Honore de Balzac
Etext prepared by John Bickers, email@example.com
and Dagny, firstname.lastname@example.org
by HONORE DE BALZAC
Katharine Prescott Wormeley
To Prince Frederic Schwartzenburg.
AN OLD MONASTERY
"Come, deputy of the Centre, forward! Quick step! march! if we want to
be in time to dine with the others. Jump, marquis! there, that's
right! why, you can skip across a stubble-field like a deer!"
These words were said by a huntsman peacefully seated at the edge of
the forest of Ile-Adam, who was finishing an Havana cigar while
waiting for his companion, who had lost his way in the tangled
underbrush of the wood. At his side four panting dogs were watching,
as he did, the personage he addressed. To understand how sarcastic
were these exhortations, repeated at intervals, we should state that
the approaching huntsman was a stout little man whose protuberant
stomach was the evidence of a truly ministerial "embonpoint." He was
struggling painfully across the furrows of a vast wheat-field recently
harvested, the stubble of which considerably impeded him; while to add
to his other miseries the sun's rays, striking obliquely on his face,
collected an abundance of drops of perspiration. Absorbed in the
effort to maintain his equilibrium, he leaned, now forward, now back,
in close imitation of the pitching of a carriage when violently
jolted. The weather looked threatening. Though several spaces of blue
sky still parted the thick black clouds toward the horizon, a flock of
fleecy vapors were advancing with great rapidity and drawing a light
gray curtain from east to west. As the wind was acting only on the
upper region of the air, the atmosphere below it pressed down the hot
vapors of the earth. Surrounded by masses of tall trees, the valley
through which the hunter struggled felt like a furnace. Parched and
silent, the forest seemed thirsty. The birds, even the insects, were
voiceless; the tree-tops scarcely waved. Those persons who may still
remember the summer of 1819 can imagine the woes of the poor deputy,
who was struggling along, drenched in sweat, to regain his mocking
friend. The latter, while smoking his cigar, had calculated from the
position of the sun that it must be about five in the afternoon.
"Where the devil are we?" said the stout huntsman, mopping his
forehead and leaning against the trunk of a tree nearly opposite to
his companion, for he felt unequal to the effort of leaping the ditch
"That's for me to ask you," said the other, laughing, as he lay among
the tall brown brake which crowned the bank. Then, throwing the end of
his cigar into the ditch, he cried out vehemently: "I swear by Saint
Hubert that never again will I trust myself in unknown territory with
a statesman, though he be, like you, my dear d'Albon, a college mate."
"But, Philippe, have you forgotten your French? Or have you left your
wits in Siberia?" replied the stout man, casting a sorrowfully comic
look at a sign-post about a hundred feet away.
"True, true," cried Philippe, seizing his gun and springing with a
bound into the field and thence to the post. "This way, d'Albon, this
way," he called back to his friend, pointing to a broad paved path and
reading aloud the sign: "'From Baillet to Ile-Adam.' We shall
certainly find the path to Cassan, which must branch from this one
between here and Ile-Adam."
"You are right, colonel," said Monsieur d'Albon, replacing upon his
head the cap with which he had been fanning himself.
"Forward then, my respectable privy councillor," replied Colonel
Philippe, whistling to the dogs, who seemed more willing to obey him
than the public functionary to whom they belonged.
"Are you aware, marquis," said the jeering soldier, "that we still
have six miles to go? That village over there must be Baillet."
"Good heavens!" cried the marquis, "go to Cassan if you must, but
you'll go alone. I prefer to stay here, in spite of the coming storm,
and wait for the horse you can send me from the chateau. You've played
me a trick, Sucy. We were to have had a nice little hunt not far from
Cassan, and beaten the coverts I know. Instead of that, you have kept
me running like a hare since four o'clock this morning, and all I've
had for breakfast is a cup of milk. Now, if you ever have a petition
before the Court, I'll make you lose it, however just your claim."
The poor discouraged huntsman sat down on a stone that supported the
signpost, relieved himself of his gun and his gamebag, and heaved a
"France! such are thy deputies!" exclaimed Colonel de Sucy, laughing.
"Ah! my poor d'Albon, if you had been like me six years in the wilds
He said no more, but he raised his eyes to heaven as if that anguish
were between himself and God.
"Come, march on!" he added. "If you sit still you are lost."
"How can I, Philippe? It is an old magisterial habit to sit still. On
my honor! I'm tired out-- If I had only killed a hare!"
The two men presented a rather rare contrast: the public functionary
was forty-two years of age and seemed no more than thirty, whereas the
soldier was thirty, and seemed forty at the least. Both wore the red
rosette of the officers of the Legion of honor. A few spare locks of
black hair mixed with white, like the wing of a magpie, escaped from
the colonel's cap, while handsome brown curls adorned the brow of the
statesman. One was tall, gallant, high-strung, and the lines of his
pallid face showed terrible passions or frightful griefs. The other
had a face that was brilliant with health, and jovially worth of an
epicurean. Both were deeply sun-burned, and their high gaiters of
tanned leather showed signs of the bogs and the thickets they had just
"Come," said Monsieur de Sucy, "let us get on. A short hour's march,
and we shall reach Cassan in time for a good dinner."
"It is easy to see you have never loved," replied the councillor, with
a look that was pitifully comic; "you are as relentless as article 304
of the penal code."
Philippe de Sucy quivered; his broad brow contracted; his face became
as sombre as the skies above them. Some memory of awful bitterness
distorted for a moment his features, but he said nothing. Like all
strong men, he drove down his emotions to the depths of his heart;
thinking perhaps, as simple characters are apt to think, that there
was something immodest in unveiling griefs when human language cannot
render their depths and may only rouse the mockery of those who do not
comprehend them. Monsieur d'Albon had one of those delicate natures
which divine sorrows, and are instantly sympathetic to the emotion
they have involuntarily aroused. He respected his friend's silence,
rose, forgot his fatigue, and followed him silently, grieved to have
touched a wound that was evidently not healed.
"Some day, my friend," said Philippe, pressing his hand, and thanking
him for his mute repentance by a heart-rending look, "I will relate to
you my life. To-day I cannot."
They continued their way in silence. When the colonel's pain seemed
soothed, the marquis resumed his fatigue; and with the instinct, or
rather the will, of a wearied man his eye took in the very depths of
the forest; he questioned the tree-tops and examined the branching
paths, hoping to discover some dwelling where he could ask
hospitality. Arriving at a cross-ways, he thought he noticed a slight
smoke rising among the trees; he stopped, looked more attentively, and
saw, in the midst of a vast copse, the dark-green branches of several
"A house! a house!" he cried, with the joy the sailor feels in crying
Then he sprang quickly into the copse, and the colonel, who had fallen
into a deep reverie, followed him mechanically.
"I'd rather get an omelet, some cottage bread, and a chair here," he
said, "than go to Cassan for sofas, truffles, and Bordeaux."
These words were an exclamation of enthusiasm, elicited from the
councillor on catching sight of a wall, the white towers of which
glimmered in the distance through the brown masses of the tree trunks.
"Ha! ha! this looks to me as if it had once been a priory," cried the
marquis, as they reached a very old and blackened gate, through which
they could see, in the midst of a large park, a building constructed
in the style of the monasteries of old. "How those rascals the monks
knew how to choose their sites!"
This last exclamation was an expression of surprise and pleasure at
the poetical hermitage which met his eyes. The house stood on the
slope of the mountain, at the summit of which is the village of
Nerville. The great centennial oaks of the forest which encircled the
dwelling made the place an absolute solitude. The main building,
formerly occupied by the monks, faced south. The park seemed to have
about forty acres. Near the house lay a succession of green meadows,
charmingly crossed by several clear rivulets, with here and there a
piece of water naturally placed without the least apparent artifice.
Trees of elegant shape and varied foliage were distributed about.
Grottos, cleverly managed, and massive terraces with dilapidated steps
and rusty railings, gave a peculiar character to this lone retreat.
Art had harmonized her constructions with the picturesque effects of
nature. Human passions seemed to die at the feet of those great trees,
which guarded this asylum from the tumult of the world as they shaded
it from the fires of the sun.
"How desolate!" thought Monsieur d'Albon, observing the sombre
expression which the ancient building gave to the landscape, gloomy as
though a curse were on it. It seemed a fatal spot deserted by man. Ivy
had stretched its tortuous muscles, covered by its rich green mantle,
everywhere. Brown or green, red or yellow mosses and lichen spread
their romantic tints on trees and seats and roofs and stones. The
crumbling window-casings were hollowed by rain, defaced by time; the
balconies were broken, the terraces demolished. Some of the outside
shutters hung from a single hinge. The rotten doors seemed quite
unable to resist an assailant. Covered with shining tufts of
mistletoe, the branches of the neglected fruit-trees gave no sign of
fruit. Grass grew in the paths. Such ruin and desolation cast a weird
poesy on the scene, filling the souls of the spectators with dreamy
thoughts. A poet would have stood there long, plunged in a melancholy
reverie, admiring this disorder so full of harmony, this destruction
which was not without its grace. Suddenly, the brown tiles shone, the
mosses glittered, fantastic shadows danced upon the meadows and
beneath the trees; fading colors revived; striking contrasts
developed, the foliage of the trees and shrubs defined itself more
clearly in the light. Then--the light went out. The landscape seemed
to have spoken, and now was silent, returning to its gloom, or rather
to the soft sad tones of an autumnal twilight.
