By Honore De Balzac
Translated by Ellen Marriage
To Prince Friedrich von Schwarzenberg
"Come, Deputy of the Centre, come along! We shall have to mend our pace if
we mean to sit down to dinner when every one else does, and that's a fact!
Hurry up! Jump, Marquis! That's it! Well done! You are bounding over the
furrows just like a stag!"
These words were uttered by a sportsman seated much at his ease on the
outskirts of the Foret de l'Isle-Adam; he had just finished a Havana
cigar, which he had smoked while he waited for his companion, who had
evidently been straying about for some time among the forest undergrowth.
Four panting dogs by the speaker's side likewise watched the progress of
the personage for whose benefit the remarks were made. To make their
sarcastic import fully clear, it should be added that the second sportsman
was both short and stout; his ample girth indicated a truly magisterial
corpulence, and in consequence his progress across the furrows was by no
means easy. He was striding over a vast field of stubble; the dried
corn-stalks underfoot added not a little to the difficulties of his
passage, and to add to his discomforts, the genial influence of the sun
that slanted into his eyes brought great drops of perspiration into his
face. The uppermost thought in his mind being a strong desire to keep his
balance, he lurched to and fro like a coach jolted over an atrocious road.
It was one of those September days of almost tropical heat that finishes
the work of summer and ripens the grapes. Such heat forebodes a coming
storm; and though as yet there were wide patches of blue between the dark
rain-clouds low down on the horizon, pale golden masses were rising and
scattering with ominous swiftness from west to east, and drawing a shadowy
veil across the sky. The wind was still, save in the upper regions of the
air, so that the weight of the atmosphere seemed to compress the steamy
heat of the earth into the forest glades. The tall forest trees shut out
every breath of air so completely that the little valley across which the
sportsman was making his way was as hot as a furnace; the silent forest
seemed parched with the fiery heat. Birds and insects were mute; the
topmost twigs of the trees swayed with scarcely perceptible motion. Any
one who retains some recollection of the summer of 1819 must surely
compassionate the plight of the hapless supporter of the ministry who
toiled and sweated over the stubble to rejoin his satirical comrade. That
gentleman, as he smoked his cigar, had arrived, by a process of
calculation based on the altitude of the sun, to the conclusion that it
must be about five o'clock.
"Where the devil are we?" asked the stout sportsman. He wiped his brow as
he spoke, and propped himself against a tree in the field opposite his
companion, feeling quite unequal to clearing the broad ditch that lay
"And you ask that question of me!" retorted the other, laughing
from his bed of tall brown grasses on the top of the bank. He flung the
end of his cigar into the ditch, exclaiming, "I swear by Saint Hubert that
no one shall catch me risking myself again in a country that I don't know
with a magistrate, even if, like you, my dear d'Albon, he happens to be an
"Why, Philip, have you really forgotten your own language? You surely must
have left your wits behind you in Siberia," said the stouter of the two,
with a glance half-comic, half-pathetic at the guide-post distant about a
hundred paces from them.
"I understand," replied the one addressed as Philip. He snatched up his
rifle, suddenly sprang to his feet, made but one jump of it into the
field, and rushed off to the guide-post. "This way, d'Albon, here you are!
left about!" he shouted, gesticulating in the direction of the highroad. "To
Baillet and l'Isle-Adam!" he went on; "so if we go along here, we
shall be sure to come upon the cross-road to Cassan."
"Quite right, Colonel," said M. d'Albon, putting the cap with which he had
been fanning himself back on his head.
"Then forward! highly respected Councillor," returned Colonel
Philip, whistling to the dogs, that seemed already to obey him rather than
the magistrate their owner.
"Are you aware, my lord Marquis, that two leagues yet remain before us?"
inquired the malicious soldier. "That village down yonder must be
"Great heavens!" cried the Marquis d'Albon. "Go on to Cassan by all means,
if you like; but if you do, you will go alone. I prefer to wait here,
storm or no storm; you can send a horse for me from the chateau. You have
been making game of me, Sucy. We were to have a nice day's sport by
ourselves; we were not to go very far from Cassan, and go over ground that
I knew. Pooh! instead of a day's fun, you have kept me running like a
greyhound since four o'clock this morning, and nothing but a cup or two of
milk by way of breakfast. Oh! if ever you find yourself in a court of law,
I will take care that the day goes against you if you were in the right a
hundred times over."
The dejected sportsman sat himself down on one of the stumps at the foot
of the guide-post, disencumbered himself of his rifle and empty game-bag,
and heaved a prolonged sigh.
"Oh, France, behold thy Deputies!" laughed Colonel de Sucy. "Poor old
d'Albon; if you had spent six months at the other end of Siberia as I
He broke off, and his eyes sought the sky, as if the story of his troubles
was a secret between himself and God.
"Come, march!" he added. "If you once sit down, it is all over with you."
"I can't help it, Philip! It is such an old habit in a magistrate! I am
dead beat, upon my honor. If I had only bagged one hare though!"
Two men more different are seldom seen together. The civilian, a man of
forty-two, seemed scarcely more than thirty; while the soldier, at thirty
years of age, looked to be forty at the least. Both wore the red rosette
that proclaimed them to be officers of the Legion of Honor. A few locks of
hair, mingled white and black, like a magpie's wing, had strayed from
beneath the Colonel's cap; while thick, fair curls clustered about the
magistrate's temples. The Colonel was tall, spare, dried up, but muscular;
the lines in his pale face told a tale of vehement passions or of terrible
sorrows; but his comrade's jolly countenance beamed with health, and would
have done credit to an Epicurean. Both men were deeply sunburnt. Their
high gaiters of brown leather carried souvenirs of every ditch and swamp
that they crossed that day.
"Come, come," cried M. de Sucy, "forward! One short hour's march, and we
shall be at Cassan with a good dinner before us."
"You never were in love, that is positive," returned the Councillor, with
a comically piteous expression. "You are as inexorable as Article 304 of
the Penal Code!"
Philip de Sucy shuddered violently. Deep lines appeared in his broad
forehead, his face was overcast like the sky above them; but though his
features seemed to contract with the pain of an intolerably bitter memory,
no tears came to his eyes. Like all men of strong character, he possessed
the power of forcing his emotions down into some inner depth, and,
perhaps, like many reserved natures, he shrank from laying bare a wound
too deep for any words of human speech, and winced at the thought of
ridicule from those who do not care to understand. M. d'Albon was one of
those who are keenly sensitive by nature to the distress of others, who
feel at once the pain they have unwillingly given by some blunder. He
respected his friend's mood, rose to his feet, forgot his weariness, and
followed in silence, thoroughly annoyed with himself for having touched on
a wound that seemed not yet healed.
"Some day I will tell you my story," Philip said at last, wringing his
friend's hand, while he acknowledged his dumb repentance with a
heart-rending glance. "To-day I cannot."
They walked on in silence. As the Colonel's distress passed off the
Councillor's fatigue returned. Instinctively, or rather urged by
weariness, his eyes explored the depths of the forest around them; he
looked high and low among the trees, and gazed along the avenues, hoping
to discover some dwelling where he might ask for hospitality. They reached
a place where several roads met; and the Councillor, fancying that he saw
a thin film of smoke rising through the trees, made a stand and looked
sharply about him. He caught a glimpse of the dark green branches of some
firs among the other forest trees, and finally, "A house! a house!" he
shouted. No sailor could have raised a cry of "Land ahead!" more joyfully
He plunged at once into undergrowth, somewhat of the thickest; and the
Colonel, who had fallen into deep musings, followed him unheedingly.
"I would rather have an omelette here and home-made bread, and a chair to
sit down in, than go further for a sofa, truffles, and Bordeaux wine at
This outburst of enthusiasm on the Councillor's part was caused by the
sight of the whitened wall of a house in the distance, standing out in
strong contrast against the brown masses of knotted tree-trunks in the
"Aha! This used to be a priory, I should say," the Marquis d'Albon cried
once more, as they stood before a grim old gateway. Through the grating
they could see the house itself standing in the midst of some considerable
extent of park land; from the style of the architecture it appeared to
have been a monastery once upon a time.
"Those knowing rascals of monks knew how to choose a site!"
This last exclamation was caused by the magistrate's amazement at the
romantic hermitage before his eyes. The house had been built on a spot
half-way up the hillside on the slope below the village of Nerville, which
crowned the summit. A huge circle of great oak-trees, hundreds of years
old, guarded the solitary place from intrusion. There appeared to be about
forty acres of the park. The main building of the monastery faced the
south, and stood in a space of green meadow, picturesquely intersected by
several tiny clear streams, and by larger sheets of water so disposed as
to have a natural effect. Shapely trees with contrasting foliage grew here
and there. Grottos had been ingeniously contrived; and broad terraced
walks, now in ruin, though the steps were broken and the balustrades eaten
through with rust, gave to this sylvan Thebaid a certain character of its
own. The art of man and the picturesqueness of nature had wrought together
to produce a charming effect. Human passions surely could not cross that
boundary of tall oak-trees which shut out the sounds of the outer world,
and screened the fierce heat of the sun from this forest sanctuary.
"What neglect!" said M. d'Albon to himself, after the first sense of
delight in the melancholy aspect of the ruins in the landscape, which
seemed blighted by a curse.
It was like some haunted spot, shunned of men. The twisted ivy stems
clambered everywhere, hiding everything away beneath a luxuriant green
mantle. Moss and lichens, brown and gray, yellow and red, covered the
trees with fantastic patches of color, grew upon the benches in the
garden, overran the roof and the walls of the house. The window-sashes
were weather-worn and warped with age, the balconies were dropping to
pieces, the terraces in ruins. Here and there the folding shutters hung by
a single hinge. The crazy doors would have given way at the first attempt
to force an entrance.
