THE SIRE DE MALETROIT'S DOOR
By Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
Denis de Beaulieu was not yet two-and-twenty, but he counted himself a
grown man, and a very accomplished cavalier into the bargain. Lads
were early formed in that rough, warfaring epoch; and when one has
been in a pitched battle and a dozen raids, has killed one's man in an
honorable fashion, and knows a thing or two of strategy and mankind, a
certain swagger in the gait is surely to be pardoned. He had put up
his horse with due care, and supped with due deliberation; and then,
in a very agreeable frame of mind, went out to pay a visit in the gray
of the evening. It was not a very wise proceeding on the young man's
part. He would have done better to remain beside the fire or go
decently to bed. For the town was full of the troops of Burgundy and
England under a mixed command; and though Denis was there on
safe-conduct, his safe-conduct was like to serve him little on a
It was September, 1429; the weather had fallen sharp; a flighty piping
wind, laden with showers, beat about the township; and the dead leaves
ran riot along the streets. Here and there a window was already
lighted up; and the noise of men-at-arms making merry over supper
within came forth in fits and was swallowed up and carried away by the
wind. The night fell swiftly: the flag of England, fluttering on the
spire top, grew ever fainter and fainter against the flying clouds—a
black speck like a swallow in the tumultuous, leaden chaos of the sky.
As the night fell the wind rose, and began to hoot under archways and
roar amid the tree-tops in the valley below the town.
Denis de Beaulieu walked fast and was soon knocking at his friend's
door; but though he promised himself to stay only a little while and
make an early return, his welcome was so pleasant, and he found so
much to delay him, that it was already long past midnight before he
said good-by upon the threshold. The wind had fallen again in the
meanwhile; the night was as black as the grave; not a star, nor a
glimmer of moonshine, slipped through the canopy of cloud. Denis was
ill-acquainted with the intricate lanes of Chateau Landon; even by
daylight he had found some trouble in picking his way; and in this
absolute darkness he soon lost it altogether. He was certain of one
thing only—to keep mounting the hill; for his friend's house lay at
the lower end, or tail, of Chateau Landon, while the inn was up at the
head, under the great church spire. With this clew to go upon he
stumbled and groped forward, now breathing more freely in the open
places where there was a good slice of sky overhead, now feeling along
the wall in stifling closes. It is an eerie and mysterious position to
be thus submerged in opaque blackness in an almost unknown town. The
silence is terrifying in its possibilities. The touch of cold window
bars to the exploring hand startles the man like the touch of a toad;
the inequalities of the pavement shake his heart into his mouth; a
piece of denser darkness threatens an ambuscade or a chasm in the
pathway; and where the air is brighter, the houses put on strange and
bewildering appearances, as if to lead him further from his way. For
Denis, who had to regain his inn without attracting notice, there was
real danger as well as mere discomfort in the walk; and he went warily
and boldly at once, and at every corner paused to make an observation.
He had been for some time threading a lane so narrow that he could
touch a wall with either hand, when it began to open out and go
sharply downward. Plainly this lay no longer in the direction of his
inn; but the hope of a little more light tempted him forward to
reconnoitre. The lane ended in a terrace with a bartizan wall,
which gave an outlook between high houses, as out of an embrasure,
into the valley lying dark and formless several hundred feet below.
Denis looked down, and could discern a few tree-tops waving and a
single speck of brightness where the river ran across a weir. The
weather was clearing up, and the sky had lightened, so as to show the
outline of the heavier clouds and the dark margin of the hills. By the
uncertain glimmer, the house on his left hand should be a place of
some pretensions; it was surmounted by several pinnacles and
turret-tops; the round stern of a chapel, with a fringe of flying
buttresses, projected boldly from the main block; and the door was
sheltered under a deep porch carved with figures and overhung by two
long gargoyles. The windows of the chapel gleamed through their
intricate tracery with a light as of many tapers, and threw out the
buttresses and the peaked roof in a more intense blackness against the
sky. It was plainly the hotel of some great family of the
neighborhood; and as it reminded Denis of a town house of his own at
Bourges, he stood for some time gazing up at it and mentally gauging
the skill of the architects and the consideration of the two families.
There seemed to be no issue to the terrace but the lane by which he
had reached it; he could only retrace his steps, but he had gained
some notion of his whereabouts, and hoped by this means to hit the
main thoroughfare and speedily regain the inn. He was reckoning
without that chapter of accidents which was to make this night
memorable above all others in his career; for he had not gone back
above a hundred yards before he saw a light coming to meet him, and
heard loud voices speaking together in the echoing narrows of the
lane. It was a party of men-at-arms going the night round with
torches. Denis assured himself that they had all been making free with
the wine bowl, and were in no mood to be particular about
safe-conducts or the niceties of chivalrous war. It, was as like as
not that they would kill him like a dog and leave him where he fell.
