Part 2 out of 7
Remembering how prominently fairies figured in my legends of chivalry,
I almost fancied that Morgana or Urganda had come among us to
administer justice; and, for the moment, I felt an inclination to
throw myself on my knees and protest against any judgment which should
confound me with my uncles. Antony, to whom Laurence had quickly given
the cue, approached her with as much politeness as he had in his
composition, and begged her to excuse his hunting costume, likewise
that of his friends. They were all nephews or cousins of the lady of
Rochemaure, whom they were now awaiting before sitting down to table.
Being very religious, she was at present in the chapel, in pious
conference with the chaplain. The air of simple confidence with which
the stranger listened to these absurd lies went to my heart, but I had
not a very clear idea of what I felt.
"Please," she said to my Uncle John, who was dancing attendance on her
with the leer of a satyr, "please do not let me disturb this lady. I
am so troubled about the anxiety I must be causing my father and my
friends at the present moment, that I could not really stop here. All
I ask is that she will be kind enough to lend me a fresh horse and a
guide, so that I may return to the place where I presume my people may
have gone to wait for me."
"Madame," replied John, with assurance, "it is impossible for you to
start again in such weather as this; besides, if you did, that would
only serve to delay the hour of rejoining those who are looking for
you. Ten of our men, well mounted and provided with torches, shall set
out this very moment in ten different directions and scour every
corner of Varenne. Thus, in two hours at the most, your relatives will
be certain to have news of you, and you will soon see them arriving
here, where we will entertain them as best we can. Please, then, set
your mind at rest, and take some cordial to restore you; for you must
be wet through and quite exhausted."
"Were it not for the anxiety I feel," she answered with a smile, "I
should be famished. I will try to eat something; but do not put
yourselves to any inconvenience on my account. You have been far too
Approaching the table, where I was still resting on my elbows, she
took some fruit that was by my side without noticing me. I turned and
stared at her insolently with a besotted expression. She returned my
gaze haughtily--at least, so it appeared to me then. I have since
learned that she did not even see me; for, while making a great effort
to appear calm and to reply with an air of confidence to the offers of
hospitality, she was at heart very much disturbed by the unexpected
presence of so many strange men with their forbidding mien and rough
garb. However, she did not suspect anything. I overheard one of the
Mauprats near me saying to John:
"Good! It's all right; she is falling into the trap. Let us make her
drink; then she will begin to talk."
"One moment," replied John; "watch her carefully; this is a serious
matter; there is something better to be had out of this than a little
passing pleasure. I am going to talk it over with the others; you will
be sent for to give your opinion. Meanwhile keep an eye on Bernard."
"What is the matter?" I said abruptly, as I faced him. "Does not this
girl belong to me? Did not Antony swear it by the soul of my
"Yes, confound it, that's true," said Antony, approaching our group,
whilst the other Mauprats surrounded the lady. "Listen, Bernard; I
will keep my word on one condition."
"What is that?"
"It is quite simple: that you won't within the next ten minutes tell
this wench that she is not at old Rochemaure's."
"What do you take me for?" I answered, pulling my hat over my eyes.
"Do you think that I am an idiot? Wait a minute; would you like me to
go and get my grandmother's dress which is upstairs and pass myself
off for this same lady of Rochemaure?"
"A splendid idea!" replied Laurence.
"But before anything is done," said John, "I want to speak to you
And making signs to the others, he drew them out of the hall. Just as
they were going out I thought I noticed that John was trying to
persuade Antony to keep watch over me. But Antony, with a firmness
which I could not understand, insisted on following the rest. I was
left alone with the stranger.
For a moment I remained bewildered, almost stupefied, and more
embarrassed than pleased at the /tete-a-tete/. Then I endeavoured to
think of some explanation of these mysterious things that were
happening around me, and succeeded, as far as the fumes of the wine
would allow me, in imagining something fairly probable, though,
indeed, remote enough from the actual truth.
I thought I could account for everything I had just seen and heard by
supposing, first, that the lady, quiet and richly dressed though she
was, was one of those daughters of Bohemia that I had sometimes seen
at fairs; secondly, that Laurence, having met her in the country, had
brought her here to amuse the company; and, thirdly, that they had
told her of my condition of swaggering drunkenness, and had prevailed
on her to put my gallantry to the proof, whilst they were to watch me
through the keyhole. My first movement, as soon as these ideas had
taken possession of me, was to rise and go straight to the door. This
I locked with a double turn and then bolted. When I had done this I
returned to the lady, determined that I would not, at all events, give
her cause to laugh at my bashfulness.
She was sitting close to the fire, and as she was occupied in drying
her wet garments, leaning forward over the hearth, she had not taken
any notice of what I was doing; but when I approached her the strange
expression on my face caused her to start. I had made up my mind to
kiss her, as a beginning; but, I know not by what miracle, as soon as
she raised her eyes to mine, this familiarity became impossible. I
only had sufficient courage to say:
"Upon my word, mademoiselle, you are a charming creature, and I love
you--as true as my name is Bernard Mauprat."
"Bernard Mauprat!" she cried, springing up; "you are Bernard Mauprat,
you? In that case, change your manner and learn to whom you are
talking. Have they not told you?"
"No one has told me, but I can guess," I replied with a grin, while
trying hard to trample down the feeling of respect with which her
sudden pallor and imperious attitude inspired me.
"If you can guess," she said, "how is it possible that you allow
yourself to speak to me in this way? But they were right when they
said you were ill-mannered; and yet I always had a wish to meet you."
"Really!" I said, with the same hideous grin. "You! A princess of the
king's highway, who have known so many men in your life? But let my
lips meet your own, my sweet, and you shall see if I am not as nicely
mannered as those uncles of mine whom you were listening to so
willingly just now."
"Your uncles!" she cried, suddenly seizing her chair and placing it
between us as if from some instinct of self-defence. "Oh, mon Dieu!
mon Dieu! Then I am not at Madame de Rochemaure's?"
"Our name certainly begins in the same way, and we come of as good a
rock as anybody."
"Roche-Mauprat!" she muttered, trembling from head to foot, like a
hind when it hears the howl of wolves.
And her lips grew quite white. Her agony was manifest in every
gesture. From an involuntary feeling of sympathy I shuddered myself,
and I was on the point of changing my manner and language forthwith.
"What can there be in this to astound her so?" I asked myself. "Is she
not merely acting a part? And even if the Mauprats are not hidden
behind some wainscot listening to us, is she not sure to give them an
account of everything that takes place? And yet she is trembling like
an aspen leaf. But what if she is acting? I once saw an actress play
Genevieve de Brabant, and she wept so that one might have been
I was in a state of great perplexity, and I cast harassed glances now
at her, now at the doors, which I fancied every moment would be thrown
wide open amid roars of laughter from my uncles.
This woman was beautiful as the day. I do not believe there has ever
lived a woman as lovely as she. It is not I alone who say so; she has
left a reputation for beauty which has not yet died out in her
province. She was rather tall, slender, and remarkable for the easy
grace of her movements. Her complexion was very fair, while her eyes
were dark and her hair like ebony. Her glance and her smile showed a
union of goodness and acuteness which it was almost impossible to
conceive; it was as if Heaven had given her two souls, one wholly of
intellect, the other wholly of feeling. She was naturally cheerful and
brave--an angel, indeed, whom the sorrows of humanity had not yet
dared to touch. She knew not what it was to suffer; she knew not what
it was to distrust and dread. This, indeed, was the first trial of her
life, and it was I, brute that I was, who made her undergo it. I took
her for a gipsy, and she was an angel of purity.
She was my young cousin (or aunt, after the Breton fashion), Edmee de
Mauprat, the daughter of M. Hubert, my great-uncle (again in the
Breton fashion), known as the Chevalier--he who had sought release
from the Order of Malta that he might marry, though already somewhat
advanced in years. My cousin was the same age as myself; at least,
there was a difference of only a few months between us. Both of us
were now seventeen, and this was our first interview. She whom I ought
to have protected at the peril of my life against the world was now
standing before me trembling and terror-stricken, like a victim before
She made a great effort, and approaching me as I walked about the hall
deep in thought, she explained who she was, adding:
"It is impossible that you can be an infamous creature like all these
brigands whom I have just seen, and of whose hideous life I have often
heard. You are young; your mother was good and wise. My father wanted
to adopt you and bring you up as his son. Even to-day he is still full
of grief at not being able to draw you out of the abyss in which you
lie. Have you not often received messages from him? Bernard, you and I
are of the same family; think of the ties of blood; why would you
insult me? Do they intend to assassinate me here or torture me? Why
did they deceive me by saying that I was at Rochemaure? Why did they
withdraw in this mysterious way? What are they preparing? What is
going to happen?"
Her words were cut short by the report of a gun outside. A shot from
the culverin replied to it, and the alarm trumpet shook the gloomy
walls of the keep with its dismal note. Mademoiselle de Mauprat fell
back into her chair. I remained where I was, wondering whether this
was some new scene in the comedy they were enjoying at my expense.
However, I resolved not to let the alarm cause me any uneasiness until
I had certain proof that it was not a trick.
"Come, now," I said, going up to her again, "own that all this is a
joke. You are not Mademoiselle de Mauprat at all; and you merely want
to discover if I am an apprentice capable of making love."
"I swear by Christ," she answered, taking my hands in her own, which
were cold as death, "that I am Edmee, your cousin, your prisoner--yes,
and your friend; for I have always felt an interest in you; I have
always implored my father not to cease his efforts for you. But
listen, Bernard; they are fighting, and fighting with guns! It must be
my father who has come to look for me, and they are going to kill him.
Ah!" she cried, falling on her knees before me, "go and prevent that,
Bernard! Tell your uncles to respect my father, the best of men, if
you but knew! Tell them that, if they hate our family, if they must
have blood, they may kill me! Let them tear my heart out; but let them
respect my father . . ."
Some one outside called me in a violent voice.
"Where is the coward? Where is that wretched boy?" shouted my Uncle
Then he shook the door; but I had fastened it so securely that it
resisted all his furious blows.
"That miserable cur is amusing himself by making love while our
throats are being cut! Bernard, the mounted police are attacking us!
Your Uncle Louis had just been killed! Come and help us! For God's
sake, come, Bernard!"
"May the devil take the lot of you," I cried, "and may you be killed
yourself, if I believe a single word of all this. I am not such a fool
as you imagine; the only cowards here are those who lie. Didn't I
swear that the woman should be mine? I'm not going to give her up
until I choose."
"To hell with you!" replied Laurence; "you are pretending . . ."
The shots rang out faster. Frightful cries were heard. Laurence left
the door and ran in the direction of the noise. His eagerness proved
him so much in earnest that I could no longer refuse to believe him.
The thought that they would accuse me of cowardice overcame me. I
advanced towards the door.
