and
rather melancholy-looking man.
This complete alteration was of no great consequence so long as I was only
engaged in drawing the outline of his face and the general form of his
features. I accordingly worked on doggedly for more than an hour; then
left off to point my chalks again, and to give my sitter a few minutes'
rest. Thus far the likeness had not suffered through Mr. Faulkner's
unfortunate notion of the right way of sitting for his portrait; but the
time of difficulty, as I well knew, was to come. It was impossible for
me to think of putting any expression into the drawing unless I could
contrive some means, when he resumed his chair, of making him look like
himself again. "I will talk to him about foreign parts," thought I, "and
try if I can't make him forget that he is sitting for his picture in
While I was pointing my chalks, Mr. Faulkner was walking up and down the
room. He chanced to see the portfolio I had brought with me leaning
against the wall, and asked if there were any sketches in it. I told him
there were a few which I had made during my recent stay in Paris. "In
Paris?" he repeated, with a look of interest; "may I see them?"
I gave him the permission he asked as a matter of course. Sitting down, he
took the portfolio on his knee, and began to look through it. He turned
over the first five sketches rapidly enough; but when he came to the
sixth I saw his face flush directly, and observed that he took the
drawing out of the portfolio, carried it to the window, and remained
silently absorbed in the contemplation of it for full five minutes.
After that he turned round to me, and asked very anxiously if I had any
objection to parting with that sketch.
It was the least interesting drawing of the collection—merely a view in
one of the streets running by the backs of the houses in the Palais
Royal. Some four or five of these houses were comprised in the view,
which was of no particular use to me in any way, and which was too
valueless, as a work of art, for me to think of selling it. I begged his
acceptance of it at once. He thanked me quite warmly; and then, seeing
that I looked a little surprised at the odd selection he had made from
my sketches, laughingly asked me if I could guess why he had been so
anxious to become possessed of the view which I had given him.
"Probably," I answered, "there is some remarkable historical association
connected with that street at the back of the Palais Royal, of which I
"No," said Mr. Faulkner; "at least none that I know of. The only
association connected with the place in my mind is a purely
personal association. Look at this house in your drawing—the house with
the water-pipe running down it from top to bottom. I once passed a night
there—a night I shall never forget to the day of my death. I have had
some awkward travelling adventures in my time; but that
adventure! Well, never mind, suppose we begin the sitting. I make but a
bad return for your kindness in giving me the sketch by thus wasting
your time in mere talk."
"Come! come!" thought I, as he went back to the sitter's chair, "I shall
see your natural expression on your face if I can only get you to talk
about that adventure." It was easy enough to lead him in the right
direction. At the first hint from me, he returned to the subject of the
house in the back street. Without, I hope, showing any undue curiosity,
I contrived to let him see that I felt a deep interest in everything he
now said. After two or three preliminary hesitations, he at last, to my
great joy, fairly started on the narrative of his adventure. In the
interest of his subject he soon completely forgot that he was sitting
for his portrait,—the very expression that I wanted came over his
face,—and my drawing proceeded toward completion, in the right
direction, and to the best purpose. At every fresh touch I felt more and
more certain that I was now getting the better of my grand difficulty;
and I enjoyed the additional gratification of having my work lightened
by the recital of a true story, which possessed, in my estimation, all
the excitement of the most exciting romance.
This, as I recollect it, is how Mr. Faulkner told me his adventure.
THE TRAVELLER'S STORY OF A TERRIBLY STRANGE BED
Shortly after my education at college was finished, I happened to be
staying at Paris with an English friend. We were both young men then,
and lived, I am afraid, rather a wild life, in the delightful city of
our sojourn. One night we were idling about the neighbourhood of the
Palais Royal, doubtful to what amusement we should next betake
ourselves. My friend proposed a visit to Frascati's; but his suggestion
was not to my taste. I knew Frascati's, as the French saying is, by
heart; had lost and won plenty of five-franc pieces there, merely for
amusement's sake, until it was amusement no longer, and was thoroughly
tired, in fact, of all the ghastly respectabilities of such a social
anomaly as a respectable gambling-house. "For Heaven's sake," said I to
my friend, "let us go somewhere where we can see a little genuine,
blackguard, poverty-stricken gaming with no false gingerbread glitter
thrown over it all. Let us get away from fashionable Frascati's, to a
house where they don't mind letting in a man with a ragged coat, or a
man with no coat, ragged or otherwise." "Very well," said my friend, "we
needn't go out of the Palais Royal to find the sort of company you want.
Here's the place just before us; as blackguard a place, by all report,
as you could possibly wish to see." In another minute we arrived at the
door and entered the house, the back of which you have drawn in your
When we got upstairs, and had left our hats and sticks with the
doorkeeper, we were admitted into the chief gambling-room. We did not
find many people assembled there. But, few as the men were who looked up
at us on our entrance, they were all types—lamentably true types—of
their respective classes.
We had come to see blackguards; but these men were something worse. There
is a comic side, more or less appreciable, in all blackguardism—here
there was nothing but tragedy—mute, weird tragedy. The quiet in the room
was horrible. The thin, haggard, long-haired young man, whose sunken
eyes fiercely watched the turning up of the cards, never spoke; the
flabby, fat-faced, pimply player, who pricked his piece of pasteboard
perseveringly, to register how often black won, and how often red—never
spoke; the dirty, wrinkled old man, with the vulture eyes and the darned
great-coat, who had lost his last sou, and still looked on desperately,
after he could play no longer—never spoke. Even the voice of the
croupier sounded as if it were strangely dulled and thickened in the
atmosphere of the room. I had entered the place to laugh, but the
spectacle before me was something to weep over. I soon found it
necessary to take refuge in excitement from the depression of spirits
which was fast stealing on me. Unfortunately I sought the nearest
excitement, by going to the table and beginning to play. Still more
unfortunately, as the event will show, I won—won prodigiously; won
incredibly; won at such a rate that the regular players at the table
crowded round me; and staring at my stakes with hungry, superstitious
eyes, whispered to one another that the English stranger was going to
break the bank.
The game was Rouge et Noir. I had played at it in every city in Europe,
without, however, the care or the wish to study the Theory of
Chances—that philosopher's stone of all gamblers! And a gambler, in the
strict sense of the word, I had never been. I was heart-whole from the
corroding passion for play. My gaming was a mere idle amusement. I never
resorted to it by necessity, because I never knew what it was to want
money. I never practised it so incessantly as to lose more than I could
afford, or to gain more than I could coolly pocket without being thrown
off my balance by my good luck. In short, I had hitherto frequented
gambling-tables—just as I frequented ball-rooms and opera-houses—because
they amused me, and because I had nothing better to do with my leisure
But on this occasion it was very different—now, for the first time in my
life, I felt what the passion for play really was. My success first
bewildered, and then, in the most literal meaning of the word,
intoxicated me. Incredible as it may appear, it is nevertheless true,
that I only lost when I attempted to estimate chances, and played
according to previous calculation. If I left everything to luck, and
staked without any care or consideration, I was sure to win—to win in
the face of every recognized probability in favour of the bank. At first
some of the men present ventured their money safely enough on my colour;
but I speedily increased my stakes to sums which they dared not risk.
One after another they left off playing, and breathlessly looked on at
Still, time after time, I staked higher and higher, and still won. The
excitement in the room rose to fever pitch. The silence was interrupted
by a deep-muttered chorus of oaths and exclamations in different
languages, every time the gold was shovelled across to my side of the
table—even the imperturbable croupier dashed his rake on the floor in a
(French) fury of astonishment at my success. But one man present
preserved his self-possession, and that man was my friend. He came to my
side, and whispering in English, begged me to leave the place, satisfied
with what I had already gained. I must do him the justice to say that he
repeated his warnings and entreaties several times, and only left me and
went away after I had rejected his advice (I was to all intents and
purposes gambling drunk) in terms which rendered it impossible for him
to address me again that night.
Shortly after he had gone, a hoarse voice behind me cried: "Permit me, my
dear sir—permit me to restore to their proper place two napoleons which
you have dropped. Wonderful luck, sir! I pledge you my word of honour,
as an old soldier, in the course of my long experience in this sort of
thing, I never saw such luck as yours—never! Go on, sir—Sacre mille
bombes! Go on boldly, and break the bank!"
I turned round and saw, nodding and smiling at me with inveterate
civility, a tall man, dressed in a frogged and braided surtout. If I had
been in my senses, I should have considered him, personally, as being
rather a suspicious specimen of an old soldier. He had goggling
bloodshot eyes, mangy moustaches, and a broken nose. His voice betrayed
a barrack-room intonation of the worst order, and he had the dirtiest
pair of hands I ever saw—even in France. These little personal
peculiarities exercised, however, no repelling influence on me. In the
mad excitement, the reckless triumph of that moment, I was ready to
"fraternize" with anybody who encouraged me in my game. I accepted the
old soldier's offered pinch of snuff; clapped him on the back, and swore
he was the honestest fellow in the world—the most glorious relic of the
Grand Army that I had ever met with. "Go on!" cried my military friend,
snapping his fingers in ecstasy—"Go on, and win! Break the bank—Mille
tonnerres! my gallant English comrade, break the bank!"
And I did go on—went on at such a rate, that in another quarter of
an hour the croupier called out, "Gentlemen, the bank has discontinued
for to-night." All the notes, and all the gold in that "bank" now lay in
a heap under my hands; the whole floating capital of the gambling-house
was waiting to pour into my pockets!
"Tie up the money in your pocket-handkerchief, my worthy sir," said the
old soldier, as I wildly plunged my hands into my heap of gold. "Tie it
up, as we used to tie up a bit of dinner in the Grand Army; your
winnings are too heavy for any breeches-pockets that ever were sewed.
There! that's it—shovel them in, notes and all! Credie! what
luck! Stop! another napoleon on the floor! Ah! sacre petit polisson
have I found thee at last? Now then, sir—two tight double knots each way
with your honourable permission, and the money's safe. Feel it! feel it,
fortunate sir! hard and round as a cannon-ball—Ah, bah!
if they had only fired such cannon-balls at us at Austerlitz—nom d'une
pipe! if they only had! And now, as an ancient grenadier, as an
ex-brave of the French army, what remains for me to do? I ask what?
Simply this: to entreat my valued English friend to drink a bottle of
champagne with me, and toast the goddess Fortune in foaming goblets
before we part!"
"Excellent ex-brave! Convivial ancient grenadier! Champagne by all means!
An English cheer for an old soldier! Hurrah! hurrah! Another English
cheer for the goddess Fortune! Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!"
"Bravo! the Englishman; the amiable, gracious Englishman, in whose veins
circulates the vivacious blood of France! Another glass? Ah, bah!—the
bottle is empty! Never mind! Vive le vin! I, the old soldier,
order another bottle, and half a pound of bonbons with it!"
"No, no, ex-brave; never—ancient grenadier! Your bottle last time;
my bottle this. Behold it! Toast away! The French Army! the great
Napoleon! the present company! the croupier! the honest croupier's wife
and daughters—if he has any! the Ladies generally! everybody in the
By the time the second bottle of champagne was emptied, I felt as if I had
been drinking liquid fire—my brain seemed all aflame. No excess in wine
had ever had this effect on me before in my life. Was it the result of a
stimulant acting upon my system when I was in a highly excited state?
Was my stomach in a particularly disordered condition? Or was the
champagne amazingly strong?
"Ex-brave of the French Army!" cried I, in a mad state of exhilaration, "I
am on fire! how are you? You have set me on fire. Do you hear, my hero
of Austerlitz? Let us have a third bottle of champagne to put the flame
The old soldier wagged his head, rolled his goggle-eyes, until I expected
to see them slip out of their sockets; placed his dirty forefinger by
the side of his broken nose; solemnly ejaculated "Coffee!" and
immediately ran off into an inner room.
The word pronounced by the eccentric veteran seemed to have a magical
effect on the rest of the company present. With one accord they all rose
to depart. Probably they had expected to profit by my intoxication; but
finding that my new friend was benevolently bent on preventing me from
getting dead drunk, had now abandoned all hope of thriving pleasantly on
my winnings. Whatever their motive might be, at any rate they went away
in a body. When the old soldier returned, and sat down again opposite to
me at the table, we had the room to ourselves. I could see the croupier,
in a sort of vestibule which opened out of it, eating his supper in
solitude. The silence was now deeper than ever.
