Part 3 out of 7
clown as I am. Tell my cousin that she may set her mind at ease. I
have nothing to say against her virtue, that is very certain; and I
trust I am not capable of spoiling the marriage she desires. Tell her
that I claim but one thing of her, the fulfilment of that promise of
friendship which she made me at Roche-Mauprat."
"In your eyes, then, that promise has a peculiar solemnity?" said the
abbe. "If so, what grounds for distrusting it have you?"
I looked at him fixedly, and as he appeared very much agitated, I took
a pleasure in keeping him on the rack, hoping that he would repeat my
words to Edmee.
"None," I answered. "Only I observe that you are afraid that M. de la
Marche may break off the marriage, if he happens to hear of the
adventure at Roche-Mauprat. If the gentleman is capable of suspecting
Edmee, and of grossly insulting her on the eve of his wedding, it
seems to me that there is one very simple means of mending matters."
"What would you suggest?"
"Why, to challenge him and kill him."
"I trust you will do all you can to spare the venerable M. Hubert the
necessity of facing such a hideous danger."
"I will spare him this and many others by taking upon myself to avenge
my cousin. In truth, this is my right, Monsieur l'Abbe. I know the
duties of a gentleman quite as well as if I had learnt Latin. You may
tell her this from me. Let her sleep in peace. I will keep silence,
and if that is useless I will fight."
"But, Bernard," replied the abbe in a gentle, insinuating tone, "have
you thought of your cousin's affection for M. de la Marche?"
"All the more reason that I should fight him," I cried, in a fit of
And I turned my back on him abruptly.
The abbe retailed the whole of our conversation to the penitent. The
part that the worthy priest had to play was very embarrassing. Under
the seal of confession he had been intrusted with a secret to which in
his conversations with me he could make only indirect allusions, to
bring me to understand that my pertinacity was a crime, and that the
only honourable course was to yield. He hoped too much of me. Virtue
such as this was beyond my power, and equally beyond my understanding.
A few days passed in apparent calm. Edmee said she was unwell, and
rarely quitted her room. M. de la Marche called nearly every day, his
chateau being only a short distance off. My dislike for him grew
stronger and stronger in spite of all the politeness he showed me. I
understood nothing whatever of his dabblings in philosophy, and I
opposed all his opinions with the grossest prejudices and expressions
at my command. What consoled me in a measure for my secret sufferings
was to see that he was no more admitted than myself to Edmee's rooms.
For a week the sole event of note was that Patience took up his abode
in a hut near the chateau. Ever since the Abbe Aubert had found a
refuge from ecclesiastical persecution under the chevalier's roof, he
had no longer been obliged to arrange secret meetings with the hermit.
He had, therefore, strongly urged him to give up his dwelling in the
forest and to come nearer to himself. Patience had needed a great deal
of persuasion. Long years of solitude had so attached him to his
Gazeau Tower that he hesitated to desert it for the society of his
friend. Besides, he declared that the abbe would assuredly be
corrupted with commerce with the great; that soon, unknown to himself,
he would come under the influence of the old ideas, and that his zeal
for the sacred cause would grow cold. It is true that Edmee had won
Patience's heart, and that, in offering him a little cottage belonging
to her father situated in a picturesque ravine near the park gate, she
had gone to work with such grace and delicacy that not even his techy
pride could feel wounded. In fact, it was to conclude these important
negotiations that the abbe had betaken himself to Gazeau Tower with
Marcasse on that very evening when Edmee and myself sought shelter
there. The terrible scene which followed our arrival put an end to any
irresolution still left in Patience. Inclined to the Pythagorean
doctrines, he had a horror of all bloodshed. The death of a deer drew
tears from him, as from Shakespeare's Jacques; still less could he
bear to contemplate the murder of a human being, and the instant that
Gazeau Tower had served as the scene of two tragic deaths, it stood
defiled in his eyes, and nothing could have induced him to pass
another night there. He followed us to Sainte-Severe, and soon allowed
his philosophical scruples to be overcome by Edmee's persuasive
powers. The little cottage which he was prevailed on to accept was
humble enough not to make him blush with shame at a too palpable
compromise with civilization; and, though the solitude he found there
was less perfect than at Gazeau Tower, the frequent visits of the abbe
and of Edmee could hardly have given him a right to complain.
Here the narrator interrupted his story again to expatiate on the
development of Mademoiselle de Mauprat's character.
Edmee, hidden away in her modest obscurity, was--and, believe me, I do
not speak from bias--one of the most perfect women to be found in
France. Had she desired or been compelled to make herself known to the
world, she would assuredly have been famous and extolled beyond all
her sex. But she found her happiness in her own family, and the
sweetest simplicity crowned her mental powers and lofty virtues. She
was ignorant of her worth, as I myself was at that time, when,
brutelike, I saw only with the eyes of the body, and believed I loved
her only because she was beautiful. It should be said, too, that her
/fiance/, M. de la Marche, understood her but little better. He had
developed the weakly mind with which he was endowed in the frigid
school of Voltaire and Helvetius. Edmee had fired her vast intellect
with the burning declamations of Jean Jacques. A day came when I could
understand her--the day when M. de la Marche could have understood her
would never have come.
Edmee, deprived of her mother from the very cradle, and left to her
young devices by a father full of confidence and careless good nature,
had shaped her character almost alone. The Abbe Aubert, who had
confirmed her, had by no means forbidden her to read the philosophers
by whom he himself had been lured from the paths of orthodoxy. Finding
no one to oppose her ideas or even to discuss them--for her father,
who idolized her, allowed himself to be led wherever she wished--Edmee
had drawn support from two sources apparently very antagonistic: the
philosophy which was preparing the downfall of Christianity, and
Christianity which was proscribing the spirit of inquiry. To account
for this contradiction, you must recall what I told you about the
effect produced on the Abbe Aubert by the /Profession de Foi du
Vicaire Savoyard/. Moreover, you must be aware that, in poetic souls,
mysticism and doubt often reign side by side. Jean Jacques himself
furnishes a striking example of this, and you know what sympathies he
stirred among priests and nobles, even when he was chastising them so
unmercifully. What miracles may not conviction work when helped by
sublime eloquence! Edmee had drunk of this living fount with all the
eagerness of an ardent soul. In her rare visits to Paris she had
sought for spirits in sympathy with her own. There, however, she had
found so many shades of opinion, so little harmony, and--despite the
prevailing fashion--so many ineradicable prejudices, that she had
returned with a yet deeper love to her solitude and her poetic
reveries under the old oaks in the park. She would even then speak of
her illusions, and--with a good sense beyond her years, perhaps, too,
beyond her sex--she refused all opportunities of direct intercourse
with the philosophers whose writings made up her intellectual life.
"I am somewhat of a Sybarite," she would say with a smile. "I would
rather have a bouquet of roses arranged for me in a vase in the early
morning, than go and gather them myself from out their thorns in the
heat of the sun."
As a fact, this remark about her sybaritism was only a jest. Brought
up in the country, she was strong, active, brave, and full of life. To
all her charms of delicate beauty she united the energy of physical
and moral health. She was the proud-spirited and fearless girl, no
less than the sweet and affable mistress of the house. I often found
her haughty and disdainful. Patience and the poor of the district
never found her anything but modest and good-natured.
Edmee loved the poets almost as much as the transcendental
philosophers. In her walks she always carried a book in her hand. One
day when she had taken Tasso with her she met Patience, who, as was
his wont, inquired minutely into both author and subject. Edmee
thereupon had to give him an account of the Crusades. This was not the
most difficult part of her task. Thanks to the stores of information
derived from the abbe and to his prodigious memory for facts, Patience
had a passable knowledge of the outlines of universal history. But
what he had great trouble in grasping was the connection and
difference between epic poetry and history. At first he was indignant
at the inventions of the poets, and declared that such impostures
ought never to have been allowed. Then, when he had realized that epic
poetry, far from leading generations into error, only raised heroic
deeds to vaster proportions and a more enduring glory, he asked how it
was that all important events had not been sung by the bards, and why
the history of man had not been embodied in a popular form capable of
impressing itself on every mind without the help of letters. He begged
Edmee to explain to him a stanza of /Jerusalem Delivered/. As he took
a fancy to it, she read him a canto in French. A few days later she
read him another, and soon Patience knew the whole poem. He rejoiced
to hear that the heroic tale was popular in Italy; and, bringing
together his recollections of it, endeavoured to give them an abridged
form in rude prose, but he had no memory for words. Roused by his
vivid impressions, he would call up a thousand mighty images before
his eyes. He would give utterance to them in improvisations wherein
his genius triumphed over the uncouthness of his language, but he
could never repeat what he had once said. One would have had to take
it down from his dictation, and even that would have been of no use to
him; for, supposing he had managed to read it, his memory, accustomed
to occupy itself solely with thoughts, had never been able to retain
any fragment whatever in its precise words. And yet he was fond of
quoting, and at times his language was almost biblical. Beyond,
however, certain expressions that he loved, and a number of short
sentences that he found means to make his own, he remembered nothing
of the pages which had been read to him so often, and he always
listened to them again with the same emotion as at first. It was a
veritable pleasure to watch the effect of beautiful poetry on this
powerful intellect. Little by little the abbe, Edmee, and subsequently
I myself, managed to familiarize him with Homer and Dante. He was so
struck by the various incidents in the /Divine Comedy/ that he could
give an analysis of the poem from beginning to end, without forgetting
or misplacing the slightest detail in the journey, the encounters, and
the emotions of the poet. There, however, his power ended. If he
essayed to repeat some of the phrases which had so charmed him when
they were read, he flung forth a mass of metaphors and images which
savoured of delirium. This initiation into the wonders of poetry
marked an epoch in the life of Patience. In the realm of fancy it
supplied the action wanting to his real life. In his magic mirror he
beheld gigantic combats between heroes ten cubits high; he understood
love, which he himself had never known; he fought, he loved, he
conquered; he enlightened nations, gave peace to the world, redressed
the wrongs of mankind, and raised up temples to the mighty spirit of
the universe. He saw in the starry firmament all the gods of Olympus,
the fathers of primitive humanity. In the constellations he read the
story of the golden age, and of the ages of brass; in the winter wind
he heard the songs of Morven, and in the storm-clouds he bowed to the
ghosts of Fingal and Comala.