"O Bernard! O Monsieur de Mauprat!" cried Edmee, staggering after me;
"let me go with you. I will throw myself at your uncles' feet; I will
make them stop the fight; I will give them all I possess, my life, if
they wish . . . if only they will spare my father."
"Wait a moment," I said, turning towards her; "I am by no means
certain that this is not a joke at my expense. I have a suspicion that
my uncles are there, behind that door, and that, while our whippers-in
are firing off guns in the courtyard, they are waiting with a blanket
to toss me. Now, either you are my cousin, or you are a . . . You must
make me a solemn promise, and I will make you one in return. If you
are one of these wandering charmers and I quit this room the dupe of
your pretty acting, you must swear to be my mistress, and to allow
none other near you until I have had my rights; otherwise, for my
part, I swear that you shall be chastised, even as my spotted dog
Flora was chastised this morning. If, on the other hand, you are
Edmee, and I swear to intervene between your father and those who
would kill him, what promise will you make me, what will you swear?"
"If you save my father," she cried, "I swear to you that I will marry
you, I swear it."
"Ho! ho! indeed!" I said, emboldened by her enthusiasm, the sublimity
of which I did not understand. "Give me a pledge, then, so that in any
case I do not go out from here like a fool."
I took her in my arms and kissed her. She did not attempt to resist.
Her cheeks were like ice. Mechanically she began to follow me as I
moved to the door. I was obliged to push her back. I did so without
roughness; but she fell as one in a faint. I began to grasp the
gravity of my position; for there was nobody in the corridor and the
tumult outside was becoming more and more alarming. I was about to run
and get my weapons, when a last feeling of distrust, or it may have
been another sentiment, prompted me to go back and double-lock the
door of the hall where I was leaving Edmee. I put the key into my belt
and hastened to the ramparts, armed with a gun, which I loaded as I
It was simply an attack made by the mounted police, and had nothing
whatever to do with Mademoiselle de Mauprat. A little while before our
creditors had obtained a writ of arrest against us. The law officers,
beaten and otherwise severely handled, had demanded of the King's
advocate at the provincial court of Bourges another warrant of arrest.
This the armed police were now doing their best to execute. They had
hoped to effect an easy capture by means of a night surprise. But we
were in a better state of defence than they had anticipated. Our men
were brave and well armed; and then we were fighting for our very
existence; we had the courage of despair, and this was an immense
advantage. Our band amounted to twenty-four all told; theirs to more
than fifty soldiers, in addition to a score or more of peasants, who
were slinging stones from the flanks. These, however, did more harm to
their allies than they did to us.
For half an hour the fighting was most desperate. At the end of this
time the enemy had become so dismayed by our resistance that they fell
back, and hostilities were suspended. However, they soon returned to
the attack, and again were repulsed with loss. Hostilities were once
more suspended. They then, for the third time, called upon us to
surrender, promising that our lives should be spared. Antony Mauprat
replied with an obscene jest. They remained undecided, but did not
I had fought bravely; I had done what I called my duty. There was a
long lull. It was impossible to judge the distance of the enemy, and
we dared not fire at random into the darkness, for our ammunition was
too precious. All my uncles remained riveted on the ramparts, in case
of fresh attack. My Uncle Louis was dangerously wounded. Thoughts of
my prisoner returned to my mind. At the beginning of the fight I had
heard John Mauprat saying, that if our defeat seemed imminent, we must
offer to hand her over to the enemy, on condition that they should
raise the seige; that if they refused, we must hang her before their
eyes. I had no longer any doubts about the truth of what she had told
me. When victory appeared to declare for us they forgot the captive.
But I noticed the crafty John quitting the culverin which he so loved
to fire, and creeping away like a cat into the darkness. A feeling of
ungovernable jealousy seized me. I threw down my gun and dashed after
him, knife in hand, resolved, I believe, to stab him if he attempted
to touch what I considered my booty. I saw him approach the door, try
to open it, peer attentively through the keyhole, to assure himself
that his prey had not escaped him. Suddenly shots were heard again. He
sprang to his maimed feet with that marvellous agility of his, and
limped off to the ramparts. For myself, hidden as I was by the
darkness, I let him pass and did not follow. A passion other than the
love of slaughter had just taken possession of me. A flash of jealousy
had fired my senses. The smell of powder, the sight of blood, the
noise, the danger, and the many bumpers of brandy we had passed round
to keep up our strength had strangely heated my brain. I took the key
from my belt and opened the door noisily. And now, as I stood before
my captive again, I was no longer the suspicious and clumsy novice she
had so easily moved to pity: I was the wild outlaw of Roche-Mauprat, a
hundred times more dangerous than at first. She rushed towards me
eagerly. I opened my arms to catch her; instead of being frightened
she threw herself into them, exclaiming:
"Well! and my father?"
"Your father," I said, kissing her, "is not there. At the present
moment there is no question either of him or of you. We have brought
down a dozen gendarmes, that is all. Victory, as usual, is declaring
for us. So, don't trouble yourself any more about your father; and I,
I won't trouble myself further about the King's men. Let us live in
peace and rejoice in love."
With these words I raised to my lips a goblet of wine which had been
left on the table. But she took it out of my hands with an air of
authority that made me all the bolder.
"Don't drink any more," she said; "think seriously of what you are
saying. Is what you tell me true? Will you answer for it on your
honour, on the soul of your mother?"
"Every word is true; I swear it by your pretty rosy lips," I replied,
trying to kiss her again.
But she drew back in terror.
"Oh, mon Dieu!" she exclaimed, "he is drunk! Bernard! Bernard!
remember what you promised; do not break your word. You have not
forgotten, have you, that I am your kinswoman, your sister?"
"You are my mistress or my wife," I answered, still pursuing her.
"You are a contemptible creature!" she rejoined, repulsing me with her
riding whip. "What have you done that I should be aught to you? Have
you helped my father?"
"I swore to help him; and I would have helped him if he had been
there; it is just the same, therefore, as if I really had. But, had he
been there, and had I tried to save him and failed, do you know that
for this treachery Roche-Mauprat could not have provided any
instrument of torture cruel enough and slow enough to drag the life
out of me inch by inch? For all I know, they may actually have heard
my vow; I proclaimed it loudly enough. But what do I care? I set
little store by a couple of days more or less of life. But I do set
some store by your favour, my beauty. I don't want to be the
languishing knight that every one laughs at. Come, now, love me at
once; or, my word, I will return to the fight, and if I am killed, so
much the worse for you. You will no longer have a knight to help you,
and you will still have seven Mauprats to keep at bay. I'm afraid you
are not strong enough for that rough work, my pretty little love-
These words, which I threw out at random, merely to distract her
attention so that I might seize her hands or her waist, made a deep
impression on her. She fled to the other end of the hall, and tried to
force open the window; but her little hands could not even move the
heavy leaden sash in the rusty ironwork. Her efforts made me laugh.
She clasped her hands in terror, and remained motionless. Then all at
once the expression of her face changed. She seemed to have resolved
how to act, and came toward me smiling and with outstretched hand. So
beautiful was she thus that a mist came over my eyes and for a moment
I saw her not.
Ah, gentlemen, forgive my childishness. I must tell you how she was
dressed. After that weird night she never wore that costume again, and
yet I can remember it so exactly. It is a long, long time ago. But
were I to live as long as I have already lived again, I should not
forget a single detail, so much was I struck by it amid the tumult
that was raging within me and without; amid the din of shots striking
the ramparts, the lightning flashes ripping the sky, and the violent
palpitations which sent my blood surging from my heart to my brain,
and from my head to my breast.
Oh, how lovely she was! It seems as if her shade were even now passing
before my eyes. Yes; I fancy I see her in the same dress, the riding-
habit which used to be worn in those days. The skirt of it was of
cloth and very full; round the waist was a red sash, while a waistcoat
of pearl-gray satin, fastened with buttons, fitted closely to the
figure; over this was a hunting-jacket, trimmed with lace, short and
open in front; the hat, of gray felt, with a broad brim turned up in
front, was crowned with half a dozen red feathers. The hair, which was
not powdered, was drawn back from the face and fell down in two long
plaits, like those of the Bernese women. Edmee's were so long that
they almost reached the ground.
Her garb, to me so strangely fascinating, her youth and beauty, and
the favour with which she now seemed to regard my pretensions,
combined to make me mad with love and joy. I could imagine nothing
more beautiful than a lovely woman yielding without coarse words, and
without tears of shame. My first impulse was to take her in my arms;
but, as if overcome by that irresistible longing to worship which
characterizes a first love, even with the grossest of beings, I fell
down before her and pressed her knees to my breast; and yet, on my own
supposition, it was to a shameless wanton that this homage was paid. I
was none the less nigh to swooning from bliss.
She took my head between her two beautiful hands, and exclaimed:
"Ah, I was right! I knew quite well that you were not one of those
reprobates. You are going to save me, aren't you? Thank God! How I
thank you, O God! Must we jump from the window? Oh, I am not afraid;
I seemed as if awakened from a dream, and, I confess, the awakening
was not a little painful.
"What does this mean?" I asked, as I rose to my feet. "Are you still
jesting with me? Do you not know where you are? Do you think that I am
"I know that I am at Roche-Mauprat," she replied, turning pale again,
"and that I shall be outraged and assassinated in a couple of hours,
if meanwhile I do not succeed in inspiring you with some pity. But I
shall succeed," she cried, falling at my feet in her turn; "you are
not one of those men. You are too young to be a monster like them. I
could see from your eyes that you pitied me. You will help me to
escape, won't you, won't you, my dear heart?"
She took my hands and kissed them frenziedly, in the hope of moving
me. I listened and looked at her with a sullen stupidity scarcely
calculated to reassure her. My heart was naturally but little
accessible to feelings of generosity and compassion, and at this
moment a passion stronger than all the rest was keeping down the
impulse she had striven to arouse. I devoured her with my eyes, and
made no effort to understand her words. I only wished to discover
whether I was pleasing to her, or whether she was trying to make use
of me to effect her escape.
"I see that you are afraid," I said. "You are wrong to be afraid of
me. I shall certainly not do you any harm. You are too pretty for me
to think of anything but of caressing you."
"Yes; but your uncles will kill me," she cried; "you know they will.
Surely you would not have me killed? Since you love me, save me; I
will love you afterwards."
"Oh, yes; afterwards, afterwards," I answered, laughing with a silly,
unbelieving air; "after you have had me hanged by those gendarmes to
whom I have just given such a drubbing. Come, now; prove that you love
me at once; I will save you afterwards. You see, I can talk about
I pursued her round the room. Though she fled from me, she gave no
signs of anger, and still appealed to me with soft words. In me the
poor girl was husbanding her one hope, and was fearful of losing it.
