Honore de Balzac
Part 3 out of 7
echo of the heart that I think it quite unmeaning. I have met with it
everywhere, in books, at the theatre, in society,--yes, everywhere,
and never have I found in it even a semblance of its magnificent
"Did you seek that ideal?"
The word was said with such perfect ease and freedom that the young
man made a gesture of surprise and looked at Marie fixedly, as if he
had suddenly changed his opinion on her character and real position.
"Mademoiselle," he said with ill-concealed devotion, "are you maid or
wife, angel or devil?"
"All," she replied, laughing. "Isn't there something diabolic and also
angelic in a young girl who has never loved, does not love, and
perhaps will never love?"
"Do you think yourself happy thus?" he asked with a free and easy tone
and manner, as though already he felt less respect for her.
"Oh, happy, no," she replied. "When I think that I am alone, hampered
by social conventions that make me deceitful, I envy the privileges of
a man. But when I also reflect on the means which nature has bestowed
on us women to catch and entangle you men in the invisible meshes of a
power which you cannot resist, then the part assigned to me in the
world is not displeasing to me. And then again, suddenly, it does seem
very petty, and I feel that I should despise a man who allowed himself
to be duped by such vulgar seductions. No sooner do I perceive our
power and like it, than I know it to be horrible and I abhor it.
Sometimes I feel within me that longing towards devotion which makes
my sex so nobly beautiful; and then I feel a desire, which consumes
me, for dominion and power. Perhaps it is the natural struggle of the
good and the evil principle in which all creatures live here below.
Angel or devil! you have expressed it. Ah! to-day is not the first
time that I have recognized my double nature. But we women understand
better than you men can do our own shortcomings. We have an instinct
which shows us a perfection in all things to which, nevertheless, we
fail to attain. But," she added, sighing as she glanced at the sky;
"that which enhances us in your eyes is--"
"Is what?" he said.
"--that we are all struggling, more or less," she answered, "against a
"Mademoiselle, why should we part to-night?"
"Ah!" she replied, smiling at the passionate look which he gave her,
"let us get into the carriage; the open air does not agree with us."
Marie turned abruptly; the young man followed her, and pressed her arm
with little respect, but in a manner that expressed his imperious
admiration. She hastened her steps. Seeing that she wished to escape
an importune declaration, he became the more ardent; being determined
to win a first favor from this woman, he risked all and said, looking
at her meaningly:--
"Shall I tell you a secret?"
"Yes, quickly, if it concerns you."
"I am not in the service of the Republic. Where are you going? I shall
At the words Marie trembled violently. She withdrew her arm and
covered her face with both hands to hide either the flush or the
pallor of her cheeks; then she suddenly uncovered her face and said in
a voice of deep emotion:--
"Then you began as you would have ended, by deceiving me?"
"Yes," he said.
At this answer she turned again from the carriage, which was now
overtaking them, and began to almost run along the road.
"I thought," he said, following her, "that the open air did not agree
"Oh! it has changed," she replied in a grave tone, continuing to walk
on, a prey to agitating thoughts.
"You do not answer me," said the young man, his heart full of the soft
expectation of coming pleasure.
"Oh!" she said, in a strained voice, "the tragedy begins."
"What tragedy?" he asked.
She stopped short, looked at the young student from head to foot with
a mingled expression of fear and curiosity; then she concealed her
feelings that were agitating her under the mask of an impenetrable
calmness, showing that for a girl of her age she had great experience
"Who are you?" she said,--"but I know already; when I first saw you I
suspected it. You are the royalist leader whom they call the Gars. The
ex-bishop of Autun was right in saying we should always believe in
presentiments which give warning of evil."
"What interest have you in knowing the Gars?"
"What interest has he in concealing himself from me who have already
saved his life?" She began to laugh, but the merriment was forced. "I
have wisely prevented you from saying that you love me. Let me tell
you, monsieur, that I abhor you. I am republican, you are royalist; I
would deliver you up if you were not under my protection, and if I had
not already saved your life, and if--" she stopped. These violent
extremes of feeling and the inward struggle which she no longer
attempted to conceal alarmed the young man, who tried, but in vain, to
observe her calmly. "Let us part here at once,--I insist upon it;
farewell!" she said. She turned hastily back, made a few steps, and
then returned to him. "No, no," she continued, "I have too great an
interest in knowing who you are. Hide nothing from me; tell me the
truth. Who are you? for you are no more a pupil of the Ecole
Polytechnique than you are eighteen years old."
"I am a sailor, ready to leave the ocean and follow you wherever your
imagination may lead you. If I have been so lucky as to rouse your
curiosity in any particular I shall be very careful not to lessen it.
Why mingle the serious affairs of real life with the life of the heart
in which we are beginning to understand each other?"
"Our souls might have understood each other," she said in a grave
voice. "But I have no right to exact your confidence. You will never
know the extent of your obligations to me; I shall not explain them."
They walked a few steps in silence.
"My life does interest you," said the young man.
"Monsieur, I implore you, tell me your name or else be silent. You are
a child," she added, with an impatient movement of her shoulders, "and
I feel a pity for you."
The obstinacy with which she insisted on knowing his name made the
pretended sailor hesitate between prudence and love. The vexation of a
desired woman is powerfully attractive; her anger, like her
submission, is imperious; many are the fibres she touches in a man's
heart, penetrating and subjugating it. Was this scene only another
aspect of Mademoiselle de Verneuil's coquetry? In spite of his sudden
passion the unnamed lover had the strength to distrust a woman thus
bent on forcing from him a secret of life and death.
"Why has my rash indiscretion, which sought to give a future to our
present meeting, destroyed the happiness of it?" he said, taking her
hand, which she left in his unconsciously.
Mademoiselle de Verneuil, who seemed to be in real distress, was
"How have I displeased you?" he said. "What can I do to soothe you?"
"Tell me your name."
He made no reply, and they walked some distance in silence. Suddenly
Mademoiselle de Verneuil stopped short, like one who has come to some
"Monsieur le Marquis de Montauran," she said, with dignity, but
without being able to conceal entirely the nervous trembling of her
features, "I desire to do you a great service, whatever it may cost
me. We part here. The coach and its escort are necessary for your
protection, and you must continue your journey in it. Fear nothing
from the Republicans; they are men of honor, and I shall give the
adjutant certain orders which he will faithfully execute. As for me, I
shall return on foot to Alencon with my maid, and take a few of the
soldiers with me. Listen to what I say, for your life depends on it.
If, before you reach a place of safety, you meet that odious man you
saw in my company at the inn, escape at once, for he will instantly
betray you. As for me,--" she paused, "as for me, I fling myself back
into the miseries of life. Farewell, monsieur, may you be happy;
She made a sign to Captain Merle, who was just then reaching the brow
of the hill behind her. The marquis was taken unawares by her sudden
"Stop!" he cried, in a tone of despair that was well acted.
This singular caprice of a girl for whom he would at that instant have
thrown away his life so surprised him that he invented, on the spur of
the moment, a fatal fiction by which to hide his name and satisfy the
curiosity of his companion.
"You have almost guessed the truth," he said. "I am an /emigre/,
condemned to death, and my name is Vicomte de Bauvan. Love of my
country has brought me back to France to join my brother. I hope to be
taken off the list of /emigres/ through the influence of Madame de
Beauharnais, now the wife of the First Consul; but if I fail in this,
I mean to die on the soil of my native land, fighting beside my friend
Montauran. I am now on my way secretly, by means of a passport he has
sent me, to learn if any of my property in Brittany is still
While the young man spoke Mademoiselle de Verneuil examined him with a
penetrating eye. She tried at first to doubt his words, but being by
nature confiding and trustful, she slowly regained an expression of
serenity, and said eagerly, "Monsieur, are you telling me the exact
"Yes, the exact truth," replied the young man, who seemed to have no
conscience in his dealings with women.
Mademoiselle de Verneuil gave a deep sigh, like a person who returns
"Ah!" she exclaimed, "I am very happy."
"Then you hate that poor Montauran?"
"No," she said; "but I could not make you understand my meaning. I was
not willing that /you/ should meet the dangers from which I will try
to protect him,--since he is your friend."
"Who told you that Montauran was in danger?"
"Ah, monsieur, even if I had not come from Paris, where his enterprise
is the one thing talked of, the commandant at Alencon said enough to
show his danger."
"Then let me ask you how you expect to save him from it."
"Suppose I do not choose to answer," she replied, with the haughty air
that women often assume to hide an emotion. "What right have you to
know my secrets?"
"The right of a man who loves you."
"Already?" she said. "No, you do not love me. I am only an object of
passing gallantry to you,--that is all. I am clear-sighted; did I not
penetrate your disguise at once? A woman who knows anything of good
society could not be misled, in these days, by a pupil of the
Polytechnique who uses choice language, and conceals as little as you
do the manners of a /grand seigneur/ under the mask of a Republican.
There is a trifle of powder left in your hair, and a fragrance of
nobility clings to you which a woman of the world cannot fail to
detect. Therefore, fearing that the man whom you saw accompanying me,
who has all the shrewdness of a woman, might make the same discovery,
I sent him away. Monsieur, let me tell you that a true Republican
officer just from the Polytechnique would not have made love to me as
you have done, and would not have taken me for a pretty adventuress.
Allow me, Monsieur de Bauvan, to preach you a little sermon from a
woman's point of view. Are you too juvenile to know that of all the
creatures of my sex the most difficult to subdue is that same
adventuress,--she whose price is ticketed and who is weary of
pleasure. That sort of woman requires, they tell me, constant
seduction; she yields only to her own caprices; any attempt to please
her argues, I should suppose, great conceit on the part of a man. But
let us put aside that class of women, among whom you have been good
enough to rank me; you ought to understand that a young woman,
handsome, brilliant, and of noble birth (for, I suppose, you will
grant me those advantages), does not sell herself, and can only be won
by the man who loves her in one way. You understand me? If she loves
him and is willing to commit a folly, she must be justified by great
and heroic reasons. Forgive me this logic, rare in my sex; but for the
sake of your happiness,--and my own," she added, dropping her head,
--"I will not allow either of us to deceive the other, nor will I
permit you to think that Mademoiselle de Verneuil, angel or devil, maid
or wife, is capable of being seduced by commonplace gallantry."
"Mademoiselle," said the marquis, whose surprise, though he concealed
it, was extreme, and who at once became a man of the great world, "I
entreat you to believe that I take you to be a very noble person, full
of the highest sentiments, or--a charming girl, as you please."
