Part 5 out of 7
years. I had become a man very much like other men; my instincts had
managed to bring themselves into harmony with my affections, my
intuitions with my reason. This social education had been carried on
quite naturally; all I had to do was to accept the lessons of
experience and the counsels of friendship. I was far from being a
learned man; but I had developed a power of acquiring solid learning
very rapidly. My notions of things in general were as clear as could
be obtained at that time. Since then I know that real progress has
been made in human knowledge; I have watched it from afar and have
never thought of denying it. And as I notice that not all men of my
age show themselves as reasonable, it pleases me to think that I was
put on a fairly right road early in life, since I have never stopped
in the blind alley of errors and prejudices.
The progress I had made intellectually seemed to satisfy Edmee.
"I am not astonished at it," she said. "I could see it in your
letters; but I rejoice at it with a mother's pride."
My good uncle was no longer strong enough to engage in the old stormy
discussions; and I really think that if he had retained his strength
he would have been somewhat grieved to find that I was no longer the
indefatigable opponent who had formerly irritated him so persistently.
He even made a few attempts at contradiction to test me; but at this
time I should have considered it a crime to have gratified him. He
showed a little temper at this, and seemed to think that I treated him
too much as an old man. To console him I turned the conversation to
the history of the past, to the years through which he himself had
lived, and questioned him on many points wherein his experience served
him better than my knowledge. In this way I obtained many healthy
notions for the guidance of my own conduct, and at the same time I
fully satisfied his legitimate /amour propre/. He now conceived a
friendship for me from genuine sympathy, just as formerly he had
adopted me from natural generosity and family pride. He did not
disguise from me that his great desire, before falling into the sleep
that knows no waking, was to see me married to Edmee; and when I told
him that this was the one thought of my life, the one wish of my soul,
"I know, I know. Everything depends on her, and I think she can no
longer have any reasons for hesitation. . . . At all events," he
added, after a moment's silence and with a touch of peevishness, "I
cannot see any that she could allege at present."
From these words, the first he had ever uttered on the subject which
most interested me, I concluded that he himself had long been
favourable to my suit, and that the obstacle, if one still existed,
lay with Edmee. My uncle's last remark implied a doubt which I dared
not try to clear up, and which caused me great uneasiness. Edmee's
sensitive pride inspired me with such awe, her unspeakable goodness
filled me with such respect that I dared not ask her point-blank to
decide my fate. I made up my mind to act as if I entertained no other
hope than that she would always let me be her brother and friend.
An event which long remained inexplicable afforded some distraction to
my thoughts for a few days. At first I had refused to go and take
possession of Roche-Mauprat.
"You really must," my uncle had said, "go and see the improvements I
have made in your property, the lands which have been brought under
cultivation, the cattle that I have put on each of your metayer-farms.
Now is the time for you to see how your affairs stand, and show your
tenants that you take an interest in their work. Otherwise, on my
death, everything will go from bad to worse and you will be obliged to
let it, which may bring you in a larger income, perhaps, but will
diminish the value of the property. I am too old now to go and manage
your estate. For the last two years I have been unable to leave off
this miserable dressing-gown; the abbe does not understand anything
about it; Edmee has an excellent head; but she cannot bring herself to
go to that place; she says she would be too much afraid, which is mere
"I know that I ought to display more courage," I replied; "and yet,
uncle, what you are asking me to do is for me the most difficult thing
in the world. I have not set foot on that accursed soil since the day
I left it, bearing Edmee away from her captors. It is as if you were
driving me out of heaven to send me on a visit to hell."
The chevalier shrugged his shoulders; the abbe implored me to bring
myself to do as he wished, as the reluctance I showed was a veritable
disappointment to my uncle. I consented, and with a determination to
conquer myself, I took leave of Edmee for two days. The abbe wanted to
accompany me, to drive away the gloomy thoughts which would no doubt
besiege me; but I had scruples about taking him from Edmee even for
this short time; I knew how necessary he was to her. Tied as she was
to the chevalier's arm-chair, her life was so serious, so retired,
that the least change was acutely felt. Each year had increased her
isolation, and it had become almost complete since the chevalier's
failing health had driven from his table those happy children of wine,
songs, and witticisms. He had been a great sportsman; and Saint
Hubert's Day, which fell on his birthday, had formerly brought all the
nobility of the province to his house. Year after year the courtyards
had resounded with the howls of the pack; year after year the stables
had held their two long rows of spirited horses in their glistening
stalls; year after year the sound of the horn had echoed through the
great woods around, or sent out its blast under the windows of the big
hall at each toast of the brilliant company. But those glorious days
had long disappeared; the chevalier had given up hunting; and the hope
of obtaining his daughter's hand no longer brought round his arm-chair
young men, who were bored by his old age, his attacks of gout, and the
stories which he would repeat in the evening without remembering that
he had already told them in the morning. Edmee's obstinate refusals
and the dismissal of M. de la Marche had caused great astonishment,
and given rise to many conjectures among the curious. One young man
who was in love with her, and had been rejected like the rest, was
impelled by a stupid and cowardly conceit to avenge himself on the
only woman of his own class who, according to him, had dared to
repulse him. Having discovered that Edmee had been carried off by the
Hamstringers, he spread a report that she had spent a night of wild
debauch at Roche-Mauprat. At best, he only deigned to concede that she
had yielded only to violence. Edmee commanded too much respect and
esteem to be accused of having shown complaisance to the brigands; but
she soon passed for having been a victim of their brutality. Marked
with an indelible stain, she was no longer sought in marriage by any
one. My absence only served to confirm this opinion. I had saved her
from death, it was said, but not from shame, and it was impossible for
me to make her my wife; I was in love with her, and had fled lest I
should yield to the temptation to marry her. All this seemed so
probable that it would have been difficult to make the public accept
the true version. They were the less ready to accept it from the fact
that Edmee had been unwilling to put an end to the evil reports by
giving her hand to a man she could not love. Such, then, were the
causes of her isolation; it was not until later that I fully
understood them. But I could see the austerity of the chevalier's home
and Edmee's melancholy calm, and I was afraid to drop even a dry leaf
in the sleeping waters. Thus I begged the abbe to remain with them
until my return. I took no one with me except my faithful sergeant
Marcasse. Edmee had declared that he must not leave me, and had
arranged that henceforth he was to share Patience's elegant hut and
I arrived at Roche-Mauprat one foggy evening in the early days of
autumn; the sun was hidden, and all Nature was wrapped in silence and
mist. The plains were deserted; the air alone seemed alive with the
noise of great flocks of birds of passage; cranes were drawing their
gigantic triangles across the sky, and storks at an immeasurable
height were filling the clouds with mournful cries, which fell upon
the saddened country like the dirge of parting summer. For the first
time in the year I felt a chilliness in the air. I think that all men
are filled with an involuntary sadness at the approach of the
inclement season. In the first hoar-frosts there is something which
bids man remember the approaching dissolution of his own being.
My companion and I had traversed woods and heaths without saying a
single word; we had made a long /detour/ to avoid Gazeau Tower, which
I felt I could not bear to look upon again. The sun was sinking in
shrouds of gray when we passed the portcullis at Roche-Mauprat. This
portcullis was broken; the drawbridge was never raised, and the only
things that crossed it now were peaceful flocks and their careless
shepherds. The fosses were half-filled, and the bluish osiers were
already spreading out their flexible branches over the shallow waters;
nettles were growing at the foot of the crumbling towers, and the
traces of the fire seemed still fresh upon the walls. The farm
buildings had all been repaired; and the court, full of cattle and
poultry and sheep-dogs and agricultural implements, contrasted
strangely with the gloomy inclosure in which I still seemed to see the
red flames of the besiegers shooting up, and the black blood of the
I was received with the quiet and somewhat chilly hospitality of the
peasants of Berry. They did not lay themselves out to please me, but
they let me want for nothing. Quarters were found for me in the only
one of the old wings which had not been damaged in the siege, or
subsequently abandoned to the ravages of time. The massive
architecture of the body of the building dated from the tenth century;
the door was smaller than the windows, and the windows themselves gave
so little light that we had to take candles to find our way, although
the sun had hardly set. The building had been restored provisionally
to serve as an occasional lodging for the new seigneur or his
stewards. My Uncle Hubert had often been there to see to my interests
so long as his strength had allowed him; and they showed me to the
room which he had reserved for himself, and which had therefore been
known as the master's room. The best things that had been saved from
the old furniture had been placed there; and, as it was cold and damp,
in spite of all the trouble they had taken to make it habitable, the
tenant's servant preceded me with a firebrand in one hand and a fagot
in the other.
Blinded by the smoke which she scattered round me in clouds, and
deceived by the new entrance which they had made in another part of
the courtyard, and by certain corridors which they had walled up to
save the trouble of looking after them, I reached the room without
recognising anything; indeed, I could not have said in what part of
the old buildings I was, to such an extent had the new appearance of
the courtyard upset my recollections, and so little had my mind in its
gloom and agitation been impressed by surrounding objects.
While the servant was lighting the fire, I threw myself into a chair,
and, burying my head in my hands, fell into a melancholy train of
thought. My position, however, was not without a certain charm; for
the past naturally appears in an embellished or softened form to the
minds of young men, those presumptuous masters of the future. When, by
dint of blowing the brand, the servant had filled the room with dense
smoke, she went off to fetch some embers and left me alone. Marcasse
had remained in the stable to attend to our horses. Blaireau had
followed me; lying down by the hearth, he glanced at me from time to
time with a dissatisfied air, as if to ask me the reason of such
wretched lodging and such a poor fire.
Suddenly, as I cast my eyes round the room, old memories seemed to
awaken in me. The fire, after making the green wood hiss, sent a flame
up the chimney, and the whole room was illumined with a bright though
unsteady light, which gave all the objects a weird, ambiguous
appearance. Blaireau rose, turned his back to the fire and sat down
between my legs, as if he thought that something strange and
unexpected was going to happen.
I then realized that this place was none other than my grandfather
Tristan's bed-room, afterward occupied for several years by his eldest
son, the detestable John, my cruelest oppressor, the most crafty and
cowardly of the Hamstringers. I was filled with a sense of terror and
disgust on recognising the furniture, even the very bed with twisted
posts on which my grandfather had given up his blackened soul to God,
amid all the torments of a lingering death agony. The arm-chair which
I was sitting in was the one in which John the Crooked (as he was
pleased to call himself in his facetious days) used to sit and think
out his villainies or issue his odious orders. At this moment I
thought I saw the ghosts of all the Mauprats passing before me, with
their bloody hands and their eyes dulled with wine. I got up and was
about to yield to the horror I felt by taking to flight, when suddenly
I saw a figure rise up in front of me, so distinct, so recognisable,
so different in its vivid reality from the chimeras that had just
besieged me, that I fell back in my chair, all bathed in a cold sweat.
Standing by the bed was John Mauprat. He had just got out, for he was
holding the half-opened curtain in his hand. He seemed to me the same
as formerly, only he was still thinner, and paler and more hideous.
His head was shaved, and his body wrapped in a dark winding-sheet. He
gave me a hellish glance; a smile full of hate and contempt played on
his thin, shrivelled lips. He stood motionless with his gleaming eyes
fixed on me, and seemed as if about to speak. In that instant I was
convinced that what I was looking on was a living being, a man of
flesh and blood; it seems incredible, therefore, that I should have
felt paralyzed by such childish fear. But it would be idle for me to
deny it, nor have I ever yet been able to find an explanation; I was
riveted to the ground with fear. The man's glance petrified me; I
could not utter a sound. Blaireau rushed at him; then he waved the
folds of his funeral garment, like a shroud all foul with the dampness
of the tomb, and I fainted.