The situation was inspiriting but nervous. Their own torches would
conceal him from sight, he reflected; and he hoped that they would
drown the noise of his footsteps with their own empty voices. If he
were but fleet and silent, he might evade their notice altogether.
Unfortunately, as he turned to beat a retreat, his foot rolled upon a
pebble; he fell against the wall with an ejaculation, and his sword
rang loudly on the stones. Two or three voices demanded who went
there—some in French, some in English; but Denis made no reply, and
ran the faster down the lane. Once upon the terrace, he paused to look
back. They still kept calling after him, and just then began to double
the pace in pursuit, with a considerable clank of armor, and great
tossing of the torchlight to and fro in the narrow jaws of the
Denis cast a look around and darted into the porch. There he might
escape observation, or—if that were too much to expect—was in a
capital posture whether for parley or defence. So thinking, he drew
his sword and tried to set his back against the door. To his surprise
it yielded behind his weight; and though he turned in a moment,
continued to swing back on oiled and noiseless hinges until it stood
wide open on a black interior. When things fall out opportunely for
the person concerned, he is not apt to be critical about the how or
why, his own immediate personal convenience seeming a sufficient
reason for the strangest oddities and revolutions in our sublunary
things; and so Denis, without a moment's hesitation, stepped within
and partly closed the door behind him to conceal his place of refuge.
Nothing was further from his thoughts than to close it altogether; but
for some inexplicable reason—perhaps by a spring or a weight—the
ponderous mass of oak whipped itself out of his fingers and clanked
to, with a formidable rumble and a noise like the falling of an
The round, at that very moment, debouched upon the terrace and
proceeded to summon him with shouts and curses. He heard them
ferreting in the dark corners; the stock of a lance even rattled along
the outer surface of the door behind which he stood; but these
gentlemen were in too high a humor to be long delayed, and soon made
off down a corkscrew pathway which had escaped Denis' observation, and
passed out of sight and hearing along the battlements of the town.
Denis breathed again. He gave them a few minutes' grace for fear of
accidents, and then groped about for some means of opening the door
and slipping forth again. The inner surface was quite smooth, not a
handle, not a moulding, not a projection of any sort. He got his
finger nails round the edges and pulled, but the mass was immovable.
He shook it, it was as firm as a rock, Denis de Beaulieu frowned, and
gave vent to a little noiseless whistle. What ailed the door? he
wondered. Why was it open? How came it to shut so easily and so
effectually after him? There was something obscure and underhand about
all this, that was little to the young man's fancy. It looked like a
snare, and yet who could suppose a snare in such a quiet by-street and
in a house of so prosperous and even noble an exterior? And yet—snare
or no snare, intentionally or unintentionally—here he was, prettily
trapped; and for the life of him he could see no way out of it again.
The darkness began to weigh upon him. He gave ear; all was silent
without, but within and close by he seemed to catch a faint sighing, a
faint sobbing rustle, a little stealthy creak—as though many persons
were at his side, holding themselves quite still, and governing even
their respiration with the extreme of slyness. The idea went to his
vitals with a shock, and he faced about suddenly as if to defend his
life. Then, for the first time, he became aware of a light about the
level of his eyes and at some distance in the interior of the house—a
vertical thread of light, widening toward the bottom, such as might
escape between two wings of arras over a doorway.
To see anything was a relief to Denis; it was like a piece of solid
ground to a man laboring in a morass; his mind seized upon it with
avidity; and he stood staring at it and trying to piece together some
logical conception of his surroundings. Plainly there was a flight of
steps ascending from his own level to that of this illuminated
doorway, and indeed he thought he could make out another thread of
light, as fine as a needle and as faint as phosphorescence, which
might very well be reflected along the polished wood of a handrail.
Since he had begun to suspect that he was not alone, his heart had
continued to beat with smothering violence, and an intolerable desire
for action of any sort had possessed itself of his spirit. He was in
deadly peril, he believed. What could be more natural than to mount
the staircase, lift the curtain, and confront his difficulty at once?
At least he would be dealing with something tangible; at least he
would be no longer in the dark. He stepped slowly forward with
outstretched hands, until his foot struck the bottom step; then he
rapidly scaled the stairs, stood for a moment to compose his
expression, lifted the arras and went in.
He found himself in a large apartment of polished stone. There were
three doors, one on each of three sides, all similarly curtained with
tapestry. The fourth side was occupied by two large windows and a
great stone chimney-piece, carved with the arms of the Malétroits.
Denis recognized the bearings, and was gratified to find himself in
such good hands. The room was strongly illuminated; but it contained
little furniture except a heavy table and a chair or two; the hearth
was innocent of fire, and the pavement was but sparsely strewn with
rushes clearly many days old.
