STORIES BY ENGLISH AUTHORS: FRANCE
Part 2 out of 3
will stay together at home."
The man fled, and left her to her choice.
The great curled flames and the livid vapours closed around her; she
never moved. The death was fierce, but swift, and even in death she and
the one whom she had loved and reared were not divided. The end soon
came. From hill to hill the Berceau de Dieu broke into flames. The
village was a lake of fire, into which the statue of the Christ,
burning and reeling, fell. Some few peasants, with their wives and
children, fled to the woods, and there escaped one torture to perish
more slowly of cold and famine. All other things perished. The rapid
stream of the flame licked up all there was in its path. The bare trees
raised their leafless branches, on fire at a thousand points. The
stores of corn and fruit were lapped by millions of crimson tongues.
The pigeons flew screaming from their roosts, and sank into the smoke.
The dogs were suffocated on the thresholds they had guarded all their
lives. The sheep ran bleating with the wool burning on their living
bodies. The little caged birds fluttered helpless, and then dropped,
scorched to cinders. The aged and the sick were stifled in their beds.
All things perished.
The Berceau de Dieu was as one vast furnace, in which every living
creature was caught and consumed and changed to ashes. The tide of war
has rolled on, and left it a blackened waste, a smoking ruin, wherein
not so much as a mouse may creep or a bird may nestle. It is gone, and
its place can know it nevermore.
Nevermore. But who is there to care? It was but as a leaf which the
great storm swept away as it passed.
THE TRAVELLER'S STORY OF A
TERRIBLY STRANGE BED
PROLOGUE TO THE FIRST STORY
Before I begin, by the aid of my wife's patient attention and ready
pen, to relate any of the stories which I have heard at various times
from persons whose likenesses I have been employed to take, it will not
be amiss if I try to secure the reader's interest in the following
pages by briefly explaining how I became possessed of the narrative
matter which they contain.
Of myself I have nothing to say, but that I have followed the
profession of a travelling portrait-painter for the last fifteen years.
The pursuit of my calling has not only led me all through England, but
has taken me twice to Scotland and once to Ireland. In moving from
district to district, I am never guided beforehand by any settled plan.
Sometimes the letters of recommendation which I get from persons who
are satisfied with the work I have done for them determine the
direction in which I travel. Sometimes I hear of a new neighbourhood in
which there is no resident artist of ability, and remove thither on
speculation. Sometimes my friends among the picture-dealers say a good
word on my behalf to their rich customers, and so pave the way for me
in the large towns. Sometimes my prosperous and famous brother artists,
hearing of small commissions which it is not worth their while to
accept, mention my name, and procure me introductions to pleasant
country houses. Thus I get on, now in one way and now in another, not
winning a reputation or making a fortune, but happier, perhaps, on the
whole, than many men who have got both the one and the other. So, at
least, I try to think now, though I started in my youth with as high an
ambition as the best of them. Thank God, it is not my business here to
speak of past times and their disappointments. A twinge of the old
hopeless heartache comes over me sometimes still, when I think of my
One peculiarity of my present way of life is, that it brings me into
contact with all sorts of characters. I almost feel, by this time, as
if I had painted every civilised variety of the human race. Upon the
whole, my experience of the world, rough as it has been, has not taught
me to think unkindly of my fellow-creatures. I have certainly received
such treatment at the hands of some of my sitters as I could not
describe without saddening and shocking any kind-hearted reader; but,
taking one year and one place with another, I have cause to remember
with gratitude and respect, sometimes even with friendship and
affection, a very large proportion of the numerous persons who have
Some of the results of my experience are curious in a moral point of
view. For example, I have found women almost uniformly less delicate in
asking me about my terms, and less generous in remunerating me for my
services, than men. On the other hand, men, within my knowledge, are
decidedly vainer of their personal attractions, and more vexatiously
anxious to have them done full justice to on canvas, than women. Taking
both sexes together, I have found young people, for the most part, more
gentle, more reasonable, and more considerate than old. And, summing
up, in a general way, my experience of different ranks (which extends,
let me premise, all the way down from peers to publicans), I have met
with most of my formal and ungracious receptions among rich people of
uncertain social standing; the highest classes and the lowest among my
employers almost always contrive--in widely different ways, of course--
to make me feel at home as soon as I enter their houses.
The one great obstacle that I have to contend against in the practice
of my profession is not, as some persons may imagine, the difficulty of
making my sitters keep their heads still while I paint them, but the
difficulty of getting them to preserve the natural look and the every-
day peculiarities of dress and manner. People will assume an
expression, will brush up their hair, will correct any little
characteristic carelessness in their apparel--will, in short, when they
want to have their likenesses taken, look as if they were sitting for
their pictures. If I paint them under these artificial circumstances, I
fail, of course, to present them in their habitual aspect; and my
portrait, as a necessary consequence, disappoints everybody, the sitter
always included. When we wish to judge of a man's character by his
handwriting, we want his customary scrawl dashed off with his common
workaday pen, not his best small text traced laboriously with the
finest procurable crow-quill point. So it is with portrait-painting,
which is, after all, nothing but a right reading of the externals of
character recognisably presented to the view of others.
Experience, after repeated trials, has proved to me that the only way
of getting sitters who persist in assuming a set look to resume their
habitual expression is to lead them into talking about some subject in
which they are greatly interested. If I can only beguile them into
speaking earnestly, no matter on what topic, I am sure of recovering
their natural expression; sure of seeing all the little precious every-
day peculiarities of the man or woman peep out, one after another,
quite unawares. The long maundering stories about nothing, the
wearisome recitals of petty grievances, the local anecdotes unrelieved
by the faintest suspicion of anything like general interest, which I
have been condemned to hear, as a consequence of thawing the ice off
the features of formal sitters by the method just described, would fill
hundreds of volumes and promote the repose of thousands of readers. On
the other hand, if I have suffered under the tediousness of the many, I
have not been without my compensating gains from the wisdom and
experience of the few. To some of my sitters I have been indebted for
information which has enlarged my mind, to some for advice which has
lightened my heart, to some for narratives of strange adventure which
riveted my attention at the time, which have served to interest and
amuse my fireside circle for many years past, and which are now, I
would fain hope, destined to make kind friends for me among a wider
audience than any that I have yet addressed.
Singularly enough, almost all the best stories that I have heard from
my sitters have been told by accident. I only remember two cases in
which a story was volunteered to me; and, although I have often tried
the experiment, I cannot call to mind even a single instance in which
leading questions (as lawyers call them) on my part, addressed to a
sitter, ever produced any result worth recording. Over and over again I
have been disastrously successful in encouraging dull people to weary
me. But the clever people who have something interesting to say seem,
so far as I have observed them, to acknowledge no other stimulant than
chance. For every story, excepting one, I have been indebted, in the
first instance, to the capricious influence of the same chance.
Something my sitter has seen about me, something I have remarked in my
sitter, or in the room in which I take the likeness, or in the
neighbourhood through which I pass on my way to work, has suggested the
necessary association, or has started the right train of recollections,
and then the story appeared to begin of its own accord. Occasionally
the most casual notice, on my part, of some very unpromising object has
smoothed the way for the relation of a long and interesting narrative.
I first heard one of the most dramatic stories merely through being
carelessly inquisitive to know the history of a stuffed poodle-dog.
It is thus not without reason that I lay some stress on the
desirableness of prefacing the following narrative by a brief account
of the curious manner in which I became possessed of it. As to my
capacity for repeating the story correctly, I can answer for it that my
memory may be trusted. I may claim it as a merit, because it is, after
all, a mechanical one, that I forget nothing, and that I can call long-
past conversations and events as readily to my recollection as if they
had happened but a few weeks ago. Of two things at least I feel
tolerably certain before-hand, in meditating over its contents: first,
that I can repeat correctly all that I have heard; and, secondly, that
I have never missed anything worth hearing when my sitters were
addressing me on an interesting subject. Although I cannot take the
lead in talking while I am engaged in painting, I can listen while
others speak, and work all the better for it.
So much in the way of general preface to the pages for which I am about
to ask the reader's attention. Let me now advance to particulars, and
describe how I came to hear the story. I begin with it because it is
the story that I have oftenest "rehearsed," to borrow a phrase from the
stage. Wherever I go, I am sooner or later sure to tell it. Only last
night I was persuaded into repeating it once more by the inhabitants of
the farm-house in which I am now staying.
Not many years ago, on returning from a short holiday visit to a friend
settled in Paris, I found professional letters awaiting me at my
agent's in London, which required my immediate presence in Liverpool.
Without stopping to unpack, I proceeded by the first conveyance to my
new destination; and, calling at the picture-dealer's shop where
portrait-painting engagements were received for me, found to my great
satisfaction that I had remunerative employment in prospect, in and
about Liverpool, for at least two months to come. I was putting up my
letters in high spirits, and was just leaving the picture-dealer's shop
to look out for comfortable lodgings, when I was met at the door by the
landlord of one of the largest hotels in Liverpool--an old acquaintance
whom I had known as manager of a tavern in London in my student days.
"Mr. Kerby!" he exclaimed, in great astonishment. "What an unexpected
meeting! the last man in the world whom I expected to see, and yet the
very man whose services I want to make use of!"
"What! more work for me?" said I. "Are all the people in Liverpool
going to have their portraits painted?"
"I only know of one," replied the landlord, "a gentleman staying at my
hotel, who wants a chalk drawing done of him. I was on my way here to
inquire for any artist whom our picture-dealing friend could recommend.
How glad I am that I met you before I had committed myself to employing
"Is this likeness wanted at once?" I asked, thinking of the number of
engagements that I had already got in my pocket.
"Immediately--to-day--this very hour, if possible," said the landlord.
"Mr. Faulkner, the gentleman I am speaking of, was to have sailed
yesterday for the Brazils from this place; but the wind shifted last
night to the wrong quarter, and he came ashore again this morning. He
may, of course, be detained here for some time; but he may also be
called on board ship at half an hour's notice, if the wind shifts back
again in the right direction. This uncertainty makes it a matter of
importance that the likeness should be begun immediately. Undertake it
if you possibly can, for Mr. Faulkner is a liberal gentleman, who is
sure to give you your own terms."
I reflected for a minute or two. The portrait was only wanted in chalk,
and would not take long; besides, I might finish it in the evening, if
my other engagements pressed hard upon me in the daytime. Why not leave
my luggage at the picture-dealer's, put off looking for lodgings till
night, and secure the new commission boldly by going back at once with
the landlord to the hotel? I decided on following this course almost as
soon as the idea occurred to me; put my chalks in my pocket, and a
sheet of drawing-paper in the first of my portfolios that came to hand;
and so presented myself before Mr. Faulkner, ready to take his
likeness, literally at five minutes' notice.
I found him a very pleasant, intelligent man, young and handsome. He
had been a great traveller, had visited all the wonders of the East,
and was now about to explore the wilds of the vast South American
continent. Thus much he told me good-humouredly and unconstrainedly
while I was preparing my drawing materials.
As soon as I had put him in the right light and position, and had
seated myself opposite to him, he changed the subject of conversation,
and asked me, a little confusedly as I thought, if it was not a
customary practice among portrait-painters to gloss over the faults in
their sitters' faces, and to make as much as possible of any good
points which their features might possess.
"Certainly," I answered. "You have described the whole art and mystery
of successful portrait-painting in a few words."
"May I beg, then," said he, "that you will depart from the usual
practice in my case, and draw me with all my defects, exactly as I am?