"It is the palace of the Sleeping Beauty," said the marquis, beginning
to view the house with the eyes of a land owner. "I wonder to whom it
belongs! He must be a stupid fellow not to live in such an exquisite
At that instant a woman sprang from beneath a chestnut-tree standing
to the right of the gate, and, without making any noise, passed before
the marquis as rapidly as the shadow of a cloud. This vision made him
mute with surprise.
"Why, Albon, what's the matter?" asked the colonel.
"I am rubbing my eyes to know if I am asleep or awake," replied the
marquis, with his face close to the iron rails as he tried to get
another sight of the phantom.
"She must be beneath that fig-tree," he said, pointing to the foliage
of a tree which rose above the wall to the left of the gate.
"How can I tell?" replied Monsieur d'Albon. "A strange woman rose up
there, just before me," he said in a low voice; "she seemed to come
from the world of shades rather than from the land of the living. She
is so slender, so light, so filmy, she must be diaphanous. Her face
was as white as milk; her eyes, her clothes, her hair jet black. She
looked at me as she flitted by, and though I may say I'm no coward,
that cold immovable look froze the blood in my veins."
"Is she pretty?" asked Philippe.
"I don't know. I could see nothing but the eyes in that face."
"Well, let the dinner at Cassan go to the devil!" cried the colonel.
"Suppose we stay here. I have a sudden childish desire to enter that
singular house. Do you see those window-frames painted red, and the
red lines on the doors and shutters? Doesn't the place look to you as
if it belonged to the devil?--perhaps he inherited it from the monks.
Come, let us pursue the black and white lady--forward, march!" cried
Philippe, with forced gaiety.
At that instant the two huntsmen heard a cry that was something like
that of a mouse caught in a trap. They listened. The rustle of a few
shrubs sounded in the silence like the murmur of a breaking wave. In
vain they listened for other sounds; the earth was dumb, and kept the
secret of those light steps, if, indeed, the unknown woman moved at
"It is very singular!" said Philippe, as they skirted the park wall.
The two friends presently reached a path in the forest which led to
the village of Chauvry. After following this path some way toward the
main road to Paris, they came to another iron gate which led to the
principal facade of the mysterious dwelling. On this side the
dilapidation and disorder of the premises had reached their height.
Immense cracks furrowed the walls of the house, which was built on
three sides of a square. Fragments of tiles and slates lying on the
ground, and the dilapidated condition of the roofs, were evidence of a
total want of care on the part of the owners. The fruit had fallen
from the trees and lay rotting on the ground; a cow was feeding on the
lawn and treading down the flowers in the borders, while a goat
browsed on the shoots of the vines and munched the unripe grapes.
"Here all is harmony; the devastation seems organized," said the
colonel, pulling the chain of a bell; but the bell was without a
The huntsmen heard nothing but the curiously sharp noise of a rusty
spring. Though very dilapidated, a little door made in the wall beside
the iron gates resisted all their efforts to open it.
"Well, well, this is getting to be exciting," said de Sucy to his
"If I were not a magistrate," replied Monsieur d'Albon, "I should
think that woman was a witch."
As he said the words, the cow came to the iron gate and pushed her
warm muzzle towards them, as if she felt the need of seeing human
beings. Then a woman, if that name could be applied to the indefinable
being who suddenly issued from a clump of bushes, pulled away the cow
by its rope. This woman wore on her head a red handkerchief, beneath
which trailed long locks of hair in color and shape like the flax on a
distaff. She wore no fichu. A coarse woollen petticoat in black and
gray stripes, too short by several inches, exposed her legs. She might
have belonged to some tribe of Red-Skins described by Cooper, for her
legs, neck, and arms were the color of brick. No ray of intelligence
enlivened her vacant face. A few whitish hairs served her for
eyebrows; the eyes themselves, of a dull blue, were cold and wan; and
her mouth was so formed as to show the teeth, which were crooked, but
as white as those of a dog.
"Here, my good woman!" called Monsieur de Sucy.
She came very slowly to the gate, looking with a silly expression at
the two huntsmen, the sight of whom brought a forced and painful smile
to her face.
"Where are we? Whose house is this? Who are you? Do you belong here?"
To these questions and several others which the two friends
alternately addressed to her, she answered only with guttural sounds
that seemed more like the growl of an animal than the voice of a human
"She must be deaf and dumb," said the marquis.
"Bons-Hommes!" cried the peasant woman.
"Ah! I see. This is, no doubt, the old monastery of the Bons-Hommes,"
said the marquis.
He renewed his questions. But, like a capricious child, the peasant
woman colored, played with her wooden shoe, twisted the rope of the
cow, which was now feeding peaceably, and looked at the two hunters,
examining every part of their clothing; then she yelped, growled, and
clucked, but did not speak.
"What is your name?" said Philippe, looking at her fixedly, as if he
meant to mesmerize her.
"Genevieve," she said, laughing with a silly air.
"The cow is the most intelligent being we have seen so far," said the
marquis. "I shall fire my gun and see if that will being some one."
Just as d'Albon raised his gun, the colonel stopped him with a
gesture, and pointed to the form of a woman, probably the one who had
so keenly piqued his curiosity. At this moment she seemed lost in the
deepest meditation, and was coming with slow steps along a distant
pathway, so that the two friends had ample time to examine her.
She was dressed in a ragged gown of black satin. Her long hair fell in
masses of curls over her forehead, around her shoulders, and below her
waist, serving her for a shawl. Accustomed no doubt to this disorder,
she seldom pushed her hair from her forehead; and when she did so, it
was with a sudden toss of her head which only for a moment cleared her
forehead and eyes from the thick veil. Her gesture, like that of an
animal, had a remarkable mechanical precision, the quickness of which
seemed wonderful in a woman. The huntsmen were amazed to see her
suddenly leap up on the branch of an apple-tree, and sit there with
the ease of a bird. She gathered an apple and ate it; then she dropped
to the ground with the graceful ease we admire in a squirrel. Her
limbs possessed an elasticity which took from every movement the
slightest appearance of effort or constraint. She played upon the
turf, rolling herself about like a child; then, suddenly, she flung
her feet and hands forward, and lay at full length on the grass, with
the grace and natural ease of a young cat asleep in the sun. Thunder
sounded in the distance, and she turned suddenly, rising on her hands
and knees with the rapidity of a dog which hears a coming footstep.
The effects of this singular attitude was to separate into two heavy
masses the volume of her black hair, which now fell on either side of
her head, and allowed the two spectators to admire the white shoulders
glistening like daisies in a field, and the throat, the perfection of
which allowed them to judge of the other beauties of her figure.
Suddenly she uttered a distressful cry and rose to her feet. Her
movements succeeded each other with such airiness and grace that she
seemed not a creature of this world but a daughter of the atmosphere,
as sung in the poems of Ossian. She ran toward a piece of water, shook
one of her legs lightly to cast off her shoe, and began to dabble her
foot, white as alabaster, in the current, admiring, perhaps, the
undulations she thus produced upon the surface of the water. Then she
knelt down at the edge of the stream and amused herself, like a child,
in casting in her long tresses and pulling them abruptly out, to watch
the shower of drops that glittered down, looking, as the sunlight
struck athwart them, like a chaplet of pearls.
"That woman is mad!" cried the marquis.
A hoarse cry, uttered by Genevieve, seemed uttered as a warning to the
unknown woman, who turned suddenly, throwing back her hair from either
side of her face. At this instant the colonel and Monsieur d'Albon
could distinctly see her features; she, herself, perceiving the two
friends, sprang to the iron railing with the lightness and rapidity of
"Adieu!" she said, in a soft, harmonious voice, the melody of which
did not convey the slightest feeling or the slightest thought.
Monsieur d'Albon admired the long lashes of her eyelids, the blackness
of her eyebrows, and the dazzling whiteness of a skin devoid of even
the faintest tinge of color. Tiny blue veins alone broke the
uniformity of its pure white tones. When the marquis turned to his
friend as if to share with him his amazement at the sight of this
singular creature, he found him stretched on the ground as if dead.
D'Albon fired his gun in the air to summon assistance, crying out
"Help! help!" and then endeavored to revive the colonel. At the sound
of the shot, the unknown woman, who had hitherto stood motionless,
fled away with the rapidity of an arrow, uttering cries of fear like a
wounded animal, and running hither and thither about the meadow with
every sign of the greatest terror.
Monsieur d'Albon, hearing the rumbling of a carriage on the high-road
to Ile-Adam, waved his handkerchief and shouted to its occupants for
assistance. The carriage was immediately driven up to the old
monastery, and the marquis recognized his neighbors, Monsieur and
Madame de Granville, who at once gave up their carriage to the service
of the two gentlemen. Madame de Granville had with her, by chance, a
bottle of salts, which revived the colonel for a moment. When he
opened his eyes he turned them to the meadow, where the unknown woman
was still running and uttering her distressing cries. A smothered
exclamation escaped him, which seemed to express a sense of horror;
then he closed his eyes again, and made a gesture as if to implore his
friend to remove him from that sight.
Monsieur and Madame de Granville placed their carriage entirely at the
disposal of the marquis, assuring him courteously that they would like
to continue their way on foot.