A sudden change, too, had come over the "ex-brave". He assumed a
portentously solemn look; and when he spoke to me again, his speech was
ornamented by no oaths, enforced by no finger-snapping, enlivened by no
apostrophes or exclamations.
"Listen, my dear sir," said he, in mysteriously confidential tones—"listen
to an old soldier's advice. I have been to the mistress of the house (a
very charming woman, with a genius for cookery!) to impress on her the
necessity of making us some particularly strong and good coffee. You
must drink this coffee in order to get rid of your little amiable
exaltation of spirits before you think of going home—you must, my
good and gracious friend! With all that money to take home to-night, it
is a sacred duty to yourself to have your wits about you. You are known
to be a winner to an enormous extent by several gentlemen present
to-night, who, in a certain point of view, are very worthy and excellent
fellows; but they are mortal men, my dear sir, and they have their
amiable weaknesses. Need I say more? Ah, no, no! you understand me! Now,
this is what you must do—send for a cabriolet when you feel quite well
again—draw up all the windows when you get into it—and tell the driver
to take you home only through the large and well-lighted thoroughfares.
Do this; and you and your money will be safe. Do this; and to-morrow you
will thank an old soldier for giving you a word of honest advice."
Just as the ex-brave ended his oration in very lachrymose tones, the
coffee came in, ready poured out in two cups. My attentive friend handed
me one of the cups with a bow. I was parched with thirst, and drank it
off at a draught. Almost instantly afterwards, I was seized with a fit
of giddiness, and felt more completely intoxicated than ever. The room
whirled round and round furiously; the old soldier seemed to be
regularly bobbing up and down before me like the piston of a
steam-engine. I was half deafened by a violent singing in my ears; a
feeling of utter bewilderment, helplessness, idiocy, overcame me. I rose
from my chair, holding on by the table to keep my balance; and stammered
out that I felt dreadfully unwell—so unwell that I did not know how I
was to get home.
"My dear friend," answered the old soldier—and even his voice seemed to be
bobbing up and down as he spoke—"my dear friend, it would be madness to
go home in your state; you would be sure to lose your money; you
might be robbed and murdered with the greatest ease. I
am going to sleep here; do you sleep here, too—they make up capital beds
in this house—take one; sleep off the effects of the wine, and go home
safely with your winnings to-morrow—to-morrow, in broad daylight."
I had but two ideas left: one, that I must never let go hold of my
handkerchief full of money; the other, that I must lie down somewhere
immediately, and fall off into a comfortable sleep. So I agreed to the
proposal about the bed, and took the offered arm of the old soldier,
carrying my money with my disengaged hand. Preceded by the croupier, we
passed along some passages and up a flight of stairs into the bedroom
which I was to occupy. The ex-brave shook me warmly by the hand,
proposed that we should breakfast together, and then, followed by the
croupier, left me for the night.
I ran to the wash-hand stand; drank some of the water in my jug; poured
the rest out, and plunged my face into it; then sat down in a chair and
tried to compose myself. I soon felt better. The change for my lungs,
from the fetid atmosphere of the gambling-room to the cool air of the
apartment I now occupied, the almost equally refreshing change for my
eyes, from the glaring gaslights of the "salon" to the dim, quiet
flicker of one bedroom candle, aided wonderfully the restorative effects
of cold water. The giddiness left me, and I began to feel a little like
a reasonable being again. My first thought was of the risk of sleeping
all night in a gambling-house; my second, of the still greater risk of
trying to get out after the house was closed, and of going home alone at
night through the streets of Paris with a large sum of money about me. I
had slept in worse places than this on my travels; so I determined to
lock, bolt, and barricade my door, and take my chance till the next
Accordingly, I secured myself against all intrusion; looked under the bed,
and into the cupboard; tried the fastening of the window; and then,
satisfied that I had taken every proper precaution, pulled off my upper
clothing, put my light, which was a dim one, on the hearth among a
feathery litter of wood-ashes, and got into bed, with the handkerchief
full of money under my pillow.
I soon felt not only that I could not go to sleep, but that I could not
even close my eyes. I was wide awake, and in a high fever. Every nerve
in my body trembled—every one of my senses seemed to be preternaturally
sharpened. I tossed and rolled, and tried every kind of position, and
perseveringly sought out the cold corners of the bed, and all to no
purpose. Now I thrust my arms over the clothes; now I poked them under
the clothes; now I violently shot my legs straight out down to the
bottom of the bed; now I convulsively coiled them up as near my chin as
they would go; now I shook out my crumpled pillow, changed it to the
cool side, patted it flat, and lay down quietly on my back; now I
fiercely doubled it in two, set it up on end, thrust it against the
board of the bed, and tried a sitting posture. Every effort was in vain;
I groaned with vexation as I felt that I was in for a sleepless night.
What could I do? I had no book to read. And yet, unless I found out some
method of diverting my mind, I felt certain that I was in the condition
to imagine all sorts of horrors; to rack my brain with forebodings of
every possible and impossible danger; in short, to pass the night in
suffering all conceivable varieties of nervous terror.
I raised myself on my elbow, and looked about the room—which was
brightened by a lovely moonlight pouring straight through the window—to
see if it contained any pictures or ornaments that I could at all
clearly distinguish. While my eyes wandered from wall to wall, a
remembrance of Le Maistre's delightful little book, "Voyage autour de ma
Chambre," occurred to me. I resolved to imitate the French author, and
find occupation and amusement enough to relieve the tedium of my
wakefulness, by making a mental inventory of every article of furniture
I could see, and by following up to their sources the multitude of
associations which even a chair, a table, or a wash-hand stand may be
made to call forth.
In the nervous unsettled state of my mind at that moment, I found it much
easier to make my inventory than to make my reflections, and thereupon
soon gave up all hope of thinking in Le Maistre's fanciful track—or,
indeed, of thinking at all. I looked about the room at the different
articles of furniture, and did nothing more.
There was, first, the bed I was lying in; a four-post bed, of all things
in the world to meet with in Paris—yes, a thoroughly clumsy British
four-poster, with the regular top lined with chintz—the regular fringed
valance all round—the regular stifling, unwholesome curtains, which I
remembered having mechanically drawn back against the posts without
particularly noticing the bed when I first got into the room. Then there
was the marble-topped wash-hand stand, from which the water I had
spilled, in my hurry to pour it out, was still dripping, slowly and more
slowly, on to the brick floor. Then two small chairs, with my coat,
waistcoat, and trousers flung on them. Then a large elbow-chair covered
with dirty-white dimity, with my cravat and shirt collar thrown over the
back. Then a chest of drawers with two of the brass handles off, and a
tawdry, broken china inkstand placed on it by way of ornament for the
top. Then the dressing-table, adorned by a very small looking-glass, and
a very large pincushion. Then the window—an unusually large window. Then
a dark old picture, which the feeble candle dimly showed me. It was a
picture of a fellow in a high Spanish hat, crowned with a plume of
towering feathers. A swarthy, sinister ruffian, looking upward, shading
his eyes with his hand, and looking intently upward—it might be at some
tall gallows at which he was going to be hanged. At any rate, he had the
appearance of thoroughly deserving it.
This picture put a kind of constraint upon me to look upward too—at the
top of the bed. It was a gloomy and not an interesting object, and I
looked back at the picture. I counted the feathers in the man's hat—they
stood out in relief—three white, two green. I observed the crown of his
hat, which was of conical shape, according to the fashion supposed to
have been favoured by Guido Fawkes. I wondered what he was looking up
at. It couldn't be at the stars; such a desperado was neither astrologer
nor astronomer. It must be at the high gallows, and he was going to be
hanged presently. Would the executioner come into possession of his
conical crowned hat and plume of feathers? I counted the feathers
again—three white, two green.
While I still lingered over this very improving and intellectual
employment, my thoughts insensibly began to wander. The moonlight
shining into the room reminded me of a certain moonlight night in
England—the night after a picnic party in a Welsh valley. Every incident
of the drive homeward, through lovely scenery, which the moonlight made
lovelier than ever, came back to my remembrance, though I had never
given the picnic a thought for years; though, if I had tried to
recollect it, I could certainly have recalled little or nothing of that
scene long past. Of all the wonderful faculties that help to tell us we
are immortal, which speaks the sublime truth more eloquently than
memory? Here was I, in a strange house of the most suspicious character,
in a situation of uncertainty, and even of peril, which might seem to
make the cool exercise of my recollection almost out of the question;
nevertheless, remembering, quite involuntarily, places, people,
conversations, minute circumstances of every kind, which I had thought
forgotten for ever; which I could not possibly have recalled at will,
even under the most favourable auspices. And what cause had produced in
a moment the whole of this strange, complicated, mysterious effect?
Nothing but some rays of moonlight shining in at my bedroom window.
I was still thinking of the picnic—of our merriment on the drive home—of
the sentimental young lady who would quote "Childe Harold"
because it was moonlight. I was absorbed by these past scenes and past
amusements, when, in an instant, the thread on which my memories hung
snapped asunder; my attention immediately came back to present things
more vividly than ever, and I found myself, I neither knew why nor
wherefore, looking hard at the picture again.
Looking for what?
Good God! the man had pulled his hat down on his brows! No! the hat itself
was gone! Where was the conical crown? Where the feathers—three white,
two green? Not there! In place of the hat and feathers, what dusky
object was it that now hid his forehead, his eyes, his shading hand?
Was the bed moving?
I turned on my back and looked up. Was I mad? drunk? dreaming? giddy
again? or was the top of the bed really moving down—sinking slowly,
regularly, silently, horribly, right down throughout the whole of its
length and breadth—right down upon me, as I lay underneath?
My blood seemed to stand still. A deadly paralysing coldness stole all
over me as I turned my head round on the pillow and determined to test
whether the bedtop was really moving or not, by keeping my eye on the
man in the picture.
The next look in that direction was enough. The dull, black, frowzy
outline of the valance above me was within an inch of being parallel
with his waist. I still looked breathlessly. And steadily and
slowly—very slowly—I saw the figure, and the line of frame below the
figure, vanish, as the valance moved down before it.
I am, constitutionally, anything but timid. I have been on more than one
occasion in peril of my life, and have not lost my self-possession for
an instant; but when the conviction first settled on my mind that the
bed-top was really moving, was steadily and continuously sinking down
upon me, I looked up shuddering, helpless, panic-stricken, beneath the
hideous machinery for murder, which was advancing closer and closer to
suffocate me where I lay.
I looked up, motionless, speechless, breathless. The candle, fully spent,
went out; but the moonlight still brightened the room. Down and down,
without pausing and without sounding, came the bedtop, and still my
panic terror seemed to bind me faster and faster to the mattress on
which I lay—down and down it sank, till the dusty odour from the lining
of the canopy came stealing into my nostrils.
At that final moment the instinct of self-preservation startled me out of
my trance, and I moved at last. There was just room for me to roll
myself sideways off the bed. As I dropped noiselessly to the floor, the
edge of the murderous canopy touched me on the shoulder.
Without stopping to draw my breath, without wiping the cold sweat from my
face, I rose instantly on my knees to watch the bedtop. I was literally
spellbound by it. If I had heard footsteps behind me, I could not have
turned round; if a means of escape had been miraculously provided for
me, I could not have moved to take advantage of it. The whole life in me
was, at that moment, concentrated in my eyes.
It descended—the whole canopy, with the fringe round it, came
down—down—close down; so close that there was not room now to squeeze my
finger between the bedtop and the bed. I felt at the sides, and
discovered that what had appeared to me from beneath to be the ordinary
light canopy of a four-post bed was in reality a thick, broad mattress,
the substance of which was concealed by the valance and its fringe. I
looked up and saw the four posts rising hideously bare. In the middle of
the bedtop was a huge wooden screw that had evidently worked it down
through a hole in the ceiling, just as ordinary presses are worked down
on the substance selected for compression. The frightful apparatus moved
without making the faintest noise. There had been no creaking as it came
down; there was now not the faintest sound from the room above. Amid a
dead and awful silence I beheld before me—in the nineteenth century, and
in the civilized capital of France—such a machine for secret murder by
suffocation as might have existed in the worst days of the Inquisition,
in the lonely inns among the Harz Mountains, in the mysterious tribunals
of Westphalia! Still, as I looked on it, I could not move, I could
hardly breathe, but I began to recover the power of thinking, and in a
moment I discovered the murderous conspiracy framed against me in all
My cup of coffee had been drugged, and drugged too strongly. I had been
saved from being smothered by having taken an overdose of some narcotic.
