STORIES BY ENGLISH AUTHORS: FRANCE
Part 1 out of 3
Etext prepared by Dagny, firstname.lastname@example.org
and John Bickers, email@example.com
STORIES BY ENGLISH AUTHORS
A LODGING FOR THE NIGHT by R. L. Stevenson
A LEAF IN THE STORM by Ouida
A TERRIBLY STRANGE BED by Wilkie Collins
MICHEL LORIO'S CROSS by Hesba Stretton
A PERILOUS AMOUR by Stanley J. Weyman
A LODGING FOR THE NIGHT
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON
It was late in November, 1456. The snow fell over Paris with rigorous,
relentless persistence; sometimes the wind made a sally and scattered
it in flying vortices; sometimes there was a lull, and flake after
flake descended out of the black night air, silent, circuitous,
interminable. To poor people, looking up under moist eyebrows, it
seemed a wonder where it all came from. Master Francis Villon had
propounded an alternative that afternoon, at a tavern window: was it
only pagan Jupiter plucking geese upon Olympus? or were the holy
angels moulting? He was only a poor Master of Arts, he went on; and as
the question somewhat touched upon divinity, he durst not venture to
conclude. A silly old priest from Montargis, who was among the
company, treated the young rascal to a bottle of wine in honour of the
jest and grimaces with which it was accompanied, and swore on his own
white beard that he had been just such another irreverent dog when he
was Villon's age.
The air was raw and pointed, but not far below freezing; and the
flakes were large, damp, and adhesive. The whole city was sheeted up.
An army might have marched from end to end and not a footfall given
the alarm. If there were any belated birds in heaven, they saw the
island like a large white patch, and the bridges like slim white spars
on the black ground of the river. High up overhead the snow settled
among the tracery of the cathedral towers. Many a niche was drifted
full; many a statue wore a long white bonnet on its grotesque or
sainted head. The gargoyles had been transformed into great false
noses, drooping toward the point. The crockets were like upright
pillows swollen on one side. In the intervals of the wind there was a
dull sound dripping about the precincts of the church.
The cemetery of St. John had taken its own share of the snow. All the
graves were decently covered; tall white housetops stood around in
grave array; worthy burghers were long ago in bed, be-nightcapped like
their domiciles; there was no light in all the neighbourhood but a
little peep from a lamp that hung swinging in the church choir, and
tossed the shadows to and fro in time to its oscillations. The clock
was hard on ten when the patrol went by with halberds and a lantern,
beating their hands; and they saw nothing suspicious about the cemetery
of St. John.
Yet there was a small house, backed up against the cemetery wall, which
was still awake, and awake to evil purpose, in that snoring district.
There was not much to betray it from without; only a stream of warm
vapour from the chimney-top, a patch where the snow melted on the roof,
and a few half-obliterated footprints at the door. But within, behind
the shuttered windows, Master Francis Villon, the poet, and some of the
thievish crew with whom he consorted, were keeping the night alive and
passing round the bottle.
A great pile of living embers diffused a strong and ruddy glow from the
arched chimney. Before this straddled Dom Nicolas, the Picardy monk,
with his skirts picked up and his fat legs bared to the comfortable
warmth. His dilated shadow cut the room in half; and the firelight only
escaped on either side of his broad person, and in a little pool
between his outspread feet. His face had the beery, bruised appearance
of the continual drinker's; it was covered with a network of congested
veins, purple in ordinary circumstances, but now pale violet, for even
with his back to the fire the cold pinched him on the other side. His
cowl had half fallen back, and made a strange excrescence on either
side of his bull-neck. So he straddled, grumbling, and cut the room in
half with the shadow of his portly frame.
On the right, Villon and Guy Tabary were huddled together over a scrap
of parchment; Villon making a ballade which he was to call the "Ballade
of Roast Fish," and Tabary sputtering admiration at his shoulder. The
poet was a rag of a man, dark, little, and lean, with hollow cheeks and
thin black locks. He carried his four and twenty years with feverish
animation. Greed had made folds about his eyes, evil smiles had
puckered his mouth. The wolf and pig struggled together in his face. It
was an eloquent, sharp, ugly, earthly countenance. His hands were small
and prehensile, with fingers knotted like a cord; and they were
continually flickering in front of him in violent and expressive
pantomime. As for Tabary, a broad, complacent, admiring imbecility
breathed from his squash nose and slobbering lips; he had become a
thief, just as he might have become the most decent of burgesses, by
the imperious chance that rules the lives of human geese and human
At the monk's other hand, Montigny and Thevenin Pensete played a game
of chance. About the first there clung some flavour of good birth and
training, as about a fallen angel; something long, lithe, and courtly
in the person; something aquiline and darkling in the face. Thevenin,
poor soul, was in great feather; he had done a good stroke of knavery
that afternoon in the Faubourg St. Jacques, and all night he had been
gaining from Montigny. A flat smile illuminated his face; his bald head
shone rosily in a garland of red curls; his little protuberant stomach
shook with silent chucklings as he swept in his gains.
"Doubles or quits?" said Thevenin.
Montigny nodded grimly.
"Some may prefer to dine in state," wrote Villon, "on bread and cheese
on silver plate. Or, or--help me out, Guido!"
"Or parsley on a golden dish," scribbled the poet.
The wind was freshening without; it drove the snow before it, and
sometimes raised its voice in a victorious whoop, and made sepulchral
grumblings in the chimney. The cold was growing sharper as the night
went on. Villon, protruding his lips, imitated the gust with something
between a whistle and a groan. It was an eerie, uncomfortable talent of
the poet's, much detested by the Picardy monk.
"Can't you hear it rattle in the gibbet?" said Villon. "They are all
dancing the devil's jig on nothing, up there. You may dance, my
gallants; you'll be none the warmer. Whew, what a gust! Down went
somebody just now! A medlar the fewer on the three-legged medlar-tree!
I say, Dom Nicolas, it'll be cold to-night on the St. Denis Road?" he
Dom Nicholas winked both his big eyes, and seemed to choke upon his
Adam's apple. Montfaucon, the great, grisly Paris gibbet, stood hard by
the St. Denis Road, and the pleasantry touched him on the raw. As for
Tabary, he laughed immoderately over the medlars; he had never heard
anything more light-hearted; and he held his sides and crowed. Villon
fetched him a fillip on the nose, which turned his mirth into an attack
"Oh, stop that row," said Villon, "and think of rhymes to 'fish'!"
"Doubles or quits? Said Montigny, doggedly.
"With all my heart," quoth Thevenin.
"Is there any more in that bottle?" asked the monk.
"Open another," said Villon. "How do you ever hope to fill that big
hogshead, your body, with little things like bottles? And how do you
expect to get to heaven? How many angels, do you fancy, can be spared
to carry up a single monk from Picardy? Or do you think yourself
another Elias--and they'll send the coach for you?"
"/Hominibus/ impossible," replied the monk, as he filled his glass.
Tabary was in ecstasies.
Villon filliped his nose again.
"Laugh at my jokes, if you like," he said.
Villon made a face at him. "Think of rhymes to 'fish,' " he said. "What
have you to do with Latin? You'll wish you knew none of it at the great
assizes, when the devil calls for Guido Tabary, /clericus/--the devil
with the humpback and red-hot fingernails. Talking of the devil," he
added, in a whisper, "look at Montigny!"
All three peered covertly at the gamester. He did not seem to be
enjoying his luck. His mouth was a little to a side; one nostril nearly
shut, and the other much inflated. The black dog was on his back, as
people say, in terrifying nursery metaphor; and he breathed hard under
the gruesome burden.
"He looks as if he could knife him," whispered Tabary, with round eyes.
The monk shuddered, and turned his face and spread his open hands to
the red embers. It was the cold that thus affected Dom Nicolas, and not
any excess of moral sensibility.
"Come now," said Villon--"about this ballade. How does it run so far?"
And beating time with his hand, he read it aloud to Tabary.
They were interrupted at the fourth rhyme by a brief and fatal movement
among the gamesters. The round was completed, and Thevenin was just
opening his mouth to claim another victory, when Montigny leaped up,
swift as an adder, and stabbed him to the heart. The blow took effect
before he had time to utter a cry, before he had time to move. A tremor
or two convulsed his frame; his hands opened and shut, his heels
rattled on the floor; then his head rolled backward over one shoulder,
with eyes wide open; and Thevenin Pensete's spirit had returned to Him
who made it.
Every one sprang to his feet; but the business was over in two twos.
The four living fellows looked at each other in rather a ghastly
fashion, the dead man contemplating a corner of the roof with a
singular and ugly leer.
"My God!" said Tabary, and he began to pray in Latin.
Villon broke out into hysterical laughter. He came a step forward and
ducked a ridiculous bow at Thevenin, and laughed still louder. Then he
sat down suddenly, all of a heap, upon a stool, and continued laughing
bitterly, as though he would shake himself to pieces.
Montigny recovered his composure first.
"Let's see what he has about him," he remarked; and he picked the dead
man's pockets with a practised hand, and divided the money into four
equal portions on the table. "There's for you," he said.
The monk received his share with a deep sigh, and a single stealthy
glance at the dead Thevenin, who was beginning to sink into himself and
topple sideways off the chair.
"We're all in for it," cried Villon, swallowing his mirth. "It's a
hanging job for every man Jack of us that's here--not to speak of those
who aren't." He made a shocking gesture in the air with his raised
right hand, and put out his tongue and threw his head on one side, so
as to counterfeit the appearance of one who has been hanged. Then he
pocketed his share of the spoil, and executed a shuffle with his feet
as if to restore the circulation.
Tabary was the last to help himself; he made a dash at the money, and
retired to the other end of the apartment.
Montigny stuck Thevenin upright in the chair, and drew out the dagger,
which was followed by a jet of blood.
"You fellows had better be moving," he said, as he wiped the blade on
his victim's doublet.
"I think we had," returned Villon, with a gulp. "Damn his fat head!" he
broke out. "It sticks in my throat like phlegm. What right has a man to
have red hair when he is dead?" And he fell all of a heap again upon
the stool, and fairly covered his face with his hands.
Montigny and Dom Nicolas laughed aloud, even Tabary feebly chiming in.
"Cry-baby!" said the monk.
"I always said he was a woman," added Montigny, with a sneer. "Sit up,
can't you?" he went on, giving another shake to the murdered body.
"Tread out that fire, Nick!"
But Nick was better employed; he was quietly taking Villon's purse, as
the poet sat, limp and trembling, on the stool where he had been making
a ballade not three minutes before. Montigny and Tabary dumbly demanded
a share of the booty, which the monk silently promised as he passed the
little bag into the bosom of his gown. In many ways an artistic nature
unfits a man for practical existence.
No sooner had the theft been accomplished than Villon shook himself,
jumped to his feet, and began helping to scatter and extinguish the
embers. Meanwhile Montigny opened the door and cautiously peered into
the street. The coast was clear; there was no meddlesome patrol in
sight. Still it was judged wiser to slip out severally; and as Villon
was himself in a hurry to escape from the neighbourhood of the dead
Thevenin, and the rest were in a still greater hurry to get rid of him
before he should discover the loss of his money, he was the first by
general consent to issue forth into the street.