"Who is that lady?" asked the marquis, signing toward the unknown
"I believe she comes from Moulins," replied Monsieur de Granville.
"She is the Comtesse de Vandieres, and they say she is mad; but as she
has only been here two months I will not vouch for the truth of these
Monsieur d'Albon thanked his friends, and placing the colonel in the
carriage, started with him for Cassan.
"It is she!" cried Philippe, recovering his senses.
"Who is she?" asked d'Albon.
"Stephanie. Ah, dead and living, living and mad! I fancied I was
The prudent marquis, appreciating the gravity of the crisis through
which his friend was passing, was careful not to question or excite
him; he was only anxious to reach the chateau, for the change which
had taken place in the colonel's features, in fact in his whole
person, made him fear for his friend's reason. As soon, therefore, as
the carriage had reached the main street of Ile-Adam, he dispatched
the footman to the village doctor, so that the colonel was no sooner
fairly in his bed at the chateau than the physician was beside him.
"If monsieur had not been many hours without food the shock would have
killed him," said the doctor.
After naming the first precautions, the doctor left the room, to
prepare, himself, a calming potion. The next day, Monsieur de Sucy was
better, but the doctor still watched him carefully.
"I will admit to you, monsieur le marquis," he said, "that I have
feared some affection of the brain. Monsieur de Sucy has received a
violent shock; his passions are strong; but, in him, the first blow
decides all. To-morrow he may be entirely out of danger."
The doctor was not mistaken; and the following day he allowed the
marquis to see his friend.
"My dear d'Albon," said Philippe, pressing his hand, "I am going to
ask a kindness of you. Go to the Bons-Hommes, and find out all you can
of the lady we saw there; and return to me as quickly as you can; I
shall count the minutes."
Monsieur d'Albon mounted his horse at once, and galloped to the old
abbey. When he arrived there, he saw before the iron gate a tall,
spare man with a very kindly face, who answered in the affirmative
when asked if he lived there. Monsieur d'Albon then informed him of
the reasons for his visit.
"What! monsieur," said the other, "was it you who fired that fatal
shot? You very nearly killed my poor patient."
"But, monsieur, I fired in the air."
"You would have done the countess less harm had you fired at her."
"Then we must not reproach each other, monsieur, for the sight of the
countess has almost killed my friend, Monsieur de Sucy."
"Heavens! can you mean Baron Philippe de Sucy?" cried the doctor,
clasping his hands. "Did he go to Russia; was he at the passage of the
"Yes," replied d'Albon, "he was captured by the Cossacks and kept for
five years in Siberia; he recovered his liberty a few months ago."
"Come in, monsieur," said the master of the house, leading the marquis
into a room on the lower floor where everything bore the marks of
capricious destruction. The silken curtains beside the windows were
torn, while those of muslin remained intact.
"You see," said the tall old man, as they entered, "the ravages
committed by that dear creature, to whom I devote myself. She is my
niece; in spite of the impotence of my art, I hope some day to restore
her reason by attempting a method which can only be employed,
unfortunately, by very rich people."
Then, like all persons living in solitude who are afflicted with an
ever present and ever renewed grief, he related to the marquis at
length the following narrative, which is here condensed, and relieved
of the many digressions made by both the narrator and the listener.
THE PASSAGE OF THE BERESINA
Marechal Victor, when he started, about nine at night, from the
heights of Studzianka, which he had defended, as the rear-guard of the
retreating army, during the whole day of November 28th, 1812, left a
thousand men behind him, with orders to protect to the last possible
moment whichever of the two bridges across the Beresina might still
exist. This rear-guard had devoted itself to the task of saving a
frightful multitude of stragglers overcome by the cold, who
obstinately refused to leave the bivouacs of the army. The heroism of
this generous troop proved useless. The stragglers who flocked in
masses to the banks of the Beresina found there, unhappily, an immense
number of carriages, caissons, and articles of all kinds which the
army had been forced to abandon when effecting its passage of the
river on the 27th and 28th of November. Heirs to such unlooked-for
riches, the unfortunate men, stupid with cold, took up their abode in
the deserted bivouacs, broke up the material which they found there to
build themselves cabins, made fuel of everything that came to hand,
cut up the frozen carcasses of the horses for food, tore the cloth and
the curtains from the carriages for coverlets, and went to sleep,
instead of continuing their way and crossing quietly during the night
that cruel Beresina, which an incredible fatality had already made so
destructive to the army.
The apathy of these poor soldiers can only be conceived by those who
remember to have crossed vast deserts of snow without other
perspective than a snow horizon, without other drink than snow,
without other bed than snow, without other food than snow or a few
frozen beet-roots, a few handfuls of flour, or a little horseflesh.
Dying of hunger, thirst, fatigue, and want of sleep, these
unfortunates reached a shore where they saw before them wood,
provisions, innumerable camp equipages, and carriages,--in short a
whole town at their service. The village of Studzianka had been wholly
taken to pieces and conveyed from the heights on which it stood to the
plain. However forlorn and dangerous that refuge might be, its
miseries and its perils only courted men who had lately seen nothing
before them but the awful deserts of Russia. It was, in fact, a vast
asylum which had an existence of twenty-four hours only.
Utter lassitude, and the sense of unexpected comfort, made that mass
of men inaccessible to every thought but that of rest. Though the
artillery of the left wing of the Russians kept up a steady fire on
this mass,--visible like a stain now black, now flaming, in the midst
of the trackless snow,--this shot and shell seemed to the torpid
creatures only one inconvenience the more. It was like a thunderstorm,
despised by all because the lightning strikes so few; the balls struck
only here and there, the dying, the sick, the dead sometimes!
Stragglers arrived in groups continually; but once here those
perambulating corpses separated; each begged for himself a place near
a fire; repulsed repeatedly, they met again, to obtain by force the
hospitality already refused to them. Deaf to the voice of some of
their officers, who warned them of probable destruction on the morrow,
they spent the amount of courage necessary to cross the river in
building that asylum of a night, in making one meal that they
themselves doomed to be their last. The death that awaited them they
considered no evil, provided they could have that one night's sleep.
They thought nothing evil but hunger, thirst, and cold. When there was
no more wood or food or fire, horrible struggles took place between
fresh-comers and the rich who possessed a shelter. The weakest
At last there came a moment when a number, pursued by the Russians,
found only snow on which to bivouac, and these lay down to rise no
more. Insensibly this mass of almost annihilated beings became so
compact, so deaf, so torpid, so happy perhaps, that Marechal Victor,
who had been their heroic defender by holding twenty thousand Russians
under Wittgenstein at bay, was forced to open a passage by main force
through this forest of men in order to cross the Beresina with five
thousand gallant fellows whom he was taking to the emperor. The
unfortunate malingerers allowed themselves to be crushed rather than
stir; they perished in silence, smiling at their extinguished fires,
without a thought of France.
It was not until ten o'clock that night that Marechal Victor reached
the bank of the river. Before crossing the bridge which led to Zembin,
he confided the fate of his own rear-guard now left in Studzianka to
Eble, the savior of all those who survived the calamities of the
Beresina. It was towards midnight when this great general, followed by
one brave officer, left the cabin he occupied near the bridge, and
studied the spectacle of that improvised camp placed between the bank
of the river and Studzianka. The Russian cannon had ceased to thunder.
Innumerable fires, which, amid that trackless waste of snow, burned
pale and scarcely sent out any gleams, illumined here and there by
sudden flashes forms and faces that were barely human. Thirty thousand
poor wretches, belonging to all nations, from whom Napoleon had
recruited his Russian army, were trifling away their lives with
"Let us save them!" said General Eble to the officer who accompanied
him. "To-morrow morning the Russians will be masters of Studzianka. We
must burn the bridge the moment they appear. Therefore, my friend,
take your courage in your hand! Go to the heights. Tell General
Fournier he has barely time to evacuate his position, force a way
through this crowd, and cross the bridge. When you have seen him in
motion follow him. Find men you can trust, and the moment Fournier had
crossed the bridge, burn, without pity, huts, equipages, caissons,
carriages,--EVERYTHING! Drive that mass of men to the bridge. Compel
all that has two legs to get to the other side of the river. The
burning of everything--EVERYTHING--is now our last resource. If
Berthier had let me destroy those damned camp equipages, this river
would swallow only my poor pontoniers, those fifty heroes who will
save the army, but who themselves will be forgotten."
The general laid his hand on his forehead and was silent. He felt that
Poland would be his grave, and that no voice would rise to do justice
to those noble men who stood in the water, the icy water of Beresina,
to destroy the buttresses of the bridges. One alone of those heroes
still lives--or, to speak more correctly, suffers--in a village,
The aide-de-camp started. Hardly had this generous officer gone a
hundred yards towards Studzianka than General Eble wakened a number of
his weary pontoniers, and began the work,--the charitable work of
burning the bivouacs set up about the bridge, and forcing the
sleepers, thus dislodged, to cross the river.
Meanwhile the young aide-de-camp reached, not without difficulty, the
only wooden house still left standing in Studzianka.
"This barrack seems pretty full, comrade," he said to a man whom he
saw by the doorway.
"If you can get in you'll be a clever trooper," replied the officer,
without turning his head or ceasing to slice off with his sabre the
bark of the logs of which the house was built.