Out in the orchard the neglected fruit-trees were running to wood, the
rambling branches bore no fruit save the glistening mistletoe berries, and
tall plants were growing in the garden walks. All this forlornness shed a
charm across the picture that wrought on the spectator's mind with an
influence like that of some enchanting poem, filling his soul with dreamy
fancies. A poet must have lingered there in deep and melancholy musings,
marveling at the harmony of this wilderness, where decay had a certain
grace of its own.
In a moment a few gleams of sunlight struggled through a rift in the
clouds, and a shower of colored light fell over the wild garden. The brown
tiles of the roof glowed in the light, the mosses took bright hues,
strange shadows played over the grass beneath the trees; the dead autumn
tints grew vivid, bright unexpected contrasts were evoked by the light,
every leaf stood out sharply in the clear, thin air. Then all at once the
sunlight died away, and the landscape that seemed to have spoken grew
silent and gloomy again, or rather, it took gray soft tones like the
tenderest hues of autumn dusk.
"It is the palace of the Sleeping Beauty," the Councillor said to himself
(he had already begun to look at the place from the point of view of an
owner of property). "Whom can the place belong to, I wonder. He must be a
great fool not to live on such a charming little estate!"
Just at that moment, a woman sprang out from under a walnut tree on the
right-hand side of the gateway, and passed before the Councillor as
noiselessly and swiftly as the shadow of a cloud. This apparition struck
him dumb with amazement.
"Hallo, d'Albon, what is the matter?" asked the Colonel.
"I am rubbing my eyes to find out whether I am awake or asleep," answered
the magistrate, whose countenance was pressed against the grating in the
hope of catching a second glimpse of the ghost.
"In all probability she is under that fig-tree," he went on, indicating,
for Philip's benefit, some branches that over-topped the wall on the
left-hand side of the gateway.
"Eh! how should I know?" answered M. d'Albon. "A strange-looking woman
sprang up there under my very eyes just now," he added, in a low voice;
"she looked to me more like a ghost than a living being. She was so
slender, light and shadowy that she might be transparent. Her face was as
white as milk, her hair, her eyes, and her dress were black. She gave me a
glance as she flitted by. I am not easily frightened, but that cold stony
stare of hers froze the blood in my veins."
"Was she pretty?" inquired Philip.
"I don't know. I saw nothing but those eyes in her head."
"The devil take dinner at Cassan!" exclaimed the Colonel; "let us stay
here. I am as eager as a boy to see the inside of this queer place. The
window-sashes are painted red, do you see? There is a red line round the
panels of the doors and the edges of the shutters. It might be the devil's
own dwelling; perhaps he took it over when the monks went out. Now, then,
let us give chase to the black and white lady; come along!" cried Philip,
with forced gaiety.
He had scarcely finished speaking when the two sportsmen heard a cry as if
some bird had been taken in a snare. They listened. There was a sound like
the murmur of rippling water, as something forced its way through the
bushes; but diligently as they lent their ears, there was no footfall on
the path, the earth kept the secret of the mysterious woman's passage, if
indeed she had moved from her hiding-place.
"This is very strange!" cried Philip.
Following the wall of the path, the two friends reached before long a
forest road leading to the village of Chauvry; they went along this track
in the direction of the highway to Paris, and reached another large
gateway. Through the railings they had a complete view of the facade of
the mysterious house. From this point of view, the dilapidation was still
more apparent. Huge cracks had riven the walls of the main body of the
house built round three sides of a square. Evidently the place was allowed
to fall to ruin; there were holes in the roof, broken slates and tiles lay
about below. Fallen fruit from the orchard trees was left to rot on the
ground; a cow was grazing over the bowling-green and trampling the flowers
in the garden beds; a goat browsed on the green grapes and young
vine-shoots on the trellis.
"It is all of a piece," remarked the Colonel. "The neglect is in a fashion
systematic." He laid his hand on the chain of the bell-pull, but the bell
had lost its clapper. The two friends heard no sound save the peculiar
grating creak of the rusty spring. A little door in the wall beside the
gateway, though ruinous, held good against all their efforts to force it
"Oho! all this is growing very interesting," Philip said to his companion.
"If I were not a magistrate," returned M. d'Albon, "I should think that
the woman in black is a witch."
The words were scarcely out of his mouth when the cow came up to the
railings and held out her warm damp nose, as if she were glad of human
society. Then a woman, if so indescribable a being could be called a
woman, sprang up from the bushes, and pulled at the cord about the cow's
neck. From beneath the crimson handkerchief about the woman's head, fair
matted hair escaped, something as tow hangs about a spindle. She wore no
kerchief at the throat. A coarse black-and-gray striped woolen petticoat,
too short by several inches, left her legs bare. She might have belonged
to some tribe of Redskins in Fenimore Cooper's novels; for her neck, arms,
and ankles looked as if they had been painted brick-red. There was no
spark of intelligence in her featureless face; her pale, bluish eyes
looked out dull and expressionless from beneath the eyebrows with one or
two straggling white hairs on them. Her teeth were prominent and uneven,
but white as a dog's.
"Hallo, good woman," called M. de Sucy.
She came slowly up to the railing, and stared at the two sportsmen with a
contorted smile painful to see.
"Where are we? What is the name of the house yonder? Whom does it belong
to? Who are you? Do you come from hereabouts?"
To these questions, and to a host of others poured out in succession upon
her by the two friends, she made no answer save gurgling sounds in the
throat, more like animal sounds than anything uttered by a human voice.
"Don't you see that she is deaf and dumb?" said M. d'Albon.
"Minorites!" the peasant woman said at last.
"Ah! she is right. The house looks as though it might once have been a
Minorite convent," he went on.
Again they plied the peasant woman with questions, but, like a wayward
child, she colored up, fidgeted with her sabot, twisted the rope by which
she held the cow that had fallen to grazing again, stared at the
sportsmen, and scrutinized every article of clothing upon them; she
gibbered, grunted, and clucked, but no articulate word did she utter.
"Your name?" asked Philip, fixing her with his eyes as if he were trying
to bewitch the woman.
"Genevieve," she answered, with an empty laugh.
"The cow is the most intelligent creature we have seen so far," exclaimed
the magistrate. "I shall fire a shot, that ought to bring somebody out."
D'Albon had just taken up his rifle when the Colonel put out a hand to
stop him, and pointed out the mysterious woman who had aroused such lively
curiosity in them. She seemed to be absorbed in deep thought, as she went
along a green alley some little distance away, so slowly that the friends
had time to take a good look at her. She wore a threadbare black satin
gown, her long hair curled thickly over her forehead, and fell like a
shawl about her shoulders below her waist. Doubtless she was accustomed to
the dishevelment of her locks, for she seldom put back the hair on either
side of her brows; but when she did so, she shook her head with a sudden
jerk that had not to be repeated to shake away the thick veil from her
eyes or forehead. In everything that she did, moreover, there was a
wonderful certainty in the working of the mechanism, an unerring swiftness
and precision, like that of an animal, well-nigh marvelous in a woman.
The two sportsmen were amazed to see her spring up into an apple-tree and
cling to a bough lightly as a bird. She snatched at the fruit, ate it, and
dropped to the ground with the same supple grace that charms us in a
squirrel. The elasticity of her limbs took all appearance of awkwardness
or effort from her movements. She played about upon the grass, rolling in
it as a young child might have done; then, on a sudden, she lay still and
stretched out her feet and hands, with the languid natural grace of a
kitten dozing in the sun.
There was a threatening growl of thunder far away, and at this she started
up on all fours and listened, like a dog who hears a strange footstep. One
result of this strange attitude was to separate her thick black hair into
two masses, that fell away on either side of her face and left her
shoulders bare; the two witnesses of this singular scene wondered at the
whiteness of the skin that shone like a meadow daisy, and at the neck that
indicated the perfection of the rest of her form.
A wailing cry broke from her; she rose to her feet, and stood upright.
Every successive movement was made so lightly, so gracefully, so easily,
that she seemed to be no human being, but one of Ossian's maids of the
mist. She went across the grass to one of the pools of water, deftly shook
off her shoe, and seemed to enjoy dipping her foot, white as marble, in
the spring; doubtless it pleased her to make the circling ripples, and
watch them glitter like gems. She knelt down by the brink, and played
there like a child, dabbling her long tresses in the water, and flinging
them loose again to see the water drip from the ends, like a string of
pearls in the sunless light.
"She is mad!" cried the Councillor.
A hoarse cry rang through the air; it came from Genevieve, and seemed to
be meant for the mysterious woman. She rose to her feet in a moment,
flinging back the hair from her face, and then the Colonel and d'Albon
could see her features distinctly. As soon as she saw the two friends she
bounded to the railings with the swiftness of a fawn.
"Farewell!" she said in low, musical tones, but they could not
discover the least trace of feeling, the least idea in the sweet sounds
that they had awaited impatiently.
M. d'Albon admired the long lashes, the thick, dark eyebrows, the dazzling
fairness of skin untinged by any trace of red. Only the delicate blue
veins contrasted with that uniform whiteness.
But when the Marquis turned to communicate his surprise at the sight of so
strange an apparition, he saw the Colonel stretched on the grass like one
dead. M. d'Albon fired his gun into the air, shouted for help, and tried
to raise his friend. At the sound of the shot, the strange lady, who had
stood motionless by the gate, fled away, crying out like a wounded wild
creature, circling round and round in the meadow, with every sign of
M. d'Albon heard a carriage rolling along the road to l'Isle-Adam, and
waved his handkerchief to implore help. The carriage immediately came
towards the Minorite convent, and M. d'Albon recognized neighbors, M. and
Mme. de Grandville, who hastened to alight and put their carriage at his
disposal. Colonel de Sucy inhaled the salts which Mme. de Grandville
happened to have with her; he opened his eyes, looked towards the
mysterious figure that still fled wailing through the meadow, and a faint
cry of horror broke from him; he closed his eyes again, with a dumb
gesture of entreaty to his friends to take him away from this scene. M.
and Mme. de Grandville begged the Councillor to make use of their
carriage, adding very obligingly that they themselves would walk.