The fact is," he went on, after a moment's pause, "the likeness you are
now preparing to take is intended for my mother. my roving disposition
makes me a great anxiety to her, and she parted from me this last time
very sadly and unwillingly. I don't know how the idea came into my
head, but it struck me this morning that I could not better employ the
time while I was delayed here on shore than by getting my likeness done
to send to her as a keepsake. She has no portrait of me since I was a
child, and she is sure to value a drawing of me more than anything else
I could send to her. I only trouble you with this explanation to prove
that I am really sincere in my wish to be drawn unflatteringly, exactly
as I am."
Secretly respecting and admiring him for what he had just said, I
promised that his directions should be implicitly followed, and began
to work immediately. Before I had pursued my occupation for ten
minutes, the conversation began to flag, and the usual obstacle to my
success with a sitter gradually set itself up between us. Quite
unconsciously, of course, Mr. Faulkner stiffened his neck, shut his
mouth, and contracted his eyebrows--evidently under the impression that
he was facilitating the process of taking his portrait by making his
face as like a lifeless mask as possible. All traces of his natural
animated expression were fast disappearing, and he was beginning to
change into a heavy and rather melancholy-looking man.
This complete alteration was of no great consequence so long as I was
only engaged in drawing the outline of his face and the general form of
his features. I accordingly worked on doggedly for more than an hour;
then left off to point my chalks again, and to give my sitter a few
minutes' rest. Thus far the likeness had not suffered through Mr.
Faulkner's unfortunate notion of the right way of sitting for his
portrait; but the time of difficulty, as I well knew, was to come. It
was impossible for me to think of putting any expression into the
drawing unless I could contrive some means, when he resumed his chair,
of making him look like himself again. "I will talk to him about
foreign parts," thought I, "and try if I can't make him forget that he
is sitting for his picture in that way."
While I was pointing my chalks, Mr. Faulkner was walking up and down
the room. He chanced to see the portfolio I had brought with me leaning
against the wall, and asked if there were any sketches in it. I told
him there were a few which I had made during my recent stay in Paris.
"In Paris?" he repeated, with a look of interest; "may I see them?"
I gave him the permission he asked as a matter of course. Sitting down,
he took the portfolio on his knee, and began to look through it. He
turned over the first five sketches rapidly enough; but when he came to
the sixth I saw his face flush directly, and observed that he took the
drawing out of the portfolio, carried it to the window, and remained
silently absorbed in the contemplation of it for full five minutes.
After that he turned round to me, and asked very anxiously if I had any
objection to parting with that sketch.
It was the least interesting drawing of the collection--merely a view
in one of the streets running by the backs of the houses in the Palais
Royal. Some four or five of these houses were comprised in the view,
which was of no particular use to me in any way, and which was too
valueless, as a work of art, for me to think of selling it. I begged
his acceptance of it at once. He thanked me quite warmly; and then,
seeing that I looked a little surprised at the odd selection he had
made from my sketches, laughingly asked me if I could guess why he had
been so anxious to become possessed of the view which I had given him.
"Probably," I answered, "there is some remarkable historical
association connected with that street at the back of the Palais Royal,
of which I am ignorant."
"No," said Mr. Faulkner; "at least none that /I/ know of. The only
association connected with the place in /my/ mind is a purely personal
association. Look at this house in your drawing--the house with the
water-pipe running down it from top to bottom. I once passed a night
there--a night I shall never forget to the day of my death. I have had
some awkward travelling adventures in my time; but /that/ adventure!
Well, never mind, suppose we begin the sitting. I make but a bad return
for your kindness in giving me the sketch by thus wasting your time in
"Come! come!" thought I, as he went back to the sitter's chair, "I
shall see your natural expression on your face if I can only get you to
talk about that adventure." It was easy enough to lead him in the right
direction. At the first hint from me, he returned to the subject of the
house in the back street. Without, I hope, showing any undue curiosity,
I contrived to let him see that I felt a deep interest in everything he
now said. After two or three preliminary hesitations, he at last, to my
great joy, fairly started on the narrative of his adventure. In the
interest of his subject he soon completely forgot that he was sitting
for his portrait,--the very expression that I wanted came over his
face,--and my drawing proceeded toward completion, in the right
direction, and to the best purpose. At every fresh touch I felt more
and more certain that I was now getting the better of my grand
difficulty; and I enjoyed the additional gratification of having my
work lightened by the recital of a true story, which possessed, in my
estimation, all the excitement of the most exciting romance.
This, as I recollect it, is how Mr. Faulkner told me his adventure.
THE TRAVELLER'S STORY OF A
TERRIBLY STRANGE BED
Shortly after my education at college was finished, I happened to be
staying at Paris with an English friend. We were both young men then,
and lived, I am afraid, rather a wild life, in the delightful city of
our sojourn. One night we were idling about the neighbourhood of the
Palais Royal, doubtful to what amusement we should next betake
ourselves. My friend proposed a visit to Frascati's; but his suggestion
was not to my taste. I knew Frascati's, as the French saying is, by
heart; had lost and won plenty of five-franc pieces there, merely for
amusement's sake, until it was amusement no longer, and was thoroughly
tired, in fact, of all the ghastly respectabilities of such a social
anomaly as a respectable gambling-house. "For Heaven's sake," said I to
my friend, "let us go somewhere where we can see a little genuine,
blackguard, poverty-stricken gaming with no false gingerbread glitter
thrown over it all. Let us get away from fashionable Frascati's, to a
house where they don't mind letting in a man with a ragged coat, or a
man with no coat, ragged or otherwise." "Very well," said my friend,
"we needn't go out of the Palais Royal to find the sort of company you
want. Here's the place just before us; as blackguard a place, by all
report, as you could possibly wish to see." In another minute we
arrived at the door and entered the house, the back of which you have
drawn in your sketch.
When we got upstairs, and had left our hats and sticks with the
doorkeeper, we were admitted into the chief gambling-room. We did not
find many people assembled there. But, few as the men were who looked
up at us on our entrance, they were all types--lamentably true types--
of their respective classes.
We had come to see blackguards; but these men were something worse.
There is a comic side, more or less appreciable, in all blackguardism--
here there was nothing but tragedy--mute, weird tragedy. The quiet in
the room was horrible. The thin, haggard, long-haired young man, whose
sunken eyes fiercely watched the turning up of the cards, never spoke;
the flabby, fat-faced, pimply player, who pricked his piece of
pasteboard perseveringly, to register how often black won, and how
often red--never spoke; the dirty, wrinkled old man, with the vulture
eyes and the darned great-coat, who had lost his last sou, and still
looked on desperately, after he could play no longer--never spoke. Even
the voice of the croupier sounded as if it were strangely dulled and
thickened in the atmosphere of the room. I had entered the place to
laugh, but the spectacle before me was something to weep over. I soon
found it necessary to take refuge in excitement from the depression of
spirits which was fast stealing on me. Unfortunately I sought the
nearest excitement, by going to the table and beginning to play. Still
more unfortunately, as the event will show, I won--won prodigiously;
won incredibly; won at such a rate that the regular players at the
table crowded round me; and staring at my stakes with hungry,
superstitious eyes, whispered to one another that the English stranger
was going to break the bank.
The game was Rouge et Noir. I had played at it in every city in Europe,
without, however, the care or the wish to study the Theory of Chances--
that philosopher's stone of all gamblers! And a gambler, in the strict
sense of the word, I had never been. I was heart-whole from the
corroding passion for play. My gaming was a mere idle amusement. I
never resorted to it by necessity, because I never knew what it was to
want money. I never practised it so incessantly as to lose more than I
could afford, or to gain more than I could coolly pocket without being
thrown off my balance by my good luck. In short, I had hitherto
frequented gambling-tables--just as I frequented ball-rooms and opera-
houses--because they amused me, and because I had nothing better to do
with my leisure hours.
But on this occasion it was very different--now, for the first time in
my life, I felt what the passion for play really was. My success first
bewildered, and then, in the most literal meaning of the word,
intoxicated me. Incredible as it may appear, it is nevertheless true,
that I only lost when I attempted to estimate chances, and played
according to previous calculation. If I left everything to luck, and
staked without any care or consideration, I was sure to win--to win in
the face of every recognized probability in favour of the bank. At
first some of the men present ventured their money safely enough on my
colour; but I speedily increased my stakes to sums which they dared not
risk. One after another they left off playing, and breathlessly looked
on at my game.
Still, time after time, I staked higher and higher, and still won. The
excitement in the room rose to fever pitch. The silence was interrupted
by a deep-muttered chorus of oaths and exclamations in different
languages, every time the gold was shovelled across to my side of the
table--even the imperturbable croupier dashed his rake on the floor in
a (French) fury of astonishment at my success. But one man present
preserved his self-possession, and that man was my friend. He came to
my side, and whispering in English, begged me to leave the place,
satisfied with what I had already gained. I must do him the justice to
say that he repeated his warnings and entreaties several times, and
only left me and went away after I had rejected his advice (I was to
all intents and purposes gambling drunk) in terms which rendered it
impossible for him to address me again that night.
Shortly after he had gone, a hoarse voice behind me cried: "Permit me,
my dear sir--permit me to restore to their proper place two napoleons
which you have dropped. Wonderful luck, sir! I pledge you my word of
honour, as an old soldier, in the course of my long experience in this
sort of thing, I never saw such luck as yours--never! Go on, sir--
/Sacre mille bombes!/ Go on boldly, and break the bank!"
I turned round and saw, nodding and smiling at me with inveterate
civility, a tall man, dressed in a frogged and braided surtout. If I
had been in my senses, I should have considered him, personally, as
being rather a suspicious specimen of an old soldier. He had goggling
bloodshot eyes, mangy moustaches, and a broken nose. His voice betrayed
a barrack-room intonation of the worst order, and he had the dirtiest
pair of hands I ever saw--even in France. These little personal
peculiarities exercised, however, no repelling influence on me. In the
mad excitement, the reckless triumph of that moment, I was ready to
"fraternize" with anybody who encouraged me in my game. I accepted the
old soldier's offered pinch of snuff; clapped him on the back, and
swore he was the honestest fellow in the world--the most glorious relic
of the Grand Army that I had ever met with. "Go on!" cried my military
friend, snapping his fingers in ecstasy--"Go on, and win! Break the
bank--/Mille tonnerres!/ my gallant English comrade, break the bank!"
And I /did/ go on--went on at such a rate, that in another quarter of
an hour the croupier called out, "Gentlemen, the bank has discontinued
for to-night." All the notes, and all the gold in that "bank" now lay
in a heap under my hands; the whole floating capital of the gambling-
house was waiting to pour into my pockets!
"Tie up the money in your pocket-handkerchief, my worthy sir," said the
old soldier, as I wildly plunged my hands into my heap of gold. "Tie it
up, as we used to tie up a bit of dinner in the Grand Army; your
winnings are too heavy for any breeches-pockets that ever were sewed.
There! that's it--shovel them in, notes and all! /Credie!/ what luck!
Stop! another napoleon on the floor! Ah! /sacre petit polisson de
Napoleon!/ have I found thee at last? Now then, sir--two tight double
knots each way with your honourable permission, and the money's safe.
Feel it! feel it, fortunate sir! hard and round as a cannon-ball--/Ah,
bah!/ if they had only fired such cannon-balls at us at Austerlitz--
/nom d'une pipe!/ if they only had! And now, as an ancient grenadier,
as an ex-brave of the French army, what remains for me to do? I ask
what? Simply this: to entreat my valued English friend to drink a
bottle of champagne with me, and toast the goddess Fortune in foaming
goblets before we part!"
"Excellent ex-brave! Convivial ancient grenadier! Champagne by all
means! An English cheer for an old soldier! Hurrah! hurrah! Another
English cheer for the goddess Fortune! Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!"
