Honore de Balzac
Part 2 out of 7
the Marquis d'Esgrignon, and the Troisvilles were, it was said,
corresponding with these leaders in the department of the Orne. The
chief of the great plan of operations which was thus developing slowly
but in formidable proportions was really "the Gars,"--a name given by
the Chouans to the Marquis de Montauran on his arrival from England.
The information sent to Hulot by the War department proved correct in
all particulars. The marquis gained after a time sufficient ascendancy
over the Chouans to make them understand the true object of the war,
and to persuade them that the excesses of which they were guilty
brought disgrace upon the cause they had adopted. The daring nature,
the nerve, coolness, and capacity of this young nobleman awakened the
hopes of all the enemies of the Republic, and suited so thoroughly the
grave and even solemn enthusiasm of those regions that even the least
zealous partisans of the king did their part in preparing a decisive
blow in behalf of the defeated monarchy.
Hulot received no answer to the questions and the frequent reports
which he addressed to the government in Paris.
But the news of the almost magical return of General Bonaparte and the
events of the 18th Brumaire were soon current in the air. The military
commanders of the West understood then the silence of the ministers.
Nevertheless, they were only the more impatient to be released from
the responsibility that weighed upon them; and they were in every way
desirous of knowing what measures the new government was likely to
take. When it was known to these soldiers that General Bonaparte was
appointed First Consul of the Republic their joy was great; they saw,
for the first time, one of their own profession called to the
management of the nation. France, which had made an idol of this young
hero, quivered with hope. The vigor and energy of the nation revived.
Paris, weary of its long gloom, gave itself up to fetes and pleasures
of which it had been so long deprived. The first acts of the Consulate
did not diminish any hopes, and Liberty felt no alarm. The First
Consul issued a proclamation to the inhabitants of the West. The
eloquent allocutions addressed to the masses which Bonaparte had, as
it were, invented, produced effects in those days of patriotism and
miracle that were absolutely startling. His voice echoed through the
world like the voice of a prophet, for none of his proclamations had,
as yet, been belied by defeat.
An impious war again inflames the West.
The makers of these troubles are traitors sold to the English, or
brigands who seek in civil war opportunity and license for
To such men the government owes no forbearance, nor any
declaration of its principles.
But there are citizens, dear to France, who have been misled by
their wiles. It is so such that truth and light are due.
Unjust laws have been promulgated and executed; arbitrary acts
have threatened the safety of citizens and the liberty of
consciences; mistaken entries on the list of /emigres/ imperil
citizens; the great principles of social order have been violated.
The Consuls declare that liberty of worship having been guaranteed
by the Constitution, the law of 11 Prairial, year III., which
gives the use of edifices built for religious worship to all
citizens, shall be executed.
The government will pardon; it will be merciful to repentance; its
mercy will be complete and absolute; but it will punish whosoever,
after this declaration, shall dare to resist the national
"Well," said Hulot, after the public reading of this Consular
manifesto, "Isn't that paternal enough? But you'll see that not a
single royalist brigand will be changed by it."
The commandant was right. The proclamation merely served to strengthen
each side in their own convictions. A few days later Hulot and his
colleagues received reinforcements. The new minister of war notified
them that General Brune was appointed to command the troops in the
west of France. Hulot, whose experience was known to the government,
had provisional control in the departments of the Orne and Mayenne. An
unusual activity began to show itself in the government offices.
Circulars from the minister of war and the minister of police gave
notice that vigorous measures entrusted to the military commanders
would be taken to stifle the insurrection at its birth. But the
Chouans and the Vendeans had profited by the inaction of the Directory
to rouse the whole region and virtually take possession of it. A new
Consular proclamation was therefore issued. This time, it was the
general speaking to his troops:--
There are none but brigands, /emigres/, and hirelings of England
now remaining in the West.
The army is composed of more than fifty thousand brave men. Let me
speedily hear from them that the rebel chiefs have ceased to live.
Glory is won by toil alone; if it could be had by living in
barracks in a town, all would have it.
Soldiers, whatever be the rank you hold in the army, the gratitude
of the nation awaits you. To be worthy of it, you must brave the
inclemencies of weather, ice, snow, and the excessive coldness of
the nights; you must surprise your enemies at daybreak, and
exterminate those wretches, the disgrace of France.
Make a short and sure campaign; be inexorable to those brigands,
and maintain strict discipline.
National Guards, join the strength of your arms to that of the
If you know among you any men who fraternize with the brigands,
arrest them. Let them find no refuge; pursue them; if traitors
dare to harbor and defend them, let them perish together.
"What a man!" cried Hulot. "It is just as it was in the army of Italy
--he rings in the mass, and he says it himself. Don't you call that
"Yes, but he speaks by himself and in his own name," said Gerard, who
began to feel alarmed at the possible results of the 18th Brumaire.
"And where's the harm, since he's a soldier?" said Merle.
A group of soldiers were clustered at a little distance before the
same proclamation posted on a wall. As none of them could read, they
gazed at it, some with a careless eye, others with curiosity, while
two or three hunted about for a citizen who looked learned enough to
read it to them.
"Now you tell us, Clef-des-Coeurs, what that rag of a paper says,"
cried Beau-Pied, in a saucy tone to his comrade.
"Easy to guess," replied Clef-des-Coeurs.
At these words the other men clustered round the pair, who were always
ready to play their parts.
"Look there," continued Clef-des-Coeurs, pointing to a coarse woodcut
which headed the proclamation and represented a pair of compasses,--
which had lately superseded the level of 1793. "It means that the
troops--that's us--are to march firm; don't you see the compasses are
open, both legs apart?--that's an emblem."
"Such much for your learning, my lad; it isn't an emblem--it's called
a problem. I've served in the artillery," continued Beau-Pied, "and
problems were meat and drink to my officers."
"I say it's an emblem."
"It's a problem."
"What will you bet?"
"Your German pipe?"
"By your leave, adjutant, isn't that thing an emblem, and not a
problem?" said Clef-des-Coeurs, following Gerard, who was thoughtfully
"It is both," he replied, gravely.
"The adjutant was making fun of you," said Beau-Pied. "That paper
means that our general in Italy is promoted Consul, which is a fine
grade, and we are to get shoes and overcoats."
ONE OF FOUCHE'S IDEAS
One morning towards the end of Brumaire just as Hulot was exercising
his brigade, now by order of his superiors wholly concentrated at
Mayenne, a courier arrived from Alencon with despatches, at the
reading of which his face betrayed extreme annoyance.
"Forward, then!" he cried in an angry tone, sticking the papers into
the crown of his hat. "Two companies will march with me towards
Mortagne. The Chouans are there. You will accompany me," he said to
Merle and Gerard. "May be I created a nobleman if I can understand one
word of that despatch. Perhaps I'm a fool! well, anyhow, forward,
march! there's no time to lose."
"Commandant, by your leave," said Merle, kicking the cover of the
ministerial despatch with the toe of his boot, "what is there so
exasperating in that?"
"God's thunder! nothing at all--except that we are fooled."
When the commandant gave vent to this military oath (an object it must
be said of Republican atheistical remonstrance) it gave warning of a
storm; the diverse intonations of the words were degrees of a
thermometer by which the brigade could judge of the patience of its
commander; the old soldier's frankness of nature had made this
knowledge so easy that the veriest little drummer-boy knew his Hulot
by heart, simply by observing the variations of the grimace with which
the commander screwed up his cheek and snapped his eyes and vented his
oath. On this occasion the tone of smothered rage with which he
uttered the words made his two friends silent and circumspect. Even
the pits of the small-pox which dented that veteran face seemed
deeper, and the skin itself browner than usual. His broad queue,
braided at the edges, had fallen upon one of his epaulettes as he
replaced his three-cornered hat, and he flung it back with such fury
that the ends became untied. However, as he stood stock-still, his
hands clenched, his arms crossed tightly over his breast, his mustache
bristling, Gerard ventured to ask him presently: "Are we to start at
"Yes, if the men have ammunition."
"Shoulder arms! Left wheel, forward, march!" cried Gerard, at a sign
from the commandant.
The drum-corps marched at the head of the two companies designated by
Gerard. At the first roll of the drums the commandant, who still stood
plunged in thought, seemed to rouse himself, and he left the town
accompanied by his two officers, to whom he said not a word. Merle and
Gerard looked at each other silently as if to ask, "How long is he
going to keep us in suspense?" and, as they marched, they cautiously
kept an observing eye on their leader, who continued to vent rambling
words between his teeth. Several times these vague phrases sounded
like oaths in the ears of his soldiers, but not one of them dared to
utter a word; for they all, when occasion demanded, maintained the
stern discipline to which the veterans who had served under Bonaparte
in Italy were accustomed. The greater part of them had belonged, like
Hulot, to the famous battalions which capitulated at Mayenne under a
promise not to serve again on the frontier, and the army called them
"Les Mayencais." It would be difficult to find leaders and men who
more thoroughly understood each other.
At dawn of the day after their departure Hulot and his troop were on
the high-road to Alencon, about three miles from that town towards
Mortagne, at a part of the road which leads through pastures watered
by the Sarthe. A picturesque vista of these meadows lay to the left,
while the woodlands on the right which flank the road and join the
great forest of Menil-Broust, serve as a foil to the delightful aspect
of the river-scenery. The narrow causeway is bordered on each side by
ditches the soil of which, being constantly thrown out upon the
fields, has formed high banks covered with furze,--the name given
throughout the West to this prickly gorse. This shrub, which spreads
itself in thorny masses, makes excellent fodder in winter for horses
and cattle; but as long as it was not cut the Chouans hid themselves
behind its breastwork of dull green. These banks bristling with gorse,
signifying to travellers their approach to Brittany, made this part of
the road at the period of which we write as dangerous as it was
beautiful; it was these dangers which compelled the hasty departure of
Hulot and his soldiers, and it was here that he at last let out the
secret of his wrath.