The wind had triumphed and swept all the clouds from heaven. Only a few
vapours, as thin as moonlight, fleeted rapidly across the stars. It was
bitter cold; and, by a common optical effect, things seemed almost more
definite than in the broadest daylight. The sleeping city was
absolutely still; a company of white hoods, a field full of little
alps, below the twinkling stars. Villon cursed his fortune. Would it
were still snowing! Now, wherever he went, he left an indelible trail
behind him on the glittering streets; wherever he went, he was still
tethered to the house by the cemetery of St. John; wherever he went, he
must weave, with his own plodding feet, the rope that bound him to the
crime and would bind him to the gallows. The leer of the dead man came
back to him with new significance. He snapped his fingers as if to
pluck up his own spirits, and, choosing a street at random, stepped
boldly forward in the snow.
Two things preoccupied him as he went: the aspect of the gallows at
Montfaucon in this bright, windy phase of the night's existence, for
one; and for another, the look of the dead man with his bald head and
garland of red curls. Both struck cold upon his heart, and he kept
quickening his pace as if he could escape from unpleasant thoughts by
mere fleetness of foot. Sometimes he looked back over his shoulder with
a sudden nervous jerk; but he was the only moving thing in the white
streets, except when the wind swooped round a corner and threw up the
snow, which was beginning to freeze, in spouts of glittering dust.
Suddenly he saw, a long way before him, a black clump and a couple of
lanterns. The clump was in motion, and the lanterns swung as though
carried by men walking. It was a patrol. And though it was merely
crossing his line of march he judged it wiser to get out of eyeshot as
speedily as he could. He was not in the humour to be challenged, and he
was conscious of making a very conspicuous mark upon the snow. Just on
his left hand there stood a great hotel, with some turrets and a large
porch before the door; it was half ruinous, he remembered, and had long
stood empty; and so he made three steps of it, and jumped into the
shelter of the porch. It was pretty dark inside, after the glimmer of
the snowy streets, and he was groping forward with outspread hands,
when he stumbled over some substance which offered an indescribable
mixture of resistances, hard and soft, firm and loose. His heart gave a
leap, and he sprang two steps back and stared dreadfully at the
obstacle. Then he gave a little laugh of relief. It was only a woman,
and she dead. He knelt beside her to make sure upon this latter point.
She was freezing cold, and rigid like a stick. A little ragged finery
fluttered in the wind about her hair, and her cheeks had been heavily
rouged that same afternoon. Her pockets were quite empty; but in her
stocking, underneath the garter, Villon found two of the small coins
that went by the name of whites. It was little enough, but it was
always something; and the poet was moved with a deep sense of pathos
that she should have died before she had spent her money. That seemed
to him a dark and pitiable mystery; and he looked from the coins in his
hand to the dead woman, and back again to the coins, shaking his head
over the riddle of man's life. Henry V. of England, dying at Vincennes
just after he had conquered France, and this poor jade cut off by a
cold draught in a great man's doorway before she had time to spend her
couple of whites--it seemed a cruel way to carry on the world. Two
whites would have taken such a little while to squander; and yet it
would have been one more good taste in the mouth, one more smack of the
lips, before the devil got the soul, and the body was left to birds and
vermin. He would like to use all his tallow before the light was blown
out and the lantern broken.
While these thoughts were passing through his mind, he was feeling,
half mechanically, for his purse. Suddenly his heart stopped beating; a
feeling of cold scales passed up the back of his legs, and a cold blow
seemed to fall upon his scalp. He stood petrified for a moment; then he
felt again with one feverish movement; then his loss burst upon him,
and he was covered at once with perspiration. To spendthrifts money is
so living and actual--it is such a thin veil between them and their
pleasures! There is only one limit to their fortune--that of time; and
a spendthrift with only a few crowns is the Emperor of Rome until they
are spent. For such a person to lose his money is to suffer the most
shocking reverse, and fall from heaven to hell, from all to nothing, in
a breath. And all the more if he has put his head in the halter for it;
if he may be hanged to-morrow for that same purse, so dearly earned, so
foolishly departed! Villon stood and cursed; he threw the two whites
into the street; he shook his fist at heaven; he stamped, and was not
horrified to find himself trampling the poor corpse. Then he began
rapidly to retrace his steps toward the house beside the cemetery. He
had forgotten all fear of the patrol, which was long gone by at any
rate, and had no idea but that of his lost purse. It was in vain that
he looked right and left upon the snow; nothing was to be seen. He had
not dropped it in the streets. Had it fallen in the house? He would
have liked dearly to go in and see; but the idea of the grisly occupant
unmanned him. And he saw besides, as he drew near, that their efforts
to put out the fire had been unsuccessful; on the contrary, it had
broken into a blaze, and a changeful light played in the chinks of door
and window, and revived his terror for the authorities and Paris
He returned to the hotel with the porch, and groped about upon the snow
for the money he had thrown away in his childish passion. But he could
only find one white; the other had probably struck sideways and sunk
deeply in. With a single white in his pocket, all his projects for a
rousing night in some wild tavern vanished utterly away. And it was not
only pleasure that fled laughing from his grasp; positive discomfort,
positive pain, attacked him as he stood ruefully before the porch. His
perspiration had dried upon him; and although the wind had now fallen,
a binding frost was setting in stronger with every hour, and he felt
benumbed and sick at heart. What was to be done? Late as was the hour,
improbable as was his success, he would try the house of his adopted
father, the chaplain of St. Benoit.
He ran all the way, and knocked timidly. There was no answer. He
knocked again and again, taking heart with every stroke; and at last
steps were heard approaching from within. A barred wicket fell open in
the iron-studded door, and emitted a gush of yellow light.
"Hold up your face to the wicket," said the chaplain from within.
"It's only me," whimpered Villon.
"Oh, it's only you, is it?" returned the chaplain; and he cursed him
with foul, unpriestly oaths for disturbing him at such an hour, and
bade him be off to hell, where he came from.
"My hands are blue to the wrist," pleaded Villon; "my feet are dead and
full of twinges; my nose aches with the sharp air; the cold lies at my
heart. I may be dead before morning. Only this once, father, and,
before God, I will never ask again!"
"You should have come earlier," said the ecclesiastic, coolly. "Young
men require a lesson now and then." He shut the wicket and retired
deliberately into the interior of the house.
Villon was beside himself; he beat upon the door with his hands and
feet, and shouted hoarsely after the chaplain.
"Wormy old fox!" he cried. "If I had my hand under your twist, I would
send you flying headlong into the bottomless pit."
A door shut in the interior, faintly audible to the poet down long
passages. He passed his hand over his mouth with an oath. And then the
humour of the situation struck him, and he laughed and looked lightly
up to heaven, where the stars seemed to be winking over his
What was to be done? It looked very like a night in the frosty streets.
The idea of the dead woman popped into his imagination, and gave him a
hearty fright; what had happened to her in the early night might very
well happen to him before morning. And he so young! And with such
immense possibilities of disorderly amusement before him! He felt quite
pathetic over the notion of his own fate, as if it had been some one
else's, and made a little imaginative vignette of the scene in the
morning when they should find his body.
He passed all his chances under review, turning the white between his
thumb and forefinger. Unfortunately he was on bad terms with some old
friends who would once have taken pity on him in such a plight. He had
lampooned them in verses; he had beaten and cheated them; and yet now,
when he was in so close a pinch, he thought there was at least one who
might perhaps relent. It was a chance. It was worth trying at least,
and he would go and see.
On the way, two little accidents happened to him which coloured his
musings in a very different manner. For, first, he fell in with the
track of a patrol, and walked in it for some hundred yards, although it
lay out of his direction. And this spirited him up; at least he had
confused his trail; for he was still possessed with the idea of people
tracking him all about Paris over the snow, and collaring him next
morning before he was awake. The other matter affected him quite
differently. He passed a street-corner where, not so long before, a
woman and her child had been devoured by wolves. This was just the kind
of weather, he reflected, when wolves might take it into their heads to
enter Paris again; and a lone man in these deserted streets would run
the chance of something worse than a mere scare. He stopped and looked
upon the place with an unpleasant interest--it was a centre where
several lanes intersected each other; and he looked down them all, one
after another, and held his breath to listen, lest he should detect
some galloping black things on the snow or hear the sound of howling
between him and the river. He remembered his mother telling him the
story and pointing out the spot, while he was yet a child. His mother!
If he only knew where she lived, he might make sure at least of
shelter. He determined he would inquire upon the morrow; nay, he would
go and see her, too, poor old girl! So thinking, he arrived at his
destination--his last hope for the night.
The house was quite dark, like its neighbours; and yet after a few taps
he heard a movement overhead, a door opening, and a cautious voice
asking who was there. The poet named himself in a loud whisper, and
waited, not without some trepidation, the result. Nor had he to wait
long. A window was suddenly opened, and a pailful of slops splashed
down upon the door-step. Villon had not been unprepared for something
of the sort, and had put himself as much in shelter as the nature of
the porch admitted; but for all that he was deplorably drenched below
the waist. His hose began to freeze almost at once. Death from cold and
exposure stared him in the face; he remembered he was of phthisical
tendency, and began coughing tentatively. But the gravity of the danger
steadied his nerves. He stopped a few hundred yards from the door where
he had been so rudely used, and reflected with his finger to his nose.
He could only see one way of getting a lodging, and that was to take
it. He had noticed a house not far away, which looked as if it might be
easily broken into; and thither he betook himself promptly,
entertaining himself on the way with the idea of a room still hot, with
a table still loaded with the remains of supper, where he might pass
the rest of the black hours, and whence he should issue, on the morrow,
with an armful of valuable plate. He even considered on what viands and
what wines he should prefer; and as he was calling the roll of his
favourite dainties, roast fish presented itself to his mind with an odd
mixture of amusement and horror.
"I shall never finish that ballade," he thought to himself; and then,
with another shudder at the recollection, "Oh, damn his fat head!" he
repeated, fervently, and spat upon the snow.
The house in question looked dark at first sight; but as Villon made a
preliminary inspection in search of the handiest point of attack, a
little twinkle of light caught his eye from behind a curtained window.
"The devil!" he thought. "People awake! Some student or some saint,
confound the crew! Can't they get drunk and lie in bed snoring like
their neighbours? What's the good of curfew, and poor devils of bell-
ringers jumping at a rope's end in bell-towers? What's the use of day,
if people sit up all night? The gripes to them!" He grinned as he saw
where his logic was leading him. "Every man to his business, after
all," added he, "and if they're awake, by the Lord, I may come by a
supper honestly for once, and cheat the devil."