"Who can the lady be?" inquired the magistrate, looking towards the
"People think that she comes from Moulins," answered M. de Grandville.
"She is a Comtesse de Vandieres; she is said to be mad; but as she has
only been here for two months, I cannot vouch for the truth of all this
M. d'Albon thanked M. and Mme. de Grandville, and they set out for Cassan.
"It is she!" cried Philip, coming to himself.
"She? who?" asked d'Albon.
"Stephanie.... Ah! dead and yet living still; still alive, but her mind is
gone! I thought the sight would kill me."
The prudent magistrate, recognizing the gravity of the crisis through
which his friend was passing, refrained from asking questions or exciting
him further, and grew impatient of the length of the way to the chateau,
for the change wrought in the Colonel's face alarmed him. He feared lest
the Countess' terrible disease had communicated itself to Philip's brain.
When they reached the avenue at l'Isle-Adam, d'Albon sent the servant for
the local doctor, so that the Colonel had scarcely been laid in bed before
the surgeon was beside him.
"If Monsieur le Colonel had not been fasting, the shock must have killed
him," pronounced the leech. "He was over-tired, and that saved him," and
with a few directions as to the patient's treatment, he went to prepare a
composing draught himself. M. de Sucy was better the next morning, but the
doctor had insisted on sitting up all night with him.
"I confess, Monsieur le Marquis," the surgeon said, "that I feared for the
brain. M. de Sucy has had some very violent shock; he is a man of strong
passions, but, with his temperament, the first shock decides everything.
He will very likely be out of danger to-morrow."
The doctor was perfectly right. The next day the patient was allowed to
see his friend.
"I want you to do something for me, dear d'Albon," Philip said, grasping
his friend's hand. "Hasten at once to the Minorite convent, find out
everything about the lady whom we saw there, and come back as soon as you
can; I shall count the minutes till I see you again."
M. d'Albon called for his horse, and galloped over to the old monastery.
When he reached the gateway he found some one standing there, a tall,
spare man with a kindly face, who answered in the affirmative when he was
asked if he lived in the ruined house. M. d'Albon explained his errand.
"Why, then, it must have been you, sir, who fired that unlucky shot! You
all but killed my poor invalid."
"Eh! I fired into the air!"
"If you had actually hit Madame la Comtesse, you would have done less harm
"Well, well, then, we can neither of us complain, for the sight of the
Countess all but killed my friend, M. de Sucy."
"The Baron de Sucy, is it possible?" cried the doctor, clasping his hands.
"Has he been in Russia? was he in the Beresina?"
"Yes," answered d'Albon. "He was taken prisoner by the Cossacks and sent
to Siberia. He has not been back in this country a twelvemonth."
"Come in, monsieur," said the other, and he led the way to a drawing-room
on the ground-floor. Everything in the room showed signs of capricious
Valuable china jars lay in fragments on either side of a clock beneath a
glass shade, which had escaped. The silk hangings about the windows were
torn to rags, while the muslin curtains were untouched.
"You see about you the havoc wrought by a charming being to whom I have
dedicated my life. She is my niece; and though medical science is
powerless in her case, I hope to restore her to reason, though the method
which I am trying is, unluckily, only possible to the wealthy."
Then, like all who live much alone and daily bear the burden of a heavy
trouble, he fell to talk with the magistrate. This is the story that he
told, set in order, and with the many digressions made by both teller and
When, at nine o'clock at night, on the 28th of November 1812, Marshal
Victor abandoned the heights of Studzianka, which he had held through the
day, he left a thousand men behind with instructions to protect, till the
last possible moment, the two pontoon bridges over the Beresina that still
held good. This rear guard was to save if possible an appalling number of
stragglers, so numbed with the cold, that they obstinately refused to
leave the baggage-wagons. The heroism of the generous band was doomed to
fail; for, unluckily, the men who poured down to the eastern bank of the
Beresina found carriages, caissons, and all kinds of property which the
Army had been forced to abandon during its passage on the 27th and 28th
days of November. The poor, half-frozen wretches, sunk almost to the level
of brutes, finding such unhoped-for riches, bivouacked in the deserted
space, laid hands on the military stores, improvised huts out of the
material, lighted fires with anything that would burn, cut up the
carcasses of the horses for food, tore out the linings of the carriages,
wrapped themselves in them, and lay down to sleep instead of crossing the
Beresina in peace under cover of night—the Beresina that even then
had proved, by incredible fatality, so disastrous to the Army. Such apathy
on the part of the poor fellows can only be understood by those who
remember tramping across those vast deserts of snow, with nothing to
quench their thirst but snow, snow for their bed, snow as far as the
horizon on every side, and no food but snow, a little frozen beetroot,
horseflesh, or a handful of meal.
The miserable creatures were dropping down, overcome by hunger, thirst,
weariness, and sleep, when they reached the shores of the Beresina and
found fuel and fire and victuals, countless wagons and tents, a whole
improvised town, in short. The whole village of Studzianka had been
removed piecemeal from the heights of the plain, and the very perils and
miseries of this dangerous and doleful habitation smiled invitingly to the
wayfarers, who beheld no prospect beyond it but the awful Russian deserts.
A huge hospice, in short, was erected for twenty hours of existence. Only
one thought—the thought of rest—appealed to men weary of life
or rejoicing in unlooked-for comfort.
They lay right in the line of fire from the cannon of the Russian left;
but to that vast mass of human creatures, a patch upon the snow, sometimes
dark, sometimes breaking into flame, the indefatigable grapeshot was but
one discomfort the more. For them it was only a storm, and they paid the
less attention to the bolts that fell among them because there were none
to strike down there save dying men, the wounded, or perhaps the dead.
Stragglers came up in little bands at every moment. These walking corpses
instantly separated, and wandered begging from fire to fire; and meeting,
for the most part, with refusals, banded themselves together again, and
took by force what they could not otherwise obtain. They were deaf to the
voices of their officers prophesying death on the morrow, and spent the
energy required to cross the swamp in building shelters for the night and
preparing a meal that often proved fatal. The coming death no longer
seemed an evil, for it gave them an hour of slumber before it came. Hunger
and thirst and cold—these were evils, but not death.
At last wood and fuel and canvas and shelters failed, and hideous brawls
began between destitute late comers and the rich already in possession of
a lodging. The weaker were driven away, until a few last fugitives before
the Russian advance were obliged to make their bed in the snow, and lay
down to rise no more.
Little by little the mass of half-dead humanity became so dense, so deaf,
so torpid,—or perhaps it should be said so happy—that Marshal
Victor, their heroic defender against twenty thousand Russians under
Wittgenstein, was actually compelled to cut his way by force through this
forest of men, so as to cross the Beresina with the five thousand heroes
whom he was leading to the Emperor. The miserable creatures preferred to
be trampled and crushed to death rather than stir from their places, and
died without a sound, smiling at the dead ashes of their fires, forgetful
Not before ten o'clock that night did the Duc de Belluno reach the other
side of the river. Before committing his men to the pontoon bridges that
led to Zembin, he left the fate of the rearguard at Studzianka in Eble's
hands, and to Eble the survivors of the calamities of the Beresina owed
About midnight, the great General, followed by a courageous officer, came
out of his little hut by the bridge, and gazed at the spectacle of this
camp between the bank of the Beresina and the Borizof road to Studzianka.
The thunder of the Russian cannonade had ceased. Here and there faces that
had nothing human about them were lighted up by countless fires that
seemed to grow pale in the glare of the snowfields, and to give no light.
Nearly thirty thousand wretches, belonging to every nation that Napoleon
had hurled upon Russia, lay there hazarding their lives with the
indifference of brute beasts.
"We have all these to save," the General said to his subordinate.
"To-morrow morning the Russians will be in Studzianka. The moment they
come up we shall have to set fire to the bridge; so pluck up heart, my
boy! Make your way out and up yonder through them, and tell General
Fournier that he has barely time to evacuate his post and cut his way
through to the bridge. As soon as you have seen him set out, follow him
down, take some able-bodied men, and set fire to the tents, wagons,
caissons, carriages, anything and everything, without pity, and drive
these fellows on to the bridge. Compel everything that walks on two legs
to take refuge on the other bank. We must set fire to the camp; it is our
last resource. If Berthier had let me burn those d——d wagons
sooner, no lives need have been lost in the river except my poor
pontooners, my fifty heroes, who saved the Army, and will be forgotten."
The General passed his hand over his forehead and said no more. He felt
that Poland would be his tomb, and foresaw that afterwards no voice would
be raised to speak for the noble fellows who had plunged into the stream—into
the waters of the Beresina!—to drive in the piles for the bridges.
And, indeed, only one of them is living now, or, to be more accurate,
starving, utterly forgotten in a country village![*] The brave officer had
scarcely gone a hundred paces towards Studzianka, when General Eble roused
some of his patient pontooners, and began his work of mercy by setting
fire to the camp on the side nearest the bridge, so compelling the
sleepers to rise and cross the Beresina. Meanwhile the young aide-de-camp,
not without difficulty, reached the one wooden house yet left standing in
[*] This story can be found in The Country Parson.—eBook
"So the box is pretty full, is it, messmate?" he said to a man whom he
"You will be a knowing fellow if you manage to get inside," the officer
returned, without turning round or stopping his occupation of hacking at
the woodwork of the house with his sabre.
"Philip, is that you?" cried the aide-de-camp, recognizing the voice of
one of his friends.