"Is that you, Philippe?" said the aide-de-camp, recognizing a friend
by the tones of his voice.
"Yes. Ha, ha! is it you, old fellow?" replied Monsieur de Sucy,
looking at the aide-de-camp, who, like himself, was only twenty-three
years of age. "I thought you were the other side of that cursed river.
What are you here for? Have you brought cakes and wine for our
dessert? You'll be welcome," and he went on slicing off the bark,
which he gave as a sort of provender to his horse.
"I am looking for your commander to tell him, from General Eble, to
make for Zembin. You'll have barely enough time to get through that
crowd of men below. I am going presently to set fire to their camp and
force them to march."
"You warm me up--almost! That news makes me perspire. I have two
friends I MUST save. Ah! without those two to cling to me, I should be
dead already. It is for them that I feed my horse and don't eat
myself. Have you any food,--a mere crust? It is thirty hours since
anything has gone into my stomach, and yet I have fought like a madman
--just to keep a little warmth and courage in me."
"Poor Philippe, I have nothing--nothing! But where's your general,--in
"No, don't go there; the place is full of wounded. Go up the street;
you'll find on your left a sort of pig-pen; the general is there.
Good-bye, old fellow. If we ever dance a trenis on a Paris floor--"
He did not end his sentence; the north wind blew at that moment with
such ferocity that the aide-de-camp hurried on to escape being frozen,
and the lips of Major de Sucy stiffened. Silence reigned, broken only
by the moans which came from the house, and the dull sound made by the
major's horse as it chewed in a fury of hunger the icy bark of the
trees with which the house was built. Monsieur de Sucy replaced his
sabre in its scabbard, took the bridle of the precious horse he had
hitherto been able to preserve, and led it, in spite of the animal's
resistance, from the wretched fodder it appeared to think excellent.
"We'll start, Bichette, we'll start! There's none but you, my beauty,
who can save Stephanie. Ha! by and bye you and I may be able to rest--
and die," he added.
Philippe, wrapped in a fur pelisse, to which he owed his preservation
and his energy, began to run, striking his feet hard upon the frozen
snow to keep them warm. Scarcely had he gone a few hundred yards from
the village than he saw a blaze in the direction of the place where,
since morning, he had left his carriage in charge of his former
orderly, an old soldier. Horrible anxiety laid hold of him. Like all
others who were controlled during this fatal retreat by some powerful
sentiment, he found a strength to save his friends which he could not
have put forth to save himself.
Presently he reached a slight declivity at the foot of which, in a
spot sheltered from the enemy's balls, he had stationed the carriage,
containing a young woman, the companion of his childhood, the being
most dear to him on earth. At a few steps distant from the vehicle he
now found a company of some thirty stragglers collected around an
immense fire, which they were feeding with planks, caisson covers,
wheels, and broken carriages. These soldiers were, no doubt, the last
comers of that crowd who, from the base of the hill of Studzianka to
the fatal river, formed an ocean of heads intermingled with fires and
huts,--a living sea, swayed by motions that were almost imperceptible,
and giving forth a murmuring sound that rose at times to frightful
outbursts. Driven by famine and despair, these poor wretches must have
rifled the carriage before de Sucy reached it. The old general and his
young wife, whom he had left lying in piles of clothes and wrapped in
mantles and pelisses, were now on the snow, crouching before the fire.
One door of the carriage was already torn off.
No sooner did the men about the fire hear the tread of the major's
horse than a hoarse cry, the cry of famine, arose,--
"A horse! a horse!"
Those voices formed but one voice.
"Back! back! look out for yourself!" cried two or three soldiers,
aiming at the mare. Philippe threw himself before his animal, crying
"You villains! I'll throw you into your own fire. There are plenty of
dead horses up there. Go and fetch them."
"Isn't he a joker, that officer! One, two--get out of the way," cried
a colossal grenadier. "No, you won't, hey! Well, as you please, then."
A woman's cry rose higher than the report of the musket. Philippe
fortunately was not touched, but Bichette, mortally wounded, was
struggling in the throes of death. Three men darted forward and
dispatched her with their bayonets.
"Cannibals!" cried Philippe, "let me at any rate take the horse-cloth
and my pistols."
"Pistols, yes," replied the grenadier. "But as for that horse-cloth,
no! here's a poor fellow afoot, with nothing in his stomach for two
days, and shivering in his rags. It is our general."
Philippe kept silence as he looked at the man, whose boots were worn
out, his trousers torn in a dozen places, while nothing but a ragged
fatigue-cap covered with ice was on his head. He hastened, however, to
take his pistols. Five men dragged the mare to the fire, and cut her
up with the dexterity of a Parisian butcher. The pieces were instantly
seized and flung upon the embers.
The major went up to the young woman, who had uttered a cry on
recognizing him. He found her motionless, seated on a cushion beside
the fire. She looked at him silently, without smiling. Philippe then
saw the soldier to whom he had confided the carriage; the man was
wounded. Overcome by numbers, he had been forced to yield to the
malingerers who attacked him; and, like the dog who defended to the
last possible moment his master's dinner, he had taken his share of
the booty, and was now sitting beside the fire, wrapped in a white
sheet by way of cloak, and turning carefully on the embers a slice of
the mare. Philippe saw upon his face the joy these preparations gave
him. The Comte de Vandieres, who, for the last few days, had fallen
into a state of second childhood, was seated on a cushion beside his
wife, looking fixedly at the fire, which was beginning to thaw his
torpid limbs. He had shown no emotion of any kind, either at
Philippe's danger, or at the fight which ended in the pillage of the
carriage and their expulsion from it.
At first de Sucy took the hand of the young countess, as if to show
her his affection, and the grief he felt at seeing her reduced to such
utter misery; then he grew silent; seated beside her on a heap of snow
which was turning into a rivulet as it melted, he yielded himself up
to the happiness of being warm, forgetting their peril, forgetting all
things. His face assumed, in spite of himself, an expression of almost
stupid joy, and he waited with impatience until the fragment of the
mare given to his orderly was cooked. The smell of the roasting flesh
increased his hunger, and his hunger silenced his heart, his courage,
and his love. He looked, without anger, at the results of the pillage
of his carriage. All the men seated around the fire had shared his
blankets, cushions, pelisses, robes, also the clothing of the Comte
and Comtesse de Vandieres and his own. Philippe looked about him to
see if there was anything left in or near the vehicle that was worth
saving. By the light of the flames he saw gold and diamonds and plate
scattered everywhere, no one having thought it worth his while to take
Each of the individuals collected by chance around this fire
maintained a silence that was almost horrible, and did nothing but
what he judged necessary for his own welfare. Their misery was even
grotesque. Faces, discolored by cold, were covered with a layer of
mud, on which tears had made a furrow from the eyes to the beard,
showing the thickness of that miry mask. The filth of their long
beards made these men still more repulsive. Some were wrapped in the
countess's shawls, others wore the trappings of horses and muddy
saddlecloths, or masses of rags from which the hoar-frost hung; some
had a boot on one leg and a shoe on the other; in fact, there were
none whose costume did not present some laughable singularity. But in
presence of such amusing sights the men themselves were grave and
gloomy. The silence was broken only by the snapping of the wood, the
crackling of the flames, the distant murmur of the camps, and the
blows of the sabre given to what remained of Bichette in search of her
tenderest morsels. A few miserable creatures, perhaps more weary than
the rest, were sleeping; when one of their number rolled into the fire
no one attempted to help him out. These stern logicians argued that if
he were not dead his burns would warn him to find a safer place. If
the poor wretch waked in the flames and perished, no one cared. Two or
three soldiers looked at each other to justify their own indifference
by that of others. Twice this scene had taken place before the eyes of
the countess, who said nothing. When the various pieces of Bichette,
placed here and there upon the embers, were sufficiently broiled, each
man satisfied his hunger with the gluttony that disgusts us when we
see it in animals.
"This is the first time I ever saw thirty infantrymen on one horse,"
cried the grenadier who had shot the mare.
It was the only jest made that night which proved the national
Soon the great number of these poor soldiers wrapped themselves in
what they could find and lay down on planks, or whatever would keep
them from contact with the snow, and slept, heedless of the morrow.
When the major was warm, and his hunger appeased, an invincible desire
to sleep weighed down his eyelids. During the short moment of his
struggle against that desire he looked at the young woman, who had
turned her face to the fire and was now asleep, leaving her closed
eyes and a portion of her forehead exposed to sight. She was wrapped
in a furred pelisse and a heavy dragoon's cloak; her head rested on a
pillow stained with blood; an astrakhan hood, kept in place by a
handkerchief knotted round her neck, preserved her face from the cold
as much as possible. Her feet were wrapped in the cloak. Thus rolled
into a bundle, as it were, she looked like nothing at all. Was she the
last of the "vivandieres"? Was she a charming woman, the glory of a
lover, the queen of Parisian salons? Alas! even the eye of her most
devoted friend could trace no sign of anything feminine in that mass
of rags and tatters. Love had succumbed to cold in the heart of a
Through the thick veils of irresistible sleep, the major soon saw the
husband and wife as mere points or formless objects. The flames of the
fire, those outstretched figures, the relentless cold, waiting, not
three feet distant from that fugitive heat, became all a dream. One
importunate thought terrified Philippe:
"If I sleep, we shall all die; I will not sleep," he said to himself.