"I don't ask all that," she said, laughing. "Allow me to keep my
incognito. My mask is better than yours, and it pleases me to wear it,
--if only to discover whether those who talk to me of love are
sincere. Therefore, beware of me! Monsieur," she cried, catching his
arm vehemently, "listen to me; if you were able to prove that your
love is true, nothing, no human power, could part us. Yes, I would
fain unite myself to the noble destiny of some great man, and marry a
vast ambition, glorious hopes! Noble hearts are never faithless, for
constancy is in their fibre; I should be forever loved, forever happy,
--I would make my body a stepping-stone by which to raise the man who
loved me; I would sacrifice all things to him, bear all things from
him, and love him forever,--even if he ceased to love me. I have never
before dared to confess to another heart the secrets of mine, nor the
passionate enthusiasms which exhaust me; but I tell you something of
them now because, as soon as I have seen you in safety, we shall part
"Part? never!" he cried, electrified by the tones of that vigorous
soul which seemed to be fighting against some overwhelming thought.
"Are you free?" she said, with a haughty glance which subdued him.
"Free! yes, except for the sentence of death which hangs over me."
She added presently, in a voice full of bitter feeling: "If all this
were not a dream, a glorious life might indeed be ours. But I have
been talking folly; let us beware of committing any. When I think of
all you would have to be before you could rate me at my proper value I
"I doubt nothing if you will only grant me--"
"Hush!" she cried, hearing a note of true passion in his voice, "the
open air is decidedly disagreeing with us; let us return to the
That vehicle soon came up; they took their places and drove on several
miles in total silence. Both had matter for reflection, but henceforth
their eyes no longer feared to meet. Each now seemed to have an equal
interest in observing the other, and in mutually hiding important
secrets; but for all that they were drawn together by one and the same
impulse, which now, as a result of this interview, assumed the
dimensions of a passion. They recognized in each other qualities which
promised to heighten all the pleasures to be derived from either their
contest or their union. Perhaps both of them, living a life of
adventure, had reached the singular moral condition in which, either
from weariness or in defiance of fate, the mind rejects serious
reflection and flings itself on chance in pursuing an enterprise
precisely because the issues of chance are unknown, and the interest
of expecting them vivid. The moral nature, like the physical nature,
has its abysses into which strong souls love to plunge, risking their
future as gamblers risk their fortune. Mademoiselle de Verneuil and
the young marquis had obtained a revelation of each other's minds as a
consequence of this interview, and their intercourse thus took rapid
strides, for the sympathy of their souls succeeded to that of their
senses. Besides, the more they felt fatally drawn to each other, the
more eager they were to study the secret action of their minds. The
so-called Vicomte de Bauvan, surprised at the seriousness of the
strange girl's ideas, asked himself how she could possibly combine
such acquired knowledge of life with so much youth and freshness. He
thought he discovered an extreme desire to appear chaste in the
modesty and reserve of her attitudes. He suspected her of playing a
part; he questioned the nature of his own pleasure; and ended by
choosing to consider her a clever actress. He was right; Mademoiselle
de Verneuil, like other women of the world, grew the more reserved the
more she felt the warmth of her own feelings, assuming with perfect
naturalness the appearance of prudery, beneath which such women veil
their desires. They all wish to offer themselves as virgins on love's
altar; and if they are not so, the deception they seek to practise is
at least a homage which they pay to their lovers. These thoughts
passed rapidly through the mind of the young man and gratified him. In
fact, for both, this mutual examination was an advance in their
intercourse, and the lover soon came to that phase of passion in which
a man finds in the defects of his mistress a reason for loving her the
Mademoiselle de Verneuil was thoughtful. Perhaps her imagination led
her over a greater extent of the future than that of the young
/emigre/, who was merely following one of the many impulses of his
life as a man; whereas Marie was considering a lifetime, thinking to
make it beautiful, and to fill it with happiness and with grand and
noble sentiments. Happy in such thoughts, more in love with her ideal
than with the actual reality, with the future rather than with the
present, she desired now to return upon her steps so as to better
establish her power. In this she acted instinctively, as all women
act. Having agreed with her soul that she would give herself wholly
up, she wished--if we may so express it--to dispute every fragment of
the gift; she longed to take back from the past all her words and
looks and acts and make them more in harmony with the dignity of a
woman beloved. Her eyes at times expressed a sort of terror as she
thought of the interview just over, in which she had shown herself
aggressive. But as she watched the face before her, instinct with
power, and felt that a being so strong must also be generous, she
glowed at the thought that her part in life would be nobler than that
of most women, inasmuch as her lover was a man of character, a man
condemned to death, who had come to risk his life in making war
against the Republic. The thought of occupying such a soul to the
exclusion of all rivals gave a new aspect to many matters. Between the
moment, only five hours earlier, when she composed her face and toned
her voice to allure the young man, and the present moment, when she
was able to convulse him with a look, there was all the difference to
her between a dead world and a living one.
In the condition of soul in which Mademoiselle de Verneuil now existed
external life seemed to her a species of phantasmagoria. The carriage
passed through villages and valleys and mounted hills which left no
impressions on her mind. They reached Mayenne; the soldiers of the
escort were changed; Merle spoke to her; she replied; they crossed the
whole town and were again in the open country; but the faces, houses,
streets, landscape, men, swept past her like the figments of a dream.
Night came, and Marie was travelling beneath a diamond sky, wrapped in
soft light, and yet she was not aware that darkness had succeeded day;
that Mayenne was passed; that Fougeres was near; she knew not even
where she was going. That she should part in a few hours from the man
she had chosen, and who, she believed, had chosen her, was not for her
a possibility. Love is the only passion which looks to neither past
nor future. Occasionally her thoughts escaped in broken words, in
phrases devoid of meaning, though to her lover's ears they sounded
like promises of love. To the two witnesses of this birth of passion
she seemed to be rushing onward with fearful rapidity. Francine knew
Marie as well as Madame du Gua knew the marquis, and their experience
of the past made them await in silence some terrible finale. It was,
indeed, not long before the end came to the drama which Mademoiselle
de Verneuil had called, without perhaps imagining the truth of her
words, a tragedy.
When the travellers were about three miles beyond Mayenne they heard a
horseman riding after them with great rapidity. When he reached the
carriage he leaned towards it to look at Mademoiselle de Verneuil, who
recognized Corentin. That offensive personage made her a sign of
intelligence, the familiarity of which was deeply mortifying; then he
turned away, after chilling her to the bone with a look full of some
base meaning. The young /emigre/ seemed painfully affected by this
circumstance, which did not escape the notice of his pretended mother;
but Marie softly touched him, seeming by her eyes to take refuge in
his heart as thought it were her only haven. His brow cleared at this
proof of the full extent of his mistress's attachment, coming to him
as it were by accident. An inexplicable fear seemed to have overcome
her coyness, and her love was visible for a moment without a veil.
Unfortunately for both of them, Madame du Gua saw it all; like a miser
who gives a feast, she seemed to count the morsels and begrudge the
Absorbed in their happiness the lovers arrived, without any
consciousness of the distance they had traversed, at that part of the
road which passed through the valley of Ernee. There Francine noticed
and showed to her companions a number of strange forms which seemed to
move like shadows among the trees and gorse that surrounded the
fields. When the carriage came within range of these shadows a volley
of musketry, the balls of which whistled above their heads, warned the
travellers that the shadows were realities. The escort had fallen into
Captain Merle now keenly regretted having adopted Mademoiselle de
Verneuil's idea that a rapid journey by night would be a safe one,--an
error which had led him to reduce his escort from Mayenne to sixty
men. He at once, under Gerard's orders, divided his little troop into
two columns, one on each side of the road, which the two officers
marched at a quick step among the gorse hedges, eager to meet the
assailants, though ignorant of their number. The Blues beat the thick
bushes right and left with rash intrepidity, and replied to the
Chouans with a steady fire.
Mademoiselle de Verneuil's first impulse was to jump from the carriage
and run back along the road until she was out of sight of the battle;
but ashamed of her fears, and moved by the feeling which impels us all
to act nobly under the eyes of those we love, she presently stood
still, endeavoring to watch the combat coolly.
The marquis followed her, took her hand, and placed it on his breast.
"I was afraid," she said, smiling, "but now--"
Just then her terrified maid cried out: "Marie, take care!"
But as she said the words, Francine, who was springing from the
carriage, felt herself grasped by a strong hand. The sudden weight of
that enormous hand made her shriek violently; she turned, and was
instantly silenced on recognizing Marche-a-Terre.
"Twice I owe to chance," said the marquis to Mademoiselle de Verneuil,
"the revelation of the sweetest secrets of the heart. Thanks to
Francine I now know you bear the gracious name of Marie,--Marie, the
name I have invoked in my distresses,--Marie, a name I shall
henceforth speak in joy, and never without sacrifice, mingling
religion and love. There can be no wrong where prayer and love go
They clasped hands, looked silently into each other's eyes, and the
excess of their emotion took away from them the power to express it.
"There's no danger for /the rest of you/," Marche-a-Terre was saying
roughly to Francine, giving to his hoarse and guttural voice a
reproachful tone, and emphasizing his last words in a way to stupefy
the innocent peasant-girl. For the first time in her life she saw
ferocity in that face. The moonlight seemed to heighten the effect of
it. The savage Breton, holding his cap in one hand and his heavy
carbine in the other, dumpy and thickset as a gnome, and bathed in
that white light the shadows of which give such fantastic aspects to
forms, seemed to belong more to a world of goblins than to reality.
This apparition and its tone of reproach came upon Francine with the
suddenness of a phantom. He turned rapidly to Madame du Gua, with whom
he exchanged a few eager words, which Francine, who had somewhat
forgotten the dialect of Lower Brittany, did not understand. The lady
seemed to be giving him a series of orders. The short conference ended
by an imperious gesture of the lady's hand pointing out to the
Chouan the lovers standing a little distance apart. Before obeying,
Marche-a-Terre glanced at Francine whom he seemed to pity; he wished to
speak to her, and the girl was aware that his silence was compulsory.
The rough and sunburnt skin of his forehead wrinkled, and his eyebrows
were drawn violently together. Did he think of disobeying a renewed
order to kill Mademoiselle de Verneuil? The contortion of his face
made him all the more hideous to Madame du Gua, but to Francine the
flash of his eye seemed almost gentle, for it taught her to feel
intuitively that the violence of his savage nature would yield to her
will as a woman, and that she reigned, next to God, in that rough
The lovers were interrupted in their tender interview by Madame du
Gua, who ran up to Marie with a cry, and pulled her away as though
some danger threatened her. Her real object however, was to enable a
member of the royalist committee of Alencon, whom she saw approaching
them, to speak privately to the Gars.
"Beware of the girl you met at the hotel in Alencon; she will betray
you," said the Chevalier de Valois, in the young man's ear; and
immediately he and his little Breton horse disappeared among the
bushes from which he had issued.