When I recovered consciousness Marcasse was by my side, anxiously
endeavouring to lift me. I was lying on the ground rigid as a corpse.
It was with a great difficulty that I collected my thoughts; but, as
soon as I could stand upright, I seized Marcasse and hurriedly dragged
him out of the accursed room. I had several narrow escapes of falling
as I hastened down the winding stairs, and it was only on breathing
the evening air in the courtyard, and smelling the healthy odour of
the stables, that I recovered the use of my reason.
I did not hesitate to look upon what had just happened as an
hallucination. I had given proof of my courage in war in the presence
of my worthy sergeant; I did not blush, therefore, to confess the
truth to him. I answered his questions frankly, and I described my
horrible vision with such minute details that he, too, was impressed
with the reality of it, and, as he walked about with me in the
courtyard, kept repeating with a thoughtful air:
"Singular, singular! Astonishing!"
"No, it is not astonishing," I said, when I felt that I had quite
recovered. "I experienced a most painful sensation on my way here; for
several days I had struggled to overcome my aversion to seeing Roche-
Mauprat again. Last night I had a nightmare, and I felt so exhausted
and depressed this morning that, if I had not been afraid of offending
my uncle, I should have postponed this disagreeable visit. As we
entered the place, I felt a chill come over me; there seemed to be a
weight on my chest, and I could not breathe. Probably, too, the
pungent smoke that filled the room disturbed my brain. Again, after
all the hardships and dangers of our terrible voyage, from which we
have hardly recovered, either of us, is it astonishing that my nerves
gave way at the first painful emotion?"
"Tell me," replied Marcasse, who was still pondering the matter, "did
you notice Blaireau at the moment? What did Blaireau do?"
"I thought I saw Blaireau rush at the phantom at the moment when it
disappeared; but I suppose I dreamt that like the rest."
"Hum!" said the sergeant. "When I entered, Blaireau was wildly
excited. He kept coming to you, sniffing, whining in his way, running
to the bed, scratching the wall, coming to me, running to you.
Strange, that! Astonishing, captain, astonishing, that!"
After a silence of a few moments:
"Devil don't return!" he exclaimed, shaking his head. "Dead never
return; besides, why dead, John? Not dead! Still two Mauprats! Who
knows? Where the devil? Dead don't return; and my master--mad? Never.
After this colloquy the sergeant went and fetched a light, drew his
faithful sword from the scabbard, whistled Blaireau, and bravely
seized the rope which served as a balustrade for the staircase,
requesting me to remain below. Great as was my repugnance to entering
the room again, I did not hesitate to follow Marcasse, in spite of his
recommendation. Our first care was to examine the bed; but while we
had been talking in the courtyard the servant had brought clean
sheets, had made the bed, and was now smoothing the blankets.
"Who has been sleeping there?" asked Marcasse, with his usual caution.
"Nobody," she replied, "except M. le Chevalier or M. l'Abbe Aubert, in
the days when they used to come."
"But yesterday, or to-day, I mean?" said Marcasse.
"Oh! yesterday and to-day, nobody, sir; for it is quite two years
since M. le Chevalier came here; and as for M. l'Abbe, he never sleeps
here, now that he comes alone. He arrives in the morning, has lunch
with us, and goes back in the evening."
"But the bed was disarranged," said Marcasse, looking at her
"Oh, well! that may be, sir," she replied. "I do not know how they
left it the last time some one slept here; I did not pay any attention
to that as I put on the sheets; all I know is that M. Bernard's cloak
was lying on the top."
"My cloak?" I exclaimed. "It was left in the stable."
"And mine, too," said Marcasse. "I have just folded both together and
put them on the corn-bin."
"You must have had two, then," replied the servant; "for I am sure I
took one off the bed. It was a black cloak, not new."
Mine, as a fact, was lined with red and trimmed with gold lace.
Marcasse's was light gray. It could not, therefore, have been one of
our cloaks brought up for a moment by the man and then taken back to
"But, what did you do with it?" said the sergeant.
"My word, sir," replied the fat girl, "I put it there, over the arm-
chair. You must have taken it while I went to get a candle. I can't
see it now."
We searched the room thoroughly; the cloak was not to be found. We
pretended that we needed it, not denying that it was ours. The servant
unmade the bed in our presence, and then went and asked the man what
he had done with it. Nothing could be found either in the bed or in
the room; the man had not been upstairs. All the farm-folk were in a
state of excitement, fearing that some one might be accused of theft.
We inquired if a stranger had not come to Roche-Mauprat, and if he was
not still there. When we ascertained that these good people had
neither housed or seen any one, we reassured them about the lost cloak
by saying that Marcasse had accidentally folded it with the two
others. Then we shut ourselves in the room, in order to explore it at
our ease; for it was now almost evident that what I had seen was by no
means a ghost, but John Mauprat himself, or a man very like him, whom
I had mistaken for John.
Marcasse having aroused Blaireau by voice and gesture, watched all his
"Set your mind at rest," he said with pride; "the old dog has not
forgotten his old trade. If there is a hole, a hole as big as your
hand, have no fear. Now, old dog! Have no fear."
Blaireau, indeed, after sniffing everywhere, persisted in scratching
the wall where I had seen the apparition; he would start back every
time his pointed nose came to a certain spot in the wainscotting;
then, wagging his bushy tail with a satisfied air, he would return to
his master as if to tell him to concentrate his attention on this
spot. The sergeant then began to examine the wall and the woodwork; he
tried to insinuate his sword into some crack; there was no sign of an
opening. Still, a door might have been there, for the flowers carved
on the woodwork would hide a skilfully constructed sliding panel. The
essential thing was to find the spring that made this panel work; but
that was impossible in spite of all the efforts we made for two long
hours. In vain did we try to shake the panel; it gave forth the same
sound as the others. They were all sonorous, showing that the wainscot
was not in immediate contact with the masonry. Still, there might be a
gap of only a few inches between them. At last Marcasse, perspiring
profusely, stopped, and said to me:
"This is very stupid; if we searched all night we should not find a
spring if there is none; and however hard we hammered, we could not
break in the door if there happened to be big iron bars behind it, as
I have sometimes seen in other old country-houses."
"The axe might help us to find a passage," I said, "if there is one;
but why, simply because your dog scratches the wall, persist in
believing that John Mauprat, or the man who resembles him, could not
have come in and gone out by the door?"
"Come in, if you like," replied Marcasse, "but gone out--no, on my
honour! For, as the servant came down I was on the staircase brushing
my boots. As soon as I heard something fall here, I rushed up quickly
three stairs at a time, and found that it was you--like a corpse,
stretched out on the floor, very ill; no one inside nor outside, on my
"In that case, then, I must have dreamt of my fiend of an uncle, and
the servant must have dreamt of the black cloak; for it is pretty
certain that there is no secret door here; and even if there were one,
and all the Mauprats, living and dead, knew the secret of it, what
were that to us? Do we belong to the police that we should hunt out
these wretched creatures? And if by chance we found them hidden
somewhere, should we not help them to escape, rather than hand them
over to justice? We are armed; we need not be afraid that they will
assassinate us to-night; and if they amuse themselves by frightening
us, my word, woe betide them! I have no eye for either relatives or
friends when I am startled in my sleep. So come, let us attack the
omelette that these good people my tenants are preparing for us; for
if we continue knocking and scratching the walls they will think we
Marcasse yielded from a sense of duty rather than from conviction. He
seemed to attach great importance to the discovery of this mystery,
and to be far from easy in his mind. He was unwilling to let me remain
alone in the haunted room, and pretended that I might fall ill again
and have a fit.
"Oh, this time," I said, "I shall not play the coward. The cloak has
cured me of my fear of ghosts; and I should not advise any one to
meddle with me."
The hildago was obliged to leave me alone. I loaded my pistols and put
them on the table within reach of my hand; but these precautions were
a pure waste of time; nothing disturbed the silence of the room, and
the heavy red silk curtains, with their coat of arms at the corners in
tarnished silver, were not stirred by the slightest breath. Marcasse
returned and, delighted at finding me as cheerful as he had left me,
began preparing our supper with as much care as if we had come to
Roche-Mauprat for the sole purpose of making a good meal. He made
jokes about the capon which was still singing on the spit, and about
the wine which was so like a brush in the throat. His good humour
increased when the tenant appeared, bringing a few bottles of
excellent Madeira, which had been left with him by the chevalier, who
liked to drink a glass or two before setting foot in the stirrup. In
return we invited the worthy man to sup with us, as the least tedious
way of discussing business matters.
"Good," he said; "it will be like old times when the peasants used to
eat at the table of the seigneurs of Roche-Mauprat. You are doing the
same, Monsieur Bernard, you are quite right."
"Yes, sir," I replied very coldly; "only I behave thus with those who
owe me money, not those to whom I owe it."
This reply, and the word "sir," frightened him so much that he was at
great pains to excuse himself from sitting down to table. However, I
insisted, as I wished to give him the measure of my character at once.
I treated him as a man I was raising to my own level, not as one to
whom I wished to descend. I forced him to be cleanly in his jokes, but
allowed him to be free and facetious within the limits of decent
mirth. He was a frank, jovial man. I questioned him minutely to
discover if he was not in league with the phantom who was in the habit
of leaving his cloak upon the bed. This, however, seemed far from
probable; the man evidently had such an aversion for the Hamstringers,
that, had not a regard for my relationship held him back, he would
have been only too glad to have given them such a dressing in my
presence as they deserved. But I could not allow him any license on
this point; so I requested him to give me an account of my property,
which he did with intelligence, accuracy, and honesty.
As he withdrew I noticed that the Madeira had had considerable effect
on him; he seemed to have no control over his legs, which kept
catching in the furniture; and yet he had been in sufficient
possession of his faculties to reason correctly. I have always
observed that wine acts much more powerfully on the muscles of
peasants than on their nerves; that they rarely lose their heads, and
that, on the contrary, stimulants produce in them a bliss unknown to
us; the pleasure they derive from drunkenness is quite different from
ours and very superior to our febrile exaltation.
When Marcasse and I found ourselves alone, though we were not drunk,
we realized that the wine had filled us with gaiety and light-
heartedness which we should not have felt at Roche-Mauprat, even
without the adventure of the ghost. Accustomed as we were to speak our
thoughts freely, we confessed mutually, and agreed that we were much
better prepared than before supper to receive all the bogies of
This word "bogey" reminded me of the adventure which had brought me
into far from friendly contact with Patience at the age of thirteen.
Marcasse knew about it already, but he knew very little of my
character at that time, and I amused myself by telling him of my wild
rush across the fields after being thrashed by the sorcerer.
"This makes me think," I concluded by saying, "that I have an
imagination which easily gets overexcited, and that I am not above
fear of the supernatural. Thus the apparition just now . . ."
"No matter, no matter," said Marcasse, looking at the priming of my
pistols, and putting them on the table by my bed. "Do not forget that
all the Hamstringers are not dead; that, if John is in this world, he
will do harm until he is under the ground, and trebly locked in hell."