"Bravo! the Englishman; the amiable, gracious Englishman, in whose
veins circulates the vivacious blood of France! Another glass? /Ah,
bah!/--the bottle is empty! Never mind! /Vive le vin!/ I, the old
soldier, order another bottle, and half a pound of bonbons with it!"
"No, no, ex-brave; never--ancient grenadier! /Your/ bottle last time;
my bottle this. Behold it! Toast away! The French Army! the great
Napoleon! the present company! the croupier! the honest croupier's wife
and daughters--if he has any! the Ladies generally! everybody in the
By the time the second bottle of champagne was emptied, I felt as if I
had been drinking liquid fire--my brain seemed all aflame. No excess in
wine had ever had this effect on me before in my life. Was it the
result of a stimulant acting upon my system when I was in a highly
excited state? Was my stomach in a particularly disordered condition?
Or was the champagne amazingly strong?
"Ex-brave of the French Army!" cried I, in a mad state of exhilaration,
"I am on fire! how are you? You have set me on fire. Do you hear, my
hero of Austerlitz? Let us have a third bottle of champagne to put the
The old soldier wagged his head, rolled his goggle-eyes, until I
expected to see them slip out of their sockets; placed his dirty
forefinger by the side of his broken nose; solemnly ejaculated
"Coffee!" and immediately ran off into an inner room.
The word pronounced by the eccentric veteran seemed to have a magical
effect on the rest of the company present. With one accord they all
rose to depart. Probably they had expected to profit by my
intoxication; but finding that my new friend was benevolently bent on
preventing me from getting dead drunk, had now abandoned all hope of
thriving pleasantly on my winnings. Whatever their motive might be, at
any rate they went away in a body. When the old soldier returned, and
sat down again opposite to me at the table, we had the room to
ourselves. I could see the croupier, in a sort of vestibule which
opened out of it, eating his supper in solitude. The silence was now
deeper than ever.
A sudden change, too, had come over the "ex-brave". He assumed a
portentously solemn look; and when he spoke to me again, his speech was
ornamented by no oaths, enforced by no finger-snapping, enlivened by no
apostrophes or exclamations.
"Listen, my dear sir," said he, in mysteriously confidential tones--
"listen to an old soldier's advice. I have been to the mistress of the
house (a very charming woman, with a genius for cookery!) to impress on
her the necessity of making us some particularly strong and good
coffee. You must drink this coffee in order to get rid of your little
amiable exaltation of spirits before you think of going home--you
/must/, my good and gracious friend! With all that money to take home
to-night, it is a sacred duty to yourself to have your wits about you.
You are known to be a winner to an enormous extent by several gentlemen
present to-night, who, in a certain point of view, are very worthy and
excellent fellows; but they are mortal men, my dear sir, and they have
their amiable weaknesses. Need I say more? Ah, no, no! you understand
me! Now, this is what you must do--send for a cabriolet when you feel
quite well again--draw up all the windows when you get into it--and
tell the driver to take you home only through the large and well-
lighted thoroughfares. Do this; and you and your money will be safe. Do
this; and to-morrow you will thank an old soldier for giving you a word
of honest advice."
Just as the ex-brave ended his oration in very lachrymose tones, the
coffee came in, ready poured out in two cups. My attentive friend
handed me one of the cups with a bow. I was parched with thirst, and
drank it off at a draught. Almost instantly afterwards, I was seized
with a fit of giddiness, and felt more completely intoxicated than
ever. The room whirled round and round furiously; the old soldier
seemed to be regularly bobbing up and down before me like the piston of
a steam-engine. I was half deafened by a violent singing in my ears; a
feeling of utter bewilderment, helplessness, idiocy, overcame me. I
rose from my chair, holding on by the table to keep my balance; and
stammered out that I felt dreadfully unwell--so unwell that I did not
know how I was to get home.
"My dear friend," answered the old soldier--and even his voice seemed
to be bobbing up and down as he spoke--"my dear friend, it would be
madness to go home in /your/ state; you would be sure to lose your
money; you might be robbed and murdered with the greatest ease. /I/ am
going to sleep here; do you sleep here, too--they make up capital beds
in this house--take one; sleep off the effects of the wine, and go home
safely with your winnings to-morrow--to-morrow, in broad daylight."
I had but two ideas left: one, that I must never let go hold of my
handkerchief full of money; the other, that I must lie down somewhere
immediately, and fall off into a comfortable sleep. So I agreed to the
proposal about the bed, and took the offered arm of the old soldier,
carrying my money with my disengaged hand. Preceded by the croupier, we
passed along some passages and up a flight of stairs into the bedroom
which I was to occupy. The ex-brave shook me warmly by the hand,
proposed that we should breakfast together, and then, followed by the
croupier, left me for the night.
I ran to the wash-hand stand; drank some of the water in my jug; poured
the rest out, and plunged my face into it; then sat down in a chair and
tried to compose myself. I soon felt better. The change for my lungs,
from the fetid atmosphere of the gambling-room to the cool air of the
apartment I now occupied, the almost equally refreshing change for my
eyes, from the glaring gaslights of the "salon" to the dim, quiet
flicker of one bedroom candle, aided wonderfully the restorative
effects of cold water. The giddiness left me, and I began to feel a
little like a reasonable being again. My first thought was of the risk
of sleeping all night in a gambling-house; my second, of the still
greater risk of trying to get out after the house was closed, and of
going home alone at night through the streets of Paris with a large sum
of money about me. I had slept in worse places than this on my travels;
so I determined to lock, bolt, and barricade my door, and take my
chance till the next morning.
Accordingly, I secured myself against all intrusion; looked under the
bed, and into the cupboard; tried the fastening of the window; and
then, satisfied that I had taken every proper precaution, pulled off my
upper clothing, put my light, which was a dim one, on the hearth among
a feathery litter of wood-ashes, and got into bed, with the
handkerchief full of money under my pillow.
I soon felt not only that I could not go to sleep, but that I could not
even close my eyes. I was wide awake, and in a high fever. Every nerve
in my body trembled--every one of my senses seemed to be
preternaturally sharpened. I tossed and rolled, and tried every kind of
position, and perseveringly sought out the cold corners of the bed, and
all to no purpose. Now I thrust my arms over the clothes; now I poked
them under the clothes; now I violently shot my legs straight out down
to the bottom of the bed; now I convulsively coiled them up as near my
chin as they would go; now I shook out my crumpled pillow, changed it
to the cool side, patted it flat, and lay down quietly on my back; now
I fiercely doubled it in two, set it up on end, thrust it against the
board of the bed, and tried a sitting posture. Every effort was in
vain; I groaned with vexation as I felt that I was in for a sleepless
What could I do? I had no book to read. And yet, unless I found out
some method of diverting my mind, I felt certain that I was in the
condition to imagine all sorts of horrors; to rack my brain with
forebodings of every possible and impossible danger; in short, to pass
the night in suffering all conceivable varieties of nervous terror.
I raised myself on my elbow, and looked about the room--which was
brightened by a lovely moonlight pouring straight through the window--
to see if it contained any pictures or ornaments that I could at all
clearly distinguish. While my eyes wandered from wall to wall, a
remembrance of Le Maistre's delightful little book, "Voyage autour de
ma Chambre," occurred to me. I resolved to imitate the French author,
and find occupation and amusement enough to relieve the tedium of my
wakefulness, by making a mental inventory of every article of furniture
I could see, and by following up to their sources the multitude of
associations which even a chair, a table, or a wash-hand stand may be
made to call forth.
In the nervous unsettled state of my mind at that moment, I found it
much easier to make my inventory than to make my reflections, and
thereupon soon gave up all hope of thinking in Le Maistre's fanciful
track--or, indeed, of thinking at all. I looked about the room at the
different articles of furniture, and did nothing more.
There was, first, the bed I was lying in; a four-post bed, of all
things in the world to meet with in Paris--yes, a thoroughly clumsy
British four-poster, with the regular top lined with chintz--the
regular fringed valance all round--the regular stifling, unwholesome
curtains, which I remembered having mechanically drawn back against the
posts without particularly noticing the bed when I first got into the
room. Then there was the marble-topped wash-hand stand, from which the
water I had spilled, in my hurry to pour it out, was still dripping,
slowly and more slowly, on to the brick floor. Then two small chairs,
with my coat, waistcoat, and trousers flung on them. Then a large
elbow-chair covered with dirty-white dimity, with my cravat and shirt
collar thrown over the back. Then a chest of drawers with two of the
brass handles off, and a tawdry, broken china inkstand placed on it by
way of ornament for the top. Then the dressing-table, adorned by a very
small looking-glass, and a very large pincushion. Then the window--an
unusually large window. Then a dark old picture, which the feeble
candle dimly showed me. It was a picture of a fellow in a high Spanish
hat, crowned with a plume of towering feathers. A swarthy, sinister
ruffian, looking upward, shading his eyes with his hand, and looking
intently upward--it might be at some tall gallows at which he was going
to be hanged. At any rate, he had the appearance of thoroughly
This picture put a kind of constraint upon me to look upward too--at
the top of the bed. It was a gloomy and not an interesting object, and
I looked back at the picture. I counted the feathers in the man's hat--
they stood out in relief--three white, two green. I observed the crown
of his hat, which was of conical shape, according to the fashion
supposed to have been favoured by Guido Fawkes. I wondered what he was
looking up at. It couldn't be at the stars; such a desperado was
neither astrologer nor astronomer. It must be at the high gallows, and
he was going to be hanged presently. Would the executioner come into
possession of his conical crowned hat and plume of feathers? I counted
the feathers again--three white, two green.
While I still lingered over this very improving and intellectual
employment, my thoughts insensibly began to wander. The moonlight
shining into the room reminded me of a certain moonlight night in
England--the night after a picnic party in a Welsh valley. Every
incident of the drive homeward, through lovely scenery, which the
moonlight made lovelier than ever, came back to my remembrance, though
I had never given the picnic a thought for years; though, if I had
/tried/ to recollect it, I could certainly have recalled little or
nothing of that scene long past. Of all the wonderful faculties that
help to tell us we are immortal, which speaks the sublime truth more
eloquently than memory? Here was I, in a strange house of the most
suspicious character, in a situation of uncertainty, and even of peril,
which might seem to make the cool exercise of my recollection almost
out of the question; nevertheless, remembering, quite involuntarily,
places, people, conversations, minute circumstances of every kind,
which I had thought forgotten for ever; which I could not possibly have
recalled at will, even under the most favourable auspices. And what
cause had produced in a moment the whole of this strange, complicated,
mysterious effect? Nothing but some rays of moonlight shining in at my
I was still thinking of the picnic--of our merriment on the drive
home--of the sentimental young lady who /would quote/ "Childe Harold"
because it was moonlight. I was absorbed by these past scenes and past
amusements, when, in an instant, the thread on which my memories hung
snapped asunder; my attention immediately came back to present things
more vividly than ever, and I found myself, I neither knew why nor
wherefore, looking hard at the picture again.
Looking for what?
Good God! the man had pulled his hat down on his brows! No! the hat
itself was gone! Where was the conical crown? Where the feathers--three
white, two green? Not there! In place of the hat and feathers, what
dusky object was it that now hid his forehead, his eyes, his shading
Was the bed moving?
I turned on my back and looked up. Was I mad? drunk? dreaming? giddy
again? or was the top of the bed really moving down--sinking slowly,
regularly, silently, horribly, right down throughout the whole of its
length and breadth--right down upon me, as I lay underneath?
My blood seemed to stand still. A deadly paralysing coldness stole all
over me as I turned my head round on the pillow and determined to test
whether the bedtop was really moving or not, by keeping my eye on the
man in the picture.