The firing was heavy at that moment, but the combatants did not come
to close quarters.
"Adjutant," said Clef-des-Coeurs, "isn't it a sham attack, to capture
our travellers and get a ransom."
"The devil is in it, but I believe you are right," replied Gerard,
darting back towards the highroad.
Just then the Chouan fire slackened, for, in truth, the whole object
of the skirmish was to give the chevalier an opportunity to utter his
warning to the Gars. Merle, who saw the enemy disappearing across the
hedges, thought best not to follow them nor to enter upon a fight that
was uselessly dangerous. Gerard ordered the escort to take its former
position on the road, and the convoy was again in motion without the
loss of a single man. The captain offered his hand to Mademoiselle de
Verneuil to replace her in the coach, for the young nobleman stood
motionless, as if thunderstruck. Marie, amazed at his attitude, got
into the carriage alone without accepting the politeness of the
Republican; she turned her head towards her lover, saw him still
motionless, and was stupefied at the sudden change which had evidently
come over him. The young man slowly returned, his whole manner
betraying deep disgust.
"Was I not right?" said Madame du Gua in his ear, as she led him to
the coach. "We have fallen into the hands of a creature who is
trafficking for your head; but since she is such a fool as to have
fallen in love with you, for heaven's sake don't behave like a boy;
pretend to love her at least till we reach La Vivetiere; once there
--But," she thought to herself, seeing the young man take his place
with a dazed air, as if bewildered, "can it be that he already loves
The coach rolled on over the sandy road. To Mademoiselle de Verneuil's
eyes all seemed changed. Death was gliding beside her love. Perhaps it
was only fancy, but, to a woman who loves, fancy is as vivid as
reality. Francine, who had clearly understood from Marche-a-Terre's
glance that Mademoiselle de Verneuil's fate, over which she had
commanded him to watch, was in other hands than his, looked pale and
haggard, and could scarcely restrain her tears when her mistress spoke
to her. To her eyes Madame du Gua's female malignancy was scarcely
concealed by her treacherous smiles, and the sudden changes which her
obsequious attentions to Mademoiselle de Verneuil made in her manners,
voice, and expression was of a nature to frighten a watchful observer.
Mademoiselle de Verneuil herself shuddered instinctively, asking
herself, "Why should I fear? She is his mother." Then she trembled in
every limb as the thought crossed her mind, "Is she really his
mother?" An abyss suddenly opened before her, and she cast a look upon
the mother and son, which finally enlightened her. "That woman loves
him!" she thought. "But why has she begun these attentions after
showing me such coolness? Am I lost? or--is she afraid of me?"
As for the young man, he was flushed and pale by turns; but he kept a
quiet attitude and lowered his eyes to conceal the emotions which
agitated him. The graceful curve of his lips was lost in their close
compression, and his skin turned yellow under the struggle of his
stormy thoughts. Mademoiselle de Verneuil was unable to decide whether
any love for her remained in his evident anger. The road, flanked by
woods at this particular point, became darker and more gloomy, and the
obscurity prevented the eyes of the silent travellers from questioning
each other. The sighing of the wind, the rustling of the trees, the
measured step of the escort, gave that almost solemn character to the
scene which quickens the pulses. Mademoiselle de Verneuil could not
long try in vain to discover the reason of this change. The
recollection of Corentin came to her like a flash, and reminded her
suddenly of her real destiny. For the first time since the morning she
reflected seriously on her position. Until then she had yielded
herself up to the delight of loving, without a thought of the past or
of the future. Unable to bear the agony of her mind, she sought, with
the patience of love, to obtain a look from the young man's eyes, and
when she did so her paleness and the quiver in her face had so
penetrating an influence over him that he wavered; but the softening
"Are you ill, mademoiselle?" he said, but his voice had no gentleness;
the very question, the look, the gesture, all served to convince her
that the events of this day belonged to a mirage of the soul which was
fast disappearing like mists before the wind.
"Am I ill?" she replied, with a forced laugh. "I was going to ask you
the same question."
"I supposed you understood each other," remarked Madame du Gua with
Neither the young man nor Mademoiselle de Verneuil replied. The girl,
doubly insulted, was angered at feeling her powerful beauty powerless.
She knew she could discover the cause of the present situation the
moment she chose to do so; but, for the first time, perhaps, a woman
recoiled before a secret. Human life is sadly fertile in situations
where, as a result of either too much meditation or of some
catastrophe, our thoughts seem to hold to nothing; they have no
substance, no point of departure, and the present has no hooks by
which to hold to the past or fasten on the future. This was
Mademoiselle de Verneuil's condition at the present moment. Leaning
back in the carriage, she sat there like an uprooted shrub. Silent and
suffering, she looked at no one, wrapped herself in her grief, and
buried herself so completely in the unseen world, the refuge of the
miserable, that she saw nothing around her. Crows crossed the road in
the air above them cawing, but although, like all strong hearts, hers
had a superstitious corner, she paid no attention to the omen. The
party travelled on in silence. "Already parted?" Mademoiselle de
Verneuil was saying to herself. "Yet no one about us has uttered one
word. Could it be Corentin? It is not his interest to speak. Who can
have come to this spot and accused me? Just loved, and already
abandoned! I sow attraction, and I reap contempt. Is it my perpetual
fate to see happiness and ever lose it?" Pangs hitherto unknown to her
wrung her heart, for she now loved truly and for the first time. Yet
she had not so wholly delivered herself to her lover that she could
not take refuge from her pain in the natural pride and dignity of a
young and beautiful woman. The secret of her love--a secret often kept
by women under torture itself--had not escaped her lips. Presently she
rose from her reclining attitude, ashamed that she had shown her
passion by her silent sufferings; she shook her head with a
light-hearted action, and showed a face, or rather a mask, that was gay
and smiling, then she raised her voice to disguise the quiver of it.
"Where are we?" she said to Captain Merle, who kept himself at a
certain distance from the carriage.
"About six miles from Fougeres, mademoiselle."
"We shall soon be there, shall we not?" she went on, to encourage a
conversation in which she might show some preference for the young
"A Breton mile," said Merle much delighted, "has the disadvantage of
never ending; when you are at the top of one hill you see a valley and
another hill. When you reach the summit of the slope we are now
ascending you will see the plateau of Mont Pelerine in the distance.
Let us hope the Chouans won't take their revenge there. Now, in going
up hill and going down hill one doesn't make much headway. From La
Pelerine you will still see--"
The young /emigre/ made a movement at the name which Marie alone
"What is La Pelerine?" she asked hastily, interrupting the captain's
description of Breton topography.
"It is the summit of a mountain," said Merle, "which gives its name to
the Maine valley through which we shall presently pass. It separates
this valley from that of Couesnon, at the end of which is the town of
Fougeres, the chief town in Brittany. We had a fight there last
Vendemiaire with the Gars and his brigands. We were escorting Breton
conscripts, who meant to kill us sooner than leave their own land; but
Hulot is a rough Christian, and he gave them--"
"Did you see the Gars?" she asked. "What sort of man is he?"
Her keen, malicious eyes never left the so-called vicomte's face.
"Well, mademoiselle," replied Merle, nettled at being always
interrupted, "he is so like citizen du Gua, that if your friend did
not wear the uniform of the Ecole Polytechnique I could swear it was
Mademoiselle de Verneuil looked fixedly at the cold, impassible young
man who had scorned her, but she saw nothing in him that betrayed the
slightest feeling of alarm. She warned him by a bitter smile that she
had now discovered the secret so treacherously kept; then in a jesting
voice, her nostrils dilating with pleasure, and her head so turned
that she could watch the young man and yet see Merle, she said to the
Republican: "That new leader gives a great deal of anxiety to the
First Consul. He is very daring, they say; but he has the weakness of
rushing headlong into adventures, especially with women."
"We are counting on that to get even with him," said the captain. "If
we catch him for only an hour we shall put a bullet in his head. He'll
do the same to us if he meets us, so /par pari/--"
"Oh!" said the /emigre/, "we have nothing to fear. Your soldiers
cannot go as far as La Pelerine, they are tired, and, if you consent,
we can all rest a short distance from here. My mother stops at La
Vivetiere, the road to which turns off a few rods farther on. These
ladies might like to stop there too; they must be tired with their
long drive from Alencon without resting; and as mademoiselle," he
added, with forced politeness, "has had the generosity to give safety
as well as pleasure to our journey, perhaps she will deign to accept a
supper from my mother; and I think, captain," he added, addressing
Merle, "the times are not so bad but what we can find a barrel of
cider for your men. The Gars can't have taken all, at least my mother
"Your mother?" said Mademoiselle de Verneuil, interrupting him in a
tone of irony, and making no reply to his invitation.
"Does my age seem more improbable to you this evening, mademoiselle?"
said Madame du Gua. "Unfortunately I was married very young, and my
son was born when I was fifteen."
"Are you not mistaken, madame?--when you were thirty, perhaps."
Madame du Gua turned livid as she swallowed the sarcasm. She would
have liked to revenge herself on the spot, but was forced to smile,
for she was determined at any cost, even that of insult, to discover
the nature of the feelings that actuated the young girl; she therefore
pretended not to have understood her.
"The Chouans have never had a more cruel leader than the Gars, if we
are to believe the stories about him," she said, addressing herself
vaguely to both Francine and her mistress.
"Oh, as for cruel, I don't believe that," said Mademoiselle de
Verneuil; "he knows how to lie, but he seems rather credulous himself.
The leader of a party ought not to be the plaything of others."
"Do you know him?" asked the /emigre/, quietly.
"No," she replied, with a disdainful glance, "but I thought I did."
"Oh, mademoiselle, he's a /malin/, yes a /malin/," said Captain Merle,
shaking his head and giving with an expressive gesture the peculiar
meaning to the word which it had in those days but has since lost.
"Those old families do sometimes send out vigorous shoots. He has just
returned from a country where, they say, the /ci-devants/ didn't find
life too easy, and men ripen like medlars in the straw. If that fellow
is really clever he can lead us a pretty dance. He has already formed
companies of light infantry who oppose our troops and neutralize the
efforts of the government. If we burn a royalist village he burns two
of ours. He can hold an immense tract of country and force us to
spread out our men at the very moment when we want them on one spot.
Oh, he knows what he is about."
"He is cutting his country's throat," said Gerard in a loud voice,
interrupting the captain.
"Then," said the /emigre/, "if his death would deliver the nation, why
don't you catch him and shoot him?"
As he spoke he tried to look into the depths of Mademoiselle de
Verneuil's soul, and one of those voiceless scenes the dramatic
vividness and fleeting sagacity of which cannot be reproduced in
language passed between them in a flash. Danger is always interesting.