On a high chair beside the chimney, and directly facing Denis as he
entered, sat a little old gentleman in a fur tippet. He sat with his
legs crossed and his hands folded, and a cup of spiced wine stood by
his elbow on a bracket on the wall. His countenance had a strong
masculine cast; not properly human, but such as we see in the bull,
the goat, or the domestic boar; something equivocal and wheedling,
something greedy, brutal and dangerous. The upper lip was inordinately
full, as though swollen by a blow or a toothache; and the smile, the
peaked eyebrows, and the small, strong eyes were quaintly and almost
comically evil in expression. Beautiful white hair hung straight all
round his head, like a saint's, and fell in a single curl upon the
tippet. His beard and mustache were the pink of venerable sweetness.
Age, probably in consequence of inordinate precautions, had left no
mark upon his hands; and the Malétroit hand was famous. It would be
difficult to imagine anything at once so fleshy and so delicate in
design; the taper, sensual fingers were like those of one of
Leonardo's women; the fork of the thumb made a dimpled protuberance
when closed; the nails were perfectly shaped, and of a dead,
surprising whiteness. It rendered his aspect tenfold more redoubtable,
that a man with hands like these should keep them devoutly folded like
a virgin martyr—that a man with so intent and startling an expression
of face should sit patiently on his seat and contemplates people with
an unwinking stare, like a god, or a god's statue. His quiescence
seemed ironical and treacherous, it fitted so poorly with his looks.
Such was Alain, Sire de Malétroit.
Denis and he looked silently at each other for a second or two.
"Pray step in," said the Sire de Malétroit. "I have been expecting you
all the evening."
He had not risen, but he accompanied his words with a smile and a
slight but courteous inclination of the head. Partly from the smile,
partly from the strange musical murmur with which the sire prefaced
his observation, Denis felt a strong shudder of disgust go through his
marrow. And what with disgust and honest confusion of mind, he could
scarcely get words together in reply.
"I fear," he said, "that this is a double accident. I am not the
person you suppose me. It seems you were looking for a visit; but for
my part, nothing was further from my thoughts—nothing could be more
contrary to my wishes—than this intrusion."
"Well, well," replied the old gentleman indulgently, "here you are,
which is the main point. Seat yourself, my friend, and put yourself
entirely at your ease. We shall arrange our little affairs presently."
Denis perceived that the matter was still complicated with some
misconception, and he hastened to continue his explanation.
"Your door," he began.
"About my door?" asked the other raising his peaked eyebrows. "A
little piece of ingenuity." And he shrugged his shoulders. "A
hospitable fancy! By your own account, you were not desirous of making
any acquaintance. We old people look for such reluctance now and then;
when it touches our honor, we cast about until we find some way of
overcoming it. You arrive uninvited, but believe me, very welcome."
"You persist in error, sir," said Denis. "There can be no question
between you and me. I am a stranger in this countryside. My name is
Denis, damoiseau de Beaulieu. If you see me in your house it is
"My young friend," interrupted the other, "you will permit me to have
my own ideas on that subject. They probably differ from yours at the
present moment," he added with a leer, "but time will show which of us
is in the right."
Denis was convinced he had to do with a lunatic. He seated himself
with a shrug, content to wait the upshot; and a pause ensued, during
which he thought he could distinguish a hurried gabbling as of a
prayer from behind the arras immediately opposite him. Sometimes there
seemed to be but one person engaged, sometimes two; and the vehemence
of the voice, low as it was, seemed to indicate either great haste or
an agony of spirit. It occurred to him that this piece of tapestry
covered the entrance to the chapel he had noticed from without.
The old gentleman meanwhile surveyed Denis from head to foot with a
smile, and from time to time emitted little noises like a bird or a
mouse, which seemed to indicate a high degree of satisfaction. This
state of matters became rapidly insupportable; and Denis, to put an
end to it, remarked politely that the wind had gone down.
The old gentleman fell into a fit of silent laughter, so prolonged and
violent that he became quite red in the face. Denis got upon his feet
at once, and put on his hat with a flourish.
"Sir," he said, "if you are in your wits, you have affronted me
grossly. If you are out of them, I flatter myself I can find better
employment for my brains than to talk with lunatics. My conscience is
clear; you have made a fool of me from the first moment; you have
refused to hear my explanations; and now there is no power under God
will make me stay here any longer; and if I cannot make my way out in
a more decent fashion, I will hack your door in pieces with my sword."
The Sire de Malétroit raised his right hand and wagged it at Denis
with the fore and little fingers extended.
"My dear nephew," he said, "sit down."