Ah, if I had only been able to realize what such a woman as she was,
and what my own position meant! But I was unable then. I had but one
fixed idea--the idea which a wolf may have on a like occasion.
At last, as my only answer to all her entreaties was, "Do you love me,
or are you fooling me?" she saw what a brute she had to deal with,
and, making up her mind accordingly, she came towards me, threw her
arms round my neck, hid her face in my bosom, and let me kiss her
hair. Then she put me gently from her, saying:
"Ah, mon Dieu! don't you see how I love you--how I could not help
loving you from the very first moment I saw you? But don't you
understand that I hate your uncles, and that I would be yours alone?"
"Yes," I replied, obstinately, "because you say to yourself: 'This is
a booby whom I shall persuade to do anything I wish, by telling him
that I love him; he will believe it, and I will take him away to be
hanged.' Come; there is only one word which will serve if you love
She looked at me with an agonized air. I sought to press my lips to
hers whenever her head was not turned away. I held her hands in mine.
She was powerless now to do more than delay the hour of her defeat.
Suddenly the colour rushed back to the pale face; she began to smile;
and with an expression of angelic coquetry, she asked:
"And you--do you love me?"
From this moment the victory was hers. I no longer had power to will
what I wished. The lynx in me was subdued; the man rose in its place;
and I believe that my voice had a human ring, as I cried for the first
time in my life:
"Yes, I love you! Yes, I love you!"
"Well, then," she said, distractedly, and in a caressing tone, "let us
love each other and escape together."
"Yes, let us escape," I answered. "I loathe this house, and I loathe
my uncles. I have long wanted to escape. And yet I shall only be
hanged, you know."
"They won't hang you," she rejoined with a laugh; "my betrothed is a
"Your betrothed!" I cried, in a fresh fit of jealousy more violent
than the first. "You are going to be married?"
"And why not?" she replied, watching me attentively.
I turned pale and clinched my teeth.
"In that case, . . ." I said, trying to carry her off in my arms.
"In that case," she answered, giving me a little tap on the cheek, "I
see that you are jealous; but his must be a particular jealousy who at
ten o'clock yearns for his mistress, only to hand her over at midnight
to eight drunken men who will return her to him on the morrow as foul
as the mud on the roads."
"Ah, you are right!" I exclaimed. "Go, then; go. I would defend you to
the last drop of my blood; but I should be vanquished by numbers, and
I should die with the knowledge that you were left to them. How
horrible! I shudder to think of it. Come--you must go."
"Yes! yes, my angel!" she cried, kissing me passionately on the cheek.
These caresses, the first a woman had given me since my childhood,
recalled, I know not how or why, my mother's last kiss, and, instead
of pleasure, caused me profound sadness. I felt my eyes filling with
tears. Noticing this, she kissed my tears, repeating the while:
"Save me! Save me!"
"And your marriage?" I asked. "Oh! listen. Swear that you will not
marry before I die. You will not have to wait long; for my uncles
administer sound justice and swift, as they say."
"You are not going to follow me, then?" she asked.
"Follow you? No; it is as well to be hanged here for helping you to
escape as to be hanged yonder for being a bandit. Here, at least, I
avoid a twofold shame: I shall not be accounted an informer, and shall
not be hanged in a public place."
"I will not leave you here," she cried, "though I die myself. Fly with
me. You run no risk, believe me. Before God, I declare you are safe.
Kill me, if I lie. But let us start--quickly. O God! I hear them
singing. They are coming this way. Ah, if you will not defend me, kill
me at once!"
She threw herself into my arms. Love and jealousy were gradually
overpowering me. Indeed, I even thought seriously of killing her; and
I kept my hand on my hunting-knife as long as I heard any noise or
voices near the hall. They were exulting in their victory. I cursed
Heaven for not giving it to our foes. I clasped Edmee to my breast,
and we remained motionless in each other's arms, until a fresh report
announced that the fight was beginning again. Then I pressed her
passionately to my heart.
"You remind me," I said, "of a poor little dove which one day flew
into my jacket to escape from a kite, and tried to hide itself in my
"And you did not give it up to the kite, did you?" asked Edmee.
"No, by all the devils! not any more than I shall give you up, you,
the prettiest of all the birds in the woods, to these vile night-birds
that are threatening you."
"But how shall we escape?" she cried, terror-stricken by the volleys
they were firing.
"Easily," I said. "Follow me."
I seized a torch, and lifting a trap-door, I made her descend with me
to the cellar. Thence we passed into a subterranean passage hollowed
out of the rock. This, in bygone days had enabled the garrison, then
more numerous, to venture upon an important move in case of an attack;
some of the besieged would emerge into the open country on the side
opposite the portcullis and fall on the rear of the besiegers, who
were thus caught between two fires. But many years had passed since
the garrison of Roche-Mauprat was large enough to be divided into two
bodies; and besides, during the night it would have been folly to
venture beyond the walls. We arrived, therefore, at the exit of the
passage without meeting with any obstacle. But at the last moment I
was seized with a fit of madness. I threw down my torch, and leaned
against the door.
"You shall not go out from here," I said to the trembling Edmee,
"without promising to be mine."
We were in darkness; the noise of the fight no longer reached us.
Before any one could surprise us here we had ample time to escape.
Everything was in my favour. Edmee was now at the mercy of my caprice.
When she saw that the seductions of her beauty could no longer rouse
me to ecstasy, she ceased to implore, and drew backward a few steps.
"Open the door," she said, "and go out first, or I will kill myself.
See, I have your hunting-knife. You left it by the side of the trap-
door. To return to your uncles you will have to walk through my
Her resolute manner frightened me.
"Give me that knife," I said, "or, be the consequences what they may,
I will take it from you by force."
"Do you think I am afraid to die?" she said calmly. "If this knife had
only been in my hand yonder in the chateau, I should not have humbled
myself before you."
"Confound it!" I cried, "you have deceived me. Your love is a sham.
Begone! I despise you. I will not follow such as you."
At the same time I opened the door.
"I would not go without you," she cried; "and you--you would not have
me go without dishonour. Which of us is the more generous?"
"You are mad," I said. "You have lied to me; and you do not know what
to do to make a fool of me. However, you shall not go out from here
without swearing that your marriage with the lieutenant-general or any
other man shall not take place before you have been my mistress."
"Your mistress!" she said. "Are you dreaming? Could you not at least
soften the insult by saying your wife?"
"That is what any one of my uncles would say in my place; because they
would care only about your dowry. But I--I yearn for nothing but your
beauty. Swear, then, that you will be mine first; afterwards you shall
be free, on my honour. And if my jealousy prove so fierce that it may
not be borne, well, since a man may not go from his word, I will blow
my brains out."
"I swear," said Edmee, "to be no man's before being yours."
"That is not it. Swear to be mine before being any other's."
"It is the same thing," she answered. "Yes; I swear it."
"On the gospel? On the name of Christ? By the salvation of your soul?
By the memory of your mother?"
"On the gospel; in the name of Christ; by the salvation of my soul; by
the memory of my mother."
"One moment," she rejoined; "I want you to swear that my promise and
its fulfilment shall remain a secret; that my father shall never know
it, or any person who might tell him."
"No one in the world shall hear it from me. Why should I want others
to know, provided only that you keep your word?"
She made me repeat the formula of an oath. Then we hurried forth into
the open, holding each other's hands as a sign of mutual trust.
But now our flight became dangerous. Edmee feared the besiegers almost
as much as the besieged. We were fortunate enough not to meet any.
Still, it was by no means easy to move quickly. The night was so dark
that we were continually running against trees, and the ground was so
slippery that we were unable to avoid falls. A sudden noise made us
start; but, from the rattle of the chain fixed on its foot, I
immediately recognised my grandfather's horse, an animal of an
extraordinary age, but still strong and spirited. It was the very
horse that had brought me to Roche-Mauprat ten years before. At
present the only thing that would serve as a bridle was the rope round
its neck. I passed this through its mouth, and I threw my jacket over
the crupper and helped my companion to mount; I undid the chain,
sprang on the animal's back, and urging it on desperately, made it set
off at a gallop, happen what might. Luckily for us, it knew the paths
better than I, and, as if by instinct, followed their windings without
knocking against any trees. However, it frequently slipped, and in
recovering itself, gave us such jolts that we should have lost our
seats a thousand times (equipped as we were) had we not been hanging
between life and death. In such a strait desperate ventures are best,
and God protects those whom man pursues. We were congratulating
ourselves on being out of danger, when all at once the horse struck
against a stump, and catching his hoof in a root on the ground, fell
down. Before we were up he had made off into the darkness, and I could
hear him galloping farther and farther away. As we fell I had caught
Edmee in my arms. She was unhurt. My own ankle, however, was sprained
so severely that it was impossible for me to move a step. Edmee
thought that my leg had been broken. I was inclined to think so
myself, so great was the pain; but soon I thought no further either of
my agony or my anxiety. Edmee's tender solicitude made me forget
everything. It was in vain that I urged her to continue her flight
without me. I pointed out that she could now escape alone; that we
were some distance from the chateau; that day would soon be breaking;
that she would be certain to find some house, and that everywhere the
people would protect her against the Mauprats.
"I will not leave you," she persisted in answering. "You have devoted
yourself to me; I will show the same devotion to you. We will both
escape, or we will die together."
"I am not mistaken," I cried; "it is a light that I see between the
branches. Edmee, there is a house yonder; go and knock at the door.
You need not feel anxious about leaving me here; and you will find a
guide to take you home."
"Whatever happens," she said, "I will not leave you; but I will try to
find some one to help you."
"Yet, no," I said, "I will not let you knock at that door alone. That
light, in the middle of the night, in a house situated in the heart of
the woods, may be a lure."
I dragged myself as far as the door. It felt cold, as if of metal. The
walls were covered with ivy.
"Who is there?" cried some one within, before we had knocked.
"We are saved!" cried Edmee; "it is Patience's voice."
"We are lost!" I said; "he and I are mortal enemies.
"Fear nothing," she said; "follow me. It was God that led us here."
"Yes, it was God that led you here, daughter of Heaven, morning star!"
said Patience, opening the door; "and whoever is with you is welcome
too at Gazeau Tower."
We entered under a surbased vault, in the middle of which hung an iron
lamp. By the light of this dismal luminary and of a handful of
brushwood which was blazing on the hearth we saw, not without
surprise, that Gazeau Tower was exceptionally honoured with visitors.
On one side the light fell upon the pale and serious face of a man in
clerical garb. On the other, a broad-brimmed hat overshadowed a sort
of olive-green cone terminating in a scanty beard; and on the wall
could be seen the shadow of a nose so distinctly tapered that nothing
in the world might compare with it except, perhaps, a long rapier
lying across the knees of the personage in question, and a little
dog's face which, from its pointed shape, might have been mistaken for
that of a gigantic rat. In fact, it seemed as if a mysterious harmony
reigned between these three salient points--the nose of Don Marcasse,
his dog's snout, and the blade of his sword. He got up slowly and
raised his hand to his hat. The Jansenist cure did the same. The dog
thrust its head forward between its master's legs, and, silent like
him, showed its teeth and put back its ears without barking.