And yet he slept.
A terrible clamor and an explosion awoke him an hour later. The sense
of his duty, the peril of his friend, fell suddenly on his heart. He
uttered a cry that was like a roar. He and his orderly were alone
afoot. A sea of fire lay before them in the darkness of the night,
licking up the cabins and the bivouacs; cries of despair, howls, and
imprecations reached their ears; they saw against the flames thousands
of human beings with agonized or furious faces. In the midst of that
hell, a column of soldiers was forcing its way to the bridge, between
two hedges of dead bodies.
"It is the retreat of the rear-guard!" cried the major. "All hope is
"I have saved your carriage, Philippe," said a friendly voice.
Turning round, de Sucy recognized the young aide-de-camp in the
flaring of the flames.
"Ah! all is lost!" replied the major, "they have eaten my horse; and
how can I make this stupid general and his wife walk?"
"Take a brand from the fire and threaten them."
"Threaten the countess!"
"Good-bye," said the aide-de-camp, "I have scarcely time to get across
that fatal river--and I MUST; I have a mother in France. What a night!
These poor wretches prefer to lie here in the snow; half will allow
themselves to perish in those flames rather than rise and move on. It
is four o'clock, Philippe! In two hours the Russians will begin to
move. I assure you you will again see the Beresina choked with
corpses. Philippe! think of yourself! You have no horses, you cannot
carry the countess in your arms. Come--come with me!" he said
urgently, pulling de Sucy by the arm.
"My friend! abandon Stephanie!"
De Sucy seized the countess, made her stand upright, shook her with
the roughness of a despairing man, and compelled her to wake up. She
looked at him with fixed, dead eyes.
"You must walk, Stephanie, or we shall all die here."
For all answer the countess tried to drop again upon the snow and
sleep. The aide-de-camp seized a brand from the fire and waved it in
"We will save her in spite of herself!" cried Philippe, lifting the
countess and placing her in the carriage.
He returned to implore the help of his friend. Together they lifted
the old general, without knowing whether he were dead or alive, and
put him beside his wife. The major then rolled over the men who were
sleeping on his blankets, which he tossed into the carriage, together
with some roasted fragments of his mare.
"What do you mean to do?" asked the aide-de-camp.
"You are crazy."
"True," said Philippe, crossing his arms in despair.
Suddenly, he was seized by a last despairing thought.
"To you," he said, grasping the sound arm of his orderly, "I confide
her for one hour. Remember that you must die sooner than let any one
The major then snatched up the countess's diamonds, held them in one
hand, drew his sabre with the other, and began to strike with the flat
of its blade such of the sleepers as he thought the most intrepid. He
succeeded in awaking the colossal grenadier, and two other men whose
rank it was impossible to tell.
"We are done for!" he said.
"I know it," said the grenadier, "but I don't care."
"Well, death for death, wouldn't you rather sell your life for a
pretty woman, and take your chances of seeing France?"
"I'd rather sleep," said a man, rolling over on the snow, "and if you
trouble me again, I'll stick my bayonet into your stomach."
"What is the business, my colonel?" said the grenadier. "That man is
drunk; he's a Parisian; he likes his ease."
"That is yours, my brave grenadier," cried the major, offering him a
string of diamonds, "if you will follow me and fight like a madman.
The Russians are ten minutes' march from here; they have horses; we
are going up to their first battery for a pair."
"But the sentinels?"
"One of us three--" he interrupted himself, and turned to the aide-de-
camp. "You will come, Hippolyte, won't you?"
"One of us," continued the major, "will take care of the sentinel.
Besides, perhaps they are asleep too, those cursed Russians."
"Forward! major, you're a brave one! But you'll give me a lift on your
carriage?" said the grenadier.
"Yes, if you don't leave your skin up there-- If I fall, Hippolyte,
and you, grenadier, promise me to do your utmost to save the
"Agreed!" cried the grenadier.
They started for the Russian lines, toward one of the batteries which
had so decimated the hapless wretches lying on the banks of the river.
A few moments later, the gallop of two horses echoed over the snow,
and the wakened artillery men poured out a volley which ranged above
the heads of the sleeping men. The pace of the horses was so fleet
that their steps resounded like the blows of a blacksmith on his
anvil. The generous aide-de-camp was killed. The athletic grenadier
was safe and sound. Philippe in defending Hippolyte had received a
bayonet in his shoulder; but he clung to his horse's mane, and clasped
him so tightly with his knees that the animal was held as in a vice.
"God be praised!" cried the major, finding his orderly untouched, and
the carriage in its place.
"If you are just, my officer, you will get me the cross for this,"
said the man. "We've played a fine game of guns and sabres here, I can
"We have done nothing yet-- Harness the horses. Take these ropes."
"They are not long enough."
"Grenadier, turn over those sleepers, and take their shawls and linen,
to eke out."
"Tiens! that's one dead," said the grenadier, stripping the first man
he came to. "Bless me! what a joke, they are all dead!"
"Yes, all; seems as if horse-meat must be indigestible if eaten with
The words made Philippe tremble. The cold was increasing.
"My God! to lose the woman I have saved a dozen times!"
The major shook the countess.
The young woman opened her eyes.
"Madame! we are saved."
"Saved!" she repeated, sinking down again.
The horses were harnessed as best they could. The major, holding his
sabre in his well hand, with his pistols in his belt, gathered up the
reins with the other hand and mounted one horse while the grenadier
mounted the other. The orderly, whose feet were frozen, was thrown
inside the carriage, across the general and the countess. Excited by
pricks from a sabre, the horses drew the carriage rapidly, with a sort
of fury, to the plain, where innumerable obstacles awaited it. It was
impossible to force a way without danger of crushing the sleeping men,
women, and even children, who refused to move when the grenadier awoke
them. In vain did Monsieur de Sucy endeavor to find the swathe cut by
the rear-guard through the mass of human beings; it was already
obliterated, like the wake of a vessel through the sea. They could
only creep along, being often stopped by soldiers who threatened to
kill their horses.
"Do you want to reach the bridge?" said the grenadier.
"At the cost of my life--at the cost of the whole world!"
"Then forward, march! you can't make omelets without breaking eggs."
And the grenadier of the guard urged the horses over men and bivouacs
with bloody wheels and a double line of corpses on either side of
them. We must do him the justice to say that he never spared his
breath in shouting in stentorian tones,--
"Look out there, carrion!"
"Poor wretches!" cried the major.
"Pooh! that or the cold, that or the cannon," said the grenadier,
prodding the horses, and urging them on.
A catastrophe, which might well have happened to them much sooner, put
a stop to their advance. The carriage was overturned.
"I expected it," cried the imperturbable grenadier. "Ho! ho! your man
"Poor Laurent!" said the major.
"Laurent? Was he in the 5th chasseurs?"
"Then he was my cousin. Oh, well, this dog's life isn't happy enough
to waste any joy in grieving for him."
The carriage could not be raised; the horses were taken out with
serious and, as it proved, irreparable loss of time. The shock of the
overturn was so violent that the young countess, roused from her
lethargy, threw off her coverings and rose.
"Philippe, where are we?" she cried in a gentle voice, looking about
"Only five hundred feet from the bridge. We are now going to cross the
Beresina, Stephanie, and once across I will not torment you any more;
you shall sleep; we shall be in safety, and can reach Wilna easily.--
God grant that she may never know what her life has cost!" he thought.
"Philippe! you are wounded!"
"That is nothing."
Too late! the fatal hour had come. The Russian cannon sounded the
reveille. Masters of Studzianka, they could sweep the plain, and by
daylight the major could see two of their columns moving and forming
on the heights. A cry of alarm arose from the multitude, who started
to their feet in an instant. Every man now understood his danger
instinctively, and the whole mass rushed to gain the bridge with the
motion of a wave.
The Russians came down with the rapidity of a conflagration. Men,
women, children, horses,--all rushed tumultuously to the bridge.
Fortunately the major, who was carrying the countess, was still some
distance from it. General Eble had just set fire to the supports on
the other bank. In spite of the warnings shouted to those who were
rushing upon the bridge, not a soul went back. Not only did the bridge
go down crowded with human beings, but the impetuosity of that flood
of men toward the fatal bank was so furious that a mass of humanity
poured itself violently into the river like an avalanche. Not a cry
was heard; the only sound was like the dropping of monstrous stones
into the water. Then the Beresina was a mass of floating corpses.
The retrograde movement of those who now fell back into the plain to
escape the death before them was so violent, and their concussion
against those who were advancing from the rear so terrible, that
numbers were smothered or trampled to death. The Comte and Comtesse de
Vandieres owed their lives to their carriage, behind which Philippe
forced them, using it as a breastwork. As for the major and the
grenadier, they found their safety in their strength. They killed to
escape being killed.