"Nephew!" retorted Denis, "you lie in your throat;" and he snapped his
fingers in his face.
"Sit down, you rogue!" cried the old gentleman, in a sudden, harsh
voice like the barking of a dog. "Do you fancy," he went on, "that
when I had made my little contrivance for the door I had stopped short
with that? If you prefer to be bound hand and foot till your bones
ache, rise and try to go away. If you choose to remain a free young
buck, agreeably conversing with an old gentleman—why, sit where you
are in peace, and God be with you."
"Do you mean, I am a prisoner?" demanded Denis.
"I state the facts," replied the other. "I would rather leave the
conclusion to yourself."
Denis sat down again. Externally he managed to keep pretty calm, but
within, he was now boiling with anger, now chilled with apprehension.
He no longer felt convinced that he was dealing with a madman. And if
the old gentleman was sane, what, in God's name, had he to look for?
What absurd or tragical adventure had befallen him? What countenance
was he to assume?
While he was thus unpleasantly reflecting, the arras that overhung the
chapel door was raised, and a tall priest in his robes came forth,
and, giving a long, keen stare at Denis, said something in an
undertone to Sire de Malétroit.
"She is in a better frame of spirit?" asked the latter.
"She is more resigned, messire," replied the priest.
"Now the Lord help her, she is hard to please!" sneered the old
gentleman. "A likely stripling—not ill-born—and of her own choosing,
too? Why, what more would the jade have?"
"The situation is not usual for a young damsel," said the other, "and
somewhat trying to her blushes."
"She should have thought of that before she began the dance! It was
none of my choosing, God knows that; but since she is in it, by our
Lady, she shall carry it to the end." And then addressing Denis,
"Monsieur de Beaulieu," he asked, "may I present you to my niece? She
has been waiting your arrival, I may say, with even greater impatience
Denis had resigned himself with a good grace—all he desired was to
know the worst of it as speedily as possible; so he rose at once, and
bowed in acquiescence. The Sire de Malétroit followed his example and
limped, with the assistance of the chaplain's arm, toward the chapel
door. The priest pulled aside the arras, and all three entered. The
building had considerable architectural pretensions. A light groining
sprang from six stout columns, and hung down in two rich pendants from
the centre of the vault. The place terminated behind the altar in a
round end, embossed and honeycombed with a superfluity of ornament in
relief, and pierced by many little windows shaped like stars,
trefoils, or wheels. These windows were imperfectly is glazed, so that
the night air circulated freely in the chapel. The tapers, of which
there must have been half a hundred burning on the altar, were
unmercifully blown about; and the light went through many different
phases of brilliancy and semi-eclipse. On the steps in front of the
altar knelt a young girl richly attired as a bride. A chill settled
over Denis as he observed her costume; he fought with desperate energy
against the conclusion that was being thrust upon his mind; it could
not—it should not—be as he feared.
"Blanche," said the sire, in his most flute-like tones, "I have
brought a friend to see you, my little girl; turn round and give him
your pretty hand. It is good to be devout; but it is necessary to be
polite, my niece."
The girl rose to her feet and turned toward the newcomers. She moved
all of a piece; and shame and exhaustion were expressed in every line
of her fresh young body; and she held her head down and kept her eyes
upon the pavement, as she came slowly forward. In the course of her
advance her eyes fell upon Denis de Beaulieu's feet—feet of which he
was justly vain, be it remarked, and wore in the most elegant
accoutrement even while travelling. She paused—started, as if his
yellow boots had conveyed some shocking meaning—and glanced, suddenly
up into the wearer's countenance. Their eyes met; shame gave place to
horror and terror in her looks; the blood left her lips, with a
piercing scream she covered her face with her hands and sank upon, the
"That is not the man!" she cried. "My uncle, that is not the man!"
The Sire de Malétroit chirped agreeably. "Of course not," he said; "I
expected as much. It was so unfortunate you could not remember his
"Indeed," she cried, "indeed, I have never seen this person till this
moment—I have never so much as set eyes upon him—I never wish to see
him again. Sir," she said, turning to Denis, "if you are a gentleman,
you will hear me out. Have I ever seen you—have you ever seen
me—before this accursed hour?"
"To speak for myself, I have never had that pleasure," answered the
young man. "This is the first time, messire, that I have met with your
The old gentleman shrugged his shoulders.
"I am distressed to hear it," he said. "But it is never too late to
begin. I had little more acquaintance with my own late lady ere I
married her; which proves," he added, with a grimace, "that these
impromptu marriages may often produce an excellent understanding in
the long run. As the bridegroom is to have a voice in the matter, I
will give him two hours to make up for lost time before we proceed
with the ceremony." And he turned toward the door, followed by the
The girl was on her feet in a moment. "My uncle, you cannot be in
earnest," she said. "I declare before God I will stab myself rather
than be forced on that young man. The heart rises at it; God forbids
such marriages; you dishonor your white hair. Oh, my uncle, pity me!