The worst criminal threatened with death excites pity. Though
Mademoiselle de Verneuil was now certain that the lover who had cast
her off was this very leader of the Chouans, she was not ready to
verify her suspicions by giving him up; she had quite another
curiosity to satisfy. She preferred to doubt or to believe as her
passion led her, and she now began deliberately to play with peril.
Her eyes, full of scornful meaning, bade the young chief notice the
soldiers of the escort; by thus presenting to his mind triumphantly an
image of his danger she made him feel that his life depended on a word
from her, and her lips seemed to quiver on the verge of pronouncing
it. Like an American Indian, she watched every muscle of the face of
her enemy, tied, as it were, to the stake, while she brandished her
tomahawk gracefully, enjoying a revenge that was still innocent, and
torturing like a mistress who still loves.
"If I had a son like yours, madame," she said to Madame du Gua, who
was visibly frightened, "I should wear mourning from the day when I
had yielded him to danger; I should know no peace of mind."
No answer was made to this speech. She turned her head repeatedly to
the escort and then suddenly to Madame du Gua, without detecting the
slightest secret signal between the lady and the Gars which might have
confirmed her suspicions on the nature of their intimacy, which she
longed to doubt. The young chief calmly smiled, and bore without
flinching the scrutiny she forced him to undergo; his attitude and the
expression of his face were those of a man indifferent to danger; he
even seemed to say at times: "This is your chance to avenge your
wounded vanity--take it! I have no desire to lessen my contempt for
Mademoiselle de Verneuil began to study the young man from the
vantage-ground of her position with coolness and dignity; at the
bottom of her heart she admired his courage and tranquillity. Happy in
discovering that the man she loved bore an ancient title (the
distinctions of which please every woman), she also found pleasure in
meeting him in their present situation, where, as champion of a cause
ennobled by misfortune, he was fighting with all the faculties of a
strong soul against a Republic that was constantly victorious. She
rejoiced to see him brought face to face with danger, and still
displaying the courage and bravery so powerful on a woman's heart;
again and again she put him to the test, obeying perhaps the instinct
which induces a woman to play with her victim as a cat plays with a
"By virtue of what law do you put the Chouans to death?" she said to
"That of the 14th of last Fructidor, which outlaws the insurgent
departments and proclaims martial law," replied the Republican.
"May I ask why I have the honor to attract your eyes?" she said
presently to the young chief, who was attentively watching her.
"Because of a feeling which a man of honor cannot express to any
woman, no matter who she is," replied the Marquis de Montauran, in a
low voice, bending down to her. "We live in times," he said aloud,
"when women do the work of the executioner and wield the axe with even
She looked at de Montauran fixedly; then, delighted to be attacked by
the man whose life she held in her hands, she said in a low voice,
smiling softly: "Your head is a very poor one; the executioner does
not want it; I shall keep it myself."
The marquis looked at the inexplicable girl, whose love had overcome
all, even insult, and who now avenged herself by forgiving that which
women are said never to forgive. His eyes grew less stern, less cold;
a look of sadness came upon his face. His love was stronger than he
suspected. Mademoiselle de Verneuil, satisfied with these faint signs
of a desired reconciliation, glanced at him tenderly, with a smile
that was like a kiss; then she leaned back once more in the carriage,
determined not to risk the future of this happy drama, believing she
had assured it with her smile. She was so beautiful! She knew so well
how to conquer all obstacles to love! She was so accustomed to take
all risks and push on at all hazards! She loved the unexpected, and
the tumults of life--why should she fear?
Before long the carriage, under the young chief's directions, left the
highway and took a road cut between banks planted with apple-trees,
more like a ditch than a roadway, which led to La Vivetiere. The
carriage now advanced rapidly, leaving the escort to follow slowly
towards the manor-house, the gray roofs of which appeared and
disappeared among the trees. Some of the men lingered on the way to
knock the stiff clay of the road-bed from their shoes.
"This is devilishly like the road to Paradise," remarked Beau-Pied.
Thanks to the impatience of the postilion, Mademoiselle de Verneuil
soon saw the chateau of La Vivetiere. This house, standing at the end
of a sort of promontory, was protected and surrounded by two deep
lakelets, and could be reached only by a narrow causeway. That part of
the little peninsula on which the house and gardens were placed was
still further protected by a moat filled with water from the two lakes
which it connected. The house really stood on an island that was
well-nigh impregnable,--an invaluable retreat for a chieftain, who
could be surprised there only by treachery.
Mademoiselle de Verneuil put her head out of the carriage as she heard
the rusty hinges of the great gates open to give entrance to an arched
portal which had been much injured during the late war. The gloomy
colors of the scene which met her eyes almost extinguished the
thoughts of love and coquetry in which she had been indulging. The
carriage entered a large courtyard that was nearly square, bordered on
each side by the steep banks of the lakelets. Those sterile shores,
washed by water, which was covered with large green patches, had no
other ornament than aquatic trees devoid of foliage, the twisted
trunks and hoary heads of which, rising from the reeds and rushes,
gave them a certain grotesque likeness to gigantic marmosets. These
ugly growths seemed to waken and talk to each other when the frogs
deserted them with much croaking, and the water-fowl, startled by the
sound of the wheels, flew low upon the surface of the pools. The
courtyard, full of rank and seeded grasses, reeds, and shrubs, either
dwarf or parasite, excluded all impression of order or of splendor.
The house appeared to have been long abandoned. The roof seemed to
bend beneath the weight of the various vegetations which grew upon it.
The walls, though built of the smooth, slaty stone which abounds in
that region, showed many rifts and chinks where ivy had fastened its
rootlets. Two main buildings, joined at the angle by a tall tower
which faced the lake, formed the whole of the chateau, the doors and
swinging, rotten shutters, rusty balustrades, and broken windows of
which seemed ready to fall at the first tempest. The north wind
whistled through these ruins, to which the moon, with her indefinite
light, gave the character and outline of a great spectre. But the
colors of those gray-blue granites, mingling with the black and tawny
schists, must have been seen in order to understand how vividly a
spectral image was suggested by the empty and gloomy carcass of the
building. Its disjointed stones and paneless windows, the battered
tower and broken roofs gave it the aspect of a skeleton; the birds of
prey which flew from it, shrieking, added another feature to this
vague resemblance. A few tall pine-trees standing behind the house
waved their dark foliage above the roof, and several yews cut into
formal shapes at the angles of the building, festooned it gloomily
like the ornaments on a hearse. The style of the doors, the coarseness
of the decorations, the want of harmony in the architecture, were all
characteristic of the feudal manors of which Brittany was proud;
perhaps justly proud, for they maintained upon that Gaelic ground a
species of monumental history of the nebulous period which preceded
the establishment of the French monarchy.
Mademoiselle de Verneuil, to whose imagination the word "chateau"
brought none but its conventional ideas, was affected by the funereal
aspect of the scene. She sprang from the carriage and stood apart
gazing at in terror, and debating within herself what action she ought
to take. Francine heard Madame du Gua give a sigh of relief as she
felt herself in safety beyond reach of the Blues; an exclamation
escaped her when the gates were closed, and she saw the carriage and
its occupants within the walls of this natural fortress.
The Marquis de Montauran turned hastily to Mademoiselle de Verneuil,
divining the thoughts that crowded in her mind.
"This chateau," he said, rather sadly, "was ruined by the war, just as
my plans for our happiness have been ruined by you."
"How ruined?" she asked in surprise.
"Are you indeed 'beautiful, brilliant, and of noble birth'?" he asked
ironically, repeating the words she had herself used in their former
"Who has told you to the contrary?"
"Friends, in whom I put faith; who care for my safety and are on the
watch against treachery."
"Treachery!" she exclaimed, in a sarcastic tone. "Have you forgotten
Hulot and Alencon already? You have no memory,--a dangerous defect in
the leader of a party. But if friends," she added, with increased
sarcasm, "are so all-powerful in your heart, keep your friends.
Nothing is comparable to the joys of friendship. Adieu; neither I nor
the soldiers of the Republic will stop here."
She turned towards the gateway with a look of wounded pride and scorn,
and her motions as she did so displayed a dignity and also a despair
which changed in an instant the thoughts of the young man; he felt
that the cost of relinquishing his desires was too great, and he gave
himself up deliberately to imprudence and credulity. He loved; and the
lovers had no desire now to quarrel with each other.
"Say but one word and I will believe you," he said, in a supplicating
"One word?" she answered, closing her lips tightly, "not a single
word; not even a gesture."
"At least, be angry with me," he entreated, trying to take the hand
she withheld from him,--"that is, if you dare to be angry with the
leader of the rebels, who is now as sad and distrustful as he was
lately happy and confiding."
Marie gave him a look that was far from angry, and he added: "You have
my secret, but I have not yours."
The alabaster brow appeared to darken at these words; she cast a look
of annoyance on the young chieftain, and answered, hastily: "Tell you
my secret? Never!"
In love every word, every glance has the eloquence of the moment; but
on this occasion Mademoiselle de Verneuil's exclamation revealed
nothing, and, clever as Montauran might be, its secret was
impenetrable to him, though the tones of her voice betrayed some
extraordinary and unusual emotion which piqued his curiosity.
"You have a singular way of dispelling suspicion," he said.
"Do you still suspect me?" she replied, looking him in the eye, as if
to say, "What rights have you over me?"
"Mademoiselle," said the young man, in a voice that was submissive and
yet firm, "the authority you exercise over Republican troops, this
"Ah, that reminds me! My escort and I," she asked, in a slightly
satirical tone, "your protectors, in short,--will they be safe here?"
"Yes, on the word of a gentleman. Whoever you be, you and your party
have nothing to fear in my house."
The promise was made with so loyal and generous an air and manner that
Mademoiselle de Verneuil felt absolutely secure as to the safety of
the Republican soldiers. She was about to speak when Madame du Gua's
approach silenced her. That lady had either overheard or guessed part
of their conversation, and was filled with anxiety at no longer
perceiving any signs of animosity between them. As soon as the marquis
caught sight of her, he offered his hand to Mademoiselle de Verneuil
and led her hastily towards the house, as if to escape an undesired
"I am in their way," thought Madame du Gua, remaining where she was.
She watched the lovers walking slowly towards the portico, where they
stopped, as if satisfied to have placed some distance between
themselves and her. "Yes, yes, I am in their way," she repeated,
speaking to herself; "but before long that creature will not be in
mine; the lake, God willing, shall have her. I'll help him keep his
word as a gentleman; once under the water, she has nothing to fear,
--what can be safer than that?"