How I had chafed and fretted at the fever-fit which had preserved my
life by keeping me awake! How recklessly I had confided myself to the
two wretches who had led me into this room, determined, for the sake of
my winnings, to kill me in my sleep by the surest and most horrible
contrivance for secretly accomplishing my destruction! How many men,
winners like me, had slept, as I had proposed to sleep, in that bed, and
had never been seen or heard of more! I shuddered at the bare idea of
But, ere long, all thought was again suspended by the sight of the
murderous canopy moving once more. After it had remained on the bed—as
nearly as I could guess—about ten minutes, it began to move up again.
The villains who worked it from above evidently believed that their
purpose was now accomplished. Slowly and silently, as it had descended,
that horrible bedtop rose towards its former place. When it reached the
upper extremities of the four posts, it reached the ceiling, too.
Neither hole nor screw could be seen; the bed became in appearance an
ordinary bed again—the canopy an ordinary canopy—even to the most
Now, for the first time, I was able to move—to rise from my knees—to dress
myself in my upper clothing—and to consider of how I should escape. If I
betrayed by the smallest noise that the attempt to suffocate me had
failed, I was certain to be murdered. Had I made any noise already? I
listened intently, looking towards the door.
No! no footsteps in the passage outside—no sound of a tread, light or
heavy, in the room above—absolute silence everywhere. Besides locking
and bolting my door, I had moved an old wooden chest against it, which I
had found under the bed. To remove this chest (my blood ran cold as I
thought of what its contents might be!) without making some disturbance
was impossible; and, moreover, to think of escaping through the house,
now barred up for the night, was sheer insanity. Only one chance was
left me—the window. I stole to it on tiptoe.
My bedroom was on the first floor, above an entresol, and looked into a
back street. I raised my hand to open the window, knowing that on that
action hung, by the merest hairbreadth, my chance of safety. They keep
vigilant watch in a house of murder. If any part of the frame cracked,
if the hinge creaked, I was a lost man! It must have occupied me at
least five minutes, reckoning by time—five hours, reckoning by
suspense—to open that window. I succeeded in doing it silently—in doing
it with all the dexterity of a house-breaker—and then looked down into
the street. To leap the distance beneath me would be almost certain
destruction! Next, I looked round at the sides of the house. Down the
left side ran a thick water-pipe—it passed close by the outer edge of
the window. The moment I saw the pipe I knew I was saved. My breath came
and went freely for the first time since I had seen the canopy of the
bed moving down upon me!
To some men the means of escape which I had discovered might have seemed
difficult and dangerous enough—to me the prospect of slipping
down the pipe into the street did not suggest even a thought of peril. I
had always been accustomed, by the practice of gymnastics, to keep up my
school-boy powers as a daring and expert climber; and knew that my head,
hands, and feet would serve me faithfully in any hazards of ascent or
descent. I had already got one leg over the window-sill, when I
remembered the handkerchief filled with money under my pillow. I could
well have afforded to leave it behind me, but I was revengefully
determined that the miscreants of the gambling-house should miss their
plunder as well as their victim. So I went back to the bed and tied the
heavy handkerchief at my back by my cravat.
Just as I had made it tight and fixed it in a comfortable place, I thought
I heard a sound of breathing outside the door. The chill feeling of
horror ran through me again as I listened. No! dead silence still in the
passage—I had only heard the night air blowing softly into the room. The
next moment I was on the window-sill, and the next I had a firm grip on
the water-pipe with my hands and knees.
I slid down into the street easily and quietly, as I thought I should, and
immediately set off at the top of my speed to a branch "prefecture" of
Police, which I knew was situated in the immediate neighbourhood. A
"subprefect," and several picked men among his subordinates, happened to
be up, maturing, I believe, some scheme for discovering the perpetrator
of a mysterious murder which all Paris was talking of just then. When I
began my story, in a breathless hurry and in very bad French, I could
see that the subprefect suspected me of being a drunken Englishman who
had robbed somebody; but he soon altered his opinion as I went on, and
before I had anything like concluded, he shoved all the papers before
him into a drawer, put on his hat, supplied me with another (for I was
bareheaded), ordered a file of soldiers, desired his expert followers to
get ready all sorts of tools for breaking open doors and ripping up
brick flooring, and took my arm, in the most friendly and familiar
manner possible, to lead me with him out of the house. I will venture to
say that when the subprefect was a little boy, and was taken for the
first time to the play, he was not half as much pleased as he was now at
the job in prospect for him at the gambling-house!
Away we went through the streets, the subprefect cross-examining and
congratulating me in the same breath as we marched at the head of our
formidable posse comitatus. Sentinels were placed at the back and front
of the house the moment we got to it; a tremendous battery of knocks was
directed against the door; a light appeared at a window; I was told to
conceal myself behind the police; then came more knocks and a cry of
"Open in the name of the law!" At that terrible summons bolts and locks
gave way before an invisible hand, and the moment after the subprefect
was in the passage, confronting a waiter half dressed and ghastly pale.
This was the short dialogue which immediately took place:
"We want to see the Englishman who is sleeping in this house."
"He went away hours ago."
"He did no such thing. His friend went away; he remained. Show us
to his bedroom!"
"I swear to you, Monsieur le Sous-prefet, he is not here! he—"
"I swear to you, Monsieur le Garcon, he is. He slept here; he didn't find
your bed comfortable; he came to us to complain of it; here he is among
my men; and here am I ready to look for a flea or two in his bedstead.
Renaudin!" (calling to one of the subordinates, and pointing to the
waiter), "collar that man, and tie his hands behind him. Now then,
gentlemen, let us walk upstairs!"
Every man and woman in the house was secured—the "old soldier" the first.
Then I identified the bed in which I had slept, and then we went into
the room above.
No object that was at all extraordinary appeared in any part of it. The
subprefect looked round the place, commanded everybody to be silent,
stamped twice on the floor, called for a candle, looked attentively at
the spot he had stamped on, and ordered the flooring there to be
carefully taken up. This was done in no time. Lights were produced, and
we saw a deep raftered cavity between the floor of this room and the
ceiling of the room beneath. Through this cavity there ran
perpendicularly a sort of case of iron, thickly greased; and inside the
case appeared the screw, which communicated with the bedtop below. Extra
lengths of screw, freshly oiled; levers covered with felt; all the
complete upper works of a heavy press—constructed with infernal
ingenuity so as to join the fixtures below, and when taken to pieces
again to go into the smallest possible compass—were next discovered and
pulled out on the floor. After some little difficulty the subprefect
succeeded in putting the machinery together, and, leaving his men to
work it, descended with me to the bedroom. The smothering canopy was
then lowered, but not so noiselessly as I had seen it lowered. When I
mentioned this to the subprefect, his answer, simple as it was, had a
terrible significance. "My men," said he, "are working down the bedtop
for the first time; the men whose money you won were in better
We left the house in the sole possession of two police agents, every one
of the inmates being removed to prison on the spot. The subprefect,
after taking down my proces verbal in his office, returned with
me to my hotel to get my passport. "Do you think," I asked, as I gave it
to him, "that any men have really been smothered in that bed, as they
tried to smother me?"
"I have seen dozens of drowned men laid out at the morgue," answered the
subprefect, "in whose pocket-books were found letters stating that they
had committed suicide in the Seine, because they had lost everything at
the gaming-table. Do I know how many of those men entered the same
gambling-house that you entered? won as you won? took that
bed as you took it? slept in it? were smothered in it? and were
privately thrown into the river, with a letter of explanation written by
the murderers and placed in their pocket-books? No man can say how many
or how few have suffered the fate from which you have escaped. The
people of the gambling-house kept their bedstead machinery a secret from
us—even from the police! The dead kept the rest of the secret for
them. Good-night, or rather good-morning, Monsieur Faulkner! Be at my
office again at nine o'clock; in the meantime, au revoir!"
The rest of my story is soon told. I was examined and reexamined; the
gambling-house was strictly searched all through from top to bottom; the
prisoners were separately interrogated, and two of the less guilty among
them made a confession. I discovered that the old soldier was master of
the gambling-house—justice discovered that he had been drummed
out of the army as a vagabond years ago; that he had been guilty of all
sorts of villainies since; that he was in possession of stolen property,
which the owners identified; and that he, the croupier, another
accomplice, and the woman who had made my cup of coffee were all in the
secret of the bedstead. There appeared some reason to doubt whether the
inferior persons attached to the house knew anything of the suffocating
machinery; and they received the benefit of that doubt, by being treated
simply as thieves and vagabonds. As for the old soldier and his two head
myrmidons, they went to the galleys; the woman who had drugged my coffee
was imprisoned for I forget how many years; the regular attendants at
the gambling-house were considered "suspicious," and placed under
"surveillance"; and I became, for one whole week (which is a long time),
the head "lion" in Parisian society. My adventure was dramatised by
three illustrious play-makers, but never saw theatrical daylight; for
the censorship forbade the introduction on the stage of a correct copy
of the gambling-house bedstead.
One good result was produced by my adventure, which any censorship must
have approved: it cured me of ever again trying rouge-et-noir as an
amusement. The sight of a green cloth, with packs of cards and heaps of
money on it, will henceforth be for ever associated in my mind with the
sight of a bed canopy descending to suffocate me in the silence and
darkness of the night.
Just as Mr. Faulkner pronounced these words he started in his chair, and
resumed his stiff, dignified position in a great hurry. "Bless my soul!"
cried he, with a comic look of astonishment and vexation, "while I have
been telling you what is the real secret of my interest in the sketch
you have so kindly given to me, I have altogether forgotten that I came
here to sit for my portrait. For the last hour or more I must have been
the worst model you ever had to draw from!"
"On the contrary, you have been the best," said I. "I have been trying to
catch your likeness; and, while telling your story, you have
unconsciously shown me the natural expression I wanted to insure my
NOTE BY MRS. KERBY
I cannot let this story end without mentioning what the chance saying was
which caused it to be told at the farmhouse the other night. Our friend
the young sailor, among his other quaint objections to sleeping on
shore, declared that he particularly hated four-post beds, because he
never slept in one without doubting whether the top might not come down
in the night and suffocate him. I thought this chance reference to the
distinguishing feature of William's narrative curious enough, and my
husband agreed with me. But he says it is scarcely worth while to
mention such a trifle in anything so important as a book. I cannot
venture, after this, to do more than slip these lines in modestly at the
end of the story. If the printer should notice my few last words,
perhaps he may not mind the trouble of putting them into some
out-of-the-way corner, in very small type.
MICHEL LORIO'S CROSS, By Hesba Stretton
In the southwest point of Normandy, separated from Brittany only by a
narrow and straight river, like the formal canals of Holland, stands the
curious granite rock which is called Mont St. Michel. It is an isolated
peak, rising abruptly out of a vast plain of sand to the height of
nearly four hundred feet, and so precipitous toward the west that
scarcely a root of grass finds soil enough in its weather-beaten clefts.
At the very summit is built that wonderful church, the rich architecture
and flying buttresses of which strike the eye leagues and leagues away,
either on the sea or the mainland. Below the church, and supporting it
by a solid masonry, is a vast pile formerly a fortress, castle, and
prison; with caverns and dungeons hewn out of the living rock, and
vaulted halls and solemn crypts; all desolate and solitary now, except
when a party of pilgrims or tourists pass through them, ushered by a
guide. Still lower down the rock, along its eastern and southern face,
there winds a dark and narrow street, with odd, antique houses on either
side. The only conveyance that can pass along it is the water-cart which
supplies the town with fresh water from the mainland. The whole place is
guarded by a strong and high rampart, with bastions and battlemented
walls; and the only entrance is through three gateways, one immediately
behind the other, with a small court between. The second of these strong
gateways is protected by two old cannon, taken from the English in 1423,
and still pointed out to visitors with inextinguishable pride by the
natives of Mont. St. Michel.
A great plain of sand stretches around the Mont for miles every way—of
sand or sea, for the water covers it at flood-tides, beating up against
the foot of the granite rocks and the granite walls of the ramparts. But
at neap tides and eaux mortes, as the French say, there is
nothing but a desert of brown, bare sand, with ripple-marks lying across
it, and with shallow, ankle-deep pools of salt water here and there.