He was now on his return, escorting an old mail-coach drawn by post-
horses, which the weariness of his soldiers, after their forced march,
was compelling to advance at a snail's pace. The company of Blues from
the garrison at Mortagne, who had escorted the rickety vehicle to the
limits of their district, where Hulot and his men had met them, could
be seen in the distance, on their way back to their quarters, like so
many black specks. One of Hulot's companies was in the rear, the other
in advance of the carriage. The commandant, who was marching with
Merle and Gerard between the advance guard and the carriage, suddenly
growled out: "Ten thousand thunders! would you believe that the
general detached us from Mayenne to escort two petticoats?"
"But, commandant," remarked Gerard, "when we came up just now and took
charge I observed that you bowed to them not ungraciously."
"Ha! that's the infamy of it. Those dandies in Paris ordered the
greatest attention paid to their damned females. How dare they
dishonor good and brave patriots by trailing us after petticoats? As
for me, I march straight, and I don't choose to have to do with other
people's zigzags. When I saw Danton taking mistresses, and Barras too,
I said to them: 'Citizens, when the Republic called you to govern, it
was not that you might authorize the vices of the old regime!' You may
tell me that women--oh yes! we must have women, that's all right. Good
soldiers of course must have women, and good women; but in times of
danger, no! Besides, where would be the good of sweeping away the old
abuses if patriots bring them back again? Look at the First Consul,
there's a man! no women for him; always about his business. I'd bet my
left mustache that he doesn't know the fool's errand we've been sent
"But, commandant," said Merle, laughing, "I have seen the tip-end of
the nose of the young lady, and I'll declare the whole world needn't
be ashamed to feel an itch, as I do, to revolve round that carriage
and get up a bit of a conversation."
"Look out, Merle," said Gerard; "the veiled beauties have a man
accompanying them who seems wily enough to catch you in a trap."
"Who? that /incroyable/ whose little eyes are ferretting from one side
of the road to the other, as if he saw Chouans? The fellow seems to
have no legs; the moment his horse is hidden by the carriage, he looks
like a duck with its head sticking out of a pate. If that booby can
hinder me from kissing the pretty linnet--"
"'Duck'! 'linnet'! oh, my poor Merle, you have taken wings indeed! But
don't trust the duck. His green eyes are as treacherous as the eyes of
a snake, and as sly as those of a woman who forgives her husband. I
distrust the Chouans much less than I do those lawyers whose faces are
like bottles of lemonade."
"Pooh!" cried Merle, gaily. "I'll risk it--with the commandant's
permission. That woman has eyes like stars, and it's worth playing any
stakes to see them."
"Caught, poor fellow!" said Gerard to the commandant; "he is beginning
to talk nonsense!"
Hulot made a face, shrugged his shoulders, and said: "Before he
swallows the soup, I advise him to smell it."
"Bravo, Merle," said Gerard, judging by his friend's lagging step that
he meant to let the carriage overtake him. Isn't he a happy fellow? He
is the only man I know who can laugh over the death of a comrade
without being thought unfeeling."
"He's the true French soldier," said Hulot, in a grave tone.
"Just look at him pulling his epaulets back to his shoulders, to show
he is a captain," cried Gerard, laughing,--"as if his rank mattered!"
The coach toward which the officer was pivoting did, in fact, contain
two women, one of whom seemed to be the servant of the other.
"Such women always run in couples," said Hulot.
A lean and sharp-looking little man ambled his horse sometimes before,
sometimes behind the carriage; but, though he was evidently
accompanying these privileged women, no one had yet seen him speak to
them. This silence, a proof either of respect or contempt, as the case
might be; the quantity of baggage belonging to the lady, whom the
commandant sneeringly called "the princess"; everything, even to the
clothes of her attendant squire, stirred Hulot's bile. The dress of
the unknown man was a good specimen of the fashions of the day then
being caricatured as "incroyable,"--unbelievable, unless seen. Imagine
a person trussed up in a coat, the front of which was so short that
five or six inches of the waistcoat came below it, while the skirts
were so long that they hung down behind like the tail of a cod,--the
term then used to describe them. An enormous cravat was wound about
his neck in so many folds that the little head which protruded from
that muslin labyrinth certainly did justify Captain Merle's
comparison. The stranger also wore tight-fitting trousers and Suwaroff
boots. A huge blue-and-white cameo pinned his shirt; two watch-chains
hung from his belt; his hair, worn in ringlets on each side of his
face, concealed nearly the whole forehead; and, for a last adornment,
the collar of his shirt and that of his coat came so high that his
head seemed enveloped like a bunch of flowers in a horn of paper. Add
to these queer accessories, which were combined in utter want of
harmony, the burlesque contradictions in color of yellow trousers,
scarlet waistcoat, cinnamon coat, and a correct idea will be gained of
the supreme good taste which all dandies blindly obeyed in the first
years of the Consulate. This costume, utterly uncouth, seemed to have
been invented as a final test of grace, and to show that there was
nothing too ridiculous for fashion to consecrate. The rider seemed to
be about thirty years old, but he was really twenty-two; perhaps he
owed this appearance of age to debauchery, possibly to the perils of
the period. In spite of his preposterous dress, he had a certain
elegance of manner which proved him to be a man of some breeding.
When the captain had dropped back close to the carriage, the dandy
seemed to fathom his design, and favored it by checking his horse.
Merle, who had flung him a sardonic glance, encountered one of those
impenetrable faces, trained by the vicissitudes of the Revolution to
hide all, even the most insignificant, emotion. The moment the curved
end of the old triangular hat and the captain's epaulets were seen by
the occupants of the carriage, a voice of angelic sweetness said:
"Monsieur l'officier, will you have the kindness to tell us at what
part of the road we now are?"
There is some inexpressible charm in the question of an unknown
traveller, if a woman,--a world of adventure is in every word; but if
the woman asks for assistance or information, proving her weakness or
ignorance of certain things, every man is inclined to construct some
impossible tale which shall lead to his happiness. The words,
"Monsieur l'officier," and the polite tone of the question stirred the
captain's heart in a manner hitherto unknown to him. He tried to
examine the lady, but was cruelly disappointed, for a jealous veil
concealed her features; he could barely see her eyes, which shone
through the gauze like onyx gleaming in the sunshine.
"You are now three miles from Alencon, madame," he replied.
"Alencon! already!" and the lady threw herself, or, rather, she gently
leaned back in the carriage, and said no more.
"Alencon?" said the other woman, apparently waking up; "then you'll
see it again."
She caught sight of the captain and was silent. Merle, disappointed in
his hope of seeing the face of the beautiful incognita, began to
examine that of her companion. She was a girl about twenty-six years
of age, fair, with a pretty figure and the sort of complexion, fresh
and white and well-fed, which characterizes the women of Valognes,
Bayeux, and the environs of Alencon. Her blue eyes showed no great
intelligence, but a certain firmness mingled with tender feeling. She
wore a gown of some common woollen stuff. The fashion of her hair,
done up closely under a Norman cap, without any pretension, gave a
charming simplicity to her face. Her attitude, without, of course,
having any of the conventional nobility of society, was not without
the natural dignity of a modest young girl, who can look back upon her
past life without a single cause for repentance. Merle knew her at a
glance for one of those wild flowers which are sometimes taken from
their native fields to Parisian hot-houses, where so many blasting
rays are concentrated, without ever losing the purity of their color
or their rustic simplicity. The naive attitude of the girl and her
modest glance showed Merle very plainly that she did not wish a
listener. In fact, no sooner had he withdrawn than the two women began
a conversation in so low a tone that only a murmur of it reached his
"You came away in such a hurry," said the country-girl, "that you
hardly took time to dress. A pretty-looking sight you are now! If we
are going beyond Alencon, you must really make your toilet."
"Oh! oh! Francine!" cried the lady.
"What is it?"
"This is the third time you have tried to make me tell you the reasons
for this journey and where we are going."
"Have I said one single word which deserves that reproach?"
"Oh, I've noticed your manoeuvring. Simple and truthful as you are, you
have learned a little cunning from me. You are beginning to hold
questioning in horror; and right enough, too, for of all the known
ways of getting at a secret, questions are, to my mind, the silliest."
"Well," said Francine, "since nothing escapes you, you must admit,
Marie, that your conduct would excite the curiosity of a saint.
Yesterday without a penny, to-day your hands are full of gold; at
Mortagne they give you the mail-coach which was pillaged and the
driver killed, with government troops to protect you, and you are
followed by a man whom I regard as your evil genius."
"Who? Corentin?" said the young lady, accenting the words by two
inflections of her voice expressive of contempt, a sentiment which
appeared in the gesture with which she waved her hand towards the
rider. "Listen, Francine," she said. "Do you remember Patriot, the
monkey I taught to imitate Danton?"
"Well, were you afraid of him?"
"He was chained."
"And Corentin is muzzled, my dear."
"We used to play with Patriot by the hour," said Francine,--"I know
that; but he always ended by serving us some bad trick." So saying,
Francine threw herself hastily back close to her mistress, whose hands
she caught and kissed in a coaxing way; saying in a tone of deep
affection: "You know what I mean, Marie, but you will not answer me.
How can you, after all that sadness which did so grieve me--oh, indeed
it grieved me!--how can you, in twenty-four hours, change about and
become so gay? you, who talked of suicide! Why have you changed? I
have a right to ask these questions of your soul--it is mine, my claim
to it is before that of others, for you will never be better loved
than you are by me. Speak, mademoiselle."
"Why, Francine, don't you see all around you the secret of my good
spirits? Look at the yellowing tufts of those distant tree-tops; not
one is like another. As we look at them from this distance don't they
seem like an old bit of tapestry? See the hedges from behind which the
Chouans may spring upon us at any moment. When I look at that gorse I
fancy I can see the muzzles of their guns. Every time the road is
shady under the trees I fancy I shall hear firing, and then my heart
beats and a new sensation comes over me. It is neither the shuddering
of fear nor an emotion of pleasure; no, it is better than either, it
is the stirring of everything within me--it is life! Why shouldn't I
be gay when a little excitement is dropped into my monotonous
"Ah! you are telling me nothing, cruel girl! Holy Virgin!" added
Francine, raising her eyes in distress to heaven; "to whom will she
confess herself if she denies the truth to me?"