He went boldly to the door and knocked with an assured hand. On both
previous occasions he had knocked timidly and with some dread of
attracting notice; but now when he had just discarded the thought of a
burglarious entry, knocking at a door seemed a mighty simple and
innocent proceeding. The sound of his blows echoed through the house
with thin, phantasmal reverberations, as though it were quite empty;
but these had scarcely died away before a measured tread drew near, a
couple of bolts were withdrawn, and one wing was opened broadly, as
though no guile or fear of guile were known to those within. A tall
figure of a man, muscular and spare, but a little bent, confronted
Villon. The head was massive in bulk, but finely sculptured; the nose
blunt at the bottom, but refining upward to where it joined a pair of
strong and honest eyebrows; the mouth and eyes surrounded with delicate
markings; and the whole face based upon a thick white beard, boldly and
squarely trimmed. Seen as it was by the light of a flickering hand-
lamp, it looked perhaps nobler than it had a right to do; but it was a
fine face, honourable rather than intelligent, strong, simple, and
"You knock late, sir," said the old man, in resonant, courteous tones.
Villon cringed, and brought up many servile words of apology; at a
crisis of this sort, the beggar was uppermost in him, and the man of
genius hid his head with confusion.
"You are cold," repeated the old man, "and hungry? Well, step in." And
he ordered him into the house with a noble enough gesture.
"Some great seigneur," thought Villon, as his host, setting down the
lamp on the flagged pavement of the entry, shot the bolts once more
into their places.
"You will pardon me if I go in front," he said, when this was done; and
he preceded the poet upstairs into a large apartment, warmed with a pan
of charcoal and lit by a great lamp hanging from the roof. It was very
bare of furniture; only some gold plate on a sideboard, some folios,
and a stand of armour between the windows. Some smart tapestry hung
upon the walls, representing the crucifixion of our Lord in one piece,
and in another a scene of shepherds and shepherdesses by a running
stream. Over the chimney was a shield of arms.
"Will you seat yourself," said the old man, "and forgive me if I leave
you? I am alone in my house to-night, and if you are to eat I must
forage for you myself."
No sooner was his host gone than Villon leaped from the chair on which
he had just seated himself, and began examining the room with the
stealth and passion of a cat. He weighed the gold flagons in his hand,
opened all the folios, and investigated the arms upon the shield, and
the stuff with which the seats were lined. He raised the window
curtains, and saw that the windows were set with rich stained glass in
figures, so far as he could see, of martial import. Then he stood in
the middle of the room, drew a long breath, and retaining it with
puffed cheeks, looked round and round him, turning on his heels, as if
to impress every feature of the apartment on his memory.
"Seven pieces of plate," he said. "If there had been ten, I would have
risked it. A fine house, and a fine old master, so help me all the
And just then, hearing the old man's tread returning along the
corridor, he stole back to his chair, and began humbly toasting his wet
legs before the charcoal pan.
His entertainer had a plate of meat in one hand and a jug of wine in
the other. He set down the plate upon the table, motioning Villon to
draw in his chair, and going to the sideboard, brought back two
goblets, which he filled.
"I drink your better fortune," he said gravely, touching Villon's cup
with his own.
"To our better acquaintance," said the poet, growing bold. A mere man
of the people would have been awed by the courtesy of the old seigneur,
but Villon was hardened in that matter; he had made mirth for great
lords before now, and found them as black rascals as himself. And so he
devoted himself to the viands with a ravenous gusto, while the old man,
leaning backward, watched him with steady, curious eyes.
"You have blood on your shoulder, my man," he said.
Montigny must have laid his wet right hand upon him as he left the
house. He cursed Montigny in his heart.
"It was none of my shedding," he stammered.
"I had not supposed so," returned his host, quietly. "A brawl?"
"Well, something of that sort," Villon admitted, with a quaver.
"Perhaps a fellow murdered?"
"Oh no, not murdered," said the poet, more and more confused. "It was
all fair play--murdered by accident. I had no hand in it, God strike me
dead!" he added, fervently.
"One rogue the fewer, I dare say," observed the master of the house.
"You may dare to say that," agreed Villon, infinitely relieved. "As big
a rogue as there is between here and Jerusalem. He turned up his toes
like a lamb. But it was a nasty thing to look at. I dare say you've
seen dead men in your time, my lord?" he added, glancing at the armour.
"Many," said the old man. "I have followed the wars, as you imagine."
Villon laid down his knife and fork, which he had just taken up again.
"Were any of them bald?" he asked.
"Oh yes, and with hair as white as mine."
"I don't think I should mind the white so much," said Villon. "His was
red." And he had a return of his shuddering and tendency to laughter,
which he drowned with a great draught of wine. "I'm a little put out
when I think of it," he went on. "I knew him--damn him! And then the
cold gives a man fancies--or the fancies give a man cold, I don't know
"Have you any money?" asked the old man.
"I have one white," returned the poet, laughing. "I got it out of a
dead jade's stocking in a porch. She was as dead as Caesar, poor wench,
and as cold as a church, with bits of ribbon sticking in her hair. This
is a hard winter for wolves and wenches and poor rogues like me."
"I," said the old man, "am Enguerrand de la Feuillee, seigneur de
Brisetout, bailie du Patatrac. Who and what may you be?"
Villon rose and made a suitable reverence. "I am called Francis
Villon," he said, "a poor Master of Arts of this university. I know
some Latin, and a deal of vice. I can make Chansons, ballades, lais,
virelais, and roundels, and I am very fond of wine. I was born in a
garret, and I shall not improbably die upon the gallows. I may add, my
lord, that from this night forward I am your lordship's very obsequious
servant to command."
"No servant of mine," said the knight. "My guest for this evening, and
"A very grateful guest," said Villon, politely, and he drank in dumb
show to his entertainer.
"You are shrewd," began the old man, tapping his forehead, "very
shrewd; you have learning; you are a clerk; and yet you take a small
piece of money off a dead woman in the street. Is it not a kind of
"It is a kind of theft much practised in the wars, my lord."
"The wars are the field of honour," returned the old man, proudly.
"There a man plays his life upon the cast; he fights in the name of his
lord the king, his Lord God, and all their lordships the holy saints
"Put it," said Villon, "that I were really a thief, should I not play
my life also, and against heavier odds?"
"For gain, but not for honour."
"Gain?" repeated Villon, with a shrug. "Gain! The poor fellow wants
supper, and takes it. So does the soldier in a campaign. Why, what are
all these requisitions we hear so much about? If they are not gain to
those who take them, they are loss enough to the others. The men-at-
arms drink by a good fire, while the burgher bites his nails to buy
them wine and wood. I have seen a good many ploughmen swinging on trees
about the country; ay, I have seen thirty on one elm, and a very poor
figure they made; and when I asked some one how all these came to be
hanged, I was told it was because they could not scrape together enough
crowns to satisfy the men-at-arms."
"These things are a necessity of war, which the low-born must endure
with constancy. It is true that some captains drive overhard; there are
spirits in every rank not easily moved by pity; and indeed many follow
arms who are no better than brigands."
"You see," said the poet, "you cannot separate the soldier from the
brigand; and what is a thief but an isolated brigand with circumspect
manners? I steal a couple of mutton-chops, without so much as
disturbing people's sleep; the farmer grumbles a bit, but sups none the
less wholesomely on what remains. You come up blowing gloriously on a
trumpet, take away the whole sheep, and beat the farmer pitifully into
the bargain. I have no trumpet; I am only Tom, Dick, or Harry; I am a
rogue and a dog, and hanging's too good for me--with all my heart; but
just ask the farmer which of us he prefers, just find out which of us
he lies awake to curse on cold nights."
"Look at us two," said his lordship. "I am old, strong, and honoured.
If I were turned from my house to-morrow, hundreds would be proud to
shelter me. Poor people would go out and pass the night in the streets
with their children, if I merely hinted that I wished to be alone. And
I find you up, wandering homeless, and picking farthings off dead women
by the wayside! I fear no man and nothing; I have seen you tremble and
lose countenance at a word. I wait God's summons contentedly in my own
house, or, if it please the king to call me out again, upon the field
of battle. You look for the gallows; a rough, swift death, without hope
or honour. Is there no difference between these two?"
"As far as to the moon," Villon acquiesced. "But if I had been born
lord of Brisetout, and you had been the poor scholar Francis, would the
difference have been any the less? Should not I have been warming my
knees at this charcoal pan, and would not you have been groping for
farthings in the snow? Should not I have been the soldier, and you the
"A thief?" cried the old man. "I a thief! If you understood your words,
you would repent them."
Villon turned out his hands with a gesture of inimitable impudence. "If
your lordship had done me the honour to follow my argument!" he said.
"I do you too much honour in submitting to your presence," said the
knight. "Learn to curb your tongue when you speak with old and
honourable men, or some one hastier than I may reprove you in a sharper
fashion." And he rose and paced the lower end of the apartment,
struggling with anger and antipathy. Villon surreptitiously refilled
his cup, and settled himself more comfortably in the chair, crossing
his knees and leaning his head upon one hand and the elbow against the
back of the chair. He was now replete and warm; and he was in no wise
frightened for his host, having gauged him as justly as was possible
between two such different characters. The night was far spent, and in
a very comfortable fashion after all; and he felt morally certain of a
safe departure on the morrow.
"Tell me one thing," said the old man, pausing in his walk. "Are you
really a thief?"
"I claim the sacred rights of hospitality," returned the poet. "My
lord, I am."
"You are very young," the knight continued.
"I should never have been so old," replied Villon, showing his fingers,
"if I had not helped myself with these ten talents. They have been my
nursing mothers and my nursing fathers."
"You may still repent and change."
"I repent daily," said the poet. "There are few people more given to
repentance than poor Francis. As for change, let somebody change my
circumstances. A man must continue to eat, if it were only that he may
continue to repent."
"The change must begin in the heart," returned the old man, solemnly.
"My dear lord," answered Villon, "do you really fancy that I steal for
pleasure? I hate stealing, like any other piece of work or of danger.
My teeth chatter when I see a gallows. But I must eat, I must drink; I
must mix in society of some sort. What the devil! Man is not a solitary
animal--/cui Deus foeminam tradit/. Make me king's pantler, make me
Abbot of St. Denis, make me bailie of the Patatrac, and then I shall be
changed indeed. But as long as you leave me the poor scholar Francis
Villon, without a farthing, why, of course, I remain the same."
"The grace of God is all powerful."
"I should be a heretic to question it," said Francis. "It has made you
lord of Brisetout and bailie of the Patatrac; it has given me nothing
but the quick wits under my hat and these ten toes upon my hands. May I
help myself to wine? I thank you respectfully. By God's grace, you have
a very superior vintage."
The lord of Brisetout walked to and fro with his hands behind his back.
Perhaps he was not yet quite settled in his mind about the parallel
between thieves and soldiers; perhaps Villon had interested him by some
cross-thread of sympathy; perhaps his wits were simply muddled by so
much unfamiliar reasoning; but whatever the cause, he somehow yearned
to convert the young man to a better way of thinking, and could not
make up his mind to drive him forth again into the street.