The wine was loosening the hidalgo's tongue; on those rare occasions
when he allowed himself to depart from his usual sobriety, he was not
wanting in wit. He was unwilling to leave me, and made a bed for
himself by the side of mine. My nerves were excited by the incidents
of the day, and I allowed myself, therefore, to speak of Edmee, not in
such a way as to deserve the shadow of a reproach from her if she had
heard my words, but more freely than I might have spoken with a man
who was as yet my inferior and not my friend, as he became later. I
could not say exactly how much I confessed to him of my sorrows and
hopes and anxieties; but those confidences had a disastrous effect, as
you will soon see.
We fell asleep while we were talking, with Blaireau at his master's
feet, the hidalgo's sword across his knees near the dog, the light
between us, my pistols ready to hand, my hunting-knife under my
pillow, and the bolts shot. Nothing disturbed our repose. When the sun
awakened us the cocks were crowing merrily in the courtyard, and the
labourers were cracking their rustic jokes as they yoked the oxen
under our windows.
"All the same there is something at the bottom of it."
Such was Marcasse's first remark as he opened his eyes, and took up
the conversation where he had dropped it the night before.
"Did you see or hear anything during the night?" I asked.
"Nothing at all," he replied. "All the same, Blaireau has been
disturbed in his sleep; for my sword has fallen down; and then, we
found no explanation of what happened here."
"Let who will explain it," I answered. "I shall certainly not trouble
"Wrong, wrong; you are wrong!"
"That may be, my good sergeant; but I do not like this room at all,
and it seems to me so ugly by daylight, that I feel that I must get
far away from it, and breathe some pure air."
"Well, I will go with you; but I shall return. I do not want to leave
this to chance. I know what John Mauprat is capable of; you don't."
"I do not wish to know; and if there is any danger here for myself or
my friends, I do not wish you to return."
Marcasse shook his head and said nothing. We went round the farm once
more before departing. Marcasse was very much struck with a certain
incident to which I should have paid but little attention. The farmer
wished to introduce me to his wife, but she could not be persuaded to
see me, and went and hid herself in the hemp-field. I attributed this
to the shyness of youth.
"Fine youth, my word!" said Marcasse; "youth like mine fifty years old
and more! There is something beneath it, something beneath, I tell
"What the devil can there be?"
"Hum! She was very friendly with John Mauprat in her day. She found
his crooked legs to her liking. I know about it; yes, I know many
other things, too; many things--you may take my word!"
"You shall tell me them the next time we come; and that will not be so
soon; for my affairs are going on much better than if I interfered
with them; and I should not like to get into the habit of drinking
Madeira to prevent myself from being frightened at my own shadow. And
now, Marcasse, I must ask you as a favour not to tell any one what has
happened. Everybody has not your respect for your captain."
"The man who does not respect my captain is an idiot," answered the
hidalgo, in a tone of authority; "but, if you order me, I will say
He kept his word. I would not on any account have had Edmee's mind
disturbed by this stupid tale. However, I could not prevent Marcasse
from carrying out his design; early the following morning he
disappeared, and I learnt from Patience that he had returned to Roche-
Mauprat under the pretence of having forgotten something.
While Marcasse was devoting himself to serious investigations, I was
spending days of delight and agony in Edmee's presence. Her behaviour,
so constant and devoted, and yet in many respects so reserved, threw
me into continual alternations of joy and grief. One day while I was
taking a walk the chevalier had a long conversation with her. I
happened to return when their discussion had reached its most animated
stage. As soon as I appeared, my uncle said to me:
"Here, Bernard; come and tell Edmee that you love her; that you will
make her happy; that you have got rid of your old faults. Do something
to get yourself accepted; for things cannot go on as they are. Our
position with our neighbours is unbearable; and before I go down to
the grave I should like to see my daughter's honour cleared from
stain, and to feel sure that some stupid caprice of hers will not cast
her into a convent, when she ought to be filling that position in
society to which she is entitled, and which I have worked all my life
to win for her. Come, Bernard, at her feet, lad! Have the wit to say
something that will persuade her! Otherwise I shall think--God forgive
me!--that it is you that do not love her and do not honestly wish to
"I! Great heavens!" I exclaimed. "Not wish to marry her--when for
seven years I have had no other thought; when that is the one wish of
my heart, and the only happiness my mind can conceive!"
Then I poured forth all the thoughts that the sincerest passion could
suggest. She listened to me in silence, and without withdrawing her
hands, which I covered with kisses. But there was a serious expression
in her eyes, and the tone of her voice made me tremble when, after
reflecting a few moments, she said:
"Father, you should not doubt my word; I have promised to marry
Bernard; I promised him, and I promised you; it is certain, therefore,
that I shall marry him."
Then she added, after a fresh pause, and in a still severe tone:
"But if, father, you believe that you are on the brink of the grave,
what sort of heart do you suppose I can have, that you bid me think
only of myself, and put on my wedding-dress in the hour of mourning
for you? If, on the contrary, you are, as I believe, still full of
vigour, in spite of your sufferings, and destined to enjoy the love of
your family for many a long year yet, why do you urge me so
imperiously to cut short the time I have requested? Is not the
question important enough to demand my most serious reflection? A
contract which is to bind me for the rest of my life, and on which
depends, I do not say my happiness, for that I would gladly sacrifice
to your least wish, but the peace of my conscience and the dignity of
my conduct (since no woman can be sufficiently sure of herself to
answer for a future which has been fettered against her will), does
not such a contract bid me weigh all its risks and all its advantages
for several years at least?"
"Good God!" said the chevalier. "Have you not been weighing all this
for the last seven years? You ought to have arrived at some conclusion
about your cousin by now. If you are willing to marry him, marry him;
but if not, for God's sake say so, and let another man come forward."
"Father," replied Edmee, somewhat coldly, "I shall marry none but
" 'None but him' is all very well," said the chevalier, tapping the
logs with the tongs; "but that does not necessarily mean that you will
"Yes, I will marry him, father," answered Edmee. "I could have wished
to be free a few months more; but since you are displeased at all
these delays, I am ready to obey your orders, as you know."
"Parbleu! that is a pretty way of consenting," exclaimed my uncle,
"and no doubt most gratifying to your cousin! By Jove! Bernard, I have
lived many years in this world, but I must own that I can't understand
these women yet, and it is very probable that I shall die without ever
having understood them."
"Uncle," I said, "I can quite understand my cousin's aversion for me;
it is only what I deserve. I have done all I could to atone for my
errors. But, is it altogether in her power to forget a past which has
doubtless caused her too much pain? However, if she does not forgive
me, I will imitate her severity: I will not forgive myself. Abandoning
all hope in this world, I will tear myself away from her and you, and
chasten myself with a punishment worse than death."
"That's it! Go on! There's an end of everything!" said the chevalier,
throwing the tongs into the fire. "That is just what you have been
aiming at, I suppose, Edmee?"
I had moved a few steps towards the door; I was suffering intensely.
Edmee ran after me, took me by the arm, and brought me back towards
"It is cruel and most ungrateful of you to say that," she said. "Does
it show a modest spirit and generous heart, to forget a friendship, a
devotion, I may even venture to say, a fidelity of seven years,
because I ask to prove you for a few months more? And even if my
affection for you should never be as deep as yours for me, is what I
have hitherto shown you of so little account that you despise it and
reject it, because you are vexed at not inspiring me with precisely as
much as you think you are entitled to? You know at this rate a woman
would have no right to feel affection. However, tell me, is it your
wish to punish me for having been a mother to you by leaving me
altogether, or to make some return only on condition that I become
"No, Edmee, no," I replied, with my heart breaking and my eyes full of
tears, as I raised her hand to my lips; "I feel that you have done far
more for me than I deserved; I feel that it would be idle to think of
tearing myself from your presence; but can you account it a crime in
me to suffer by your side? In any case it is so involuntary, so
inevitable a crime, that it must needs escape all your reproaches and
all my own remorse. But let us talk of this no more. It is all I can
do. Grant me your friendship still; I shall hope to show myself always
worthy of you in the future."
"Come, kiss each other," said the chevalier, much affected, "and never
separate. Bernard, however capricious Edmee may seem, never abandon
her, if you would deserve the blessing of your foster-father. Though
you should never be her husband, always be a brother to her. Remember,
my lad, that she will soon be alone in the world, and that I shall die
in sorrow if I do not carry with me to the grave a conviction that a
support and a defender still remains to her. Remember, too, that it is
on your account, on account of a vow, which her inclination, perhaps,
would reject, but which her conscience respects, that she is thus
forsaken and slandered . . ."
The chevalier burst into tears, and in a moment all the sorrows of the
unfortunate family were revealed to me.
"Enough, enough!" I cried, falling at their feet. "All this is too
cruel. I should be the meanest wretch on earth if I had need to be
reminded of my misdeeds and my duties. Let me weep at your knees; let
me atone for the wrong I have done you by eternal grief, by eternal
renunciation. Why not have driven me away when I did the wrong? Why
not, uncle, have blown out my brains with your pistol, as if I had
been a wild beast? What have I done to be spared, I who repaid your
kindness with the ruin of your honour? No, no; I can see that Edmee
ought not to marry me; that would be accepting the shame of the insult
I have drawn upon her. All I ask is to be allowed to remain here; I
will never see her face, if she makes this a condition; but I will lie
at her door like a faithful dog and tear to pieces the first man who
dares to present himself otherwise than on his knees; and if some day
an honest man, more fortunate than myself, shows himself worthy of her
love, far from opposing him, I will intrust to him the dear and sacred
task of protecting and vindicating her. I will be but a friend, a
brother to her, and when I see that they are happy together, I will go
far away from them and die in peace."
My sobs choked me; the chevalier pressed his daughter and myself to
his heart, and we mingled our tears, swearing to him that we would
never leave each other, either during his life or after his death.
"Still, do not give up all hope of marrying her," whispered the
chevalier to me a few moments later, when we were somewhat calmer.
"She has strange whims; but nothing will persuade me to believe that
she does not love you. She does not want to explain matters yet.
Woman's will is God's will."
"And Edmee's will is my will," I replied.
A few days after this scene, which brought the calmness of death into
my soul in place of the tumult of life, I was strolling in the park
with the abbe.
"I must tell you," he said, "of an adventure which befell me
yesterday. There is a touch of romance in it. I had been for a walk in
the woods of Briantes, and had made my way down to the spring of
Fougeres. It was as warm, you remember, as in the middle of summer;
and our beautiful plants, in their autumn red, seemed more beautiful
than ever as they stretched their delicate tracery over the stream.
The trees have very little foliage left; but the carpet of dried
leaves one walks upon gives forth a sound which to me is full of
charm. The satiny trunks of the birches and young oaks are covered
with moss and creepers of all shades of brown, and tender green, and
red and fawn, which spread out into delicate stars and rosettes, and
maps of all countries, wherein the imagination can behold new worlds
in miniature. I kept gazing lovingly on these marvels of grace and
delicacy, these arabesques in which infinite variety is combined with
unfailing regularity, and as I remembered with pleasure that you are
not, like the vulgar, blind to these adorable coquetries of nature, I
gathered a few with the greatest care, even bringing away the bark of
the tree on which they had taken root, in order not to destroy the
perfection of their designs. I made a little collection, which I left
at Patience's as I passed; we will go and see them, if you like. But,
on our way, I must tell you what happened to me as I approached the
spring. I was walking upon the wet stones with my head down, guided by
the slight noise of the clear little jet of water which bursts from
the heart of the mossy rock. I was about to sit down on the stone
which forms a natural seat at the side of it, when I saw that the
place was already occupied by a good friar whose pale, haggard face
was half-hidden by his cowl of coarse cloth. He seemed much frightened
at my arrival; I did my best to reassure him by declaring that my
intention was not to disturb him, but merely to put my lips to the
little bark channel which the woodcutters have fixed to the rock to
enable one to drink more easily.