The next look in that direction was enough. The dull, black, frowzy
outline of the valance above me was within an inch of being parallel
with his waist. I still looked breathlessly. And steadily and slowly--
very slowly--I saw the figure, and the line of frame below the figure,
vanish, as the valance moved down before it.
I am, constitutionally, anything but timid. I have been on more than
one occasion in peril of my life, and have not lost my self-possession
for an instant; but when the conviction first settled on my mind that
the bed-top was really moving, was steadily and continuously sinking
down upon me, I looked up shuddering, helpless, panic-stricken, beneath
the hideous machinery for murder, which was advancing closer and closer
to suffocate me where I lay.
I looked up, motionless, speechless, breathless. The candle, fully
spent, went out; but the moonlight still brightened the room. Down and
down, without pausing and without sounding, came the bedtop, and still
my panic terror seemed to bind me faster and faster to the mattress on
which I lay--down and down it sank, till the dusty odour from the
lining of the canopy came stealing into my nostrils.
At that final moment the instinct of self-preservation startled me out
of my trance, and I moved at last. There was just room for me to roll
myself sideways off the bed. As I dropped noiselessly to the floor, the
edge of the murderous canopy touched me on the shoulder.
Without stopping to draw my breath, without wiping the cold sweat from
my face, I rose instantly on my knees to watch the bedtop. I was
literally spellbound by it. If I had heard footsteps behind me, I could
not have turned round; if a means of escape had been miraculously
provided for me, I could not have moved to take advantage of it. The
whole life in me was, at that moment, concentrated in my eyes.
It descended--the whole canopy, with the fringe round it, came down--
down--close down; so close that there was not room now to squeeze my
finger between the bedtop and the bed. I felt at the sides, and
discovered that what had appeared to me from beneath to be the ordinary
light canopy of a four-post bed was in reality a thick, broad mattress,
the substance of which was concealed by the valance and its fringe. I
looked up and saw the four posts rising hideously bare. In the middle
of the bedtop was a huge wooden screw that had evidently worked it down
through a hole in the ceiling, just as ordinary presses are worked down
on the substance selected for compression. The frightful apparatus
moved without making the faintest noise. There had been no creaking as
it came down; there was now not the faintest sound from the room above.
Amid a dead and awful silence I beheld before me--in the nineteenth
century, and in the civilized capital of France--such a machine for
secret murder by suffocation as might have existed in the worst days of
the Inquisition, in the lonely inns among the Harz Mountains, in the
mysterious tribunals of Westphalia! Still, as I looked on it, I could
not move, I could hardly breathe, but I began to recover the power of
thinking, and in a moment I discovered the murderous conspiracy framed
against me in all its horror.
My cup of coffee had been drugged, and drugged too strongly. I had been
saved from being smothered by having taken an overdose of some
narcotic. How I had chafed and fretted at the fever-fit which had
preserved my life by keeping me awake! How recklessly I had confided
myself to the two wretches who had led me into this room, determined,
for the sake of my winnings, to kill me in my sleep by the surest and
most horrible contrivance for secretly accomplishing my destruction!
How many men, winners like me, had slept, as I had proposed to sleep,
in that bed, and had never been seen or heard of more! I shuddered at
the bare idea of it.
But, ere long, all thought was again suspended by the sight of the
murderous canopy moving once more. After it had remained on the bed--as
nearly as I could guess--about ten minutes, it began to move up again.
The villains who worked it from above evidently believed that their
purpose was now accomplished. Slowly and silently, as it had descended,
that horrible bedtop rose towards its former place. When it reached the
upper extremities of the four posts, it reached the ceiling, too.
Neither hole nor screw could be seen; the bed became in appearance an
ordinary bed again--the canopy an ordinary canopy--even to the most
Now, for the first time, I was able to move--to rise from my knees--to
dress myself in my upper clothing--and to consider of how I should
escape. If I betrayed by the smallest noise that the attempt to
suffocate me had failed, I was certain to be murdered. Had I made any
noise already? I listened intently, looking towards the door.
No! no footsteps in the passage outside--no sound of a tread, light or
heavy, in the room above--absolute silence everywhere. Besides locking
and bolting my door, I had moved an old wooden chest against it, which
I had found under the bed. To remove this chest (my blood ran cold as I
thought of what its contents might be!) without making some disturbance
was impossible; and, moreover, to think of escaping through the house,
now barred up for the night, was sheer insanity. Only one chance was
left me--the window. I stole to it on tiptoe.
My bedroom was on the first floor, above an entresol, and looked into a
back street. I raised my hand to open the window, knowing that on that
action hung, by the merest hairbreadth, my chance of safety. They keep
vigilant watch in a house of murder. If any part of the frame cracked,
if the hinge creaked, I was a lost man! It must have occupied me at
least five minutes, reckoning by time--five /hours/, reckoning by
suspense--to open that window. I succeeded in doing it silently--in
doing it with all the dexterity of a house-breaker--and then looked
down into the street. To leap the distance beneath me would be almost
certain destruction! Next, I looked round at the sides of the house.
Down the left side ran a thick water-pipe--it passed close by the outer
edge of the window. The moment I saw the pipe I knew I was saved. My
breath came and went freely for the first time since I had seen the
canopy of the bed moving down upon me!
To some men the means of escape which I had discovered might have
seemed difficult and dangerous enough--to /me/ the prospect of slipping
down the pipe into the street did not suggest even a thought of peril.
I had always been accustomed, by the practice of gymnastics, to keep up
my school-boy powers as a daring and expert climber; and knew that my
head, hands, and feet would serve me faithfully in any hazards of
ascent or descent. I had already got one leg over the window-sill, when
I remembered the handkerchief filled with money under my pillow. I
could well have afforded to leave it behind me, but I was revengefully
determined that the miscreants of the gambling-house should miss their
plunder as well as their victim. So I went back to the bed and tied the
heavy handkerchief at my back by my cravat.
Just as I had made it tight and fixed it in a comfortable place, I
thought I heard a sound of breathing outside the door. The chill
feeling of horror ran through me again as I listened. No! dead silence
still in the passage--I had only heard the night air blowing softly
into the room. The next moment I was on the window-sill, and the next I
had a firm grip on the water-pipe with my hands and knees.
I slid down into the street easily and quietly, as I thought I should,
and immediately set off at the top of my speed to a branch "prefecture"
of Police, which I knew was situated in the immediate neighbourhood. A
"subprefect," and several picked men among his subordinates, happened
to be up, maturing, I believe, some scheme for discovering the
perpetrator of a mysterious murder which all Paris was talking of just
then. When I began my story, in a breathless hurry and in very bad
French, I could see that the subprefect suspected me of being a drunken
Englishman who had robbed somebody; but he soon altered his opinion as
I went on, and before I had anything like concluded, he shoved all the
papers before him into a drawer, put on his hat, supplied me with
another (for I was bareheaded), ordered a file of soldiers, desired his
expert followers to get ready all sorts of tools for breaking open
doors and ripping up brick flooring, and took my arm, in the most
friendly and familiar manner possible, to lead me with him out of the
house. I will venture to say that when the subprefect was a little boy,
and was taken for the first time to the play, he was not half as much
pleased as he was now at the job in prospect for him at the gambling-
Away we went through the streets, the subprefect cross-examining and
congratulating me in the same breath as we marched at the head of our
formidable posse comitatus. Sentinels were placed at the back and front
of the house the moment we got to it; a tremendous battery of knocks
was directed against the door; a light appeared at a window; I was told
to conceal myself behind the police; then came more knocks and a cry of
"Open in the name of the law!" At that terrible summons bolts and locks
gave way before an invisible hand, and the moment after the subprefect
was in the passage, confronting a waiter half dressed and ghastly pale.
This was the short dialogue which immediately took place:
"We want to see the Englishman who is sleeping in this house."
"He went away hours ago."
"He did no such thing. His friend went away; /he/ remained. Show us to
"I swear to you, Monsieur le Sous-prefet, he is not here! he--"
"I swear to you, Monsieur le Garcon, he is. He slept here; he didn't
find your bed comfortable; he came to us to complain of it; here he is
among my men; and here am I ready to look for a flea or two in his
bedstead. Renaudin!" (calling to one of the subordinates, and pointing
to the waiter), "collar that man, and tie his hands behind him. Now
then, gentlemen, let us walk upstairs!"
Every man and woman in the house was secured--the "old soldier" the
first. Then I identified the bed in which I had slept, and then we went
into the room above.
No object that was at all extraordinary appeared in any part of it. The
subprefect looked round the place, commanded everybody to be silent,
stamped twice on the floor, called for a candle, looked attentively at
the spot he had stamped on, and ordered the flooring there to be
carefully taken up. This was done in no time. Lights were produced, and
we saw a deep raftered cavity between the floor of this room and the
ceiling of the room beneath. Through this cavity there ran
perpendicularly a sort of case of iron, thickly greased; and inside the
case appeared the screw, which communicated with the bedtop below.
Extra lengths of screw, freshly oiled; levers covered with felt; all
the complete upper works of a heavy press--constructed with infernal
ingenuity so as to join the fixtures below, and when taken to pieces
again to go into the smallest possible compass--were next discovered
and pulled out on the floor. After some little difficulty the
subprefect succeeded in putting the machinery together, and, leaving
his men to work it, descended with me to the bedroom. The smothering
canopy was then lowered, but not so noiselessly as I had seen it
lowered. When I mentioned this to the subprefect, his answer, simple as
it was, had a terrible significance. "My men," said he, "are working
down the bedtop for the first time; the men whose money you won were in
We left the house in the sole possession of two police agents, every
one of the inmates being removed to prison on the spot. The subprefect,
after taking down my /proces verbal/ in his office, returned with me to
my hotel to get my passport. "Do you think," I asked, as I gave it to
him, "that any men have really been smothered in that bed, as they
tried to smother /me/?"
"I have seen dozens of drowned men laid out at the morgue," answered
the subprefect, "in whose pocket-books were found letters stating that
they had committed suicide in the Seine, because they had lost
everything at the gaming-table. Do I know how many of those men entered
the same gambling-house that /you/ entered? won as /you/ won? took that
bed as /you/ took it? slept in it? were smothered in it? and were
privately thrown into the river, with a letter of explanation written
by the murderers and placed in their pocket-books? No man can say how
many or how few have suffered the fate from which you have escaped. The
people of the gambling-house kept their bedstead machinery a secret
from /us/--even from the police! The dead kept the rest of the secret
for them. Good-night, or rather good-morning, Monsieur Faulkner! Be at
my office again at nine o'clock; in the meantime, /au revoir/!"
The rest of my story is soon told. I was examined and reexamined; the
gambling-house was strictly searched all through from top to bottom;
the prisoners were separately interrogated, and two of the less guilty
among them made a confession. I discovered that the old soldier was
master of the gambling-house--/justice/ discovered that he had been
drummed out of the army as a vagabond years ago; that he had been
guilty of all sorts of villainies since; that he was in possession of
stolen property, which the owners identified; and that he, the
croupier, another accomplice, and the woman who had made my cup of
coffee were all in the secret of the bedstead. There appeared some
reason to doubt whether the inferior persons attached to the house knew
anything of the suffocating machinery; and they received the benefit of
that doubt, by being treated simply as thieves and vagabonds. As for
the old soldier and his two head myrmidons, they went to the galleys;
the woman who had drugged my coffee was imprisoned for I forget how
many years; the regular attendants at the gambling-house were
considered "suspicious," and placed under "surveillance"; and I became,
for one whole week (which is a long time), the head "lion" in Parisian
society. My adventure was dramatised by three illustrious play-makers,
but never saw theatrical daylight; for the censorship forbade the
introduction on the stage of a correct copy of the gambling-house
One good result was produced by my adventure, which any censorship must
have approved: it cured me of ever again trying rouge-et-noir as an
amusement. The sight of a green cloth, with packs of cards and heaps of
money on it, will henceforth be for ever associated in my mind with the
sight of a bed canopy descending to suffocate me in the silence and
darkness of the night.