This hurricane of human beings, the flux and reflux of living bodies,
had the effect of leaving for a few short moments the whole bank of
the Beresina deserted. The multitude were surging to the plain. If a
few men rushed to the river, it was less in the hope of reaching the
other bank, which to them was France, than to rush from the horrors of
Siberia. Despair proved an aegis to some bold hearts. One officer
sprang from ice-cake to ice-cake, and reached the opposite shore. A
soldier clambered miraculously over mounds of dead bodies and heaps of
ice. The multitude finally comprehended that the Russians would not
put to death a body of twenty thousand men, without arms, torpid,
stupid, unable to defend themselves; and each man awaited his fate
with horrible resignation. Then the major and the grenadier, the
general and his wife, remained almost alone on the river bank, a few
steps from the spot where the bridge had been. They stood there, with
dry eyes, silent, surrounded by heaps of dead. A few sound soldiers, a
few officers to whom the emergency had restored their natural energy,
were near them. This group consisted of some fifty men in all. The
major noticed at a distance of some two hundred yards the remains of
another bridge intended for carriages and destroyed the day before.
"Let us make a raft!" he cried.
He had hardly uttered the words before the whole group rushed to the
ruins, and began to pick up iron bolts, and screws, and pieces of wood
and ropes, whatever materials they could find that were suitable for
the construction of a raft. A score of soldiers and officers, who were
armed, formed a guard, commanded by the major, to protect the workers
against the desperate attacks which might be expected from the crowd,
if their scheme was discovered. The instinct of freedom, strong in all
prisoners, inspiring them to miraculous acts, can only be compared
with that which now drove to action these unfortunate Frenchmen.
"The Russians! the Russians are coming!" cried the defenders to the
workers; and the work went on, the raft increased in length and
breadth and depth. Generals, soldiers, colonel, all put their
shoulders to the wheel; it was a true image of the building of Noah's
ark. The young countess, seated beside her husband, watched the
progress of the work with regret that she could not help it; and yet
she did assist in making knots to secure the cordage.
At last the raft was finished. Forty men launched it on the river, a
dozen others holding the cords which moored it to the shore. But no
sooner had the builders seen their handiwork afloat, than they sprang
from the bank with odious selfishness. The major, fearing the fury of
this first rush, held back the countess and the general, but too late
he saw the whole raft covered, men pressing together like crowds at a
"Savages!" he cried, "it was I who gave you the idea of that raft. I
have saved you, and you deny me a place."
A confused murmur answered him. The men at the edge of the raft, armed
with long sticks, pressed with violence against the shore to send off
the frail construction with sufficient impetus to force its way
through corpses and ice-floes to the other shore.
"Thunder of heaven! I'll sweep you into the water if you don't take
the major and his two companions," cried the stalwart grenadier, who
swung his sabre, stopped the departure, and forced the men to stand
closer in spite of furious outcries.
"I shall fall,"--"I am falling,"--"Push off! push off!--Forward!"
resounded on all sides.
The major looked with haggard eyes at Stephanie, who lifted hers to
heaven with a feeling of sublime resignation.
"To die with thee!" she said.
There was something even comical in the position of the men in
possession of the raft. Though they were uttering awful groans and
imprecations, they dared not resist the grenadier, for in truth they
were so closely packed together, that a push to one man might send
half of them overboard. This danger was so pressing that a cavalry
captain endeavored to get rid of the grenadier; but the latter, seeing
the hostile movement of the officer, seized him round the waist and
flung him into the water, crying out,--
"Ha! ha! my duck, do you want to drink? Well, then, drink!-- Here are
two places," he cried. "Come, major, toss me the little woman and
follow yourself. Leave that old fossil, who'll be dead by to-morrow."
"Make haste!" cried the voice of all, as one man.
"Come, major, they are grumbling, and they have a right to do so."
The Comte de Vandieres threw off his wrappings and showed himself in
his general's uniform.
"Let us save the count," said Philippe.
Stephanie pressed his hand, and throwing herself on his breast, she
clasped him tightly.
"Adieu!" she said.
They had understood each other.
The Comte de Vandieres recovered sufficient strength and presence of
mind to spring upon the raft, whither Stephanie followed him, after
turning a last look to Philippe.
"Major! will you take my place? I don't care a fig for life," cried
the grenadier. "I've neither wife nor child nor mother."
"I confide them to your care," said the major, pointing to the count
and his wife.
"Then be easy; I'll care for them, as though they were my very eyes."
The raft was now sent off with so much violence toward the opposite
side of the river, that as it touched ground, the shock was felt by
all. The count, who was at the edge of it, lost his balance and fell
into the river; as he fell, a cake of sharp ice caught him, and cut
off his head, flinging it to a great distance.
"See there! major!" cried the grenadier.
"Adieu!" said a woman's voice.
Philippe de Sucy fell to the ground, overcome with horror and fatigue.
"My poor niece became insane," continued the physician, after a few
moment's silence. "Ah! monsieur," he said, seizing the marquis's hand,
"life has been awful indeed for that poor little woman, so young, so
delicate! After being, by dreadful fatality, separated from the
grenadier, whose name was Fleuriot, she was dragged about for two
years at the heels of the army, the plaything of a crowd of wretches.
She was often, they tell me, barefooted, and scarcely clothed; for
months together, she had no care, no food but what she could pick up;
sometimes kept in hospitals, sometimes driven away like an animal, God
alone knows the horrors that poor unfortunate creature has survived.
She was locked up in a madhouse, in a little town in Germany, at the
time her relatives, thinking her dead, divided her property. In 1816,
the grenadier Fleuriot was at an inn in Strasburg, where she went
after making her escape from the madhouse. Several peasants told the
grenadier that she had lived for a whole month in the forest, where
they had tracked her in vain, trying to catch her, but she had always
escaped them. I was then staying a few miles from Strasburg. Hearing
much talk of a wild woman caught in the woods, I felt a desire to
ascertain the truth of the ridiculous stories which were current about
her. What were my feelings on beholding my own niece! Fleuriot told me
all he knew of her dreadful history. I took the poor man with my niece
back to my home in Auvergne, where, unfortunately, I lost him some
months later. He had some slight control over Madame de Vandieres; he
alone could induce her to wear clothing. 'Adieu,' that word, which is
her only language, she seldom uttered at that time. Fleuriot had
endeavored to awaken in her a few ideas, a few memories of the past;
but he failed; all that he gained was to make her say that melancholy
word a little oftener. Still, the grenadier knew how to amuse her and
play with her; my hope was in him, but--"
He was silent for a moment.
"Here," he continued, "she has found another creature, with whom she
seems to have some strange understanding. It is a poor idiotic
peasant-girl, who, in spite of her ugliness and stupidity, loved a
man, a mason. The mason was willing to marry her, as she had some
property. Poor Genevieve was happy for a year; she dressed in her best
to dance with her lover on Sunday; she comprehended love; in her heart
and soul there was room for that one sentiment. But the mason, Dallot,
reflected. He found a girl with all her senses, and more land than
Genevieve, and he deserted the poor creature. Since then she has lost
the little intellect that love developed in her; she can do nothing
but watch the cows, or help at harvesting. My niece and this poor girl
are friends, apparently by some invisible chain of their common
destiny, by the sentiment in each which has caused their madness.
See!" added Stephanie's uncle, leading the marquis to a window.
The latter then saw the countess seated on the ground between
Genevieve's legs. The peasant-girl, armed with a huge horn comb, was
giving her whole attention to the work of disentangling the long black
hair of the poor countess, who was uttering little stifled cries,
expressive of some instinctive sense of pleasure. Monsieur d'Albon
shuddered as he saw the utter abandonment of the body, the careless
animal ease which revealed in the hapless woman a total absence of
"Philippe, Philippe!" he muttered, "the past horrors are nothing!--Is
there no hope?" he asked.
The old physician raised his eyes to heaven.
"Adieu, monsieur," said the marquis, pressing his hand. "My friend is
expecting me. He will soon come to you."
"Then it was really she!" cried de Sucy at d'Albon's first words. "Ah!
I still doubted it," he added, a few tears falling from his eyes,
which were habitually stern.
"Yes, it is the Comtesse de Vandieres," replied the marquis.
The colonel rose abruptly from his bed and began to dress.
"Philippe!" cried his friend, "are you mad?"
"I am no longer ill," replied the colonel, simply. "This news has
quieted my suffering. What pain can I feel when I think of Stephanie?
I am going to the Bons-Hommes, to see her, speak to her, cure her. She
is free. Well, happiness will smile upon us--or Providence is not in
this world. Think you that that poor woman could hear my voice and not
"She has already seen you and not recognized you," said his friend,
gently, for he felt the danger of Philippe's excited hopes, and tried
to cast a salutary doubt upon them.
The colonel quivered; then he smiled, and made a motion of
incredulity. No one dared to oppose his wish, and within a very short
time he reached the old priory.
"Where is she?" he cried, on arriving.
"Hush!" said her uncle, "she is sleeping. See, here she is."
Philippe then saw the poor insane creature lying on a bench in the
sun. Her head was protected from the heat by a forest of hair which
fell in tangled locks over her face. Her arms hung gracefully to the
ground; her body lay easily posed like that of a doe; her feet were
folded under her without effort; her bosom rose and fell at regular
intervals; her skin, her complexion, had that porcelain whiteness,
which we admire so much in the clear transparent faces of children.
Standing motionless beside her, Genevieve held in her hand a branch
which Stephanie had doubtless climbed a tall poplar to obtain, and the
poor idiot was gently waving it above her sleeping companion, to chase
away the flies and cool the atmosphere.