Afar off on the western sky-line a silver fringe of foam, glistening in
the sunshine, marks the distant boundary to which the sea has retreated.
On every other side of the horizon rises a belt of low cliffs, bending
into a semicircle, with sweeping outlines of curves miles in length,
drawn distinctly against the clear sky.
The only way to approach the Mont is across the sands. Each time the tide
recedes a fresh track must be made, like the track along snowy roads;
and every traveller, whether on foot or in carriage, must direct his
steps by this scarcely beaten path. Now and then he passes a high,
strong post, placed where there is any dangerous spot upon the plain;
for there are perilous quicksands, imperceptible to any eye, lurking in
sullen and patient treachery for any unwary footstep. The river itself,
which creeps sluggishly in a straight black line across the brown
desert, has its banks marked out by rows of these high stakes, with a
bush of leafless twigs at the top of each. A dreary, desolate, and
barren scene it is, with no life in it except the isolated life upon the
This little family of human beings, separated from the great tide of life
like one of the shallow pools which the ebbing sea has left upon its
sands, numbers scarcely a hundred and a half. The men are fishers, for
there is no other occupation to be followed on the sterile rock. Every
day also the level sweep of sands is wandered over by the women and
children, who seek for cockles in the little pools; the babble of whose
voices echoes far through the quiet air, and whose shadows fall long and
unbroken on the brown wilderness. Now and then the black-robed figure of
a priest, or of one of the brothers dwelling in the monument on the top
of the rock, may be seen slowly pacing along the same dead level, and
skirting the quicksands where the warning posts are erected. In the
summer months bands of pilgrims are also to be seen marching in a long
file like travellers across the desert; but in winter these visits cease
almost wholly, and the inhabitants of the Mont are left to themselves.
Having so little intercourse with the outer world, and living on a rock
singled out by supernatural visitants, the people remain more
superstitious than even the superstitious Germans and Bretons who are
their neighbours. Few of them can read or write. The new thoughts,
opinions, and creeds of the present century do not reach them. They are
contented with the old faith, bound up for them in the history of their
patron, the archangel St. Michel, and with the minute interest taken in
every native of the rock. Each person knows the history of every other
inhabitant, but knows little else.
From Pontorson to the Mont the road lies along the old Bay of St. Michel,
with low hedge-rows of feathery tamarind-trees on each side as far as
the beach. It is not at all a solitary road, for hundreds of long, heavy
carts, resembling artillery waggons, encumber it, loaded with a gray
shaly deposit dug out of the bay: a busy scene of men and women digging
in the heavy sand, while the shaggy horses stand by, hanging their heads
patiently under the blue-stained sheepskins about their necks.
Two or three persons are at work at every cart; one of them, often a
woman, standing on the rising pile, and beating it flat with a spade,
while a cheerful clatter of voices is heard on every hand.
But at one time a man might have been seen there working alone, quite
alone. Even a space was left about him, as if an invisible circle were
drawn, within which no person would venture. If a word were flung at him
across this imaginary cordon, it was nothing but a taunt or a curse, and
it was invariably spoken by a man. No woman so much as glanced at him.
He toiled on doggedly, and in silence, with a weary-looking face, until
his task was ended, and the waggon driven off by the owner, who had
employed him at a lower rate than his comrades. Then he would throw his
blue blouse over his shoulders, and tramp away with heavy tread along
the faintly marked trail leading across the beach to Mont St. Michel.
Neither was there any voice to greet him as he gained the gateway, where
the men of the Mont congregated, as they always congregate about the
entrance to a walled town. Rather, the scornful silence which had
surrounded him at his work was here deepened into a personal hatred.
Within the gate the women, who were chattering over their nets of
cockles, shrank away from him, or broke into a contemptuous laugh. Along
the narrow street the children fled at the sight of him, and hid behind
their mothers, from whose protection they could shout after him. If the
cure met him, he would turn aside into the first house rather than come
in contact with him. He was under a ban which no one dared to defy.
The only voice that spoke to him was the fretful, querulous voice of an
old, bedridden woman as he lifted the latch and opened the door of a
poor house upon the ramparts, which had no entrance into the street; and
where he lived alone with his mother, cut off from all accidental
intercourse with his neighbours.
"Michel! Michel! how late thou art!" she exclaimed; "if thou hadst been a
good son thou wouldst have returned before the hour it is."
"I returned as soon as my work was finished," he answered, in a patient
voice; "I have not lost a minute by the way."
"Bah! because no one will ask thee to turn in with them anywhere!" she
continued. "If thou wert like everybody else thou wouldst have many a
friend to pass thy time with. It is hard for me, thy mother, to have
brought thee into the world that all the world should despise and hate
thee, as they do this day. Monsieur le Cure says there is no hope for
thee if thou art so obstinate; thou must go to hell, though I named thee
after our great archangel St. Michel, and brought thee up as a good
Quel malheur! How hard it is for me to lie in bed all day, and
think of my son in the flames of hell!"
Very quietly, as if he had heard such complainings hundreds of times
before, did Michel set about kindling a few sticks upon the open hearth.
This was so common a welcome home that he scarcely heard it, and had
ceased to heed it. The room, as the flickering light fell upon it, was
one of the cheerless and comfortless chambers to be seen in any
peasant's house: a pile of wood in one corner, a single table with a
chair or two, a shelf with a few pieces of brown crockery, and the bed
on which the paralytic woman was lying, her hands crossed over her
breast, and her bright black eyes glistening in the gloom. Michel
brought her the soup he had made, and fed her carefully and tenderly,
before thinking of satisfying his own hunger.
"It is of no good, Michel," she said, when he laid her down again upon the
pillow he had made smooth for her; "it is of no good. Thou mayest as
well leave me to perish; it will not weigh for thee. Monsieur le Cure
says if thou hadst been born a heretic perhaps the good God might have
taken it into account. But thou wert born a Christian, as good a
Christian as all the world, and thou hast sold thy birthright to the
devil. Leave me then, and take thy pleasure in this life, for thou wilt
have nothing but misery in the next."
"I will not leave thee—never!" he answered, briefly. "I have no fear of
the next world."
He was a man of few words evidently. Perhaps the silence maintained around
him had partly frozen his power of speech. Even to his mother he spoke
but little, though her complaining went on without ceasing, until he
extinguished both fire and lamp, and climbed the rude ladder into the
loft overhead, where her voice never failed to rouse him from his sleep,
if she only called "Michel!" He could not clearly explain his position
even to himself. He had gone to Paris many years before, where he came
across some Protestants, who had taught him to read the Testament, and
instructed him in their religion. The new faith had taken hold of him,
and thrust deep roots into his simple and constant nature; though he had
no words at command to express the change to others, and scarcely to
himself. So long as he had been in Paris there had been no need of this.
But now his father's death had compelled him to return to his native
place, and to the little knot of people who knew him as old Pierre
Lorio's son, a fisherman like themselves, with no more right to read or
think than they had. The fierceness of the persecution he encountered
filled him with dismay, though it had not shaken his fidelity to his new
faith. But often a dumb, inarticulate longing possessed him to make
known to his old neighbours the reason of the change in him, but speech
failed him. He could only stammer out his confession, "I am no longer a
Catholic, I am a Protestant, I cannot pray to the saints, not even to
the archangel St. Michel or the Blessed Virgin. I pray only to God." For
anything else, for explanation, and for all argument, he had no more
language than the mute, wistful language one sees in the eyes of dumb
creatures, when they gaze fully at us.
Perhaps there is nothing more pitiful than the painful want of words to
express that which lies deepest within us; a want common to us all, but
greatest in those who have had no training in thus shaping and
expressing their inmost thoughts.
There was not much to fear from a man like this. Michel Lorio was a living
lesson against apostasy. As he went up and down the street, and in and
out of the gate, his loneliness and dejection spoke more eloquently for
the old faith than any banishment could have done. Michel was suffered
to remain under a ban, not formal and ceremonial, but a tacit ban, which
quite as effectively set him apart, and made his life more solitary than
if he had been dwelling alone on a desert rock out at sea.
Michel accepted his lot without complaint and without bitterness. He never
passed Monsieur le Cure without a salutation. When he went daily for
water to the great cistern of the monastery, he was always ready to
carry the brimful pails too heavy for the arms of the old women and
children. If he had leisure he mounted the long flights of grass-grown
steps three or four times for his neighbours, depositing his burden at
their doors, without a word of thanks for his help being vouchsafed to
him. Now and then he overheard a sneer at his usefulness; and his mother
taunted him often for his patience and forbearance. But he went on his
way silently with deeper yearning for human love and sympathy than he
could make known.
If it had not been that, when he was kneeling at the rude dormer-window of
his loft and gazing dreamily across the wide sweep of sand, with the
moon shining across it and the solemn stars lighting up the sky, he was
at times vaguely conscious of an influence, almost a presence, as of a
hand that touched him and a voice that spoke to him, he must have sunk
under this intense longing for love and fellowship. Had he been a
Catholic still, he would have believed that the archangel St. Michel was
near and about to manifest himself as in former times in his splendid
shrine upon the Mont. The new faith had not cast out all the old
superstitious nature; yet it was this vague spiritual presence which
supported him under the crushing and unnatural conditions of his social
life. He endured, as seeing one who is invisible.
Yet at other times he could not keep his feet away from the little street
where all the life there was might be found. At night he would creep
cautiously along the ramparts and descend by a quiet staircase into an
angle of the walls, where he could look on unseen upon the gathering of
townsfolk in the inn where he had often gone with his father in earlier
days. The landlord, Nicolas, was a most bitter enemy now. There was the
familiar room filled with bright light from an oil-lamp and the brighter
flicker of a wood fire where the landlord's wife was cooking. A deep,
low recess in the corner, with a crimson valance stretched across it,
held a bed with snow-white pillows, upon one of which rested a child's
curly head with eyes fast sealed against the glare of the lamp. At a
table close by sat the landlord and three or four of the wealthier men
of the Mont busily and seriously eating the omelets and fried fish
served to them from the pan over the fire.
The copper and brass cooking utensils glittered in the light from the
walls where they hung. It was a cheery scene, and Michel would stand in
his cold, dark corner, watching it until all was over and the guests
ready to depart.
"Thou art Michel le diable!" said a childish voice to him one
evening, and he felt a small, warm hand laid for an instant upon his
own. It was Delphine, Nicolas's eldest girl, a daring child, full of
spirit and courage; yet even she shrank back a step or two after
touching him, and stood as if ready to take flight.
"I am Michel Lorio," he answered, in a quiet, pleasant voice, which won
her back to his side. "Why dost thou call me Michel le diable?"
"All the world calls thee that," answered Delphine; "thou art a heretic.
See, I am a good Christian. I say my ave and paternoster every night; if
thou wilt do the same thing, no one will call thee Michel le diable."
"Thou art not afraid of me?" he asked, for the child put her hand again on
"No, no! thou art not the real devil!" she said, "and maman has put
my name on the register of the monument; so the great archangel St.
Michel will deliver me from all evil. What canst thou do? Canst thou
turn children into cats? or canst thou walk across the sea without being
drowned? or canst thou stand on the highest pinnacle of the church,
where the golden image of St. Michel used to be, and cast thyself down
without killing thyself? I will go back with thee to thy house and see
what thou canst do."
"I can do none of these things," answered Michel, "not one; but thou shalt
come home with me if thou wilt."
"Carry me," she said, "that I may feel how strong thou art."
He lifted her easily into his arms, for he was strong and accustomed to
bear heavier burdens. His heart beat fast as the child's hand stole
round his neck and her soft cheek touched his own. Delphine had never
been upon the ramparts before when the stars were out and the distant
circle of the cliffs hidden by the night, and several times he was
compelled to stop and answer her eager questions; but she would not go
into the house when they reached the door.
"Carry me back again, Michel," she demanded. "I do not like thy mother.
Thou shalt bring me again along the ramparts to-morrow night. I will
always come to thee, always when I see thee standing in the dark corner
by our house. I love thee much, Michel le diable."
It was a strange friendship carried on stealthily. Michel could not put
away from himself this one little tie of human love and fellowship. As
for Delphine, she was as silent about her new friend as children often
are of such things which affect them deeply. There was a mingling of
superstitious feeling in her affection for Michel—a half-dread that gave
their secret meetings a greater charm to the daring spirit of the child.