Just as Mr. Faulkner pronounced these words he started in his chair,
and resumed his stiff, dignified position in a great hurry. "Bless my
soul!" cried he, with a comic look of astonishment and vexation, "while
I have been telling you what is the real secret of my interest in the
sketch you have so kindly given to me, I have altogether forgotten that
I came here to sit for my portrait. For the last hour or more I must
have been the worst model you ever had to draw from!"
"On the contrary, you have been the best," said I. "I have been trying
to catch your likeness; and, while telling your story, you have
unconsciously shown me the natural expression I wanted to insure my
NOTE BY MRS. KERBY
I cannot let this story end without mentioning what the chance saying
was which caused it to be told at the farmhouse the other night. Our
friend the young sailor, among his other quaint objections to sleeping
on shore, declared that he particularly hated four-post beds, because
he never slept in one without doubting whether the top might not come
down in the night and suffocate him. I thought this chance reference to
the distinguishing feature of William's narrative curious enough, and
my husband agreed with me. But he says it is scarcely worth while to
mention such a trifle in anything so important as a book. I cannot
venture, after this, to do more than slip these lines in modestly at
the end of the story. If the printer should notice my few last words,
perhaps he may not mind the trouble of putting them into some out-of-
the-way corner, in very small type.
MICHEL LORIO'S CROSS
In the southwest point of Normandy, separated from Brittany only by a
narrow and straight river, like the formal canals of Holland, stands
the curious granite rock which is called Mont St. Michel. It is an
isolated peak, rising abruptly out of a vast plain of sand to the
height of nearly four hundred feet, and so precipitous toward the west
that scarcely a root of grass finds soil enough in its weather-beaten
clefts. At the very summit is built that wonderful church, the rich
architecture and flying buttresses of which strike the eye leagues and
leagues away, either on the sea or the mainland. Below the church, and
supporting it by a solid masonry, is a vast pile formerly a fortress,
castle, and prison; with caverns and dungeons hewn out of the living
rock, and vaulted halls and solemn crypts; all desolate and solitary
now, except when a party of pilgrims or tourists pass through them,
ushered by a guide. Still lower down the rock, along its eastern and
southern face, there winds a dark and narrow street, with odd, antique
houses on either side. The only conveyance that can pass along it is
the water-cart which supplies the town with fresh water from the
mainland. The whole place is guarded by a strong and high rampart, with
bastions and battlemented walls; and the only entrance is through three
gateways, one immediately behind the other, with a small court between.
The second of these strong gateways is protected by two old cannon,
taken from the English in 1423, and still pointed out to visitors with
inextinguishable pride by the natives of Mont. St. Michel.
A great plain of sand stretches around the Mont for miles every way--of
sand or sea, for the water covers it at flood-tides, beating up against
the foot of the granite rocks and the granite walls of the ramparts.
But at neap tides and /eaux mortes/, as the French say, there is
nothing but a desert of brown, bare sand, with ripple-marks lying
across it, and with shallow, ankle-deep pools of salt water here and
there. Afar off on the western sky-line a silver fringe of foam,
glistening in the sunshine, marks the distant boundary to which the sea
has retreated. On every other side of the horizon rises a belt of low
cliffs, bending into a semicircle, with sweeping outlines of curves
miles in length, drawn distinctly against the clear sky.
The only way to approach the Mont is across the sands. Each time the
tide recedes a fresh track must be made, like the track along snowy
roads; and every traveller, whether on foot or in carriage, must direct
his steps by this scarcely beaten path. Now and then he passes a high,
strong post, placed where there is any dangerous spot upon the plain;
for there are perilous quicksands, imperceptible to any eye, lurking in
sullen and patient treachery for any unwary footstep. The river itself,
which creeps sluggishly in a straight black line across the brown
desert, has its banks marked out by rows of these high stakes, with a
bush of leafless twigs at the top of each. A dreary, desolate, and
barren scene it is, with no life in it except the isolated life upon
This little family of human beings, separated from the great tide of
life like one of the shallow pools which the ebbing sea has left upon
its sands, numbers scarcely a hundred and a half. The men are fishers,
for there is no other occupation to be followed on the sterile rock.
Every day also the level sweep of sands is wandered over by the women
and children, who seek for cockles in the little pools; the babble of
whose voices echoes far through the quiet air, and whose shadows fall
long and unbroken on the brown wilderness. Now and then the black-robed
figure of a priest, or of one of the brothers dwelling in the monument
on the top of the rock, may be seen slowly pacing along the same dead
level, and skirting the quicksands where the warning posts are erected.
In the summer months bands of pilgrims are also to be seen marching in
a long file like travellers across the desert; but in winter these
visits cease almost wholly, and the inhabitants of the Mont are left to
Having so little intercourse with the outer world, and living on a rock
singled out by supernatural visitants, the people remain more
superstitious than even the superstitious Germans and Bretons who are
their neighbours. Few of them can read or write. The new thoughts,
opinions, and creeds of the present century do not reach them. They are
contented with the old faith, bound up for them in the history of their
patron, the archangel St. Michel, and with the minute interest taken in
every native of the rock. Each person knows the history of every other
inhabitant, but knows little else.
From Pontorson to the Mont the road lies along the old Bay of St.
Michel, with low hedge-rows of feathery tamarind-trees on each side as
far as the beach. It is not at all a solitary road, for hundreds of
long, heavy carts, resembling artillery waggons, encumber it, loaded
with a gray shaly deposit dug out of the bay: a busy scene of men and
women digging in the heavy sand, while the shaggy horses stand by,
hanging their heads patiently under the blue-stained sheepskins about
Two or three persons are at work at every cart; one of them, often a
woman, standing on the rising pile, and beating it flat with a spade,
while a cheerful clatter of voices is heard on every hand.
But at one time a man might have been seen there working alone, quite
alone. Even a space was left about him, as if an invisible circle were
drawn, within which no person would venture. If a word were flung at
him across this imaginary cordon, it was nothing but a taunt or a
curse, and it was invariably spoken by a man. No woman so much as
glanced at him. He toiled on doggedly, and in silence, with a weary-
looking face, until his task was ended, and the waggon driven off by
the owner, who had employed him at a lower rate than his comrades. Then
he would throw his blue blouse over his shoulders, and tramp away with
heavy tread along the faintly marked trail leading across the beach to
Mont St. Michel.
Neither was there any voice to greet him as he gained the gateway,
where the men of the Mont congregated, as they always congregate about
the entrance to a walled town. Rather, the scornful silence which had
surrounded him at his work was here deepened into a personal hatred.
Within the gate the women, who were chattering over their nets of
cockles, shrank away from him, or broke into a contemptuous laugh.
Along the narrow street the children fled at the sight of him, and hid
behind their mothers, from whose protection they could shout after him.
If the cure met him, he would turn aside into the first house rather
than come in contact with him. He was under a ban which no one dared to
The only voice that spoke to him was the fretful, querulous voice of an
old, bedridden woman as he lifted the latch and opened the door of a
poor house upon the ramparts, which had no entrance into the street;
and where he lived alone with his mother, cut off from all accidental
intercourse with his neighbours.
"Michel! Michel! how late thou art!" she exclaimed; "if thou hadst been
a good son thou wouldst have returned before the hour it is."
"I returned as soon as my work was finished," he answered, in a patient
voice; "I have not lost a minute by the way."
"Bah! because no one will ask thee to turn in with them anywhere!" she
continued. "If thou wert like everybody else thou wouldst have many a
friend to pass thy time with. It is hard for me, thy mother, to have
brought thee into the world that all the world should despise and hate
thee, as they do this day. Monsieur le Cure says there is no hope for
thee if thou art so obstinate; thou must go to hell, though I named
thee after our great archangel St. Michel, and brought thee up as a
good Christian. /Quel malheur!/ How hard it is for me to lie in bed all
day, and think of my son in the flames of hell!"
Very quietly, as if he had heard such complainings hundreds of times
before, did Michel set about kindling a few sticks upon the open
hearth. This was so common a welcome home that he scarcely heard it,
and had ceased to heed it. The room, as the flickering light fell upon
it, was one of the cheerless and comfortless chambers to be seen in any
peasant's house: a pile of wood in one corner, a single table with a
chair or two, a shelf with a few pieces of brown crockery, and the bed
on which the paralytic woman was lying, her hands crossed over her
breast, and her bright black eyes glistening in the gloom. Michel
brought her the soup he had made, and fed her carefully and tenderly,
before thinking of satisfying his own hunger.
"It is of no good, Michel," she said, when he laid her down again upon
the pillow he had made smooth for her; "it is of no good. Thou mayest
as well leave me to perish; it will not weigh for thee. Monsieur le
Cure says if thou hadst been born a heretic perhaps the good God might
have taken it into account. But thou wert born a Christian, as good a
Christian as all the world, and thou hast sold thy birthright to the
devil. Leave me then, and take thy pleasure in this life, for thou wilt
have nothing but misery in the next."
"I will not leave thee--never!" he answered, briefly. "I have no fear
of the next world."
He was a man of few words evidently. Perhaps the silence maintained
around him had partly frozen his power of speech. Even to his mother he
spoke but little, though her complaining went on without ceasing, until
he extinguished both fire and lamp, and climbed the rude ladder into
the loft overhead, where her voice never failed to rouse him from his
sleep, if she only called "Michel!" He could not clearly explain his
position even to himself. He had gone to Paris many years before, where
he came across some Protestants, who had taught him to read the
Testament, and instructed him in their religion. The new faith had
taken hold of him, and thrust deep roots into his simple and constant
nature; though he had no words at command to express the change to
others, and scarcely to himself. So long as he had been in Paris there
had been no need of this.
But now his father's death had compelled him to return to his native
place, and to the little knot of people who knew him as old Pierre
Lorio's son, a fisherman like themselves, with no more right to read or
think than they had. The fierceness of the persecution he encountered
filled him with dismay, though it had not shaken his fidelity to his
new faith. But often a dumb, inarticulate longing possessed him to make
known to his old neighbours the reason of the change in him, but speech
failed him. He could only stammer out his confession, "I am no longer a
Catholic, I am a Protestant, I cannot pray to the saints, not even to
the archangel St. Michel or the Blessed Virgin. I pray only to God."
For anything else, for explanation, and for all argument, he had no
more language than the mute, wistful language one sees in the eyes of
dumb creatures, when they gaze fully at us.
Perhaps there is nothing more pitiful than the painful want of words to
express that which lies deepest within us; a want common to us all, but
greatest in those who have had no training in thus shaping and
expressing their inmost thoughts.
There was not much to fear from a man like this. Michel Lorio was a
living lesson against apostasy. As he went up and down the street, and
in and out of the gate, his loneliness and dejection spoke more
eloquently for the old faith than any banishment could have done.
Michel was suffered to remain under a ban, not formal and ceremonial,
but a tacit ban, which quite as effectively set him apart, and made his
life more solitary than if he had been dwelling alone on a desert rock
out at sea.
Michel accepted his lot without complaint and without bitterness. He
never passed Monsieur le Cure without a salutation. When he went daily
for water to the great cistern of the monastery, he was always ready to
carry the brimful pails too heavy for the arms of the old women and
children. If he had leisure he mounted the long flights of grass-grown
steps three or four times for his neighbours, depositing his burden at
their doors, without a word of thanks for his help being vouchsafed to
him. Now and then he overheard a sneer at his usefulness; and his
mother taunted him often for his patience and forbearance. But he went
on his way silently with deeper yearning for human love and sympathy
than he could make known.