"Before I knew the poets," he said towards the end of his life, "I was
a man lacking in one of the senses. I could see plainly that this
sense was necessary, since there were so many things calling for its
operation. In my solitary walks at night I used to feel a strange
uneasiness; I used to wonder why I could not sleep; why I should find
such pleasure in gazing upon the stars that I could not tear myself
from their presence; why my heart should suddenly beat with joy on
seeing certain colours, or grow sad even to tears on hearing certain
sounds. At times I was so alarmed on comparing my continual agitation
with the indifference of other men of my class that I even began to
imagine that I was mad. But I soon consoled myself with the reflection
that such madness was sweet, and I would rather have ceased to exist
than be cured of it. Now that I know these things have been thought
beautiful in all times and by all intelligent beings, I understand
what they are, and how they are useful to man. I find joy in the
thought that there is not a flower, not a colour, not a breath of air,
which has not absorbed the minds and stirred the hearts of other men
till it has received a name sacred among all peoples. Since I have
learnt that it is allowed to man, without degrading his reason, to
people the universe and interpret it by his dreams, I live wholly in
the contemplation of the universe; and when the sight of the misery
and crime in the world bruises my heart and shakes my reason, I fall
back upon my dreams. I say to myself that, since all men are united in
their love of the works of God, some day they will also be united in
their love of one another. I imagine that education grows more and
more perfect from father to son. It may be that I am the first
untutored man who has divined truths of which no glimpse was given him
from without. It may be, too, that many others before myself have been
perplexed by the workings of their hearts and brains and have died
without ever finding an answer to the riddle. "Ah, we poor folk,"
added Patience, "we are never forbidden excess in labour, or in wine,
or in any of the debauches which may destroy our minds. There are some
people who pay dearly for the work of our arms, so that the poor, in
their eagerness to satisfy the wants of their families, may work
beyond their strength. There are taverns and other places more
dangerous still, from which, so it is said, the government draws a
good profit; and there are priests, too, who get up in their pulpits
to tell us what we owe to the lord of our village, but never what the
lord owes to us. Nowhere is there a school where they teach us our
real rights; where they show us how to distinguish our true and decent
wants from the shameful and fatal ones; where, in short, they tell us
what we can and ought to think about when we have borne the burden and
heat of the day for the profit of others, and are sitting in the
evening at the door of our huts, gazing on the red stars as they come
out on the horizon."
Thus would Patience reason; and, believe me, in translating his words
into our conventional language, I am robbing them of all their grace,
all their fire, and all their vigour. But who could repeat the exact
words of Patience? His was a language used by none but himself; it was
a mixture of the limited, though forcible, vocabulary of the peasants
and of the boldest metaphors of the poets, whose poetic turns he would
often make bolder still. To this mixed idiom his sympathetic mind gave
order and logic. An incredible wealth of thought made up for the
brevity of the phrases that clothed it. You should have seen how
desperately his will and convictions strove to overcome the impotence
of his language; any other than he would have failed to come out of
the struggle with honour. And I assure you that any one capable of
something more serious than laughing at his solecisms and audacities
of phrase, would have found in this man material for the most
important studies on the development of the human mind, and an
incentive to the most tender admiration for primitive moral beauty.
When, subsequently, I came to understand Patience thoroughly, I found
a bond of sympathy with him in my own exceptional destiny. Like him, I
had been without education; like him, I had sought outside myself for
an explanation of my being--just as one seeks the answer to a riddle.
Thanks to the accidents of my birth and fortune, I had arrived at
complete development, while Patience, to the hour of his death,
remained groping in the darkness of an ignorance from which he neither
would nor could emerge. To me, however, this was only an additional
reason for recognising the superiority of that powerful nature which
held its course more boldly by the feeble light of instinct, than I
myself by all the brilliant lights of knowledge; and which, moreover,
had not had a single evil inclination to subdue, while I had had all
that a man may have.
At the time, however, at which I must take up my story, Patience was
still, in my eyes, merely a grotesque character, an object of
amusement for Edmee, and of kindly compassion for the Abbe Aubert.
When they spoke to me about him in a serious tone, I no longer
understood them, and I imagined they took this subject as a sort of
text whereon to build a parable proving to me the advantages of
education, the necessity of devoting myself to study early in life,
and the futility of regrets in after years.
Yet this did not prevent me from prowling about the copses about his
new abode, for I had seen Edmee crossing the park in that direction,
and I hoped that if I took her by surprise as she was returning, I
should get a conversation with her. But she was always accompanied by
the abbe, and sometimes even by her father, and if she remained alone
with the old peasant, he would escort her to the chateau afterwards.
Frequently I have concealed myself in the foliage of a giant yew-tree,
which spread out its monstrous shoots and drooping branches to within
a few yards of the cottage, and have seen Edmee sitting at the door
with a book in her hand while Patience was listening with his arms
folded and his head sunk on his breast, as though he were overwhelmed
by the effort of attention. At that time I imagined that Edmee was
trying to teach him to read, and thought her mad to persist in
attempting an impossible education. But how beautiful she seemed in
the light of the setting sun, beneath the yellowing vine leaves that
overhung the cottage door! I used to gaze on her and tell myself that
she belonged to me, and vow never to yield to any force or persuasion
which should endeavour to make me renounce my claim.
For some days my agony of mind had been intense. My only method of
escaping from it had been to drink heavily at supper, so that I might
be almost stupefied at the hour, for me so painful and so galling,
when she would leave the drawing-room after kissing her father, giving
her hand to M. de la Marche, and saying as she passed by me, "Good-
night, Bernard," in a tone which seemed to say, "To-day has ended like
yesterday, and to-morrow will end like to-day."
In vain would I go and sit in the arm-chair nearest her door, so that
she could not pass without at least her dress brushing against me;
this was all I ever got from her. I would not put out my hand to beg
her own, for she might have given it with an air of unconcern, and I
verily believe I should have crushed it in my anger.
Thanks to my large libations at supper, I generally succeeded in
besotting myself, silently and sadly. I then used to sink into my
favourite arm-chair and remain there, sullen and drowsy, until the
fumes of the wine had passed away, and I could go and air my wild
dreams and sinister plans in the park.
None seemed to notice this gross habit of mine. They showed me such
kindness and indulgence in the family that they seemed afraid to
express disapproval, however much I deserved it. Nevertheless, they
were well aware of my shameful passion for wine, and the abbe informed
Edmee of it. One evening at supper she looked at me fixedly several
times and with a strange expression. I stared at her in return, hoping
that she would say something to provoke me, but we got no further than
an exchange of malevolent glances. On leaving the table she whispered
to me very quickly, and in an imperious tone:
"Break yourself of this drinking, and pay attention to what the abbe
has to say to you."
This order and tone of authority, so far from filling me with hope,
seemed to me so revolting that all my timidity vanished in a moment. I
waited for the hour when she usually went up to her room and, going
out a little before her, took up my position on the stairs.
"Do you think," I said to her when she appeared, "that I am the dupe
of your lies, and that I have not seen perfectly, during the month I
have been here, without your speaking a word to me, that you are
merely fooling me, as if I were a booby? You lied to me and now you
despise me because I was honest enough to believe your word."
"Bernard," she said, in a cold tone, "this is neither the time nor the
place for an explanation."
"Oh, I know well enough," I replied, "that, according to you, it will
never be the time or the place. But I shall manage to find both, do
not fear. You said that you loved me. You threw your arms about my
neck and said, as you kissed me--yes, here, I can still feel your lips
on my cheeks: 'Save me, and I swear on the gospel, on my honour, by
the memory of my mother and your own, that I will be yours.' I can see
through it; you said that because you were afraid that I should use my
strength, and now you avoid me because you are afraid I shall claim my
right. But you will gain nothing by it. I swear that you shall not
trifle with me long."
"I will never be yours," she replied, with a coldness which was
becoming more and more icy, "if you do not make some change in your
language, and manners, and feelings. In your present state I certainly
do not fear you. When you appeared to me good and generous, I might
have yielded to you, half from fear and half from affection. But from
the moment I cease to care for you, I also cease to be afraid of you.
Improve your manners, improve your mind, and we will see."
"Very good," I said, "that is a promise I can understand. I will act
on it, and if I cannot be happy, I will have my revenge."
"Take your revenge as much as you please," she said. "That will only
make me despise you."
So saying, she drew from her bosom a piece of paper, and burnt it in
the flame of her candle.
"What are you doing?" I exclaimed.
"I am burning a letter I had written to you," she answered. "I wanted
to make you listen to reason, but it is quite useless; one cannot
reason with brutes."
"Give me that letter at once," I cried, rushing at her to seize the
But she withdrew it quickly and, fearlessly extinguishing it in her
hand, threw the candle at my feet and fled in the darkness. I ran
after her, but in vain. She was in her room before I could get there,
and had slammed the door and drawn the bolts. I could hear the voice
of Mademoiselle Leblanc asking her young mistress the cause of her
"It is nothing," replied Edmee's trembling voice, "nothing but a
I went into the garden, and strode up and down the walks at a furious
rate. My anger gave place to the most profound melancholy. Edmee,
proud and daring, seemed to me more desirable than ever. It is the
nature of all desire to be excited and nourished by opposition. I felt
that I had offended her, and that she did not love me, that perhaps
she would never love me; and, without abandoning my criminal
resolution to make her mine by force, I gave way to grief at the
thought of her hatred of me. I went and leaned upon a gloomy old wall
which happened to be near, and, burying my face in my hands, I broke
into heart-rending sobs. My sturdy breast heaved convulsively, but
tears would not bring the relief I longed for. I could have roared in
my anguish, and I had to bite my handkerchief to prevent myself from
yielding to the temptation. The weird noise of my stifled sobs
attracted the attention of some one who was praying in the little
chapel on the other side of the wall which I had chanced to lean
against. A Gothic window, with its stone mullions surmounted by a
trefoil, was exactly on a level with my head.
"Who is there?" asked some one, and I could distinguish a pale face in
the slanting rays of the moon which was just rising.
It was Edmee. On recognising her I was about to move away, but she
passed her beautiful arm between the mullions, and held me back by the
collar of my jacket, saying:
"Why are you crying, Bernard?"
I yielded to her gentle violence, half ashamed at having betrayed my
weakness, and half enchanted at finding that Edmee was not unmoved by
"What are you grieved at?" she continued. "What can draw such bitter
tears from you?"
"You despise me; you hate me; and you ask why I am in pain, why I am
"It is anger, then, that makes you weep?" she said, drawing back her
"Yes; anger or something else," I replied.
"But what else?" she asked.
"I can't say; probably grief, as you suggest. The truth is my life
here is unbearable; my heart is breaking. I must leave you, Edmee, and
go and live in the middle of the woods. I cannot stay here any
"Why is life unbearable? Explain yourself, Bernard. Now is our
opportunity for an explanation."
"Yes, with a wall between us. I can understand that you are not afraid
of me now."
"And yet it seems to me that I am only showing an interest in you; and
was I not as affectionate an hour ago when there was no wall between
"I begin to see why you are fearless, Edmee; you always find some
means of avoiding people, or of winning them over with pretty words.
Ah, they were right when they told me that all women are false, and
that I must love none of them."
"And who told you that? Your Uncle John, I suppose, or your Uncle
Walter; or was it your grandfather, Tristan?"
"You can jeer--jeer at me as much as you like. It is not my fault that
I was brought up by them. There were times, however, when they spoke
"Bernard, would you like me to tell you why they thought women false?"
"Yes, tell me."