"There is something more than I can understand in this," he said at
length. "Your mouth is full of subtleties, and the devil has led you
very far astray; but the devil is only a very weak spirit before God's
truth, and all his subtleties vanish at a word of true honour, like
darkness at morning. Listen to me once more. I learned long ago that a
gentleman should live chivalrously and lovingly to God and the king and
his lady; and though I have seen many strange things done, I have still
striven to command my ways upon that rule. It is not only written in
all noble histories, but in every man's heart, if he will take care to
read. You speak of food and wine, and I know very well that hunger is a
difficult trial to endure; but you do not speak of other wants; you say
nothing of honour, of faith to God and other men, of courtesy, of love
without reproach. It may be that I am not very wise,--and yet I think I
am,--but you seem to me like one who has lost his way and made a great
error in life. You are attending to the little wants, and you have
totally forgotten the great and only real ones, like a man who should
be doctoring toothache on the judgment day. For such things as honour
and love and faith are not only nobler than food and drink, but indeed
I think we desire them more, and suffer more sharply for their absence.
I speak to you as I think you will most easily understand me. Are you
not, while careful to fill your belly, disregarding another appetite in
your heart, which spoils the pleasure of your life and keeps you
Villon was sensibly nettled under all this sermonising. "You think I
have no sense of honour!" he cried. "I'm poor enough, God knows! It's
hard to see rich people with their gloves, and you blowing in your
hands. An empty belly is a bitter thing, although you speak so lightly
of it. If you had had as many as I, perhaps you would change your tune.
Anyway, I'm a thief,--make the most of that,--but I'm not a devil from
hell, God strike me dead! I would have you to know I've an honour of my
own, as good as yours, though I don't prate about it all day long, as
if it was a God's miracle to have any. It seems quite natural to me; I
keep it in its box till it's wanted. Why, now, look you here, how long
have I been in this room with you? Did you not tell me you were alone
in the house? Look at your gold plate! You're strong, if you like, but
you're old and unarmed, and I have my knife. What did I want but a jerk
of the elbow and here would have been you with the cold steel in your
bowels, and there would have been me, linking in the streets, with an
armful of golden cups! Did you suppose I hadn't wit enough to see that?
and I scorned the action. There are your damned goblets, as safe as in
a church; there are you, with your heart ticking as good as new; and
here am I, ready to go out again as poor as I came in, with my one
white that you threw in my teeth! And you think I have no sense of
honour--God strike me dead!"
The old man stretched out his right arm. "I will tell you what you
are," he said. "You are a rogue, my man, an impudent and black-hearted
rogue and vagabond. I have passed an hour with you. Oh, believe me, I
feel myself disgraced! And you have eaten and drunk at my table. But
now I am sick at your presence; the day has come, and the night-bird
should be off to his roost. Will you go before, or after?"
"Which you please," returned the poet, rising. "I believe you to be
strictly honourable." He thoughtfully emptied his cup. "I wish I could
add you were intelligent," he went on, knocking on his head with his
knuckles. "Age! age! the brains stiff and rheumatic."
The old man preceded him from a point of self-respect; Villon followed,
whistling, with his thumbs in his girdle.
"God pity you," said the lord of Brisetout at the door.
"Good-bye, papa," returned Villon, with a yawn. "Many thanks for the
The door closed behind him. The dawn was breaking over the white roofs.
A chill, uncomfortable morning ushered in the day. Villon stood and
heartily stretched himself in the middle of the road.
"A very dull old gentleman," he thought. "I wonder what his goblets may
A LEAF IN THE STORM
The Berceau de Dieu was a little village in the valley of the Seine. As
a lark drops its nest among the grasses, so a few peasant people had
dropped their little farms and cottages amid the great green woods on
the winding river. It was a pretty place, with one steep, stony street,
shady with poplars and with elms; quaint houses, about whose thatch a
cloud of white and gray pigeons fluttered all day long; a little aged
chapel with a conical red roof; and great barns covered with ivy and
thick creepers, red and purple, and lichens that were yellow in the
sun. All around it were the broad, flowering meadows, with the sleek
cattle of Normandy fattening in them, and the sweet dim forests where
the young men and maidens went on every holy day and feast-day in the
summer-time to seek for wood-anemones, and lilies of the pools, and the
wild campanula, and the fresh dog-rose, and all the boughs and grasses
that made their house-doors like garden bowers, and seemed to take the
cushat's note and the linnet's song into their little temple of God.
The Berceau de Dieu was very old indeed. Men said that the hamlet had
been there in the day of the Virgin of Orleans; and a stone cross of
the twelfth century still stood by the great pond of water at the
bottom of the street under the chestnut-tree, where the villagers
gathered to gossip at sunset when their work was done. It had no city
near it, and no town nearer than four leagues. It was in the green care
of a pastoral district, thickly wooded and intersected with orchards.
Its produce of wheat and oats and cheese and fruit and eggs was more
than sufficient for its simple prosperity. Its people were hardy,
kindly, laborious, happy; living round the little gray chapel in amity
and good-fellowship. Nothing troubled it. War and rumours of war,
revolutions and counter-revolutions, empires and insurrections,
military and political questions--these all were for it things unknown
and unheard of, mighty winds that arose and blew and swept the lands
around it, but never came near enough to harm it, lying there, as it
did in its loneliness like any lark's nest. Even in the great days of
the Revolution it had been quiet. It had had a lord whom it loved in
the old castle on the hill at whose feet it nestled; it had never tried
to harm him, and it had wept bitterly when he had fallen at Jemmapes,
and left no heir, and the chateau had crumbled into ivy-hung ruins. The
thunder-heats of that dread time had scarcely scorched it. It had seen
a few of its best youth march away to the chant of the Marseillaise to
fight on the plains of Champagne; and it had been visited by some
patriots in /bonnets rouges/ and soldiers in blue uniforms, who had
given it tricoloured cockades and bade it wear them in the holy name of
the Republic one and indivisible. But it had not known what these
meant, and its harvests had been reaped without the sound of a shot in
its fields or any gleam of steel by its innocent hearths; so that the
terrors and the tidings of those noble and ghastly years had left no
impress on its generations.
Reine Allix, indeed, the oldest woman among them all, numbering more
than ninety years, remembered when she was a child hearing her father
and his neighbours talk in low, awe-stricken tones one bitter wintry
night of how a king had been slain to save the people; and she
remembered likewise--remembered it well, because it had been her
betrothal night and the sixteenth birthday of her life--how a horseman
had flashed through the startled street like a comet, and had called
aloud, in a voice of fire, "/Gloire! gloire! gloire!/--Marengo!
Marengo! Marengo!" and how the village had dimly understood that
something marvellous for France had happened afar off, and how her
brothers and her cousins and her betrothed, and she with them, had all
gone up to the high slope over the river, and had piled up a great
pyramid of pine wood and straw and dried mosses, and had set flame to
it, till it had glowed in its scarlet triumph all through that wondrous
night of the sultry summer of victory.
These and the like memories she would sometimes relate to the children
at evening when they gathered round her begging for a story. Otherwise,
no memories of the Revolution or the Empire disturbed the tranquility
of the Berceau; and even she, after she had told them, would add, "I am
not sure now what Marengo was. A battle, no doubt, but I am not sure
where nor why. But we heard later that little Claudis, my aunt's
youngest-born, a volunteer not nineteen, died at it. If we had known,
we should not have gone up and lit the bonfire."
This woman, who had been born in that time of famine and flame, was the
happiest creature in the whole hamlet of the Berceau. "I am old; yes, I
am very old," she would say, looking up from her spinning-wheel in her
house-door, and shading her eyes from the sun, "very old--ninety-two
last summer. But when one has a roof over one's head, and a pot of soup
always, and a grandson like mine, and when one has lived all one's life
in the Berceau de Dieu, then it is well to be so old. Ah, yes, my
little ones,--yes, though you doubt it, you little birds that have just
tried your wings,--it is well to be so old. One has time to think, and
thank the good God, which one never seemed to have a minute to do in
that work, work, work when one was young."
Reine Allix was a tall and strong woman, very withered and very bent and
very brown, yet with sweet, dark, flashing eyes that had still light in
them, and a face that was still noble, though nearly a century had
bronzed it with its harvest suns and blown on it with its winter winds.
She wore always the same garb of homely dark-blue serge, always the
same tall white head-gear, always the same pure silver ear-rings that
had been at once an heirloom and a nuptial gift. She was always shod in
her wooden sabots, and she always walked abroad with a staff of ash.
She had been born in the Berceau de Dieu; had lived there and wedded
there; had toiled there all her life, and never left it for a greater
distance than a league, or for a longer time than a day. She loved it
with an intense love. The world beyond it was nothing to her; she
scarcely believed in it as existing. She could neither read nor write.
She told the truth, reared her offspring in honesty, and praised God
always--had praised Him when starving in a bitter winter after her
husband's death, when there had been no field work, and she had had
five children to feed and clothe; and praised Him now that her sons
were all dead before her, and all she had living of her blood was her
Her life had been a hard one. Her parents had been hideously poor. Her
marriage had scarcely bettered her condition. She had laboured in the
fields always, hoeing and weeding and reaping and carrying wood and
driving mules, and continually rising with the first streak of
daybreak. She had known fever and famine and all manner of earthly
ills. But now in her old age she had peace. Two of her dead sons, who
had sought their fortunes in the other hemisphere, had left her a
little money, and she had a little cottage and a plot of ground, and a
pig, and a small orchard. She was well-to-do, and could leave it all to
Bernadou; and for ten years she had been happy, perfectly happy, in the
coolness and the sweetness and the old familiar ways and habits of the
Bernadou was very good to her. The lad, as she called him, was five and
twenty years old, tall and straight and clean-limbed, with the blue
eyes of the North, and a gentle, frank face. He worked early and late
in the plot of ground that gave him his livelihood. He lived with his
grandmother, and tended her with a gracious courtesy and veneration
that never altered. He was not very wise; he also could neither read
nor write; he believed in his priest and his homestead, and loved the
ground that he had trodden ever since his first steps from the cradle
had been guided by Reine Allix. He had never been drawn for the
conscription, because he was the only support of a woman of ninety; he
likewise had never been half a dozen kilometres from his birthplace.
When he was bidden to vote, and he asked what his vote of assent would
pledge him to do, they told him, "It will bind you to honour your
grandmother so long as she shall live, and to get up with the lark, and
to go to mass every Sunday, and to be a loyal son to your country.
Nothing more." And thereat he had smiled and straightened his stalwart
frame, and gone right willingly to the voting-urn.
He was very stupid in these things; and Reine Allix, though clear-
headed and shrewd, was hardly more learned in them than he.
"Look you," she had said to him oftentimes, "in my babyhood there was
the old white flag upon the chateau. Well, they pulled that down and
put up a red one. That toppled and fell, and there was one of three
colours. Then somebody with a knot of white lilies in his hand came one
day and set up the old white one afresh; and before the day was done
that was down again and the tricolour again up where it is. Now, some I
know fretted themselves greatly because of all these changes of the
flags; but as for me, I could not see that any one of them mattered:
bread was just as dear and sleep was just as sweet whichever of the
three was uppermost."
Bernadou, who had never known but the flag of three colours, believed
her, as indeed he believed every word that those kindly and resolute
old lips ever uttered to him.