"Yes. Aha! is it you, old fellow?" returned M. de Sucy, looking round at
the aide-de-camp, who like himself was not more than twenty-three years
old. "I fancied you were on the other side of this confounded river. Do
you come to bring us sweetmeats for dessert? You will get a warm welcome,"
he added, as he tore away a strip of bark from the wood and gave it to his
horse by way of fodder.
"I am looking for your commandant. General Eble has sent me to tell him to
file off to Zembin. You have only just time to cut your way through that
mass of dead men; as soon as you get through, I am going to set fire to
the place to make them move—"
"You almost make me feel warm! Your news has put me in a fever; I have two
friends to bring through. Ah! but for those marmots, I should have been
dead before now, old fellow. On their account I am taking care of my horse
instead of eating him. But have you a crust about you, for pity's sake? It
is thirty hours since I have stowed any victuals. I have been fighting
like a madman to keep up a little warmth in my body and what courage I
"Poor Philip! I have nothing—not a scrap!—But is your General
"Don't attempt to go in. The barn is full of our wounded. Go up a bit
higher, and you will see a sort of pig-sty to the right—that is
where the General is. Good-bye, my dear fellow. If ever we meet again in a
quadrille in a ballroom in Paris—"
He did not finish the sentence, for the treachery of the northeast wind
that whistled about them froze Major Philip's lips, and the aide-de-camp
kept moving for fear of being frost-bitten. Silence soon prevailed,
scarcely broken by the groans of the wounded in the barn, or the stifled
sounds made by M. de Sucy's horse crunching on the frozen bark with
famished eagerness. Philip thrust his sabre into the sheath, caught at the
bridle of the precious animal that he had managed to keep for so long, and
drew her away from the miserable fodder that she was bolting with apparent
"Come along, Bichette! come along! It lies with you now, my beauty, to
save Stephanie's life. There, wait a little longer, and they will let us
lie down and die, no doubt;" and Philip, wrapped in a pelisse, to which
doubtless he owed his life and energies, began to run, stamping his feet
on the frozen snow to keep them warm. He was scarce five hundred paces
away before he saw a great fire blazing on the spot where he had left his
carriage that morning with an old soldier to guard it. A dreadful
misgiving seized upon him. Many a man under the influence of a powerful
feeling during the Retreat summoned up energy for his friend's sake when
he would not have exerted himself to save his own life; so it was with
Philip. He soon neared a hollow, where he had left a carriage sheltered
from the cannonade, a carriage that held a young woman, his playmate in
childhood, dearer to him than any one else on earth.
Some thirty stragglers were sitting round a tremendous blaze, which they
kept up with logs of wood, planks wrenched from the floors of the
caissons, and wheels, and panels from carriage bodies. These had been,
doubtless, among the last to join the sea of fires, huts, and human faces
that filled the great furrow in the land between Studzianka and the fatal
river, a restless living sea of almost imperceptibly moving figures, that
sent up a smothered hum of sound blended with frightful shrieks. It seemed
that hunger and despair had driven these forlorn creatures to take
forcible possession of the carriage, for the old General and his young
wife, whom they had found warmly wrapped in pelisses and traveling cloaks,
were now crouching on the earth beside the fire, and one of the carriage
doors was broken.
As soon as the group of stragglers round the fire heard the footfall of
the Major's horse, a frenzied yell of hunger went up from them. "A horse!"
they cried. "A horse!"
All the voices went up as one voice.
"Back! back! Look out!" shouted two or three of them, leveling their
muskets at the animal.
"I will pitch you neck and crop into your fire, you blackguards!" cried
Philip, springing in front of the mare. "There are dead horses lying up
yonder; go and look for them!"
"What a rum customer the officer is!—Once, twice, will you get out
of the way?" returned a giant grenadier. "You won't? All right then, just
as you please."
A woman's shriek rang out above the report. Luckily, none of the bullets
hit Philip; but poor Bichette lay in the agony of death. Three of the men
came up and put an end to her with thrusts of the bayonet.
"Cannibals! leave me the rug and my pistols," cried Philip in desperation.
"Oh! the pistols if you like; but as for the rug, there is a fellow yonder
who has had nothing to wet his whistle these two days, and is shivering in
his coat of cobwebs, and that's our General."
Philips looked up and saw a man with worn-out shoes and a dozen rents in
his trousers; the only covering for his head was a ragged foraging cap,
white with rime. He said no more after that, but snatched up his pistols.
Five of the men dragged the mare to the fire, and began to cut up the
carcass as dexterously as any journeymen butchers in Paris. The scraps of
meat were distributed and flung upon the coals, and the whole process was
magically swift. Philip went over to the woman who had given the cry of
terror when she recognized his danger, and sat down by her side. She sat
motionless upon a cushion taken from the carriage, warming herself at the
blaze; she said no word, and gazed at him without a smile. He saw beside
her the soldier whom he had left mounting guard over the carriage; the
poor fellow had been wounded; he had been overpowered by numbers, and
forced to surrender to the stragglers who had set upon him, and, like a
dog who defends his master's dinner till the last moment, he had taken his
share of the spoil, and had made a sort of cloak for himself out of a
sheet. At that particular moment he was busy toasting a piece of
horseflesh, and in his face the major saw a gleeful anticipation of the
The Comte de Vandieres, who seemed to have grown quite childish in the
last few days, sat on a cushion close to his wife, and stared into the
fire. He was only just beginning to shake off his torpor under the
influence of the warmth. He had been no more affected by Philip's arrival
and danger than by the fight and subsequent pillaging of his traveling
At first Sucy caught the young Countess' hand in his, trying to express
his affection for her, and the pain that it gave him to see her reduced
like this to the last extremity of misery; but he said nothing as he sat
by her side on the thawing heap of snow, he gave himself up to the
pleasure of the sensation of warmth, forgetful of danger, forgetful of all
things else in the world. In spite of himself his face expanded with an
almost fatuous expression of satisfaction, and he waited impatiently till
the scrap of horseflesh that had fallen to his soldier's share should be
cooked. The smell of charred flesh stimulated his hunger. Hunger clamored
within and silenced his heart, his courage, and his love. He coolly looked
round on the results of the spoliation of his carriage. Not a man seated
round the fire but had shared the booty, the rugs, cushions, pelisses,
dresses,—articles of clothing that belonged to the Count and
Countess or to himself. Philip turned to see if anything worth taking was
left in the berline. He saw by the light of the flames, gold, and
diamonds, and silver lying scattered about; no one had cared to
appropriate the least particle. There was something hideous in the silence
among those human creatures round the fire; none of them spoke, none of
them stirred, save to do such things as each considered necessary for his
It was a grotesque misery. The men's faces were wrapped and disfigured
with the cold, and plastered over with a layer of mud; you could see the
thickness of the mask by the channel traced down their cheeks by the tears
that ran from their eyes, and their long slovenly-kept beards added to the
hideousness of their appearance. Some were wrapped round in women's
shawls, others in horse-cloths, dirty blankets, rags stiffened with
melting hoar-frost; here and there a man wore a boot on one foot and a
shoe on the other, in fact, there was not one of them but wore some
ludicrously odd costume. But the men themselves with such matter for jest
about them were gloomy and taciturn.
The silence was unbroken save by the crackling of the wood, the roaring of
the flames, the far-off hum of the camp, and the sound of sabres hacking
at the carcass of the mare. Some of the hungriest of the men were still
cutting tidbits for themselves. A few miserable creatures, more weary than
the others, slept outright; and if they happened to roll into the fire, no
one pulled them back. With cut-and-dried logic their fellows argued that
if they were not dead, a scorching ought to be sufficient warning to quit
and seek out more comfortable quarters. If the poor wretch woke to find
himself on fire, he was burned to death, and nobody pitied him. Here and
there the men exchanged glances, as if to excuse their indifference by the
carelessness of the rest; the thing happened twice under the Countess'
eyes, and she uttered no sound. When all the scraps of horseflesh had been
broiled upon the coals, they were devoured with a ravenous greediness that
would have been disgusting in wild beasts.
"And now we have seen thirty infantrymen on one horse for the first time
in our lives!" cried the grenadier who had shot the mare, the one solitary
joke that sustained the Frenchmen's reputation for wit.
Before long the poor fellows huddled themselves up in their clothes, and
lay down on planks of timber, on anything but the bare snow, and slept—heedless
of the morrow. Major de Sucy having warmed himself and satisfied his
hunger, fought in vain against the drowsiness that weighed upon his eyes.
During this brief struggle he gazed at the sleeping girl who had turned
her face to the fire, so that he could see her closed eyelids and part of
her forehead. She was wrapped round in a furred pelisse and a coarse
horseman's cloak, her head lay on a blood-stained cushion; a tall
astrakhan cap tied over her head by a handkerchief knotted under the chin
protected her face as much as possible from the cold, and she had tucked
up her feet in the cloak. As she lay curled up in this fashion, she bore
no likeness to any creature.
Was this the lowest of camp-followers? Was this the charming woman, the
pride of her lover's heart, the queen of many a Parisian ballroom? Alas!
even for the eyes of this most devoted friend, there was no discernible
trace of womanhood in that bundle of rags and linen, and the cold was
mightier than the love in a woman's heart.
Then for the major the husband and wife came to be like two distant dots
seen through the thick veil that the most irresistible kind of slumber
spread over his eyes. It all seemed to be part of a dream—the
leaping flames, the recumbent figures, the awful cold that lay in wait for
them three paces away from the warmth of the fire that glowed for a little
while. One thought that could not be stifled haunted Philip—"If I go
to sleep, we shall all die; I will not sleep," he said to himself.