"Because they were brutes and tyrants to creatures weaker than
themselves. Whenever one makes one's self feared one runs the risk of
being deceived. In your childhood, when John used to beat you, did you
never try to escape his brutal punishment by disguising your little
"I did; that was my only resource."
"You can understand, then, that deception is, if not the right, at
least the resource of the oppressed."
"I understand that I love you, and in that at any rate there can be no
excuse for your deceiving me."
"And who says that I have deceived you?"
"But you have; you said you loved me; you did not love me."
"I loved you, because at a time when you were wavering between
detestable principles and the impulses of a generous heart I saw that
you were inclining towards justice and honesty. And I love you now,
because I see that you are triumphing over these vile principles, and
that your evil inspirations are followed by tears of honest regret.
This I say before God, with my hand on my heart, at a time when I can
see your real self. There are other times when you appear to me so
below yourself that I no longer recognise you and I think I no longer
love you. It rests with you, Bernard, to free me from all doubts,
either about you or myself."
"And what must I do?"
"You must amend your bad habits, open your ears to good counsel and
your heart to the precepts of morality. You are a savage, Bernard;
and, believe me, it is neither your awkwardness in making a bow, nor
your inability to turn a compliment that shocks me. On the contrary,
this roughness of manner would be a very great charm in my eyes, if
only there were some great ideas and noble feelings beneath it. But
your ideas and your feelings are like your manners, that is what I
cannot endure. I know it is not your fault, and if I only saw you
resolute to improve I should love you as much for your defects as for
your qualities. Compassion brings affection in its train. But I do not
love evil, I never loved it; and, if you cultivate it in yourself
instead of uprooting it, I can never love you. Do you understand me?"
"No, I say. I am not aware that there is any evil in me. If you are
not displeased at the lack of grace in my legs, or the lack of
whiteness in my hands, or the lack of elegance in my words, I fail to
see what you find to hate in me. From my childhood I have had to
listen to evil precepts, but I have not accepted them. I have never
considered it permissible to do a bad deed; or, at least, I have never
found it pleasurable. If I have done wrong, it is because I have been
forced to do it. I have always detested my uncles and their ways. I do
not like to see others suffer; I do not rob a fellow-creature; I
despise money, of which they made a god at Roche-Mauprat; I know how
to keep sober, and, though I am fond of wine, I would drink water all
my life if, like my uncles, I had to shed blood to get a good supper.
Yet I fought for them; yet I drank with them. How could I do
otherwise? But now, when I am my own master, what harm am I doing?
Does your abbe, who is always prating of virtue, take me for a
murderer or a thief? Come, Edmee, confess now; you know well enough
that I am an honest man; you do not really think me wicked; but I am
displeasing to you because I am not clever, and you like M. de la
Marche because he has a knack of making unmeaning speeches which I
should blush to utter."
"And if, to be pleasing to me," she said with a smile, after listening
most attentively, and without withdrawing her hand which I had taken
through the bars, "if, in order to be preferred to M. de la Marche, it
were necessary to acquire more wit, as you say, would you not try?"
"I don't know," I replied, after hesitating a moment; "perhaps I
should be fool enough; for the power you have over me is more than I
can understand; but it would be a sorry piece of cowardice and a great
"Because a woman who could love a man, not for his honest heart, but
for his pretty wit, would be hardly worth the pains I should have to
take; at least so it seems to me."
She remained silent in her turn, and then said to me as she pressed my
"You have much more sense and wit than one might think. And since you
force me to be quite frank with you, I will own that, as you now are
and even should you never change, I have an esteem and an affection
for you which will last as long as my life. Rest assured of that,
Bernard, whatever I may say in a moment of anger. You know I have a
quick temper--that runs in the family. The blood of the Mauprats will
never flow as smoothly as other people's. Have a care for my pride,
then, you know so well what pride is, and do not ever presume upon
rights you have acquired. Affection cannot be commanded; it must be
implored or inspired. Act so that I may always love you; never tell me
that I am forced to love you."
"That is reasonable enough," I answered; "but why do you sometimes
speak to me as if I were forced to obey you? Why, for instance, this
evening did you /forbid/ me to drink and /order/ me to study?"
"Because if one cannot command affection which does not exist, one can
at least command affection which does exist; and it is because I am
sure yours exists that I commanded it."
"Good!" I cried, in a transport of joy; "I have a right then to order
yours also, since you have told me that it certainly exists. . . .
Edmee, I order you to kiss me."
"Let go, Bernard!" she cried; "you are breaking my arm. Look, you have
scraped it against the bars."
"Why have you intrenched yourself against me?" I said, putting my lips
to the little scratch I had made on her arm. "Ah, woe is me! Confound
the bars! Edmee, if you would only bend your head down I should be
able to kiss you . . . kiss you as my sister. Edmee, what are you
"My good Bernard," she replied, "in the world in which I live one does
not kiss even a sister, and nowhere does one kiss in secret. I will
kiss you every day before my father, if you like; but never here."
"You will never kiss me!" I cried, relapsing into my usual passion.
"What of your promise? What of my rights?"
"If we marry," she said, in an embarrassed tone, "when you have
received the education I implore you to receive, . . ."
"Death of my life! Is this a jest? Is there any question of marriage
between us? None at all. I don't want your fortune, as I have told
"My fortune and yours are one," she replied. "Bernard, between near
relations as we are, mine and thine are words without meaning. I
should never suspect you of being mercenary. I know that you love me,
that you will work to give me proof of this, and that a day will come
when your love will no longer make me fear, because I shall be able to
accept it in the face of heaven and earth."
"If that is your idea," I replied, completely drawn away from my wild
passion by the new turn she was giving to my thoughts, "my position is
very different; but, to tell you the truth, I must reflect on this; I
had not realized that this was your meaning."
"And how should I have meant otherwise?" she answered. "Is not a woman
dishonoured by giving herself to a man who is not her husband? I do
not wish to dishonour myself; and, since you love me, you would not
wish it either. You would not do me an irreparable wrong. If such were
your intention you would be my deadliest enemy."
"Stay, Edmee, stay!" I answered. "I can tell you nothing about my
intentions in regard to you, for I have never had any very definite. I
have felt nothing but wild desires, nor have I ever thought of you
without going mad. You wish me to marry you? But why--why?"
"Because a girl who respects herself cannot be any man's except with
the thought, with the intention, with the certainty of being his
forever. Do you not know that?"
"There are so many things I do not know or have never thought of."
"Education will teach you, Bernard, what you ought to think about the
things which must concern you--about your position, your duties, your
feelings. At present you see but dimly into your heart and conscience.
And I, who am accustomed to question myself on all subjects and to
discipline my life, how can I take for master a man governed by
instinct and guided by chance?"
"For master! For husband! Yes, I understand that you cannot surrender
your whole life to an animal such as myself . . . but that is what I
have never asked of you. No, I tremble to think of it."
"And yet, Bernard, you must think of it. Think of it frequently, and
when you have done so you will realize the necessity of following my
advice, and of bringing your mind into harmony with the new life upon
which you have entered since quitting Roche-Mauprat. When you have
perceived this necessity you must tell me, and then we will make
several necessary resolutions."
She withdrew her hand from mine quickly, and I fancy she bade me good-
night; but this I did not hear. I stood buried in my thoughts, and
when I raised my head to speak to her she was no longer there. I went
into the chapel, but she had returned to her room by an upper gallery
which communicated with her apartments.
I went back into the garden, walked far into the park, and remained
there all night. This conversation with Edmee had opened a new world
to me. Hitherto I had not ceased to be the Roche-Mauprat man, nor had
I ever contemplated that it was possible or desirable to cease to be
so. Except for some habits which had changed with circumstances, I had
never moved out of the narrow circle of my old thoughts. I felt
annoyed that these new surroundings of mine should have any real power
over me, and I secretly braced my will so that I should not be
humbled. Such was my perseverance and strength of character that I
believed nothing would ever have driven me from my intrenchment of
obstinacy, had not Edmee's influence been brought to bear upon me. The
vulgar comforts of life, the satisfactions of luxury, had no
attraction for me beyond their novelty. Bodily repose was a burden to
me, and the calm that reigned in this house, so full of order and
silence, would have been unbearable, had not Edmee's presence and the
tumult of my own desires communicated to it some of my disorder, and
peopled it with some of my visions. Never for a single moment had I
desired to become the head of this house, the possessor of this
property; and it was with genuine pleasure that I had just heard Edmee
do justice to my disinterestedness. The thought of coupling two ends
so entirely distinct as my passion and my interests was still more
repugnant to me. I roamed about the park a prey to a thousand doubts,
and then wandered into the open country unconsciously. It was a
glorious night. The full moon was pouring down floods of soft light
upon the ploughed lands, all parched by the heat of the sun. Thirsty
plants were straightening their bowed stems--each leaf seemed to be
drinking in through all its pores all the dewy freshness of the night.
I, too, began to feel a soothing influence at work. My heart was still
beating violently, but regularly. I was filled with a vague hope; the
image of Edmee floated before me on the paths through the meadows, and
no longer stirred the wild agonies and frenzied desires which had been
devouring me since the night I first beheld her.
I was crossing a spot where the green stretches of pasture were here
and there broken by clumps of young trees. Huge oxen with almost white
skins were lying in the short grass, motionless, as if plunged in
peaceful thought. Hills sloped gently up to the horizon, and their
velvety contours seemed to ripple in the bright rays of the moon. For
the first time in my life I realized something of the voluptuous
beauty and divine effluence of the night. I felt the magic touch of
some unknown bliss. It seemed that for the first time in my life I was
looking on moon and meadows and hills. I remembered hearing Edmee say
that nothing our eyes can behold is more lovely than Nature; and I was
astonished that I had never felt this before. Now and them I was on
the point of throwing myself on my knees and praying to God: but I
feared that I should not know how to speak to Him, and that I might
offend Him by praying badly. Shall I confess to you a singular fancy
that came upon me, a childish revelation, as it were, of poetic love
from out of the chaos of my ignorance? The moon was lighting up
everything so plainly that I could distinguish the tiniest flowers in
the grass. A little meadow daisy seemed to me so beautiful with its
golden calyx full of diamonds of dew and its white collaret fringed
with purple, that I plucked it, and covered it with kisses, and cried
in a sort of delirious intoxication:
"It is you, Edmee! Yes, it is you! Ah, you no longer shun me!"
But what was my confusion when, on rising, I found there had been a
witness of my folly. Patience was standing before me.
I was so angry at having been surprised in such a fit of extravagance
that, from a remnant of the Hamstringer instinct, I immediately felt
for a knife in my belt; but neither belt nor knife was there. My silk
waistcoat with its pocket reminded me that I was doomed to cut no more
throats. Patience smiled.