The evening was a busy time at the inn, and if Delphine had been missed,
but little wonder and no anxiety would have been aroused at her absence.
The ramparts were deserted after dark, and no one guessed that the two
dark figures sauntering to and fro were Michel and Delphine. When the
nights were too cold they took refuge in a little overhanging turret
projecting from one of the angles of the massive walls—a darksome niche
with nothing but the sky to be seen through a narrow embrasure in the
shape of a cross. In these haunts Michel talked in his simple untaught
way of his thoughts and of his new faith, pouring into the child's ear
what he could never tell to any other. By day Delphine never seemed to
see him; never cast a look toward him as he passed by amid the
undisguised ill will of the town. She ceased to speak of him even, with
the unconscious and natural dissimulation by which children screen
themselves from criticism and censure.
The people of the Mont St. Michel are very poor, and the women and
children are compelled to seek some means of earning money as well as
the men. As long as the summer lasts the crowds of pilgrims and
tourists, flocking to the wonderful fortress and shrine upon the summit,
bring employment and gain to some portion of them; but in the winter
there is little to do except when the weather is fine enough to search
for shell-fish about the sands, and sell them in the villages of the
mainland. As the tide goes down, bands of women and children follow it
out for miles, taking care to retrace their steps before the sea rises
again. From Michel's cottage on the ramparts the whole plain toward
Avranches was visible, and he could hear the busy hum of voices coming
to his ear from afar through the quiet air. But on the western side of
the Mont, where the black line of the river crosses the sands, they are
more dangerous; and in this direction only the more venturesome seekers
go—boys who love any risk, and widows who are the more anxious to fill
their nets because they have no man to help them in getting their daily
The early part of the winter is not cold in Normandy, especially by the
sea. As long as the westerly winds sweep across the Atlantic, the air is
soft though damp, with fine mists hanging in it, which shine with
rainbow tints in the sunlight. Sometimes Christmas and the New Year find
the air still genial, in spite of the short days and the long rainy
nights. Strong gales may blow, but so long as they do not come from the
dry east or frosty north there is no real severity of weather.
It was such a Christmas week that year. Not one of the women or children
had yet been forced to stay away from the sands on account of the cold.
Upon Christmas eve there was a good day, though, a short one, before
them, for it was low water about noon, and the high tide would not be in
before six. All the daylight would be theirs. It was a chance not to be
missed, for as the tides grew later in the day their time for fishing
would be cut shorter. Almost every woman and child turned out through
the gate with their nets in their hands. By midday the plain was dotted
over by them, and the wintry sun shone pleasantly down, and the quiet
rock caught the echo of their voices. Farther away, out of sight and
hearing, the men also were busy, Michel among them, casting nets upon
the sea. As the low sun went down in the southern sky, the scattered
groups came home by twos and threes, anxious to bring in their day's
fishing in time for the men to carry them across to the mainland before
the Mont should be shut in by the tide.
A busy scene was that in the gateway.
All the town was there; some coming in from the sands, and those who had
been left at home with babies or old folks running down from their
houses. There was chaffing and bartering; exchanges agreed upon, and
commissions innumerable to be intrusted to the men about to set out for
Pontorson, the nearest town. Michel Lorio was going to sell his own
fish, for who would carry it for him? Yet though he was the first who
was ready to start, not a soul charged him with a single commission. He
lingered wistfully and loitered just outside the gateway; but neither
man, woman, nor child said, "Michel, bring me what I want from the
He was treading slowly down the rough causeway under the walls of the
town, when a woman's shrill voice startled him. It was not far from
sunset, and the sun was sinking round and red behind a bank of fog. A
thin gray mist was creeping up from the sea. The latest band of
stragglers, a cluster of mere children, were running across the sand to
the gate. Michel turned round and saw Nicolas's wife, a dark,
stern-looking woman, beckoning vehemently to these children. He paused
for a moment to look at his little Delphine. "Not there!" he said to
himself, and was passing on, when the shrill voice again caught his
"Where is Phine?" called the mother.
What was it the children said? What answer had they shouted back? Michel
stood motionless, as if all strength had failed him suddenly. The
children rushed past him in a troop. He lifted up his eyes, looking
fearfully toward the sea hidden behind the deepening fog. Was it
possible that he had heard them say that Delphine was lost?
"Where is Phine?" asked the mother; but though her voice was lower now,
Michel heard every syllable loudly. It seemed as if he could have heard
a whisper, though the chattering in the gateway was like the clamour of
a fair. The eldest girl in the little band spoke in a hurried and
"Phine is so naughty, madame," she said, "we could not keep her near us.
She would go on and on to the sea. We could not wait for her. We heard
her calling, but it was so far, we dared not go back. But she cannot be
far behind us, for we shouted as we came along. She will be here soon,
"Mon Dieu!" cried the mother, sinking down on one of the great
stones, either rolled up by the tide, or left by the masons who built
the ramparts. "Call her father to me."
It was Michel Lorio who found Nicolas, his greatest enemy. Nicolas had a
number of errands to be done in the town, and he was busy impressing
them on the memory of his messenger, who, like every one else, could
neither read nor write. When Michel caught his arm in a sharp, fast
grip, he turned round with a scowl, and tried, but in vain, to shake off
"Come to thy wife," said Michel, dragging him toward the gate; "Delphine,
thy little one, is lost on the sands."
The whole crowd heard the words, for Michel's voice was pitched in a high,
shrill key, which rang above the clamour and the babel. There was an
instant hush, every one listening to Michel, and every eye fastened upon
him. Nicolas stared blankly at him, as if unable to understand him, yet
growing passive under his sense of bewilderment.
"The children who went out with Delphine this morning are come back,"
continued Michel, in the same forced tone; "they are come back without
her. She is lost on the sands. The night is falling, and there is a fog.
I tell you the little one is alone, quite alone, upon the sands; and it
will be high water at six o'clock. Delphine is alone and lost upon the
The momentary hush of the crowd was at an end. The children began crying,
and the women calling loudly upon St. Michel and the Holy Virgin. The
men gathered about Nicolas and Michel, and went down in a compact group
to the causeway beyond the gate. There the lurid sun, shining dimly
through the fog, made the most sanguine look grave and shake their heads
hopelessly behind the father and mother. The latter sat motionless,
looking out with straining eyes to see if Delphine were not coming
through the thickening mist.
"Mais que faire! que faire!" cried Nicolas, catching at somebody's
shoulder for support without seeing whose it was. It was Michel's, who
had not stirred from his side since he had first clasped his arm.
Michel's face was as white as the mother's; but there was a resolute
light in his eyes that was not to be seen in hers.
"Nothing can be done," answered one of the oldest men in answer to
Nicolas's cry, "nothing, nothing! We do not know where the child is
lost. See! there are leagues and leagues of sand; and one might wander
miles away from where the poor little creature is at this instant. The
great archangel St. Michel protect her!"
"I will go," said the mother, lifting herself up; and, raising her voice,
she called loudly, with a cry that rang and echoed against the walls,
"Phine! Phine! my little Phine, come back to thy poor mother!" But there
was no answer, except the sobs and prayers of the women and children
clustering behind her.
"Thou canst not go!" exclaimed Nicolas; "there are our other little ones
to think of; nor can I leave thee and them. My God! is there then no one
who will go and seek my little Delphine?"
"I will go," answered Michel, standing out from among the crowd, and
facing it with his white face and resolute eyes; "there is only one
among you all upon the Mont who will miss me. I leave my mother to your
care. There is no time for me to bid her adieu. If I come back alive,
well! if I perish, that will be well also!"
Even then there was no cordiality of response on the hearts of his old
friends and neighbours. The superstition and prejudice of long years
could not be broken down in one moment and by one act of self-sacrifice.
They watched Michel as he laid his full creel down from his shoulders,
and threw across them the strong square net with which he fished in the
ebbing tide. His silence was no less expressive than theirs. Without a
sound he passed away barefooted down the rude causeway. His face, as the
sun shone on it, was set and resolute with a determination to face the
end, whatever the end might be. He might have so trodden the path to
He longed to speak to them, to say adieu to them; but he waited in vain
for one voice to break the silence. He turned round before he was too
far away, and saw them still clustered without the gate; every one of
them known to him from his boyhood, the story of whose lives had been
bound up with his own and formed a part of his history. They were all
there, except his mother, who would soon hear what peril of the sea and
peril of the night he was about to face. Tears dimmed his eyes, and made
the group grow indistinct, as though the mist had already gathered
between him and them. Then he quickened his steps, and the people of
Mont St. Michel lost sight of him behind a great buttress of the
But for a time Michel could still see the Mont as he hurried along its
base, going westward, where the most treacherous sands lie. His home was
on the eastern side, and he could see nothing of it. But the great rock
rose up precipitously above him, and the noble architecture upon its
highest point glowed with a ruddy tint in the setting light. As he
trampled along no sound could be heard but the distant sigh of the sea,
and the low, sad sough of the sand as his bare feet trod it. The fog
before him was not dense, only a light haze, deceptive and beguiling;
for here and there he turned aside, fancying he could see Delphine, but
as he drew nearer to the spot he discovered nothing but a post driven
into the sand. There was no fear that he should lose himself upon the
bewildering level, for he knew his way as well as if the sand had been
laid out in well-defined tracks. His dread was lest he should not find
Delphine soon enough to escape from the tide, which would surely
overwhelm them both.
He scarcely knew how the time sped by, but the sun had sunk below the
horizon, and he had quite lost the Mont in the fog. The brown sand and
the gray dank mist were all that he could see, yet still he plodded on
westward, toward the sea, calling into the growing darkness. At last he
caught the sound of a child's sobs and crying, which ceased for a moment
when he turned in that direction and shouted, "Phine!" Calling to one
another, it was not long before he saw the child wandering forlornly and
desolately in the mist. She ran sobbing into his open arms, and Michel
lifted her up and held her to his heart with a strange rapture.
"It is thou that hast found me," she said, clinging closely to him. "Carry
me back to my mother. I am safe now, quite safe. Did the archangel St.
Michel send thee?"
There was not a moment to be lost; Michel knew that full well. The moan of
the sea was growing louder every minute, though he could not see its
advancing line. There was no spot upon the sand that would not be
covered before another hour was gone, and there was barely time, if
enough, to get back to the Mont. He could not waste time or breath in
talking to the child he held fast in his arms. A pale gleam of moonlight
shone through the vapour, but of little use to him save to throw a
ghostly glimmer across the sands. He strode hurriedly along, breathing
hardly through his teeth and clasping Delphine so fast that she grew
frightened at his silence and haste.
"Where art thou taking me, Michel le diable?" she said, beginning
to struggle in his arms. "Let me down; let me down, I tell thee!
has said I must never look at thee. Thou shalt not carry me any farther."
There was strength enough in the child and her vehement struggles to free
herself to hinder Michel in his desperate haste. He was obliged to stand
still for a minute or two to pacify her, speaking in his quiet, patient
voice, which she knew so well.
"Be tranquil, my little Phine," he said. "I am come to save thee. As the
Lord Jesus came to seek and to save those who are lost, so am I come to
seek thee and carry thee back to thy mother. It is dark here, my child,
and the sea is rising quickly, quickly. But thou shalt be safe. Be
tranquil, and let me make haste back to the Mont."
"Did the Lord save thee in this manner?" asked Delphine, eagerly.
"Yes, He saved me like this," answered Michel. "He laid down His life for
mine. Now thou must let me save thee."
"I will be good and wise," said the child, putting her arms again about
his neck, while he strode on, striving if possible to regain the few
moments that had been lost. But it was not possible. He knew that before
he had gone another kilometre, when through the mist there rose before
him the dark, colossal form of the Mont, but too far away still for them
both to reach it in safety. Thirty minutes were essential for him to
reach the gates with his burden, but in little more than twenty the sea
would be dashing round the walls. The tide was yet out of sight and the
sands were dry, but it would rush in before many minutes, and the
swiftest runner with no weight to carry could not outrun it. Both could
not be saved; could either of them? He had foreseen this danger and
provided for it.