"Francine," said the lady, in a grave tone, "I can't explain to you my
present enterprise; it is horrible."
"Why do wrong when you know it to be wrong?"
"How can I help it? I catch myself thinking as if I were fifty, and
acting as if I were still fifteen. You have always been my better
self, my poor Francine, but in this affair I must stifle conscience.
And," she added after a pause, "I cannot. Therefore, how can you
expect me to take a confessor as stern as you?" and she patted the
"When did I ever blame your actions?" cried Francine. "Evil is so
mixed with good in your nature. Yes, Saint Anne of Auray, to whom I
pray to save you, will absolve you for all you do. And, Marie, am I
not here beside you, without so much as knowing where you go?" and she
kissed her hands with effusion.
"But," replied Marie, "you may yet desert me, if your conscience--"
"Hush, hush, mademoiselle," cried Francine, with a hurt expression.
"But surely you will tell me--"
"Nothing!" said the young lady, in a resolute voice. "Only--and I wish
you to know it--I hate this enterprise even more than I hate him whose
gilded tongue induced me to undertake it. I will be rank and own to
you that I would never have yielded to their wishes if I had not
foreseen, in this ignoble farce, a mingling of love and danger which
tempted me. I cannot bear to leave this empty world without at least
attempting to gather the flowers that it owes me,--whether I perish in
the attempt or not. But remember, for the honor of my memory, that had
I ever been a happy woman, the sight of their great knife, ready to
fall upon my neck, would not have driven me to accept a part in this
tragedy--for it is a tragedy. But now," she said, with a gesture of
disgust, "if it were countermanded, I should instantly fling myself
into the Sarthe. It would not be destroying life, for I have never
"Oh, Saint Anne of Auray, forgive her!"
"What are you so afraid of? You know very well that the dull round of
domestic life gives no opportunity for my passions. That would be bad
in most women, I admit; but my soul is made of a higher sensibility
and can bear great tests. I might have been, perhaps, a gentle being
like you. Why, why have I risen above or sunk beneath the level of my
sex? Ah! the wife of Bonaparte is a happy woman! Yes, I shall die
young, for I am gay, as you say,--gay at this pleasure-party, where
there is blood to drink, as that poor Danton used to say. There,
there, forget what I am saying; it is the woman of fifty who speaks.
Thank God! the girl of fifteen is still within me."
The young country-girl shuddered. She alone knew the fiery, impetuous
nature of her mistress. She alone was initiated into the mysteries of
a soul rich with enthusiasm, into the secret emotions of a being who,
up to this time, had seen life pass her like a shadow she could not
grasp, eager as she was to do so. After sowing broadcast with full
hands and harvesting nothing, this woman was still virgin in soul, but
irritated by a multitude of baffled desires. Weary of a struggle
without an adversary, she had reached in her despair to the point of
preferring good to evil, if it came in the form of enjoyment; evil to
good, if it offered her some poetic emotion; misery to mediocrity, as
something nobler and higher; the gloomy and mysterious future of
present death to a life without hopes or even without sufferings.
Never in any heart was so much powder heaped ready for the spark,
never were so many riches for love to feed on; no daughter of Eve was
ever moulded, with a greater mixture of gold in her clay. Francine,
like an angel of earth, watched over this being whose perfections she
adored, believing that she obeyed a celestial mandate in striving to
bring that spirit back among the choir of seraphim whence it was
banished for the sin of pride.
"There is the clock-tower of Alencon," said the horseman, riding up to
"I see it," replied the young lady, in a cold tone.
"Ah, well," he said, turning away with all the signs of servile
submission, in spite of his disappointment.
"Go faster," said the lady to the postilion. "There is no longer any
danger; go at a fast trot, or even a gallop, if you can; we are almost
As the carriage passed the commandant, she called out to him, in a
"We will meet at the inn, commandant. Come and see me."
"Yes, yes," growled the commandant. "'The inn'! 'Come and see me'! Is
that how you speak to an officer in command of the army?" and he shook
his fist at the carriage, which was now rolling rapidly along the
"Don't be vexed, commandant, she has got your rank as general up her
sleeve," said Corentin, laughing, as he endeavored to put his horse
into a gallop to overtake the carriage.
"I sha'n't let myself be fooled by any such folks as they," said Hulot
to his two friends, in a growling tone. "I'd rather throw my general's
coat into that ditch than earn it out of a bed. What are these birds
after? Have you any idea, either of you?"
"Yes," said Merle, "I've an idea that that's the handsomest women I
ever saw! I think you're reading the riddle all wrong. Perhaps she's
the wife of the First Consul."
"Pooh! the First Consul's wife is old, and this woman is young," said
Hulot. "Besides, the order I received from the minister gives her name
as Mademoiselle de Verneuil. She is a /ci-devant/. Don't I know 'em?
They all plied one trade before the Revolution, and any man could make
himself a major, or a general in double-quick time; all he had to do
was to say 'Dear heart' to them now and then."
While each soldier opened his compasses, as the commandant was wont to
say, the miserable vehicle which was then used as the mail-coach drew
up before the inn of the Trois Maures, in the middle of the main
street of Alencon. The sound of the wheels brought the landlord to the
door. No one in Alencon could have expected the arrival of the mail-
coach at the Trois Maures, for the murderous attack upon the coach at
Mortagne was already known, and so many people followed it along the
street that the two women, anxious to escape the curiosity of the
crowd, ran quickly into the kitchen, which forms the inevitable
antechamber to all Western inns. The landlord was about to follow
them, after examining the coach, when the postilion caught him by the
"Attention, citizen Brutus," he said; "there's an escort of the Blues
behind us; but it is I who bring you these female citizens; they'll
pay like /ci-devant/ princesses, therefore--"
"Therefore, we'll drink a glass of wine together presently, my lad,"
said the landlord.
After glancing about the kitchen, blackened with smoke, and noticing a
table bloody from raw meat, Mademoiselle de Verneuil flew into the
next room with the celerity of a bird; for she shuddered at the sight
and smell of the place, and feared the inquisitive eyes of a dirty
/chef/, and a fat little woman who examined her attentively.
"What are we to do, wife?" said the landlord. "Who the devil could
have supposed we would have so many on our hands in these days? Before
I serve her a decent breakfast that woman will get impatient. Stop, an
idea! evidently she is a person of quality. I'll propose to put her
with the one we have upstairs. What do you think?"
When the landlord went to look for the new arrival he found only
Francine, to whom he spoke in a low voice, taking her to the farther
end of the kitchen, so as not to be overheard.
"If the ladies wish," he said, "to be served in private, as I have no
doubt they wish to do, I have a very nice breakfast all ready for a
lady and her son, and I dare say wouldn't mind sharing it with you;
they are persons of condition," he added, mysteriously.
He had hardly said the words before he felt a tap on his back from the
handle of a whip. He turned hastily and saw behind him a short, thick-
set man, who had noiselessly entered from a side room,--an apparition
which seemed to terrify the hostess, the cook, and the scullion. The
landlord turned pale when he saw the intruder, who shook back the hair
which concealed his forehead and eyes, raised himself on the points of
his toes to reach the other's ears, and said to him in a whisper: "You
know the cost of an imprudence or a betrayal, and the color of the
money we pay it in. We are generous in that coin."
He added a gesture which was like a horrible commentary to his words.
Though the rotundity of the landlord prevented Francine from seeing
the stranger, who stood behind him, she caught certain words of his
threatening speech, and was thunderstruck at hearing the hoarse tones
of a Breton voice. She sprang towards the man, but he, seeming to move
with the agility of a wild animal, had already darted through a side
door which opened on the courtyard. Utterly amazed, she ran to the
window. Through its panes, yellowed with smoke, she caught sight of
the stranger as he was about to enter the stable. Before doing so,
however, he turned a pair of black eyes to the upper story of the inn,
and thence to the mail-coach in the yard, as if to call some friend's
attention to the vehicle. In spite of his muffling goatskin and thanks
to this movement which allowed her to see his face, Francine
recognized the Chouan, Marche-a-Terre, with his heavy whip; she saw
him, indistinctly, in the obscurity of the stable, fling himself down
on a pile of straw, in a position which enabled him to keep an eye on
all that happened at the inn. Marche-a-Terre curled himself up in such
a way that the cleverest spy, at any distance far or near, might have
taken him for one of those huge dogs that drag the hand-carts, lying
asleep with his muzzle on his paws.
The behavior of the Chouan proved to Francine that he had not
recognized her. Under the hazardous circumstances which she felt her
mistress to be in, she scarcely knew whether to regret or to rejoice
in this unconsciousness. But the mysterious connection between the
landlord's offer (not uncommon among innkeepers, who can thus kill two
birds with one stone), and the Chouan's threats, piqued her curiosity.
She left the dirty window from which she could see the formless heap
which she knew to be Marche-a-Terre, and returned to the landlord, who
was still standing in the attitude of a man who feels he has made a
blunder, and does not know how to get out of it. The Chouan's gesture
had petrified the poor fellow. No one in the West was ignorant of the
cruel refinements of torture with which the "Chasseurs du Roi"
punished those who were even suspected of indiscretion; the landlord
felt their knives already at his throat. The cook looked with a
shudder at the iron stove on which they often "warmed" ("chauffaient")
the feet of those they suspected. The fat landlady held a knife in one
hand and a half-peeled potato in the other, and gazed at her husband
with a stupefied air. Even the scullion puzzled himself to know the
reason of their speechless terror. Francine's curiosity was naturally
excited by this silent scene, the principal actor of which was visible
to all, though departed. The girl was gratified at the evident power
of the Chouan, and though by nature too simple and humble for the
tricks of a lady's maid, she was also far too anxious to penetrate the
mystery not to profit by her advantages on this occasion.