He had never been in a city, and only once, on the day of his first
communion, in the town four leagues away. He knew nothing more than
this simple, cleanly, honest life that he led. With what men did
outside his little world of meadow-land and woodland he had no care nor
any concern. Once a man had come through the village of the Berceau, a
travelling hawker of cheap prints,--a man with a wild eye and a
restless brain,--who told Bernadou that he was a downtrodden slave, a
clod, a beast like a mule, who fetched and carried that the rich might
fatten, a dolt, an idiot, who cared nothing for the rights of man and
the wrongs of the poor. Bernadou had listened with a perplexed face;
then with a smile, that had cleared it like sunlight, he had answered,
in his country dialect, "I do not know of what you speak. Rights?
Wrongs? I cannot tell, But I have never owned a sou; I have never told
a lie; I am strong enough to hold my own with any man that flouts me;
and I am content where I am. That is enough for me."
The peddler had called him a poor-spirited beast of burden, but had
said so out of reach of his arm, and by night had slunk away from the
Berceau de Dieu, and had been no more seen there to vex the quiet
contentment of its peaceful and peace-loving ways.
At night, indeed, sometimes, the little wine-shop of the village would
be frequented by some half-dozen of the peasant proprietors of the
place, who talked communism after their manner, not a very clear one,
in excited tones and with the feverish glances of conspirators. But it
meant little, and came to less. The weather and the price of wheat were
dearer matters to them; and in the end they usually drank their red
wine in amity, and went up the village street arm in arm, singing
patriotic songs until their angry wives flung open their lattices and
thrust their white head-gear out into the moonlight, and called to them
shrewishly to get to bed and not make fools of themselves in that
fashion; which usually silenced and sobered them all instantly; so that
the revolutions of the Berceau de Dieu, if not quenched in a wine-pot,
were always smothered in a nightcap, and never by any chance disturbed
But of these noisy patriots Bernadou was never one. He had the
instinctive conservatism of the French peasant, which is in such direct
and tough antagonism with the feverish socialism of the French artisan.
His love was for the soil--a love deep-rooted as the oaks that grew in
it. Of Paris he had a dim, vague dread, as of a superb beast
continually draining and devouring. Of all forms of government he was
alike ignorant. So long as he tilled his little angle of land in peace,
so long as the sun ripened his fruits and corn, so long as famine was
away from his door and his neighbours dwelt in good-fellowship with
him, so long he was happy, and cared not whether he was thus happy
under a monarchy, an empire, or a republic. This wisdom, which the
peddler called apathy and cursed, the young man had imbibed from nature
and the teachings of Reine Allix. "Look at home and mind thy word," she
had said always to him. "It is labour enough for a man to keep his own
life clean and his own hands honest. Be not thou at any time as they
are who are for ever telling the good God how He might have made the
world on a better plan, while the rats gnaw at their hay-stacks and the
children cry over an empty platter."
And he had taken heed to her words, so that in all the country-side
there was not any lad truer, gentler, braver, or more patient at labour
than was Bernadou; and though some thought him mild even to
foolishness, and meek even to stupidity, he was no fool; and he had a
certain rough skill at music, and a rare gift at the culture of plants,
and made his little home bright within the winter-time with melody, and
in the summer gay without as a king's parterre.
At any rate, Reine Allix and he had been happy together for a quarter
of a century under the old gray thatch of the wayside cottage, where it
stood at the foot of the village street, with its great sycamores
spread above it. Nor were they less happy when in mid-April, in the six
and twentieth year of his age, Bernadou had come in with a bunch of
primroses in his hand, and had bent down to her and saluted her with a
respectful tenderness, and said softly and a little shyly,
"/Gran'mere/, would it suit you if I were ever--to marry?"
Reine Allix was silent a minute and more, cherishing the primroses and
placing them in a little brown cupful of water. Then she looked at him
steadily with her clear, dark eyes. "Who is it, my child?" He was
always a child to her, this last-born of the numerous brood that had
once dwelt with her under the spreading branches of the sycamores, and
had now all perished off the face of the earth, leaving himself and her
Bernadou's eyes met hers frankly. "It is Margot Dal. Does that please
you, /gran'mere/, or no?"
"It pleases me well," she said, simply. But there was a little quiver
about her firm-set mouth, and her aged head was bent over the
primroses. She had foreseen it; she was glad of it; and yet for the
instant it was a pang to her.
"I am very thankful," said Bernadou, with a flash of joy on his face.
He was independent of his grandmother; he could make enough to marry
upon by his daily toil, and he had a little store of gold and silver in
his bank in the thatch, put by for a rainy day; but he would have no
more thought of going against her will than he would have thought of
lifting his hand against her. In the primitive homesteads of the
Berceau de Dieu filial reverence was still accounted the first of
virtues, yet the simplest and the most imperative.
"I will go see Margot this evening," said Reine Allix, after a little
pause. "She is a good girl and a brave, and of pure heart and fair
name. You have chosen well, my grandson."
Bernadou stooped his tall, fair, curly head, and she laid her hands on
him and blessed him.
That evening, as the sun set, Reine Allix kept her word, and went to
the young maiden who had allured the eyes and heart of Bernadou. Margot
was an orphan; she had not a penny to her dower; she had been brought
up on charity, and she dwelt now in the family of the largest landowner
of the place, a miller with numerous offspring, and several head of
cattle, and many stretches of pasture and of orchard. Margot worked for
a hard master, living indeed as one of the family, but sharply driven
all day long at all manner of housework and field work. Reine Allix had
kept her glance on her, through some instinctive sense of the way that
Bernadou's thoughts were turning, and she had seen much to praise,
nothing to chide, in the young girl's modest, industrious, cheerful,
uncomplaining life. Margot was very pretty, too, with the brown oval
face and the great black soft eyes and the beautiful form of the
Southern blood that had run in the veins of her father, who had been a
sailor of Marseilles, while her mother had been a native of the
Provencal country. Altogether, Reine Allix knew that her beloved one
could not have done better or more wisely, if choose at all he must.
"Some people, indeed," she said to herself as she climbed the street
whose sharp-set flints had been trodden by her wooden shoes for ninety
years--"Some people would mourn and scold because there is no store of
linen, no piece of silver plate, no little round sum in money with the
poor child. But what does it matter? We have enough for three. It is
wicked indeed for parents to live so that they leave their daughter
portionless, but it is no fault of the child's. Let them say what they
like, it is a reason the more that she should want a roof over her head
and a husband to care for her good."
So she climbed the steep way and the slanting road round the hill, and
went in by the door of the mill-house, and found Margot busy in washing
some spring lettuces and other green things in a bowl of bright water.
Reine Allix, in the fashion of her country and her breeding, was about
to confer with the master and mistress ere saying a word to the girl,
but there was that in Margot's face and in her timid greeting that
lured speech out of her. She looked long and keenly into the child's
downcast countenance, then touched her with a tender smile. "Petite
Margot, the birds told me a little secret to-day. Canst guess what it
Margot coloured and then grew pale. True, Bernadou had never really
spoken to her, but still, when one is seventeen, and has danced a few
times with the same person, and has plucked the leaves of a daisy away
to learn one's fortune, spoken words are not very much wanted.
At sight of her the eyes of the old woman moistened and grew dimmer
than age had made them; she smiled still, but the smile had the
sweetness of a blessing in it, and no longer the kindly banter of
humour. "You love him, my little one?" she said, in a soft, hushed
"Ah, madame!" Margot could not say more. She covered her face with her
hands, and turned to the wall, and wept with a passion of joy.
Down in the Berceau there were gossips who would have said, with wise
shakes of their heads, "Tut, tut! how easy it is to make believe in a
little love when one is a serving-maid, and has not a sou, nor a roof,
nor a friend in the world, and a comely youth well-to-do is willing to
But Reine Allix knew better. She had not lived ninety years in the
world not to be able to discern between true feeling and counterfeit.
She was touched, and drew the trembling frame of Margot into her arms,
and kissed her twice on the closed, blue-veined lids of her black eyes.
"Make him happy, only make him happy," she murmured; "for I am very
old, Margot, and he is alone, all alone."
And the child crept to her, sobbing for very rapture that she,
friendless, homeless, and penniless, should be thus elected for so fair
a fate, and whispered through her tears, "I will."
Reine Allix spoke in all form to the miller and his wife, and with as
much earnestness in her demand as though she had been seeking the hand
of rich Yacobe, the tavern-keeper's only daughter. The people assented;
they had no pretext to oppose; and Reine Allix wrapped her cloak about
her and descended the hill and the street just as the twilight closed
in and the little lights began to glimmer through the lattices and the
shutters and the green mantle of the boughs, while the red fires of the
smithy forge glowed brightly in the gloom, and a white horse waited to
be shod, a boy in a blue blouse seated on its back and switching away
with a branch of budding hazel the first gray gnats of the early year.
"It is well done, it is well done," she said to herself, looking at the
low rosy clouds and the pale gold of the waning sky. "A year or two,
and I shall be in my grave. I shall leave him easier if I know he has
some creature to care for him, and I shall be quiet in my coffin,
knowing that his children's children will live on and on and on in the
Berceau, and sometimes perhaps think a little of me when the nights are
long and they sit round the fire."
She went in out of the dewy air, into the little low, square room of
her cottage, and went up to Bernadou and laid her hands on his
"Be it well with thee, my grandson, and with thy sons' sons after
thee," she said solemnly. "Margot will be thy wife. May thy days and
hers be long in thy birthplace!"
A month later they were married. It was then May. The green nest of the
Berceau seemed to overflow with the singing of birds and the blossoming
of flowers. The corn-lands promised a rare harvest, and the apple
orchards were weighed down with their red and white blossoms. The
little brown streams in the woods brimmed over in the grass, and the
air was full of sweet mellow sunlight, a cool fragrant breeze, a
continual music of humming bees and soaring larks and mule-bells
ringing on the roads, and childish laughter echoing from the fields.
In this glad springtime Bernadou and Margot were wedded, going with
their friends one sunny morning up the winding hill-path to the little
gray chapel whose walls were hidden in ivy, and whose sorrowful Christ
looked down through the open porch across the blue and hazy width of
the river. Georges, the baker, whose fiddle made merry melody at all
the village dances, played before them tunefully; little children, with
their hands full of wood-flowers, ran before them; his old blind poodle
smelt its way faithfully by their footsteps; their priest led the way
upward with the cross held erect against the light; Reine Allix walked
beside them, nearly as firmly as she had trodden the same road seventy
years before in her own bridal hour. In the hollow below lay the
Berceau de Dieu, with its red gables and its thatched roofs hidden
beneath leaves, and its peaceful pastures smiling under the serene blue
skies of France.
They were happy--ah, heaven, so happy!--and all their little world
rejoiced with them.