She was looking fixedly at the still mirror of the little lake to the
right when suddenly she heard a rustling among the rushes and saw in
the moonlight the face of Marche-a-Terre rising behind the gnarled
trunk of an old willow. None but those who knew the Chouan well could
have distinguished him from the tangle of branches of which he seemed
a part. Madame du Gua looked about her with some distrust; she saw the
postilion leading his horses to a stable in the wing of the chateau
which was opposite to the bank where Marche-a-Terre was hiding;
Francine, with her back to her, was going towards the two lovers, who
at that moment had forgotten the whole earth. Madame du Gua, with a
finger on her lip to demand silence, walked towards the Chouan, who
guessed rather than heard her question, "How many of you are here?"
"They are sixty-five; I counted them."
"Good," said the savage, with sullen satisfaction.
Attentive to all Francine's movements, the Chouan disappeared behind
the willow, as he saw her turn to look for the enemy over whom she was
keeping an instinctive watch.
Six or eight persons, attracted by the noise of the carriage-wheels,
came out on the portico, shouting: "It is the Gars! it is he; here he
is!" On this several other men ran out, and their coming interrupted
the lovers. The Marquis de Montauran went hastily up to them, making
an imperative gesture for silence, and pointing to the farther end of
the causeway, where the Republican escort was just appearing. At the
sight of the well-known blue uniforms with red facings, and the
glittering bayonets, the amazed conspirators called out hastily, "You
have surely not betrayed us?"
"If I had, I should not warn you," said the marquis, smiling bitterly.
"Those Blues," he added, after a pause, "are the escort of this young
lady, whose generosity has delivered us, almost miraculously, from a
danger we were in at Alencon. I will tell you about it later.
Mademoiselle and her escort are here in safety, on my word as a
gentleman, and we must all receive them as friends."
Madame du Gua and Francine were now on the portico; the marquis
offered his hand to Mademoiselle de Verneuil, the group of gentlemen
parted in two lines to allow them to pass, endeavoring, as they did
so, to catch sight of the young lady's features; for Madame du Gua,
who was following behind, excited their curiosity by secret signs.
Mademoiselle de Verneuil saw, with surprise, that a large table was
set in the first hall, for about twenty guests. The dining-room opened
into a vast salon, where the whole party were presently assembled.
These rooms were in keeping with the dilapidated appearance of the
outside of the house. The walnut panels, polished by age, but rough
and coarse in design and badly executed, were loose in their places
and ready to fall. Their dingy color added to the gloom of these
apartments, which were barren of curtains and mirrors; a few venerable
bits of furniture in the last stages of decay alone remained, and
harmonized with the general destruction. Marie noticed maps and plans
stretched out upon long tables, and in the corners of the room a
quantity of weapons and stacked carbines. These things bore witness,
though she did not know it, to an important conference between the
leaders of the Vendeans and those of the Chouans.
The marquis led Mademoiselle de Verneuil to a large and worm-eaten
armchair placed beside the fireplace; Francine followed and stood
behind her mistress, leaning on the back of that ancient bit of
"You will allow me for a moment to play the part of master of the
house," he said, leaving the two women and mingling with the groups of
his other guests.
Francine saw the gentlemen hasten, after a few words from Montauran,
to hide their weapons, maps, and whatever else might arouse the
suspicions of the Republican officers. Some took off their broad
leather belts containing pistols and hunting-knives. The marquis
requested them to show the utmost prudence, and went himself to see to
the reception of the troublesome guests whom fate had bestowed upon
Mademoiselle de Verneuil, who had raised her feet to the fire and was
now warming them, did not turn her head as Montauran left the room,
thus disappointing those present, who were anxious to see her.
Francine alone saw the change produced upon the company by the
departure of the young chief. The gentlemen gathered hastily round
Madame du Gua, and during a conversation carried on in an undertone
between them, they all turned several times to look curiously at the
"You know Montauran," Madame du Gua said to them; "he has fallen in
love with that worthless girl, and, as you can easily understand, he
thinks all my warnings selfish. Our friends in Paris, Messieurs de
Valois and d'Esgrignon, have warned him of a trap set for him by
throwing some such creature at his head; but in spite of this he
allows himself to be fooled by the first woman he meets,--a girl who,
if my information is correct, has stolen a great name only to disgrace
The speaker, in whom our readers have already recognized the lady who
instigated the attack on the "turgotine," may be allowed to keep the
name which she used to escape the dangers that threatened her in
Alencon. The publication of her real name would only mortify a noble
family already deeply afflicted at the misconduct of this woman; whose
history, by the bye, has already been given on another scene.
The curiosity manifested by the company of men soon became impertinent
and almost hostile. A few harsh words reached Francine's ear, and
after a word said to her mistress the girl retreated into the
embrasure of a window. Marie rose, turned towards the insolent group,
and gave them a look full of dignity and even disdain. Her beauty, the
elegance of her manners, and her pride changed the behavior of her
enemies, and won her the flattering murmur which escaped their lips.
Two or three men, whose outward appearance seemed to denote the habits
of polite society and the gallantry acquired in courts, came towards
her; but her propriety of demeanor forced them to respect her, and
none dared speak to her; so that, instead of being herself arraigned
by the company, it was she who appeared to judge of them. These chiefs
of a war undertaken for God and the king bore very little resemblance
to the portraits her fancy had drawn of them. The struggle, really
great in itself, shrank to mean proportions as she observed these
provincial noblemen, all, with one or two vigorous exceptions, devoid
of significance and virility. Having made to herself a poem of such
heroes, Marie suddenly awakened to the truth. Their faces expressed to
her eyes more a love of scheming than a love of glory; self-interest
had evidently put arms into their hands. Still, it must be said that
these men did become heroic when brought into action. The loss of her
illusions made Mademoiselle de Verneuil unjust, and prevented her from
recognizing the real devotion which rendered several of these men
remarkable. It is true that most of those now present were
commonplace. A few original and marked faces appeared among them, but
even these were belittled by the artificiality and the etiquette of
aristocracy. If Marie generously granted intellect and perception to
the latter, she also discerned in them a total absence of the
simplicity, the grandeur, to which she had been accustomed among the
triumphant men of the Republic. This nocturnal assemblage in the old
ruined castle made her smile; the scene seemed symbolic of the
monarchy. But the thought came to her with delight that the marquis at
least played a noble part among these men, whose only remaining merit
in her eyes was devotion to a lost cause. She pictured her lover's
face upon the background of this company, rejoicing to see it stand
forth among those paltry and puny figures who were but the instruments
of his great designs.
The footsteps of the marquis were heard in the adjoining room.
Instantly the company separated into little groups and the whisperings
ceased. Like schoolboys who have plotted mischief in the master's
absence, they hurriedly became silent and orderly. Montauran entered.
Marie had the happiness of admiring him among his fellows, of whom he
was the youngest, the handsomest, and the chief. Like a king in his
court, he went from group to group, distributing looks and nods and
words of encouragement or warning, with pressure of the hands and
smiles; doing his duty as leader of a party with a grace and
self-possession hardly to be expected in the young man whom Marie had
so lately accused of heedlessness.
The presence of the marquis put an end to the open curiosity bestowed
on Mademoiselle de Verneuil, but Madame du Gua's scandalous
suggestions bore fruit. The Baron du Guenic, familiarly called
"l'Intime," who by rank and name had the best right among those
present to treat Montauran familiarly, took the young leader by the
arm and led him apart.
"My dear marquis," he said; "we are much disturbed at seeing you on
the point of committing an amazing folly."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Do you know where that girl comes from, who she is, and what her
schemes about you are?"
"Don't trouble yourself, my dear Intime; between you and me my fancy
for her will be over to-morrow."
"Yes; but suppose that creature betrays you to-night?"
"I'll answer that when you tell me why she has not done it already,"
said Montauran, assuming with a laugh an air of conceit. "My dear
fellow, look at that charming girl, watch her manners, and dare to
tell me she is not a woman of distinction. If she gave you a few
favorable looks wouldn't you feel at the bottom of your soul a respect
for her? A certain lady has prejudiced you. I will tell you this: if
she were the lost creature our friends are trying to make her out, I
would, after what she and I have said to each other, kill her myself."
"Do you suppose," said Madame du Gua, joining them, "that Fouche is
fool enough to send you a common prostitute out of the streets? He has
provided seductions according to your deserts. You may choose to be
blind, but your friends are keeping their eyes open to protect you."
"Madame," replied the Gars, his eyes flashing with anger, "be warned;
take no steps against that lady, nor against her escort; if you do,
nothing shall save you from my vengeance. I choose that Mademoiselle
de Verneuil is to be treated with the utmost respect, and as a lady
belonging to my family. We are, I believe, related to the de
The opposition the marquis was made to feel produced the usual effect
of such obstacles on all young men. Though he had, apparently, treated
Mademoiselle de Verneuil rather lightly, and left it to be supposed
that his passion for her was a mere caprice, he now, from a feeling of
pride, made immense strides in his relation to her. By openly
protecting her, his honor became concerned in compelling respect to
her person; and he went from group to group assuring his friends, in
the tone of a man whom it was dangerous to contradict, that the lady
was really Mademoiselle de Verneuil. The doubts and gossip ceased at
once. As soon as Montauran felt that harmony was restored and anxiety
allayed, he returned to his mistress eagerly, saying in a low voice:--
"Those mischievous people have robbed me of an hour's happiness."
"I am glad you have come back to me," she said, smiling. "I warn you
that I am inquisitive; therefore you must not get tired of my
questions. Tell me, in the first place, who is that worthy in a green
"That is the famous Major Brigaut, a man from the Marais, a comrade of
the late Mercier, called La Vendee."
"And that fat priest with the red face to whom he is talking at this
moment about me?" she went on.
"Do you want to know what they are saying?"
"Do I want to know it? What a useless question!"
"But I could not tell it without offending you."
"If you allow me to be insulted in your house without avenging me,
marquis, adieu!" she said. "I will not stay another moment. I have
some qualms already about deceiving these poor Republicans, loyal and
confiding as they are!"
She made a few hasty steps; the marquis followed her.
"Dear Marie, listen to me. On my honor, I have silenced their evil
speaking, without knowing whether it was false or true. But, placed as
I am, if friends whom we have in all the ministries in Paris warn me
to beware of every woman I meet, and assure me that Fouche has
employed against me a Judith of the streets, it is not unnatural that
my best friends here should think you too beautiful to be an honest
As he spoke the marquis plunged a glance into Mademoiselle de
Verneuil's eyes. She colored, and was unable to restrain her tears.
"I deserve these insults," she said. "I wish you really thought me
that despicable creature and still loved me; then, indeed, I could no
longer doubt you. I believed in you when you were deceiving me, and
you will not believe me now when I am true. Let us make an end of
this, monsieur," she said, frowning, but turning pale as death,
She rushed towards the dining-room with a movement of despair.
"Marie, my life is yours," said the young marquis in her ear.