" 'Oh, holy priest,' he said to me in the humblest tone, 'why are you
not the prophet whose rod could smite the founts of grace? and why
cannot my soul, like this rock, give forth a stream of tears?'
"Struck by the manner in which this monk expressed himself, by his sad
air, by his thoughtful attitude in this poetic spot, which has often
made me dream of the meeting of the Saviour and the woman of Samaria,
I allowed myself to be drawn into a more intimate conversation. I
learnt from the monk that he was a Trappist, and that he was making a
" 'Ask neither my name nor whence I come,' he said. 'I belong to an
illustrious family who would blush to know that I am still alive.
Besides, on entering the Trappist order, we abjure all pride in the
past; we make ourselves like new-born children; we become dead to the
world that we may live again in Jesus Christ. But of this be sure: you
behold in me one of the most striking examples of the miraculous power
of grace; and if I could make known to you the tale of my religious
life, of my terrors, my remorse, and my expiations, you would
certainly be touched by it. But of what avail the indulgence and
compassion of man, if the pity of God will not deign to absolve me?'
"You know," continued the abbe, "that I do not like monks, that I
distrust their humility and abhor their lives of inaction. But this
man spoke in so sad and kindly a manner; he was so filled with a sense
of his duty; he seemed so ill, so emaciated by asceticism, so truly
penitent, that he won my heart. In his looks and in his talk were
bright flashes which betrayed a powerful intellect, indefatigable
energy, and indomitable perseverance. We spent two whole hours
together, and I was so moved by what he said that on leaving him I
expressed a wish to see him again before he left this neighbourhood.
He had found a lodging for the night at the Goulets farm, and I tried
in vain to persuade him to accompany me to the chateau. He told me
that he had a companion he could not leave.
" 'But, since you are so sympathetic,' he said, 'I shall esteem it a
pleasure to meet you here to-morrow towards sunset; perhaps I may even
venture to ask a favour of you; you can be of service to me in an
important matter which I have to arrange in this neighbourhood; more
than this I cannot tell you at the present moment.'
"I assured him that he could reckon on me, and that I should only be
too happy to oblige a man such as himself."
"And the result is, I suppose, that you are waiting impatiently for
the hour of your appointment?" I said to the abbe.
"I am," he replied; "and my new acquaintance has so many attractions
for me that, if I were not afraid of abusing the confidence he has
placed in me, I should take Edmee to the spring of Fougeres."
"I fancy," I replied, "that Edmee has something better to do than to
listen to the declamations of your monk, who perhaps, after all, is
only a knave, like so many others to whom you have given money
blindly. You will forgive me, I know, abbe; but you are not a good
physiognomist, and you are rather apt to form a good or bad opinion of
people for no reason except that your own romantic nature happens to
feel kindly or timidly disposed towards them."
The abbe smiled and pretended that I said this because I bore him a
grudge; he again asserted his belief in the Trappist's piety, and then
went back to botany. We passed some time at Patience's, examining the
collection of plants; and as my one desire was to escape from my own
thoughts, I left the hut with the abbe and accompanied him as far as
the wood where he was to meet the monk. In proportion as we drew near
to the place the abbe seemed to lose more and more of his eagerness of
the previous evening, and even expressed a fear that he had gone too
far. This hesitation, following so quickly upon enthusiasm, was very
characteristic of the abbe's mobile, loving, timid nature, with its
strange union of the most contrary impulses, and I again began to
rally him with all the freedom of friendship.
"Come, then," he said, "I should like to be satisfied about this; you
must see him. You can study his face for a few minutes, and then leave
us together, since I have promised to listen to his secrets."
As I had nothing better to do I followed the abbe; but as soon as we
reached a spot overlooking the shady rocks whence the water issues, I
stopped and examined the monk through the branches of a clump of ash-
trees. Seated immediately beneath us by the side of the spring, he had
his eyes turned inquiringly on the angle of the path by which he
expected the abbe to arrive; but he did not think of looking at the
place where we were, and we could examine him at our ease without
being seen by him.
No sooner had I caught sight of him than, with a bitter laugh, I took
the abbe by the arm, drew him back a short distance, and, not without
considerable agitation, said to him:
"My dear abbe, in bygone years did you never catch sight of the face
of my uncle, John de Mauprat?"
"Never, as far as I know," replied the abbe, quite amazed. "But what
are you driving at?"
"Only this, my friend; you have made a pretty find here; this good and
venerable Trappist, in whom you see so much grace and candour, and
contrition, and intelligence, is none other than John de Mauprat, the
"You must be mad!" cried the abbe, starting back. "John de Mauprat
died a long time ago."
"John Mauprat is not dead, nor perhaps Antony Mauprat either; and my
surprise is less than yours only because I have already met one of
these two ghosts. That he has become a monk, and is repenting for his
sins, is very possible; but alas! it is by no means impossible that he
has disguised himself in order to carry out some evil design, and I
advise you to be on your guard."
The abbe was so frightened that he no longer wanted to keep his
appointment. I suggested that it would be well to learn what the old
sinner was aiming at. But, as I knew the abbe's weak character, and
feared that my Uncle John would manage to win his heart by his lying
confessions and wheedle him into some false step, I made up my mind to
hide in a thicket whence I could see and hear everything.
But things did not happen as I had expected. The Trappist, instead of
playing the politician, immediately made known his real name to the
abbe. He declared that he was full of contrition, and that, as his
conscience would not allow him to make the monk's habit a refuge from
punishment (he had really been a Trappist for several years), he was
about to put himself into the hands of justice, that he might atone in
a striking way for the crimes with which he was polluted. This man,
endowed as he was with conspicuous abilities, had acquired a mystic
eloquence in the cloister. He spoke with so much grace and
persuasiveness that I was fascinated no less than the abbe. It was in
vain that the latter attempted to combat a resolution which appeared
to him insane; John Mauprat showed the most unflinching devotion to
his religious ideas. He declared that, having committed the crimes of
the old barbarous paganism, he could not ransom his soul save by a
public expiation worthy of the early Christians.
"It is possible," he said, "to be a coward with God as well as with
man, and in the silence of my vigils I hear a terrible voice answering
to my tears: 'Miserable craven, it is the fear of man that has thrown
you upon the bosom of God, and if you had not feared temporal death,
you would never have thought of life eternal!'
"Then I realize that what I most dread is not God's wrath, but the
rope and the hangman that await me among my fellows. Well, it is time
to end this sense of secret shame; not until the day when men crush me
beneath their abuse and punishment shall I fell absolved and restored
in the sight of Heaven; then only shall I account myself worthy to say
to Jesus my Saviour: 'Give ear to me, innocent victim, Thou who
heardest the penitent thief; give ear to a sullied but contrite
victim, who has shared in the glory of Thy martyrdom and been ransomed
by Thy blood!' "
"If you persist in your enthusiastic design," said the abbe, after
unsuccessfully bringing forward all possible objections, "you must at
least let me know in what way you thought I could be of service to
"I cannot act in this matter," replied the Trappist, "without the
consent of a young man who will soon be the last of the Mauprats; for
the chevalier has not many days to wait before he will receive the
heavenly reward due to his virtues; and as for myself, I cannot avoid
the punishment I am about to seek, except by falling back into the
endless night of the cloister. I speak of Bernard Mauprat; I will not
call him my nephew, for if he heard me he would blush to think that he
bore this shameful title. I heard of his return from America, and this
news decided me to undertake the journey at the painful end of which
you now behold me."
It seemed to me that while he was saying this he kept casting side-
glances towards the clump of trees where I was, as if he had guessed
my presence there. Perhaps the movement of some branches had betrayed
"May I ask," said the abbe, "what you now have in common with this
young man? Are you not afraid that, embittered by the harsh treatment
formerly lavished on him at Roche-Mauprat, he may refuse to see you?"
"I am certain that he will refuse; for I know the hatred that he still
has for me," said the Trappist, once more looking towards the spot
where I was. "But I hope that you will persuade him to grant me an
interview; for you are a good and generous man, Monsieur l'Abbe. You
promised to oblige me; and, besides, you are young Mauprat's friend,
and you will be able to make him understand that his interests are at
stake and the honour of his name."
"How so?" answered the abbe. "No doubt he will be far from pleased to
see you appear before the courts to answer for crimes which have since
been effaced in the gloom of the cloister. He will certainly wish you
to forego this public expiation. How can you hope that he will
"I have hope, because God is good and great; because His grace is
mighty; because it will touch the heart of him who shall deign to hear
the prayer of a soul which is truly penitent and deeply convinced;
because my eternal salvation is in the hands of this young man, and he
cannot wish to avenge himself on me beyond the grave. Moreover, I must
die at peace with those I have injured; I must fall at the feet of
Bernard Mauprat and obtain his forgiveness of my sins. My tears will
move him, or, if his unrelenting soul despises them, I shall at least
have fulfilled an imperious duty."
Seeing that he was speaking with a firm conviction that he was being
heard by me, I was filled with disgust; I thought I could detect the
deceit and cowardice that lay beneath this vile hypocrisy. I moved
away and waited for the abbe some distance off. He soon rejoined me;
the interview had ended by a mutual promise to meet again soon. The
abbe had undertaken to convey the Trappist's words to me, while the
latter had threatened in the most honeyed tone in the world to come
and see me if I refused his request. The abbe and I agreed to consult
together, without informing the chevalier or Edmee, that we might not
disquiet them unnecessarily. The Trappist had gone to stay at La
Chatre, at the Carmelite convent; this had thoroughly aroused the
abbe's suspicions, in spite of his first enthusiasm at the penitence
of the sinner. The Carmelites had persecuted him in his youth, and in
the end the prior had driven him to secularize himself. The prior was
still alive, old but implacable; infirm, and withdrawn from the world,
but strong in his hatred, and his passion for intrigue. The abbe could
not hear his name without shuddering, and he begged me to act
prudently in this affair.
"Although John Mauprat," he said, "is under the bane of the law, and
you are at the summit of honour and prosperity, do not despise the
weakness of your enemy. Who knows what cunning and hatred may do? They
can usurp the place of the just and cast him out on the dung-heap;
they can fasten their crimes on others and sully the robe of innocence
with their vileness. Maybe you have not yet finished with the
The poor abbe did not know that there was so much truth in his words.
After thoroughly reflecting on the Trappist's probable intentions, I
decided that I ought to grant him the interview he had requested. In
any case, John Mauprat could not hope to impose upon me, and I wished
to do all in my power to prevent him from pestering my great-uncle's
last days with his intrigues. Accordingly, the very next day I betook
myself to the town, where I arrived towards the end of Vespers. I
rang, not without emotion, at the door of the Carmelites.