He slept. After an hour's slumber M. de Sucy was awakened by a hideous
uproar and the sound of an explosion. The remembrance of his duty, of the
danger of his beloved, rushed upon his mind with a sudden shock. He
uttered a cry like the growl of a wild beast. He and his servant stood
upright above the rest. They saw a sea of fire in the darkness, and
against it moving masses of human figures. Flames were devouring the huts
and tents. Despairing shrieks and yelling cries reached their ears; they
saw thousands upon thousands of wild and desperate faces; and through this
inferno a column of soldiers was cutting its way to the bridge, between
the two hedges of dead bodies.
"Our rearguard is in full retreat," cried the major. "There is no hope
"I have spared your traveling carriage, Philip," said a friendly voice.
Sucy turned and saw the young aide-de-camp by the light of the flames.
"Oh, it is all over with us," he answered. "They have eaten my horse. And
how am I to make this sleepy general and his wife stir a step?"
"Take a brand, Philip, and threaten them."
"Threaten the Countess?..."
"Good-bye," cried the aide-de-camp; "I have only just time to get across
that unlucky river, and go I must, there is my mother in France!... What a
night! This herd of wretches would rather lie here in the snow, and most
of them would sooner be burned alive than get up.... It is four o'clock,
Philip! In two hours the Russians will begin to move, and you will see the
Beresina covered with corpses a second time, I can tell you. You haven't a
horse, and you cannot carry the Countess, so come along with me," he went
on, taking his friend by the arm.
"My dear fellow, how am I to leave Stephanie?"
Major de Sucy grasped the Countess, set her on her feet, and shook her
roughly; he was in despair. He compelled her to wake, and she stared at
him with dull fixed eyes.
"Stephanie, we must go, or we shall die here!"
For all answer, the Countess tried to sink down again and sleep on the
earth. The aide-de-camp snatched a brand from the fire and shook it in her
"We must save her in spite of herself," cried Philip, and he carried her
in his arms to the carriage. He came back to entreat his friend to help
him, and the two young men took the old general and put him beside his
wife, without knowing whether he were alive or dead. The major rolled the
men over as they crouched on the earth, took away the plundered clothing,
and heaped it upon the husband and wife, then he flung some of the broiled
fragments of horseflesh into a corner of the carriage.
"Now, what do you mean to do?" asked the aide-de-camp.
"Drag them along!" answered Sucy.
"You are mad!"
"You are right!" exclaimed Philip, folding his arms on his breast.
Suddenly a desperate plan occurred to him.
"Look you here!" he said, grasping his sentinel by the unwounded arm. "I
leave her in your care for one hour. Bear in mind that you must die sooner
than let any one, no matter whom, come near the carriage!"
The major seized a handful of the lady's diamonds, drew his sabre, and
violently battered those who seemed to him to be the bravest among the
sleepers. By this means he succeeded in rousing the gigantic grenadier and
a couple of men whose rank and regiment were undiscoverable.
"It is all up with us!" he cried.
"Of course it is," returned the grenadier; "but that is all one to me."
"Very well then, if die you must, isn't it better to sell your life for a
pretty woman, and stand a chance of going back to France again?"
"I would rather go to sleep," said one of the men, dropping down into the
snow; "and if you worry me again, major, I shall stick my toasting-iron
into your body."
"What is it all about, sir?" asked the grenadier. "The man's drunk. He is
a Parisian, and likes to lie in the lap of luxury."
"You shall have these, good fellow," said the major, holding out a riviere
of diamonds, "if you will follow me and fight like a madman. The Russians
are not ten minutes away; they have horses; we will march up to the
nearest battery and carry off two stout ones."
"How about the sentinels, major?"
"One of us three—" he began; then he turned from the soldier and
looked at the aide-de-camp.—"You are coming, aren't you, Hippolyte?"
Hippolyte nodded assent.
"One of us," the major went on, "will look after the sentry. Besides,
perhaps those blessed Russians are also fast asleep."
"All right, major; you are a good sort! But will you take me in your
carriage?" asked the grenadier.
"Yes, if you don't leave your bones up yonder.—If I come to grief,
promise me, you two, that you will do everything in your power to save the
"All right," said the grenadier.
They set out for the Russian lines, taking the direction of the batteries
that had so cruelly raked the mass of miserable creatures huddled together
by the river bank. A few minutes later the hoofs of two galloping horses
rang on the frozen snow, and the awakened battery fired a volley that
passed over the heads of the sleepers; the hoof-beats rattled so fast on
the iron ground that they sounded like the hammering in a smithy. The
generous aide-de-camp had fallen; the stalwart grenadier had come off safe
and sound; and Philip himself received a bayonet thrust in the shoulder
while defending his friend. Notwithstanding his wound, he clung to his
horse's mane, and gripped him with his knees so tightly that the animal
was held as in a vise.
"God be praised!" cried the major, when he saw his soldier still on the
spot, and the carriage standing where he had left it.
"If you do the right thing by me, sir, you will get me the cross for this.
We have treated them to a sword dance to a pretty tune from the rifle,
"We have done nothing yet! Let us put the horses in. Take hold of these
"They are not long enough."
"All right, grenadier, just go and overhaul those fellows sleeping there;
take their shawls, sheets, anything—"
"I say! the rascal is dead," cried the grenadier, as he plundered the
first man who came to hand. "Why, they are all dead! how queer!"
"All of them?"
"Yes, every one. It looks as though the horseflesh a la neige was
Philip shuddered at the words. The night had grown twice as cold as
"Great heaven! to lose her when I have saved her life a score of times
He shook the Countess, "Stephanie! Stephanie!" he cried.
She opened her eyes.
"We are saved, madame!"
"Saved!" she echoed, and fell back again.
The horses were harnessed after a fashion at last. The major held his
sabre in his unwounded hand, took the reins in the other, saw to his
pistols, and sprang on one of the horses, while the grenadier mounted the
other. The old sentinel had been pushed into the carriage, and lay across
the knees of the general and the Countess; his feet were frozen. Urged on
by blows from the flat of the sabre, the horses dragged the carriage at a
mad gallop down to the plain, where endless difficulties awaited them.
Before long it became almost impossible to advance without crushing
sleeping men, women, and even children at every step, all of whom declined
to stir when the grenadier awakened them. In vain M. de Sucy looked for
the track that the rearguard had cut through this dense crowd of human
beings; there was no more sign of their passage than the wake of a ship in
the sea. The horses could only move at a foot-pace, and were stopped most
frequently by soldiers, who threatened to kill them.
"Do you mean to get there?" asked the grenadier.
"Yes, if it costs every drop of blood in my body! if it costs the whole
world!" the major answered.
"Forward, then!... You can't have the omelette without breaking eggs." And
the grenadier of the Garde urged on the horses over the prostrate bodies,
and upset the bivouacs; the blood-stained wheels ploughing that field of
faces left a double furrow of dead. But in justice it should be said that
he never ceased to thunder out his warning cry, "Carrion! look out!"
"Poor wretches!" exclaimed the major.
"Bah! That way, or the cold, or the cannon!" said the grenadier, goading
on the horses with the point of his sword.
Then came the catastrophe, which must have happened sooner but for
miraculous good fortune; the carriage was overturned, and all further
progress was stopped at once.
"I expected as much!" exclaimed the imperturbable grenadier. "Oho! he is
dead!" he added, looking at his comrade.
"Poor Laurent!" said the major.
"Laurent! Wasn't he in the Fifth Chasseurs?"
"My own cousin.—Pshaw! this beastly life is not so pleasant that one
need be sorry for him as things go."
But all this time the carriage lay overturned, and the horses were only
released after great and irreparable loss of time. The shock had been so
violent that the Countess had been awakened by it, and the subsequent
commotion aroused her from her stupor. She shook off the rugs and rose.
"Where are we, Philip?" she asked in musical tones, as she looked about
"About five hundred paces from the bridge. We are just about to cross the
Beresina. When we are on the other side, Stephanie, I will not tease you
any more; I will let you go to sleep; we shall be in safety, we can go on
to Wilna in peace. God grant that you may never know what your life has
"You are wounded!"
"A mere trifle."
The hour of doom had come. The Russian cannon announced the day. The
Russians were in possession of Studzianka, and thence were raking the
plain with grapeshot; and by the first dim light of the dawn the major saw
two columns moving and forming above the heights. Then a cry of horror
went up from the crowd, and in a moment every one sprang to his feet. Each
instinctively felt his danger, and all made a rush for the bridge, surging
towards it like a wave.
Then the Russians came down upon them, swift as a conflagration. Men,
women, children, and horses all crowded towards the river. Luckily for the
major and the Countess, they were still at some distance from the bank.
General Eble had just set fire to the bridge on the other side; but in
spite of all the warnings given to those who rushed towards the chance of
salvation, not one among them could or would draw back. The overladen
bridge gave way, and not only so, the impetus of the frantic living wave
towards that fatal bank was such that a dense crowd of human beings was
thrust into the water as if by an avalanche. The sound of a single human
cry could not be distinguished; there was a dull crash as if an enormous
stone had fallen into the water—and the Beresina was covered with
The violent recoil of those in front, striving to escape this death,
brought them into hideous collision with those behind then, who were
pressing towards the bank, and many were suffocated and crushed. The Comte
and Comtesse de Vandieres owed their lives to the carriage. The horses
that had trampled and crushed so many dying men were crushed and trampled
to death in their turn by the human maelstrom which eddied from the bank.
Sheer physical strength saved the major and the grenadier. They killed
others in self-defence. That wild sea of human faces and living bodies,
surging to and fro as by one impulse, left the bank of the Beresina clear
for a few moments. The multitude had hurled themselves back on the plain.