"Mademoiselle accepts your proposal," she said to the landlord, who
jumped as if suddenly awakened by her words.
"What proposal?" he asked with genuine surprise.
"What proposal?" asked Corentin, entering the kitchen.
"What proposal?" asked Mademoiselle de Verneuil, returning to it.
"What proposal?" asked a fourth individual on the lower step of the
staircase, who now sprang lightly into the kitchen.
"Why, the breakfast with your persons of distinction," replied
"Distinction!" said the ringing and ironical voice of the person who
had just come down the stairway. "My good fellow, that strikes me as a
very poor inn joke; but if it's the company of this young female
citizen that you want to give us, we should be fools to refuse it. In
my mother's absence, I accept," he added, striking the astonished inn-
keeper on the shoulder.
The charming heedlessness of youth disguised the haughty insolence of
the words, which drew the attention of every one present to the new-
comer. The landlord at once assumed the countenance of Pilate washing
his hands of the blood of that just man; he slid back two steps to
reach his wife's ear, and whispered, "You are witness, if any harm
comes of it, that it is not my fault. But, anyhow," he added, in a
voice that was lower still, "go and tell Monsieur Marche-a-Terre what
The traveller, who was a young man of medium height, wore a dark blue
coat and high black gaiters coming above the knee and over the
breeches, which were also of blue cloth. This simple uniform, without
epaulets, was that of the pupils of the Ecole Polytechnique. Beneath
this plain attire Mademoiselle de Verneuil could distinguish at a
glance the elegant shape and nameless /something/ that tells of
natural nobility. The face of the young man, which was rather ordinary
at first sight, soon attracted the eye by the conformation of certain
features which revealed a soul capable of great things. A bronzed
skin, curly fair hair, sparkling blue eyes, a delicate nose, motions
full of ease, all disclosed a life guided by noble sentiments and
trained to the habit of command. But the most characteristic signs of
his nature were in the chin, which was dented like that of Bonaparte,
and in the lower lip, which joined the upper one with a graceful
curve, like that of an acanthus leaf on the capital of a Corinthian
column. Nature had given to these two features of his face an
"This young man has singular distinction if he is really a
republican," thought Mademoiselle de Verneuil.
To see all this at a glance, to brighten at the thought of pleasing,
to bend her head softly and smile coquettishly and cast a soft look
able to revive a heart that was dead to love, to veil her long black
eyes with lids whose curving lashes made shadows on her cheeks, to
choose the melodious tones of her voice and give a penetrating charm
to the formal words, "Monsieur, we are very much obliged to you,"--all
this charming by-play took less time than it has taken to describe it.
After this, Mademoiselle de Verneuil, addressing the landlord, asked
to be shown to a room, saw the staircase, and disappeared with
Francine, leaving the stranger to discover whether her reply was
intended as an acceptance or a refusal.
"Who is that woman?" asked the Polytechnique student, in an airy
manner, of the landlord, who still stood motionless and bewildered.
"That's the female citizen Verneuil," replied Corentin, sharply,
looking jealously at the questioner; "a /ci-devant/; what is she to
The stranger, who was humming a revolutionary tune, turned his head
haughtily towards Corentin. The two young men looked at each other for
a moment like cocks about to fight, and the glance they exchanged gave
birth to a hatred which lasted forever. The blue eye of the young
soldier was as frank and honest as the green eye of the other man was
false and malicious; the manners of the one had native grandeur, those
of the other were insinuating; one was eager in his advance, the other
deprecating; one commanded respect, the other sought it.
"Is the citizen du Gua Saint-Cyr here?" said a peasant, entering the
kitchen at that moment.
"What do you want of him?" said the young man, coming forward.
The peasant made a low bow and gave him a letter, which the young
cadet read and threw into the fire; then he nodded his head and the
"No doubt you've come from Paris, citizen?" said Corentin, approaching
the stranger with a certain ease of manner, and a pliant, affable air
which seemed intolerable to the citizen du Gua.
"Yes," he replied, shortly.
"I suppose you have been graduated into some grade of the artillery?"
"No, citizen, into the navy."
"Ah! then you are going to Brest?" said Corentin, interrogatively.
But the young sailor turned lightly on the heels of his shoes without
deigning to reply, and presently disappointed all the expectations
which Mademoiselle de Verneuil had based on the charm of his
appearance. He applied himself to ordering his breakfast with the
eagerness of a boy, questioned the cook and the landlady about their
receipts, wondered at provincial customs like a Parisian just out of
his shell, made as many objections as any fine lady, and showed the
more lack of mind and character because his face and manner had seemed
to promise them. Corentin smiled with pity when he saw the face he
made on tasting the best cider of Normandy.
"Heu!" he cried; "how can you swallow such stuff as that? It is meat
and drink both. I don't wonder the Republic distrusts a province where
they knock their harvest from trees with poles, and shoot travellers
from the ditches. Pray don't put such medicine as that on the table;
give us some good Bordeaux, white and red. And above all, do see if
there is a good fire upstairs. These country-people are so backward in
civilization!" he added. "Alas!" he sighed, "there is but one Paris in
the world; what a pity it is I can't transport it to sea! Heavens!
spoil-sauce!" he suddenly cried out to the cook; "what makes you put
vinegar in that fricassee when you have lemons? And, madame," he
added, "you gave me such coarse sheets I couldn't close my eyes all
night." Then he began to twirl a huge cane, executing with a silly
sort of care a variety of evolutions, the greater or less precision
and agility of which were considered proofs of a young man's standing
in the class of the Incroyables, so-called.
"And it is with such dandies as that," said Corentin to the landlord
confidentially, watching his face, "that the Republic expects to
improve her navy!"
"That man," said the young sailor to the landlady, in a low voice, "is
a spy of Fouche's. He has 'police' stamped on his face, and I'll swear
that spot he has got on his chin is Paris mud. Well, set a thief to
Just then a lady to whom the young sailor turned with every sign of
outward respect, entered the kitchen of the inn.
"My dear mamma," he said. "I am glad you've come. I have recruited
some guests in your absence."
"Guests?" she replied; "what folly!"
"It is Mademoiselle de Verneuil," he said in a low voice.
"She perished on the scaffold after the affair of Savenay; she went to
Mans to save her brother the Prince de Loudon," returned his mother,
"You are mistaken, madame," said Corentin, gently, emphasizing the
word "madame"; "there are two demoiselles de Verneuil; all great
houses, as you know, have several branches."
The lady, surprised at this freedom, drew back a few steps to examine
the speaker; she turned her black eyes upon him, full of the keen
sagacity so natural to women, seeking apparently to discover in what
interest he stepped forth to explain Mademoiselle de Verneuil's birth.
Corentin, on the other hand, who was studying the lady cautiously,
denied her in his own mind the joys of motherhood and gave her those
of love; he refused the possession of a son of twenty to a woman whose
dazzling skin, and arched eyebrows, and lashes still unblemished, were
the objects of his admiration, and whose abundant black hair, parted
on the forehead into simple bands, bought out the youthfulness of an
intelligent head. The slight lines of the brow, far from indicating
age, revealed young passions. Though the piercing eyes were somewhat
veiled, it was either from the fatigue of travelling or the too
frequent expression of excitement. Corentin remarked that she was
wrapped in a mantle of English material, and that the shape of her
hat, foreign no doubt, did not belong to any of the styles called
Greek, which ruled the Parisian fashions of the period. Corentin was
one of those beings who are compelled by the bent of their natures to
suspect evil rather than good, and he instantly doubted the
citizenship of the two travellers. The lady, who, on her side, had
made her observations on the person of Corentin with equal rapidity,
turned to her son with a significant look which may be faithfully
translated into the words: "Who is this queer man? Is he of our
To this mute inquiry the youth replied by an attitude and a gesture
which said: "Faith! I can't tell; but I distrust him." Then, leaving
his mother to fathom the mystery, he turned to the landlady and
whispered: "Try to find out who that fellow is; and whether he is
really accompanying the young lady; and why."
"So," said Madame du Gua, looking at Corentin, "you are quite sure,
citizen, that Mademoiselle de Verneuil is living?"
"She is living in flesh and blood as surely, /madame/, as the citizen
du Gua Saint-Cyr."
This answer contained a sarcasm, the hidden meaning of which was known
to none but the lady herself, and any one but herself would have been
disconcerted by it. Her son looked fixedly at Corentin, who coolly
pulled out his watch without appearing to notice the effect of his
answer. The lady, uneasy and anxious to discover at once if the speech
meant danger or was merely accidental, said to Corentin in a natural
tone and manner; "How little security there is on these roads. We were
attacked by Chouans just beyond Mortagne. My son came very near being
killed; he received two balls in his hat while protecting me."
"Is it possible, madame? were you in the mail-coach which those
brigands robbed in spite of the escort,--the one we have just come by?
You must know the vehicle well. They told me at Mortagne that the
Chouans numbered a couple of thousands and that every one in the coach
was killed, even the travellers. That's how history is written! Alas!
madame," he continued, "if they murder travellers so near to Paris you
can fancy how unsafe the roads are in Brittany. I shall return to
Paris and not risk myself any farther."
"Is Mademoiselle de Verneuil young and handsome?" said the lady to the
hostess, struck suddenly with an idea.
Just then the landlord interrupted the conversation, in which there
was something of an angry element, by announcing that breakfast was
ready. The young sailor offered his hand to his mother with an air of
false familiarity that confirmed the suspicions of Corentin, to whom
the youth remarked as he went up the stairway: "Citizen, if you are
travelling with the female citizen de Verneuil, and she accepts the
landlord's proposal, you can come too."