The retreat chosen by the Trappist was of those innumerable mendicant
societies which France supported at that time. Though its rules were
ostensibly most austere, this monastery was rich and devoted to
pleasure. In that age of scepticism the small number of the monks was
entirely out of proportion to the wealth of the establishment which
had been founded for them; and the friars who roamed about the vast
monasteries in the most remote parts of the provinces led the easiest
and idlest lives they had ever known, in the lap of luxury, and
entirely freed from the control of opinion, which always loses its
power when man isolates himself. But this isolation, the mother of the
"amiable vices," as they used to phrase it, was dear only to the more
ignorant. The leaders were a prey to the painful dreams of an ambition
which had been nurtured in obscurity and embittered by inaction. To do
something, even in the most limited sphere and with the help of the
feeblest machinery; to do something at all costs--such was the one
fixed idea of the priors and abbes.
The prior of the Carmelites whom I was about to see was the
personification of this restless impotence. Bound to his great arm-
chair by the gout, he offered a strange contrast to the venerable
chevalier, pale and unable to move like himself, but noble and
patriarchal in his affliction. The prior was short, stout, and very
petulant. The upper part of his body was all activity; he would turn
his head rapidly from side to side; he would brandish his arms while
giving orders. He was sparing of words, and his muffled voice seemed
to lend a mysterious meaning to the most trivial things. In short,
one-half of his person seemed to be incessantly striving to drag along
the other, like the bewitched man in the Arabian Nights, whose robe
hid a body that was marble up to the waist.
He received me with exaggerated attention, got angry because they did
not bring me a chair quickly enough, stretched out his fat, flabby
hand to draw this chair quite close to his own, and made a sign to a
tall, bearded satyr, whom he called the Brother Treasurer, to go out;
then, after overwhelming me with questions about my journey, and my
return, and my health, and my family, while his keen restless little
eyes were darting glances at me from under eyelids swollen and heavy
from intemperance, he came to the point.
"I know, my dear child," he said, "what brings you here; you wish to
pay your respects to your holy relative, to the Trappist, that model
of faith and holiness whom God has sent to us to serve as an example
to the world, and reveal to all the miraculous power of grace."
"Prior," I answered, "I am not a good enough Christian to judge of the
miracle you mention. Let devout souls give thanks to Heaven for it.
For myself, I have come here because M. Jean de Mauprat desires to
inform me, as he has said, of plans which concern myself, and to which
I am ready to listen. If you will allow me to go and see him----"
"I did not want him to see you before myself, young man," exclaimed
the prior, with an affectation of frankness, at the same time seizing
my hands in his, at the touch of which I could not repress a feeling
of disgust. "I have a favour to ask of you in the name of charity, in
the name of the blood which flows in your veins . . ."
I withdrew one of my hands, and the prior, noticing my expression of
displeasure, immediately changed his tone with admirable skill.
"You are a man of the world, I know. You have a grudge against him who
once was Jean de Mauprat, and who to-day is the humble Brother Jean
Nepomucene. But if the precepts of our divine Master, Jesus Christ,
cannot persuade you to pity, there are considerations of public
propriety and of family pride which must make you share my fears and
assist my efforts. You know the pious but rash resolution which
Brother John has formed; you ought to assist me in dissuading him from
it, and you will do so, I make no doubt."
"Possibly, sir," I replied very coldly; "but might I ask to what my
family is indebted for the interest you are good enough to take in its
"To that spirit of charity which animates all the followers of
Christ," answered the monk, with very well assumed dignity.
Fortified with this pretext, on the strength of which the clergy have
always taken upon themselves to meddle in all family secrets, it was
not difficult for him to put an end to my questions; and, though he
could not destroy the suspicions which I felt at heart, he succeeded
in proving to my ears that I ought to be grateful to him for the care
which he had taken of the honour of my name. I wanted to find out what
he was driving at; it was as I had foreseen. My Uncle John claimed
from me his share in the fief of Roche-Mauprat; and the prior was
deputed to make me understand that I had to choose between paying a
considerable sum of money (for he spoke of the interest accruing
through the seven years of possession, besides a seventh part of the
whole estate) and the insane step he intended taking, the scandal of
which could not fail to hasten the chevalier's death and cause me,
perhaps, "strange personal embarrassments." All this was hinted with
consummate skill under the cover of the most Christian solicitude for
my own welfare, the most fervent admiration for the Trappist's zeal,
and the most sincere anxiety about the results of this "firm resolve."
Finally, it was made evident that John Mauprat was not coming to ask
me for the means of existence, but that I should have to humbly
beseech him to accept the half of my possessions, if I wished to
prevent him from dragging my name and probably my person to the
I tried a final objection.
"If," I said, "this resolve of Brother Nepomucene, as you call him, is
as fixed as you say; if the only one care he has in the world is for
his own salvation, will you explain to me how the attractions of
temporal wealth can possibly turn him from it? There seems to be a
contradiction in this which I fail to understand."
The prior was somewhat embarrassed by the piercing glance I turned on
him, but he immediately started on one of those exhibitions of
simplicity which are the supreme resource of rogues:
"Mon Dieu! my dear son," he exclaimed, "you do not know, then, the
immense consolation a pious soul can derive from the possession of
worldly wealth? Just as perishable riches must be despised when they
represent vain pleasures, even so must they be resolutely defended by
the upright man when they afford him the means of doing good. I will
not hide from you that if I were the holy Trappist I would not yield
my rights to any one; I would found a religious society for the
propagation of the faith and the distribution of alms with the wealth
which, in the hands of a brilliant young nobleman like yourself, is
only squandered on horses and dogs. The Church teaches us that by
great sacrifices and rich offerings we may cleanse our souls of the
blackest sins. Brother Nepomucene, a prey to holy fear, believes that
a public expiation is necessary for his salvation. Like a devout
martyr, he wishes to satisfy the implacable justice of men with blood.
But how much sweeter for you (and safer, at the same time) to see him
raise some holy altar to the glory of God, and hide in the blessed
peace of the cloister the baleful lustre of the name he has already
abjured! He is so much swayed by the spirit of his order, he has
conceived such a love for self-denial, for humility and poverty, that
it will need all my efforts and much help from on high to make him
agree to this change of expiations."
"It is you, then, prior, who from sheer goodness of heart are
undertaking to alter this fatal resolution? I admire your zeal, and I
thank you for it; but I do not think there will be any need of all
these negotiations. M. Jean de Mauprat claims his share of the
inheritance; nothing can be more just. Even should the law refuse all
civil rights to a man who owed his safety only to flight (a point
which I will pass over), my relative may rest assured that there would
never be the least dispute between us on this ground, if I were the
absolute possessor of any fortune whatever. But you are doubtless
aware that I owe the enjoyment of this fortune only to the kindness of
my great-uncle, the Chevalier Hubert de Mauprat; that he had enough to
do to pay the debts of the family, which amounted to more than the
total value of the estate; that I can alienate nothing without his
permission, and that, in reality, I am merely the depositary of a
fortune which I have not yet accepted."
The prior stared at me in astonishment, as if dazed by an unexpected
blow. Then he smiled with a crafty expression, and said:
"Very good! It appears that I have been mistaken, and that I must
apply to M. Hubert de Mauprat. I will do so; for I make no doubt that
he will be very grateful to me for saving his family from a scandal
which may have very good results for one of his relatives in the next
world, but which, for a certainty, will have very bad ones for another
relation in the present world."
"I understand, sir," I replied. "This is a threat. I will answer in
the same strain: If M. Jean de Mauprat ventures to importune my uncle
and cousin, it is with me that he will have to deal; and it will not
be before the courts that I shall summon him to answer for certain
outrages which I have by no means forgotten. Tell him that I shall
grant no pardon to the Trappist penitent unless he remains faithful to
the role he has adopted. If M. Jean de Mauprat is without resources,
and he asks my help, I may, out of the income I receive, furnish him
with the means of living humbly and decently, according to the spirit
of the vows he has taken; but if ecclesiastical ambition has taken
possession of his mind, and he thinks, by stupid, childish threats, to
intimidate my uncle to such an extent that he will be able to extort
from him the wherewithal to satisfy his new tastes, let him undeceive
himself--tell him so from me. The old man's peace of mind and his
daughter's future have only myself as guardian, and I shall manage to
guard them, though it be at the risk of my life and my honour."
"And yet honour and life are of some importance at your age," replied
the abbe, visibly irritated, but feigning a suaver manner than ever.
"Who knows into what folly religious fervour may lead the Trappist?
For, between ourselves be it said, my child--you see, I am a man of
moderation--I knew the world in my youth, and I do not approve of
these violent resolves, which are more often dictated by pride than
piety. For instance, I have consented to temper the austerity of our
rules; my friars look well-fed, and they wear shirts. Rest assured, my
good sir, I am far from approving of your uncle's design, and I shall
do all that is possible to hinder it. Yet, if he still persists, how
will my efforts profit you? He has obtained his superior's permission,
and may, after all, yield to his fatal inspiration. You may be
seriously compromised by an affair of this kind; for, although reports
say that you are a worthy young gentleman, though you have abjured the
errors of the past, and though, perhaps, your soul has always hated
iniquity, you have certainly been involved in many misdeeds which
human laws condemn and punish. Who can tell into what involuntary
revelations Brother Nepomucene may find himself drawn if he sets in
motion the machinery of criminal proceedings? Can he set it in motion
against himself without at the same time setting it in motion against
you? Believe me, I wish for peace--I am a kindly man."
"Yes, a very kindly man, father," I answered, in a tone of irony. "I
see that perfectly. But do not let this matter cause you needless
anxiety; for there is one very clear argument which must reassure both
of us. If a veritable religious impulse urges Brother John the
Trappist to make a public reparation, it will be easy to make him
understand that he ought to hesitate before he drags another than
himself into the abyss; the spirit of Christ forbids him to do this.
But, if the truth is, as I presume, that M. Jean de Mauprat has not
the least wish to hand himself over to justice, his threats are but
little calculated to terrify me, and I shall take steps to prevent
them from making more stir than is desirable."
"So that is the only answer I am to give him?" asked the prior,
darting a vindictive glance at me.
"Yes, sir," I replied; "unless he would prefer to come here and
receive the answer from my own mouth. I came with a determination to
conquer the disgust which his presence arouses in me; and I am
astonished that, after expressing so much eagerness to see me, he
should remain in the background when I arrive."
"Sir," answered the prior, with ridiculous majesty, "my duty is to see
that the peace of our Lord reigns in this holy place. I must,
therefore, set myself against any interview which might lead to
violent explanations . . ."
"You are much too easily frightened, sir," I replied. "There is
nothing to arouse passion in this matter. However, as it was not I who
called for these explanations, and as I came here out of pure
compliance, I most willingly refrain from pushing them further, and I
thank you for having been good enough to act as intermediary."
With that, I made a profound bow and retired.
I gave an account of this interview to the abbe, who was waiting for
me at Patience's. He was entirely of my own opinion; he thought, like
myself, that the prior, so far from endeavouring to turn the Trappist
from his pretended designs, was trying with all his power to frighten
me, in the hope that I should be brought to make considerable
sacrifices of money. In his eyes it was clear that this old man,
faithful to the monkish spirit, wished to put into the hands of a
clerical Mauprat the fruit of the labours and thrift of a lay Mauprat.