"Well, well! What is the matter?" said the anchorite, in a calm and
kindly tone. "Do you imagine that I don't know perfectly well how
things stand? I am not so simple but that I can reason; I am not so
old but that I can see. Who is it that makes the branches of my yew
shake whenever the holy maiden is sitting at my door? Who is it that
follows us like a young wolf with measured steps through the copse
when I take the lovely child to her father? And what harm is there in
it? You are both young; you are both handsome; you are of the same
family; and, if you chose, you might become a noble and honest man as
she is a noble and honest girl."
All my wrath had vanished as I listened to Patience speaking of Edmee.
I had such a vast longing to talk about her that I would even have
been willing to have heard evil spoken of her, for the sole pleasure
of hearing her name pronounced. I continued my walk by the side of
Patience. The old man was tramping through the dew with bare feet. It
should be mentioned, however, that his feet had long been unacquainted
with any covering and had attained a degree of callosity that rendered
them proof against anything. His only garments were a pair of blue
canvas breeches which, in the absence of braces, hung loosely from his
hips, and a coarse shirt. He could not endure any constraint in his
clothes; and his skin, hardened by exposure, was sensitive to neither
heat nor cold. Even when over eighty he was accustomed to go
bareheaded in the broiling sun and with half-open shirt in the winter
blasts. Since Edmee had seen to his wants he had attained a certain
cleanliness. Nevertheless, in the disorder of his toilet and his
hatred of everything that passed the bounds of the strictest necessity
(though he could not have been charged with immodesty, which had
always been odious to him), the cynic of the old days was still
apparent. His beard was shining like silver. His bald skull was so
polished that the moon was reflected in it as in water. He walked
slowly, with his hands behind his back and his head raised, like a man
who is surveying his empire. But most frequently his glances were
thrown skywards, and he interrupted his conversation to point to the
starry vault and exclaim:
"Look at that; look how beautiful it is!"
He is the only peasant I have ever known to admire the sky; or, at
least, he is the only one I have ever seen who was conscious of his
"Why, Master Patience," I said to him, "do you think I might be an
honest man if I chose? Do you think that I am not one already?"
"Oh, do not be angry," he answered. "Patience is privileged to say
anything. Is he not the fool of the chateau?"
"On the contrary, Edmee maintains that you are its sage."
"Does the holy child of God say that? Well, if she believes so, I will
try to act as a wise man, and give you some good advice, Master
Bernard Mauprat. Will you accept it?"
"It seems to me that in this place every one takes upon himself to
give advice. Never mind, I am listening."
"You are in love with your cousin, are you not?"
"You are very bold to ask such a question."
"It is not a question, it is a fact. Well, my advice is this: make
your cousin love you, and become her husband."
"And why do you take this interest in me, Master Patience?"
"Because I know you deserve it."
"Who told you so? The abbe?"
"Partly. And yet she is certainly not very much in love with you. But
it is your own fault."
"How so, Patience?"
"Because she wants you to become clever; and you--you would rather
not. Oh, if I were only your age; yes, I, poor Patience; and if I were
able, without feeling stifled, to shut myself up in a room for only
two hours a day; and if all those I met were anxious to teach me; if
they said to me, 'Patience, this is what was done yesterday; Patience,
this is what will be done to-morrow.' But, enough! I have to find out
everything myself, and there is so much that I shall die of old age
before finding out a tenth part of what I should like to know. But,
listen: I have yet another reason for wishing you to marry Edmee."
"What is that, good Monsieur Patience?"
"This La Marche is not the right man for her. I have told her so--yes,
I have; and himself too, and the abbe, and everybody. He is not a man,
that thing. He smells as sweet as a whole flower-garden; but I prefer
the tiniest sprig of wild thyme."
"Faith! I have but little love for him myself. But if my cousin likes
him, what then, Patience?"
"Your cousin does not like him. She thinks he is a good man; she
thinks him genuine. She is mistaken; he deceives her, as he deceives
everybody. Yes, I know: he is a man who has not any of this (and
Patience put his hand to his heart). He is a man who is always
proclaiming: 'In me behold the champion of virtue, the champion of the
unfortunate, the champion of all the wise men and friends of the human
race, etc., etc.' While I--Patience--I know that he lets poor folk die
of hunger at the gates of his chateau. I know that if any one said to
him, 'Give up your castle and eat black bread, give up your lands and
become a soldier, and then there will be no more misery in the world,
the human race--as you call it--will be saved,' his real self would
answer, 'Thanks, I am lord of my lands, and I am not yet tired of my
castle.' Oh! I know them so well, these sham paragons. How different
with Edmee! You do not know that. You love her because she is as
beautiful as the daisy in the meadows, while I--I love her because she
is good as the moon that sheds light on all. She is a girl who gives
away everything that she has; who would not wear a jewel, because with
the gold in a ring a man could be kept alive for a year. And if she
finds a foot-sore child by the road-side, she takes off her shoes and
gives them to him, and goes on her way bare-footed. Then, look you,
hers is a heart that never swerves. If to-morrow the village of Saint-
Severe were to go to her in a body and say: 'Young lady, you have
lived long enough in the lap of wealth, give us what you have, and
take your turn at work'--'That is but fair, my good friends,' she
would reply, and with a glad heart she would go and tend the flocks in
the fields. Her mother was the same. I knew her mother when she was
quite young, young as yourself; and I knew yours too. Oh, yes. She was
a lady with a noble mind, charitable and just to all. And you take
after her, they say."
"Alas, no," I answered, deeply touched by these words of Patience. "I
know neither charity nor justice."
"You have not been able to practise them yet, but they are written in
your heart. I can read them there. People call me a sorcerer, and so I
am in a measure. I know a man directly I see him. Do you remember what
you said to me one day on the heath at Valide? You were with Sylvain
and I with Marcasse. You told me that an honest man avenges his wrongs
himself. And, by-the-bye, Monsieur Mauprat, if you are not satisfied
with the apologies I made you at Gazeau Tower, you may say so. See,
there is no one near; and, old as I am, I have still a fist as good as
yours. We can exchange a few healthy blows--that is Nature's way. And,
though I do not approve of it, I never refuse satisfaction to any one
who demands it. There are some men, I know, who would die of
mortification if they did not have their revenge: and it has taken me
--yes, the man you see before you--more than fifty years to forget an
insult I once received . . . and even now, whenever I think of it, my
hatred of the nobles springs up again, and I hold it as a crime to
have let my heart forgive some of them."
"I am fully satisfied, Master Patience; and in truth I now feel
nothing but affection for you."
"Ah, that comes of my scratching your back. Youth is ever generous.
Come, Mauprat, take courage. Follow the abbe's advice; he is a good
man. Try to please your cousin; she is a star in the firmament. Find
out truth; love the people; hate those who hate them; be ready to
sacrifice yourself for them. . . . Yes, one word more--listen. I know
what I am saying--become the people's friend."
"Is the people, then, better than the nobility, Patience? Come now,
honestly, since you are a wise man, tell me the truth."
"Ay, we are worth more than the nobles, because they trample us under
foot, and we let them. But we shall not always bear this, perhaps. No;
you will have to know it sooner or later, and I may as well tell you
now. You see yonder stars? They will never change. Ten thousand years
hence they will be in the same place and be giving forth as much light
as to-day; but within the next hundred years, maybe within less, there
will be many a change on this earth. Take the word of a man who has an
eye for the truth of things, and does not let himself be led astray by
the fine airs of the great. The poor have suffered enough; they will
turn upon the rich, and their castles will fail and their lands be
carved up. I shall not see it; but you will. There will be ten
cottages in the place of this park, and ten families will live on its
revenue. There will no longer be servants or masters, or villein or
lord. Some nobles will cry aloud and yield only to force, as your
uncles would do if they were alive, and as M. de la Marche will do in
spite of all his fine talk. Others will sacrifice themselves
generously, like Edmee, and like yourself, if you listen to wisdom.
And in that hour it will be well for Edmee that her husband is a man
and not a mere fop. It will be well for Bernard Mauprat that he knows
how to drive a plough or kill the game which the good God has sent to
feed his family; for old Patience will then be lying under the grass
in the churchyard, unable to return the services which Edmee has done
him. Do not laugh at what I say, young man; it is the voice of God
that is speaking. Look at the heavens. The stars live in peace, and
nothing disturbs their eternal order. The great do not devour the
small, and none fling themselves upon their neighbours. Now, a day
will come when the same order will reign among men. The wicked will be
swept away by the breath of the Lord. Strengthen your legs, Seigneur
Mauprat, that you may stand firm to support Edmee. It is Patience that
warns you; Patience who wishes you naught but good. But there will
come others who wish you ill, and the good must make themselves
We had reached Patience's cottage. He had stopped at the gate of his
little inclosure, resting one hand on the cross-bar and waving the
other as he spoke. His voice was full of passion, his eyes flashed
fire, and his brow was bathed in sweat. There seemed to be some weird
power in his words as in those of the prophets of old. The more than
plebeian simplicity of his dress still further increased the pride of
his gestures and the impressiveness of his voice. The French
Revolution has shown since that in the ranks of the people there was
no lack of eloquence or of pitiless logic; but what I saw at that
moment was so novel, and made such an impression on me, that my unruly
and unbridled imagination was carried away by the superstitious
terrors of childhood. He held out his hand, and I responded with more
of terror than affection. The sorcerer of Gazeau Tower hanging the
bleeding owl above my head had just risen before my eyes again.
When I awoke on the morrow in a state of exhaustion, all the incidents
of the previous night appeared to me as a dream. I began to think that
Edmee's suggestion of becoming my wife had been a perfidious trick to
put off my hopes indefinitely; and, as to the sorcerer's words, I
could not recall them without a feeling of profound humiliation.
Still, they had produced their effect. My emotions had left traces
which could never be effaced. I was no longer the man of the day
before, and never again was I to be quite the man of Roche-Mauprat.
It was late, for not until morning had I attempted to make good my
sleepless night. I was still in bed when I heard the hoofs of M. de la
Marche's horse on the stones of the courtyard. Every day he used to
come at this hour; every day he used to see Edmee at the same time as
myself; and now, on this very day, this day when she had tried to
persuade me to reckon on her hand, he was going to see her before me,
and to give his soulless kiss to this hand that had been promised to
myself. The thought of it stirred up all my doubts again. How could
Edmee endure his attentions if she really meant to marry another man?
Perhaps she dared not send him away; perhaps it was my duty to do so.
I was ignorant of the ways of the world into which I was entering.
Instinct counselled me to yield to my hasty impulses; and instinct
I hastily dressed myself. I entered the drawing-room pale and
agitated. Edmee was pale too. It was a cold, rainy morning. A fire was
burning in the great fire-place. Lying back in an easy chair, she was
warming her little feet and dozing. It was the same listless, almost
lifeless, attitude of the days of her illness. M. de la Marche was
reading the paper at the other end of the room. On seeing that Edmee
was more affected than myself by the emotions of the previous night, I
felt my anger cool, and, approaching her noiselessly, I sat down and
gazed on her tenderly.