"Quiet, Blaireau!" said Marcasse to it.
No sooner had the cure recognised Edmee than he started back with an
exclamation of surprise. But this was nothing to the stupefaction of
Patience when he had examined my features by the light of the burning
brand that served him as torch.
"The lamb in the company of the wolf!" he cried. "What has happened,
"My friend," replied Edmee, putting, to my infinite astonishment, her
little white hand into the sorcerer's big rough palm, "welcome him as
you welcome me. I was a prisoner at Roche-Mauprat, and it was he who
"May the sins of his fathers be forgiven him for this act!" said the
Patience took me by the arm, without saying anything, and led me
nearer the fire. They seated me on the only chair in the house, and
the cure took upon himself the task of attending to my leg, while
Edmee gave an account, up to a certain point, of our adventure. Then
she asked for information about the hunt and about her father.
Patience, however, could give her no news. He had heard the horn in
the woods, and the firing at the wolves had disturbed his tranquility
several times during the day. But since the storm broke over them the
noise of the wind had drowned all other sounds, and he knew nothing of
what was taking place in Varenne. Marcasse, meanwhile, had very nimbly
climbed a ladder which served as an approach to the upper stories of
the house, now that the staircase was broken. His dog followed him
with marvellous skill. Soon they came down again, and we learned that
a red light could be distinguished on the horizon in the direction of
Roche-Mauprat. In spite of the loathing I had for this place and its
owners, I could not repress a feeling very much like consternation on
hearing that the hereditary manor which bore my own name had
apparently been taken and set on fire. It meant disgrace, defeat; and
this fire was as a seal of vassalage affixed to my arms by those I
called clodhoppers and serfs. I sprang up from my chair, and had I not
been held back by the violent pain in my foot, I believe I should have
"What is the matter?" said Edmee, who was by my side at the time.
"The matter is," I answered abruptly, "that I must return yonder; for
it is my duty to get killed rather than let my uncles parley with the
"The rabble!" cried Patience, addressing me for the first time since I
arrived. "Who dares to talk of rabble here? I myself am of the rabble.
It is my title, and I shall know how to make it respected."
"By Jove! Not by me," I said, pushing away the cure, who had made me
sit down again.
"And yet it would not be for the first time," replied Patience, with a
"You remind me," I answered, "that we two have some old accounts to
And heedless of the frightful agony caused by my sprain, I rose again,
and with a backhander I sent Don Marcasse, who was endeavouring the
play the cure's part of peacemaker, head over heels into the middle of
the ashes. I did not mean him any harm, but my movements were somewhat
rough, and the poor man was so frail that to my hand he was but as a
weasel would have been to his own. Patience was standing before me
with his arms crossed, in the attitude of a stoic philosopher, but the
fire was flashing in his eyes. Conscious of his position as my host,
he was evidently waiting until I struck the first blow before
attempting to crush me. I should not have kept him waiting long, had
not Edmee, scorning the danger of interfering with a madman, seized my
arm and said, in an authoritative tone:
"Sit down again, and be quiet; I command you."
So much boldness and confidence surprised and pleased me at the same
time. The rights which she arrogated to herself over me were, in some
measure, a sanction of those I claimed to have over her.
"You are right," I answered, sitting down.
And I added, with a glance at Patience:
"Some other time."
"Amen," he answered, shrugging his shoulders.
Marcasse had picked himself up with much composure, and shaking off
the ashes with which he was covered, instead of finding fault with me,
he tried, after his fashion to lecture Patience. This was in reality
by no means easy to do; yet nothing could have been less irritating
than that monosyllabic censure throwing out its little note in the
thick of a quarrel like an echo in a storm.
"At your age," he said to his host; "not patient at all. Wholly to
"How naughty you are!" Edmee said to me, putting her hand on my
shoulder; "do not begin again, or I shall go away and leave you."
I willingly let myself be scolded by her; nor did I realize that
during the last minutes we had exchanged parts. The moment we crossed
the threshold of Gazeau Tower she had given evidence of that
superiority over me which was really hers. This wild place, too, these
strange witnesses, this fierce host, had already furnished a taste of
the society into which I had entered, and whose fetters I was soon to
"Come," she said, turning to Patience, "we do not understand each
other here; and, for my part, I am devoured by anxiety about my poor
father, who is no doubt searching for me, and wringing his hands at
this very moment. My good Patience, do find me some means of rejoining
him with this unfortunate boy, whom I dare not leave to your care,
since you have not sufficient love for me to be patient and
compassionate with him."
"What do you say?" said Patience, putting his hand to his brow as if
waking from a dream. "Yes, you are right; I am an old brute, an old
fool. Daughter of God, tell this boy, this nobleman, that I ask his
pardon for the past, and that, for the present, my poor cell is at his
disposal. Is that well said?"
"Yes, Patience," answered the cure. "Besides, everything may be
managed. My horse is quiet and steady, and Mademoiselle de Mauprat can
ride it, while you and Marcasse lead it by the bridle. For myself, I
will remain here with our invalid. I promise to take good care of him
and not to annoy him in any way. That will do, won't it, Monsieur
Bernard? You don't bear me any ill-will, and you may be very sure that
I am not your enemy."
"I know nothing about it," I answered; "it is as you please. Look
after my cousin; take her home safely. For my own part, I need nothing
and care for no one. A bundle of straw and a glass of wine, that is
all I should like, if it were possible to have them."
"You shall have both," said Marcasse, handing me his flask, "but first
of all here is something to cheer you up. I am going to the stable to
get the horse ready."
"No, I will go myself," said Patience; "you see to the wants of this
And he passed into another lower hall, which served as a stable for
the cure's horse during the visits which the good priest paid him.
They brought the animal through the room where we were; and Patience,
after arranging the cure's cloak on the saddle, with fatherly care
helped Edmee to mount.
"One moment," she said, before letting them lead her out. "Monsieur le
Cure, will you promise me on the salvation of your soul not to leave
my cousin before I return with my father to fetch him?"
"I promise solemnly," replied the cure.
"And you, Bernard," said Edmee, "will you give me your word of honour
to wait for me here?"
"I can't say," I answered; "that will depend on the length of your
absence and on my patience; but you know quite well, cousin, that we
shall meet again, even if it be in hell; and for my part, the sooner
By the light of the brand which Patience was holding to examine the
horse's harness, I saw her beautiful face flush and then turn pale.
Then she raised her eyes which had been lowered in sorrow, and looked
at me fixedly with a strange expression.
"Are we ready to start?" said Marcasse, opening the door.
"Yes, forward," said Patience, taking the bridle. "Edmee, my child,
take care to bend down while passing under the door."
"What is the matter, Blaireau?" said Marcasse, stopping on the
threshold and thrusting out the point of his sword, gloriously rusted
by the blood of the rodent tribe.
Blaireau did not stir, and if he had not been born dumb, as his master
said, he would have barked. But he gave warning as usual by a sort of
dry cough. This was his most emphatic sign of anger and uneasiness.
"There must be something down there," said Marcasse; and he boldly
advanced into the darkness, after making a sign to the rider not to
follow. The report of firearms made us all start. Edmee jumped down
lightly from her horse, and I did not fail to notice that some impulse
at once prompted her to come and stand behind my chair. Patience
rushed out of the tower. The cure ran to the frightened horse, which
was rearing and backing toward us. Blaireau managed to bark. I forgot
my sprain, and in a single bound I was outside.
A man covered with wounds, and with the blood streaming from him, was
lying across the doorway. It was my Uncle Laurence. He had been
mortally wounded at the siege of Roche-Mauprat, and had come to die
under our eyes. With him was his brother Leonard, who had just fired
his last pistol shot at random, luckily without hitting any one.
Patience's first impulse was to prepare to defend himself. On
recognising Marcasse, however, the fugitives, far from showing
themselves hostile, asked for shelter and help. As their situation was
so desperate no one thought that assistance should be refused. The
police were pursuing them. Roche-Mauprat was in flames; Louis and
Peter had died fighting; Antony, John, and Walter had fled in another
direction, and, perhaps, were already prisoners. No words would paint
the horror of Laurence's last moments. His agony was brief but
terrible. His blasphemy made the cure turn pale. Scarce had the door
been shut and the dying man laid on the floor than the horrible death-
rattle was heard. Leonard, who knew of no remedy but brandy, snatched
Marcasse's flask out of my hand (not without swearing and scornfully
reproaching me for my flight), forced open his brother's clinched
teeth with the blade of his hunting-knife, and, in spite of our
warning, poured half the flask down his throat. The wretched man
bounded into the air, brandished his arms in desperate convulsions,
drew himself up to his full height, and fell back stone dead upon the
blood-stained floor. There was no time to offer up a prayer over the
body, for the door resounded under the furious blows of our
"Open in the King's name!" cried several voices; "open to the police!"
"Help! help! cried Leonard, seizing his knife and rushing towards the
door. "Peasants, prove yourselves nobles! And you, Bernard, atone for
your fault; wash out your shame; do not let a Mauprat fall into the
hands of the gendarmes alive!"
Urged on by native courage and by pride, I was about to follow his
example, when Patience rushed at him, and exerting his herculean
strength, threw him to the ground. Putting one knee on his chest, he
called to Marcasse to open the door. This was done before I could take
my uncle's part against his terrible assailant. Six gendarmes at once
rushed into the tower and, with their guns pointed, bade us move at
"Stay, gentlemen," said Patience, "don't harm any one. This is your
prisoner. Had I been alone with him, I should either have defended him
or helped him to escape; but there are honest people here who ought
not to suffer for a knave; and I did not wish to expose them to a
fight. Here is the Mauprat. Your duty, as you know, is to deliver him
safe and sound into the hands of justice. This other is dead."
"Monsieur, surrender!" said the sergeant of the gendarmes, laying his
hand on Leonard.
"Never shall a Mauprat drag his name into the dock of a police court,"
replied Leonard, with a sullen expression. "I surrender, but you will
get nothing but my skin."
And he allowed himself to be placed in a chair without making any
But while they were preparing to bind him he said to the cure:
"Do me one last kindness, Father. Give me what is left in the flask; I
am dying of thirst and exhaustion."
The good cure handed him the flask, which he emptied at a draught. His
distorted face took on an expression of awful calm. He seemed
absorbed, stunned, incapable of resistance. But as soon as they were
engaged in binding his feet, he snatched a pistol from the belt of one
of the gendarmes and blew his brains out.