"My little Phine," he said, "thou wilt not be afraid if I place thee where
thou wilt be quite safe from the sea? See, here is my net! I will put
thee within it, and hang it on one of these strong stakes, and I will
stand below thee. Thou wilt be brave and good. Let us be quick, very
quick. It will be like a swing for thee, and thou wilt not be afraid so
long as I stand below thee."
Even while he spoke he was busy fastening the corners of his net securely
over the stake, hanging it above the reach of the last tide-mark.
Delphine watched him laughing. It seemed only another pleasant
adventure, like wandering with him upon the ramparts, or taking shelter
in the turret. The net held her comfortably, and by stooping down she
could touch with her outstretched hand the head of Michel. He stood
below her, his arms fast locked about the stake, and his face uplifted
to her in the faint light.
"Phine," he said, "thou must not be afraid when the water lies below thee,
even if I do not speak. Thou art safe."
"Art thou safe also, Michel?" she asked.
"Yes, I am quite safe also," he answered; "but I shall be very quiet. I
shall not speak to thee. Yes; the Lord Christ is caring for me, as I for
thee. He bound Himself to the cross as I bind myself here. This is my
cross, Delphine. I understand it better now. He loved us and gave
Himself for us. Tell them to-morrow what I say to thee. I am as safe as
thou art, tranquil and happy."
"We shall not be drowned!" said Delphine, half in confidence and half in
dread of the sea, which was surging louder and louder through the
"Not thou!" he answered, cheerily. "But, Phine, tell them to-morrow that I
shall nevermore be solitary and sad. I leave thee now, and then I shall
be with Christ. I wish I could have spoken to them, but my heart and
tongue were heavy. Hark! there is the bell ringing."
The bell which is tolled at night, when travellers are crossing the sands,
to guide them to the Mont, flung its clear, sharp notes down from the
great indistinct rock, looming through the dusk.
"It is like a voice to me, the voice of a friend; but it is too late!"
murmured Michel. "Art thou happy, Delphine, my little one? When I cease
to speak to thee wilt thou not be afraid? I shall be asleep, perhaps.
Say thy paternoster now, for it is growing late with me."
The bell was still toiling, but with a quick, hurried movement, as if
those who rang it were fevered with impatience. The roaring of the tide,
as it now poured in rapidly over the plain, almost drowned its clang.
"Touch me with thy little hand, touch me quickly!" cried Michel. "Remember
to tell them to-morrow that I loved them all always, and I would have
given myself for them as I do for thee. Adieu, my little Phine. Come
quickly, Lord Jesus!"
The child told afterward that the water rose so fast that she dared not
look at it, but shut her eyes as it spread, white and shimmering, in the
moonlight all around her. She began to repeat her paternoster, but she
forgot how the words came. But she heard Michel, in a loud clear voice,
saying "Our Father"; only he also seemed to forget the words, for he did
not say more than "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive—." Then he
became quite silent, and when she spoke to him, after a long while, he
did not answer her. She supposed he had fallen asleep, as he had said,
but she could not help crying and calling to him again and again. The
sea-gulls flew past her screaming, but there was no sound of any voice
to speak to her. In spite of what he had said to her beforehand she grew
frightened, and thought it was because she had been unkind to Michel
le diable that she was left there alone, with the sea swirling to
and fro beneath her.
It was not for more than two or three hours that Delphine hung cradled in
Michel's net, for the tide does not lie long round the Mont St. Michel,
and flows out again as swiftly as it comes in. The people followed it
out, scattering over the sands in the forlorn hope of finding the dead
bodies of Michel Lorio and the child, for they had no expectation of
meeting with either of them alive. At last two or three of them heard
the voice of Delphine, who saw the glimmer of their lanterns upon the
sands, and called shrilly and loudly for succour.
They found her swinging safely in her net, untouched by the water. But
Michel had sunk down upon his knees, though his arms were still fastened
about the stake. His head had fallen forward upon his breast, and his
thick wet hair covered his face. They lifted him without a word spoken.
He had saved Delphine's life at the cost of his own.
All the townspeople were down at the gate, waiting for the return of those
who had gone out to seek for the dead. The moon had risen above the fog,
and shone clearly down upon them. Delphine's mother, with her younger
children about her, sat on the stone where she had been sitting when
Michel set out on his perilous quest. She and the other women could see
a crowd of the men coming back, carrying some burden among them. But as
they drew near to the gate, Delphine sprang forward from among them and
ran and threw herself into her mother's arms. "A miracle!" cried some
voices amid the crowd; a miracle wrought by their patron St. Michel. If
Michel Lorio were safe, surely he would become again a good Christian,
and return to his ancient faith. But Michel Lorio was dead, and all that
could be done for him was to carry his dead body home to his paralytic
mother, and lay it upon his bed in the little loft where he had spent so
many hours of sorrowful loneliness.
It was a perplexing problem to the simple people. Some said that Michel
had been permitted to save the child by a diabolic agency which had
failed him when he sought to save himself. Others maintained that it was
no other than the great archangel St. Michel who had securely fastened
the net upon the stake and so preserved Delphine, while the heretic was
left to perish. A few thought secretly, and whispered it in fear, that
Michel had done a noble deed, and won heaven thereby. The cure, who came
to look upon the calm dead face, opened his lips after long and profound
"If this man had been a Christian," he said, "he would have been a saint
and a martyr."
A PERILOUS AMOUR, By S. J. Weyman
AN EPISODE ADAPTED FROM THE MEMOIRS OF MAXIMILIAN DE BETHUNE, DUKE OF
Such in brief were the reasons which would have led me, had I followed the
promptings of my own sagacity, to oppose the return of the Jesuits. It
remains for me only to add that these arguments lost all their weight
when set in the balance against the safety of my beloved master. To this
plea the king himself for once condescended, and found those who were
most strenuous to dissuade him the least able to refute it; since the
more a man abhorred the Jesuits, the more ready he was to allow that the
king's life could not be safe from their practices while the edict
against them remained in force. The support which I gave to the king on
this occasion exposed me to the utmost odium of my co-religionists, and
was in later times ill-requited by the order. But a remarkable incident
that occurred while the matter was still under debate, and which I now
for the first time make public, proved beyond question the wisdom of my
Fontainebleau being at this time in the hands of the builders, the king
had gone to spend his Easter at Chantilly, whither Mademoiselle
d'Entragues had also repaired. During his absence from Paris I was
seated one morning in my library at the Arsenal, when I was informed
that Father Cotton, the same who at Metz had presented a petition from
the Jesuits, and who was now in Paris pursuing that business under a
safe-conduct, craved leave to pay his respects to me. I was not
surprised, for I had been a little before this of some service to him.
The pages of the court, while loitering outside the Louvre, had raised a
tumult in the streets, and grievously insulted the father by shouting
after him, "Old Wool! Old Cotton!" in imitation of the Paris street cry.
For this the king, at my instigation, had caused them to be soundly
whipped, and I supposed that the Jesuit now desired to thank me for
advice—given, in truth, rather out of regard to discipline than to him.
So I bade them admit him.
His first words, uttered before my secretaries could retire, indicated
that this was indeed his errand; and for a few moments I listened to
such statements from him and made such answers myself as became our
several positions. Then, as he did not go, I began to conceive the
notion that he had come with a further purpose; and his manner, which
seemed on this occasion to lack ease, though he was well gifted with
skill and address, confirmed the notion. I waited, therefore, with
patience, and presently he named his Majesty with many expressions of
devotion to his person. "I trust," said he, "that the air of
Fontainebleau agrees with him, M. de Rosny?"
"You mean, good father, of Chantilly?" I answered.
"Ah, to be sure!" he rejoined, hastily. "He is, of course, at Chantilly."
After that he rose to depart, but was delayed by the raptures into which
he fell at sight of the fire, which, the weather being cold for the time
of year, I had caused to be lit. "It burns so brightly," said he, "that
it must be of boxwood, M. de Rosny."
"Of boxwood?" I exclaimed, in surprise.
"Ay, is it not of boxwood?" quoth he, looking at me with much simplicity.
"Certainly not!" I made answer, rather peevishly. "Who ever heard of
people burning boxwood in Paris, father?"
He apologised for his ignorance—which was indeed matter of wonder—on the
ground of his southern birth, and took his departure, leaving me in much
doubt as to the real purport of his visit. I was indeed more troubled by
the uncertainty I felt than another less conversant with the methods of
the Jesuits might have been, for I knew that it was their habit to let
drop a word where they dared not speak plainly, and I felt myself put on
my mettle to interpret the father's hint. My perplexities were increased
by the belief that he would not have intervened in any matter of small
moment, and by the conviction, which grew upon me apace, that while I
stood idle before the hearth my dearest interests and those of France
were at stake.
"Michel," I said at last, addressing the doyen of my secretaries,
who chanced to be a Provencal, "have you ever seen a boxwood fire?"
He replied respectfully, but with some show of surprise, that he had not,
adding that that wood was rendered so valuable to the turner by its
hardness that few people would be extravagant enough to use it for fuel.
I assented, and felt the more certain that the Jesuit's remark contained
a hidden meaning. The only other clue I had consisted in the apparent
mistake the father had made as to the king's residence, and this might
have been dropped from him in pure inadvertence. Yet I was inclined to
think it intentional, and construed it as implying that the matter
concerned the king personally. Which the more alarmed me.
I passed the day in great anxiety, but toward evening, acting on a sudden
inspiration, I sent La Trape, my valet, a trusty fellow who had saved my
life at Cahors, to the Three Pigeons, a large inn in the suburbs, at
which such travellers from North to South as did not wish to enter the
city were accustomed to change horses and sometimes to sleep. Acquitting
himself of the commission I had given him with his usual adroitness, he
quickly returned with the news that a traveller of rank had passed
through three days before, having sent in advance to order relays there
and at Essonnes. La Trape reported that the gentleman had remained in
his coach, and that none of the inn servants had seen his face.
"And he had companions?" I said. My mind had not failed already to
conceive a natural suspicion.
"Only one, your Grace. The rest were servants."
"And that one?"
"A man in the yard fancied that he recognised M. de la Varenne."
"Ah!" I said no more. My agitation was indeed such that, before giving
reins to it, I bade La Trape withdraw. I could scarcely believe that,
perfectly acquainted as the king was with the plots which Spain and the
Catholics were daily weaving for his life, and possessing such unavowed
but powerful enemies among the great lords as Tremouille and Bouillon,
to say nothing of Mademoiselle d'Entragues's half-brother, the Count of
Auvergne—I could hardly believe that with this knowledge his Majesty had
been so foolhardy as to travel without guards or attendance to
Fontainebleau. And yet I now felt an absolute certainty that this was
the case. The presence of La Varenne also, the confidant of his
intrigues, informed me of the cause of this wild journey, convincing me
that his Majesty had given way to the sole weakness of his nature, and
was bent on one of those adventures of gallantry which had been more
becoming in the Prince of Bearn than in the king of France. Neither was
I at a loss to guess the object of his pursuit. It had been lately
whispered in the court that the king had seen and fallen in love with
his mistress's younger sister, Susette d'Entragues, whose home at
Malesherbes lay but three leagues from Fontainebleau, on the edge of the
forest. This placed the king's imprudence in a stronger light, for he
had scarcely in France a more dangerous enemy than her brother Auvergne;
nor had the immense sums which he had settled on the elder sister
satisfied the mean avarice or conciliated the brutish hostility of her
Apprised of all this, I saw that Father Cotton had desired to communicate
it to me. But his motive I found it less easy to divine. It might have
been a wish to balk this new passion through my interference, and at the
same time to expose me to the risk of his Majesty's anger. Or it might
simply have been a desire to avert danger from the king's person. At any
rate, constant to my rule of ever preferring my master's interest to his
favour, I sent for Maignan, my equerry, and bade him have an equipage
ready at dawn.
Accordingly at that hour next morning, attended only by La Trape, with a
groom, a page, and four Swiss, I started, giving out that I was bound
for Sully to inspect that demesne, which had formerly been the property
of my family, and of which the refusal had just been offered to me.
Under cover of this destination I was enabled to reach La Ferte Alais
unsuspected. There, pretending that the motion of the coach fatigued me,
I mounted the led horse, without which I never travelled, and bidding La
Trape accompany me, gave orders to the others to follow at their leisure
to Pethiviers, where I proposed to stay the night.