Some few men sprang down from the banks of the river, not so much with any
hope of reaching the opposite shore, which for them meant France, as from
dread of the wastes of Siberia. For some bold spirits despair became a
panoply. An officer leaped from hummock to hummock of ice, and reached the
other shore; one of the soldiers scrambled over miraculously on the piles
of dead bodies and drift ice. But the immense multitude left behind saw at
last that the Russians would not slaughter twenty thousand unarmed men,
too numb with the cold to attempt to resist them, and each awaited his
fate with dreadful apathy. By this time the major and his grenadier, the
old general and his wife, were left to themselves not very far from the
place where the bridge had been. All four stood dry-eyed and silent among
the heaps of dead. A few able-bodied men and one or two officers, who had
recovered all their energy at this crisis, gathered about them. The group
was sufficiently large; there were about fifty men all told. A couple of
hundred paces from them stood the wreck of the artillery bridge, which had
broken down the day before; the major saw this, and "Let us make a raft!"
The words were scarcely out of his mouth before the whole group hurried to
the ruins of the bridge. A crowd of men began to pick up iron clamps and
to hunt for planks and ropes—for all the materials for a raft, in
short. A score of armed men and officers, under command of the major,
stood on guard to protect the workers from any desperate attempt on the
part of the multitude if they should guess their design. The longing for
freedom, which inspires prisoners to accomplish impossibilities, cannot be
compared with the hope which lent energy at that moment to these forlorn
"The Russians are upon us! Here are the Russians!" the guard shouted to
The timbers creaked, the raft grew larger, stronger, and more substantial.
Generals, colonels, and common soldiers all alike bent beneath the weight
of wagon-wheels, chains, coils of rope, and planks of timber; it was a
modern realization of the building of Noah's ark. The young Countess,
sitting by her husband's side, looked on, regretful that she could do
nothing to aide the workers, though she helped to knot the lengths of rope
At last the raft was finished. Forty men launched it out into the river,
while ten of the soldiers held the ropes that must keep it moored to the
shore. The moment that they saw their handiwork floating on the Beresina,
they sprang down onto it from the bank with callous selfishness. The
major, dreading the frenzy of the first rush, held back Stephanie and the
general; but a shudder ran through him when he saw the landing place black
with people, and men crowding down like playgoers into the pit of a
"It was I who thought of the raft, you savages!" he cried. "I have saved
your lives, and you will not make room for me!"
A confused murmur was the only answer. The men at the edge took up stout
poles, trust them against the bank with all their might, so as to shove
the raft out and gain an impetus at its starting upon a journey across a
sea of floating ice and dead bodies towards the other shore.
"Tonnerre de Dieu! I will knock some of you off into the water if
you don't make room for the major and his two companions," shouted the
grenadier. He raised his sabre threateningly, delayed the departure, and
made the men stand closer together, in spite of threatening yells.
"I shall fall in!... I shall go overboard!..." his fellows shouted.
"Let us start! Put off!"
The major gazed with tearless eyes at the woman he loved; an impulse of
sublime resignation raised her eyes to heaven.
"To die with you!" she said.
In the situation of the folk upon the raft there was a certain comic
element. They might utter hideous yells, but not one of them dared to
oppose the grenadier, for they were packed together so tightly that if one
man were knocked down, the whole raft might capsize. At this delicate
crisis, a captain tried to rid himself of one of his neighbors; the man
saw the hostile intention of his officer, collared him, and pitched him
overboard. "Aha! The duck has a mind to drink. ... Over with you!—There
is room for two now!" he shouted. "Quick, major! throw your little woman
over, and come! Never mind that old dotard! he will drop off to-morrow!"
"Be quick!" cried a voice, made up of a hundred voices.
"Come, major! Those fellows are making a fuss, and well they may."
The Comte de Vandieres flung off his ragged blankets, and stood before
them in his general's uniform.
"Let us save the Count," said Philip.
Stephanie grasped his hand tightly in hers, flung her arms about, and
clasped him close in an agonized embrace.
"Farewell!" she said.
Then each knew the other's thoughts. The Comte de Vandieres recovered his
energies and presence of mind sufficiently to jump on to the raft, whither
Stephanie followed him after one last look at Philip.
"Major, won't you take my place? I do not care a straw for life; I have
neither a wife, nor child, nor mother belonging to me—"
"I give them into your charge," cried the major, indicating the Count and
"Be easy; I will take as much care of them as of the apple of my eye."
Philip stood stock-still on the bank. The raft sped so violently towards
the opposite shore that it ran aground with a violent shock to all on
board. The Count, standing on the very edge, was shaken into the stream;
and as he fell, a mass of ice swept by and struck off his head, and sent
it flying like a ball.
"Hey! major!" shouted the grenadier.
"Farewell!" a woman's voice called aloud.
An icy shiver ran through Philip de Sucy, and he dropped down where he
stood, overcome with cold and sorrow and weariness.
"My poor niece went out of her mind," the doctor added after a brief
pause. "Ah! monsieur," he went on, grasping M. d'Albon's hand, "what a
fearful life for a poor little thing, so young, so delicate! An unheard-of
misfortune separated her from that grenadier of the Garde (Fleuriot by
name), and for two years she was dragged on after the army, the
laughing-stock of a rabble of outcasts. She went barefoot, I heard,
ill-clad, neglected, and starved for months at a time; sometimes confined
to a hospital, sometimes living like a hunted animal. God alone knows all
the misery which she endured, and yet she lives. She was shut up in a
madhouse in a little German town, while her relations, believing her to be
dead, were dividing her property here in France.
"In 1816 the grenadier Fleuriot recognized her in an inn in Strasbourg.
She had just managed to escape from captivity. Some peasants told him that
the Countess had lived for a whole month in a forest, and how that they
had tracked her and tried to catch her without success.
"I was at that time not many leagues from Strasbourg; and hearing the talk
about the girl in the wood, I wished to verify the strange facts that had
given rise to absurd stories. What was my feeling when I beheld the
Countess? Fleuriot told me all that he knew of the piteous story. I took
the poor fellow with my niece into Auvergne, and there I had the
misfortune to lose him. He had some ascendancy over Mme. de Vandieres. He
alone succeeded in persuading her to wear clothes; and in those days her
one word of human speech—Farewell—she seldom uttered.
Fleuriot set himself to the task of awakening certain associations; but
there he failed completely; he drew that one sorrowful word from her a
little more frequently, that was all. But the old grenadier could amuse
her, and devoted himself to playing with her, and through him I hoped; but—"
here Stephanie's uncle broke off. After a moment he went on again.
"Here she has found another creature with whom she seems to have an
understanding—an idiot peasant girl, who once, in spite of her
plainness and imbecility, fell in love with a mason. The mason thought of
marrying her because she had a little bit of land, and for a whole year
poor Genevieve was the happiest of living creatures. She dressed in her
best, and danced on Sundays with Dallot; she understood love; there was
room for love in her heart and brain. But Dallot thought better of it. He
found another girl who had all her senses and rather more land than
Genevieve, and he forsook Genevieve for her. Then the poor thing lost the
little intelligence that love had developed in her; she can do nothing now
but cut grass and look after the cattle. My niece and the poor girl are in
some sort bound to each other by the invisible chain of their common
destiny, and by their madness due to the same cause. Just come here a
moment; look!" and Stephanie's uncle led the Marquis d'Albon to the
There, in fact, the magistrate beheld the pretty Countess sitting on the
ground at Genevieve's knee, while the peasant girl was wholly absorbed in
combing out Stephanie's long, black hair with a huge comb. The Countess
submitted herself to this, uttering low smothered cries that expressed her
enjoyment of the sensation of physical comfort. A shudder ran through M.
d'Albon as he saw her attitude of languid abandonment, the animal
supineness that revealed an utter lack of intelligence.
"Oh! Philip, Philip!" he cried, "past troubles are as nothing. Is it quite
hopeless?" he asked.
The doctor raised his eyes to heaven.
"Good-bye, monsieur," said M. d'Albon, pressing the old man's hand. "My
friend is expecting me; you will see him here before long."
"Then it is Stephanie herself?" cried Sucy when the Marquis had spoken the
first few words. "Ah! until now I did not feel sure!" he added. Tears
filled the dark eyes that were wont to wear a stern expression.
"Yes; she is the Comtesse de Vandieres," his friend replied.
The colonel started up, and hurriedly began to dress.
"Why, Philip!" cried the horrified magistrate. "Are you going mad?"
"I am quite well now," said the colonel simply. "This news has soothed all
my bitterest grief; what pain could hurt me while I think of Stephanie? I
am going over to the Minorite convent, to see her and speak to her, to
restore her to health again. She is free; ah, surely, surely, happiness
will smile on us, or there is no Providence above. How can you think she
could hear my voice, poor Stephanie, and not recover her reason?"
"She has seen you once already, and she did not recognize you," the
magistrate answered gently, trying to suggest some wholesome fears to this
friend, whose hopes were visibly too high.
The colonel shuddered, but he began to smile again, with a slight
involuntary gesture of incredulity. Nobody ventured to oppose his plans,
and a few hours later he had taken up his abode in the old priory, to be
near the doctor and the Comtesse de Vandieres.
"Where is she?" he cried at once.
"Hush!" answered M. Fanjat, Stephanie's uncle. "She is sleeping. Stay;
here she is."
Philip saw the poor distraught sleeper crouching on a stone bench in the
sun. Her thick hair, straggling over her face, screened it from the glare
and heat; her arms dropped languidly to the earth; she lay at ease as
gracefully as a fawn, her feet tucked up beneath her; her bosom rose and
fell with her even breathing; there was the same transparent whiteness as
of porcelain in her skin and complexion that we so often admire in
children's faces. Genevieve sat there motionless, holding a spray that
Stephanie doubtless had brought down from the top of one of the tallest
poplars; the idiot girl was waving the green branch above her, driving
away the flies from her sleeping companion, and gently fanning her.