"That is the indelible mark of the Catholic clergy," he said. "They
cannot live without waging war on the families around them, and being
ever on the watch for opportunities to spoil them. They look upon this
wealth as their property, and upon all ways of recovering it as
lawful. It is not as easy as you think to protect one's self against
this smooth-faced brigandage. Monks have stubborn appetites and
ingenious minds. Act with caution and be prepared for anything. You
can never induce a Trappist to show fight. Under the shelter of his
hood, with head bowed and hands crossed, he will accept the cruelest
outrages; and, knowing quite well that you will not assassinate him,
he will hardly fear you. Again, you do not know what justice can
become in man's hands, and how a criminal trial is conducted and
decided when one of the parties will not stick at any kind of bribery
and intimidation. The Church is powerful, the law grandiloquent. The
words 'honesty' and 'integrity' have for centuries been ringing
against the hardened walls of courts of justice; but that has not
prevented judges from being false or verdicts from being iniquitous.
Have a care; have a care! The Trappist may start the cowled pack on
his own track and throw them off by disappearing at the right point
and leading them on yours. Remember that you have wounded many an
/amour propre/ by disappointing the pretensions of the dowry-hunters.
One of the most incensed of them, and at the same time one of the most
malicious, is a near relative of a magistrate who is all-powerful in
the province. De la Marche has given up the gown for the sword; but
among his old colleagues he may have left some one who would like to
do you an ill-turn. I am sorry you were not able to join him in
America, and get on good terms with him. Do not shrug your shoulders;
you may kill a dozen of them, and things will go from bad to worse.
They will avenge themselves; not on your life, perhaps, for they know
that you hold that cheap, but on your honour; and your great-uncle
will die of grief. In short--"
"My dear abbe," I said, interrupting him, "you have a habit of seeing
everything black at the first glance, when you do not happen to see
the sun in the middle of the night. Now let me tell you some things
which ought to drive out these gloomy presentiments. I know John
Mauprat of old; he is a signal impostor, and, moreover, the rankest of
cowards. He will sink into the earth at the sight of me, and as soon
as I speak I will make him confess that he is neither Trappist, nor
monk, nor saint. All this is a mere sharper's trick. In the old days I
have heard him making plans which prevent me from being astonished at
his impudence now; so I have but little fear of him."
"There you are wrong," replied the abbe. "You should always fear a
coward, because he strikes from behind while you are expecting him in
front. If John Mauprat were not a Trappist, if the papers he showed me
were lies, the prior of the Carmelites is too shrewd and cautious to
have let himself be deceived. Never would he have espoused the cause
of a layman, and never would he mistake a layman for one of his own
cloth. However, we must make inquiries; I will write to the superior
of the Trappist monastery at once, but I am certain he will confirm
what I know already. It is even possible that John Mauprat is a
genuine devotee. Nothing becomes such a character better than certain
shades of the Catholic spirit. The inquisition is the soul of the
Church, and the inquisition should smile on John Mauprat. I firmly
believe that he would give himself up to the sword of justice solely
for the pleasure of compassing your ruin with his own, and that the
desire to found a monastery with your money is a sudden inspiration,
the honour of which belongs entirely to the prior of the
Carmelites . . ."
"That is hardly probable, my dear abbe," I said. "Besides, where can
these discussions lead us? Let us act. Let us keep the chevalier in
sight, so that the unclean beast may not come and poison the calm of
his last days. Write to the Trappist superior; I will offer the
creature a pension, and when he comes, let us carefully watch his
slightest movements. My sergeant, Marcasse, is an admirable
bloodhound. Let us put him on the track, and if he can manage to tell
us in vulgar speech what he has seen and heard, we shall soon know
everything that is happening in the province."
Chatting thus, we arrived at the chateau towards the close of day. As
I entered the silent building, I was seized with a fond, childish
uneasiness, such as may come upon a mother when she leaves her babe a
moment. The eternal security which nothing had ever disturbed within
the bounds of the old sacred walls, the decrepitude of the servants,
the way in which the doors always stood open, so that beggars would
sometimes enter the drawing-room without meeting any one and without
giving umbrage--the whole atmosphere of peace and trust and isolation
--formed a strange contrast to the thoughts of strife, and the cares
with which John's return and the prior's threats had filled my mind
for some hours. I quickened my pace, and, seized with an involuntary
trembling, I crossed the billiard-room. At that moment I thought I saw
a dark shadow pass under the windows of the ground floor, glide
through the jasmines, and disappear in the twilight. I threw open the
door of the drawing-room and stood still. There was not a sound, not a
movement. I was going to look for Edmee in her father's room, when I
thought I saw something white moving near the chimney-corner where the
chevalier always sat.
"Edmee! Is that you?" I exclaimed.
No one answered. My brow was covered with a cold sweat and my knees
were trembling. Ashamed of this strange weakness, I rushed towards the
hearth, repeating Edmee's name in agonized tones.
"Have you come at last, Bernard?" she replied, in a trembling voice.
I seized her in my arms. She was kneeling beside her father's arm-
chair and pressing to her lips the old man's icy hands.
"Great God!" I cried, when by the dim light in the room I could
distinguish the chevalier's livid face. "Is our father dead?"
"Perhaps," she said, in a stifled voice; "perhaps he has only fainted,
please God! But, a light, for Heaven's sake! Ring the bell! He has
only been in this state for a moment."
I rang in all haste. The abbe now came in, and fortunately we
succeeded in bringing my uncle back to life.
But when he opened his eyes, his mind seemed to be struggling against
the impressions of a fearful dream.
"Has he gone? Has the vile phantom gone?" he repeated several times.
"Ho, there, Saint-Jean! My pistols! Now, my men! Throw the fellow out
of the window!"
I began to suspect the truth.
"What has happened?" I said the Edmee, in a low tone. "Who has been
here in my absence?"
"If I told you," answered Edmee, "you would hardly believe it. You
would think my father and I were mad. But I will tell you everything
presently; let us attend to him."
With her soft words and loving attentions she succeeded in calming the
old man. We carried him to his room, and he fell into a quiet sleep.
When Edmee had gently withdrawn her hand from his and lowered the
wadded curtain over his head, she joined the abbe and myself, and told
us that a quarter of an hour before we returned a mendicant friar had
entered the drawing-room, where, as usual, she was embroidering near
her father, who had fallen asleep. Feeling no surprise at an incident
which frequently happened, she had risen to get her purse from the
mantel-piece, at the same time addressing a few words to the monk. But
just as she was turning round to offer him an alms the chevalier had
awakened with a start, and eyeing the monk from head to foot, had
cried in a tone half of anger and half of fear:
"What the devil are you doing here in that garb?"
Thereupon Edmee had looked at the monk's face and had recognised . . .
"A man you would never dream of," she said; "the frightful John
Mauprat. I had only seen him a single hour in my life, but that
repulsive face has never left my memory, and I have never had the
slightest attack of fever without seeing it again. I could not repress
" 'Do not be afraid,' he said, with a hideous smile. 'I come here not
as an enemy, but as a supplicant.'
"And he went down on his knees so near my father, that, not knowing
what he might do, I rushed between them, and hastily pushed back the
arm-chair to the wall. Then the monk, speaking in a mournful tone,
which was rendered still more terrifying by the approach of night,
began to pour out some lamentable rigmarole of a confession, and ended
by asking pardon for his crimes, and declaring that he was already
covered by the black veil which parricides wear when they go to the
" 'This wretched creature has gone mad,' said my father, pulling the
"But Saint-Jean is deaf, and he did not come. So we had to sit in
unspeakable agony and listen to the strange talk of the man who calls
himself a Trappist and declares that he had come to give himself up to
justice in expiation of his transgressions. Before doing so, he wished
to implore my father's forgiveness and his last blessing. While saying
this he was moving forward on his knees, and speaking with an intense
passion. In the sound of this voice, uttering words of extravagant
humility, there seemed to be insult and a menace. As he continued
moving nearer to my father, and as the idea of the foul caresses which
he apparently wished to lavish on him filled me with disgust, I
ordered him in a somewhat imperious tone to rise and speak becomingly.
My father angrily ordered him to say no more and depart; and as at
this moment he cried, 'No, you must let me clasp your knees!' I pushed
him back to prevent him from touching my father. I shudder to think
that my glove has touched that unclean gown. He turned towards me,
and, though he still feigned penitence and humility, I could see rage
gleaming in his eyes. My father made a violent effort to get up, and
in fact he got up, as if by a miracle; but the next instant he fell
back fainting in his chair. Then steps were heard in the billiard-
room, and the monk rushed out by the glass door with the speed of
lightning. It was then that you found me half-dead and frozen with
terror at the feet of my prostate father."
"The abominable coward has lost no time, you see, abbe," I cried. "His
aim was to frighten the chevalier and Edmee, and he has succeeded; but
he reckoned without me, and I swear that--though he should have to be
treated in the Roche-Mauprat fashion--if he ever dares to come here
"That is enough, Bernard," said Edmee. "You make me shudder. Speak
seriously, and tell me what all this means."
When I had informed her of what had happened to the abbe and myself,
she blamed us for not warning her.
"Had I known," she said, "what to expect I should not have been
frightened, and I could have taken care never to be left alone in the
house with my father, and Saint-Jean, who is hardly more active. Now,
however, I am no longer afraid; I shall be on my guard. But the best
thing, Bernard dear, is to avoid all contact with this loathsome man,
and to make him as liberal an allowance as possible to get rid of him.
The abbe is right; he may prove formidable. He knows that our kinship
with him must always prevent us from summoning the law to protect us
against his persecutions; and though he cannot injure us as seriously
as he flatters himself, he can at least cause us a thousand
annoyances, which I am reluctant to face. Throw him gold and let him
take himself off. But do not leave me again, Bernard; you see you have
become absolutely necessary to me; brood no more over the wrong you
pretend to have done me."
I pressed her hand in mine, and vowed never to leave her, though she
herself should order me, until this Trappist had freed the country
from his presence.
The abbe undertook the negotiations with the monastery. He went into
the town the following day, carrying from me a special message to the
Trappist that I would throw him out of the window if he ever took it
into his head to appear at Sainte-Severe again. At the same time I
proposed to supply him with money, even liberally, on condition that
he would immediately withdraw to his convent or to any other secular
or religious retreat he might choose, and that he would never again
set foot in Berry.
The prior received the abbe with all the signs of profound contempt
and holy aversion for his state of heresy. Far from attempting to
wheedle him like myself, he told him that he wished to have nothing to
do with this business, that he washed his hands of it, and that he
would confine himself to conveying the decisions on both sides, and
affording a refuge to Brother Nepomucene, partly out of Christian
charity, and partly to edify his monks by the example of a truly
devout man. According to him, Brother Nepomucene would be the second
of that name placed in the front rank of the heavenly host by virtue
of the canons of the Church.