La Ferte Alais, on the borders of the forest, is some five leagues
westward of Fontainebleau, and as far north of Malesherbes, with which
last it is connected by a highroad. Having disclosed my intentions to La
Trape, however, I presently left this road and struck into a path which
promised to conduct us in the right direction. But the denseness of the
undergrowth, and the huge piles of gray rocks which lie everywhere
strewn about the forest, made it difficult to keep for any time in a
straight line. After being two hours in the saddle we concluded that we
had lost our way, and were confirmed in this on reaching a clearing, and
seeing before us a small inn, which La Trape recognised as standing
about a league and a half on the forest side of Malesherbes.
We still had ample time to reach Fontainebleau by nightfall, but before
proceeding it was absolutely necessary that our horses should have rest.
Dismounting, therefore, I bade La Trape see the sorrel well baited.
Observing that the inn was a poor place, and no one coming to wait upon
me, I entered it of my own motion, and found myself at once in a large
room better furnished with company than accommodation. Three men, who
had the appearance of such reckless swaggering blades as are generally
to be found drinking in the inns on the outskirts of Paris, and who come
not unfrequently to their ends at Montfaucon, were tippling and playing
cards at a table near the door. They looked up sullenly at my entrance,
but refrained from saluting me, which, as I was plainly dressed and much
stained by travel, was in some degree pardonable. By the fire, partaking
of a coarse meal, was a fourth man of so singular an appearance that I
must needs describe him. He was of great height and extreme leanness.
His face matched his form, for it was long and thin, terminating in a
small peaked beard which, like his hair and mustachios, was as white as
snow. With all this, his eyes glowed with much of the fire of youth, and
his brown complexion and sinewy hands seemed still to indicate robust
health. He was dressed in garments which had once been fashionable, but
now bore marks of long and rough usage, and I remarked that the point of
his sword, which, as he sat, trailed on the stones behind him, had worn
its way through the scabbard. Notwithstanding these signs of poverty, he
saluted me with the ease and politeness of a gentleman, and bade me with
much courtesy to share his table and the fire. Accordingly I drew up,
and called for a bottle of the best wine, being minded to divert myself
I was little prepared, however, for the turn his conversation took, and
the furious tirade into which he presently broke, the object of which
proved to be no other than myself! I do not know that I have ever cut so
whimsical a figure as while hearing my name loaded with reproaches; but,
being certain that he did not know me, I waited patiently, and soon
learned both who he was, and the grievance which he was on his way to
lay before the king. His name was Boisrose, and he had been the leader
in that gallant capture of Fecamp, which took place while I was in
Normandy as the king's representative. His grievance was that,
notwithstanding promises in my letters, he had been deprived of the
government of the place.
"He leads the king by the ear!" he declaimed loudly, in an accent which
marked him for a Gascon. "That villain of a De Rosny! But I will show
him up! I will trounce him!" With that he drew the hilt of his long
rapier to the front with a gesture so truculent that the three bullies,
who had stopped to laugh at him, resumed their game in disorder.
Notwithstanding his hatred for me, I was pleased to meet with a man of so
singular a temper, whom I also knew to be truly courageous; and I was
willing to amuse myself further with him. "But," I said, modestly, "I
have had some affairs with M. de Rosny, and I have never found him cheat
"Do not deceive yourself!" he roared, slapping the table. "He is a
"Yet," I ventured to reply, "I have heard that in many respects he is not
a bad minister."
"He is a villain!" he repeated, so loudly as to drown what I would have
added. "Do not tell me otherwise. But rest assured! be happy, sir! I
will make the king see him in his true colours! Rest content, sir! I
will trounce him! He has to do with Armand de Boisrose!"
Seeing that he was not open to argument,—for, indeed, being opposed, he
grew exceedingly warm,—I asked him by what channel he intended to
approach the king, and learned that here he felt a difficulty, since he
had neither a friend at court nor money to buy one. Being assured that
he was an honest fellow, and knowing that the narrative of our rencontre
and its sequel would vastly amuse his Majesty, who loved a jest of this
kind, I advised Boisrose to go boldly to the king, which, thanking me as
profusely as he had before reproached me, he agreed to do. With that I
rose to depart.
At the last moment it occurred to me to try upon him the shibboleth which
in Father Cotton's mouth had so mystified me.
"This fire burns brightly," I said, kicking the logs together with my
riding-boot. "It must be of boxwood."
"Of what, sir?" quoth he, politely.
"Of boxwood, to be sure," I replied, in a louder tone.
"My certes!" he exclaimed. "They do not burn boxwood in this country.
Those are larch trimmings—neither more nor less!"
While he wondered at my ignorance, I was pleased to discover his, and so
far I had lost my pains. But it did not escape me that the three
gamesters had ceased to play and were listening intently to our
conversation. Moreover, as I moved to the door, they followed me with
their eyes; and when I turned, after riding a hundred yards, I found
that they had come to the door and were still gazing after us.
This prevented me at once remarking that a hound which had which had been
lying before the fire had accompanied us, and was now running in front,
now gambolling round us, as the manner of dogs is. When, however, after
riding about two thirds of a league, we came to a place where the roads
forked, I had occasion particularly to notice the hound, for, choosing
one of the paths, it stood in the mouth of it, wagging its tail, and
inviting us to take that road; and this so pertinaciously that, though
the directions we had received at the inn would have led us to prefer
the other, we determined to follow the dog as the more trustworthy
We had proceeded about four hundred paces when La Trape pointed out that
the path was growing more narrow and showed few signs of being used. So
certain did it seem—though the dog still ran confidently ahead—that we
were again astray, that I was about to draw rein and return, when I
discovered with some emotion that the undergrowth on the right of the
path had assumed the character of a thick hedge of box. Though less
prone than most men to put faith in omens, I accepted this as one, and,
notwithstanding that it wanted but an hour of sunset, I rode on
steadily, remarking that, with each turn in the woodland path, the scrub
on my left also gave place to the sturdy tree which had been in my mind
all day. Finally we found ourselves passing through an alley of
box,—which, no long time before, had been clipped and dressed,—until a
final turn brought me into a cul-de-sac, a kind of arbor, carpeted with
grass, and so thickly set about as to afford no exit save by the
entrance. Here the dog placidly stood and wagged its tail, looking up at
I must confess that this termination of the adventure seemed so
surprising, and the evening light shining on the walls of green round us
was so full of a solemn quiet, that I was not surprised to hear La Trape
mutter a short prayer. For my part, assured that something more than
chance had brought me hither, I dismounted, and spoke encouragement to
the hound; but it only leaped upon me. Then I walked round the
enclosure, and presently remarked, close to the hedge, three small
patches where the grass was slightly trodden down. Another glance told
me much, for I saw that at these places the hedge, about three feet from
the ground, bore traces of the axe. Choosing the nearest spot, I
stooped, until my eyes were level with the hole thus made, and
discovered that I was looking through a funnel skilfully cut in the wall
of box. At my end the opening was rather larger than a man's face; at
the other end about as large as the palm of the hand. The funnel rose
gradually, so that I took the further extremity of it to be about seven
feet from the ground, and here it disclosed a feather dangling on a
spray. From the light falling strongly on this, I judged it to be not in
the hedge, but a pace or two from it on the hither side of another fence
of box. On examining the remaining loopholes I discovered that they bore
upon the same feather.
My own mind was at once made up, but I bade my valet go through the same
investigation, and then asked him whether he had ever seen an ambush of
this kind laid for game. He replied at once that the shot would pass
over the tallest stag; and, fortified by this, I mounted without saying
more, and we retraced our steps. The hound presently slipped away, and
without further adventure we reached Fontainebleau a little after
I expected to be received by the king with coldness and displeasure, but
it chanced that a catarrh had kept him within doors all day, and, unable
to hunt or to visit his new flame, he had been at leisure in this palace
without a court to consider the imprudence he was committing. He
received me, therefore, with the hearty laugh of a school-boy detected
in a petty fault; and as I hastened to relate to him some of the things
which M. de Boisrose had said of the Baron de Rosny, I soon had the
gratification of perceiving that my presence was not taken amiss. His
Majesty gave orders that bedding should be furnished for my pavilion,
and that his household should wait on me, and himself sent me from his
table a couple of chickens and a fine melon, bidding me at the same time
to come to him when I had supped.
I did so, and found him alone in his closet, awaiting me with impatience,
for he had already divined that I had not made this journey merely to
reproach him. Before informing him, however, of my suspicions, I craved
leave to ask him one or two questions, and, in particular, whether he
had been in the habit of going to Malesherbes daily.
"Daily," he admitted, with a grimace. "What more, grand master?"
"By what road, sire?"
"I have commonly hunted in the morning and visited Malesherbes at midday.
I have returned as a rule by the bridle-path, which crosses the Rock of
"Patience, sir, one moment," I said. "Does that path run anywhere through
a plantation of box?"
"To be sure," he answered, without hesitation. "About half a mile on this
side of the rock it skirts Madame Catherine's maze."
Thereon I told the king without reserve all that had happened. He listened
with the air of apparent carelessness which he always assumed when the
many plots against his life were under discussion; but at the end he
embraced me again and again with tears in his eyes.
"France is beholden to you," he said. "I have never had, nor shall have,
such another servant as you, Rosny! The three ruffians at the inn," he
continued, "are the tools, of course, and the hound has been in the
habit of accompanying them to the spot. Yesterday, I remember, I walked
by that place with the bridle on my arm."
"By a special providence, sire," I said, gravely.
"It is true," he answered, crossing himself, a thing I had never yet known
him to do in private. "But now, who is the craftsman who has contrived
this pretty plot? Tell me that, grand master."
On this point, however, though I had my suspicions, I begged leave to be
excused speaking until I had slept upon it. "Heaven forbid," I said,
"that I should expose any man to your Majesty's resentment without
cause. The wrath of kings is the forerunner of death."
"I have not heard," the king answered, drily, "that the Duke of Bouillon
has called in a leech yet."
Before retiring I learned that his Majesty had with him a score of light
horse, whom La Varenne had requisitioned from Melun, and that some of
these had each day awaited him at Malesherbes, and returned with him.
Further, that Henry had been in the habit of wearing, when riding back
in the evening, a purple cloak over his hunting-suit; a fact well known,
I felt sure, to the assassins, who, unseen and in perfect safety, could
fire at the exact moment when the cloak obscured the feather, and could
then make their escape, secured by the stout wall of box, from immediate
I was aroused in the morning by La Varenne coming to my bedside and
bidding me hasten to the king. I did so, and found his Majesty already
in his boots and walking on the terrace with Coquet, his master of the
household, Vitry, La Varenne, and a gentleman unknown to me. On seeing
me he dismissed them, and, while I was still a great way off, called
out, chiding me for my laziness; then taking me by the hand in the most
obliging manner, he made me walk up and down with him, while he told me
what further thoughts he had of this affair; and, hiding nothing from
me, even as he bade me speak to him whatever I thought without reserve,
he required to know whether I suspected that the Entragues family were
cognizant of this.
"I cannot say, sire," I answered, prudently.
"But you suspect?"
"In your Majesty's cause I suspect all," I replied.
He sighed, and seeing that my eyes wandered to the group of gentlemen who
had betaken themselves to the terrace steps, and were thence watching
us, he asked me if I would answer for them. "For Vitry, who sleeps at my
feet when I lie alone? For Coquet?"
"For three of them I will, sire," I answered, firmly. "The fourth I do not
"He is M. Louis d'Entragues."
"Ah! the count of Auvergne's half-brother?" I muttered. "And lately
returned from service in Savoy? I do not know him, your Majesty. I will
"And to-day?" the king asked, with impatience.
Thereupon I begged him to act as he had done each day since his arrival at
Fontainebleau—to hunt in the morning, to take his midday meal at
Malesherbes, to talk to all as if he had no suspicion; only on his
return to take any road save that which passed the Rock of the Serpents.
The king turning to rejoin the others, I found that their attention was no
longer directed to us, but to a singular figure which had made its
appearance on the skirts of the group, and was seemingly prevented from
joining it outright only by the evident merriment with which three of
the four courtiers regarded it. The fourth, M. d'Entragues, did not seem
to be equally diverted with the stranger's quaint appearance, nor did I
fail to notice, being at the moment quick to perceive the slightest
point in his conduct, that, while the others were nudging one another,
his countenance, darkened by an Italian sun, gloomed on the new-comer
with an aspect of angry discomfiture. On his side, M. de Boisrose—for he
it was, the aged fashion of his dress more conspicuous than ever—stood
eyeing the group in mingled pride and resentment, until, aware of his
Majesty's approach, and seeing me in intimate converse with him, he
joyfully stepped forward, a look of relief taking place of all others on
"Ha, well met!" quoth the king in my ear. "It is your friend of yesterday.