Though the words were said in a careless tone and were not inviting,
Corentin followed. The young man squeezed the lady's hand when they
were five or six steps above him, and said, in a low voice: "Now you
see the dangers to which your imprudent enterprises, which have no
glory in them, expose us. If we are discovered, how are we to escape?
And what a contemptible role you force me to play!"
All three reached a large room on the upper floor. Any one who has
travelled in the West will know that the landlord had, on such an
occasion, brought forth his best things to do honor to his guests, and
prepared the meal with no ordinary luxury. The table was carefully
laid. The warmth of a large fire took the dampness from the room. The
linen, glass, and china were not too dingy. Corentin saw at once that
the landlord had, as they say familiarly, cut himself into quarters to
please the strangers. "Consequently," thought he, "these people are
not what they pretend to be. That young man is clever. I took him for
a fool, but I begin to believe him as shrewd as myself."
The sailor, his mother, and Corentin awaited Mademoiselle de Verneuil,
whom the landlord went to summon. But the handsome traveller did not
come. The youth expected that she would make difficulties, and he left
the room, humming the popular song, "Guard the nation's safety," and
went to that of Mademoiselle de Verneuil, prompted by a keen desire to
get the better of her scruples and take her back with him. Perhaps he
wanted to solve the doubts which filled his mind; or else to exercise
the power which all men like to think they wield over a pretty woman.
"May I be hanged if he's a Republican," thought Corentin, as he saw
him go. "He moves his shoulders like a courtier. And if that's his
mother," he added, mentally, looking at Madame du Gua, "I'm the Pope!
They are Chouans; and I'll make sure of their quality."
The door soon opened and the young man entered, holding the hand of
Mademoiselle de Verneuil, whom he led to the table with an air of
self-conceit that was nevertheless courteous. The devil had not
allowed that hour which had elapsed since the lady's arrival to be
wasted. With Francine's assistance, Mademoiselle de Verneuil had armed
herself with a travelling-dress more dangerous, perhaps, than any
ball-room attire. Its simplicity had precisely that attraction which
comes of the skill with which a woman, handsome enough to wear no
ornaments, reduces her dress to the position of a secondary charm. She
wore a green gown, elegantly cut, the jacket of which, braided and
frogged, defined her figure in a manner that was hardly suitable for a
young girl, allowing her supple waist and rounded bust and graceful
motions to be fully seen. She entered the room smiling, with the
natural amenity of women who can show a fine set of teeth, transparent
as porcelain between rosy lips, and dimpling cheeks as fresh as those
of childhood. Having removed the close hood which had almost concealed
her head at her first meeting with the young sailor, she could now
employ at her ease the various little artifices, apparently so
artless, with which a woman shows off the beauties of her face and the
grace of her head, and attracts admiration for them. A certain harmony
between her manners and her dress made her seem so much younger than
she was that Madame du Gua thought herself beyond the mark in
supposing her over twenty. The coquetry of her apparel, evidently worn
to please, was enough to inspire hope in the young man's breast; but
Mademoiselle de Verneuil bowed to him, as she took her place, with a
slight inclination of her head and without looking at him, putting him
aside with an apparently light-hearted carelessness which disconcerted
him. This coolness might have seemed to an observer neither caution
nor coquetry, but indifference, natural or feigned. The candid
expression on the young lady's face only made it the more
impenetrable. She showed no consciousness of her charms, and was
apparently gifted with the pretty manners that win all hearts, and had
already duped the natural self-conceit of the young sailor. Thus
baffled, the youth returned to his own seat with a sort of vexation.
Mademoiselle de Verneuil took Francine, who accompanied her, by the
hand and said, in a caressing voice, turning to Madame de Gua:
"Madame, will you have the kindness to allow this young girl, who is
more a friend than a servant to me, to sit with us? In these perilous
times such devotion as hers can only be repaid by the heart; indeed,
that is very nearly all that is left to us."
Madame du Gua replied to the last words, which were said half aside,
with a rather unceremonious bow that betrayed her annoyance at the
beauty of the new-comer. Then she said, in a low voice, to her son:
"'Perilous times,' 'devotion,' 'madame,' 'servant'! that is not
Mademoiselle de Verneuil; it is some girl sent here by Fouche."
The guests were about to sit down when Mademoiselle de Verneuil
noticed Corentin, who was still employed in a close scrutiny of the
mother and son, who were showing some annoyance at his glances.
"Citizen," she said to him, "you are no doubt too well bred to dog my
steps. The Republic, when it sent my parents to the scaffold, did not
magnanimously provide me with a guardian. Though you have, from
extreme and chivalric gallantry accompanied me against my will to this
place" (she sighed), "I am quite resolved not to allow your protecting
care to become a burden to you. I am safe now, and you can leave me."
She gave him a fixed and contemptuous look. Corentin understood her;
he repressed the smile which almost curled the corners of his wily
lips as he bowed to her respectfully.
"Citoyenne," he said, "it is always an honor to obey you. Beauty is
the only queen a Republican can serve."
Mademoiselle de Verneuil's eyes, as she watched him depart, shone with
such natural pleasure, she looked at Francine with a smile of
intelligence which betrayed so much real satisfaction, that Madame du
Gua, who grew prudent as she grew jealous, felt disposed to relinquish
the suspicions which Mademoiselle de Verneuil's great beauty had
forced into her mind.
"It may be Mademoiselle de Verneuil, after all," she whispered to her
"But that escort?" answered the young man, whose vexation at the young
lady's indifference allowed him to be cautious. "Is she a prisoner or
an emissary, a friend or an enemy of the government?"
Madame du Gua made a sign as if to say that she would soon clear up
However, the departure of Corentin seemed to lessen the young man's
distrust, and he began to cast on Mademoiselle de Verneuil certain
looks which betrayed an immoderate admiration for women, rather than
the respectful warmth of a dawning passion. The young girl grew more
and more reserved, and gave all her attentions to Madame du Gua. The
youth, angry with himself, tried, in his vexation, to turn the tables
and seem indifferent. Mademoiselle de Verneuil appeared not to notice
this manoeuvre; she continued to be simple without shyness and reserved
This chance meeting of personages who, apparently, were not destined
to become intimate, awakened no agreeable sympathy on either side.
There was even a sort of vulgar embarrassment, an awkwardness which
destroyed all the pleasure which Mademoiselle de Verneuil and the
young sailor had begun by expecting. But women have such wonderful
conventional tact, they are so intimately allied with each other, or
they have such keen desires for emotion, that they always know how to
break the ice on such occasions. Suddenly, as if the two beauties had
the same thought, they began to tease their solitary knight in a
playful way, and were soon vying with each other in the jesting
attention which they paid to him; this unanimity of action left them
free. At the end of half an hour, the two women, already secret
enemies, were apparently the best of friends. The young man then
discovered that he felt as angry with Mademoiselle de Verneuil for her
friendliness and freedom as he had been with her reserve. In fact, he
was so annoyed by it that he regretted, with a sort of dumb anger,
having allowed her to breakfast with them.
"Madame," said Mademoiselle de Verneuil, "is your son always as gloomy
as he is at this moment?"
"Mademoiselle," he replied, "I ask myself what is the good of a
fleeting happiness. The secret of my gloom is the evanescence of my
"That is a madrigal," she said, laughing, "which rings of the Court
rather than the Polytechnique."
"My son only expressed a very natural thought, mademoiselle," said
Madame du Gua, who had her own reasons for placating the stranger.
"Then laugh while you may," said Mademoiselle de Verneuil, smiling at
the young man. "How do you look when you have really something to weep
for, if what you are pleased to call a happiness makes you so dismal?"
This smile, accompanied by a provoking glance which destroyed the
consistency of her reserve, revived the youth's feelings. But inspired
by her nature, which often impels a woman to do either too much or too
little under such circumstances, Mademoiselle de Verneuil, having
covered the young man with that brilliant look full of love's
promises, immediately withdrew from his answering expression into a
cold and severe modesty,--a conventional performance by which a woman
sometimes hides a true emotion. In a moment, a single moment, when
each expected to see the eyelids of the other lowered, they had
communicated to one another their real thoughts; but they veiled their
glances as quickly as they had mingled them in that one flash which
convulsed their hearts and enlightened them. Confused at having said
so many things in a single glance, they dared no longer look at each
other. Mademoiselle de Verneuil withdrew into cold politeness, and
seemed to be impatient for the conclusion of the meal.
"Mademoiselle, you must have suffered very much in prison?" said
Madame du Gua.
"Alas, madame, I sometimes think that I am still there."
"Is your escort sent to protect you, mademoiselle, or to watch you?
Are you still suspected by the Republic?"
Mademoiselle felt instinctively that Madame du Gua had no real
interest in her, and the question alarmed her.
"Madame," she replied, "I really do not know myself the exact nature
of my relations to the Republic."
"Perhaps it fears you?" said the young man, rather satirically.
"We must respect her secrets," interposed Madame du Gua.
"Oh, madame, the secrets of a young girl who knows nothing of life but
its misfortunes are not interesting."
"But," answered Madame du Gua, wishing to continue a conversation
which might reveal to her all that she wanted to know, "the First
Consul seems to have excellent intentions. They say that he is going
to remove the disabilities of the /emigres/."
"That is true, madame," she replied, with rather too much eagerness,
"and if so, why do we rouse Brittany and La Vendee? Why bring civil
war into France?"
This eager cry, in which she seemed to share her own reproach, made
the young sailor quiver. He looked earnestly at her, but was unable to
detect either hatred or love upon her face. Her beautiful skin, the
delicacy of which was shown by the color beneath it, was impenetrable.
A sudden and invincible curiosity attracted him to this strange
creature, to whom he was already drawn by violent desires.
"Madame," said Mademoiselle de Verneuil, after a pause, "may I ask if
you are going to Mayenne?"
"Yes, mademoiselle," replied the young man with a questioning look.