This frightful spectacle completely unnerved me. Sunk in a dull
stupor, no longer conscious of what was happening around me, I stood
there as if turned to stone, and it was only after some minutes that I
realized that I was the subject of a serious discussion between the
police and my hosts. One of the gendarmes declared that he recognised
me as a Hamstringer Mauprat. Patience declared that I was nothing but
M. Hubert de Mauprat's gamekeeper, in charge of his daughter. Annoyed
at the discussion, I was about to make myself known when I saw a ghost
rise by my side. It was Edmee. She had taken refuge between the wall
and the cure's poor frightened horse, which, with outstretched legs
and eyes of fire, made her a sort of rampart with its body. She was as
pale as death, and her lips were so compressed with horror that at
first, in spite of desperate efforts to speak, she was unable to
express herself otherwise than by signs. The sergeant, moved by her
youth and her painful situation, waited with deference until she could
manage to make herself understood. At last she persuaded them not to
treat me as a prisoner, but to take me with her to her father's
chateau, where she gave her word of honour that satisfactory
explanations and guarantees would be furnished on my account. The cure
and the other witnesses, having pledged their words to this, we set
out all together, Edmee on the sergeant's horse, he on an animal
belonging to one of his men, myself on the cure's, Patience and the
cure afoot between us, the police on either side, and Marcasse in
front, still impassive amid the general terror and consternation. Two
of the gendarmes remained behind to guard the bodies and prepare a
We had travelled about a league through the woods. Wherever other
paths had crossed our own, we had stopped to call aloud; for Edmee,
convinced that her father would not return home without finding her,
had implored her companions to help her to rejoin him. To this
shouting the gendarmes had been very averse, as they were afraid of
being discovered and attacked by bodies of the fugitives from Roche-
Mauprat. On our way they informed us that this den had been captured
at the third assault. Until then the assailants had husbanded their
forces. The officer in command of the gendarmes was anxious to get
possession of the keep without destroying it; and, above all, to take
the defenders alive. This, however, was impossible on account of the
desperate resistance they made. The besiegers suffered so severely in
their second attempt that they found themselves compelled to adopt
extreme measures or to retreat. They therefore set the outer buildings
on fire, and in the ensuing assault put forth all their strength. Two
Mauprats were killed while fighting on the ruins of their bastion; the
other five disappeared. Six men were dispatched in pursuit of them in
one direction, six in another. Traces of the fugitives had been
discovered immediately, and the men who gave us these details had
followed Laurence and Leonard so closely that several of their shots
had hit the former only a short distance from Gazeau Tower. They had
heard him cry that he was done for; and, as far as they could see,
Leonard had carried him to the sorcerer's door. This Leonard was the
only one of my uncles who deserved any pity, for he was the only one
who might, perhaps, have been encouraged to a better kind of life. At
times there was a touch of chivalry in his brigandage, and his savage
heart was capable of affection. I was deeply moved, therefore, by his
tragic death, and let myself be carried along mechanically, plunged in
gloomy thoughts, and determined to end my days in the same manner
should I ever be condemned to the disgrace he had scorned to endure.
All at once the sound of horns and the baying of hounds announced the
approach of a party of huntsmen. While we, on our side, were answering
with shouts, Patience ran to meet them. Edmee, longing to see her
father again, and forgetting all the horrors of this bloody night,
whipped up her horse and reached the hunters first. As soon as we came
up with them, I saw Edmee in the arms of a tall man with a venerable
face. He was richly dressed; his hunting-coat, with gold lace over all
the seams, and the magnificent Norman horse, which a groom was holding
behind him, so struck me that I thought I was in the presence of a
prince. The signs of love which he was showing his daughter were so
new to me that I was inclined to deem them exaggerated and unworthy of
the dignity of a man. At the same time they filled me with a sort of
brute jealousy; for it did not occur to my mind that a man so
splendidly dressed could be my uncle. Edmee was speaking to him in a
low voice, but with great animation. Their conversation lasted a few
moments. At the end of it the old man came and embraced me cordially.
Everything about these manners seemed so new to me, that I responded
neither by word nor gesture to the protestations and caresses of which
I was the object. A tall young man, with a handsome face, as elegantly
dressed as M. Hubert, also came and shook my hand and proffered
thanks; why, I could not understand. He next entered into a discussion
with the gendarmes, and I gathered that he was the lieutenant-general
of the province, and that he was ordering them to set me at liberty
for the present, that I might accompany my uncle to his chateau, where
he undertook to be responsible for me. The gendarmes then left us, for
the chevalier and the lieutenant-general were sufficiently well
escorted by their own men not to fear attack from any one. A fresh
cause of astonishment for me was to see the chevalier bestowing marks
of warm friendship on Patience and Marcasse. As for the cure, he was
upon a footing of equality with these seigneurs. For some months he
had been chaplain at the chateau of Saint-Severe, having previously
been compelled to give up his living by the persecutions of the
All this tenderness of which Edmee was the object, this family
affection so completely new to me, the genuinely cordial relations
existing between respectful plebeians and kindly patricians--
everything that I now saw and heard seemed like a dream. I looked on
with a sensation that it was all unintelligible to me. However, soon
after our caravan started my brain began to work; for I then saw the
lieutenant-general (M. de la Marche) thrust his horse between Edmee's
and my own, as if he had a right to be next to her. I remembered her
telling me at Roche-Mauprat that he was her betrothed. Hatred and
anger at once surged up within me, and I know not what absurdity I
should have committed, had not Edmee, apparently divining the workings
of my unruly soul, told him that she wanted to speak to me, and thus
restored me to my place by her side.
"What have you to say to me?" I asked with more eagerness than
"Nothing," she answered in an undertone. "I shall have much to say
later. Until then will you do everything I ask of you?"
"And why the devil should I do everything you ask of me, cousin?"
For a moment she hesitated to reply; then, making an effort, she said:
"Because it is thus that a man proves to a woman that he loves her."
"Do you believe that I don't love you?" I replied abruptly.
"How should I know?" she said.
This doubt astonished me very much, and I tried to combat it after my
"Are you not beautiful?" I said; "and am not I a young man? Perhaps
you think I am too much of a boy to notice a woman's beauty; but now
that my head is calm, and I am sad and quite serious, I can assure you
that I am even more deeply in love with you than I thought. The more I
look at you the more beautiful you seem. I did not think that a woman
could be so lovely. I tell you I shall not sleep till . . ."
"Hold your tongue," she said sharply.
"Oh, I suppose you are afraid that man will hear me," I answered,
pointing to M. de la Marche. "Have no fear; I know how to keep my
word; and, as you are the daughter of a noble house, I hope you know
how to keep yours."
She did not reply. We had reached a part of the road where it was only
possible for two to walk abreast. The darkness was profound, and
although the chevalier and the lieutenant-general were at our heels, I
was going to make bold to put my arm round her waist, when she said to
me, in a sad and weary voice:
"Cousin, forgive me for not talking to you. I'm afraid I did not quite
understand what you said. I am so exhausted that I feel as if I were
going to die. Luckily, we have reached home now. Promise me that you
will love my father, that you will yield to all his wishes, that you
will decide nothing without consulting me. Promise me this if you
would have me believe in your friendship."
"Oh, my friendship? you are welcome not to believe in that," I
answered; "but you must believe in my love. I promise everything you
wish. And you, will you not promise me anything? Do, now, with a good
"What can I promise that is not yours?" she said in a serious tone.
"You saved my honour; my life belongs to you."
The first glimmerings of dawn were now beginning to light the horizon.
We had reached the village of Saint-Severe, and soon afterward we
entered the courtyard of the chateau. On dismounting from her horse
Edmee fell into her father's arms; she was as pale as death. M. de la
Marche uttered a cry, and helped to carry her away. She had fainted.
The cure took charge of me. I was very uneasy about my fate. The
natural distrust of the brigand sprang up again as soon as I ceased to
be under the spell of her who had managed to lure me from my den. I
was like a wounded wolf; I cast sullen glances about me, ready to rush
at the first being who should stir my suspicions by a doubtful word or
deed. I was taken into a splendid room, and a meal, prepared with a
luxury far beyond anything I could have conceived, was immediately
served. The cure displayed the kindest interest in me; and, having
succeeded in reassuring me a little, he went to attend to his friend
Patience. The disturbed state of my mind and my remnant of uneasiness
were not proof against the generous appetite of youth. Had it not been
for the respectful assiduity of a valet much better dressed than
myself, who stood behind my chair, and whose politeness I could not
help returning whenever he hastened to anticipate my wants, I should
have made a terrific breakfast; as it was, the green coat and silk
breeches embarrassed me considerably. It was much worse when, going
down on his knees, he set about taking off my boots preparatory to
putting me to bed. For the moment I thought he was playing a trick
upon me, and came very near giving him a good blow on the head; but
his manner was so serious as he went through this task that I sat and
stared at him in amazement.
At first, at finding myself in bed without arms, and with people
entering and leaving my room always on tip-toe, I again began to feel
suspicious. I took advantage of a moment when I was alone to get out
of bed and take from the table, which was only half cleared, the
longest knife I could find. Feeling easier in my mind, I returned to
bed and fell into a sound sleep, with the knife firmly clasped in my
When I awoke again the rays of the setting sun, softened by my red
damask curtains, were falling on my beautifully fine sheets and
lighting up the golden pomegranates that adorned the corners of the
bed. This bed was so handsome and soft that I felt inclined to make it
my apologies for having slept in it. As I was about to get up I saw a
kindly, venerable face looking through the half-drawn curtains and
smiling. It was the Chevalier Hubert de Mauprat. He inquired anxiously
about the state of my health. I endeavoured to be polite and to
express my gratitude; but the language I used seemed so different from
his that I was disconcerted and pained at my awkwardness without being
able to realize why. To crown my misery, a movement that I made caused
the knife which I had taken as bedfellow to fall at M. de Mauprat's
feet. He picked it up, looked at it, and then at myself with extreme
surprise. I turned as red as fire and stammered out I know not what. I
expected he would reprove me for this insult to his hospitality.
However, he was too polite to insist upon a more complete explanation.
He quietly placed the knife on the mantel-piece and, returning to me,
spoke as follows:
"Bernard, I now know that I owe to you the life that I hold dearest in
the world. All my own life shall be devoted to giving you proofs of my
gratitude and esteem. My daughter also is sacredly indebted to you.
You need, then, have no anxiety about your future. I know what
persecution and vengeance you exposed yourself to in coming to us; but
I know, too, from what a frightful existence my friendship and
devotion will be able to deliver you. You are an orphan, and I have no
son. Will you have me for your father?"
I stared at the chevalier with wild eyes. I could not believe my ears.