There is not a woman in all the world but would prefer death to such a
nuptial. Is it possible," she added, faltering—"is it possible that
you do not believe me—that you still think this"—and she pointed at
Denis with a tremor of anger and contempt—"that you still think
this to be the man?"
"Frankly," said the old gentleman, pausing on the threshold, "I do.
But let me explain to you once for all, Blanche de Malétroit, my way
of thinking about this affair. When you took it into your head to
dishonor my family and the name that I have borne, in peace and war,
for more than threescore years, you forfeited, not only the right to
question my designs, but that of looking me in the face. If your
father had been alive, he would have spat on you and turned you out of
doors. His was the hand of iron. You may bless your God you have only
to deal with the hand of velvet, mademoiselle. It was my duty to get
you married without delay. Out of pure goodwill, I have tried to find
your own gallant for you. And I believe I have succeeded. But before
God and all the holy angels, Blanche de Malétroit, if I have not, I
care not one jack-straw. So let me recommend you to be polite to our
young friend; for, upon my word, your next groom may be less
And with that he went out, with the chaplain at his heels; and the
arras fell behind the pair.
The girl turned upon Denis with flashing eyes.
"And what, sir," she demanded, "may be the meaning of all this?"
"God knows," returned Denis, gloomily, "I am a prisoner in this house,
which seems full of mad people. More I know not; and nothing do I
"And pray how came you here?" she asked.
He told her as briefly as he could. "For the rest," he added, "perhaps
you will follow my example, and tell me the answer to all these
riddles, and what, in God's name, is like to be the end of it."
She stood silent for a little, and lie could see her lips tremble and
her tearless eyes burn with a feverish lustre. Then she pressed her
forehead in both hands.
"Alas, how my head aches!" she said, wearily—"to say nothing of my
poor heart! But it is due to you to know my story, unmaidenly as it
must seem. I am called Blanche de Malétroit; I have been without
father or mother for—oh! for as long as I can recollect, and indeed I
have been most unhappy all my life. Three months ago a young captain
began to stand near me every day in church. I could see that I pleased
him; I am much to blame, but I was so glad that any one should love
me; and when he passed me a letter, I took it home with me and read it
with great pleasure. Since that time he has written many. He was so
anxious to speak with me, poor fellow! and kept asking me to leave the
door open some evening that we might have two words upon the stair.
For he knew how much my uncle trusted me." She gave something like a
sob at that, and it was a moment before she could go on. "My uncle is
a hard man, but he is very shrewd," she said, at last. "He has
performed many feats in war, and was a great person at court, and much
trusted by Queen Isabeau in old days. How he came to suspect me I
cannot tell; but it is hard to keep anything from his knowledge; and
this morning, as we came from mass, he took my hand into his, forced
it open, and read my little billet, walking by my side all the while.
"When he finished, he gave it back to me with great politeness. It
contained another request to have the door left open; and this has
been the ruin of us all. My uncle kept me strictly in my room until
evening, and then ordered me to dress myself as you see me—a hard
mockery for a young girl, do you not think so? I suppose, when he
could not prevail with me to tell him the young captain's name, he
must have laid a trap for him; into which, alas! you have fallen in
the anger of God. I looked for much confusion; for how could I tell
whether he was willing to take me for his wife on these sharp terms?
He might have been trifling with me from the first; or I might have
made myself too cheap in his eyes. But truly I had not looked for such
a shameful punishment as this? I could not think that God would let a
girl be so disgraced before a young man. And now I tell you all; and I
can scarcely hope that you will not despise me."
Denis made her a respectful inclination.
"Madam," he said, "you have honored me by your confidence. It remains
for me to prove that I am not unworthy of the honor. Is Messire de
Malétroit at hand?"
"I believe he is writing in the salle without," she answered.
"May I lead you thither, madam?" asked Denis, offering his hand with
his most courtly bearing.
She accepted it; and the pair passed out of the chapel, Blanche in a
very drooping and shamefast condition, but Denis strutting and
raffling in the consciousness of a mission, and the boyish certainty
of accomplishing it with honor.
The Sire Malétroit rose to meet them with an ironical obeisance.
"Sir," said Denis, with the grandest possible air, "I believe I am to
have some say in the matter of this marriage; and let me tell you at
once, I will be no party to forcing the inclination of this young
lady. Had it been freely offered to me, I should have been proud to
accept her hand, for I perceive she is as good as she is beautiful;
but as things are, I have now the honor, messire, of refusing."