"Then, madame," she continued, "as your son serves the Republic" (she
said the words with an apparently indifferent air, but she gave her
companions one of those furtive glances the art of which belongs to
women and diplomatists), "you must fear the Chouans, and an escort is
not to be despised. We are now almost travelling companions, and I
hope you will come with me to Mayenne."
Mother and son hesitated, and seemed to consult each other's faces.
"I am not sure, mademoiselle," said the young man, "that it is prudent
in me to tell you that interests of the highest importance require our
presence to-night in the neighborhood of Fougeres, and we have not yet
been able to find a means of conveyance; but women are so naturally
generous that I am ashamed not to confide in you. Nevertheless," he
added, "before putting ourselves in your hands, I ought to know
whether we shall get out of them safe and sound. In short,
mademoiselle, are you the sovereign or the slave of your Republican
escort? Pardon my frankness, but your position does not seem to me
"We live in times, monsieur, when nothing takes place naturally. You
can accept my proposal without anxiety. Above all," she added,
emphasizing her words, "you need fear no treachery in an offer made by
a woman who has no part in political hatreds."
"A journey thus made is not without danger," he said, with a look
which gave significance to that commonplace remark.
"What is it you fear?" she answered, smiling sarcastically. "I see no
peril for any one."
"Is this the woman who a moment ago shared my desires in her eyes?"
thought the young man. "What a tone in her voice! she is laying a trap
At that instant a shrill cry of an owl which appeared to have perched
on the chimney top vibrated in the air like a warning.
"What does that mean?" said Mademoiselle de Verneuil. "Our journey
together will not begin under favorable auspices. Do owls in these
woods screech by daylight?" she added, with a surprised gesture.
"Sometimes," said the young man, coolly. "Mademoiselle," he continued,
"we may bring you ill-luck; you are thinking of that, I am sure. We
had better not travel together."
These words were said with a calmness and reserve which puzzled
Mademoiselle de Verneuil.
"Monsieur," she replied, with truly aristocratic insolence, "I am far
from wishing to compel you. Pray let us keep the little liberty the
Republic leaves us. If Madame were alone, I should insist--"
The heavy step of a soldier was heard in the passage, and the
Commandant Hulot presently appeared in the doorway with a frowning
"Come here, colonel," said Mademoiselle de Verneuil, smiling and
pointing to a chair beside her. "Let us talk over the affairs of
State. But what is the matter with you? Are there Chouans here?"
The commandant stood speechless on catching sight of the young man, at
whom he looked with peculiar attention.
"Mamma, will you take some more hare? Mademoiselle, you are not
eating," said the sailor to Francine, seeming busy with the guests.
But Hulot's astonishment and Mademoiselle de Verneuil's close
observation had something too dangerously serious about them to be
"What is it, citizen?" said the young man, abruptly; "do you know me?"
"Perhaps I do," replied the Republican.
"You are right; I remember you at the School."
"I never went to any school," said the soldier, roughly. "What school
do you mean?"
"Ha, ha, those barracks where they expect to make soldiers in
dormitories," said the veteran, whose aversion for officers trained in
that nursery was insurmountable. "To what arm do you belong?"
"I am in the navy."
"Ha!" cried Hulot, smiling vindictively, "how many of your fellow-
students are in the navy? Don't you know," he added in a serious tone,
"that none but the artillery and the engineers graduate from there?"
The young man was not disconcerted.
"An exception was made in my favor, on account of the name I bear," he
answered. "We are all naval men in our family."
"What is the name of your family, citizen?" asked Hulot.
"Du Gua Saint-Cyr."
"Then you were not killed at Mortagne?"
"He came very near being killed," said Madame du Gua, quickly; "my son
received two balls in--"
"Where are your papers?" asked Hulot, not listening to the mother.
"Do you propose to read them?" said the young man, cavalierly; his
blue eye, keen with suspicion, studied alternately the gloomy face of
the commandant and that of Mademoiselle de Verneuil.
"A stripling like you to pretend to fool me! Come, produce your
"La! la! citizen, I'm not such a babe as I look to be. Why should I
answer you? Who are you?"
"The commander of this department," answered Hulot.
"Oh, then, of course, the matter is serious; I am taken with arms in
my hand," and he held a glass full of Bordeaux to the soldier.
"I am not thirsty," said Hulot. "Come, your papers."
At that instant the rattle of arms and the tread of men was heard in
the street. Hulot walked to the window and gave a satisfied look which
made Mademoiselle de Verneuil tremble. That sign of interest on her
part seemed to fire the young man, whose face had grown cold and
haughty. After feeling in the pockets of his coat he drew forth an
elegant portfolio and presented certain papers to the commandant,
which the latter read slowly, comparing the description given in the
passport with the face and figure of the young man before him. During
this prolonged examination the owl's cry rose again; but this time
there was no difficulty whatever in recognizing a human voice. The
commandant at once returned the papers to the young man, with a
"That's all very fine," he said; "but I don't like the music. You will
come with me to headquarters."
"Why do you take him there?" asked Mademoiselle de Verneuil, in a tone
of some excitement.
"My good lady," replied the commandant, with his usual grimace,
"that's none of your business."
Irritated by the tone and words of the old soldier, but still more at
the sort of humiliation offered to her in presence of a man who was
under the influence of her charms, Mademoiselle de Verneuil rose,
abandoning the simple and modest manner she had hitherto adopted; her
cheeks glowed and her eyes shone as she said in a quiet tone but with
a trembling voice: "Tell me, has this young man met all the
requirements of the law?"
"Yes--apparently," said Hulot ironically.
"Then, I desire that you will leave him, /apparently/, alone," she
said. "Are you afraid he will escape you? You are to escort him with
me to Mayenne; he will be in the coach with his mother. Make no
objection; it is my will--Well, what?" she added, noticing Hulot's
grimace; "do you suspect him still?"
"What do you want to do with him?"
"Oh, nothing; balance his head with a little lead perhaps. He's a
giddy-pate!" said the commandant, ironically.
"Are you joking, colonel?" cried Mademoiselle de Verneuil.
"Come!" said the commandant, nodding to the young man, "make haste,
let us be off."
At this impertinence Mademoiselle de Verneuil became calm and smiling.
"Do not go," she said to the young man, protecting him with a gesture
that was full of dignity.
"Oh, what a beautiful head!" said the youth to his mother, who frowned
Annoyance, and many other sentiments, aroused and struggled with, did
certainly bring fresh beauties to the young woman's face. Francine,
Madame du Gua, and her son had all risen from their seats.
Mademoiselle de Verneuil hastily advanced and stood between them and
the commandant, who smiled amusedly; then she rapidly unfastened the
frogged fastenings of her jacket. Acting with that blindness which
often seizes women when their self-love is threatened and they are
anxious to show their power, as a child is impatient to play with a
toy that has just been given to it, she took from her bosom a paper
and presented it to Hulot.
"Read that," she said, with a sarcastic laugh.
Then she turned to the young man and gave him, in the excitement of
her triumph, a look in which mischief was mingled with an expression
of love. Their brows cleared, joy flushed each agitated face, and a
thousand contradictory thoughts rose in their hearts. Madame du Gua
noted in that one look far more of love than of pity in Mademoiselle
de Verneuil's intervention; and she was right. The handsome creature
blushed beneath the other woman's gaze, understanding its meaning, and
dropped her eyelids; then, as if aware of some threatening accusation,
she raised her head proudly and defied all eyes. The commandant,
petrified, returned the paper, countersigned by ministers, which
enjoined all authorities to obey the orders of this mysterious lady.
Having done so, he drew his sword, laid it across his knees, broke the
blade, and flung away the pieces.
"Mademoiselle, you probably know what you are about; but a Republican
has his own ideas, and his own dignity. I cannot serve where women
command. The First Consul will receive my resignation to-morrow;
others, who are not of my stripe, may obey you. I do not understand my
orders and therefore I stop short,--all the more because I am supposed
to understand them."
There was silence for a moment, but it was soon broken by the young
lady, who went up to the commandant and held out her hand, saying,
"Colonel, though your beard is somewhat long, you may kiss my hand;
you are, indeed, a man!"
"I flatter myself I am, mademoiselle," he replied, depositing a kiss
upon the hand of this singular young woman rather awkwardly. "As for
you, friend," he said, threatening the young man with his finger, "you
have had a narrow escape this time."
"Commandant," said the youth, "it is time all this nonsense should
cease; I am ready to go with you, if you like, to headquarters."
"And bring your invisible owl, Marche-a-Terre?"
"Who is Marche-a-Terre?" asked the young man, showing all the signs of
"Didn't he hoot just now?"
"What did that hooting have to do with me, I should like to know? I
supposed it was your soldiers letting you know of their arrival."
"Nonsense, you did not think that."
"Yes, I did. But do drink that glass of Bordeaux; the wine is good."
Surprised at the natural behaviour of the youth and also by the
frivolity of his manners and the youthfulness of his face, made even
more juvenile by the careful curling of his fair hair, the commandant
hesitated in the midst of his suspicions. He noticed that Madame du
Gua was intently watching the glances that her son gave to
Mademoiselle de Verneuil, and he asked her abruptly: "How old are you,
"Ah, Monsieur l'officier," she said, "the rules of the Republic are
very severe; must I tell you that I am thirty-eight?"
"May I be shot if I believe it! Marche-a-Terre is here; it was he who
gave that cry; you are Chouans in disguise. God's thunder! I'll search
the inn and make sure of it!"
Just then a hoot, somewhat like those that preceded it, came from the
courtyard; the commandant rushed out, and missed seeing the pallor
that covered Madame du Gua's face as he spoke. Hulot saw at once that
the sound came from a postilion harnessing his horses to the coach,
and he cast aside his suspicions, all the more because it seemed
absurd to suppose that the Chouans would risk themselves in Alencon.
He returned to the house confounded.
"I forgive him now, but later he shall pay dear for the anxiety he has
given us," said the mother to the son, in a low voice, as Hulot
re-entered the room.