Now we will have some sport."
Accordingly, the old soldier approaching with many low bows, the king
spoke to him graciously, and bade him say what he sought. It happened
then as I had expected. Boisrose, after telling the king his name,
turned to me and humbly begged that I would explain his complaint, which
I consented to do, and did as follows:
"This, sire," I said, gravely, "is an old and brave soldier, who formerly
served your Majesty to good purpose in Normandy; but he has been cheated
out of the recompense which he there earned by the trickery and
chicanery of one of your Majesty's counsellors, the Baron de Rosny."
I could not continue, for the courtiers, on hearing this from my mouth,
and on discovering that the stranger's odd appearance was but a prelude
to the real diversion, could not restrain their mirth. The king,
concealing his own amusement, turned to them with an angry air, and bade
them be silent; and the Gascon, encouraged by this, and by the bold
manner in which I had stated his grievance, scowled at them gloriously.
"He alleges, sire," I continued, with the same gravity, "that the Baron de
Rosny, after promising him the government of Fecamp, bestowed it on
another, being bribed to do so, and has besides been guilty of many base
acts which make him unworthy of your Majesty's confidence. That, I
think, is your complaint, M. de Boisrose?" I concluded, turning to the
soldier, whom my deep seriousness so misled that he took up the story,
and, pouring out his wrongs, did not fail to threaten to trounce me, or
to add that I was a villain!
He might have said more, but at this the courtiers, perceiving that the
king broke into a smile, lost all control over themselves, and, giving
vent suddenly to loud peals of laughter, clasped one another by the
shoulders, and reeled to and fro in an ecstasy of enjoyment. This led
the king to give way also, and he laughed heartily, clapping me again
and again on the back; so that, in fine, there were only two serious
persons present—the poor Boisrose, who took all for lunatics, and
myself, who began to think that perhaps the jest had been carried far
My master presently saw this, and, collecting himself, turned to the
"Your complaint is one," he said, "which should not be lightly made. Do
you know the Baron de Rosny?"
Boisrose, by this time vastly mystified, said he did not.
"Then," said the king, "I will give you an opportunity of becoming
acquainted with him. I shall refer your complaint to him, and he will
decide upon it. More," he continued, raising his hand for silence as
Boisrose, starting forward, would have appealed to him, "I will
introduce you to him now. This is the Baron de Rosny."
The old soldier glared at me for a moment with starting eyeballs, and a
dreadful despair seemed to settle on his face. He threw himself on his
knees before the king.
"Then, sire," said he, in a heartrending voice, "am I ruined! My six
children must starve, and my young wife die by the roadside!"
"That," answered the king, gravely, "must be for the Baron de Rosny to
decide. I leave you to your audience."
He made a sign to the others, and, followed by them, walked slowly along
the terrace; the while Boisrose, who had risen to his feet, stood
looking after him like one demented, shaking, and muttering that it was
a cruel jest, and that he had bled for the king, and the king made sport
Presently I touched him on the arm.
"Come, have you nothing to say to me, M. de Boisrose?" I asked, quietly.
"You are a brave soldier, and have done France service; why then need
you fear? The Baron de Rosny is one man, the king's minister is another.
It is the latter who speaks to you now. The office of lieutenant-general
of the ordnance in Normandy is empty. It is worth twelve thousand livres
by the year. I appoint you to it."
He answered that I mocked him, and that he was going mad, so that it was
long before I could persuade him that I was in earnest. When I at last
succeeded, his gratitude knew no bounds, and he thanked me again and
again with the tears running down his face.
"What I have done for you," I said, modestly, "is the reward of your
bravery. I ask only that you will not another time think that they who
rule kingdoms are as those gay popinjays yonder."
In a transport of delight he reiterated his offers of service, and,
feeling sure that I had now gained him completely, I asked him on a
sudden where he had seen Louis d'Entragues before. In two words the
truth came out. He had observed him on the previous day in conference at
the forest inn with the three bullies whom I had remarked there. I was
not surprised at this; D'Entragues's near kinship to the Count of
Auvergne, and the mingled feelings with which I knew that the family
regarded Henry, preparing me to expect treachery in that quarter.
Moreover, the nature of the ambush was proof that its author resided in
the neighbourhood and was intimately acquainted with the forest. I
should have carried this information at once to my master, but I learned
that he had already started, and thus baffled, and believing that his
affection for Mademoiselle d'Entragues, if not for her sister, would
lead him to act with undue leniency, I conceived and arranged a plan of
About noon, therefore, I set out as if for a ride, attended by La Trape
only, but at some distance from the palace we were joined by Boisrose,
whom I had bidden to be at that point well armed and mounted. Thus
reinforced, for the Gascon was still strong, and in courage a Grillon, I
proceeded to Malesherbes by a circuitous route which brought me within
sight of the gates about the middle of the afternoon. I then halted
under cover of the trees, and waited until I saw the king, attended by
several ladies and gentlemen, and followed by eight troopers, issue from
the chateau. His Majesty was walking, his horse being led behind him;
and seeing this I rode out and approached the party as if I had that
moment arrived to meet the king.
It would not ill become me on this occasion to make some reflections on
the hollowness of court life, which has seldom been better exemplified
than in the scene before me. The sun was low, but its warm beams,
falling aslant on the gaily dressed group at the gates and on the
flowered terraces and gray walls behind them, seemed to present a
picture at once peaceful and joyous. Yet I knew that treachery and death
were lurking in the midst, and it was only by an effort that, as I rode
up, I could make answer to the thousand obliging things with which I was
greeted, and of which not the least polite were said by M. d'Entragues
and his son. I took pains to observe Mademoiselle Susette, a beautiful
girl not out of her teens, but noways comparable, as it seemed to me, in
expression and vivacity, with her famous sister. She was walking beside
the king, her hands full of flowers, and her face flushed with
excitement and timidity, and I came quickly to the conclusion that she
knew nothing of what was intended by her family, who, having made the
one sister the means of gratifying their avarice, were now baiting the
trap of their revenge with the other.
Henry parted from her at length, and mounted his horse amid a ripple of
laughter and compliments, D'Entragues holding the stirrup and his son
the cloak. I observed that the latter, as I had expected, was prepared
to accompany us, which rendered my plan more feasible. Our road lay for
a league in the direction of the Rock of the Serpents, the track which
passed the latter presently diverging from it. For some distance we rode
along in easy talk, but, on approaching the point of separation, the
king looked at me with a whimsical air, as though he would lay on me the
burden of finding an excuse for avoiding the shorter way home. I had
foreseen this, and looked round to ascertain the position of our
company. I found that La Varenne and D'Entragues were close behind us,
while the troopers, with La Trape and Boisrose, were a hundred paces
farther to the rear, and Vitry and Coquet had dropped out of sight. This
being so, I suddenly reined in my horse so as to back it into that of
D'Entragues, and then wheeled round on the latter, taking care to be
between him and the king.
"M. Louis d'Entragues," I said, dropping the mask and addressing him with
all the scorn and detestation which I felt, and which he deserved, "your
plot is discovered! If you would save your life confess to his Majesty
here and now all you know, and throw yourself on his mercy!"
I confess that I had failed to take into account the pitch to which his
nerves would be strung at such a time, and had expected to produce a
greater effect than followed my words. His hand went indeed to his
breast, but it was hard to say which was the more discomposed, La
Varenne or he. And the manner in which, with scorn and defiance, he
flung back my accusation in my teeth, lacked neither vigour nor the
semblance of innocence. While Henry was puzzled, La Varenne was
appalled. I saw that I had gone too far, or not far enough, and at once
calling into my face and form all the sternness in my power, I bade the
traitor remain where he was, then turning to his Majesty I craved leave
to speak to him apart.
He hesitated, looking from me to D'Entragues with an air of displeasure
which embraced us both, but in the end, without permitting M. Louis to
speak, he complied, and, going aside with me, bade me, with coldness,
As soon, however, as I had repeated to him Boisrose's words, his face
underwent a change, for he, too, had remarked the discomfiture which the
latter's appearance had caused D'Entragues in the morning.
"Ha! the villain!" he said. "I do not now think you precipitate. Arrest
him at once, but do him no harm!"
"If he resist, sire?" I asked.
"He will not," the king answered. "And in no case harm him! You understand
I bowed, having my own thoughts on the subject, and the king, without
looking again at D'Entragues, rode quickly away. M. Louis tried to
follow, and cried loudly after him, but I thrust my horse in the way,
and bade him consider himself a prisoner; at the same time requesting La
Varenne, with Vitry and Coquet, who had come up and were looking on like
men thunderstruck, to take four of the guards and follow the king.
"Then, sir, what do you intend to do with me?" D'Entragues asked, the air
of fierceness with which he looked from me to the six men who remained
barely disguising his apprehensions.
"That depends, M. Louis," I replied, recurring to my usual tone of
politeness, "on your answers to three questions."
He shrugged his shoulders. "Ask them," he said, curtly.
"Do you deny that you have laid an ambush for the king on the road which
passes the Rock of the Serpents?"
"Or that you were yesterday at an inn near here in converse with three
"Do you deny that there is such an ambush laid?"
"Absolutely," he repeated, with scorn. "It is an old wives' story. I would
stake my life on it."
"Enough," I answered, slowly. "You have been your own judge. The evening
grows cold, and as you are my prisoner I must have a care of you. Kindly
put on this cloak and precede me, M. d'Entragues. We return to
Fontainebleau by the Rock of the Serpents."
His eyes meeting mine, it seemed to me that for a second he held his
breath and hesitated, while a cold shadow fell and dwelt upon his sallow
face. But the stern, gloomy countenances of La Trape and Boisrose, who
had ridden up to his rein, and were awaiting his answer with their
swords drawn, determined him. With a loud laugh he took the cloak. "It
is new, I hope?" he said, lightly, as he threw it over his shoulders.
It was not, and I apologised, adding, however, that no one but the king
had worn it. On this he settled it about him; and having heard me
strictly charge the two guards who followed with their arquebuses ready,
to fire on him should he try to escape, he turned his horse's head into
the path and rode slowly along it, while we followed a few paces behind
in double file.
The sun had set, and such light as remained fell cold and gray between the
trees. The crackling of a stick under a horse's hoof, or the ring of a
spur against a scabbard, were the only sounds which broke the stillness
of the wood as we proceeded. We had gone some little way when M. Louis
halted, and, turning in his saddle, called to me.
"M. de Rosny," he said,—the light had so far failed that I could scarcely
see his face,—"I have a meeting with the Viscount de Caylus on Saturday
about a little matter of a lady's glove. Should anything prevent my
"I will see that a proper explanation is given," I answered, bowing.
"Or if M. d'Entragues will permit me," eagerly exclaimed the Gascon, who
was riding by my side, "M. de Boisrose of St. Palais, gently born,
through before unknown to him, I will appear in his place and make the
Viscount de Caylus swallow the glove."
"You will?" said M. Louis, with politeness. "You are a gentleman. I am
obliged to you."
He waved his hand with a gesture which I afterward well remembered, and,
giving his horse the rein, went forward along the path at a brisk walk.
We followed, and I had just remarked that a plant of box was beginning
here and there to take the place of the usual undergrowth, when a sheet
of flame seemed to leap out through the dusk to meet him, and, his horse
rearing wildly, he fell headlong from the saddle without word or cry. My
men would have sprung forward before the noise of the report had died
away, and might possibly have overtaken one or more of the assassins;
but I restrained them. When La Trape dismounted and raised the fallen
man, the latter was dead.
Such were the circumstances, now for the first time made public, which
attended the discovery of this, the least known, yet one of the most
dangerous, of the many plots which were directed against the life of my
master. The course which I adopted may be blamed by some, but it is
enough for me that after the lapse of years it is approved by my
conscience and by the course of events. For it was ever the misfortune
of that great king to treat those with leniency whom no indulgence could
win; and I bear with me to this day the bitter assurance that, had the
fate which overtook Louis d'Entragues embraced the whole of that family,
the blow which ten years later cut short Henry's career would never have