Blanche looked at him with gratitude in her eyes; but the old
gentleman only smiled and smiled, until his smile grew positively
sickening to Denis.
"I am afraid," he said, "Monsieur de Beaulieu, that you do not
perfectly understand the choice I have offered you. Follow me, I
beseech you, to this window." And he led the way to one of the large
windows which stood open on the night. "You observe," he went on,
"there is an iron ring in the upper masonry, and reeved through that,
a very efficacious rope. Now, mark my words: if you should find your
disinclination to my niece's person insurmountable, I shall have you
hanged out of this window before sunrise. I shall only proceed to such
an extremity with the greatest regret, you may believe me. For it is
not at all your death that I desire, but my niece's establishment in
life. At the same time, it must come to that if you prove obstinate.
Your family, Monsieur de Beaulieu, is very well in its way; but if you
sprung from Charlemagne, you should not refuse the hand of a
Malétroit with impunity—not if she had been as common as the Paris
road—not if she was as hideous as the gargoyle over my door. Neither
my niece nor you, nor my own private feelings, move me at all in this
matter. The honor of my house has been compromised; I believe you to
be the guilty person, at least you are now in the secret; and you can
hardly wonder if I request you to wipe out the stain. If you will not,
your blood be on your own head! It will be no great satisfaction to me
to have your interesting relics kicking their heels in the breeze
below my windows, but half a loaf is better than no bread, and if I
cannot cure the dishonor, I shall at least stop the scandal."
There was a pause.
"I believe there are other ways of settling such imbroglios among
gentlemen," said Denis. "You wear a sword, and I hear you have used it
The Sire de Malétroit made a signal to the chaplain, who crossed the
room with long silent strides and raised the arras over the third of
the three doors. It was only a moment before he let it fall again; but
Denis had time to see a dusky passage full of armed men.
"When I was a little younger, I should have been delighted to honor
you, Monsieur de Beaulieu," said Sire Alain: "but I am now too old.
Faithful retainers are the sinews of age, and I must employ the
strength I have. This is one of the hardest things to swallow as a man
grows up in years; but with a little patience, even this becomes
habitual. You and the lady seem to prefer the salle for what remains
of your two hours; and as I have no desire to cross your preference, I
shall resign it to your use with all the pleasure in the world. No
haste!" he added, holding up his hand, as he saw a dangerous look come
into Denis de Beaulieu's face. "If your mind revolt against hanging,
it will be time enough two hours hence to throw yourself out of the
window or upon the pikes of my retainers. Two hours of life are always
two hours. A great many things may turn up in even as little a while
as that. And, besides. If I understand her appearance, my niece has
something to say to you. You will not disfigure your last hours by a
want of politeness to a lady?"
Denis looked at Blanche, and she made him an imploring gesture.
It is likely that the old gentleman was hugely pleased at this symptom
of an understanding; for he smiled on both, and added sweetly: "If you
will give me your word of honor, Monsieur de Beaulieu, to await my
return at the end of the two hours before attempting anything
desperate, I shall withdraw my retainers, and let you speak in greater
privacy with mademoiselle."
Denis again glanced at the girl, who seemed to beseech him to agree.
"I give you my word of honor," he said.
Messire de Malétroit bowed, and proceeded to limp about the apartment,
clearing his throat the while with that odd musical chirp which had
already grown so irritating in the ears of Denis de Bealieu. He first
possessed himself of some papers which lay upon the table; then he
went to the mouth of the passage and appeared to give an order to the
men behind the arras; and lastly he hobbled out through the door by
which Denis had come in, turning upon the threshold to address a last
smiling bow to the young couple, and followed by the chaplain with a
No sooner were they alone than Blanche advanced toward Denis with her
hands extended. Her face was flushed and excited, and her eyes shone
"You shall not die!" she cried, "you shall marry me after all."
"You seem to think, madam," replied Denis, "that I stand much in fear
"Oh, no, no," she said, "I see you are no poltroon. It is for my
own sake—I could not bear to have you slain for such a scruple."
"I am afraid," returned Denis, "that you underrate the difficulty,
madam. What you may be too generous to refuse, I may be too proud to
accept. In a moment of noble feeling toward me, you forget what you
perhaps owe to others."
He had the decency to keep his eyes on the floor as he said this, and
after he had finished, so as not to spy upon her confusion. She stood
silent for a moment, then walked suddenly away, and falling on her
uncle's chair, fairly burst out sobbing. Denis was in the acme of
embarrassment. He looked round, as if to seek for inspiration, and,
seeing a stool, plumped down upon it for something to do. There he
sat, playing with the guard of his rapier, and wishing himself dead a
thousand times over, and buried in the nastiest kitchen-heap in
France. His eyes wandered round the apartment, but found nothing to
arrest them. There were such wide spaces between the furniture, the
light fell so badly and cheerlessly over all, the dark outside air
looked in so coldly through the windows, that he thought he had never
seen a church so vast, nor a tomb so melancholy. The regular sobs of
Blanche de Malétroit measured out the time like the ticking of a
clock. He read the device upon the shield over and over again, until
his eyes became obscured; he stared into shadowy corners until he
imagined they were swarming with horrible animals; and every now and
again he awoke with a start, to remember that his last two hours were
running, and death was on the march.