"Is that you, Bernard?" she asked without moving a limb, and with eyes
Her elbows were resting on the arms of her chair and her hands were
gracefully crossed under her chin. At that period it was the fashion
for women to have their arms half bare at all times. On one of Edmee's
I noticed a little strip of court-plaster that made my heart beat. It
was the slight scratch I had caused against the bars of the chapel
window. I gently lifted the lace which fell over her elbow, and,
emboldened by her drowsiness, pressed my lips to the darling wound. M.
de la Marche could see me, and, in fact, did see me, as I intended he
should. I was burning to have a quarrel with him. Edmee started and
turned red; but immediately assuming an air of indolent playfulness,
"Really, Bernard, you are as gallant this morning as a court abbe. Do
you happen to have been composing a madrigal last night?"
I was peculiarly mortified at this jesting. However, paying her back
in her own coin, I answered:
"Yes; I composed one yesterday evening at the chapel window; and if it
is a poor thing, cousin, it is your fault."
"Say, rather, that it is the fault of your education," she replied,
And she was never more beautiful than when her natural pride and
spirit were roused.
"My own opinion is that I am being very much over-educated," I
answered; "and that if I gave more heed to my natural good sense you
would not jeer at me so much."
"Really, it seems to me that you are indulging in a veritable war of
wits with Bernard," said M. de la Marche, folding his paper carelessly
and approaching us.
"I cry quits with her," I answered, annoyed at this impertinence. "Let
her keep her wit for such as you."
I had risen to insult him, but he did not seem to notice it; and
standing with his back to the fire he bent down towards Edmee and
said, in a gentle and almost affectionate voice:
"What is the matter with him?" as if he were inquiring after the
health of her little dog.
"How should I know?" she replied, in the same tone.
Then she rose and added:
"My head aches too much to remain here. Give me your arm and take me
up to my room."
She went out, leaning upon his arm. I was left there stupefied.
I remained in the drawing-room, resolved to insult him as soon as he
should return. But the abbe now entered, and soon afterward my Uncle
Hubert. They began to talk on subjects which were quite strange to me
(the subjects of their conversation were nearly always so). I did not
know what to do to obtain revenge. I dared not betray myself in my
uncle's presence. I was sensible to the respect I owed to him and to
his hospitality. Never had I done such violence to myself at Roche-
Mauprat. Yet, in spite of all efforts, my anger showed itself. I
almost died at being obliged to wait for revenge. Several times the
chevalier noticed the change in my features and asked in a kind tone
if I were ill. M. de la Marche seemed neither to observe nor to guess
anything. The abbe alone examined me attentively. More than once I
caught his blue eyes anxiously fixed on me, those eyes in which
natural penetration was always veiled by habitual shyness. The abbe
did not like me. I could easily see that his kindly, cheerful manners
grew cold in spite of himself as soon as he spoke to me; and I
noticed, too, that his face would invariably assume a sad expression
at my approach.
The constraint that I was enduring was so alien to my habits and so
beyond my strength that I came nigh to fainting. To obtain relief I
went and threw myself on the grass in the park. This was a refuge to
me in all my troubles. These mighty oaks, this moss which had clung to
their branches through the centuries, these pale, sweet-scented wild
flowers, emblems of secret sorrow, these were the friends of my
childhood, and these alone I had found the same in social as in savage
life. I buried my face in my hands; and I never remember having
suffered more in any of the calamities of my life, though some that I
had to bear afterward were very real. On the whole I ought to have
accounted myself lucky, on giving up the rough and perilous trade of a
cut-throat, to find so many unexpected blessings--affection, devotion,
riches, liberty, education, good precepts and good examples. But it is
certain that, in order to pass from a given state to its opposite,
though it be from evil to good, from grief to joy, from fatigue to
repose, the soul of a man must suffer; in this hour of birth of a new
destiny all the springs of his being are strained almost to breaking--
even as at the approach of summer the sky is covered with dark clouds,
and the earth, all a-tremble, seems about to be annihilated by the
At this moment my only thought was to devise some means of appeasing
my hatred of M. de la Marche without betraying and without even
arousing a suspicion of the mysterious bond which held Edmee in my
power. Though nothing was less respected at Roche-Mauprat than the
sanctity of an oath, yet the little reading I had had there--those
ballads of chivalry of which I have already spoken--had filled me with
an almost romantic love of good faith; and this was about the only
virtue I had acquired there. My promise of secrecy to Edmee was
therefore inviolable in my eyes.
"However," I said to myself, "I dare say I shall find some plausible
pretext for throwing myself upon my enemy and strangling him."
To confess the truth, this was far from easy with a man who seemed
bent on being all politeness and kindness.
Distracted by these thoughts, I forgot the dinner hour; and when I saw
the sun sinking behind the turrets of the castle I realized too late
that my absence must have been noticed, and that I could not appear
without submitting to Edmee's searching questions, and to the abbe's
cold, piercing gaze, which, though it always seemed to avoid mine, I
would suddenly surprise in the act of sounding the very depths of my
I resolved not to return to the house till nightfall, and I threw
myself upon the grass and tried to find rest for my aching head in
sleep. I did fall asleep in fact. When I awoke the moon was rising in
the heavens, which were still red with the glow of sunset. The noise
which had aroused me was very slight; but there are some sounds which
strike the heart before reaching the ear; and the subtlest emanations
of love will at times pierce through the coarsest organization.
Edmee's voice had just pronounced my name a short distance away,
behind some foliage. At first I thought I had been dreaming; I
remained where I was, held my breath and listened. It was she, on her
way to the hermit's, in company with the abbe. They had stopped in a
covered walk five or six yards from me, and they were talking in low
voices, but in those clear tones which, in an exchange of confidence,
compels attention with peculiar solemnity.
"I fear," Edmee was saying, "that there will be trouble between him
and M. de la Marche; perhaps something very serious--who knows? You do
not understand Bernard."
"He must be got away from here, at all costs," answered the abbe. "You
cannot live in this way, continually exposed to the brutality of a
"It cannot be called living. Since he set foot in the house I have not
had a moment's peace of mind. Imprisoned in my room, or forced to seek
the protection of my friends, I am almost afraid to move. It is as
much as I dare to do to creep downstairs, and I never cross the
corridor without sending Leblanc ahead as a scout. The poor woman, who
has always found me so brave, now thinks I am mad. The suspense is
horrible. I cannot sleep unless I first bolt the door. And look, abbe,
I never walk about without a dagger, like the heroine of a Spanish
ballad, neither more nor less."
"And if this wretch meets you and frightens you, you will plunge it
into your bosom? Oh! that must not be. Edmee, we must find some means
of changing a position which is no longer tenable. I take it that you
do not wish to deprive him of your father's friendship by confessing
to the latter the monstrous bargain you were forced to make with this
bandit at Roche-Mauprat. But whatever may happen--ah! my poor little
Edmee, I am not a bloodthirsty man, but twenty times a day I find
myself deploring that my character of priest prevents me from
challenging this creature, and ridding you of him forever."
This charitable regret, expressed so artlessly in my very ear, made me
itch to reveal myself to them at once, were it only to put the abbe's
warlike humour to the proof; but I was restrained by the hope that I
should at last discover Edmee's real feelings and real intentions in
regard to myself.
"Have no fear," she said, in a careless tone. "If he tries my patience
too much, I shall not have the slightest hesitation in planting this
blade in his cheek. I am quite sure that a little blood-letting will
cool his ardour."
Then they drew a few steps nearer.
"Listen to me, Edmee," said the abbe, stopping again. "We cannot
discuss this matter with Patience. Let us come to some decision before
we put it aside. Your relations with Bernard are now drawing to a
crisis. It seems to me, my child, that you are not doing all you ought
to ward off the evils that may strike us; for everything that is
painful to you will be painful to all of us, and will touch us to the
bottom of our hearts."
"I am all attention, excellent friend," answered Edmee; "scold me,
advise me, as you will."
So saying she leant back against the tree at the foot of which I was
lying among the brushwood and long grass. I fancy she might have seen
me, for I could see her distinctly. However, she little thought that I
was gazing on her divine face, over which the night breeze was
throwing, now the shadows of the rustling leaves, and now the pale
diamonds that the moon showers down through the trees of the forest.
"My opinion, Edmee," answered the abbe, crossing his arms on his
breast and striking his brow at intervals, "is that you do not take
the right view of your situation. At times it distresses you to such
an extent that you lose all hope and long to die--yes, my dear child,
to such an extent that your health plainly suffers. At other times,
and I must speak candidly at the risk of offending you a little, you
view your perils with a levity and cheerfulness that astound me."
"That last reproach is delicately put, dear friend," she replied; "but
allow me to justify myself. Your astonishment arises from the fact
that you do not know the Mauprat race. It is a tameless, incorrigible
race, from which naught but Headbreakers and Hamstringers may issue.
Even in those who have been most polished by education there remains
many a stubborn knot--a sovereign pride, a will of iron, a profound
contempt for life. Look at my father. In spite of his adorable
goodness, you see that he is sometimes so quick-tempered that he will
smash his snuff-box on the table, when you get the better of him in
some political argument, or when you win a game of chess. For myself,
I am conscious that my veins are as full-blooded as if I had been born
in the noble ranks of the people; and I do not believe that any
Mauprat has ever shone at court for the charm of his manners. Since I
was born brave, how would you have me set much store by life? And yet
there are weak moments in which I get discouraged more than enough,
and bemoan my fate like the true woman that I am. But, let some one
offend me, or threaten me, and the blood of the strong surges through
me again; and then, as I cannot crush my enemy, I fold my arms and
smile with compassion at the idea that he should ever have hoped to
frighten me. And do not look upon this as mere bombast, abbe.
To-morrow, this evening perhaps, my words may turn to deeds. This
little pearl-handled knife does not look like deeds of blood; still,
it will be able to do its work, and ever since Don Marcasse (who knows
what he is about) sharpened it, I have had it by me night and day, and
my mind is made up. I have not a very strong fist, but it will no
doubt manage to give myself a good stab with this knife, even as it
manages to give my horse a cut with the whip. Well, that being so, my
honour is safe; it is only my life, which hangs by a thread, which is
at the mercy of a glass of wine, more or less, that M. Bernard may
happen to drink one of these evenings; of some change meeting, or some
exchange of looks between De la Marche and myself that he may fancy he
has detected; a breath of air perhaps! What is to be done? Were I to
grieve, would my tears wash away the past? We cannot tear out a single
page of our lives; but we can throw the book into the fire. Though I
should weep from night till morn, would that prevent Destiny from
having, in a fit of ill-humour, taken me out hunting, sent me astray
in the woods, and made me stumble across a Mauprat, who led me to his
den, where I escaped dishonour and perhaps death only by binding my
life forever to that of a savage who had none of my principles, and
who probably (and who undoubtedly, I should say) never will have them?