The brave old officer showed on his worried face the struggle that
went on in his mind betwixt a stern sense of duty and the natural
kindness of his heart. He kept his gruff air, partly, perhaps, because
he fancied he had deceived himself, but he took the glass of Bordeaux,
and said: "Excuse me, comrade, but your Polytechnique does send such
"The Chouans have younger ones," said the youth, laughing.
"For whom did you take my son?" asked Madame du Gua.
"For the Gars, the leader sent to the Chouans and the Vendeans by the
British cabinet; his real name is Marquis de Montauran."
The commandant watched the faces of the suspected pair, who looked at
each other with a puzzled expression that seemed to say: "Do you know
that name?" "No, do you?" "What is he talking about?" "He's dreaming."
The sudden change in the manner of Marie de Verneuil, and her torpor
as she heard the name of the royalist general was observed by no one
but Francine, the only person to whom the least shade on that young
face was visible. Completely routed, the commandant picked up the bits
of his broken sword, looked at Mademoiselle de Verneuil, whose ardent
beauty was beginning to find its way to his heart, and said: "As for
you, mademoiselle, I take nothing back, and to-morrow these fragments
of my sword will reach Bonaparte, unless--"
"Pooh! what do I care for Bonaparte, or your republic, or the king, or
the Gars?" she cried, scarcely repressing an explosion of ill-bred
A mysterious emotion, the passion of which gave to her face a dazzling
color, showed that the whole world was nothing to the girl the moment
that one individual was all in all to her. But she suddenly subdued
herself into forced calmness, observing, like a trained actor, that
the spectators were watching her. The commandant rose hastily and went
out. Anxious and agitated, Mademoiselle de Verneuil followed him,
stopped him in the corridor, and said, in an almost solemn tone: "Have
you any good reason to suspect that young man of being the Gars?"
"God's thunder! mademoiselle, that fellow who rode here with you came
back to warn me that the travellers in the mail-coach had all been
murdered by the Chouans; I knew that, but what I didn't know was the
name of the murdered persons,--it was Gua de Saint-Cyr!"
"Oh! if Corentin is at the bottom of all this, nothing surprises me,"
she cried, with a gesture of disgust.
The commandant went his way without daring to look at Mademoiselle de
Verneuil, whose dangerous beauty began to affect him.
"If I had stayed two minutes longer I should have committed the folly
of taking back my sword and escorting her," he was saying to himself
as he went down the stairs.
As Madame du Gua watched the young man, whose eyes were fixed on the
door through which Mademoiselle de Verneuil had passed, she said to
him in a low voice: "You are incorrigible. You will perish through a
woman. A doll can make you forget everything. Why did you allow her to
breakfast with us? Who is a Demoiselle de Verneuil escorted by the
Blues, who accepts a breakfast from strangers and disarms an officer
with a piece of paper hidden in the bosom of her gown like a love-
letter? She is one of those contemptible creatures by whose aid Fouche
expects to lay hold of you, and the paper she showed the commandant
ordered the Blues to assist her against you."
"Eh! madame," he replied in a sharp tone which went to the lady's
heart and turned her pale; "her generous action disproves your
supposition. Pray remember that the welfare of the king is the sole
bond between us. You, who have had Charette at your feet must find the
world without him empty; are you not living to avenge him?"
The lady stood still and pensive, like one who sees from the shore the
wreck of all her treasures, and only the more eagerly longs for the
Mademoiselle de Verneuil re-entered the room; the young man exchanged
a smile with her and gave her a glance full of gentle meaning. However
uncertain the future might seem, however ephemeral their union, the
promises of their sudden love were only the more endearing to them.
Rapid as the glance was, it did not escape the sagacious eye of Madame
du Gua, who instantly understood it; her brow clouded, and she was
unable to wholly conceal her jealous anger. Francine was observing
her; she saw the eyes glitter, the cheeks flush; she thought she
perceived a diabolical spirit in the face, stirred by some sudden and
terrible revulsion. But lightning is not more rapid, nor death more
prompt than this brief exhibition of inward emotion. Madame du Gua
recovered her lively manner with such immediate self-possession that
Francine fancied herself mistaken. Nevertheless, having once perceived
in this woman a violence of feeling that was fully equal to that of
Mademoiselle de Verneuil, she trembled as she foresaw the clash with
which such natures might come together, and the girl shuddered when
she saw Mademoiselle de Verneuil go up to the young man with a
passionate look and, taking him by the hand, draw him close beside her
and into the light, with a coquettish glance that was full of
"Now," she said, trying to read his eyes, "own to me that you are not
the citizen du Gua Saint-Cyr."
"Yes, I am, mademoiselle."
"But he and his mother were killed yesterday."
"I am very sorry for that," he replied, laughing. "However that may
be, I am none the less under a great obligation to you, for which I
shall always feel the deepest gratitude and only wish I could prove it
"I thought I was saving an /emigre/, but I love you better as a
The words escaped her lips as it were impulsively; she became
confused; even her eyes blushed, and her face bore no other expression
than one of exquisite simplicity of feeling; she softly released the
young man's hand, not from shame at having pressed it, but because of
a thought too weighty, it seemed, for her heart to bear, leaving him
drunk with hope. Suddenly she appeared to regret this freedom,
permissible as it might be under the passing circumstances of a
journey. She recovered her conventional manner, bowed to the lady and
her son, and taking Francine with her, left the room. When they
reached their own chamber Francine wrung her hands and tossed her
arms, as she looked at her mistress, saying: "Ah, Marie, what a crowd
of things in a moment of time! who but you would have such
Mademoiselle de Verneuil sprang forward and clasped Francine round the
"Ah! this is life indeed--I am in heaven!"
"Or hell," retorted Francine.
"Yes, hell if you like!" cried Mademoiselle de Verneuil. "Here, give
me your hand; feel my heart, how it beats. There's fever in my veins;
the whole world is now a mere nothing to me! How many times have I not
seen that man in my dreams! Oh! how beautiful his head is--how his
"Will he love you?" said the simple peasant-woman, in a quivering
voice, her face full of sad foreboding.
"How can you ask me that!" cried Mademoiselle de Verneuil. "But,
Francine, tell me," she added throwing herself into a pose that was
half serious, half comic, "will it be very hard to love me?"
"No, but will he love you always?" replied Francine, smiling.
They looked at each other for a moment speechless,--Francine at
revealing so much knowledge of life, and Marie at the perception,
which now came to her for the first time, of a future of happiness in
her passion. She seemed to herself hanging over a gulf of which she
had wanted to know the depth, and listening to the fall of the stone
she had flung, at first heedlessly, into it.
"Well, it is my own affair," she said, with the gesture of a gambler.
"I should never pity a betrayed woman; she has no one but herself to
blame if she is abandoned. I shall know how to keep, either living or
dead, the man whose heart has once been mine. But," she added, with
some surprise and after a moment's silence, "where did you get your
knowledge of love, Francine?"
"Mademoiselle," said the peasant-woman, hastily, "hush, I hear steps
in the passage."
"Ah! not /his/ steps!" said Marie, listening. "But you are evading an
answer; well, well, I'll wait for it, or guess it."
Francine was right, however. Three taps on the door interrupted the
conversation. Captain Merle appeared, after receiving Mademoiselle de
Verneuil's permission to enter.
With a military salute to the lady, whose beauty dazzled him, the
soldier ventured on giving her a glance, but he found nothing better
to say than: "Mademoiselle, I am at your orders."
"Then you are to be my protector, in place of the commander, who
retires; is that so?"
"No, my superior is the adjutant-major Gerard, who has sent me here."
"Your commandant must be very much afraid of me," she said.
"Beg pardon, mademoiselle, Hulot is afraid of nothing. But women, you
see, are not in his line; it ruffled him to have a general in a mob-
"And yet," continued Mademoiselle de Verneuil, "it was his duty to
obey his superiors. I like subordination, and I warn you that I shall
allow no one to disobey me."
"That would be difficult," replied Merle, gallantly.
"Let us consult," said Mademoiselle de Verneuil. "You can get fresh
troops here and accompany me to Mayenne, which I must reach this
evening. Shall we find other soldiers there, so that I might go on at
once, without stopping at Mayenne? The Chouans are quite ignorant of
our little expedition. If we travel at night, we can avoid meeting any
number of them, and so escape an attack. Do you think this feasible?"
"What sort of road is it between Mayenne and Fougeres?"
"Rough; all up and down, a regular squirrel-wheel."
"Well, let us start at once. As we have nothing to fear near Alencon,
you can go before me; we'll join you soon."
"One would think she had seen ten years' service," thought Merle, as
he departed. "Hulot is mistaken; that young girl is not earning her
living out of a feather-bed. Ten thousand carriages! if I want to be
adjutant-major I mustn't be such a fool as to mistake Saint-Michael
for the devil."
During Mademoiselle de Verneuil's conference with the captain,
Francine had slipped out for the purpose of examining, through a
window of the corridor, the spot in the courtyard which had excited
her curiosity on arriving at the inn. She watched the stable and the
heaps of straw with the absorption of one who was saying her prayers
to the Virgin, and she presently saw Madame du Gua approaching Marche-
a-Terre with the precaution of a cat that dislikes to wet its feet.
When the Chouan caught sight of the lady, he rose and stood before her
in an attitude of deep respect. This singular circumstance aroused
Francine's curiosity; she slipped into the courtyard and along the
walls, avoiding Madame du Gua's notice, and trying to hide herself
behind the stable door. She walked on tiptoe, scarcely daring to
breathe, and succeeded in posting herself close to Marche-a-Terre,
without exciting his attention.
"If, after all this information," the lady was saying to the Chouan,
"it proves not to be her real name, you are to fire upon her without
pity, as you would on a mad dog."
"Agreed!" said Marche-a-Terre.
The lady left him. The Chouan replaced his red woollen cap upon his
head, remained standing, and was scratching his ear as if puzzled when
Francine suddenly appeared before him, apparently by magic.