Oftener and oftener, as the time went on, did his glance settle on the
girl herself. Her face was bowed forward and covered with her hands,
and she was shaken at intervals by the convulsive hiccough of grief.
Even thus she was not an unpleasant object to dwell upon, so plump and
yet so fine, with a warm brown skin, and the most beautiful hair,
Denis thought, in the whole world of womankind. Her hands were like
her uncle's: but they were more in place at the end of her young arms,
and looked infinitely soft and caressing. He remembered how her blue
eyes had shone upon him, full of anger, pity, and innocence. And the
more he dwelt on her perfections, the uglier death looked, and the
more deeply was he smitten with penitence at her continued tears. Now
he felt that no man could have the courage to leave a world which
contained so beautiful a creature; and now he would have given forty
minutes of his last hour to have unsaid his cruel speech.
Suddenly a hoarse and ragged peal of cockcrow rose to their ears from
the dark valley below the windows. And this shattering noise in the
silence of all around was like a light in a dark place, and shook them
both out of their reflections.
"Alas, can I do nothing to help you?" she said, looking up.
"Madam," replied Denis, with a fine irrelevancy, "if I have said
anything to wound you, believe me, it was for your own sake and not
She thanked him with a tearful look.
"I feel your position cruelly," he went on. "The world has been
bitter, hard on you. Your uncle is a disgrace to mankind. Believe me,
madam, there is no young gentleman in all France but would be glad of
my opportunity, to die in doing you a momentary service."
"I know already that you can be very brave and generous," she
answered. "What I want to know is whether I can serve you—now or
afterward," she added, with a quaver.
"Most certainly," he answered, with a smile. "Let me sit beside you as
if I were a friend, instead of a foolish intruder; try to forget how
awkwardly we are placed to one another; make my last moments go
pleasantly; and you will do me the chief service possible."
"You are very gallant," she added, with a yet deeper sadness—"very
gallant—and it somehow pains me. But draw nearer, if you please; and
if you find anything to say to me, you will at least make certain of a
very friendly listener. Ah! Monsieur de Beaulieu," she broke
forth—"ah! Monsieur de Beaulieu, how can I look you in the face?" And
she fell to weeping again with a renewed effusion.
"Madam," said Denis, taking her hand in both of his, "reflect on the
little time I have before me, and the great bitterness into which I am
cast by the sight of your distress. Spare me, in my last moments, the
spectacle of what I cannot cure even with the sacrifice of my life."
"I am very selfish," answered Blanche. "I will be braver, Monsieur de
Beaulieu, for your sake. But think if I can do you no kindness in the
future—if you have no friends to whom I could carry your adieux.
Charge me as heavily as you can; every burden will lighten, by so
little, the invaluable gratitude I owe you. Put it in my power to do
something more for you than weep."
"My mother is married again, and has a young family to care for. My
brother Guichard will inherit my fiefs; and if I am not in error, that
will content him amply for my death. Life is a little vapor that
passeth away, as we are told by those in holy orders. When a man is in
a fair way and sees all life open in front of him, he seems to himself
to make a very important figure in the world. His horse whinnies to
him; the trumpets blow and the girls look out of window as he rides
into town before his company; he receives many assurances of trust and
regard—sometimes by express in a letter—sometimes face to face, with
persons of great consequence falling on his neck. It is not wonderful
if his head is turned for a time. But once he is dead, were he as
brave as Hercules or as wise as Solomon, he is soon forgotten.
It is not ten years since my father fell, with many other knights
around him, in a very fierce encounter, and I do not think that any
one of them, nor so much as the name of the fight, is now remembered.
No, no, madam, the nearer you come to it, you see that death is a dark
and dusty corner, where a man gets into his tomb and has the door shut
after him till the judgment day. I have few friends just now, and once
I am dead I shall have none."
"Ah, Monsieur de Beaulieu!" she exclaimed, "you forget Blanche de
"You have a sweet nature, madam, and you are pleased to estimate a
little service far beyond its worth."
"It is not that," she answered. "You mistake me if you think I am
easily touched by my own concerns. I say so because you are the
noblest man I have ever met; because I recognize in you a spirit that
would have made even a common person famous in the land."
"And yet here I die in a mousetrap—with no more noise about it than
my own squeaking," answered he.