She stared at M. Fanjat and the colonel as they came up; then, like a dumb
animal that recognizes its master, she slowly turned her face towards the
countess, and watched over her as before, showing not the slightest sign
of intelligence or of astonishment. The air was scorching. The glittering
particles of the stone bench shone like sparks of fire; the meadow sent up
the quivering vapors that hover above the grass and gleam like golden dust
when they catch the light, but Genevieve did not seem to feel the raging
The colonel wrung M. Fanjat's hands; the tears that gathered in the
soldier's eyes stole down his cheeks, and fell on the grass at Stephanie's
"Sir," said her uncle, "for these two years my heart has been broken
daily. Before very long you will be as I am; if you do not weep, you will
not feel your anguish the less."
"You have taken care of her!" said the colonel, and jealousy no less than
gratitude could be read in his eyes.
The two men understood one another. They grasped each other by the hand
again, and stood motionless, gazing in admiration at the serenity that
slumber had brought into the lovely face before them. Stephanie heaved a
sigh from time to time, and this sigh, that had all the appearance of
sensibility, made the unhappy colonel tremble with gladness.
"Alas!" M. Fanjat said gently, "do not deceive yourself, monsieur; as you
see her now, she is in full possession of such reason as she has."
Those who have sat for whole hours absorbed in the delight of watching
over the slumber of some tenderly-beloved one, whose waking eyes will
smile for them, will doubtless understand the bliss and anguish that shook
the colonel. For him this slumber was an illusion, the waking must be a
kind of death, the most dreadful of all deaths.
Suddenly a kid frisked in two or three bounds towards the bench and
snuffed at Stephanie. The sound awakened her; she sprang lightly to her
feet without scaring away the capricious creature; but as soon as she saw
Philip she fled, followed by her four-footed playmate, to a thicket of
elder-trees; then she uttered a little cry like the note of a startled
wild bird, the same sound that the colonel had heard once before near the
grating, when the Countess appeared to M. d'Albon for the first time. At
length she climbed into a laburnum-tree, ensconced herself in the feathery
greenery, and peered out at the strange man with as much interest
as the most inquisitive nightingale in the forest.
"Farewell, farewell, farewell," she said, but the soul sent no trace of
expression of feeling through the words, spoken with the careless
intonation of a bird's notes.
"She does not know me!" the colonel exclaimed in despair. "Stephanie! Here
is Philip, your Philip!... Philip!" and the poor soldier went towards the
laburnum-tree; but when he stood three paces away, the Countess eyed him
almost defiantly, though there was timidity in her eyes; then at a bound
she sprang from the laburnum to an acacia, and thence to a spruce-fir,
swinging from bough to bough with marvelous dexterity.
"Do not follow her," said M. Fanjat, addressing the colonel. "You would
arouse a feeling of aversion in her which might become insurmountable; I
will help you to make her acquaintance and to tame her. Sit down on the
bench. If you pay no heed whatever to her, poor child, it will not be long
before you will see her come nearer by degrees to look at you."
"That she should not know me; that she should fly from me!" the
colonel repeated, sitting down on a rustic bench and leaning his back
against a tree that overshadowed it.
He bowed his head. The doctor remained silent. Before very long the
Countess stole softly down from her high refuge in the spruce-fir,
flitting like a will-o'-the-wisp; for as the wind stirred the boughs, she
lent herself at times to the swaying movements of the trees. At each
branch she stopped and peered at the stranger; but as she saw him sitting
motionless, she at length jumped down to the grass, stood a while, and
came slowly across the meadow. When she took up her position by a tree
about ten paces from the bench, M. Fanjat spoke to the colonel in a low
"Feel in my pocket for some lumps of sugar," he said, "and let her see
them, she will come; I willingly give up to you the pleasure of giving her
sweetmeats. She is passionately fond of sugar, and by that means you will
accustom her to come to you and to know you."
"She never cared for sweet things when she was a woman," Philip answered
When he held out the lump of sugar between his thumb and finger, and shook
it, Stephanie uttered the wild note again, and sprang quickly towards him;
then she stopped short, there was a conflict between longing for the sweet
morsel and instinctive fear of him; she looked at the sugar, turned her
head away, and looked again like an unfortunate dog forbidden to touch
some scrap of food, while his master slowly recites the greater part of
the alphabet until he reaches the letter that gives permission. At length
the animal appetite conquered fear; Stephanie rushed to Philip, held out a
dainty brown hand to pounce upon the coveted morsel, touched her lover's
fingers, snatched the piece of sugar, and vanished with it into a thicket.
This painful scene was too much for the colonel; he burst into tears, and
took refuge in the drawing-room.
"Then has love less courage than affection?" M. Fanjat asked him. "I have
hope, Monsieur le Baron. My poor niece was once in a far more pitiable
state than at present."
"Is it possible?" cried Philip.
"She would not wear clothes," answered the doctor.
The colonel shuddered, and his face grew pale. To the doctor's mind this
pallor was an unhealthy symptom; he went over to him and felt his pulse.
M. de Sucy was in a high fever; by dint of persuasion, he succeeded in
putting the patient in bed, and gave him a few drops of laudanum to gain
repose and sleep.
The Baron de Sucy spent nearly a week, in a constant struggle with a
deadly anguish, and before long he had no tears left to shed. He was often
well-nigh heartbroken; he could not grow accustomed to the sight of the
Countess' madness; but he made terms for himself, as it were, in this
cruel position, and sought alleviations in his pain. His heroism was
boundless. He found courage to overcome Stephanie's wild shyness by
choosing sweetmeats for her, and devoted all his thoughts to this,
bringing these dainties, and following up the little victories that he set
himself to gain over Stephanie's instincts (the last gleam of intelligence
in her), until he succeeded to some extent—she grew tamer
than ever before. Every morning the colonel went into the park; and if,
after a long search for the Countess, he could not discover the tree in
which she was rocking herself gently, nor the nook where she lay crouching
at play with some bird, nor the roof where she had perched herself, he
would whistle the well-known air Partant pour la Syrie, which
recalled old memories of their love, and Stephanie would run towards him
lightly as a fawn. She saw the colonel so often that she was no longer
afraid of him; before very long she would sit on his knee with her thin,
lithe arms about him. And while thus they sat as lovers love to do, Philip
doled out sweetmeats one by one to the eager Countess. When they were all
finished, the fancy often took Stephanie to search through her lover's
pockets with a monkey's quick instinctive dexterity, till she had assured
herself that there was nothing left, and then she gazed at Philip with
vacant eyes; there was no thought, no gratitude in their clear depths.
Then she would play with him. She tried to take off his boots to see his
foot; she tore his gloves to shreds, and put on his hat; and she would let
him pass his hands through her hair, and take her in his arms, and submit
passively to his passionate kisses, and at last, if he shed tears, she
would gaze silently at him.
She quite understood the signal when he whistled Partant pour la Syrie,
but he could never succeed in inducing her to pronounce her own name—Stephanie.
Philip persevered in his heart-rending task, sustained by a hope that
never left him. If on some bright autumn morning he saw her sitting
quietly on a bench under a poplar tree, grown brown now as the season
wore, the unhappy lover would lie at her feet and gaze into her eyes as
long as she would let him gaze, hoping that some spark of intelligence
might gleam from them. At times he lent himself to an illusion; he would
imagine that he saw the hard, changeless light in them falter, that there
was a new life and softness in them, and he would cry, "Stephanie! oh,
Stephanie! you hear me, you see me, do you not?"
But for her the sound of his voice was like any other sound, the stirring
of the wind in the trees, or the lowing of the cow on which she scrambled;
and the colonel wrung his hands in a despair that lost none of its
bitterness; nay, time and these vain efforts only added to his anguish.
One evening, under the quiet sky, in the midst of the silence and peace of
the forest hermitage, M. Fanjat saw from a distance that the Baron was
busy loading a pistol, and knew that the lover had given up all hope. The
blood surged to the old doctor's heart; and if he overcame the dizzy
sensation that seized on him, it was because he would rather see his niece
live with a disordered brain than lose her for ever. He hurried to the
"What are you doing?" he cried.
"That is for me," the colonel answered, pointing to a loaded pistol on the
bench, "and this is for her!" he added, as he rammed down the wad into the
pistol that he held in his hands.
The Countess lay stretched out on the ground, playing with the balls.
"Then you do not know that last night, as she slept, she murmured
'Philip?'" said the doctor quietly, dissembling his alarm.
"She called my name?" cried the Baron, letting his weapon fall. Stephanie
picked it up, but he snatched it out of her hands, caught the other pistol
from the bench, and fled.
"Poor little one!" exclaimed the doctor, rejoicing that his stratagem had
succeeded so well. He held her tightly to his heart as he went on. "He
would have killed you, selfish that he is! He wants you to die because he
is unhappy. He cannot learn to love you for your own sake, little one! We
forgive him, do we not? He is senseless; you are only mad. Never mind; God
alone shall take you to Himself. We look upon you as unhappy because you
no longer share our miseries, fools that we are!... Why, she is happy," he
said, taking her on his knee; "nothing troubles her; she lives like the
birds, like the deer—"
Stephanie sprang upon a young blackbird that was hopping about, caught it
with a little shriek of glee, twisted its neck, looked at the dead bird,
and dropped it at the foot of a tree without giving it another thought.
The next morning at daybreak the colonel went out into the garden to look
for Stephanie; hope was very strong in him. He did not see her, and
whistled; and when she came, he took her arm, and for the first time they
walked together along an alley beneath the trees, while the fresh morning
wind shook down the dead leaves about them. The colonel sat down, and
Stephanie, of her own accord, lit upon his knee. Philip trembled with
"Love!" he cried, covering her hands with passionate kisses, "I am
She looked curiously at him.
"Come close," he added, as he held her tightly. "Do you feel the beating
of my heart? It has beat for you, for you only. I love you always. Philip
is not dead. He is here. You are sitting on his knee. You are my
Stephanie, I am your Philip."
"Farewell!" she said, "farewell!"