All this is a misfortune. I was in the full sunlight of a happy
destiny; I was the pride and joy of my old father; I was about to
marry a man I esteem and like; no sorrows, no fears had come near my
path; I knew neither days fraught with danger nor nights bereft of
sleep. Well, God did not wish such a beautiful life to continue; His
will be done. There are days when the ruin of all my hopes seems to me
so inevitable that I look upon myself as dead and my /fiance/ as a
widower. If it were not for my poor father, I should really laugh at
it all; for I am so ill built for vexation and fears that during the
short time I have known them they have already tired me of life."
"This courage is heroic, but it is also terrible," cried the abbe, in
a broken voice. "It is almost a resolve to commit suicide, Edmee."
"Oh, I shall fight for my life," she answered, with warmth; "but I
shall not stand haggling with it a moment if my honour does not come
forth safe and sound from all these risks. No; I am not pious enough
ever to accept a soiled life by way of penance for sins of which I
never had a thought. If God deals so harshly with me that I have to
choose between shame and death . . ."
"There can never be any shame for you, Edmee; a soul so chaste, so
pure in intention . . ."
"Oh, don't talk of that, dear abbe! Perhaps I am not as good as you
think; I am not very orthodox in religion--nor are you, abbe! I give
little heed to the world; I have no love for it. I neither fear nor
despise public opinion; it will never enter into my life. I am not
very sure what principle of virtue would be strong enough to prevent
me from falling, if the spirit of evil took me in hand. I have read
/La Nouvelle Heloise/, and I shed many tears over it. But, because I
am a Mauprat and have an unbending pride, I will never endure the
tyranny of any man--the violence of a lover no more than a husband's
blow; only a servile soul and a craven character may yield to force
that which it refuses to entreaty. Sainte Solange, the beautiful
shepherdess, let her head be cut off rather than submit to the
seigneur's rights. And you know that from mother to daughter the
Mauprats have been consecrated in baptism to the protection of the
patron saint of Berry."
"Yes; I know that you are proud and resolute," said the abbe, "and
because I respect you more than any woman in the world I want you to
live, and be free, and make a marriage worthy of you, so that in the
human family you may fill the part which beautiful souls still know
how to make noble. Besides, you are necessary to your father; your
death would hurry him to his grave, hearty and robust as the Mauprat
still is. Put away these gloomy thoughts, then, and these violent
resolutions. It is impossible. This adventure of Roche-Mauprat must be
looked upon only as an evil dream. We both had a nightmare in those
hours of horror; but it is time for us to awake; we cannot remain
paralyzed with fear like children. You have only one course open to
you, and that I have already pointed out."
"But, abbe, it is the one which I hold the most impossible of all. I
have sworn by everything that is most sacred in the universe and the
"An oath extorted by threats and violence is binding on none; even
human laws decree this. Divine laws, especially in a case of this
nature, absolve the human conscience beyond a doubt. If you were
orthodox, I would go to Rome--yes, I would go on foot--to get you
absolved from so rash a vow; but you are not a submissive child of the
Pope, Edmee--nor am I."
"You wish me, then, to perjure myself?"
"Your soul would not be perjured."
"My soul would! I took an oath with a full knowledge of what I was
doing and at a time when I might have killed myself on the spot; for
in my hand I had a knife three times as large as this. But I wanted to
live; above all, I wanted to see my father again and kiss him. To put
an end to the agony which my disappearance must have caused him, I
would have bartered more than my life, I would have bartered my
immortal soul. Since then, too, as I told you last night, I have
renewed my vow, and of my own free-will, moreover; for there was a
wall between my amiable /fiance/ and myself."
"How could you have been so imprudent, Edmee? Here again I fail to
"That I can quite believe, for I do not understand myself," said
Edmee, with a peculiar expression.
"My dear child, you must open your hear to me freely. I am the only
person here who can advise you, since I am the only one to whom you
can tell everything under the seal of a friendship as sacred as the
secrecy of Catholic confession can be. Answer me, then. You do not
really look upon a marriage between yourself and Bernard Mauprat as
"How should that which is inevitable be impossible?" said Edmee.
"There is nothing more possible than throwing one's self into the
river; nothing more possible than surrendering one's self to misery
and despair; nothing more possible, consequently, than marrying
"In any case I will not be the one to celebrate such an absurd and
deplorable union," cried the abbe. "You, the wife and the slave of
this Hamstringer! Edmee, you said just now that you would no more
endure the violence of a lover than a husband's blow."
"You think the he would beat me?"
"If he did not kill you."
"Oh, no," she replied, in a resolute tone, with a wave of the knife,
"I would kill him first. When Mauprat meets Mauprat . . .!"
"You can laugh, Edmee? O my God! you can laugh at the thought of such
a match! But, even if this man had some affection and esteem for you,
think how impossible it would be for you to have anything in common;
think of the coarseness of his ideas, the vulgarity of his speech. The
heart rises in disgust at the idea of such a union. Good God! In what
language would you speak to him?"
Once more I was on the point of rising and falling on my panegyrist;
but I overcame my rage. Edmee began to speak, and I was all ears
"I know very well that at the end of three or four days I should have
nothing better to do than cut my own throat; but since sooner or later
it must come to that, why should I not go forward to the inevitable
hour? I confess that I shall be sorry to leave life. Not all those who
have been to Roche-Mauprat have returned. I went there not to meet
death, but to betroth myself to it. Well, then, I will go on to my
wedding-day, and if Bernard is too odious, I will kill myself after
"Edmee, your head seems full of romantic notions at present," said the
abbe, losing patience. "Thank God, your father will never consent to
the marriage. He has given his word to M. de la March, and you too
have given yours. This is the only promise that is valid."
"My father would consent--yes, with joy--to an arrangement which
perpetuated his name and line directly. As to M. de la March, he will
release me from any promise without my taking the trouble to ask him;
as soon as he hears that I passed two hours at Roche-Mauprat there
will be no need of any other explanation."
"He would be very unworthy of the esteem I feel for him, if he
considered your good name tarnished by an unfortunate adventure from
which you came out pure."
"Thanks to Bernard," said Edmee; "for after all I ought to be grateful
to him; in spite of his reservations and conditions, he performed a
great and inconceivable action, for a Hamstringer."
"God forbid that I should deny the good qualities which education may
have developed in this young man; and it may still be possible, by
approaching him on this better side of his, to make him listen to
"And make him consent to be taught? Never. Even if he should show
himself willing, he would no more be able than Patience. When the body
is made for an animal life, the spirit can no longer submit to the
laws of the intellect."
"I think so too; but that is not the point. I suggest that you should
have an explanation with him, and make him understand that he is bound
in honour to release you from your promise and resign himself to your
marriage with M. de la Marche. Either he is a brute unworthy of the
slightest esteem and consideration, or he will realize his crime and
folly and yield honestly and with a good grace. Free me from the vow
of secrecy to which I am bound; authorize me to deal plainly with him
and I will guarantee success."
"And I--I will guarantee the contrary," said Edmee. "Besides, I could
not consent to this. Whatever Bernard may be, I am anxious to come out
of our duel with honour; and if I acted as you suggest, he would have
cause to believe that up to the present I have been unworthily
trifling with him."
"Well, there is only one means left, and that is to trust to the
honour and discretion of M. de la Marche. Set before him the details
of your position, and then let him give the verdict. You have a
perfect right to intrust him with your secret, and you are quite sure
of his honour. If he is coward enough to desert you in such a
position, your remaining resource is to take shelter from Bernard's
violence behind the iron bars of a convent. You can remain there a few
years; you can make a show of taking the veil. The young man will
forget you, and they will set you free again."
"Indeed, that is the only reasonable course to take, and I had already
thought of it; but it is not yet time to make the move."
"Very true; you must first see the result of your confession to M. de
la Marche. If, as I make no doubt, he is a man of mettle, he will take
you under his protection, and then procure the removal of this
Bernard, whether by persuasion or authority."
"What authority, abbe, if you please?"
"The authority which our customs allow one gentleman to exercise over
his equal--honour and the sword."
"Oh, abbe! You too, then are a man with a thirst for blood. Well, that
is precisely what I have hitherto tried to avoid, and what I will
avoid, though it cost me my life and honour. I do not wish that there
should be any fight between these two men."
"I understand: one of the two is very rightly dear to you. But
evidently in this duel it is not M. de la Marche who would be in
"Then it would be Bernard," cried Edmee. "Well, I should hate M. de la
Marche, if he insisted on a duel with this poor boy, who only knows
how to handle a stick or a sling. How can such ideas occur to you,
abbe? You must really loathe this unfortunate Bernard. And fancy me
getting my husband to cut his throat as a return for having saved my
life at the risk of his own. No, no; I will not suffer any one either
to challenge him, or humiliate him, or persecute him. He is my cousin;
he is a Mauprat; he is almost a brother. I will not let him be driven
out of this home. Rather I will go myself."
"These are very generous sentiments, Edmee," answered the abbe. "But
with what warmth you express them! I stand confounded; and, if I were
not afraid of offending you, I should confess that this solicitude for
young Mauprat suggests to me a strange thought."
"Well, what is it, then?" said Edmee, with a certain brusqueness.
"If you insist, of course I will tell you: you seem to take a deeper
interest in this young man than in M. de la Marche, and I could have
wished to think otherwise."
"Which has the greater need of this interest, you bad Christian?" said
Edmee with a smile. "Is it not the hardened sinner whose eyes have
never looked upon the light?"
"But, come, Edmee! You love M. de la Marche, do you not? For Heaven's
sake do not jest."
"If by love," she replied in a serious tone, "you mean a feeling of
trust and friendship, I love M. de la Marche; but if you mean a
feeling of compassion and solicitude, I love Bernard. It remains to be
seen which of these two affections is the deeper. That is your
concern, abbe. For my part, it troubles me but little; for I feel that
there is only one being whom I love with passion, and that is my
father; and only one thing that I love with enthusiasm, and that is my
duty. Probably I shall regret the attentions and devotion of the
lieutenant-general, and I shall share in the grief that I must soon
cause him when I announce that I can never be his wife. This
necessity, however, will by no means drive me to desperation, because
I know that M. de la Marche will quickly recover. . . . I am not
joking, abbe; M. de la Marche is a man of no depth, and somewhat
"If your love for him is no greater than this, so much the better. It
makes one trial less among your many trials. Still, this indifference
robs me of my last hope of seeing you rescued from Bernard Mauprat."
"Do not let this grieve you. Either Bernard will yield to friendship
and loyalty and improve, or I shall escape him."
"By the gate of the convent--or of the graveyard."
As she uttered these words in a calm tone, Edmee shook back her long
black hair, which had fallen over her shoulders and partly over her
"Come," she said, "God will help us. It is folly and impiety to doubt
him in the hour of danger. Are we atheists, that we let ourselves be
discouraged in this way? Let us go and see Patience. . . . He will
bring forth some wise saw to ease our minds; he is the old oracle who
solves all problems without understanding any."
They moved away, while I remained in a state of consternation.