All feeling within me seemed paralyzed by astonishment and timidity. I
was unable to answer a word. The chevalier himself evidently felt some
astonishment; he had not expected to find a nature so brutishly ill-
"Come," he said; "I hope that you will grow accustomed to us. At all
events, shake hands, to show that you trust me. I will send up your
servant; give him your orders; he is at your disposal. I have only one
promise to exact from you, and that is that you will not go beyond the
walls of the park until I have taken steps to make you safe from the
pursuit of justice. At present it is possible that the charges which
have been hanging over your uncles' heads might be made to fall on
"My uncles!" I exclaimed, putting my hand to my brow. "Is this all a
hideous dream? Where are they? What has become of Roche-Mauprat?"
"Roche-Mauprat," he answered, "has been saved from the flames. Only a
few of the outer buildings have been destroyed; but I undertake to
repair the house and to redeem your fief from the creditors who claim
it. As to your uncles . . . you are probably the sole heir of a name
that it behoves you to rehabilitate."
"The sole heir?" I cried. "Four Mauprats fell last night; but the
other three . . ."
"The fifth, Walter, perished in his attempt to escape. His body was
discovered this morning in the pond of Les Froids. Neither John nor
Antony has been caught, but the horse belonging to one and a cloak of
the other's, found near the spot where Walter's body was lying, seem
to hint darkly that their fate was as his. Even if one of them manages
to escape, he will never dare make himself known again, for there
would be no hope for him. And since they have drawn down upon their
heads the inevitable storm, it is best, both for themselves and for
us, who unfortunately bear the same name, that they should have come
to this tragic end--better to have fallen weapon in hand, than to have
suffered an infamous death upon the gallows. Let us bow to what God
has ordained for them. It is a stern judgment; seven men in the pride
of youth and strength summoned in a single night to their terrible
reckoning! . . . We must pray for them, Bernard, and by dint of good
works try to make good the evil they have done, and remove the stains
they have left on our escutcheon."
These concluding words summed up the chevalier's whole character. He
was pious, just, and full of charity; but, with him, as with most
nobles, the precepts of Christian humility were wont to fall before
the pride of rank. He would gladly have had a poor man at his table,
and on Good Friday, indeed, he used to wash the feet of twelve
beggars; but he was none the less attached to all the prejudices of
our caste. In trampling under foot the dignity of man, my cousins, he
considered, had, as noblemen, been much more culpable than they would
have been as plebeians. On the latter hypothesis, according to him,
their crimes would not have been half so grave. For a long time I
shared the conviction myself; it was in my blood, if I may use the
expression. I lost it only in the stern lessons of my destiny.
He then confirmed what his daughter had told me. From my birth he had
earnestly desired to undertake my education. But his brother Tristan
had always stubbornly opposed this desire. There the chevalier's brow
"You do not know," he said, "how baneful have been the consequences of
that simple wish of mine--baneful for me, and for you too. But that
must remain wrapped in mystery--a hideous mystery, the blood of the
Atridae . . ."
He took my hand, and added, in a broken voice:
"Bernard, we are both of us victims of a vicious family. This is not
the moment to pile up charges against those who in this very hour are
standing before the terrible tribunal of God; but they have done me an
irreparable wrong--they have broken my heart. The wrong they have done
you shall be repaired--I swear it by the memory of your mother. They
have deprived you of education; they have made you a partner in their
brigandage; yet your soul has remained great and pure as was the soul
of the angel who gave you birth. You will correct the mistakes which
others made in your childhood; you will receive an education suitable
to your rank. And then, Bernard, you will restore the honour of your
family. You will, won't you? Promise me this, Bernard. It is the one
thing I long for. I will throw myself at your knees if so I may win
your confidence; and I shall win it, for Providence has destined you
to be my son. Ah, once it was my dream that you should be more
completely mine. If, when I made my second petition, they had granted
you to my loving care, you would have been brought up with my daughter
and you would certainly have become her husband. But God would not
have it so. You have now to begin your education, whereas hers is
almost finished. She is of an age to marry; and, besides, her choice
is already made. She loves M. de la Marche; in fact, their marriage is
soon to take place. Probably she had told you."
I stammered out a few confused words. The affection and generous ideas
of this noble man had moved me profoundly, and I was conscious of a
new nature, as it were, awakening within me. But when he pronounced
the name of his future son-in-law, all my savage instincts rose up
again, and I felt that no principle of social loyalty would make me
renounce my claim to her whom I regarded as my fairly won prize. I
grew pale; I grew red; I gasped for breath. Luckily, we were
interrupted by the Abbe Aubert (the Jansenist cure), who came to
inquire how I was after my fall. Then for the first time the chevalier
heard of my accident; an incident that had escaped him amid the press
of so many more serious matters. He sent for his doctor at once, and I
was overwhelmed with kind attentions, which seemed to me rather
childish, but to which I submitted from a sense of gratitude.
I had not dared to ask the chevalier for any news of his daughter.
With the abbe, however, I was bolder. He informed me that the length
and uneasiness of her sleep were causing some anxiety; and the doctor,
when he returned in the evening to dress my ankle, told me that she
was very feverish, and that he was afraid she was going to have some
For a few days, indeed, she was ill enough to cause anxiety. In the
terrible experience she had gone through she had displayed great
energy; but the reaction was correspondingly violent. For myself, I
was also kept to my bed. I could not take a step without feeling
considerable pain, and the doctor threatened that I should be laid up
for several months if I did not submit to inaction for a few days. As
I was otherwise in vigorous health, and had never been ill in my life,
the change from any active habits to this sluggish captivity caused me
indescribable /ennui/. Only those who have lived in the depths of
woods, and experienced all the hardships of a rough life, can
understand the kind of horror and despair I felt on finding myself
shut up for more than a week between four silk curtains. The
luxuriousness of my room, the gilding of my bed, the minute attentions
of the lackeys, everything, even to the excellence of the food--
trifles which I had somewhat appreciated the first day--became odious
to me at the end of twenty-four hours. The chevalier paid me
affectionate but short visits; for he was absorbed by the illness of
his darling daughter. The abbe was all kindness. To neither did I dare
confess how wretched I felt; but when I was alone I felt inclined to
roar like a caged lion; and at night I had dreams in which the moss in
the woods, the curtain of forest trees, and even the gloomy
battlements of Roche-Mauprat, appeared to me like an earthly paradise.
At other times, the tragic scenes that had accompanied and followed my
escape were reproduced so vividly by my memory that, even when awake,
I was a prey to a sort of delirium.
A visit from M. de la Marche stirred my ideas to still wilder
disorder. He displayed the deepest interest in me, shook me by the
hand again and again, and implored my friendship, vowed a dozen times
that he would lay down his life for me, and made I don't know how many
other protestations which I scarcely heard, for his voice was like a
raging torrent in my ears, and if I had had my hunting-knife I believe
I should have thrown myself upon him. My rough manners and sullen
looks astonished him very much; but, the abbe having explained that my
mind was disturbed by the terrible events which had happened in my
family, he renewed his protestations, and took leave of me in the most
affectionate and courteous manner.
This politeness which I found common to everybody, from the master of
the house to the meanest of his servants, though it struck me with
admiration, yet made me feel strangely ill at ease; for, even if it
had not been inspired by good-will towards me, I could never have
brought myself to understand that it might be something very different
from real goodness. It bore so little resemblance to the facetious
braggadocio of the Mauprats, that it seemed to me like an entirely new
language, which I understood but could not speak.
However, I recovered the power of speech when the abbe announced that
he was to have charge of my education, and began questioning me about
my attainments. My ignorance was so far beyond anything he could have
imagined that I was getting ashamed to lay it all bare; and, my savage
pride getting the upper hand, I declared that I was a gentleman, and
had no desire to become a clerk. His only answer was a burst of
laughter, which offended me greatly. He tapped me quickly on the
shoulder, with a good-natured smile, saying that I should change my
mind in time, but that I was certainly a funny fellow. I was purple
with rage when the chevalier entered. The abbe told him of our
conversation and of my little speech. M. Hubert suppressed a smile.
"My boy," he said, in a kind tone, "I trust I may never do anything to
annoy you, even from affection. Let us talk no more about work to-day.
Before conceiving a taste for it you must first realize its necessity.
Since you have a noble heart you can not but have a sound mind; the
desire for knowledge will come to you of itself. And now to supper. I
expect you are hungry. Do you like wine?"
"Much better than Latin," I replied.
"Come, abbe," he continued laughingly, "as a punishment for having
played the pedant you must drink with us. Edmee is now quite out of
danger. The doctor has said that Bernard can get up and walk a few
steps. We will have supper served in this room."
The supper and wine were so good, indeed, that I was not long in
getting tipsy, according to the Roche-Mauprat custom. I even saw they
aided and abetted, in order to make me talk, and show at once what
species of boor they had to deal with. My lack of education surpassed
anything they had anticipated; but I suppose they augured well from my
native powers; for, instead of giving me up, they laboured at the
rough block with a zeal which showed at least that they were not
without hope. As soon as I was able to leave my room I lost the
feeling of /ennui/. The abbe was my inseparable companion through the
whole first day. The length of the second was diminished by the hope
they gave me of seeing Edmee on the morrow, and by the kindness I
experienced from every one. I began to feel the charm of these gentle
manners in proportion as I ceased to be astonished at them. The never-
failing goodness of the chevalier could not but overcome my
boorishness; nay, more, it rapidly won my heart. This was the first
affection of my life. It took up its abode in me side by side with a
violent love for his daughter, nor did I even dream of pitting one of
these feelings against the other. I was all yearning, all instinct,
all desire. I had the passions of a man in the soul of a child.
At last, one morning after breakfast, Mr. Hubert took me to see his
daughter. When the door of her room was opened I felt almost
suffocated by the warm-scented air which met me. The room itself was
charming in its simplicity; the curtains and coverings of chintz, with
a white ground. Large china vases filled with flowers exhaled a
delicate perfume. African birds were sporting in a gilded cage, and
singing their sweet little love songs. The carpet was softer to the
feet than is the moss of the woods in the month of March. I was in
such a state of agitation that my eyes grew more and more dim every
moment. My feet caught in one another most awkwardly, and I kept
stumbling against the furniture without being able to advance. Edmee
was lying on a long white chair, carelessly fingering a mother-of-
pearl fan. She seemed to me even more beautiful than before, yet so
changed that a feeling of apprehension chilled me in the middle of my
ecstasy. She held out her hand to me; I did not like to kiss it in the
presence of her father. I could not hear what she was saying to me--I
believe her words were full of affection. Then, as if overcome with
fatigue, she let her head fall back on the pillow and closed her eyes.
"I have some work to do," said the chevalier to me. "Stay here with
her; but do not make her talk too much, for she is still very weak."
This recommendation really seemed a sarcasm. Edmee was pretending to
be sleepy, perhaps to conceal some of the embarrassment that weighed
on her heart; and, as for myself, I felt so incapable of overcoming
her reserve that it was in reality a kindness to counsel silence.