She stopped short and looked at him.
"No, no," she said, "I will be generous. Farewell. In coming with you
here I did not think of my past nor of your future--I was beside
"You cannot mean that you will leave me now when I offer you my life?"
"You offer it in a moment of passion--of desire."
"I offer it without regret, and forever," he replied.
She returned to the room they had left. Hiding his emotions the
marquis continued the conversation.
"That fat priest whose name you asked is the Abbe Gudin, a Jesuit,
obstinate enough--perhaps I ought to say devoted enough,--to remain in
France in spite of the decree of 1793, which banished his order. He is
the firebrand of the war in these regions and a propagandist of the
religious association called the Sacre-Coeur. Trained to use religion
as an instrument, he persuades his followers that if they are killed
they will be brought to life again, and he knows how to rouse their
fanaticism by shrewd sermons. You see, it is necessary to work upon
every man's selfish interests to attain a great end. That is the
secret of all political success."
"And that vigorous, muscular old man, with the repulsive face, who is
he? I mean the one in the ragged gown of a barrister."
"Barrister! he aspires to be considered a brigadier-general. Did you
never hear of de Longuy?"
"Is that he!" exclaimed Mademoiselle de Verneuil, horrified. "You
employ such men as that?"
"Hush! he'll hear you. Do you see that other man in malignant
conversation with Madame du Gua?"
"The one in black who looks like a judge?"
"That is one of our go-betweens, La Billardiere, son of a councillor
to the Breton Parliament, whose real name is something like Flamet; he
is in close correspondence with the princes."
"And his neighbor? the one who is just putting up his white clay pipe,
and uses all the fingers of his right hand to snap the box, like a
"By Jove, you are right; he was game-keeper to the deceased husband of
that lady, and now commands one of the companies I send against the
Republican militia. He and Marche-a-Terre are the two most
conscientious vassals the king has here."
"But she--who is she?"
"Charette's last mistress," replied the marquis. "She wields great
influence over all these people."
"Is she faithful to his memory?"
For all answer the marquis gave a dubious smile.
"Do you think well of her?"
"You are very inquisitive."
"She is my enemy because she can no longer be my rival," said
Mademoiselle de Verneuil, laughing. "I forgive her her past errors if
she forgives mine. Who is that officer with the long moustache?"
"Permit me not to name him; he wants to get rid of the First Consul by
assassination. Whether he succeeds or not you will hear of him. He is
certain to become famous."
"And you have come here to command such men as these!" she exclaimed
in horror. "Are /they/ they king's defenders? Where are the gentlemen
and the great lords?"
"Where?" said the marquis, coolly, "they are in all the courts of
Europe. Who else should win over kings and cabinets and armies to
serve the Bourbon cause and hurl them at that Republic which threatens
monarchies and social order with death and destruction?"
"Ah!" she said, with generous emotion, "be to me henceforth the source
from which I draw the ideas I must still acquire about your cause--I
consent. But let me still remember that you are the only noble who
does his duty in fighting France with Frenchmen, without the help of
foreigners. I am a woman; I feel that if my child struck me in anger I
could forgive him; but if he saw me beaten by a stranger, and
consented to it, I should regard him as a monster."
"You shall remain a Republican," said the marquis, in the ardor
produced by the generous words which confirmed his hopes.
"Republican! no, I am that no longer. I could not now respect you if
you submitted to the First Consul," she replied. "But neither do I
like to see you at the head of men who are pillaging a corner of
France, instead of making war against the whole Republic. For whom are
you fighting? What do you expect of a king restored to his throne by
your efforts? A woman did that great thing once, and the liberated
king allowed her to be burned. Such men are the anointed of the Lord,
and there is danger in meddling with sacred things. Let God take care
of his own, and place, displace, and replace them on their purple
seats. But if you have counted the cost, and seen the poor return that
will come to you, you are tenfold greater in my eyes than I thought
"Ah! you are bewitching. Don't attempt to indoctrinate my followers,
or I shall be left without a man."
"If you would let me convert you, only you," she said, "we might live
happily a thousand leagues away from all this."
"These men whom you seem to despise," said the marquis, in a graver
tone, "will know how to die when the struggle comes, and all their
misdeeds will be forgotten. Besides, if my efforts are crowned with
some success, the laurel leaves of victory will hide all."
"I see no one but you who is risking anything."
"You are mistaken; I am not the only one," he replied, with true
modesty. "See, over there, the new leaders from La Vendee. The first,
whom you must have heard of as 'Le Grand Jacques,' is the Comte de
Fontain; the other is La Billardiere, whom I mentioned to you just
"Have you forgotten Quiberon, where La Billardiere played so equivocal
a part?" she said, struck by a sudden recollection.
"La Billardiere took a great deal upon himself. Serving princes is far
from lying on a bed of roses."
"Ah! you make me shudder!" cried Marie. "Marquis," she continued, in a
tone which seemed to indicate some mysterious personal reticence, "a
single instant suffices to destroy illusions and to betray secrets on
which the life and happiness of many may depend--" she stopped, as
though she feared she had said too much; then she added, in another
tone, "I wish I could be sure that those Republican soldiers were in
"I will be prudent," he said, smiling to disguise his emotion; "but
say no more about your soldiers; have I not answered for their safety
on my word as a gentleman?"
"And after all," she said, "what right have I to dictate to you? Be my
master henceforth. Did I not tell you it would drive me to despair to
rule a slave?"
"Monsieur le marquis," said Major Brigaut, respectfully, interrupting
the conversation, "how long are the Blues to remain here?"
"They will leave as soon as they are rested," said Marie.
The marquis looked about the room and noticed the agitation of those
present. He left Mademoiselle de Verneuil, and his place beside her
was taken at once by Madame du Gua, whose smiling and treacherous face
was in no way disconcerted by the young chief's bitter smile. Just
then Francine, standing by the window, gave a stifled cry. Marie,
noticing with amazement that the girl left the room, looked at Madame
du Gua, and her surprise increased as she saw the pallor on the face
of her enemy. Anxious to discover the meaning of Francine's abrupt
departure, she went to the window, where Madame du Gua followed her,
no doubt to guard against any suspicions which might arise in her
mind. They returned together to the chimney, after each had cast a
look upon the shore and the lake,--Marie without seeing anything that
could have caused Francine's flight, Madame du Gua seeing that which
satisfied her she was being obeyed.
The lake, at the edge of which Marche-a-Terre had shown his head,
where Madame du Gua had seen him, joined the moat in misty curves,
sometimes broad as ponds, in other places narrow as the artificial
streamlets of a park. The steep bank, washed by its waters, lay a few
rods from the window. Francine, watching on the surface of the water
the black lines thrown by the willows, noticed, carelessly at first,
the uniform trend of their branches, caused by a light breeze then
prevailing. Suddenly she thought she saw against the glassy surface a
figure moving with the spontaneous and irregular motion of life. The
form, vague as it was, seemed to her that of a man. At first she
attributed what she saw to the play of the moonlight upon the foliage,
but presently a second head appeared, then several others in the
distance. The shrubs upon the bank were bent and then violently
straightened, and Francine saw the long hedge undulating like one of
those great Indian serpents of fabulous size and shape. Here and
there, among the gorse and taller brambles, points of light could be
seen to come and go. The girl's attention redoubled, and she thought
she recognized the foremost of the dusky figures; indistinct as its
outlines were, the beating of her heart convinced her it was no other
than her lover, Marche-a-Terre. Eager to know if this mysterious
approach meant treachery, she ran to the courtyard. When she reached
the middle of its grass plot she looked alternately at the two wings
of the building and along the steep shores, without discovering, on
the inhabited side of the house, any sign of this silent approach. She
listened attentively and heard a slight rustling, like that which
might be made by the footfalls of some wild animal in the silence of
the forest. She quivered, but did not tremble. Though young and
innocent, her anxious curiosity suggested a ruse. She saw the coach
and slipped into it, putting out her head to listen, with the caution
of a hare giving ear to the sound of the distant hunters. She saw
Pille-Miche come out of the stable, accompanied by two peasants, all
three carrying bales of straw; these they spread on the ground in a
way to form a long bed of litter before the inhabited wing of the
house, parallel with the bank, bordered by dwarf trees.
"You're spreading straw as if you thought they'd sleep here! Enough,
Pille-Miche, enough!" said a low, gruff voice, which Francine
"And won't they sleep here?" returned Pille-Miche with a laugh. "I'm
afraid the Gars will be angry!" he added, too low for Francine to
"Well, let him," said Marche-a-Terre, in the same tone, "we shall have
killed the Blues anyway. Here's that coach, which you and I had better
Pille-Miche pulled the carriage by the pole and Marche-a-Terre pushed
it by one of the wheels with such force that Francine was in the barn
and about to be locked up before she had time to reflect on her
situation. Pille-Miche went out to fetch the barrel of cider, which
the marquis had ordered for the escort; and Marche-a-Terre was passing
along the side of the coach, to leave the barn and close the door,
when he was stopped by a hand which caught and held the long hair of
his goatskin. He recognized a pair of eyes the gentleness of which
exercised a power of magnetism over him, and he stood stock-still for
a moment under their spell. Francine sprang from the carriage, and
said, in the nervous tone of an excited woman: "Pierre, what news did
you give to that lady and her son on the road? What is going on here?
Why are you hiding? I must know all."
These words brought a look on the Chouan's face which Francine had
never seen there before. The Breton led his innocent mistress to the
door; there he turned her towards the blanching light of the moon, and
answered, as he looked in her face with terrifying eyes: "Yes, by my
damnation, Francine, I will tell you, but not until you have sworn on
these beads (and he pulled an old chaplet from beneath his goatskin)
--on this relic, which /you know well/," he continued, "to answer me
truly one question."
Francine colored as she saw the chaplet, which was no doubt a token of
their love. "It was on that," he added, much agitated, "that you
He did not finish the sentence. The young girl placed her hand on the
lips of her savage lover and silenced him.
"Need I swear?" she said.
He took his mistress gently by the hand, looked at her for a moment
and said: "Is the lady you are with really Mademoiselle de Verneuil?"
Francine stood with hanging arms, her eyelids lowered, her head bowed,
pale and speechless.
"She is a strumpet!" cried Marche-a-Terre, in a terrifying voice.
At the word the pretty hand once more covered his lips, but this time
he sprang back violently. The girl no longer saw a lover; he had
turned to a wild beast in all the fury of its nature. His eyebrows
were drawn together, his lips drew apart, and he showed his teeth like
a dog which defends its master.
"I left you pure, and I find you muck. Ha! why did I ever leave you!
You are here to betray us; to deliver up the Gars!"