They came home and their neighbours entered with them, and ate and
drank, and gave them good wishes and gay songs, and the old priest
blessed them with a father's tenderness upon their threshold; and the
fiddle of Georges sent gladdest dance-music flying through the open
casements, across the road, up the hill, far away to the clouds and the
At night, when the guests had departed and all was quite still within
and without, Reine Allix sat alone at her window in the roof, thinking
of their future and of her past, and watching the stars come out, one
by another, above the woods. From her lattice in the eaves she saw
straight up the village street; saw the dwellings of her lifelong
neighbours, the slopes of the rich fields, the gleam of the broad gray
water, the whiteness of the crucifix against the darkened skies. She
saw it all--all so familiar, with that intimate association only
possible to the peasant who has dwelt on one spot from birth to age. In
that faint light, in those deep shadows, she could trace all the scene
as though the brightness of the moon shone on it; it was all, in its
homeliness and simplicity, intensely dear to her. In the playtime of
her childhood, in the courtship of her youth, in the joys and woes of
her wifehood and widowhood, the bitter pains and sweet ecstasies of her
maternity, the hunger and privation of struggling desolate years, the
contentment and serenity of old age--in all these her eyes had rested
only on this small, quaint, leafy street, with its dwellings close and
low, like bee-hives in a garden, and its pasture-lands and corn-lands,
wood-girt and water-fed, stretching as far as the sight could reach.
Every inch of its soil, every turn of its paths, was hallowed to her
with innumerable memories; all her beloved dead were garnered there
where the white Christ watched them; when her time should come, she
thought, she would rest with them nothing loath. As she looked, the
tears of thanksgiving rolled down her withered cheeks, and she bent her
feeble limbs and knelt down in the moonlight, praising God that He had
given her to live and die in this cherished home, and beseeching Him
for her children that they likewise might dwell in honesty, and with
length of days abide beneath that roof.
"God is good," she murmured, as she stretched herself to sleep beneath
the eaves,--"God is good. Maybe, when He takes me to Himself, if I be
worthy, He will tell His holy saints to give me a little corner in His
kingdom, that He shall fashion for me in the likeness of the Berceau."
For it seemed to her that, than the Berceau, heaven itself could hold
no sweeter or fairer nook of Paradise.
The year rolled on, and the cottage under the sycamores was but the
happier for its new inmate. Bernadou was serious of temper, though so
gentle, and the arch, gay humour of his young wife was like perpetual
sunlight in the house. Margot, too, was so docile, so eager, so bright,
and so imbued with devotional reverence for her husband and his home,
that Reine Allix day by day blessed the fate that had brought to her
this fatherless and penniless child. Bernadou himself spoke little;
words were not in his way; but his blue, frank eyes shone with an
unclouded radiance that never changed, and his voice, when he did
speak, had a mellow softness in it that made his slightest speech to
the two women with him tender as a caress.
"Thou art a happy woman, my sister," said the priest, who was well-nigh
as old as herself.
Reine Allix bowed her head and made the sign of the cross. "I am,
praise be to God!"
And being happy, she went to the hovel of poor Madelon Dreux, the
cobbler's widow, and nursed her and her children through a malignant
fever, sitting early and late, and leaving her own peaceful hearth for
the desolate hut with the delirious ravings and heartrending moans of
the fever-stricken. "How ought one to dare to be happy if one is not of
use?" she would say to those who sought to dissuade her from running
Madelon Dreux and her family recovered, owing to her their lives; and
she was happier than before, thinking of them when she sat on the
settle before the wood fire roasting chestnuts and spinning flax on the
wheel, and ever and again watching the flame reflected on the fair head
of Bernadou or in the dark, smiling eyes of Margot.
Another spring passed and another year went by, and the little home
under the sycamores was still no less honest in its labours or bright
in its rest. It was one among a million of such homes in France, where
a sunny temper made mirth with a meal of herbs, and filial love touched
to poetry the prose of daily household tasks.
A child was born to Margot in the springtime with the violets and
daisies, and Reine Allix was proud of the fourth generation, and, as
she caressed the boy's healthy, fair limbs, thought that God was indeed
good to her, and that her race would live long in the place of her
birth. The child resembled Bernadou, and had his clear, candid eyes. It
soon learned to know the voice of "/gran'mere/," and would turn from
its young mother's bosom to stretch its arms to Reine Allix. It grew
fair and strong, and all the ensuing winter passed its hours curled
like a dormouse or playing like a puppy at her feet in the chimney-
corner. Another spring and summer came, and the boy was more than a
year old, with curls of gold, and cheeks like apples, and a mouth that
always smiled. He could talk a little, and tumbled like a young rabbit
among the flowering grasses. Reine Allix watched him, and her eyes
filled. "God is too good," she thought. She feared that she should
scarce be so willing to go to her last sleep under the trees on the
hillside as she used to be. She could not help a desire to see this
child, this second Bernadou, grow up to youth and manhood; and of this
she knew it was wild to dream.
It was ripe midsummer. The fields were all russet and amber with an
abundance of corn. The little gardens had seldom yielded so rich a
produce. The cattle and the flocks were in excellent health. There had
never been a season of greater promise and prosperity for the little
traffic that the village and its farms drove in sending milk and sheep
and vegetable wealth to that great city which was to it as a dim,
wonderful, mystic name without meaning.
One evening in this gracious and golden time the people sat out as
usual when the day was done, talking from door to door, the old women
knitting or spinning, the younger ones mending their husbands' or
brothers' blouses or the little blue shirts of their infants, the
children playing with the dogs on the sward that edged the stones of
the street, and above all the great calm heavens and the glow of the
sun that had set.
Reine Allix, like the others, sat before the door, for once doing
nothing, but with folded hands and bended head dreamily taking pleasure
in the coolness that had come with evening, and the smell of the limes
that were in blossom, and the blithe chatter of Margot with the
neighbours. Bernadou was close beside them, watering and weeding those
flowers that were at once his pride and his recreation, making the face
of his dwelling bright and the air around it full of fragrance.
The little street was quiet in the evening light, only the laughter of
the children and the gay gossip of their mothers breaking the pleasant
stillness; it had been thus at evening with the Berceau centuries
before their time; they thought that it would thus likewise be when the
centuries should have seen the youngest-born there in his grave.
Suddenly came along the road between the trees an old man and a mule;
it was Mathurin, the miller, who had been that day to a little town
four leagues off, which was the trade-mart and the corn-exchange of the
district. He paused before the cottage of Reine Allix; he was dusty,
travel-stained, and sad. Margot ceased laughing among her flowers as
she saw her old master. None of them knew why, yet the sight of him
made the air seem cold and the night seem near.
"There is terrible news," he said, drawing a sheet of printed words
from his coat-pocket--"terrible news! We are to go to war."
"War!" The whole village clustered round him. They had heard of war,
far-off wars in Africa and Mexico, and some of their sons had been
taken off like young wheat mown before its time; but it still remained
to them a thing remote, impersonal, inconceivable, with which they had
nothing to do, nor ever would have anything.
"Read!" said the old man, stretching out his sheet. The only one there
who could do so, Picot, the tailor, took it and spelled the news out to
their wondering ears. It was the declaration of France against Prussia.
There arose a great wail from the mothers whose sons were conscripts.
The rest asked in trembling, "Will it touch us?"
"Us!" echoed Picot, the tailor, in contempt. "How should it touch us?
Our braves will be in Berlin with another fortnight. The paper says
The people were silent; they were not sure what he meant by Berlin, and
they were afraid to ask.
"My boy! my boy!" wailed one woman, smiting her breast. Her son was in
"Marengo!" murmured Reine Allix, thinking of that far-off time in her
dim youth when the horseman had flown through the dusky street and the
bonfire had blazed on the highest hill above the river.
"Bread will be dear," muttered Mathurin, the miller, going onward with
his foot-weary mule. Bernadou stood silent, with his roses dry and
thirsty round him.
"Why art thou sad?" whispered Margot, with wistful eyes. "Thou art
exempt from war service, my love?"
Bernadou shook his head. "The poor will suffer somehow," was all he
Yet to him, as to all the Berceau, the news was not very terrible,
because it was so vague and distant--an evil so far off and shapeless.
Monsieur Picot, the tailor, who alone could read, ran from house to
house, from group to group, breathless, gay, and triumphant, telling
them all that in two weeks more their brethren would sup in the king's
palace at Berlin; and the people believed and laughed and chattered,
and, standing outside their doors in the cool nights, thought that some
good had come to them and theirs.
Only Reine Allix looked up to the hill above the river and murmured,
"When we lit the bonfire there, Claudis lay dead;" and Bernadou,
standing musing among his roses, said, with a smile that was very
grave, "Margot, see here! When Picot shouted, '/A Berlin!/' he trod on
my Gloire de Dijon rose and killed it."
The sultry heats and cloudless nights of the wondrous and awful summer
of the year 1870 passed by, and to the Berceau de Dieu it was a summer
of fair promise and noble harvest, and never had the land brought forth
in richer profusion for man and beast. Some of the youngest and ablest-
bodied labourers were indeed drawn away to join those swift trains that
hurried thousands and tens of thousands to the frontier by the Rhine.
But most of the male population were married, and were the fathers of
young children; and the village was only moved to a thrill of love and
of honest pride to think how its young Louis and Jean and Andre and
Valentin were gone full of high hope and high spirit, to come back,
maybe,--who could say not?--with epaulets and ribbons of honour. Why
they were gone they knew not very clearly, but their superiors affirmed
that they were gone to make greater the greatness of France; and the
folk of the Berceau believed it, having in a corner of their quiet
hearts a certain vague, dormant, yet deep-rooted love, on which was
written the name of their country.
News came slowly and seldom to the Berceau. Unless some one of the men
rode his mule to the little town, which was but very rarely, or unless
some peddler came through the village with a news-sheet or so in his
pack or rumours and tidings on his lips, nothing that was done beyond
its fields and woods came to it. And the truth of what it heard it had
no means of measuring or sifting. It believed what it was told, without
questioning; and as it reaped the harvests in the rich hot sun of
August, its peasants laboured cheerily in the simple and firm belief
that mighty things were being done for them and theirs in the far
eastern provinces by their great army, and that Louis and Jean and
Andre and Valentin and the rest--though indeed no tidings had been
heard of them--were safe and well and glorious somewhere, away where
the sun rose, in the sacked palaces of the German king. Reine Allix
alone of them was serious and sorrowful, she whose memories stretched
back over the wide space of near a century.
"Why art thou anxious, /gran'mere/?" they said to her. "There is no
cause. Our army is victorious everywhere; and they say our lads will
send us all the Prussians' corn and cattle, so that the very beggars
will have their stomachs full."
But Reine Allix shook her head, sitting knitting in the sun. "My
children, I remember the days of my youth. Our army was victorious
then; at least, they said so. Well, all I know is that little Claudis
and the boys with him never came back; and as for bread, you could not
get it for love or money, and the people lay dead of famine out on the
"But that is so long ago, /gran'mere/!" they urged.
Reine Allix nodded. "Yes, it is long ago, my dears. But I do not think
that things change very much."
They were silent out of respect for her, but among themselves they
said, "She is very old. Nothing is as it was in her time."
One evening, when the sun was setting red over the reapen fields, two
riders on trembling and sinking horses went through the village using
whip and spur, and scarcely drew rein as they shouted to the cottagers
to know whether they had seen go by a man running for his life. The
people replied that they had seen nothing of the kind, and the horsemen
pressed on, jamming their spurs into their poor beasts' steaming
flanks. "If you see him, catch and hang him," they shouted, as they
scoured away; "he is a Prussian spy!"
"A Prussian!" the villagers echoed, with a stupid stare--"a Prussian in
One of the riders looked over his shoulder for a moment. "You fools! do
you not know? We are beaten,--beaten everywhere,--and the Prussian pigs
march on Paris."