The colonel shivered. He thought that some vibration of his highly wrought
feeling had surely reached his beloved; that the heart-rending cry, drawn
from him by hope, the utmost effort of a love that must last for ever, of
passion in its ecstasy, striving to reach the soul of the woman he loved,
must awaken her.
"Oh, Stephanie! we shall be happy yet!"
A cry of satisfaction broke from her, a dim light of intelligence gleamed
in her eyes.
"She knows me!... Stephanie!..."
The colonel felt his heart swell, and tears gathered under his eyelids.
But all at once the Countess held up a bit of sugar for him to see; she
had discovered it by searching diligently for it while he spoke. What he
had mistaken for a human thought was a degree of reason required for a
monkey's mischievous trick!
Philip fainted. M. Fanjat found the Countess sitting on his prostrate
body. She was nibbling her bit of sugar, giving expression to her
enjoyment by little grimaces and gestures that would have been thought
clever in a woman in full possession of her senses if she tried to mimic
her paroquet or her cat.
"Oh, my friend!" cried Philip, when he came to himself. "This is like
death every moment of the day! I love her too much! I could bear anything
if only through her madness she had kept some little trace of womanhood.
But, day after day, to see her like a wild animal, not even a sense of
modesty left, to see her—"
"So you must have a theatrical madness, must you!" said the doctor
sharply, "and your prejudices are stronger than your lover's devotion?
What, monsieur! I resign to you the sad pleasure of giving my niece her
food, and the enjoyment of her playtime; I have kept for myself nothing
but the most burdensome cares. I watch over her while you are asleep, I—Go,
monsieur, and give up the task. Leave this dreary hermitage; I can live
with my little darling; I understand her disease; I study her movements; I
know her secrets. Some day you shall thank me."
The colonel left the Minorite convent, that he was destined to see only
once again. The doctor was alarmed by the effect that his words made upon
his guest; his niece's lover became as dear to him as his niece. If either
of them deserved to be pitied, that one was certainly Philip; did he not
bear alone the burden of an appalling sorrow?
The doctor made inquiries, and learned that the hapless colonel had
retired to a country house of his near Saint-Germain. A dream had
suggested to him a plan for restoring the Countess to reason, and the
doctor did not know that he was spending the rest of the autumn in
carrying out a vast scheme. A small stream ran through his park, and in
winter time flooded a low-lying land, something like the plain on the
eastern side of the Beresina. The village of Satout, on the slope of a
ridge above it, bounded the horizon of a picture of desolation, something
as Studzianka lay on the heights that shut in the swamp of the Beresina.
The colonel set laborers to work to make a channel to resemble the greedy
river that had swallowed up the treasures of France and Napoleon's army.
By the help of his memories, Philip reconstructed on his own lands the
bank where General Eble had built his bridges. He drove in piles, and then
set fire to them, so as to reproduce the charred and blackened balks of
timber that on either side of the river told the stragglers that their
retreat to France had been cut off. He had materials collected like the
fragments out of which his comrades in misfortune had made the raft; his
park was laid waste to complete the illusion on which his last hopes were
founded. He ordered ragged uniforms and clothing for several hundred
peasants. Huts and bivouacs and batteries were raised and burned down. In
short, he omitted no device that could reproduce that most hideous of all
scenes. He succeeded. When, in the earliest days of December, snow covered
the earth with a thick white mantle, it seemed to him that he saw the
Beresina itself. The mimic Russia was so startlingly real, that several of
his old comrades recognized the scene of their past sufferings. M. de Sucy
kept the secret of the drama to be enacted with this tragical background,
but it was looked upon as a mad freak in several circles of society in
In the early days of the month of January 1820, the colonel drove over to
the Forest of l'Isle-Adam in a carriage like the one in which M. and Mme.
de Vandieres had driven from Moscow to Studzianka. The horses closely
resembled that other pair that he had risked his life to bring from the
Russian lines. He himself wore the grotesque and soiled clothes,
accoutrements, and cap that he had worn on the 29th of November 1812. He
had even allowed his hair and beard to grow, and neglected his appearance,
that no detail might be lacking to recall the scene in all its horror.
"I guessed what you meant to do," cried M. Fanjat, when he saw the colonel
dismount. "If you mean your plan to succeed, do not let her see you in
that carriage. This evening I will give my niece a little laudanum, and
while she sleeps, we will dress her in such clothes as she wore at
Studzianka, and put her in your traveling-carriage. I will follow you in a
Soon after two o'clock in the morning, the young Countess was lifted into
the carriage, laid on the cushions, and wrapped in a coarse blanket. A few
peasants held torches while this strange elopement was arranged.
A sudden cry rang through the silence of night, and Philip and the doctor,
turning, saw Genevieve. She had come out half-dressed from the low room
where she slept.
"Farewell, farewell; it is all over, farewell!" she called, crying
"Why, Genevieve, what is it?" asked M. Fanjat.
Genevieve shook her head despairingly, raised her arm to heaven, looked at
the carriage, uttered a long snarling sound, and with evident signs of
profound terror, slunk in again.
"'Tis a good omen," cried the colonel. "The girl is sorry to lose her
companion. Very likely she sees that Stephanie is about to recover her
"God grant it may be so!" answered M. Fanjat, who seemed to be affected by
this incident. Since insanity had interested him, he had known several
cases in which a spirit of prophecy and the gift of second sight had been
accorded to a disordered brain—two faculties which many travelers
tell us are also found among savage tribes.
So it happened that, as the colonel had foreseen and arranged, Stephanie
traveled across the mimic Beresina about nine o'clock in the morning, and
was awakened by an explosion of rockets about a hundred paces from the
scene of action. It was a signal. Hundreds of peasants raised a terrible
clamor, like the despairing shouts that startled the Russians when twenty
thousand stragglers learned that by their own fault they were delivered
over to death or to slavery.
When the Countess heard the report and the cries that followed, she sprang
out of the carriage, and rushed in frenzied anguish over the snow-covered
plain; she saw the burned bivouacs and the fatal raft about to be launched
on a frozen Beresina. She saw Major Philip brandishing his sabre among the
crowd. The cry that broke from Mme. de Vandieres made the blood run cold
in the veins of all who heard it. She stood face to face with the colonel,
who watched her with a beating heart. At first she stared blankly at the
strange scene about her, then she reflected. For an instant, brief as a
lightning flash, there was the same quick gaze and total lack of
comprehension that we see in the bright eyes of a bird; then she passed
her hand across her forehead with the intelligent expression of a thinking
being; she looked round on the memories that had taken substantial form,
into the past life that had been transported into her present; she turned
her face to Philip—and saw him! An awed silence fell upon the crowd.
The colonel breathed hard, but dared not speak; tears filled the doctor's
eyes. A faint color overspread Stephanie's beautiful face, deepening
slowly, till at last she glowed like a girl radiant with youth. Still the
bright flush grew. Life and joy, kindled within her at the blaze of
intelligence, swept through her like leaping flames. A convulsive tremor
ran from her feet to her heart. But all these tokens, which flashed on the
sight in a moment, gathered and gained consistence, as it were, when
Stephanie's eyes gleamed with heavenly radiance, the light of a soul
within. She lived, she thought! She shuddered—was it with fear? God
Himself unloosed a second time the tongue that had been bound by death,
and set His fire anew in the extinguished soul. The electric torrent of
the human will vivified the body whence it had so long been absent.
"Stephanie!" the colonel cried.
"Oh! it is Philip!" said the poor Countess.
She fled to the trembling arms held out towards her, and the embrace of
the two lovers frightened those who beheld it. Stephanie burst into tears.
Suddenly the tears ceased to flow; she lay in his arms a dead weight, as
if stricken by a thunderbolt, and said faintly:
"Farewell, Philip!... I love you.... farewell!"
"She is dead!" cried the colonel, unclasping his arms.
The old doctor received the lifeless body of his niece in his arms as a
young man might have done; he carried her to a stack of wood and set her
down. He looked at her face, and laid a feeble hand, tremulous with
agitation, upon her heart—it beat no longer.
"Can it really be so?" he said, looking from the colonel, who stood there
motionless, to Stephanie's face. Death had invested it with a radiant
beauty, a transient aureole, the pledge, it may be, of a glorious life to
"Yes, she is dead."
"Oh, but that smile!" cried Philip; "only see that smile. Is it possible?"
"She has grown cold already," answered M. Fanjat.
M. de Sucy made a few strides to tear himself from the sight; then he
stopped, and whistled the air that the mad Stephanie had understood; and
when he saw that she did not rise and hasten to him, he walked away,
staggering like a drunken man, still whistling, but he did not turn again.
In society General de Sucy is looked upon as very agreeable, and above all
things, as very lively and amusing. Not very long ago a lady complimented
him upon his good humor and equable temper.
"Ah! madame," he answered, "I pay very dearly for my merriment in the
evening if I am alone."
"Then, you are never alone, I suppose."
"No," he answered, smiling.
If a keen observer of human nature could have seen the look that Sucy's
face wore at that moment, he would, without doubt, have shuddered.
"Why do you not marry?" the lady asked (she had several daughters of her
own at a boarding-school). "You are wealthy; you belong to an old and
noble house; you are clever; you have a future before you; everything
smiles upon you."
"Yes," he answered; "one smile is killing me—"
On the morrow the lady heard with amazement that M. de Sucy had shot
himself through the head that night.
The fashionable world discussed the extraordinary news in divers ways, and
each had a theory to account for it; play, love, ambition, irregularities
in private life, according to the taste of the speaker, explained the last
act of the tragedy begun in 1812. Two men alone, a magistrate and an old
doctor, knew that Monsieur le Comte de Sucy was one of those souls unhappy
in the strength God gives to them to enable them to triumph daily in a
ghastly struggle with a mysterious horror. If for a minute God withdraws
His sustaining hand, they succumb.
PARIS, March 1830.