If it had not been that, when he was kneeling at the rude dormer-window
of his loft and gazing dreamily across the wide sweep of sand, with the
moon shining across it and the solemn stars lighting up the sky, he was
at times vaguely conscious of an influence, almost a presence, as of a
hand that touched him and a voice that spoke to him, he must have sunk
under this intense longing for love and fellowship. Had he been a
Catholic still, he would have believed that the archangel St. Michel
was near and about to manifest himself as in former times in his
splendid shrine upon the Mont. The new faith had not cast out all the
old superstitious nature; yet it was this vague spiritual presence
which supported him under the crushing and unnatural conditions of his
social life. He endured, as seeing one who is invisible.
Yet at other times he could not keep his feet away from the little
street where all the life there was might be found. At night he would
creep cautiously along the ramparts and descend by a quiet staircase
into an angle of the walls, where he could look on unseen upon the
gathering of townsfolk in the inn where he had often gone with his
father in earlier days. The landlord, Nicolas, was a most bitter enemy
now. There was the familiar room filled with bright light from an oil-
lamp and the brighter flicker of a wood fire where the landlord's wife
was cooking. A deep, low recess in the corner, with a crimson valance
stretched across it, held a bed with snow-white pillows, upon one of
which rested a child's curly head with eyes fast sealed against the
glare of the lamp. At a table close by sat the landlord and three or
four of the wealthier men of the Mont busily and seriously eating the
omelets and fried fish served to them from the pan over the fire.
The copper and brass cooking utensils glittered in the light from the
walls where they hung. It was a cheery scene, and Michel would stand in
his cold, dark corner, watching it until all was over and the guests
ready to depart.
"Thou art Michel /le diable/!" said a childish voice to him one
evening, and he felt a small, warm hand laid for an instant upon his
own. It was Delphine, Nicolas's eldest girl, a daring child, full of
spirit and courage; yet even she shrank back a step or two after
touching him, and stood as if ready to take flight.
"I am Michel Lorio," he answered, in a quiet, pleasant voice, which won
her back to his side. "Why dost thou call me Michel /le diable/?"
"All the world calls thee that," answered Delphine; "thou art a
heretic. See, I am a good Christian. I say my ave and paternoster every
night; if thou wilt do the same thing, no one will call thee Michel /le
"Thou art not afraid of me?" he asked, for the child put her hand again
"No, no! thou art not the real devil!" she said, "and /maman/ has put
my name on the register of the monument; so the great archangel St.
Michel will deliver me from all evil. What canst thou do? Canst thou
turn children into cats? or canst thou walk across the sea without
being drowned? or canst thou stand on the highest pinnacle of the
church, where the golden image of St. Michel used to be, and cast
thyself down without killing thyself? I will go back with thee to thy
house and see what thou canst do."
"I can do none of these things," answered Michel, "not one; but thou
shalt come home with me if thou wilt."
"Carry me," she said, "that I may feel how strong thou art."
He lifted her easily into his arms, for he was strong and accustomed to
bear heavier burdens. His heart beat fast as the child's hand stole
round his neck and her soft cheek touched his own. Delphine had never
been upon the ramparts before when the stars were out and the distant
circle of the cliffs hidden by the night, and several times he was
compelled to stop and answer her eager questions; but she would not go
into the house when they reached the door.
"Carry me back again, Michel," she demanded. "I do not like thy mother.
Thou shalt bring me again along the ramparts to-morrow night. I will
always come to thee, always when I see thee standing in the dark corner
by our house. I love thee much, Michel /le diable/."
It was a strange friendship carried on stealthily. Michel could not put
away from himself this one little tie of human love and fellowship. As
for Delphine, she was as silent about her new friend as children often
are of such things which affect them deeply. There was a mingling of
superstitious feeling in her affection for Michel--a half-dread that
gave their secret meetings a greater charm to the daring spirit of the
child. The evening was a busy time at the inn, and if Delphine had been
missed, but little wonder and no anxiety would have been aroused at her
absence. The ramparts were deserted after dark, and no one guessed that
the two dark figures sauntering to and fro were Michel and Delphine.
When the nights were too cold they took refuge in a little overhanging
turret projecting from one of the angles of the massive walls--a
darksome niche with nothing but the sky to be seen through a narrow
embrasure in the shape of a cross. In these haunts Michel talked in his
simple untaught way of his thoughts and of his new faith, pouring into
the child's ear what he could never tell to any other. By day Delphine
never seemed to see him; never cast a look toward him as he passed by
amid the undisguised ill will of the town. She ceased to speak of him
even, with the unconscious and natural dissimulation by which children
screen themselves from criticism and censure.
The people of the Mont St. Michel are very poor, and the women and
children are compelled to seek some means of earning money as well as
the men. As long as the summer lasts the crowds of pilgrims and
tourists, flocking to the wonderful fortress and shrine upon the
summit, bring employment and gain to some portion of them; but in the
winter there is little to do except when the weather is fine enough to
search for shell-fish about the sands, and sell them in the villages of
the mainland. As the tide goes down, bands of women and children follow
it out for miles, taking care to retrace their steps before the sea
rises again. From Michel's cottage on the ramparts the whole plain
toward Avranches was visible, and he could hear the busy hum of voices
coming to his ear from afar through the quiet air. But on the western
side of the Mont, where the black line of the river crosses the sands,
they are more dangerous; and in this direction only the more
venturesome seekers go--boys who love any risk, and widows who are the
more anxious to fill their nets because they have no man to help them
in getting their daily bread.
The early part of the winter is not cold in Normandy, especially by the
sea. As long as the westerly winds sweep across the Atlantic, the air
is soft though damp, with fine mists hanging in it, which shine with
rainbow tints in the sunlight. Sometimes Christmas and the New Year
find the air still genial, in spite of the short days and the long
rainy nights. Strong gales may blow, but so long as they do not come
from the dry east or frosty north there is no real severity of weather.
It was such a Christmas week that year. Not one of the women or
children had yet been forced to stay away from the sands on account of
the cold. Upon Christmas eve there was a good day, though, a short one,
before them, for it was low water about noon, and the high tide would
not be in before six. All the daylight would be theirs. It was a chance
not to be missed, for as the tides grew later in the day their time for
fishing would be cut shorter. Almost every woman and child turned out
through the gate with their nets in their hands. By midday the plain
was dotted over by them, and the wintry sun shone pleasantly down, and
the quiet rock caught the echo of their voices. Farther away, out of
sight and hearing, the men also were busy, Michel among them, casting
nets upon the sea. As the low sun went down in the southern sky, the
scattered groups came home by twos and threes, anxious to bring in
their day's fishing in time for the men to carry them across to the
mainland before the Mont should be shut in by the tide.
A busy scene was that in the gateway.
All the town was there; some coming in from the sands, and those who
had been left at home with babies or old folks running down from their
houses. There was chaffing and bartering; exchanges agreed upon, and
commissions innumerable to be intrusted to the men about to set out for
Pontorson, the nearest town. Michel Lorio was going to sell his own
fish, for who would carry it for him? Yet though he was the first who
was ready to start, not a soul charged him with a single commission. He
lingered wistfully and loitered just outside the gateway; but neither
man, woman, nor child said, "Michel, bring me what I want from the
He was treading slowly down the rough causeway under the walls of the
town, when a woman's shrill voice startled him. It was not far from
sunset, and the sun was sinking round and red behind a bank of fog. A
thin gray mist was creeping up from the sea. The latest band of
stragglers, a cluster of mere children, were running across the sand to
the gate. Michel turned round and saw Nicolas's wife, a dark, stern-
looking woman, beckoning vehemently to these children. He paused for a
moment to look at his little Delphine. "Not there!" he said to himself,
and was passing on, when the shrill voice again caught his attention.
"Where is Phine?" called the mother.
What was it the children said? What answer had they shouted back?
Michel stood motionless, as if all strength had failed him suddenly.
The children rushed past him in a troop. He lifted up his eyes, looking
fearfully toward the sea hidden behind the deepening fog. Was it
possible that he had heard them say that Delphine was lost?
"Where is Phine?" asked the mother; but though her voice was lower now,
Michel heard every syllable loudly. It seemed as if he could have heard
a whisper, though the chattering in the gateway was like the clamour of
a fair. The eldest girl in the little band spoke in a hurried and
"Phine is so naughty, madame," she said, "we could not keep her near
us. She would go on and on to the sea. We could not wait for her. We
heard her calling, but it was so far, we dared not go back. But she
cannot be far behind us, for we shouted as we came along. She will be
here soon, madame."
"/Mon Dieu!/" cried the mother, sinking down on one of the great
stones, either rolled up by the tide, or left by the masons who built
the ramparts. "Call her father to me."
It was Michel Lorio who found Nicolas, his greatest enemy. Nicolas had
a number of errands to be done in the town, and he was busy impressing
them on the memory of his messenger, who, like every one else, could
neither read nor write. When Michel caught his arm in a sharp, fast
grip, he turned round with a scowl, and tried, but in vain, to shake
off his grasp.
"Come to thy wife," said Michel, dragging him toward the gate;
"Delphine, thy little one, is lost on the sands."
The whole crowd heard the words, for Michel's voice was pitched in a
high, shrill key, which rang above the clamour and the babel. There was
an instant hush, every one listening to Michel, and every eye fastened
upon him. Nicolas stared blankly at him, as if unable to understand
him, yet growing passive under his sense of bewilderment.
"The children who went out with Delphine this morning are come back,"
continued Michel, in the same forced tone; "they are come back without
her. She is lost on the sands. The night is falling, and there is a
fog. I tell you the little one is alone, quite alone, upon the sands;
and it will be high water at six o'clock. Delphine is alone and lost
upon the sands!"
The momentary hush of the crowd was at an end. The children began
crying, and the women calling loudly upon St. Michel and the Holy
Virgin. The men gathered about Nicolas and Michel, and went down in a
compact group to the causeway beyond the gate. There the lurid sun,
shining dimly through the fog, made the most sanguine look grave and
shake their heads hopelessly behind the father and mother. The latter
sat motionless, looking out with straining eyes to see if Delphine were
not coming through the thickening mist.
"/Mais que faire! que faire!/" cried Nicolas, catching at somebody's
shoulder for support without seeing whose it was. It was Michel's, who
had not stirred from his side since he had first clasped his arm.
Michel's face was as white as the mother's; but there was a resolute
light in his eyes that was not to be seen in hers.
"Nothing can be done," answered one of the oldest men in answer to
Nicolas's cry, "nothing, nothing! We do not know where the child is
lost. See! there are leagues and leagues of sand; and one might wander
miles away from where the poor little creature is at this instant. The
great archangel St. Michel protect her!"
"I will go," said the mother, lifting herself up; and, raising her
voice, she called loudly, with a cry that rang and echoed against the
walls, "Phine! Phine! my little Phine, come back to thy poor mother!"
But there was no answer, except the sobs and prayers of the women and
children clustering behind her.
"Thou canst not go!" exclaimed Nicolas; "there are our other little
ones to think of; nor can I leave thee and them. My God! is there then
no one who will go and seek my little Delphine?"
"I will go," answered Michel, standing out from among the crowd, and
facing it with his white face and resolute eyes; "there is only one
among you all upon the Mont who will miss me. I leave my mother to your
care. There is no time for me to bid her adieu. If I come back alive,
well! if I perish, that will be well also!"