These sentences sounded more like roars than words. Though Francine
was frightened, she raised her angelic eyes at this last accusation
and answered calmly, as she looked into his savage face: "I will
pledge my eternal safety that that is false. That's an idea of the
lady you are serving."
He lowered his head; then she took his hand and nestling to him with a
pretty movement said: "Pierre, what is all this to you and me? I don't
know what you understand about it, but I can't make it out. Recollect
one thing: that noble and beautiful young lady has been my
benefactress; she is also yours--we live together like two sisters. No
harm must ever come to her where we are, you and I--in our lifetime at
least. Swear it! I trust no one here but you."
"I don't command here," said the Chouan, in a surly tone.
His face darkened. She caught his long ears and twisted them gently as
if playing with a cat.
"At least," she said, seeing that he looked less stern, "promise me to
use all the power you have to protect our benefactress."
He shook his head as if he doubted of success, and the motion made her
tremble. At this critical moment the escort was entering the
courtyard. The tread of the soldiers and the rattle of their weapons
awoke the echoes and seemed to put an end to Marche-a-Terre's
"Perhaps I can save her," he said, "if you make her stay in the house.
And mind," he added, "whatever happens, you must stay with her and
keep silence; if not, no safety."
"I promise it," she replied in terror.
"Very good; then go in--go in at once, and hide your fears from every
one, even your mistress."
She pressed his hand; he stood for a moment watching her with an
almost paternal air as she ran with the lightness of a bird up the
portico; then he slipped behind the bushes, like an actor darting
behind the scenes as the curtain rises on a tragedy.
"Do you know, Merle," said Gerard as they reached the chateau, "that
this place looks to me like a mousetrap?"
"So I think," said the captain, anxiously.
The two officers hastened to post sentinels to guard the gate and the
causeway; then they examined with great distrust the precipitous banks
of the lakes and the surroundings of the chateau.
"Pooh!" said Merle, "we must do one of two things: either trust
ourselves in this barrack with perfect confidence, or else not enter
it at all."
"Come, let's go in," replied Gerard.
The soldiers, released at the word of command, hastened to stack their
muskets in conical sheaves, and to form a sort of line before the
litter of straw, in the middle of which was the promised barrel of
cider. They then divided into groups, to whom two peasants began to
distribute butter and rye-bread. The marquis appeared in the portico
to welcome the officers and take them to the salon. As Gerard went up
the steps he looked at both ends of the portico, where some venerable
larches spread their black branches; and he called up Clef-des-Coeurs
"You will each reconnoitre the gardens and search the bushes, and post
a sentry before your line."
"May we light our fire before starting, adjutant?" asked
"There! you see, Clef-des-Coeurs," said Beau-Pied, "the adjutant's
wrong to run himself into this wasp's-nest. If Hulot was in command we
shouldn't be cornered here--in a saucepan!"
"What a stupid you are!" replied Clef-des-Coeurs, "haven't you guessed,
you knave of tricks, that this is the home of the beauty our jovial
Merle has been whistling round? He'll marry her to a certainty--that's
as clear as a well-rubbed bayonet. A woman like that will do honor to
"True for you," replied Beau-Pied, "and you may add that she gives
pretty good cider--but I can't drink it in peace till I know what's
behind those devilish hedges. I always remember poor Larose and
Vieux-Chapeau rolling down the ditch at La Pelerine. I shall recollect
Larose's queue to the end of my days; it went hammering down like the
knocker of a front door."
"Beau-Pied, my friend; you have too much imagination for a soldier;
you ought to be making songs at the national Institute."
"If I've too much imagination," retorted Beau-Pied, "you haven't any;
it will take you some time to get your degree as consul."
A general laugh put an end to the discussion, for Clef-des-Coeurs found
no suitable reply in his pouch with which to floor his adversary.
"Come and make our rounds; I'll go to the right," said Beau-Pied.
"Very good, I'll take the left," replied his comrade. "But stop one
minute, I must have a glass of cider; my throat is glued together like
the oiled-silk of Hulot's best hat."
The left bank of the gardens, which Clef-des-Coeurs thus delayed
searching at once, was, unhappily, the dangerous slope where Francine
had seen the moving line of men. All things go by chance in war.
As Gerard entered the salon and bowed to the company he cast a
penetrating eye on the men who were present. Suspicions came forcibly
to his mind, and he went at once to Mademoiselle de Verneuil and said
in a low voice: "I think you had better leave this place immediately.
We are not safe here."
"What can you fear while I am with you?" she answered, laughing. "You
are safer here than you would be at Mayenne."
A woman answers for her lover in good faith. The two officers were
reassured. The party now moved into the dining-room after some
discussion about a guest, apparently of some importance, who had not
appeared. Mademoiselle de Verneuil was able, thanks to the silence
which always reigns at the beginning of a meal, to give some attention
to the character of the assemblage, which was curious enough under
existing circumstances. One thing struck her with surprise. The
Republican officers seemed superior to the rest of the assembly by
reason of their dignified appearance. Their long hair tied behind in a
queue drew lines beside their foreheads which gave, in those days, an
expression of great candor and nobleness to young heads. Their
threadbare blue uniforms with the shabby red facings, even their
epaulets flung back behind their shoulders (a sign throughout the
army, even among the leaders, of a lack of overcoats),--all these
things brought the two Republican officers into strong relief against
the men who surrounded them.
"Oh, they are the Nation, and that means liberty!" thought Marie;
then, with a glance at the royalists, she added, "on the other side is
a man, a king, and privileges." She could not refrain from admiring
Merle, so thoroughly did that gay soldier respond to the ideas she had
formed of the French trooper who hums a tune when the balls are
whistling, and jests when a comrade falls. Gerard was more imposing.
Grave and self-possessed, he seemed to have one of those truly
Republican spirits which, in the days of which we write, crowded the
French armies, and gave them, by means of these noble individual
devotions, an energy which they had never before possessed. "That is
one of my men with great ideals," thought Mademoiselle de Verneuil.
"Relying on the present, which they rule, they destroy the past for
the benefit of the future."
The thought saddened her because she could not apply it to her lover;
towards whom she now turned, to discard by a different admiration,
these beliefs in the Republic she was already beginning to dislike.
Looking at the marquis, surrounded by men who were bold enough,
fanatical enough, and sufficiently long-headed as to the future to
give battle to a victorious Republic in the hope of restoring a dead
monarchy, a proscribed religion, fugitive princes, and lost
privileges, "He," thought she, "has no less an aim than the others;
clinging to those fragments, he wants to make a future from the past."
Her mind, thus grasped by conflicting images, hesitated between the
new and the old wrecks. Her conscience told her that the one was
fighting for a man, the other for a country; but she had now reached,
through her feelings, the point to which reason will also bring us,
namely: to a recognition that the king /is/ the Nation.
The steps of a man echoed in the adjoining room, and the marquis rose
from the table to greet him. He proved to be the expected guest, and
seeing the assembled company he was about to speak, when the Gars made
him a hasty sign, which he concealed from the Republicans, to take his
place and say nothing. The more the two officers analyzed the faces
about them, the more their suspicions increased. The clerical dress of
the Abbe Gudin and the singularity of the Chouan garments were so many
warnings to them; they redoubled their watchfulness, and soon
discovered many discrepancies between the manners of the guests and
the topics of their conversation. The republicanism of some was quite
as exaggerated as the aristocratic bearing of others was unmistakable.
Certain glances which they detected between the marquis and his
guests, certain words of double meaning imprudently uttered, but above
all the fringe of beard which was round the necks of several of the
men and was very ill-concealed by their cravats, brought the officers
at last to a full conviction of the truth, which flashed upon their
minds at the same instant. They gave each other one look, for Madame
du Gua had cleverly separated them and they could only impart their
thoughts by their eyes. Such a situation demanded the utmost caution.
They did not know whether they and their men were masters of the
situation, or whether they had been drawn into a trap, or whether
Mademoiselle de Verneuil was the dupe or the accomplice of this
inexplicable state of things. But an unforeseen event precipitated a
crisis before they had fully recognized the gravity of their
The new guest was one of those solid men who are square at the base
and square at the shoulders, with ruddy skins; men who lean backward
when they walk, seeming to displace much atmosphere about them, and
who appear to think that more than one glance of the eye is needful to
take them in. Notwithstanding his rank, he had taken life as a joke
from which he was to get as much amusement as possible; and yet,
although he knelt at his own shrine only, he was kind, polite, and
witty, after the fashion of those noblemen who, having finished their
training at court, return to live on their estates, and never suspect
that they have, at the end of twenty years, grown rusty. Men of this
type fail in tact with imperturbable coolness, talk folly wittily,
distrust good with extreme shrewdness, and take incredible pains to
fall into traps.
When, by a play of his knife and fork which proclaimed him a good
feeder, he had made up for lost time, he began to look round on the
company. His astonishment was great when he observed the two
Republican officers, and he questioned Madame du Gua with a look,
while she, for all answer, showed him Mademoiselle de Verneuil in the
same way. When he saw the siren whose demeanor had silenced the
suspicions Madame du Gua had excited among the guests, the face of the
stout stranger broke into one of those insolent, ironical smiles which
contain a whole history of scandal. He leaned to his next neighbor and
whispered a few words, which went from ear to ear and lip to lip,
passing Marie and the two officers, until they reached the heart of
one whom they struck to death. The leaders of the Vendeans and the
Chouans assembled round that table looked at the Marquis de Montauran
with cruel curiosity. The eyes of Madame du Gua, flashing with joy,
turned from the marquis to Mademoiselle de Verneuil, who was
speechless with surprise. The Republican officers, uneasy in mind,
questioned each other's thoughts as they awaited the result of this
extraordinary scene. In a moment the forks remained inactive in every
hand, silence reigned, and every eye was turned to the Gars. A
frightful anger showed upon his face, which turned waxen in tone. He
leaned towards the guest from whom the rocket had started and said, in
a voice that seemed muffled in crape, "Death of my soul! count, is
"On my honor," said the count, bowing gravely.
The marquis lowered his eyes for a moment, then he raised them and
looked fixedly at Marie, who, watchful of his struggle, knew that look
to be her death-warrant.
"I would give my life," he said in a low voice, "for revenge on the
Madame du Gua understood the words from the mere movement of the young
man's lips, and she smiled upon him as we smile at a friend whose
regrets are about to cease. The scorn felt for Mademoiselle de
Verneuil and shown on every face, brought to its height the growing
indignation of the two Republicans, who now rose hastily:--
"Do you want anything, citizens?" asked Madame du Gua.
"Our swords, /citoyenne/," said Gerard, sarcastically.
"You do not need them at table," said the marquis, coldly.
"No, but we are going to play at a game you know very well," replied
Gerard. "This is La Pelerine over again."