The next day the abbe was summoned to the convent by a special
messenger, and had an interview with the Trappist. To his great
surprise, he found that the enemy had changed his tactics. He
indignantly refused help of any sort, declaring that his vow of
poverty and humility would not allow it; and he strongly blamed his
dear host, the prior, for daring to suggest, without his consent, an
exchange of things eternal for things temporal. On other matters he
refused to explain his views, and took refuge in ambiguous and
bombastic replies. God would inspire him, he said, and at the
approaching festival of the Virgin, at the august and sublime hour of
holy communion, he expected to hear the voice of Jesus speaking to his
heart and announcing the line of conduct he ought to follow. The abbe
was afraid of betraying uneasiness, if he insisted on probing this
"Christian mystery," so he returned with this answer, which was least
of all calculated to reassure me. He did not appear again either at
the castle or in the neighbourhood, and kept himself so closely shut
up in the convent that few people ever saw his face. However, it soon
became known, and the prior was most active in spreading the news,
that John Mauprat had been converted to the most zealous and exemplary
piety, and was now staying at the Carmelite convent for a term, as a
penitent from La Trappe. Every day they reported some fresh virtuous
trait, some new act of austerity of this holy personage. Devotees,
with a thirst for the marvellous, came to see him, and brought him a
thousand little presents, which he obstinately refused. At times he
would hide so well that people said he had returned to his monastery;
but just as we were congratulating ourselves on getting rid of him, we
would hear that he had recently inflicted some terrible mortifications
on himself in sackcloth and ashes; or else that he had gone barefooted
on a pilgrimage into some of the wildest and most desolate parts of
Varenne. People went so far as to say that he could work miracles. If
the prior had not been cured of his gout, that was because, in a
spirit of true penitence, he did not wish to be cured.
This state of uncertainty lasted almost two months.
These days, passed in Edmee's presence, were for me days of delight,
yet of suffering. To see her at all hours, without fear of being
indiscreet, since she herself would summon me to her side, to read to
her, talk with her on all subjects, share the loving attentions she
bestowed on her father, enter into half her life exactly as if we had
been brother and sister--this was great happiness, no doubt, but it
was a dangerous happiness, and again the volcano kindled in my breast.
A few confused words, a few troubled glances betrayed me. Edmee was by
no means blind, but she was impenetrable; her dark and searching eyes,
fixed on me as on her father, with the solicitude of an absorbing
affection, would at times suddenly grow cold, just as the violence of
my passion was ready to break out. Her countenance would then express
nothing but patient curiosity and an unswerving resolve to read to the
bottom of my soul without letting me see even the surface of her own.
My sufferings, though acute, were dear to me at first; it pleased me
to think that I was secretly offering them to Edmee as an expiation of
my past faults. I hoped that she would perceive this and be satisfied
with me. She saw it, and said nothing. My agony grew more intense; but
still some days passed before I lost all power to hide it. I say days,
because whoever has loved a woman, and has been much alone with her,
yet always kept in check by her severity, must have found days like
centuries. How full life seemed and yet how consuming! What languor
and unrest! What tenderness and rage! It was as though the hours were
years; and at this very day, if I did not bring in dates to rectify
the error of my memory, I could easily persuade myself that these two
months filled half my life.
Perhaps, too, I should like to persuade myself of this, in order to
find some excuse for the foolish and culpable conduct into which I
fell in spite of all the good resolutions which I had but lately
formed. The relapse was so sudden and complete that I should still
blush at the thought, if I had not cruelly atoned for it, as you will
After a night of agony, I wrote her an insane letter which came nigh
to producing terrible consequences for me; it was somewhat as follows:
"You do not love me, Edmee; you will never love me. I know this; I ask
for nothing, I hope for nothing. I would only remain near you and
consecrate my life to your service and defence. To be useful to you I
will do all that my strength will allow; but I shall suffer, and,
however I try to hide it, you will see it; and perhaps you will
attribute to wrong causes the sadness I may not be able to suppress
with uniform heroism. You pained me deeply yesterday, when you advised
me to go out a little 'to distract my thoughts.' To distract my
thoughts from you, Edmee! What bitter mockery! Do not be cruel,
sister; for then you become my haughty betrothed of evil days again
. . . and, in spite of myself, I again become the brigand whom you
used to hate. . . . Ah, if you knew how unhappy I am! In me there are
two men who are incessantly waging a war to the death. It is to be
hoped that the brigand will fall; but he defends himself step by step,
and he cries aloud because he feels himself covered with wounds and
mortally stricken. If you knew, Edmee, if you only knew what
struggles, what conflicts, rend my bosom; what tears of blood my heart
distils; and what passions often rage in that part of my nature which
the rebel angels rule! There are nights when I suffer so much that in
the delirium of my dreams I seem to be plunging a dagger into your
heart, and thus, by some sombre magic, to be forcing you to love me as
I love you. When I awake, in a cold sweat, bewildered, beside myself,
I feel tempted to go and kill you, so as to destroy the cause of my
anguish. If I refrain from this, it is because I fear that I should
love you dead with as much passion and tenacity as if you were alive.
I am afraid of being restrained, governed, swayed by your image as I
am by your person. Then, again, a man cannot destroy the being he
loves and fears; for when she has ceased to exist on earth she still
exists in himself. It is the lover's soul which serves as a coffin for
his mistress and which forever preserves her burning remains, that it
may feed on them without ever consuming them. But, great Heaven! what
is this tumult in my thoughts? You see, Edmee, to what an extent my
mind is sick; take pity on me, then. Bear with me, let me be sad,
never doubt my devotion. I am often mad, but I worship you always. A
word, a look from you, will always recall me to a sense of duty, and
this duty will be sweet when you deign to remind me of it. As I write
to you, Edmee, the sky is full of clouds that are darker and heavier
than lead; the thunder is rumbling, and doleful ghosts of purgatory
seem to be floating in the glare of the lightning. The weight of the
storm lies on my soul; my bewildered mind quivers like the flashes
which leap from the firmament. It seems as if my whole being were
about to burst like the tempest. Ah, could I but lift up to you a
voice like unto its voice! Had I the power to lay bare the agonies and
passions which rend me within! Often, when a storm has been sweeping
over the great oaks above, you have told me that you enjoy gazing upon
the fury of the one and the resistance of the other. This, you say, is
a battle of mighty forces; and in the din in the air you fancy you can
detect the curses of the north wind and the mournful cries of the
venerable branches. Which suffers the more, Edmee, the tree which
resists, or the wind which exhausts itself in the attack? Is it not
always the wind that yields and falls? And then the sky, grieved at
the defeat of her noble son, sheds a flood of tears upon the earth.
You love these wild images, Edmee; and whenever you behold strength
vanquished by resistance you smile cruelly, and there is a look in
your inscrutable eyes that seems to insult my misery. Well, you have
cast me to the ground, and, though shattered, I still suffer; yes,
learn this, since you wish to know it, since you are merciless enough
to question me and to feign compassion. I suffer, and I no longer try
to remove the foot which the proud conqueror has placed on my broken
The rest of this letter, which was very long, very rambling and absurd
from beginning to end, was in the same strain. It was not the first
time that I had written to Edmee, though I lived under the same roof,
and never left her except during the hours of rest. My passion
possessed me to such a degree that I was irresistibly drawn to
encroach upon my sleep in order to write to her, I could never feel
that I had talked enough about her, that I had sufficiently renewed my
promises of submission--a submission in which I was constantly
failing. The present letter, however, was more daring and more
passionate than any of the others. Perhaps, in some mysterious way, it
was written under the influence of the storm which was rending the
heavens while I, bent over my table, with moist brow and dry, burning
hand, drew this frenzied picture of my sufferings. A great calm, akin
to despair, seemed to come over me as I threw myself upon my bed after
going down to the drawing-room and slipping my letter into Edmee's
work-basket. Day was breaking, and the horizon showed heavy with the
dark wings of the storm, which was flying to other regions. The trees,
laden with rain, were tossing under the breeze, which was still
blowing freshly. Profoundly sad, but blindly resigned to my suffering,
I fell asleep with a sense of relief, as if I had made a sacrifice of
my life and hopes. Apparently Edmee did not find my letter, for she
gave me no answer. She generally replied verbally, and these letters
of mine were a means of drawing from her those professions of sisterly
friendship with which I had perforce to be satisfied, and which, at
least, poured soothing balm into my wound. I ought to have known that
this time my letter must either lead to a decisive explanation, or be
passed over in silence. I suspected the abbe of having taken it and
thrown it into the fire; I accused Edmee of scorn and cruelty;
nevertheless, I held my tongue.
The next day the weather was quite settled again. My uncle went for a
drive, and during the course of it told us that he should not like to
die without having had one last great fox-hunt. He was passionately
devoted to this sport, and his health had so far improved that he
again began to show a slight inclination for pleasure and exercise.
Seated in a very light, narrow /berline/, drawn by strong mules, so
that he might move rapidly over the sandy paths in our woods, he had
already followed one or two little hunts which we had arranged for his
amusement. Since the Trappist's visit, the chevalier had entered, as
it were, upon a fresh term of life. Endowed with strength and
pertinacity, like all his race, it seemed as if he had been decaying
for want of excitement, for the slightest demand on his energy
immediately set his stagnant blood in motion. As he was very much
pleased with this idea of a hunt, Edmee undertook to organize, with my
help, a general battue and to join in the sport herself. One of the
greatest delights of the good old man was to see her on horseback, as
she boldly pranced around his carriage and offered him all the
flowering sprigs which she plucked from the bushes she passed. It was
arranged that I should ride with her, and that the abbe should
accompany the chevalier in the carriage. All the gamekeepers,
foresters, huntsmen, and even poachers of Varenne were invited to this
family function. A splendid meal was prepared with many goose-pies and
much local wine. Marcasse, whom I had made my manager at Roche-
Mauprat, and who had a considerable knowledge of the art of fox-
hunting, spent two whole days in stopping up the earths. A few young
farmers in the neighbourhood, interested in the battue and able to
give useful advice, graciously offered to join the party; and, last of
all, Patience, in spite of his aversion for the destruction of
innocent animals, consented to follow the hunt as a spectator. On the
appointed day, which opened warm and cloudless on our happy plans and
my own implacable destiny, some fifty individuals met with horns,
horses, and hounds. At the end we were to play havoc with the rabbits,
of which there were too many on the estate. It would be easy to
destroy them wholesale by falling back upon that part of the forest
which had not been beaten during the hunt. Each man therefore armed
himself with a carbine, and my uncle also took one, to shoot from his
carriage, which he could still do with much skill.
Edmee was mounted on a very spirited Limousin mare, which she amused
herself by exciting and quieting with a touching coquetry to please
her old father. For the first two hours she hardly left the carriage
at all, and the chevalier, now full of new life, gazed on her with
smiles and tears of love. Just as in the daily rotation of our globe,
ere passing into night, we take leave of the radiant orb which is
going to reign over another hemisphere, even so did the old man find
some consolation for his death in the thought that the youth and
vigour and beauty of his daughter were surviving him for another
When the hunt was in full swing, Edmee, who certainly inherited some
of the martial spirit of the family, and the calmness of whose soul
could not always restrain the impetuosity of her blood, yielded to her
father's repeated signs--for his great desire now was to see her
gallop--and went after the field, which was already a little distance
"Follow her! follow her!" cried the chevalier, who had no sooner seen
her galloping off than his fond paternal vanity had given place to
I did not need to be told twice; and digging my spurs into my horse's
flanks, I rejoined Edmee in a cross-path which she had taken to come
up with the hunt. I shuddered as I saw her bending like a reed under
the branches, while her horse, which she was still urging on, carried
her between the trees with the rapidity of lightning.
"For God's sake, Edmee," I cried, "do not ride so fast! You will be
"Let me have a gallop," she said gaily. "My father has allowed me. You
must not interfere; I shall rap you on the knuckles if you try to stop
"At least let me follow you, then," I said, keeping close to her.
"Your father wished it; and I shall at least be there to kill myself
if anything happens to you."