Even then there was no cordiality of response on the hearts of his old
friends and neighbours. The superstition and prejudice of long years
could not be broken down in one moment and by one act of self-
sacrifice. They watched Michel as he laid his full creel down from his
shoulders, and threw across them the strong square net with which he
fished in the ebbing tide. His silence was no less expressive than
theirs. Without a sound he passed away barefooted down the rude
causeway. His face, as the sun shone on it, was set and resolute with a
determination to face the end, whatever the end might be. He might have
so trodden the path to Calvary.
He longed to speak to them, to say adieu to them; but he waited in vain
for one voice to break the silence. He turned round before he was too
far away, and saw them still clustered without the gate; every one of
them known to him from his boyhood, the story of whose lives had been
bound up with his own and formed a part of his history. They were all
there, except his mother, who would soon hear what peril of the sea and
peril of the night he was about to face. Tears dimmed his eyes, and
made the group grow indistinct, as though the mist had already gathered
between him and them. Then he quickened his steps, and the people of
Mont St. Michel lost sight of him behind a great buttress of the
But for a time Michel could still see the Mont as he hurried along its
base, going westward, where the most treacherous sands lie. His home
was on the eastern side, and he could see nothing of it. But the great
rock rose up precipitously above him, and the noble architecture upon
its highest point glowed with a ruddy tint in the setting light. As he
trampled along no sound could be heard but the distant sigh of the sea,
and the low, sad sough of the sand as his bare feet trod it. The fog
before him was not dense, only a light haze, deceptive and beguiling;
for here and there he turned aside, fancying he could see Delphine, but
as he drew nearer to the spot he discovered nothing but a post driven
into the sand. There was no fear that he should lose himself upon the
bewildering level, for he knew his way as well as if the sand had been
laid out in well-defined tracks. His dread was lest he should not find
Delphine soon enough to escape from the tide, which would surely
overwhelm them both.
He scarcely knew how the time sped by, but the sun had sunk below the
horizon, and he had quite lost the Mont in the fog. The brown sand and
the gray dank mist were all that he could see, yet still he plodded on
westward, toward the sea, calling into the growing darkness. At last he
caught the sound of a child's sobs and crying, which ceased for a
moment when he turned in that direction and shouted, "Phine!" Calling
to one another, it was not long before he saw the child wandering
forlornly and desolately in the mist. She ran sobbing into his open
arms, and Michel lifted her up and held her to his heart with a strange
"It is thou that hast found me," she said, clinging closely to him.
"Carry me back to my mother. I am safe now, quite safe. Did the
archangel St. Michel send thee?"
There was not a moment to be lost; Michel knew that full well. The moan
of the sea was growing louder every minute, though he could not see its
advancing line. There was no spot upon the sand that would not be
covered before another hour was gone, and there was barely time, if
enough, to get back to the Mont. He could not waste time or breath in
talking to the child he held fast in his arms. A pale gleam of
moonlight shone through the vapour, but of little use to him save to
throw a ghostly glimmer across the sands. He strode hurriedly along,
breathing hardly through his teeth and clasping Delphine so fast that
she grew frightened at his silence and haste.
"Where art thou taking me, Michel /le diable/?" she said, beginning to
struggle in his arms. "Let me down; let me down, I tell thee! /Maman/
has said I must never look at thee. Thou shalt not carry me any
There was strength enough in the child and her vehement struggles to
free herself to hinder Michel in his desperate haste. He was obliged to
stand still for a minute or two to pacify her, speaking in his quiet,
patient voice, which she knew so well.
"Be tranquil, my little Phine," he said. "I am come to save thee. As
the Lord Jesus came to seek and to save those who are lost, so am I
come to seek thee and carry thee back to thy mother. It is dark here,
my child, and the sea is rising quickly, quickly. But thou shalt be
safe. Be tranquil, and let me make haste back to the Mont."
"Did the Lord save thee in this manner?" asked Delphine, eagerly.
"Yes, He saved me like this," answered Michel. "He laid down His life
for mine. Now thou must let me save thee."
"I will be good and wise," said the child, putting her arms again about
his neck, while he strode on, striving if possible to regain the few
moments that had been lost. But it was not possible. He knew that
before he had gone another kilometre, when through the mist there rose
before him the dark, colossal form of the Mont, but too far away still
for them both to reach it in safety. Thirty minutes were essential for
him to reach the gates with his burden, but in little more than twenty
the sea would be dashing round the walls. The tide was yet out of sight
and the sands were dry, but it would rush in before many minutes, and
the swiftest runner with no weight to carry could not outrun it. Both
could not be saved; could either of them? He had foreseen this danger
and provided for it.
"My little Phine," he said, "thou wilt not be afraid if I place thee
where thou wilt be quite safe from the sea? See, here is my net! I will
put thee within it, and hang it on one of these strong stakes, and I
will stand below thee. Thou wilt be brave and good. Let us be quick,
very quick. It will be like a swing for thee, and thou wilt not be
afraid so long as I stand below thee."
Even while he spoke he was busy fastening the corners of his net
securely over the stake, hanging it above the reach of the last tide-
mark. Delphine watched him laughing. It seemed only another pleasant
adventure, like wandering with him upon the ramparts, or taking shelter
in the turret. The net held her comfortably, and by stooping down she
could touch with her outstretched hand the head of Michel. He stood
below her, his arms fast locked about the stake, and his face uplifted
to her in the faint light.
"Phine," he said, "thou must not be afraid when the water lies below
thee, even if I do not speak. Thou art safe."
"Art thou safe also, Michel?" she asked.
"Yes, I am quite safe also," he answered; "but I shall be very quiet. I
shall not speak to thee. Yes; the Lord Christ is caring for me, as I
for thee. He bound Himself to the cross as I bind myself here. This is
my cross, Delphine. I understand it better now. He loved us and gave
Himself for us. Tell them to-morrow what I say to thee. I am as safe as
thou art, tranquil and happy."
"We shall not be drowned!" said Delphine, half in confidence and half
in dread of the sea, which was surging louder and louder through the
"Not thou!" he answered, cheerily. "But, Phine, tell them to-morrow
that I shall nevermore be solitary and sad. I leave thee now, and then
I shall be with Christ. I wish I could have spoken to them, but my
heart and tongue were heavy. Hark! there is the bell ringing."
The bell which is tolled at night, when travellers are crossing the
sands, to guide them to the Mont, flung its clear, sharp notes down
from the great indistinct rock, looming through the dusk.
"It is like a voice to me, the voice of a friend; but it is too late!"
murmured Michel. "Art thou happy, Delphine, my little one? When I cease
to speak to thee wilt thou not be afraid? I shall be asleep, perhaps.
Say thy paternoster now, for it is growing late with me."
The bell was still toiling, but with a quick, hurried movement, as if
those who rang it were fevered with impatience. The roaring of the
tide, as it now poured in rapidly over the plain, almost drowned its
"Touch me with thy little hand, touch me quickly!" cried Michel.
"Remember to tell them to-morrow that I loved them all always, and I
would have given myself for them as I do for thee. Adieu, my little
Phine. Come quickly, Lord Jesus!"
The child told afterward that the water rose so fast that she dared not
look at it, but shut her eyes as it spread, white and shimmering, in
the moonlight all around her. She began to repeat her paternoster, but
she forgot how the words came. But she heard Michel, in a loud clear
voice, saying "Our Father"; only he also seemed to forget the words,
for he did not say more than "Forgive us our trespasses, as we
forgive--." Then he became quite silent, and when she spoke to him,
after a long while, he did not answer her. She supposed he had fallen
asleep, as he had said, but she could not help crying and calling to him
again and again. The sea-gulls flew past her screaming, but there was no
sound of any voice to speak to her. In spite of what he had said to her
beforehand she grew frightened, and thought it was because she had been
unkind to Michel /le diable/ that she was left there alone, with the
sea swirling to and fro beneath her.
It was not for more than two or three hours that Delphine hung cradled
in Michel's net, for the tide does not lie long round the Mont St.
Michel, and flows out again as swiftly as it comes in. The people
followed it out, scattering over the sands in the forlorn hope of
finding the dead bodies of Michel Lorio and the child, for they had no
expectation of meeting with either of them alive. At last two or three
of them heard the voice of Delphine, who saw the glimmer of their
lanterns upon the sands, and called shrilly and loudly for succour.
They found her swinging safely in her net, untouched by the water. But
Michel had sunk down upon his knees, though his arms were still
fastened about the stake. His head had fallen forward upon his breast,
and his thick wet hair covered his face. They lifted him without a word
spoken. He had saved Delphine's life at the cost of his own.
All the townspeople were down at the gate, waiting for the return of
those who had gone out to seek for the dead. The moon had risen above
the fog, and shone clearly down upon them. Delphine's mother, with her
younger children about her, sat on the stone where she had been sitting
when Michel set out on his perilous quest. She and the other women
could see a crowd of the men coming back, carrying some burden among
them. But as they drew near to the gate, Delphine sprang forward from
among them and ran and threw herself into her mother's arms. "A
miracle!" cried some voices amid the crowd; a miracle wrought by their
patron St. Michel. If Michel Lorio were safe, surely he would become
again a good Christian, and return to his ancient faith. But Michel
Lorio was dead, and all that could be done for him was to carry his
dead body home to his paralytic mother, and lay it upon his bed in the
little loft where he had spent so many hours of sorrowful loneliness.
It was a perplexing problem to the simple people. Some said that Michel
had been permitted to save the child by a diabolic agency which had
failed him when he sought to save himself. Others maintained that it
was no other than the great archangel St. Michel who had securely
fastened the net upon the stake and so preserved Delphine, while the
heretic was left to perish. A few thought secretly, and whispered it in
fear, that Michel had done a noble deed, and won heaven thereby. The
cure, who came to look upon the calm dead face, opened his lips after
long and profound thought:
"If this man had been a Christian," he said, "he would have been a
saint and a martyr."
A PERILOUS AMOUR
AN EPISODE ADAPTED FROM THE MEMOIRS OF
MAXIMILIAN DE BETHUNE, DUKE OF SULLY
S. J. WEYMAN
Such in brief were the reasons which would have led me, had I followed
the promptings of my own sagacity, to oppose the return of the Jesuits.
It remains for me only to add that these arguments lost all their
weight when set in the balance against the safety of my beloved master.
To this plea the king himself for once condescended, and found those
who were most strenuous to dissuade him the least able to refute it;
since the more a man abhorred the Jesuits, the more ready he was to
allow that the king's life could not be safe from their practices while
the edict against them remained in force. The support which I gave to
the king on this occasion exposed me to the utmost odium of my co-
religionists, and was in later times ill-requited by the order. But a
remarkable incident that occurred while the matter was still under
debate, and which I now for the first time make public, proved beyond
question the wisdom of my conduct.
Fontainebleau being at this time in the hands of the builders, the king
had gone to spend his Easter at Chantilly, whither Mademoiselle
d'Entragues had also repaired. During his absence from Paris I was
seated one morning in my library at the Arsenal, when I was informed
that Father Cotton, the same who at Metz had presented a petition from
the Jesuits, and who was now in Paris pursuing that business under a
safe-conduct, craved leave to pay his respects to me. I was not
surprised, for I had been a little before this of some service to him.
The pages of the court, while loitering outside the Louvre, had raised
a tumult in the streets, and grievously insulted the father by shouting
after him, "Old Wool! Old Cotton!" in imitation of the Paris street
cry. For this the king, at my instigation, had caused them to be
soundly whipped, and I supposed that the Jesuit now desired to thank me
for advice--given, in truth, rather out of regard to discipline than to
him. So I bade them admit him.