The whole party seemed dumfounded. Just then a volley, fired with
terrible regularity, echoed through the courtyard. The two officers
sprang to the portico; there they beheld a hundred or so of Chouans
aiming at the few soldiers who were not shot down at the first
discharge; these they fired upon as upon so many hares. The Bretons
swarmed from the bank, where Marche-a-Terre had posted them at the
peril of their lives; for after the last volley, and mingling with the
cries of the dying, several Chouans were heard to fall into the lake,
where they were lost like stones in a gulf. Pille-Miche took aim at
Gerard; Marche-a-Terre held Merle at his mercy.
"Captain," said the marquis to Merle, repeating to the Republican his
own words, "you see that men are like medlars, they ripen on the
straw." He pointed with a wave of his hand to the entire escort of the
Blues lying on the bloody litter where the Chouans were despatching
those who still breathed, and rifling the dead bodies with incredible
rapidity. "I was right when I told you that your soldiers will not get
as far as La Pelerine. I think, moreover, that your head will fill
with lead before mine. What say you?"
Montauran felt a horrible necessity to vent his rage. His bitter
sarcasm, the ferocity, even the treachery of this military execution,
done without his orders, but which he now accepted, satisfied in some
degree the craving of his heart. In his fury he would fain have
annihilated France. The dead Blues, the living officers, all innocent
of the crime for which he demanded vengeance, were to him the cards by
which a gambler cheats his despair.
"I would rather perish than conquer as you are conquering," said
Gerard. Then, seeing the naked and bloody corpses of his men, he cried
out, "Murdered basely, in cold blood!"
"That was how you murdered Louis XVI., monsieur," said the marquis.
"Monsieur," replied Gerard, haughtily, "there are mysteries in a
king's trial which you could never comprehend."
"Do you dare to accuse the king?" exclaimed the marquis.
"Do you dare to fight your country?" retorted Gerard.
"Folly!" said the marquis.
"Parricide!" exclaimed the Republican.
"Well, well," cried Merle, gaily, "a pretty time to quarrel at the
moment of your death."
"True," said Gerard, coldly, turning to the marquis. "Monsieur, if it
is your intention to put us to death, at least have the goodness to
shoot us at once."
"Ah! that's like you, Gerard," said Merle, "always in a hurry to
finish things. But if one has to travel far and can't breakfast on the
morrow, at least we might sup."
Gerard sprang forward without a word towards the wall. Pille-Miche
covered him, glancing as he did so at the motionless marquis, whose
silence he took for an order, and the adjutant-major fell like a tree.
Marche-a-Terre ran to share the fresh booty with Pille-Miche; like two
hungry crows they disputed and clamored over the still warm body.
"If you really wish to finish your supper, captain, you can come with
me," said the marquis to Merle.
The captain followed him mechanically, saying in a low voice: "It is
that devil of a strumpet that caused all this. What will Hulot say?"
"Strumpet!" cried the marquis in a strangled voice, "then she is one?"
The captain seemed to have given Montauran a death-blow, for he
re-entered the house with a staggering step, pale, haggard, and
Another scene had meanwhile taken place in the dining-room, which
assumed, in the marquis's absence, such a threatening character that
Marie, alone without her protector, might well fancy she read her
death-warrant in the eyes of her rival. At the noise of the volley the
guests all sprang to their feet, but Madame du Gua remained seated.
"It is nothing," she said; "our men are despatching the Blues." Then,
seeing the marquis outside on the portico, she rose. "Mademoiselle
whom you here see," she continued, with the calmness of concentrated
fury, "came here to betray the Gars! She meant to deliver him up to
"I could have done so twenty times to-day and yet I saved his life,"
said Mademoiselle de Verneuil.
Madame du Gua sprang upon her rival like lightning; in her blind
excitement she tore apart the fastenings of the young girl's spencer,
the stuff, the embroidery, the corset, the chemise, and plunged her
savage hand into the bosom where, as she well knew, a letter lay
hidden. In doing this her jealousy so bruised and tore the palpitating
throat of her rival, taken by surprise at the sudden attack, that she
left the bloody marks of her nails, feeling a sort of pleasure in
making her submit to so degrading a prostitution. In the feeble
struggle which Marie made against the furious woman, her hair became
unfastened and fell in undulating curls about her shoulders; her face
glowed with outraged modesty, and tears made their burning way along
her cheeks, heightening the brilliancy of her eyes, as she quivered
with shame before the looks of the assembled men. The hardest judge
would have believed in her innocence when he saw her sorrow.
Hatred is so uncalculating that Madame du Gua did not perceive she had
overshot her mark, and that no one listened to her as she cried
triumphantly: "You shall now see, gentlemen, whether I have slandered
that horrible creature."
"Not so horrible," said the bass voice of the guest who had thrown the
first stone. "But for my part, I like such horrors."
"Here," continued the cruel woman, "is an order signed by Laplace, and
counter-signed by Dubois, minister of war." At these names several
heads were turned to her. "Listen to the wording of it," she went on.
"'The military citizen commanders of all grades, the district
administrators, the /procureur-syndics/, et cetera, of the
insurgent departments, and particularly those of the localities in
which the ci-devant Marquis de Montauran, leader of the brigands
and otherwise known as the Gars, may be found, are hereby
commanded to give aid and assistance to the /citoyenne/ Marie
Verneuil and to obey the orders which she may give them at her
"A worthless hussy takes a noble name to soil it with such treachery,"
added Madame du Gua.
A movement of astonishment ran through the assembly.
"The fight is not even if the Republic employs such pretty women
against us," said the Baron du Guenic gaily.
"Especially women who have nothing to lose," said Madame du Gua.
"Nothing?" cried the Chevalier du Vissard. "Mademoiselle has a
property which probably brings her in a pretty good sum."
"The Republic must like a joke, to send strumpets for ambassadors,"
said the Abbe Gudin.
"Unfortunately, Mademoiselle seeks the joys that kill," said Madame du
Gua, with a horrible expression of pleasure at the end she foresaw.
"Then why are you still living?" said her victim, rising to her feet,
after repairing the disorder of her clothes.
This bitter sarcasm excited a sort of respect for so brave a victim,
and silenced the assembly. Madame du Gua saw a satirical smile on the
lips of the men, which infuriated her, and paying no attention to the
marquis and Merle who were entering the room, she called to the Chouan
who followed them. "Pille-Miche!" she said, pointing to Mademoiselle
de Verneuil, "take her; she is my share of the booty, and I turn her
over to you--do what you like with her."
At these words the whole assembly shuddered, for the hideous heads of
Pille-Miche and Marche-a-Terre appeared behind the marquis, and the
punishment was seen in all its horror.
Francine was standing with clasped hands as though paralyzed.
Mademoiselle de Verneuil, who recovered her presence of mind before
the danger that threatened her, cast a look of contempt at the
assembled men, snatched the letter from Madame du Gua's hand, threw up
her head with a flashing eye, and darted towards the door where
Merle's sword was still leaning. There she came upon the marquis, cold
and motionless as a statue. Nothing pleaded for her on his fixed, firm
features. Wounded to the heart, life seemed odious to her. The man who
had pledged her so much love must have heard the odious jests that
were cast upon her, and stood there silently a witness of the infamy
she had been made to endure. She might, perhaps, have forgiven him his
contempt, but she could not forgive his having seen her in so
humiliating a position, and she flung him a look that was full of
hatred, feeling in her heart the birth of an unutterable desire for
vengeance. With death beside her, the sense of impotence almost
strangled her. A whirlwind of passion and madness rose in her head;
the blood which boiled in her veins made everything about her seem
like a conflagration. Instead of killing herself, she seized the sword
and thrust it though the marquis. But the weapon slipped between his
arm and side; he caught her by the wrist and dragged her from the
room, aided by Pille-Miche, who had flung himself upon the furious
creature when she attacked his master. Francine shrieked aloud.
"Pierre! Pierre! Pierre!" she cried in heart-rending tones, as she
followed her mistress.
The marquis closed the door on the astonished company. When he reached
the portico he was still holding the woman's wrist, which he clasped
convulsively, while Pille-Miche had almost crushed the bones of her
arm with his iron fingers, but Marie felt only the burning hand of the
"You hurt me," she said.
For all answer he looked at her a moment.
"Have you some base revenge to take--like that woman?" she said. Then,
seeing the dead bodies on the heap of straw, she cried out,
shuddering: "The faith of a gentleman! ha! ha! ha!" With a frightful
laugh she added: "Ha! the glorious day!"
"Yes," he said, "a day without a morrow."
He let go her hand and took a long, last look at the beautiful
creature he could scarcely even then renounce. Neither of these proud
natures yielded. The marquis may have looked for a tear, but the eyes
of the girl were dry and scornful. Then he turned quickly, and left
the victim to Pille-Miche.
"God will hear me, marquis," she called. "I will ask Him to give you a
glorious day without a morrow."
Pille-Miche, not a little embarrassed with so rich a prize, dragged her
away with some gentleness and a mixture of respect and scorn. The
marquis, with a sigh, re-entered the dining-room, his face like that
of a dead man whose eyes have not been closed.
Merle's presence was inexplicable to the silent spectators of this
tragedy; they looked at him in astonishment and their eyes questioned
each other. Merle saw their amazement, and, true to his native
character, he said, with a smile: "Gentlemen, you will scarcely refuse
a glass of wine to a man who is about to make his last journey."
It was just as the company had calmed down under the influence of
these words, said with a true French carelessness which pleased the
Vendeans, that Montauran returned, his face pale, his eyes fixed.
"Now you shall see," said Merle, "how death can make men lively."
"Ah!" said the marquis, with a gesture as if suddenly awaking, "here
you are, my dear councillor of war," and he passed him a bottle of
/vin de Grave/.
"Oh, thanks, citizen marquis," replied Merle. "Now I can divert
At this sally Madame du Gua turned to the other guests with a smile,
saying, "Let us spare him the dessert."
"That is a very cruel vengeance, madame," he said. "You forget my
murdered friend who is waiting for me; I never miss an appointment."
"Captain," said the marquis, throwing him his glove, "you are free;
that's your passport. The Chasseurs du Roi know that they must not
kill all the game."
"So much the better for me!" replied Merle, "but you are making a
mistake; we shall come to close quarters before long, and I'll not let
you off. Though your head can never pay for Gerard's, I want it and I
shall have it. Adieu. I could drink with my own assassins, but I
cannot stay with those of my friend"; and he disappeared, leaving the
guests astonished at his coolness.
"Well, gentlemen, what do you think of the lawyers and surgeons and
bailiffs who manage the Republic," said the Gars, coldly.
"God's-death! marquis," replied the Comte de Bauvan; "they have
shocking manners; that fellow presumed to be impertinent, it seems to
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