Why I was filled with these gloomy forebodings I do not know, for I
had often seen Edmee galloping through the woods. I was in a peculiar
state; the heat of noon seemed mounting to my brain, and my nerves
were strangely excited. I had eaten no breakfast, as I had felt
somewhat out of sorts in the morning, and, to sustain myself, had
swallowed several cups of coffee mixed with rum. At first I
experienced a horrible sense of fear; then, after a few minutes, the
fear gave way to an inexpressible feeling of love and delight. The
excitement of the gallop became so intense that I imagined my only
object was to pursue Edmee. To see her flying before me, as light as
her own black mare, whose feet were speeding noiselessly over the
moss, one might have taken her for a fairy who had suddenly appeared
in this lonely spot to disturb the mind of man and lure him away to
her treacherous haunts. I forgot the hunt and everything else. I saw
nothing but Edmee; then a mist fell upon my eyes, and I could see her
no more. Still, I galloped on; I was in a state of silent frenzy, when
she suddenly stopped.
"What are we doing?" she said. "I cannot hear the hunt any longer, and
here is the river in front. We have come too far to the left."
"No, no, Edmee," I answered, without knowing in the least what I was
saying. "Another gallop and we shall be there."
"How red you are!" she said. "But how shall we cross the river?"
"Since there is a road, there must be a ford," I replied. "Come on!
I was filled with an insane desire to go on galloping, I believe my
idea was to plunge deeper and deeper into the forest with her; but
this idea was wrapped in a haze, and when I tried to pierce it, I was
conscious of nothing but a wild throbbing of my breast and temples.
Edmee made a gesture of impatience.
"These woods are accursed!" she said. "I am always losing my way in
No doubt she was thinking of the fatal day when she had been carried
far from another hunt and brought to Roche-Mauprat. I thought of it
too, and the ideas that came into my mind produced a sort of
dizziness. I followed her mechanically towards the river. Suddenly I
realized that she was on the other bank. I was filled with rage on
seeing that her horse was cleverer and braver than my own. Before I
could get the animal to take the ford, which was rather a nasty one,
Edmee was a long way ahead of me again. I dug my spurs into its sides
till the blood streamed from them. At last, after being nearly thrown
several times, I reached the other bank, and, blind with rage, started
in pursuit of Edmee. I overtook her, and seizing the mare's bridle, I
"Stop, Edmee, I say! You shall not go any farther."
At the same time I shook the reins so violently that her horse reared.
She lost her balance, and, to avoid falling, jumped lightly to the
ground between our two animals, at the risk of being hurt. I was on
the ground almost as soon as herself. I at once pushed the horses
away. Edmee's, which was very quiet, stopped and began to browse. Mine
bolted out of sight. All this was the affair of an instant.
I had caught Edmee in my arms; she freed herself and said, in a sharp
"You are very brutal, Bernard; and I hate these ways of yours. What is
the matter with you?"
Perplexed and confused, I told her that I thought her mare was
bolting, and that I was afraid some accident might happen to her if
she allowed herself to be carried away by the excitement of the ride.
"And to save me," she replied, "you make me fall, at the risk of
killing me! Really, that was most considerate of you."
"Let me help you to mount again," I said.
And without waiting for her permission, I took her in my arms and
lifted her off the ground.
"You know very well that I do not mount in this way!" she exclaimed,
now quite irritated. "Leave me alone; I don't want your help."
But I was no longer in a state to obey her. I was losing my head; my
arms were tightening around her waist, and it was in vain that I
endeavoured to take them away. My lips touched her bosom in spite of
myself. She grew pale with anger.
"Oh, how unfortunate I am!" I said, with my eyes full of tears; "how
unfortunate I am to be always offending you, and to be hated more and
more in proportion as my love for you grows greater!"
Edmee was of an imperious and violent nature. Her character, hardened
by trials, had every year developed greater strength. She was no
longer the trembling girl making a parade of courage, but in reality
more ingenuous than bold, whom I had clasped in my arms at Roche-
Mauprat. She was now a proud, fearless woman, who would have let
herself be killed rather than give the slightest countenance to an
audacious hope. Besides, she was now the woman who knows that she is
passionately loved and is conscious of her power. She repulsed me,
therefore, with scorn; and as I followed her distractedly, she raised
her whip and threatened to leave a mark of ignominy on my face if I
dared to touch even her stirrup.
I fell on my knees and begged her not to leave me thus without
forgiving me. She was already in her saddle, and, as she looked round
for the way back, she exclaimed:
"That was the one thing wanting--to behold this hateful spot again! Do
you see where we are?"
I looked in my turn, and saw that we were on the edge of the forest,
quite close to the shady little pond at Gazeau. A few yards from us,
through the trees which had grown denser since Patience left, I
perceived the door of the tower, opening like a big black mouth behind
the green foliage.
I was seized with a fresh dizziness. A terrible struggle was taking
place between two instincts. Who shall explain the mysterious workings
of man's brain when his soul is grappling with the senses, and one
part of his being is striving to strangle the other? In an
organization like mine, such a conflict, believe me, was bound to be
terrible; and do not imagine that the will makes but a feeble
resistance in natures carried away by passion; it is idiotic to say to
a man who lies spent with such struggles, "You ought to have conquered
How shall I describe to you what I felt at the unexpected sight of
Gazeau Tower? I had seen it but twice in my life; each time I had
taken part in a painfully stirring scene there. Yet these scenes were
as naught beside the one awaiting me on this third encounter; there
must be a curse on certain places.
I fancied I could still see the blood of the two Mauprats sprinkled on
the shattered door. Their life of crime and their tragic end made me
shudder at the violent instincts which I felt in myself. I was filled
with a horror of my own feelings, and I understood why Edmee did not
love me. But, as if yonder deplorable blood had power to stir a fatal
sympathy, I felt the wild strength of my passion increasing in
proportion as my will made greater efforts to subdue it. I had
trampled down all other passions; scarcely a trace of them remained in
me. I was sober; if not gentle and patient, I was at least capable of
affection and sympathy; I had a profound sense of the laws of honour,
and the highest respect for the dignity of others. Love, however, was
still the most formidable of my enemies; for it was inseparably
connected with all that I had acquired of morality and delicacy; it
was the tie that bound the old man to the new, an indissoluble tie,
which made it almost impossible for me to find the golden mean between
reason and passion.
Standing before Edmee, who was about to leave me behind and on foot;
furious at seeing her escape me for the last time (since after the
insult I had just offered her she would doubtless never run the risk
of being alone with me again), I gazed on her with a terrible
expression. I was livid; my fists were clinched. I had but to resolve,
and the slightest exertion of my strength would have snatched her from
her horse, thrown her to the ground and left her at the mercy of my
desires. I had but to let my old savage instincts reign for a second
and I could have slaked, extinguished the fires which had been
consuming me for seven years. Never did Edmee know the danger her
honour ran in that minute of agony, and never have I ceased to feel
remorse for it; but God alone shall be my Judge, for I triumphed, and
this was the last evil thought of my life. In this thought, moreover,
lay the whole of my crime; the rest was the work of fate.
Filled with fear, I suddenly turned my back on her and, wringing my
hands in despair, hastened away by the path which had brought me
thither. I cared little where I went; I only knew that I had to tear
myself away from perilous temptations. It was a broiling day; the
odour of the woods seemed intoxicating; the mere sight of them was
stirring up the instincts of my old savage life; I had to flee or
fall. With an imperious gesture, Edmee ordered me to depart from her
presence. The idea that any danger could possibly threaten her except
from myself naturally did not come into my head or her own. I plunged
into the forest. I had not gone more than thirty paces when I heard
the report of a gun from the spot where I had left Edmee. I stopped,
petrified with horror; why, I know not; for in the middle of a battue
the report of a gun was by no means extraordinary; but my soul was so
sorrowful that it seemed ready to find fresh woe in everything. I was
about to retrace my steps and rejoin Edmee at the risk of offending
her still more when I thought I heard the moaning of a human being in
the direction of Gazeau Tower. I rushed forward, and then fell upon my
knees, as if stunned by emotion. It took me some minutes to recover;
my brain seemed full of doleful sights and sounds; I could no longer
distinguish between illusion and reality; though the sun was shining
brightly I began to grope my way among the trees. All of a sudden I
found myself face to face with the abbe; he was anxiously looking for
Edmee. The chevalier had driven to a certain spot to watch the field
pass, and not seeing his daughter, had been filled with apprehension.
The abbe had plunged into the forest at once, and, soon finding the
tracks of our horses, had come to see what had happened to us. He had
heard the gun, but had thought nothing of it. Seeing me pale and
apparently dazed, with my hair disarranged, and without either horse
or gun (I had let mine fall on the spot where I had half fainted, and
had not thought of picking it up), he was as terrified as myself; nor
did he know any more than I for what reason.
"Edmee!" he said to me, "where is Edmee?"
I made a rambling reply. He was so alarmed at seeing me in such a
state that he felt secretly convinced I had committed some crime, as
he subsequently confessed to me.
"Wretched boy!" he said, shaking me vigorously by the arm to bring me
to my senses. "Be calm; collect your thoughts, I implore you! . . ."
I did not understand a word, but I led him towards the fatal spot; and
there--a sight never to be forgotten--Edmee was lying on the ground
rigid and bathed in blood. Her mare was quietly grazing a few yards
away. Patience was standing by her side with his arms crossed on his
breast, his face livid, and his heart so full that he was unable to
answer a word to the abbe's cries and sobs. For myself, I could not
understand what was taking place. I fancy that my brain, already
bewildered by my previous emotions, must have been completely
paralyzed. I sat down on the ground by Edmee's side. She had been shot
in the breast in two places. I gazed on her lifeless eyes in a state
of absolute stupor.
"Take away that creature," said Patience to the abbe, casting a look
of contempt on me. "His perverse nature is what it always was."
"Edmee, Edmee!" cried the abbe, throwing himself upon the grass and
endeavouring to stanch the blood with his handkerchief.
"Dead, dead!" said Patience. "And there is the murderer! She said so
as she gave up her pure soul to God; and Patience will avenge her! It
is very hard; but it must be so! It is God's will, since I alone was
here to learn the truth."
"Horrible, horrible!" exclaimed the abbe.
I heard the sound of this last word, and with a smile I repeated it
like an echo.
Some huntsmen now appeared. Edmee was carried away. I believe that I
caught sight of her father walking without help. However, I should not
dare to affirm that this was not a mere extravagant vision (for I had
no definite consciousness of anything, and these awful moments have
left in my mind nothing but vague memories, as of a dream), had I not
been assured that the chevalier got out of the carriage without any
help, walked about, and acted with as much presence of mind as a young
man. On the following day he fell into a state of absolute dotage and
insensibility, and never rose from his arm-chair again.
But what happened to myself? I do not know. When I recovered my
reason, I found that I was in another part of the forest near a little
waterfall, to the murmur of which I was listening mechanically with a
sort of vague delight. Blaireau was asleep at my feet, while his
master, leaning against a tree, was watching me attentively. The
setting sun was sending shafts of ruddy gold between the slender stems
of the young ash-trees; the wild flowers seemed to be smiling at me;
and birds were warbling sweet melodies. It was one of the most
beautiful days of the year.
"What a gorgeous evening!" I said to Marcasse. "This spot is as
beautiful as an American forest. Well, old friend, what are you doing
there? You ought to have awakened me sooner. I have had such hideous
Marcasse came and knelt down beside me; two streams of tears were
running down his withered, sallow cheeks. On his face, usually so
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