Oh, how different was this night from the last! How vast a step I had
just taken in life, no longer on the path of flowers but on the arid
rocks! Now I understood all the odious reality of the part I had been
playing. In the bottom of Edmee's heart I had just read the fear and
disgust I inspired in her. Nothing could assuage my grief; for nothing
now could arouse my anger. She had no affection for M. de la Marche;
she was trifling neither with him nor with me; she had no affection
for either of us. How could I have believed that her generous sympathy
for me and her sublime devotion to her word were signs of love? How,
in the hours when this presumptuous fancy left me, could I have
believed that in order to resist my passion she must needs feel love
for another? It had come to pass, then, that I had no longer any
object on which to vent my rage; now it could result only in Edmee's
flight or death? Her death! At the mere thought of it the blood ran
cold in my veins, a weight fell on my heart, and I felt all the stings
of remorse piercing it. This night of agony was for me the clearest
call of Providence. At last I understood those laws of modesty and
sacred liberty which my ignorance had hitherto outraged and
blasphemed. They astonished me more than ever; but I could see them;
their sanction was their own existence. Edmee's strong, sincere soul
appeared before me like the stone of Sinai on which the finger of God
has traced the immutable truth. Her virtue was not feigned; her knife
was sharpened, ready to cut out the stain of my love. I was so
terrified at having been in danger of seeing her die in my arms; I was
so horrified at the gross insult I had offered her while seeking to
overcome her resistance, that I began to devise all manner of
impossible plans for righting the wrongs I had done, and restoring her
peace of mind.
The only one which seemed beyond my powers was to tear myself away
from her; for while these feelings of esteem and respect were
springing up in me, my love was changing its nature, so to speak, and
growing vaster and taking possession of all my being. Edmee appeared
to me in a new light. She was no longer the lovely girl whose presence
stirred a tumult in my senses; she was a young man of my own age,
beautiful as a seraph, proud, courageous, inflexible in honour,
generous, capable of that sublime friendship which once bound together
brothers in arms, but with no passionate love except for Deity, like
the paladins of old, who, braving a thousand dangers, marched to the
Holy Land under their golden armour.
From this hour I felt my love descending from the wild storms of the
brain into the healthy regions of the heart. Devotion seemed no longer
an enigma to me. I resolved that on the very next morning I would give
proof of my submission and affection. It was quite late when I
returned to the chateau, tired out, dying of hunger, and exhausted by
the emotions I had experienced. I entered the pantry, found a piece of
bread, and began eating it, all moist with my tears. I was leaning
against the stove in the dime light of a lamp that was almost out,
when I suddenly saw Edmee enter. She took a few cherries from a chest
and slowly approached the stove, pale and deep in thought. On seeing
me she uttered a cry and let the cherries fall.
"Edmee," I said, "I implore you never to be afraid of me again. That
is all I can say now; for I do not know how to explain myself; and yet
I had resolved to say many things."
"You must tell me them some other time, cousin," she answered, trying
But she was unable to disguise the fear she felt at finding herself
alone with me.
I did not try to detain her. I felt deeply pained and humiliated at
her distrust of me, and I knew I had no right to complain. Yet never
had any man stood in greater need of a word of encouragement.
Just as she was going out of the room I broke down altogether, and
burst into tears, as on the previous night at the chapel window. Edmee
stopped on the threshold and hesitated a moment. Then, yielding to the
kindly impulses of her heart, she overcame her fears and returned
towards me. Pausing a few yards from my chair, she said:
"Bernard, you are unhappy. Tell me; is it my fault?"
I was unable to reply; I was ashamed of my tears, but the more I tried
to restrain them the more my breast heaved with sobs. With men as
physically strong as I was, tears are generally convulsions; mine were
like the pangs of death.
"Come now! Just tell me what is wrong," cried Edmee, with some of the
bluntness of sisterly affection.
And she ventured to put her hand on my shoulder. She was looking at me
with an expression of wistfulness, and a big tear was trickling down
her cheek. I threw myself on my knees and tried to speak, but that was
still impossible. I could do no more than mutter the word /to-morrow/
" 'To-morrow?' What of tomorrow?" said Edmee. "Do you not like being
here? Do you want to go away?"
"I will go, if it will please you," I replied. "Tell me; do you wish
never to see me again?"
"I do not wish that at all," she rejoined. "You will stop here, won't
"It is for you to decide," I answered.
She looked at me in astonishment. I was still on my knees. She leant
over the back of my chair.
"Yes; I am quite sure that you are good at heart," she said, as if she
were answering some inner objection. "A Mauprat can be nothing by
halves; and as soon as you have once known a good quarter of an hour,
it is certain you ought to have a noble life before you."
"I will make it so," I answered.
"You mean it?" she said with unaffected joy.
"On my honour, Edmee, and on yours. Dare you give me your hand?"
"Certainly," she said.
She held out her hand to me; but she was still trembling.
"You have been forming good resolutions, then?" she said.
"I have been forming such resolutions," I replied, "that you will
never have to reproach me again. And now, Edmee, when you return to
your room, please do not bolt your door any more. You need no longer
be afraid of me. Henceforth I shall only wish what you wish."
She again fixed on me a look of amazement. Then, after pressing my
hand, she moved away, but turned round several times to look at me
again, as if unable to believe in such a sudden conversion. At last,
stopping in the doorway, she said to me in an affectionate tone:
"You, too, must go and get some rest. You look tired; and for the last
two days you have seemed sad and very much altered. If you do not wish
to make me anxious, you will take care of yourself, Bernard."
She gave me a sweet little nod. In her big eyes, already hollowed by
suffering, there was an indefinable expression, in which distrust and
hope, affection and wonder, were depicted alternately or at times all
"I will take care of myself; I will get some sleep; and I will not be
sad any longer," I answered.
"And you will work?"
"And I will work--but, you, Edmee, will you forgive me for all the
pain I have caused you? and will you try to like me a little?"
"I shall like you very much," she replied, "if you are always as you
are this evening."
On the morrow, at daybreak, I went to the abbe's room. He was already
up and reading.
"Monsieur Aubert," I said to him, "you have several times offered to
give me lessons. I now come to request you to carry out your kind
I had spent part of the night in preparing this opening speech and in
deciding how I had best comport myself in the abbe's presence. Without
really hating him, for I could quite see that he meant well and that
he bore me ill-will only because of my faults, I felt very bitter
towards him. Inwardly I recognised that I deserved all the bad things
he had said about me to Edmee; but it seemed to me that he might have
insisted somewhat more on the good side of mine to which he had given
a merely passing word, and which could not have escaped the notice of
a man so observant as himself. I had determined, therefore, to be very
cold and very proud in my bearing towards him. To this end I judged
with a certain show of logic, that I ought to display great docility
as long as the lesson lasted, and that immediately afterwards I ought
to leave him with a very curt expression of thanks. In a word, I
wished to humiliate him in his post of tutor; for I was not unaware
that he depended for his livelihood on my uncle, and that, unless he
renounced this livelihood or showed himself ungrateful, he could not
well refuse to undertake my education. My reasoning here was very
good; but the spirit which prompted it was very bad; and subsequently
I felt so much regret for my behaviour that I made him a sort of
friendly confession with a request for absolution.
However, not to anticipate events, I will simply say that the first
few days after my conversation afforded me an ample revenge for the
prejudices, too well founded in many respects, which this man had
against me. He would have deserved the title of "the just," assigned
him by Patience, had not a habit of distrust interfered with his first
impulses. The persecutions of which he had so long been the object had
developed in him this instinctive feeling of fear, which remained with
him all his life, and made trust in others always very difficult to
him, though all the more flattering and touching perhaps when he
accorded it. Since then I have observed this characteristic in many
worthy priests. They generally have the spirit of charity, but not the
feeling of friendship.
I wished to make him suffer, and I succeeded. Spite inspired me. I
behaved as a nobleman might to an inferior. I preserved an excellent
bearing, displayed great attention, much politeness, and an icy
stiffness. I determined to give him no chance to make me blush at my
ignorance, and, to this end, I acted so as to anticipate all his
observations by accusing myself at once of knowing nothing, and by
requesting him to teach me the very rudiments of things. When I had
finished my first lesson I saw in his penetrating eyes, into which I
had managed to penetrate myself, a desire to pass from this coldness
to some sort of intimacy; but I carefully avoided making any response.
He thought to disarm me by praising my attention and intelligence.
"You are troubling yourself unnecessarily, monsieur," I replied. "I
stand in no need of encouragement. I have not the least faith in my
intelligence, but of my attention I certainly am very sure; but since
it is solely for my own good that I am doing my best to apply myself
to this work, there is no reason why you should compliment me on it."
With these words I bowed to him and withdrew to my room, where I
immediately did the French exercise that he had set me.
When I went down to luncheon, I saw that Edmee was already aware of
the execution of the promise I had made the previous evening. She at
once greeted me with outstretched hand, and frequently during luncheon
called me her "dear cousin," till at last M. de la Marche's face,
which was usually expressionless, expressed surprise or something very
near it. I was hoping that he would take the opportunity to demand an
explanation of my insulting words of the previous day; and although I
had resolved to discuss the matter in a spirit of great moderation, I
felt very much hurt at the care which he took to avoid it. This
indifference to an insult that I had offered implied a sort of
contempt, which annoyed me very much; but the fear of displeasing
Edmee gave me strength to restrain myself.
Incredible as it may seem, my resolve to supplant him was not for one
moment shaken by this humiliating apprenticeship which I had now to
serve before I could manage to obtain the most elementary notions of
things in general. Any other than I, filled like myself with remorse
for wrongs committed, would have found no surer method of repairing
them than by going away, and restoring to Edmee her perfect
independence and absolute peace of mind. This was the only method
which did not occur to me; or if it did, it was rejected with scorn,
as a sign of apostasy. Stubbornness, allied to temerity, ran through
my veins with the blood of the Mauprats. No sooner had I imagined a
means of winning her whom I loved than I embraced it with audacity;
and I think it would not have been otherwise even had her confidences
to the abbe in the park shown me that her love was given to my rival.
Such assurance on the part of a young man who, at the age of
seventeen, was taking his first lesson in French grammar, and who,
moreover, had a very exaggerated notion of the length and difficulty
of the studies necessary to put him on a level with M. de la March,
showed, you must allow, a certain moral force.
I do not know if I was happily endowed in the matter of intelligence.
The abbe assured me that I was; but, for my own part, I think that my
rapid progress was due to nothing but my courage. This was such as to
make me presume too much on my physical powers. The abbe had told me
that, with a strong will, any one of my age could master all the rules
of the language within a month. At the end of the month I expressed
myself with facility and wrote correctly. Edmee had a sort of occult
influence over my studies; at her wish I was not taught Latin; for she
declared that I was too old to devote several years to a fancy branch
of learning, and that the essential thing was to shape my heart and
understanding with ideas, rather than to adorn my mind with words.