The peasant-woman gazed at Monsieur Fanjat and the colonel; then, like
an animal which recognizes its master, she turned her head slowly to
the countess, and continued to watch her, without giving any sign of
surprise or intelligence. The air was stifling; the stone bench
glittered in the sunlight; the meadow exhaled to heaven those impish
vapors which dance and dart above the herbage like silvery dust; but
Genevieve seemed not to feel this all-consuming heat.
The colonel pressed the hand of the doctor violently in his own. Tears
rolled from his eyes along his manly cheeks, and fell to the earth at
the feet of his Stephanie.
"Monsieur," said the uncle, "for two years past, my heart is broken
day by day. Soon you will be like me. You may not always weep, but you
will always feel your sorrow."
The two men understood each other; and again, pressing each other's
hands, they remained motionless, contemplating the exquisite calmness
which sleep had cast upon that graceful creature. From time to time
she gave a sigh, and that sigh, which had all the semblance of
sensibilities, made the unhappy colonel tremble with hope.
"Alas!" said Monsieur Fanjat, "do not deceive yourself, monsieur;
there is no meaning in her sigh."
Those who have ever watched for hours with delight the sleep of one
who is tenderly beloved, whose eyes will smile to them at waking, can
understand the sweet yet terrible emotion that shook the colonel's
soul. To him, this sleep was an illusion; the waking might be death,
death in its most awful form. Suddenly, a little goat jumped in three
bounds to the bench, and smelt at Stephanie, who waked at the sound.
She sprang to her feet, but so lightly that the movement did not
frighten the freakish animal; then she caught sight of Philippe, and
darted away, followed by her four-footed friend, to a hedge of elders;
there she uttered the same little cry like a frightened bird, which
the two men had heard near the other gate. Then she climbed an acacia,
and nestling into its tufted top, she watched the stranger with the
inquisitive attention of the forest birds.
"Adieu, adieu, adieu," she said, without the soul communicating one
single intelligent inflexion to the word.
It was uttered impassively, as the bird sings his note.
"She does not recognize me!" cried the colonel, in despair.
"Stephanie! it is Philippe, thy Philippe, PHILIPPE!"
And the poor soldier went to the acacia; but when he was a few steps
from it, the countess looked at him, as if defying him, although a
slight expression of fear seemed to flicker in her eye; then, with a
single bound she sprang from the acacia to a laburnum, and thence to a
Norway fir, where she darted from branch to branch with extraordinary
"Do not pursue her," said Monsieur Fanjat to the colonel, "or you will
arouse an aversion which might become insurmountable. I will help you
to tame her and make her come to you. Let us sit on this bench. If you
pay no attention to her, she will come of her own accord to examine
"SHE! not to know me! to flee me!" repeated the colonel, seating
himself on a bench with his back to a tree that shaded it, and letting
his head fall upon his breast.
The doctor said nothing. Presently, the countess came gently down the
fir-tree, letting herself swing easily on the branches, as the wind
swayed them. At each branch she stopped to examine the stranger; but
seeing him motionless, she at last sprang to the ground and came
slowly towards him across the grass. When she reached a tree about ten
feet distant, against which she leaned, Monsieur Fanjat said to the
colonel in a low voice,--
"Take out, adroitly, from my right hand pocket some lumps of sugar you
will feel there. Show them to her, and she will come to us. I will
renounce in your favor my sole means of giving her pleasure. With
sugar, which she passionately loves, you will accustom her to approach
you, and to know you again."
"When she was a woman," said Philippe, sadly, "she had no taste for
When the colonel showed her the lump of sugar, holding it between the
thumb and forefinger of his right hand, she again uttered her little
wild cry, and sprang toward him; then she stopped, struggling against
the instinctive fear he caused her; she looked at the sugar and turned
away her head alternately, precisely like a dog whose master forbids
him to touch his food until he has said a letter of the alphabet which
he slowly repeats. At last the animal desire triumphed over fear.
Stephanie darted to Philippe, cautiously putting out her little brown
hand to seize the prize, touched the fingers of her poor lover as she
snatched the sugar, and fled away among the trees. This dreadful scene
overcame the colonel; he burst into tears and rushed into the house.
"Has love less courage than friendship?" Monsieur Fanjat said to him.
"I have some hope, Monsieur le baron. My poor niece was in a far worse
state than that in which you now find her."
"How was that possible?" cried Philippe.
"She went naked," replied the doctor.
The colonel made a gesture of horror and turned pale. The doctor saw
in that sudden pallor alarming symptoms; he felt the colonel's pulse,
found him in a violent fever, and half persuaded, half compelled him
to go to bed. Then he gave him a dose of opium to ensure a calm sleep.
Eight days elapsed, during which Colonel de Sucy struggled against
mortal agony; tears no longer came to his eyes. His soul, often
lacerated, could not harden itself to the sight of Stephanie's
insanity; but he covenanted, so to speak, with his cruel situation,
and found some assuaging of his sorrow. He had the courage to slowly
tame the countess by bringing her sweetmeats; he took such pains in
choosing them, and he learned so well how to keep the little conquests
he sought to make upon her instincts--that last shred of her intellect
--that he ended by making her much TAMER than she had ever been.
Every morning he went into the park, and if, after searching for her
long, he could not discover on what tree she was swaying, nor the
covert in which she crouched to play with a bird, nor the roof on
which she might have clambered, he would whistle the well-known air of
"Partant pour la Syrie," to which some tender memory of their love
attached. Instantly, Stephanie would run to him with the lightness of
a fawn. She was now so accustomed to see him, that he frightened her
no longer. Soon she was willing to sit upon his knee, and clasp him
closely with her thin and agile arm. In that attitude--so dear to
lovers!--Philippe would feed her with sugarplums. Then, having eaten
those that he gave her, she would often search his pockets with
gestures that had all the mechanical velocity of a monkey's motions.
When she was very sure there was nothing more, she looked at Philippe
with clear eyes, without ideas, with recognition. Then she would play
with him, trying at times to take off his boots to see his feet,
tearing his gloves, putting on his hat; she would even let him pass
his hands through her hair, and take her in his arms; she accepted,
but without pleasure, his ardent kisses. She would look at him
silently, without emotion, when his tears flowed; but she always
understood his "Partant pour la Syrie," when he whistled it, though he
never succeeded in teaching her to say her own name Stephanie.
Philippe was sustained in his agonizing enterprise by hope, which
never abandoned him. When, on fine autumn mornings, he found the
countess sitting peacefully on a bench, beneath a poplar now
yellowing, the poor lover would sit at her feet, looking into her eyes
as long as she would let him, hoping ever that the light that was in
them would become intelligent. Sometimes the thought deluded him that
he saw those hard immovable rays softening, vibrating, living, and he
"Stephanie! Stephanie! thou hearest me, thou seest me!"
But she listened to that cry as to a noise, the soughing of the wind
in the tree-tops, or the lowing of the cow on the back of which she
climbed. Then the colonel would wring his hands in despair,--despair
that was new each day.
One evening, under a calm sky, amid the silence and peace of that
rural haven, the doctor saw, from a distance, that the colonel was
loading his pistols. The old man felt then that the young man had
ceased to hope; he felt the blood rushing to his heart, and if he
conquered the vertigo that threatened him, it was because he would
rather see his niece living and mad than dead. He hastened up.
"What are you doing?" he said.
"That is for me," replied the colonel, pointing to a pistol already
loaded, which was lying on the bench; "and this is for her," he added,
as he forced the wad into the weapon he held.
The countess was lying on the ground beside him, playing with the
"Then you do not know," said the doctor, coldly, concealing his
terror, "that in her sleep last night she called you: Philippe!"
"She called me!" cried the baron, dropping his pistol, which Stephanie
picked up. He took it from her hastily, caught up the one that was on
the bench, and rushed away.
"Poor darling!" said the doctor, happy in the success of his lie. He
pressed the poor creature to his breast, and continued speaking to
himself: "He would have killed thee, selfish man! because he suffers.
He does not love thee for thyself, my child! But we forgive, do we
not? He is mad, out of his senses, but thou art only senseless. No,
God alone should call thee to Him. We think thee unhappy, we pity thee
because thou canst not share our sorrows, fools that we are!--But," he
said, sitting down and taking her on his knee, "nothing troubles thee;
thy life is like that of a bird, of a fawn--"
As he spoke she darted upon a young blackbird which was hopping near
them, caught it with a little note of satisfaction, strangled it,
looked at it, dead in her hand, and flung it down at the foot of a
tree without a thought.
The next day, as soon as it was light, the colonel came down into the
gardens, and looked about for Stephanie,--he believed in the coming
happiness. Not finding her he whistled. When his darling came to him,
he took her on his arm; they walked together thus for the first time,
and he led her within a group of trees, the autumn foliage of which
was dropping to the breeze. The colonel sat down. Of her own accord
Stephanie placed herself on his knee. Philippe trembled with joy.
"Love," he said, kissing her hands passionately, "I am Philippe."
She looked at him with curiosity.
"Come," he said, pressing her to him, "dost thou feel my heart? It has
beaten for thee alone. I love thee ever. Philippe is not dead; he is
not dead, thou art on him, in his arms. Thou art MY Stephanie; I am
"Adieu," she said, "adieu."
The colonel quivered, for he fancied he saw his own excitement
communicated to his mistress. His heart-rending cry, drawn from him by
despair, that last effort of an eternal love, of a delirious passion,
was successful, the mind of his darling was awaking.