The spy was not seen in the Berceau, but the news brought by his
pursuers scared sleep from the eyes of every grown man that night in
the little village. "It is the accursed Empire!" screamed the patriots
of the wine-shop. But the rest of the people were too terrified and
down-stricken to take heed of empires or patriots; they only thought of
Louis and Jean and Andre and Valentin; and they collected round Reine
Allix, who said to them, "My children, for love of money all our
fairest fruits and flowers--yea, even to the best blossoms of our
maidenhood--were sent to be bought and sold in Paris. We sinned
therein, and this is the will of God."
This was all for a time that they heard. It was a place lowly and
obscure enough to be left in peace. The law pounced down on it once or
twice and carried off a few more of its men for army service, and arms
were sent to it from its neighbouring town, and an old soldier of the
First Empire tried to instruct its remaining sons in their use. But he
had no apt pupil except Bernadou, who soon learned to handle a musket
with skill and with precision, and who carried his straight form
gallantly and well, though his words were seldom heard and his eyes
were always sad.
"You will not be called till the last, Bernadou," said the old soldier;
"you are married, and maintain your grandam and wife and child. But a
strong, muscular, well-built youth like you should not wait to be
called; you should volunteer to serve France."
"I will serve France when my time comes," said Bernadou, simply, in
answer. But he would not leave his fields barren, and his orchard
uncared for, and his wife to sicken and starve, and his grandmother to
perish alone in her ninety-third year. They jeered and flouted and
upbraided him, those patriots who screamed against the fallen Empire in
the wine-shop; but he looked them straight in the eyes, and held his
peace, and did his daily work.
"If he is called, he will not be found wanting," said Reine Allix, who
knew him better than did even the young wife whom he loved.
Bernadou clung to his home with a dogged devotion. He would not go from
it to fight unless compelled, but for it he would have fought like a
lion. His love for his country was only an indefinite, shadowy
existence that was not clear to him; he could not save a land that he
had never seen, a capital that was only to him as an empty name; nor
could he comprehend the danger that his nation ran, nor could he desire
to go forth and spend his life-blood in defence of things unknown to
him. He was only a peasant, and he could not read nor greatly
understand. But affection for his birthplace was a passion with him,
mute indeed, but deep-seated as an oak. For his birthplace he would
have struggled as a man can only struggle when supreme love as well as
duty nerves his arm. Neither he nor Reine Allix could see that a man's
duty might lie from home, but in that home both were alike ready to
dare anything and to suffer everything. It was a narrow form of
patriotism, yet it had nobleness, endurance, and patience in it; in
song it has been oftentimes deified as heroism, but in modern warfare
it is punished as the blackest crime.
So Bernadou tarried in his cottage till he should be called, keeping
watch by night over the safety of his village, and by day doing all he
could to aid the deserted wives and mothers of the place by the tilling
of their ground for them and the tending of such poor cattle as were
left in their desolate fields. He and Margot and Reine Allix, between
them, fed many mouths that would otherwise have been closed in death by
famine, and denied themselves all except the barest and most meagre
subsistence, that they might give away the little they possessed.
And all this while the war went on, but seemed far from them, so seldom
did any tidings of it pierce the seclusion in which they dwelt. By-and-
by, as the autumn went on, they learned a little more. Fugitives coming
to the smithy for a horse's shoe; women fleeing to their old village
homes from their base, gay life in the city; mandates from the
government of defence sent to every hamlet in the country; stray news-
sheets brought in by carriers or hawkers and hucksters--all these by
degrees told them of the peril of their country, vaguely indeed, and
seldom truthfully, but so that by mutilated rumours they came at last
to know the awful facts of the fate of Sedan, the fall of the Empire,
the siege of Paris. It did not alter their daily lives; it was still
too far off and too impalpable. But a foreboding, a dread, an
unspeakable woe settled down on them. Already their lands and cattle
had been harassed to yield provision for the army and large towns;
already their best horses had been taken for the siege-trains and the
forage-waggons; already their ploughshares were perforce idle, and
their children cried because of the scarcity of nourishment; already
the iron of war had entered their souls.
The little street at evening was mournful and very silent; the few who
talked spoke in whispers, lest a spy should hear them, and the young
ones had no strength to play--they wanted food.
"It is as it was in my youth," said Reine Allix, eating her piece of
black bread and putting aside the better food prepared for her, that
she might save it, unseen, for the "child."
It was horrible to her and to all of them to live in that continual
terror of an unknown foe, that perpetual expectation of some ghastly,
shapeless misery. They were quiet,--so quiet!--but by all they heard
they knew that any night, as they went to their beds, the thunder of
cannon might awaken them; any morning, as they looked on their beloved
fields, they knew that ere sunset the flames of war might have devoured
them. They knew so little too; all they were told was so indefinite and
garbled that sometimes they thought the whole was some horrid dream--
thought so, at least, until they looked at their empty stables, their
untilled land, their children who cried from hunger, their mothers who
wept for the conscripts.
But as yet it was not so very much worse than it had been in times of
bad harvest and of dire distress; and the storm which raged over the
land had as yet spared this little green nest among the woods on the
November came. "It is a cold night, Bernadou; put on some more wood,"
said Reine Allix. Fuel at the least was plentiful in that district, and
He sat at the table, working at a new churn for his wife; he had some
skill at turnery and at invention in such matters. The child slept
soundly in its cradle by the hearth, smiling while it dreamed. Margot
spun at her wheel. Reine Allix sat by the fire, seldom lifting her head
from her long knitting-needles, except to cast a look on her grandson
or at the sleeping child. The little wooden shutter of the house was
closed. Some winter roses bloomed in a pot beneath the little crucifix.
Bernadou's flute lay on a shelf; he had not had heart enough to play it
since the news of the war had come.
Suddenly a great sobbing cry rose without--the cry of many voices, all
raised in woe together. Bernadou rose, took his musket in his hand,
undid his door, and looked out. All the people were turned out into the
street, and the women, loudly lamenting, beat their breasts and
strained their children to their bosoms. There was a sullen red light
in the sky to the eastward, and on the wind a low, hollow roar stole to
"What is it?" he asked.
"The Prussians are on us!" answered twenty voices in one accord. "That
red glare is the town burning."
Then they were all still--a stillness that was more horrible than their
Reine Allix came and stood by her grandson. "If we must die, let us die
/here/," she said, in a voice that was low and soft and grave.
He took her hand and kissed it. She was content with his answer.
Margot stole forth too, and crouched behind them, holding her child to
her breast. "What can they do to us?" she asked, trembling, with the
rich colours of her face blanched white.
Bernadou smiled on her. "I do not know, my dear. I think even they can
hardly bring death upon women and children."
"They can, and they will," said a voice from the crowd.
None answered. The street was very quiet in the darkness. Far away in
the east the red glare glowed. On the wind was still that faint,
distant, ravening roar, like the roar of famished wolves; it was the
roar of fire and of war.
In the silence Reine Allix spoke: "God is good. Shall we not trust in
With one great choking sob the people answered; their hearts were
breaking. All night long they watched in the street--they who had done
no more to bring this curse upon them than the flower-roots that slept
beneath the snow. They dared not go to their beds; they knew not when
the enemy might be upon them. They dared not flee; even in their own
woods the foe might lurk for them. One man indeed did cry aloud, "Shall
we stay here in our houses to be smoked out like bees from their hives?
Let us fly!"
But the calm, firm voice of Reine Allix rebuked him: "Let who will, run
like a hare from the hounds. For me and mine, we abide by our
And they were ashamed to be outdone by a woman, and a woman of ninety
years old, and no man spoke any more of flight. All the night long they
watched in the cold and the wind, the children shivering beneath their
mothers' skirts, the men sullenly watching the light of the flames in
the dark, starless sky. All night long they were left alone, though far
off they heard the dropping shots of scattered firing, and in the
leafless woods around them the swift flight of woodland beasts startled
from their sleep, and the hurrying feet of sheep terrified from their
folds in the outlying fields.
The daybreak came, gray, cheerless, very cold. A dense fog, white and
raw, hung over the river; in the east, where the sun, they knew, was
rising, they could only see the livid light of the still towering
flames and pillars of black smoke against the leaden clouds.
"We will let them come and go in peace if they will," murmured old
Mathurin. "What can we do? We have no arms, no powder hardly, no
soldiers, no defence."
Bernadou said nothing, but he straightened his tall limbs, and in his
grave blue eyes a light gleamed.
Reine Allix looked at him as she sat in the doorway of her house. "Thy
hands are honest, thy heart pure, thy conscience clear. Be not afraid
to die if need there be," she said to him.
He looked down and smiled on her. Margot clung to him in a passion of
weeping. He clasped her close and kissed her softly, but the woman who
read his heart was the woman who had held him at his birth.
By degrees the women crept timidly back into their houses, hiding their
eyes so that they should not see that horrid light against the sky,
while the starving children clung to their breasts or to their skirts,
wailing aloud in terror. The few men there were left, for the most part
of them very old or else mere striplings, gathered together in a
hurried council. Old Mathurin, the miller, and the patriots of the
wine-shop were agreed that there should be no resistance, whatever
might befall them; that it would be best to hide such weapons as they
had and any provisions that still remained to them, and yield up
themselves and their homes with humble grace to the dire foe. "If we do
otherwise," they said, "the soldiers will surely slay us, and what can
a miserable little hamlet like this achieve against cannon and steel
Bernadou alone raised his voice in opposition. His eye kindled, his
cheek flushed, his words for once sprang from his lips like fire.
"What!" he said to them, "shall we yield up our homes and our wives and
our infants without a single blow? Shall we be so vile as to truckle to
the enemies of France and show that we can fear them? It were a shame,
a foul shame; we were not worthy of the name of men. Let us prove to
them that there are people in France who are not afraid to die. Let us
hold our own so long as we can. Our muskets are good, our walls strong,
our woods in this weather morasses that will suck in and swallow them
if only we have tact to drive them there. Let us do what we can. The
camp of the francs-tireurs is but three leagues form us. They will be
certain to come to our aid. At any rate, let us die bravely. We can do
little, that may be; but if every man in France does that little that
he can, that little will be great enough to drive the invaders off the
Mathurin and the others screamed at him and hooted. "You are a fool!"
they shouted. "You will be the undoing of us all. Do you not know that
one shot fired, nay, only one musket found, and the enemy puts a torch
to the whole place?"
"I know," said Bernadou, with a dark radiance in his azure eyes. "But
then it is a choice between disgrace and the flames; let us only take
heed to be clear of the first--the last must rage as God wills."
But they screamed and mouthed and hissed at him: "Oh yes! fine talk,
fine talk! See your own roof in flames if you will; you shall not ruin
ours. Do what you will with your own neck; keep it erect or hang by it,
as you choose. But you have no right to give your neighbours over to
death, whether they will or no."