Of an evening, under pretext of wishing to read some favourite book
again, she read aloud, alternately with the abbe, passages from
Condillac, Fenelon, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, Jean Jacques, and even
from Montaigne and Montesquieu. These passages, it is true, were
chosen beforehand and adapted to my powers. I understood them fairly
well, and I secretly wondered at this; for if during the day I opened
these same books at random, I found myself brought to a standstill at
every line. With the superstition natural to young lovers, I willingly
imagined that in passing through Edmee's mouth the authors acquired a
magic clearness, and that by some miracle my mind expanded at the
sound of her voice. However, Edmee was careful to disguise the
interest she took in teaching me herself. There is no doubt that she
was mistaken in thinking that she ought not to betray her solicitude:
it would only have roused me to still greater efforts in my work. But
in this, imbued as she was with the teachings of /Emile/, she was
merely putting into practice the theories of her favourite
As it was, I spared myself but little; for my courage would not admit
of any forethought. Consequently I was soon obliged to stop. The
change of air, of diet, and of habits, my lucubrations, the want of
vigorous exercise, my intense application, in a word, the terrible
revolution which my nature had to stir up against itself in order to
pass from the state of a man of the woods to that of an intelligent
being, brought on a kind of brain fever which made me almost mad for
some weeks, then an idiot for some days, and finally disappeared,
leaving me a mere wreck physically, with a mind completely severed
from the past, but sternly braced to meet the future.
One night, when I was at the most critical stage of my illness, during
a lucid interval, I caught sight of Edmee in my room. At first I
thought I was dreaming. The night-light was casting an unsteady
glimmer over the room. Near me was a pale form lying motionless on an
easy chair. I could distinguish some long black tresses falling
loosely over a white dress. I sat up, weak though I was and scarcely
able to move, and tried to get out of bed. Patience, however, suddenly
appeared by the bedside and gently stopped me. Saint-Jean was sleeping
in another arm-chair. Every night there used to be two men watching me
thus, ready to hold me down by force whenever I became violent during
my delirium. Frequently the abbe was one; sometimes the worthy
Marcasse, who, before leaving Berry to go on his annual round through
the neighbouring province, had returned to have a farewell hunt in the
outhouses of the chateau, and who kindly offered to relieve the
servants in their painful task of keeping watch over me.
As I was wholly unconscious of my illness, it was but natural that the
unexpected presence of the hermit in my room should cause me
considerable astonishment, and throw me into a state of great
agitation. My attacks had been so violent that evening that I had no
strength left. I abandoned myself, therefore, to my melancholy
ravings, and, taking the good man's hand, I asked him if it was really
Edmee's corpse that he had placed in the arm-chair by my bedside.
"It is Edmee's living self," he answered, in a low voice; "but she is
still asleep, my dear monsieur, and we must not wake her. If there is
anything you would like, I am here to attend to you, and right gladly
I do it."
"My good Patience, you are deceiving me," I said; "she is dead, and so
am I, and you have come to bury us. But you must put us in the same
coffin, do you hear? for we are betrothed. Where is her ring? Take it
off and put it on my finger; our wedding-night has come."
He tried in vain to dispel this hallucination. I held to my belief
that Edmee was dead, and declared that I should never be quiet in my
shroud until I had been given my wife's ring. Edmee, who had sat up
with me for several nights, was so exhausted that our voices did not
awaken her. Besides, I was speaking in a whisper, like Patience, with
that instinctive tendency to imitate which is met with only in
children or idiots. I persisted in my fancy, and Patience, who was
afraid that it might turn into madness, went and very carefully
removed a cornelian ring from one of Edmee's fingers and put it on
mine. As soon as I felt it there, I carried it to my lips; and then
with my arms crossed on my breast, in the manner of a corpse in a
coffin, I fell into a deep sleep.
On the morrow when they tried to take the ring from me I resisted
violently, and they abandoned the attempt. I fell asleep again and the
abbe removed it during my sleep. But when I opened my eyes I noticed
the theft, and once more began to rave. Edmee, who was in the room,
ran to me at once and pressed the ring over my finger, at the same
time rebuking the abbe. I immediately grew calm, and gazing, on her
with lack-lustre eyes, said:
"Is it not true that you are my wife in death as in life?"
"Certainly," she replied. "Set your mind at rest."
"Eternity is long," I said, "and I should like to spend it in
recalling your caresses. But I send my thoughts back in vain; they
bring me no remembrance of your love."
She leant over and gave me a kiss.
"Edmee, that is very wrong," said the abbe; "such remedies turn to
"Let me do as I like, abbe," she replied, with evident impatience,
sitting down near my bed; "I must ask you to let me do as I please."
I fell asleep with one of my hands in hers, repeating at intervals:
"How sweet it is in the grave! Are we not fortunate to be dead?"
During my convalescence Edmee was much more reserved, but no less
attentive. I told her my dreams and learnt from her how far my
recollections were of real events. Without her testimony I should
always have believed that I had dreamt everything. I implored her to
let me keep the ring, and she consented. I ought to have added, to
show my gratitude for all her goodness, that I should keep it as a
pledge of friendship, and not as a sign of our engagement; but such a
renunciation was beyond me.
One day I asked for news of M. de la Marche. It was only to Patience
that I dared to put this question.
"Gone," he answered.
"What! Gone?" I replied. "For long?"
"Forever, please God! I don't know anything about it, for I ask no
questions; but I happened to be in the garden when he took leave of
her, and it was all as cold as a December night. Still, /au revoir/
was said on both sides, but though Edmee's manner was kind and honest
as it always is, the other had the face of a farmer when he sees
frosts in April. Mauprat, Mauprat, they tell me that you have become a
great student and a genuine good fellow. Remember what I told you;
when you are old there will probably no longer be any titles or
estate. Perhaps you will be called 'Father' Mauprat, as I am called
'Father' Patience, though I have never been either a priest or a
father of a family."
"Well, what are you driving at?"
"Remember what I once told you," he repeated. "There are many ways of
being a sorcerer, and one may read the future without being a servant
of the devil. For my part, I give my consent to your marriage with
your cousin. Continue to behave decently. You are a wise man now, and
can read fluently from any book set before you. What more do you want?
There are so many books here that the sweat runs from my brow at the
very sight of them; it seems as if I were again starting the old
torment of not being able to learn to read. But you have soon cured
yourself. If M. Hubert were willing to take my advice, he would fix
the wedding for the next Martinmas."
"That is enough, Patience!" I said. "This is a painful subject with
me; my cousin does not love me."
"I tell you she does. You lie in your throat, as the nobles say. I
know well enough how she nursed you; and Marcasse from the housetop
happened to look through her window and saw her on her knees in the
middle of the room at five o'clock in the morning the day that you
were so ill."
These imprudent assertions of Patience, Edmee's tender cares, the
departure of M. de la Marche, and, more than anything else, the
weakness of my brain, enabled me to believe what I wished; but in
proportion as I regained my strength Edmee withdrew further and
further within the bounds of calm and discreet friendship. Never did
man recover his health with less pleasure than I mine; for each day
made Edmee's visits shorter; and when I was able to leave my room I
had merely a few hours a day near her, as before my illness. With
marvellous skill she had given me proof of the tenderest affection
without ever allowing herself to be drawn into a fresh explanation
concerning our mysterious betrothal. If I had not yet sufficient
greatness of soul to renounce my rights, I had at least developed
enough honour not to refer to them; and I found myself on exactly the
same terms with her as at the time when I had fallen ill. M. de la
Marche was in Paris; but according to her he had been summoned thither
by his military duties and ought to return at the end of the winter on
which we were entering. Nothing that the chevalier or the abbe said
tended to show that there had been a quarrel between Edmee and him.
They rarely spoke of the lieutenant-general, but when they had to
speak of him they did so naturally and without any signs of
repugnance. I was again filled with my old doubts, and could find no
remedy for them except in the kingdom of my own will. "I will force
her to prefer me," I would say to myself as I raised my eyes from my
book and watched Edmee's great, inscrutable eyes calmly fixed on the
letters which her father occasionally received from M. de la Marche,
and which he would hand to her as soon as he had read them. I buried
myself in my work again. For a long time I suffered from frightful
pains in the head, but I overcame them stoically. Edmee again began
the course of studies which she had indirectly laid down for my winter
evenings. Once more I astonished the abbe by my aptitude and the
rapidity of my conquests. The kindness he had shown me during my
illness had disarmed me; and although I was still unable to feel any
genuine affection for him, knowing well that he was of little service
to me with my cousin, I gave him proof of much more confidence and
respect than in the past. His talks were as useful to me as my
reading. I was allowed to accompany him in his walks in the park and
in his philosophical visits to Patience's snow-covered hut. This gave
me an opportunity of seeing Edmee more frequently and for longer
periods. My behaviour was such that all her mistrust vanished, and she
no longer feared to be alone with me. On such occasions, however, I
had but little scope for displaying my heroism; for the abbe, whose
vigilance nothing could lull to sleep, was always at our heels. This
supervision no longer annoyed me; on the contrary, I was pleased at
it; for, in spite of all my resolutions, the storms of passion would
still sweep my senses into a mysterious disorder; and once or twice
when I found myself alone with Edmee I left her abruptly and went
away, so that she might not perceive my agitation.
Our life, then, was apparently calm and peaceful, and for some time it
was so in reality; but soon I disturbed it more than ever by a vice
which education developed in me, and which had hitherto been hidden
under coarser but less fatal vices. This vice, the bane of my new
period of life, was vanity.
In spite of their theories, the abbe and my cousin made the mistake of
showing too much pleasure at my rapid progress. They had so little
expected perseverance from me that they gave all the credit to my
exceptional abilities. Perhaps, too, in the marked success of the
philosophical ideas they had applied to my education they saw
something of a triumph for themselves. Certain it is, I was not loath
to let myself be persuaded that I had great intellectual powers, and
that I was a man very much above the average. My dear instructors were
soon to gather the sad fruit of their imprudence, and it was already
too late to check the flight of my immoderate conceit.
Perhaps, too, this abominable trait in my character, kept under by the
bad treatment I had endured in childhood, was now merely revealing its
existence. There is reason to believe that we carry within us from our
earliest years the seeds of those virtues and vices which are in time
made to bear fruit by the action of our environment. As for myself, I
had not yet found anything whereon my vanity could feed; for on what
could I have prided myself at the beginning of my acquaintance with
Edmee? But no sooner was food forthcoming than suffering vanity rose
up in triumph, and filled me with as much presumption as previously it
had inspired me with bashfulness and boorish reserve. I was, moreover,
as delighted at being able at last to express my thoughts with ease as
a young falcon fresh from the nest trying its wings for the first
time. Consequently, I became as talkative as I had been silent. The
others were too indulgent to my prattle. I had not sense enough to see
that they were merely listening to me as they would to a spoilt child.
I thought myself a man, and what is more, a remarkable man. I grew
arrogant and superlatively ridiculous.
My uncle, the chevalier, who had not taken any part in my education,
and who only smiled with fatherly good-nature at the first steps I
Back to Full Books