"Ah! Stephanie! Stephanie! we shall yet be happy."
She gave a cry of satisfaction, and her eyes brightened with a flash
of vague intelligence.
"She knows me!--Stephanie!"
His heart swelled; his eyelids were wet with tears. Then, suddenly,
the countess showed him a bit of sugar she had found in his pocket
while he was speaking to her. He had mistaken for human thought the
amount of reason required for a monkey's trick. Philippe dropped to
the ground unconscious. Monsieur Fanjat found the countess sitting on
the colonel's body. She was biting her sugar, and testifying her
pleasure by pretty gestures and affectations with which, had she her
reason, she might have imitated her parrot or her cat.
"Ah! my friend," said Philippe, when he came to his senses, "I die
every day, every moment! I love too well! I could still bear all, if,
in her madness, she had kept her woman's nature. But to see her always
a savage, devoid even of modesty, to see her--"
"You want opera madness, do you? something picturesque and pleasing,"
said the doctor, bitterly. "Your love and your devotion yield before a
prejudice. Monsieur, I have deprived myself for your sake of the sad
happiness of watching over my niece; I have left to you the pleasure
of playing with her; I have kept for myself the heaviest cares. While
you have slept, I have watched, I have-- Go, monsieur, go! abandon
her! leave this sad refuge. I know how to live with that dear darling
creature; I comprehend her madness, I watch her gestures, I know her
secrets. Some day you will thank me for thus sending you away."
The colonel left the old monastery, never to return but once. The
doctor was horrified when he saw the effect he had produced upon his
guest, whom he now began to love when he saw him thus. Surely, if
either of the two lovers were worthy of pity, it was Philippe; did he
not bear alone the burden of their dreadful sorrow?
After the colonel's departure the doctor kept himself informed about
him; he learned that the miserable man was living on an estate near
Saint-Germain. In truth, the baron, on the faith of a dream, had
formed a project which he believed would yet restore the mind of his
darling. Unknown to the doctor, he spent the rest of the autumn in
preparing for his enterprise. A little river flowed through his park
and inundated during the winter the marshes on either side of it,
giving it some resemblance to the Beresina. The village of Satout, on
the heights above, closed in, like Studzianka, the scene of horror.
The colonel collected workmen to deepen the banks, and by the help of
his memory, he copied in his park the shore where General Eble
destroyed the bridge. He planted piles, and made buttresses and burned
them, leaving their charred and blackened ruins, standing in the water
from shore to shore. Then he gathered fragments of all kinds, like
those of which the raft was built. He ordered dilapidated uniforms and
clothing of every grade, and hired hundreds of peasants to wear them;
he erected huts and cabins for the purpose of burning them. In short,
he forgot nothing that might recall that most awful of all scenes, and
Toward the last of December, when the snow had covered with its thick,
white mantle all his imitative preparations, he recognized the
Beresina. This false Russia was so terribly truthful, that several of
his army comrades recognized the scene of their past misery at once.
Monsieur de Sucy took care to keep secret the motive for this tragic
imitation, which was talked of in several Parisian circles as a proof
Early in January, 1820, the colonel drove in a carriage, the very
counterpart of the one in which he had driven the Comte and Comtesse
de Vandieres from Moscow to Studzianka. The horses, too, were like
those he had gone, at the peril of his life, to fetch from the Russian
outposts. He himself wore the soiled fantastic clothing, the same
weapons, as on the 29th of November, 1812. He had let his beard grow,
also his hair, which was tangled and matted, and his face was
neglected, so that nothing might be wanting to represent the awful
"I can guess your purpose," cried Monsieur Fanjat, when he saw the
colonel getting out of the carriage. "If you want to succeed, do not
let my niece see you in that equipage. To-night I will give her opium.
During her sleep, we will dress her as she was at Studzianka, and
place her in the carriage. I will follow you in another vehicle."
About two in the morning, the sleeping countess was placed in the
carriage and wrapped in heavy coverings. A few peasants with torches
lighted up this strange abduction. Suddenly, a piercing cry broke the
silence of the night. Philippe and the doctor turned, and saw
Genevieve coming half-naked from the ground-floor room in which she
"Adieu, adieu! all is over, adieu!" she cried, weeping hot tears.
"Genevieve, what troubles you?" asked the doctor.
Genevieve shook her head with a motion of despair, raised her arm to
heaven, looked at the carriage, uttering a long-drawn moan with every
sign of the utmost terror; then she returned to her room silently.
"That is a good omen!" cried the colonel. "She feels she is to lose
her companion. Perhaps she SEES that Stephanie will recover her
"God grant it!" said Monsieur Fanjat, who himself was affected by the
Ever since he had made a close study of insanity, the good man had met
with many examples of the prophetic faculty and the gift of second
sight, proofs of which are frequently given by alienated minds, and
which may also be found, so travellers say, among certain tribes of
As the colonel had calculated, Stephanie crossed the fictitious plain
of the Beresina at nine o'clock in the morning, when she was awakened
by a cannon shot not a hundred yards from the spot where the
experiment was to be tried. This was a signal. Hundreds of peasants
made a frightful clamor like that on the shore of the river that
memorable night, when twenty thousand stragglers were doomed to death
or slavery by their own folly.
At the cry, at the shot, the countess sprang from the carriage, and
ran, with delirious emotion, over the snow to the banks of the river;
she saw the burned bivouacs and the charred remains of the bridge, and
the fatal raft, which the men were launching into the icy waters of
the Beresina. The major, Philippe, was there, striking back the crowd
with his sabre. Madame de Vandieres gave a cry, which went to all
hearts, and threw herself before the colonel, whose heart beat wildly.
She seemed to gather herself together, and, at first, looked vaguely
at the singular scene. For an instant, as rapid as the lightning's
flash, her eyes had that lucidity, devoid of mind, which we admire in
the eye of birds; then passing her hand across her brow with the keen
expression of one who meditates, she contemplated the living memory of
a past scene spread before her, and, turning quickly to Philippe, she
SAW HIM. An awful silence reigned in the crowd. The colonel gasped,
but dared not speak; the doctor wept. Stephanie's sweet face colored
faintly; then, from tint to tint, it returned to the brightness of
youth, till it glowed with a beautiful crimson. Life and happiness,
lighted by intelligence, came nearer and nearer like a conflagration.
Convulsive trembling rose from her feet to her heart. Then these
phenomena seemed to blend in one as Stephanie's eyes cast forth a
celestial ray, the flame of a living soul. She lived, she thought! She
shuddered, with fear perhaps, for God himself unloosed that silent
tongue, and cast anew His fires into that long-extinguished soul.
Human will came with its full electric torrent, and vivified the body
from which it had been driven.
"Stephanie!" cried the colonel.
"Oh! it is Philippe," said the poor countess.
She threw herself into the trembling arms that the colonel held out to
her, and the clasp of the lovers frightened the spectators. Stephanie
burst into tears. Suddenly her tears stopped, she stiffened as though
the lightning had touched her, and said in a feeble voice,--
"Adieu, Philippe; I love thee, adieu!"
"Oh! she is dead," cried the colonel, opening his arms.
The old doctor received the inanimate body of his niece, kissed it as
though he were a young man, and carrying it aside, sat down with it
still in his arms on a pile of wood. He looked at the countess and
placed his feeble trembling hand upon her heart. That heart no longer
"It is true," he said, looking up at the colonel, who stood
motionless, and then at Stephanie, on whom death was placing that
resplendent beauty, that fugitive halo, which is, perhaps, a pledge of
the glorious future--"Yes, she is dead."
"Ah! that smile," cried Philippe, "do you see that smile? Can it be
"She is turning cold," replied Monsieur Fanjat.
Monsieur de Sucy made a few steps to tear himself away from the sight;
but he stopped, whistled the air that Stephanie had known, and when
she did not come to him, went on with staggering steps like a drunken
man, still whistling, but never turning back.
General Philippe de Sucy was thought in the social world to be a very
agreeable man, and above all a very gay one. A few days ago, a lady
complimented him on his good humor, and the charming equability of his
"Ah! madame," he said, "I pay dear for my liveliness in my lonely
"Are you ever alone?" she said.
"No," he replied smiling.
If a judicious observer of human nature could have seen at that moment
the expression on the Comte de Sucy's face, he would perhaps have
"Why don't you marry?" said the lady, who had several daughters at
school. "You are rich, titled, and of ancient lineage; you have
talents, and a great future before you; all things smile upon you."
"Yes," he said, "but a smile kills me."
The next day the lady heard with great astonishment that Monsieur de
Sucy had blown his brains out during the night. The upper ranks of
society talked in various ways over this extraordinary event, and each
person looked for the cause of it. According to the proclivities of
each reasoner, play, love, ambition, hidden disorders, and vices,
explained the catastrophe, the last scene of a drama begun in 1812.
Two men alone, a marquis and former deputy, and an aged physician,
knew that Philippe de Sucy was one of those strong men to whom God has
given the unhappy power of issuing daily in triumph from awful combats
which they fight with an unseen monster. If, for a moment, God
withdraws from such men His all-powerful hand, they succumb.
The following personage appears in other stories of the Human Comedy.
Note: Adieu is also entitled Farewell.
Granville, Vicomte de
The Gondreville Mystery
A Second Home
Scenes from a Courtesan's Life
A Daughter of Eve
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