A look of pain crossed her face and she was silent for a little while.
Then a light came into her eyes, and with a smile she spoke again.
"I cannot have my champion think meanly of himself. Any one who gives
his life for another will be met in paradise by all the heralds and
angels of the Lord God. And you have no such cause to hang your head.
For—Pray, do you think me beautiful?" she asked, with a deep flush.
"Indeed, madam, I do," he said.
"I am glad of that," she answered heartily. "Do you think there are
many men in France who have been asked in marriage by a beautiful
maiden—with her own lips—and who have refused her to her face? I
know you men would half despise such a triumph; but believe me, we
women know more of what is precious in love. There is nothing that
should set a person higher in his own esteem; and we women would prize
nothing more dearly."
"You are very good," he said; "but you cannot make me forget that I
was asked in pity and not for love."
"I am not so sure of that," she replied, holding down her head. "Hear
me to an end, Monsieur de Beaulieu. I know how you must despise me; I
feel you are right to do so; I am too poor a creature to occupy one
thought of your mind, although, alas! you must die for me this
morning. But when I asked you to marry me, indeed, and indeed, it was
because I respected and admired you, and loved you with my whole soul,
from the very moment that you took my part against my uncle. If you
had seen yourself, and how noble you looked, you would pity rather
than despise me. And now," she went on, hurriedly checking him with
her hand, "although I have laid aside all reserve and told you so
much, remember that I know your sentiments toward me already. I would
not, believe me, being nobly born, weary you with importunities into
consent. I too have a pride of my own: and I declare before the holy
mother of God, if you should now go back from your word already given,
I would no more marry you than I would marry my uncle's groom."
Denis smiled a little bitterly.
"It is a small love," he said, "that shies at a little pride."
She made no answer, although she probably had her own thoughts.
"Come hither to the window," he said with a sigh. "Here is the dawn."
And indeed the dawn was already beginning. The hollow of the sky was
full of essential daylight, colorless and clean; and the valley
underneath was flooded with a gray reflection. A few thin vapors clung
in the coves of the forest or lay along the winding course of the
river. The scene disengaged a surprising effect of stillness, which
was hardly interrupted when the cocks began once more to crow among
the steadings. Perhaps the same fellow who had made so horrid a
clangor in the darkness not half an hour before, now sent up the
merriest cheer to greet the coming day. A little wind went bustling
and eddying among the tree-tops underneath the windows. And still the
daylight kept flooding insensibly out of the east, which was soon to
grow incandescent and cast up that red-hot cannon-ball, the rising
Denis looked out over all this with a bit of a shiver. He had taken
her hand, and retained it in his almost unconsciously.
"Has the day begun already?" she said; and then illogically enough:
"the night has been so long! Alas! what shall we say to my uncle when
"What you will," said Denis, and he pressed her fingers in his.
She was silent.
"Blanche," he said, with a swift, uncertain, passionate utterance,
"you have seen whether I fear death. You must know well enough that I
would as gladly leap out of that window into the empty air as to lay a
finger on you without your free and full consent. But if you care for
me at all do not let me lose my life in a misapprehension; for I love
you better than the whole world; and though I will die for you
blithely, it would be like all the joys of Paradise to live on and
spend my life in your service."
As he stopped speaking, a bell began to ring loudly in the interior of
the house; and a clatter of armor in the corridor showed that the
retainers were returning to their post, and the two hours were at an
"After all that you have heard?" she whispered, leaning toward him
with her lips and eyes.
"I have heard nothing," he replied.
"The captain's name was Florimond de Champdivers," she said in his
"I did not hear it," he answered, taking her supple body in his arms,
and covered her wet face with kisses.
A melodious chirping was audible behind, followed by a beautiful
chuckle, and the voice of Messire de Malétroit wished his new nephew a
 Published in 1878. Acknowledgment is due to the Charles Scribner's
Sons Company, Publishers, for the use of the text of their edition of
 207:18 bartizan. A small overhanging turret with loop-holes and
embrasures projecting from the parapet of a medieval building.
 208:1 gargoyles. Mouths of spouts, in antic shapes.
 209:30 debouched. Passed out.
 212:29 Leonardo. (1452-1519.) A famous Italian painter, architect,
sculptor, scientist, engineer, mechanician, and musician.
 222:7 salle. French word for hall or room.
 223:13 Charlemagne. (742 or 747-814.) A great king of the Franks
and emperor of the Romans.
 225:25 poltroon. A coward, a dastard.
 229:12 Hercules. A mighty hero in Greek and Roman mythology.
 229:13 Solomon. Son of David. King of Israel, 993-953 B.C.
 231: 26 steadings. A farmstead—barns, stables, cattle-sheds,