He strove, he pleaded, he conjured, he struggled with them half the
night, with the salt tears running down his cheeks, and all his gentle
blood burning with righteous wrath and loathing shame, stirred for the
first time in all his life to a rude, simple, passionate eloquence. But
they were not persuaded. Their few gold pieces hidden in the rafters,
their few feeble sheep starving in the folds, their own miserable
lives, all hungry, woe-begone, and spent in daily terrors--these were
still dear to them, and they would not imperil them. They called him a
madman; they denounced him as one who would be their murderer; they
threw themselves on him and demanded his musket, to bury it with the
rest under the altar in the old chapel on the hill.
Bernadou's eyes flashed fire; his breast heaved; his nerves quivered;
he shook them off and strode a step forward. "As you live," he
muttered, "I have a mind to fire on you, rather than let you live to
shame yourselves and me!"
Reine Allix, who stood by him silent all the while, laid her hand on
his shoulder. "My boy," she said in his ear, "you are right, and they
are wrong. Yet let not dissension between brethren open the door for
the enemy to enter thereby into your homes. Do what you will with your
own life, Bernadou,--it is yours,--but leave them to do as they will
with theirs. You cannot make sheep into lions, and let not the first
blood shed here be a brother's."
Bernadou's head dropped on his breast. "Do as you will," he muttered to
his neighbours. They took his musket from him, and in the darkness of
the night stole silently up the wooded chapel hill and buried it, with
all their other arms, under the altar where the white Christ hung. "We
are safe now," said Mathurin, the miller, to the patriots of the
tavern. "Had that madman had his way, he had destroyed us all."
Reine Allix softly led her grandson across his own threshold, and drew
his head down to hers, and kissed him between the eyes. "You did what
you could, Bernadou," she said to him; "let the rest come as it will."
Then she turned from him, and flung her cloak over her head, and sank
down, weeping bitterly; for she had lived through ninety-three years
only to see this agony at the last.
Bernadou, now that all means of defence was gone from him, and the only
thing left to him to deal with was his own life, had become quiet and
silent and passionless, as was his habit. He would have fought like a
mastiff for his home, but this they had forbidden him to do, and he was
passive and without hope. He shut to his door, and sat down with his
hand in that of Reine Allix and his arm around his wife. "There is
nothing to do but to wait," he said, sadly. The day seemed very long in
The firing ceased for a while; then its roll commenced afresh, and grew
nearer to the village. Then again all was still.
At noon a shepherd staggered into the place, pale, bleeding, bruised,
covered with mire. The Prussians, he told them, had forced him to be
their guide, had knotted him tight to a trooper's saddle, and had
dragged him with them until he was half dead with fatigue and pain. At
night he had broken from them and had fled. They were close at hand, he
said, and had burned the town from end to end because a man had fired
at them from a housetop. That was all he knew. Bernadou, who had gone
out to hear his news, returned into the house and sat down and hid his
face within his hands. "If I resist you are all lost," he muttered.
"And yet to yield like a cur!" It was a piteous question, whether to
follow the instinct in him and see his birthplace in flames and his
family slaughtered for his act, or to crush out the manhood in him and
live, loathing himself as a coward for evermore.
Reine Allix looked at him, and laid her hand on his bowed head, and her
voice was strong and tender as music: "Fret not thyself, my beloved.
When the moment comes, then do as thine own heart and the whisper of
God in it bid thee."
A great sob answered her; it was the first since his earliest infancy
that she had ever heard from Bernadou.
It grew dark. The autumn day died. The sullen clouds dropped scattered
rain. The red leaves were blown in millions by the wind. The little
houses on either side the road were dark, for the dwellers in them
dared not show any light that might be a star to allure to them the
footsteps of their foes. Bernadou sat with his arms on the table, and
his head resting on them. Margot nursed her son. Reine Allix prayed.
Suddenly in the street without there was the sound of many feet of
horses and of men, the shouting of angry voices, the splashing of quick
steps in the watery ways, the screams of women, the flash of steel
through the gloom. Bernadou sprang to his feet, his face pale, his blue
eyes dark as night. "They are come!" he said, under his breath. It was
not fear that he felt, nor horror; it was rather a passion of love for
his birthplace and his nation--a passion of longing to struggle and to
die for both. And he had no weapon!
He drew his house-door open with a steady hand, and stood on his own
threshold and faced these his enemies. The street was full of them,
some mounted, some on foot; crowds of them swarmed in the woods and on
the roads. They had settled on the village as vultures on a dead lamb's
body. It was a little, lowly place; it might well have been left in
peace. It had had no more share in the war than a child still unborn,
but it came in the victors' way, and their mailed heel crushed it as
they passed. They had heard that arms were hidden and francs-tireurs
sheltered there, and they had swooped down on it and held it hard and
fast. Some were told off to search the chapel; some to ransack the
dwellings; some to seize such food and bring such cattle as there might
be left; some to seek out the devious paths that crossed and recrossed
the fields; and yet there remained in the little street hundreds of
armed men, force enough to awe a citadel or storm a breach.
The people did not attempt to resist. They stood passive, dry-eyed in
misery, looking on while the little treasures of their household lives
were swept away for ever, and ignorant what fate by fire or iron might
be their portion ere the night was done. They saw the corn that was
their winter store to save their offspring from famine poured out like
ditch-water. They saw oats and wheat flung down to be trodden into a
slough of mud and filth. They saw the walnut presses in their kitchens
broken open, and their old heirlooms of silver, centuries old, borne
away as booty. They saw the oak cupboards in their wives' bed-chambers
ransacked, and the homespun linen and the quaint bits of plate that had
formed their nuptial dowers cast aside in derision or trampled into a
battered heap. They saw the pet lamb of their infants, the silver ear-
rings of their brides, the brave tankards they had drunk their marriage
wine in, the tame bird that flew to their whistle, all seized for food
or seized for spoil. They saw all this, and had to stand by with mute
tongues and passive hands, lest any glance of wrath or gesture of
revenge should bring the leaden bullet in their children's throats or
the yellow flame amid their homesteads. Greater agony the world cannot
Under the porch of the cottage, by the sycamores, one group stood and
looked, silent and very still: Bernadou, erect, pale, calm, with a
fierce scorn burning in his eyes; Margot, quiet because he wished her
so, holding to her the rosy and golden beauty of her son; Reine Allix,
with a patient horror on her face, her figure drawn to its full height,
and her hands holding to her breast the crucifix. They stood thus,
waiting they knew not what, only resolute to show no cowardice and meet
Behind them was the dull, waning glow of the wood fire on the hearth
which had been the centre of all their hopes and joys; before them the
dim, dark country, and the woe-stricken faces of their neighbours, and
the moving soldiery with their torches, and the quivering forms of the
Suddenly a voice arose from the armed mass: "Bring me the peasant
Bernadou was seized by several hands and forced and dragged from his
door out to the place where the leader of the uhlans sat on a white
charger that shook and snorted blood in its exhaustion. Bernadou cast
off the alien grasp that held him, and stood erect before his foes. He
was no longer pale, and his eyes were clear and steadfast.
"You look less a fool than the rest," said the Prussian commander. "You
know this country well?"
"Well!" The country in whose fields and woodlands he had wandered from
his infancy, and whose every meadow-path and wayside tree and flower-
sown brook he knew by heart as a lover knows the lines of his
"You have arms here?" pursued the German.
"What have you done with them?"
"If I had had my way, you would not need ask. You would have felt
The Prussian looked at him keenly, doing homage to the boldness of the
answer. "Will you confess where they are?"
"You know the penalty for concealment of arms is death?"
"You have made it so."
"We have, and Prussian will is French law. You are a bold man; you
merit death. But still, you know the country well?"
Bernadou smiled, as a mother might smile were any foolish enough to ask
her if she remembered the look her dead child's face had worn.
"If you know it well," pursued the Prussian, "I will give you a chance.
Lay hold of my stirrup-leather and be lashed to it, and show me
straight as the crow flies to where the weapons are hidden. If you do,
I will leave you your life. If you do not--"
"If I do not?"
"You will be shot."
Bernadou was silent; his eyes glanced through the mass of soldiers to
the little cottage under the trees opposite. The two there were
straining to behold him, but the soldiers pushed them back, so that in
the flare of the torches they could not see, nor in the tumult hear. He
thanked God for it.
"Your choice?" asked the uhlan, impatiently, after a moment's pause.
Bernadou's lips were white, but they did not tremble as he answered, "I
am no traitor." And his eyes, as he spoke, went softly to the little
porch where the light glowed from that hearth beside which he would
never again sit with the creatures he loved around him.
The German looked at him. "Is that a boast, or a fact?"
"I am no traitor," Bernadou answered, simply, once more.
The Prussian gave a sign to his troopers. There was the sharp report of
a double shot, and Bernadou fell dead. One bullet had pierced his
brain, the other was bedded in his lungs. The soldiers kicked aside the
warm and quivering body. It was only a peasant killed!
With a shriek that rose above the roar of the wind, and cut like steel
to every human heart that beat there, Reine Allix forced her way
through the throng, and fell on her knees beside him, and caught him in
her arms, and laid his head upon her breast, where he had used to sleep
his softest sleep in infancy and childhood. "It is God's will! it is
God's will!" she muttered; and then she laughed--a laugh so terrible
that the blood of the boldest there ran cold.
Margot followed her and looked, and stood dry-eyed and silent; then
flung herself and the child she carried in her arms beneath the hoof of
the white charger. "End your work!" she shrieked to them. "You have
killed him--kill us. Have you not mercy enough for that?"
The horse, terrified and snorting blood, plunged and trampled the
ground; his fore foot struck the child's golden head and stamped its
face out of all human likeness. Some peasants pulled Margot from the
lashing hoofs; she was quite dead, though neither wound nor bruise was
Reine Allix neither looked nor paused. With all her strength she had
begun to drag the body of Bernadou across the threshold of his house.
"He shall lie at home, he shall lie at home," she muttered. She would
not believe that already he was dead. With all the force of her
earliest womanhood she lifted him, and half drew, half bore him into
the house that he had loved, and laid him down upon the hearth, and
knelt by him, caressing him as though he were once more a child, and
saying softly, "Hush!"--for her mind was gone, and she fancied that he
Without, the tumult of the soldiery increased. They found the arms
hidden under the altar on the hill; they seized five peasants to slay
them for the dire offence. The men struggled, and would not go as the
sheep to the shambles. They were shot down in the street, before the
eyes of their children. Then the order was given to fire the place in
punishment, and leave it to its fate. The torches were flung with a
laugh on the dry thatched roofs; brands snatched from the house fires
on the hearths were tossed among the dwelling-houses and the barns. The
straw and timber flared alight like tow.
An old man, her nearest neighbour, rushed to the cottage of Reine Allix
and seized her by the arm. "They fire the Berceau," he screamed.
"Quick! quick! or you will be burned alive!"
Reine Allix looked up with a smile. "Be quiet! Do you not see! He
The old man shook her, implored her, strove to drag her away; in
desperation pointed to the roof above, which was already in flames.
Reine Allix looked. At that sight her mind cleared, and regained
consciousness; she remembered all, she understood all; she knew that he
was dead. "Go in peace and save yourself," she said, in the old, sweet,
strong tone of an earlier day. "As for me, I am very old. I and my dead
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