The chevalier opened a door at one end of the room and closed it after
him; but, as I could hear him cough from time to time, I gathered that
his study was separated from his daughter's room only by a wooden
partition. Still, it was bliss to be alone with her for a few moments,
as long as she appeared to be asleep. She did not see me, and I could
gaze on her at will. So pale was she that she seemed as white as her
muslin dressing-gown, or as her satin slippers with their trimming of
swan's down. Her delicate, transparent hand was to my eyes like some
unknown jewel. Never before had I realized what a woman was; beauty
for me had hitherto meant youth and health, together with a sort of
manly hardihood. Edmee, in her riding-habit, as I first beheld her,
had in a measure displayed such beauty, and I had understood her
better then. Now, as I studied her afresh, my very ideas, which were
beginning to get a little light from without, all helped to make this
second /tete-a-tete/ very different from the first.
But the strange, uneasy pleasure I experienced in gazing on her was
disturbed by the arrival of a duenna, a certain Mademoiselle Leblanc,
who performed the duties of lady's maid in Edmee's private apartments,
and filled the post of companion in the drawing-room. Perhaps she had
received orders from her mistress not to leave us. Certain it is that
she took her place by the side of the invalid's chair in such a way as
to present to my disappointed gaze her own long, meagre back, instead
of Edmee's beautiful face. Then she took some work out of her pocket,
and quietly began to knit. Meanwhile the birds continued to warble,
the chevalier to cough, Edmee to sleep or to pretend to sleep, while I
remained at the other end of the room with my head bent over the
prints in a book that I was holding upside down.
After some time I became aware that Edmee was not asleep, and that she
was talking to her attendant in a low voice. I fancied I noticed the
latter glancing at me from time to time out of the corner of her eye
in a somewhat stealthy manner. To escape the ordeal of such an
examination, and also from an impulse of cunning, which was by no
means foreign to my nature, I let my head fall on the book, and the
book on the pier-table, and in this posture I remained as if buried in
sleep or thought. Then, little by little, their voices grew louder,
until I could hear what they were saying about me.
"It's all the same; you have certainly have chosen a funny sort of
"A page, Leblanc! Why do you talk such nonsense? As if one had pages
nowadays! You are always imagining we are still in my grandmother's
time. I tell you he is my father's adopted son."
"M. le Chevalier is undoubtedly quite right to adopt a son; but where
on earth did he fish up such a creature as that?"
I gave a side glance at them and saw that Edmee was laughing behind
her fan. She was enjoying the chatter of this old maid, who was
supposed to be a wag and allowed perfect freedom of speech. I was very
much hurt to see my cousin was making fun of me.
"He looks like a bear, a badger, a wolf, a kite, anything rather than
a man," continued Leblanc. "What hands! what legs! And now he has been
cleaned up a little, he is nothing to what he was! You ought to have
seen him the day he arrived with his smock and his leather gaiters; it
was enough to take away one's breath."
"Do you think so?" answered Edmee. "For my part, I preferred him in
his poacher's garb. It suited his face and figure better."
"He looked like a bandit. You could not have looked at him properly,
"Oh! yes, I did."
The tone in which she pronounced these words, "Yes, I did," made me
shudder; and somehow I again felt upon my lips the impress of the kiss
she had given me at Roche-Mauprat.
"It would not be so bad if his hair were dressed properly," continued
the duenna; "but, so far, no one had been able to persuade him to have
it powdered. Saint-Jean told me that just as he was about to put the
powder puff to his head he got up in a rage and said, 'Anything you
like except that confounded flour. I want to be able to move my head
about without coughing and sneezing.' Heavens, what a savage!"
"Yet, in reality, he is quite right. If fashion did not sanction the
absurdity, everybody would perceive that it is both ugly and
inconvenient. Look and see if it is not more becoming to have long
black hair like his?"
"Long hair like that? What a mane. It is enough to frighten one."
"Besides, boys do not have their hair powdered, and he is still a
"A boy? My stars! what a brat Boys? Why he would eat them for his
breakfast; he's a regular ogre. But where does the hulking dog spring
from? I suppose M. le Chevalier brought him here from behind some
plough. What is his name again? . . . You did tell me his name, didn't
"Yes, inquisitive; I told you he is called Bernard."
"Bernard! And nothing else?"
"Nothing, for the present. What are you looking at?"
"He is sleeping like a dormouse. Look at the booby. I was wondering
whether he resembled M. le Chevalier. Perhaps it was a momentary error
--a fit of forgetfulness with some milk-maid."
"Come, come, Leblanc; you are going too far . . ."
"Goodness gracious, mademoiselle, has not M. le Chevalier been young
like any other man? And that does not prevent virtue coming on with
years, does it?"
"Doubtless your own experience has shown you that this is possible.
But listen: don't take upon yourself to make fun of this young man. It
is possible that you have guessed right; but my father requires him to
be treated as one of the family."
"Well, well; that must be pleasant for you, mademoiselle. As for
myself, what does it matter to me? I have nothing to do with the
"Ah, if you were thirty years younger."
"But did your father consult you, mademoiselle, before planting yon
great brigand in your room?"
"Why ask such a question? Is there anywhere in the world a better
father than mine?"
"But you are very good also. . . . There are many young ladies who
would have been by no means pleased."
"And why, I should like to know? There is nothing disagreeable about
the fellow. When he has been polished a little . . ."
"He will always be perfectly ugly."
"My dear Leblanc, he is far from ugly. You are too old; you are no
longer a judge of young men."
Their conversation was interrupted by the chevalier, who came in to
look for a book.
"Mademoiselle Leblanc is here, is she?" he said in a very quiet tone.
"I thought you were alone with my son. Well, Edmee, have you had a
talk with him? Did you tell him that you would be his sister? Are you
pleased with her, Bernard?"
Such answers as I gave could compromise no one. As a rule, they
consisted of four or five incoherent words crippled by shame. M. de
Mauprat returned to his study, and I had sat down again, hoping that
my cousin was going to send away her duenna and talk to me. But they
exchanged a few words in a whisper; the duenna remained, and two
mortal hours passed without my daring to stir from my chair. I believe
Edmee really was asleep this time. When the bell rang for dinner her
father came in again to fetch me, and before leaving her room he said
to her again:
"Well, have you had a chat?"
"Yes, father, dear," she replied, with an assurance that astounded me.
My cousin's behaviour seemed to me to prove beyond doubt that she had
merely been trifling with me, and that she was not afraid of my
reproaches. And yet hope sprang up again when I remembered the strain
in which she had spoken of me to Mademoiselle Leblanc. I even
succeeded in persuading myself that she feared arousing her father's
suspicions, and that she was now feigning complete indifference only
to draw me the more surely to her arms as soon as the favourable
moment had arrived. As it was impossible to ascertain the truth, I
resigned myself to waiting. But days and nights passed without any
explanation being sent, or any secret message bidding me be patient.
She used to come down to the drawing-room for an hour in the morning;
in the evening she was present at dinner, and then would play piquet
or chess with her father. During all this time she was so well watched
that I could not exchange a glance with her. For the rest of the day
she remained in her own room--inaccessible. Noticing that I was
chafing at the species of captivity in which I was compelled to live,
the chevalier frequently said to me:
"Go and have a chat with Edmee. You can go to her room and tell her
that I sent you."
But it was in vain that I knocked. No doubt they had heard me coming
and had recognised me by my heavy shuffling step. The door was never
opened to me. I grew desperate, furious.
Here I must interrupt the account of my personal impressions to tell
you what was happening at this time in the luckless Mauprat family.
John and Antony had really managed to escape, and though a very close
search had been made for them, they had not as yet been captured. All
their property was seized, and an order issued by the courts for the
sale of the Roche-Mauprat fief. As it proved, however, a sale was
unnecessary. M. Hubert de Mauprat put an end to the proceedings by
coming forward as purchaser. The creditors were paid off, and the
title-deeds of Roche-Mauprat passed into his hands.
The little garrison kept by the Mauprats, made up of adventurers of
the lowest type, had met the same fate as their masters. As I have
already said, the garrison had long been reduced to a few individuals.
Two or three of these were killed, others took to flight; one only was
captured. This man was tried and made to suffer for all. A serious
question arose as to whether judgment should not also be given against
John and Antony de Mauprat by default. There was apparently no doubt
that they had fled; the pond in which Walter's body was found floating
had been drained, yet no traces of the bodies had been discovered. The
chevalier, however, for the sake of the name he bore, strove to
prevent the disgrace of an ignominious sentence; as if such a sentence
could have added aught to the horror of the name of Mauprat. He
brought to bear all M. de la Marche's influence and his own (which was
very real in the province, especially on account of his high moral
character), to hush up the affair, and he succeeded. As for myself,
though I had certainly had a hand in more than one of my uncles'
robberies, there was no thought of discussing me even at the bar of
public opinion. In the storm of anger that my uncles had aroused
people were pleased to consider me simply as a young captive, a victim
of their cruelty, and thoroughly well disposed towards everybody.
Certainly, in his generous good nature and desire to rehabilitate the
family, the chevalier greatly exaggerated my merits, and spread a
report everywhere that I was an angel of sweetness and intelligence.
On the day that M. Hubert became purchaser of the estate he entered my
room early in the morning accompanied by his daughter and the abbe.
Showing me the documents which bore witness to his sacrifice (Roche-
Mauprat was valued at about two hundred thousand francs), he declared
that I was forthwith going to be put in possession not only of my
share in the inheritance, which was by no means considerable, but also
of half the revenue of the property. At the same time, he said, the
whole estate, lands and produce, should be secured to me by his will
on one condition, namely, that I would consent to receive an education
suitable to my position.
The chevalier had made all these arrangements in the kindness of his
heart and without ostentation, partly out of gratitude for the service
he knew I had rendered Edmee, and partly from family pride; but he had
not expected that I should prove so stubborn on the question of
education. I cannot tell you the irritation I felt at this word
"condition"; especially as I thought I detected in it signs of some
plan that Edmee had formed to free herself from her promise to me.
"Uncle," I answered, after listening to all his magnificent offers in
absolute silence, "I thank you for all you wish to do for me; but it
is not right that I should avail myself of your kindness. I have no
need of a fortune. A man like myself wants nothing but a little bread,
a gun, a hound, and the first inn he comes to on the edge of the wood.
Since you are good enough to act as my guardian pay me the income on
my eighth of the fief and do not ask me to learn that Latin bosh. A
man of birth is sufficiently well educated when he knows how to bring
down a snipe and sign his name. I have no desire to be seigneur of
Roche-Mauprat; it is enough to have been a slave there. You are most
kind, and on my honour I love you; but I have very little love for
conditions. I have never done anything from interested motives. I
would rather remain an ignoramus than develop a pretty wit for
another's dole. Moreover, I could never consent to make such a hole in
my cousin's fortune; though I know perfectly well that she would
willingly sacrifice a part of her dowry to obtain release from . . ."