His first words, uttered before my secretaries could retire, indicated
that this was indeed his errand; and for a few moments I listened to
such statements from him and made such answers myself as became our
several positions. Then, as he did not go, I began to conceive the
notion that he had come with a further purpose; and his manner, which
seemed on this occasion to lack ease, though he was well gifted with
skill and address, confirmed the notion. I waited, therefore, with
patience, and presently he named his Majesty with many expressions of
devotion to his person. "I trust," said he, "that the air of
Fontainebleau agrees with him, M. de Rosny?"
"You mean, good father, of Chantilly?" I answered.
"Ah, to be sure!" he rejoined, hastily. "He is, of course, at
After that he rose to depart, but was delayed by the raptures into
which he fell at sight of the fire, which, the weather being cold for
the time of year, I had caused to be lit. "It burns so brightly," said
he, "that it must be of boxwood, M. de Rosny."
"Of boxwood?" I exclaimed, in surprise.
"Ay, is it not of boxwood?" quoth he, looking at me with much
"Certainly not!" I made answer, rather peevishly. "Who ever heard of
people burning boxwood in Paris, father?"
He apologised for his ignorance--which was indeed matter of wonder--on
the ground of his southern birth, and took his departure, leaving me in
much doubt as to the real purport of his visit. I was indeed more
troubled by the uncertainty I felt than another less conversant with
the methods of the Jesuits might have been, for I knew that it was
their habit to let drop a word where they dared not speak plainly, and
I felt myself put on my mettle to interpret the father's hint. My
perplexities were increased by the belief that he would not have
intervened in any matter of small moment, and by the conviction, which
grew upon me apace, that while I stood idle before the hearth my
dearest interests and those of France were at stake.
"Michel," I said at last, addressing the /doyen/ of my secretaries, who
chanced to be a Provencal, "have you ever seen a boxwood fire?"
He replied respectfully, but with some show of surprise, that he had
not, adding that that wood was rendered so valuable to the turner by
its hardness that few people would be extravagant enough to use it for
fuel. I assented, and felt the more certain that the Jesuit's remark
contained a hidden meaning. The only other clue I had consisted in the
apparent mistake the father had made as to the king's residence, and
this might have been dropped from him in pure inadvertence. Yet I was
inclined to think it intentional, and construed it as implying that the
matter concerned the king personally. Which the more alarmed me.
I passed the day in great anxiety, but toward evening, acting on a
sudden inspiration, I sent La Trape, my valet, a trusty fellow who had
saved my life at Cahors, to the Three Pigeons, a large inn in the
suburbs, at which such travellers from North to South as did not wish
to enter the city were accustomed to change horses and sometimes to
sleep. Acquitting himself of the commission I had given him with his
usual adroitness, he quickly returned with the news that a traveller of
rank had passed through three days before, having sent in advance to
order relays there and at Essonnes. La Trape reported that the
gentleman had remained in his coach, and that none of the inn servants
had seen his face.
"And he had companions?" I said. My mind had not failed already to
conceive a natural suspicion.
"Only one, your Grace. The rest were servants."
"And that one?"
"A man in the yard fancied that he recognised M. de la Varenne."
"Ah!" I said no more. My agitation was indeed such that, before giving
reins to it, I bade La Trape withdraw. I could scarcely believe that,
perfectly acquainted as the king was with the plots which Spain and the
Catholics were daily weaving for his life, and possessing such unavowed
but powerful enemies among the great lords as Tremouille and Bouillon,
to say nothing of Mademoiselle d'Entragues's half-brother, the Count of
Auvergne--I could hardly believe that with this knowledge his Majesty
had been so foolhardy as to travel without guards or attendance to
Fontainebleau. And yet I now felt an absolute certainty that this was
the case. The presence of La Varenne also, the confidant of his
intrigues, informed me of the cause of this wild journey, convincing me
that his Majesty had given way to the sole weakness of his nature, and
was bent on one of those adventures of gallantry which had been more
becoming in the Prince of Bearn than in the king of France. Neither was
I at a loss to guess the object of his pursuit. It had been lately
whispered in the court that the king had seen and fallen in love with
his mistress's younger sister, Susette d'Entragues, whose home at
Malesherbes lay but three leagues from Fontainebleau, on the edge of
the forest. This placed the king's imprudence in a stronger light, for
he had scarcely in France a more dangerous enemy than her brother
Auvergne; nor had the immense sums which he had settled on the elder
sister satisfied the mean avarice or conciliated the brutish hostility
of her father.
Apprised of all this, I saw that Father Cotton had desired to
communicate it to me. But his motive I found it less easy to divine. It
might have been a wish to balk this new passion through my
interference, and at the same time to expose me to the risk of his
Majesty's anger. Or it might simply have been a desire to avert danger
from the king's person. At any rate, constant to my rule of ever
preferring my master's interest to his favour, I sent for Maignan, my
equerry, and bade him have an equipage ready at dawn.
Accordingly at that hour next morning, attended only by La Trape, with
a groom, a page, and four Swiss, I started, giving out that I was bound
for Sully to inspect that demesne, which had formerly been the property
of my family, and of which the refusal had just been offered to me.
Under cover of this destination I was enabled to reach La Ferte Alais
unsuspected. There, pretending that the motion of the coach fatigued
me, I mounted the led horse, without which I never travelled, and
bidding La Trape accompany me, gave orders to the others to follow at
their leisure to Pethiviers, where I proposed to stay the night.
La Ferte Alais, on the borders of the forest, is some five leagues
westward of Fontainebleau, and as far north of Malesherbes, with which
last it is connected by a highroad. Having disclosed my intentions to
La Trape, however, I presently left this road and struck into a path
which promised to conduct us in the right direction. But the denseness
of the undergrowth, and the huge piles of gray rocks which lie
everywhere strewn about the forest, made it difficult to keep for any
time in a straight line. After being two hours in the saddle we
concluded that we had lost our way, and were confirmed in this on
reaching a clearing, and seeing before us a small inn, which La Trape
recognised as standing about a league and a half on the forest side of
We still had ample time to reach Fontainebleau by nightfall, but before
proceeding it was absolutely necessary that our horses should have
rest. Dismounting, therefore, I bade La Trape see the sorrel well
baited. Observing that the inn was a poor place, and no one coming to
wait upon me, I entered it of my own motion, and found myself at once
in a large room better furnished with company than accommodation. Three
men, who had the appearance of such reckless swaggering blades as are
generally to be found drinking in the inns on the outskirts of Paris,
and who come not unfrequently to their ends at Montfaucon, were
tippling and playing cards at a table near the door. They looked up
sullenly at my entrance, but refrained from saluting me, which, as I
was plainly dressed and much stained by travel, was in some degree
pardonable. By the fire, partaking of a coarse meal, was a fourth man
of so singular an appearance that I must needs describe him. He was of
great height and extreme leanness. His face matched his form, for it
was long and thin, terminating in a small peaked beard which, like his
hair and mustachios, was as white as snow. With all this, his eyes
glowed with much of the fire of youth, and his brown complexion and
sinewy hands seemed still to indicate robust health. He was dressed in
garments which had once been fashionable, but now bore marks of long
and rough usage, and I remarked that the point of his sword, which, as
he sat, trailed on the stones behind him, had worn its way through the
scabbard. Notwithstanding these signs of poverty, he saluted me with
the ease and politeness of a gentleman, and bade me with much courtesy
to share his table and the fire. Accordingly I drew up, and called for
a bottle of the best wine, being minded to divert myself with him.
I was little prepared, however, for the turn his conversation took, and
the furious tirade into which he presently broke, the object of which
proved to be no other than myself! I do not know that I have ever cut
so whimsical a figure as while hearing my name loaded with reproaches;
but, being certain that he did not know me, I waited patiently, and
soon learned both who he was, and the grievance which he was on his way
to lay before the king. His name was Boisrose, and he had been the
leader in that gallant capture of Fecamp, which took place while I was
in Normandy as the king's representative. His grievance was that,
notwithstanding promises in my letters, he had been deprived of the
government of the place.
"He leads the king by the ear!" he declaimed loudly, in an accent which
marked him for a Gascon. "That villain of a De Rosny! But I will show
him up! I will trounce him!" With that he drew the hilt of his long
rapier to the front with a gesture so truculent that the three bullies,
who had stopped to laugh at him, resumed their game in disorder.
Notwithstanding his hatred for me, I was pleased to meet with a man of
so singular a temper, whom I also knew to be truly courageous; and I
was willing to amuse myself further with him. "But," I said, modestly,
"I have had some affairs with M. de Rosny, and I have never found him
"Do not deceive yourself!" he roared, slapping the table. "He is a
"Yet," I ventured to reply, "I have heard that in many respects he is
not a bad minister."
"He is a villain!" he repeated, so loudly as to drown what I would have
added. "Do not tell me otherwise. But rest assured! be happy, sir! I
will make the king see him in his true colours! Rest content, sir! I
will trounce him! He has to do with Armand de Boisrose!"
Seeing that he was not open to argument,--for, indeed, being opposed,
he grew exceedingly warm,--I asked him by what channel he intended to
approach the king, and learned that here he felt a difficulty, since he
had neither a friend at court nor money to buy one. Being assured that
he was an honest fellow, and knowing that the narrative of our
rencontre and its sequel would vastly amuse his Majesty, who loved a
jest of this kind, I advised Boisrose to go boldly to the king, which,
thanking me as profusely as he had before reproached me, he agreed to
do. With that I rose to depart.
At the last moment it occurred to me to try upon him the shibboleth
which in Father Cotton's mouth had so mystified me.
"This fire burns brightly," I said, kicking the logs together with my
riding-boot. "It must be of boxwood."
"Of what, sir?" quoth he, politely.
"Of boxwood, to be sure," I replied, in a louder tone.
"My certes!" he exclaimed. "They do not burn boxwood in this country.
Those are larch trimmings--neither more nor less!"
While he wondered at my ignorance, I was pleased to discover his, and
so far I had lost my pains. But it did not escape me that the three
gamesters had ceased to play and were listening intently to our
conversation. Moreover, as I moved to the door, they followed me with
their eyes; and when I turned, after riding a hundred yards, I found
that they had come to the door and were still gazing after us.
This prevented me at once remarking that a hound which had which had
been lying before the fire had accompanied us, and was now running in
front, now gambolling round us, as the manner of dogs is. When,
however, after riding about two thirds of a league, we came to a place
where the roads forked, I had occasion particularly to notice the
hound, for, choosing one of the paths, it stood in the mouth of it,
wagging its tail, and inviting us to take that road; and this so
pertinaciously that, though the directions we had received at the inn
would have led us to prefer the other, we determined to follow the dog
as the more trustworthy guide.
We had proceeded about four hundred paces when La Trape pointed out
that the path was growing more narrow and showed few signs of being
used. So certain did it seem--though the dog still ran confidently
ahead--that we were again astray, that I was about to draw rein and
return, when I discovered with some emotion that the undergrowth on the
right of the path had assumed the character of a thick hedge of box.
Though less prone than most men to put faith in omens, I accepted this
as one, and, notwithstanding that it wanted but an hour of sunset, I
rode on steadily, remarking that, with each turn in the woodland path,
the scrub on my left also gave place to the sturdy tree which had been
in my mind all day. Finally we found ourselves passing through an alley
of box,--which, no long time before, had been clipped and dressed,--
until a final turn brought me into a cul-de-sac, a kind of arbor,
carpeted with grass, and so thickly set about as to afford no exit save
by the entrance. Here the dog placidly stood and wagged its tail,
looking up at us.
I must confess that this termination of the adventure seemed so
surprising, and the evening light shining on the walls of green round
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