Edmee, who until now had remained very pale and apparently heedless of
my words, all at once cast a lightning glance at me and said with an
air of unconcern:
"To obtain a release from what, may I ask, Bernard?"
I saw that, in spite of this show of courage, she was very much
perturbed; for she broke her fan while shutting it. I answered her
with a look in which the artless malice of the rustic must have been
"To obtain release, cousin, from a certain promise you made me at
She grew paler than ever, and on her face I could see an expression of
terror, but ill-disguised by a smile of contempt.
"What was the promise you made him, Edmee?" asked the chevalier,
turning towards her ingenuously.
At the same time the abbe pressed my arm furtively, and I understood
that my cousin's confessor was in possession of the secret.
I shrugged my shoulders; their fears did me an injustice, though they
roused my pity.
"She promised me," I replied, with a smile, "that she would always
look upon me as a brother and a friend. Were not those your words,
Edmee, and do you think it is possible to make them good by mere
She rose as if filled with new life, and, holding out her hand to me,
said in a voice full of emotion:
"You are right, Bernard; yours is a noble heart, and I should never
forgive myself if I doubted it for a moment."
I caught sight of a tear on the edge of her eye-lid, and I pressed her
hand somewhat too roughly, no doubt, for she could not restrain a
little cry, followed, however, by a charming smile. The chevalier
clasped me to his breast, and the abbe rocked about in his chair and
"How beautiful! How noble! How very beautiful! Ah," he added, "that is
something that cannot be learnt from books," turning to the chevalier.
"God writes his words and breathes forth his spirit upon the hearts of
"You will see," said the chevalier, deeply moved, "that this Mauprat
will yet build up the honour of the family again. And now, my dear
Bernard, I will say no more about business. I know how I ought to act,
and you cannot prevent me from taking such steps as I shall think fit
to insure the rehabilitation of my name by yourself. The only true
rehabilitation is guaranteed by your noble sentiments; but there is
still another which I know you will not refuse to attempt--the way to
this lies through your talents and intelligence. You will make the
effort out of love for us, I hope. However, we need not talk of this
at present. I respect your proud spirit, and I gladly renew my offers
without conditions. And now, abbe, I shall be glad if you will
accompany me to the town to see my lawyer. The carriage is waiting. As
for you, children, you can have lunch together. Come, Bernard, offer
your arm to your cousin, or rather, to your sister. You must acquire
some courtesy of manner, since in her case it will be but the
expression of your heart."
"That is true, uncle," I answered, taking hold of Edmee's arm somewhat
roughly to lead her downstairs.
I could feel her trembling; but the pink had returned to her cheeks,
and a smile of affection was playing about her lips.
As soon as we were seated opposite each other at table our happy
harmony was chilled in a very few moments. We both returned to our
former state of embarrassment. Had we been alone I should have got out
of the difficulty by one of those abrupt sallies which I knew how to
force from myself when I grew too much ashamed of my bashfulness; but
the presence of Saint-Jean, who was waiting upon us, condemned me to
silence on the subject next to my heart. I decided, therefore, to talk
about Patience. I asked her how it came to pass that she was on such
good terms with him, and in what light I ought to look upon the
pretended sorcerer. She gave me the main points in the history of the
rustic philosopher, and explained that it was the Abbe Aubert who had
taken her to Gazeau Tower. She had been much struck by the
intelligence and wisdom of the stoic hermit, and used to derive great
pleasure from conversation with him. On his side, Patience had
conceived such a friendship for her that for some time he had relaxed
his strict habits, and would frequently pay her a visit when he came
to see the abbe.
As you may imagine, she had no little difficulty in making these
explanations intelligible to me. I was very much surprised at the
praise she bestowed on Patience, and at the sympathy she showed for
his revolutionary ideas. This was the first time I had heard a peasant
spoken of as a man. Besides, I had hitherto looked upon the sorcerer
of Gazeau Tower as very much below the ordinary peasant, and here was
Edmee praising him above most of the men she knew, and even siding
with him against the nobles. From this I drew the comfortable
conclusion that education was not so essential as the chevalier and
the abbe would have me believe.
"I can scarcely read any better than Patience," I added, "and I only
wish you found as much pleasure in my society as in his; but it hardly
appears so, cousin, for since I came here . . ."
We were then leaving the table, and I was rejoicing at the prospect of
being alone with her at last, so that I might talk more freely, when
on going into the drawing-room we found M. de la Marche there. He had
just arrived, and was in the act of entering by the opposite door. In
my heart I wished him at the devil.
M. de la March was one of the fashionable young nobles of the day.
Smitten with the new philosophy, devoted to Voltaire, a great admirer
of Franklin, more well-meaning than intelligent, understanding the
oracles less than he desired or pretended to understand them; a pretty
poor logician, since he found his ideas much less excellent and his
political hopes much less sweet on the day that the French nation took
it into its head to realize them; for the rest, full of fine
sentiments, believing himself much more sanguine and romantic than he
was in reality; rather more faithful to the prejudices of caste and
considerably more sensitive to the opinion of the world than he
flattered and prided himself on being--such was the man. His face was
certainly handsome, but I found it excessively dull; for I had
conceived the most ridiculous animosity for him. His polished manners
seemed to me abjectly servile with Edmee. I should have blushed to
imitate them, and yet my sole aim was to surpass him in the little
services he rendered her. We went out into the park. This was very
large, and through it ran the Indre, here merely a pretty stream.
During our walk he made himself agreeable in a thousand ways; not a
violet did he see but he must pluck it to offer to my cousin. But,
when we arrived at the banks of the stream, we found that the plank
which usually enabled one to cross at this particular spot had been
broken and washed away by the storms of a few days before. Without
asking permission, I immediately took Edmee in my arms, and quietly
walked through the stream. The water came up to my waist, but I
carried my cousin at arm's length so securely and skilfully that she
did not wet a single ribbon. M. de la Marche, unwilling to appear more
delicate than myself, did not hesitate to wet his fine clothes and
follow me, though with some rather poor efforts the while to force a
laugh. However, though he had not any burden to carry, he several
times stumbled over the stones which covered the bed of the river, and
rejoined us only with great difficulty. Edmee was far from laughing. I
believe that this proof of my strength and daring, forced on her in
spite of herself, terrified her as an evidence of the love she had
stirred in me. She even appeared to be annoyed; and, as I set her down
gently on the bank, said:
"Bernard, I must request you never to play such a prank again."
"That is all very well," I said; "you would not be angry if it were
the other fellow."
"He would not think of doing such a thing," she replied.
"I quite believe it," I answered; "he would take very good care of
that. Just look at the chap. . . . And I--I did not ruffle a hair of
your head. He is very good at picking violets; but, take my word for
it, in a case of danger, don't make him your first choice."
M. de la Marche paid me great compliments on this exploit. I had hoped
that he would be jealous; he did not even appear to dream of it, but
rather made merry over the pitiable state of his toilet. The day was
excessively hot, and we were quite dry before the end of the walk.
Edmee, however, remained sad and pensive. It seemed to me that she was
making an effort to show me as much friendship as at luncheon. This
affected me considerably; for I was not only enamoured of her--I loved
her. I could not make the distinction then, but both feelings were in
me--passion and tenderness.
The chevalier and the abbe returned in time for dinner. They conversed
in a low voice with M. de la Marche about the settlement of my
affairs, and, from the few words which I could not help overhearing, I
gathered that they had just secured my future on the bright lines they
had laid before me in the morning. I was too shy and proud to express
my simple thanks. This generosity perplexed me; I could not understand
it, and I almost suspected that it was a trap they were preparing to
separate me from my cousin. I did not realize the advantage of a
fortune. Mine were not the wants of a civilized being; and the
prejudices of rank were with me a point of honour, and by no means a
social vanity. Seeing that they did not speak to me openly, I played
the somewhat ungracious part of feigning complete ignorance.
Edmee grew more and more melancholy. I noticed that her eyes rested
now on M. de la Marche, now on her father, with a vague uneasiness.
Whenever I spoke to her, or even raised my voice in addressing others,
she would start and then knit her brows slightly, as if my voice had
caused her physical pain. She retired immediately after dinner. Her
father followed her with evident anxiety.
"Have you not noticed," said the abbe, turning to M. de la Marche, as
soon as they had left the room, "that Mademoiselle de Mauprat has very
much changed of late?"
"She has grown thinner," answered the lieutenant-general; "but in my
opinion she is only the more beautiful for that."
"Yes; but I fear she may be more seriously ill than she owns," replied
the abbe. "Her temperament seems no less changed than her face; she
has grown quite sad."
"Sad? Why, I don't think I ever saw her so gay as she was this
morning; don't you agree with me, Monsieur Bernard? It was only after
our walk that she complained of a slight headache."
"I assure you that she is really sad," rejoined the abbe. "Nowadays,
when she is gay, her gaiety is excessive; at such a time there seems
to be something strange and forced about her which is quite foreign to
her usual manner. Then the next minute she relapses into a state of
melancholy, which I never noticed before the famous night in the
forest. You may be certain that night was a terrible experience."
"True, she was obliged to witness a frightful scene at Gazeau Tower,"
said M. de la Marche; "and then she must have been very much exhausted
and frightened when her horse bolted from the field and galloped right
through the forest. Yet her pluck is so remarkable that . . . What do
you think, my dear Monsieur Bernard? When you met her in the forest,
did she seem very frightened?"
"In the forest?" I said. "I did not meet her in the forest at all."
"No; it was in Varenne that you met her, wasn't it?"
The abbe hastened to intervene. . . . "By-the-bye, Monsieur Bernard,
can you spare me a minute to talk over a little matter connected with
your property at . . ."
Hereupon he drew me out of the drawing-room, and said in a low voice:
"There is no question of business; I only want to beg of you not to
let a single soul, not even M. de la Marche, suspect that Mademoiselle
de Mauprat was at Roche-Mauprat for the fraction of a second."
"And why?" I asked. "Was she not under my protection there? Did she
not leave it pure, thanks to me? Must it not be well known to the
neighbourhood that she passed two hours there?"
"At present no one knows," he answered. "At the very moment she left
it, Roche-Mauprat fell before the attack of the police, and not one of
its inmates will return from the grave or from exile to proclaim the
fact. When you know the world better, you will understand how
important it is for the reputation of a young lady that none should
have reason to suppose that even a shadow of danger has fallen upon
her honour. Meanwhile, I implore you, in the name of her father, in
the name of the affection for her which you expressed this morning in
so noble and touching a manner . . ."
"You are very clever, Monsieur l'Abbe," I said, interrupting him. "All
your words have a hidden meaning which I can grasp perfectly well,
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