"Saint Anne of Auray!" he exclaimed. Then he dropped his whip, clasped
his hands, and stood as if in ecstasy. A faint color illuminated his
coarse face, and his eyes shone like diamonds dropped on a muck-heap.
"Is it really the brave girl from Cottin?" he muttered, in a voice so
smothered that he alone heard it. "You /are/ fine," he said, after a
pause, using the curious word, "godaine," a superlative in the dialect
of those regions used by lovers to express the combination of fine
clothes and beauty.
"I daren't touch you," added Marche-a-Terre, putting out his big hand
nevertheless, as if to weigh the gold chain which hung round her neck
and below her waist.
"You had better not, Pierre," replied Francine, inspired by the
instinct which makes a woman despotic when not oppressed. She drew
back haughtily, after enjoying the Chouan's surprise; but she
compensated for the harshness of her words by the softness of her
glance, saying, as she once more approached him: "Pierre, that lady
was talking to you about my young mistress, wasn't she?"
Marche-a-Terre was silent; his face struggled, like the dawn, between
clouds and light. He looked in turn at Francine, at the whip he had
dropped, and at the chain, which seemed to have as powerful an
attraction for him as the Breton girl herself. Then, as if to put a
stop to his own uneasiness, he picked up his whip and still kept
"Well, it is easy to see that that lady told you to kill my mistress,"
resumed Francine, who knew the faithful discretion of the peasant, and
wished to relieve his scruples.
Marche-a-Terre lowered his head significantly. To the Cottin girl that
was answer enough.
"Very good, Pierre," she said; "if any evil happens to her, if a hair
of her head is injured, you and I will have seen each other for the
last time; for I shall be in heaven, and you will go to hell."
The possessed of devils whom the Church in former days used to
exorcise with great pomp were not more shaken and agitated than
Marche-a-Terre at this prophecy, uttered with a conviction that gave
it certainty. His glance, which at first had a character of savage
tenderness, counteracted by a fanaticism as powerful in his soul as
love, suddenly became surly, as he felt the imperious manner of the
girl he had long since chosen. Francine interpreted his silence in her
"Won't you do anything for my sake?" she said in a tone of reproach.
At these words the Chouan cast a glance at his mistress from eyes that
were black as a crow's wing.
"Are you free?" he asked in a growl that Francine alone could have
"Should I be here if I were not?" she replied indignantly. "But you,
what are you doing here? Still playing bandit, still roaming the
country like a mad dog wanting to bite. Oh! Pierre, if you were wise,
you would come with me. This beautiful young lady, who, I ought to
tell you, was nursed when a baby in our home, has taken care of me. I
have two hundred francs a year from a good investment. And
Mademoiselle has bought me my uncle Thomas's big house for fifteen
hundred francs, and I have saved two thousand beside."
But her smiles and the announcement of her wealth fell dead before the
dogged immovability of the Chouan.
"The priests have told us to go to war," he replied. "Every Blue we
shoot earns one indulgence."
"But suppose the Blues shoot you?"
He answered by letting his arms drop at his sides, as if regretting
the poverty of the offering he should thus make to God and the king.
"What will become of me?" exclaimed the young girl, sorrowfully.
Marche-a-Terre looked at her stupidly; his eyes seemed to enlarge;
tears rolled down his hairy cheeks upon the goatskin which covered
him, and a low moan came from his breast.
"Saint Anne of Auray!--Pierre, is this all you have to say to me after
a parting of seven years? You have changed indeed."
"I love you the same as ever," said the Chouan, in a gruff voice.
"No," she whispered, "the king is first."
"If you look at me like that I shall go," he said.
"Well, then, adieu," she replied, sadly.
"Adieu," he repeated.
He seized her hand, wrung it, kissed it, made the sign of the cross,
and rushed into the stable, like a dog who fears that his bone will be
taken from him.
"Pille-Miche," he said to his comrade. "Where's your tobacco-box?"
"Ho! /sacre bleu/! what a fine chain!" cried Pille-Miche, fumbling in
a pocket constructed in his goatskin.
Then he held out to Marche-a-Terre the little horn in which Bretons
put the finely powdered tobacco which they prepare themselves during
the long winter nights. The Chouan raised his thumb and made a hollow
in the palm of his hand, after the manner in which an "Invalide" takes
his tobacco; then he shook the horn, the small end of which Pille-
Miche had unscrewed. A fine powder fell slowly from the little hole
pierced in the point of this Breton utensil. Marche-a-Terre went
through the same process seven or eight times silently, as if the
powder had power to change the current of his thoughts. Suddenly he
flung the horn to Pille-Miche with a gesture of despair, and caught up
a gun which was hidden in the straw.
"Seven or eight shakes at once! I suppose you think that costs
nothing!" said the stingy Pille-Miche.
"Forward!" cried Marche-a-Terre in a hoarse voice. "There's work
Thirty or more Chouans who were sleeping in the straw under the
mangers, raised their heads, saw Marche-a-Terre on his feet, and
disappeared instantly through a door which led to the garden, from
which it was easy to reach the fields.
When Francine left the stable she found the mail-coach ready to start.
Mademoiselle de Verneuil and her new fellow-travellers were already in
it. The girl shuddered as she saw her young mistress sitting side by
side with the woman who had just ordered her death. The young man had
taken his seat facing Marie, and as soon as Francine was in hers the
heavy vehicle started at a good pace.
The sun had swept away the gray autumnal mists, and its rays were
brightening the gloomy landscape with a look of youth and holiday.
Many lovers fancy that such chance accidents of the sky are
premonitions. Francine was surprised at the strange silence which fell
upon the travellers. Mademoiselle de Verneuil had recovered her cold
manner, and sat with her eyes lowered, her head slightly inclined, and
her hands hidden under a sort of mantle in which she had wrapped
herself. If she raised her eyes it was only to look at the passing
scenery. Certain of being admired, she rejected admiration; but her
apparent indifference was evidently more coquettish than natural.
Purity, which gives such harmony to the diverse expressions by which a
simple soul reveals itself, could lend no charm to a being whose every
instinct predestined her to the storms of passion. Yielding himself up
to the pleasures of this dawning intrigue, the young man did not try
to explain the contradictions which were obvious between the coquetry
and the enthusiasm of this singular young girl. Her assumed
indifference allowed him to examine at his ease a face which was now
as beautiful in its calmness as it had been when agitated. Like the
rest of us, he was not disposed to question the sources of his
It is difficult for a pretty woman to avoid the glances of her
companions in a carriage when their eyes fasten upon her as a visible
distraction to the monotony of a journey. Happy, therefore, in being
able to satisfy the hunger of his dawning passion, without offence or
avoidance on the part of its object, the young man studied the pure
and brilliant lines of the girl's head and face. To him they were a
picture. Sometimes the light brought out the transparent rose of the
nostrils and the double curve which united the nose with the upper
lip; at other times a pale glint of sunshine illuminated the tints of
the skin, pearly beneath the eyes and round the mouth, rosy on the
cheeks, and ivory-white about the temples and throat. He admired the
contrasts of light and shade caused by the masses of black hair
surrounding her face and giving it an ephemeral grace,--for all is
fleeting in a woman; her beauty of to-day is often not that of
yesterday, fortunately for herself, perhaps! The young man, who was
still at an age when youth delights in the nothings which are the all
of love, watched eagerly for each movement of the eyelids, and the
seductive rise and fall of her bosom as she breathed. Sometimes he
fancied, suiting the tenor of his thoughts, that he could see a
meaning in the expression of the eyes and the imperceptible inflection
of the lips. Every gesture betrayed to him the soul, every motion a
new aspect of the young girl. If a thought stirred those mobile
features, if a sudden blush suffused the cheeks, or a smile brought
life into the face, he found a fresh delight in trying to discover the
secrets of this mysterious creature. Everything about her was a snare
to the soul and a snare to the senses. Even the silence that fell
between them, far from raising an obstacle to the understanding of
their hearts, became the common ground for mutual thoughts. But after
a while the many looks in which their eyes encountered each other
warned Marie de Verneuil that the silence was compromising her, and
she turned to Madame du Gua with one of those commonplace remarks
which open the way to conversation; but even in so doing she included
the young man.
"Madame," she said, "how could you put your son into the navy? have
you not doomed yourself to perpetual anxiety?"
"Mademoiselle, the fate of women, of mothers, I should say, is to
tremble for the safety of their dear ones."
"Your son is very like you."
"Do you think so, mademoiselle?"
The smile with which the young man listened to these remarks increased
the vexation of his pretended mother. Her hatred grew with every
passionate glance he turned on Marie. Silence or conversation, all
increased the dreadful wrath which she carefully concealed beneath a
"Mademoiselle," said the young man, "you are quite mistaken. Naval men
are not more exposed to danger than soldiers. Women ought not to
dislike the navy; we sailors have a merit beyond that of the military,
--we are faithful to our mistresses."
"Oh, from necessity," replied Mademoiselle de Verneuil, laughing.
"But even so, it is fidelity," said Madame du Gua, in a deep voice.
The conversation grew lively, touching upon subjects that were
interesting to none but the three travellers, for under such
circumstances intelligent persons given new meanings to commonplace
talk; but every word, insignificant as it might seem, was a mutual
interrogation, hiding the desires, hopes, and passions which agitated
them. Marie's cleverness and quick perception (for she was fully on
her guard) showed Madame du Gua that calumny and treachery could alone
avail to triumph over a rival as formidable through her intellect as
by her beauty. The mail-coach presently overtook the escort, and then
advanced more slowly. The young man, seeing a long hill before them,
proposed to the young lady that they should walk. The friendly
politeness of his offer decided her, and her consent flattered him.
"Is Madame of our opinion?" she said, turning to Madame du Gua. "Will
she walk, too?"
"Coquette!" said the lady to herself, as she left the coach.
Marie and the young man walked together, but a little apart. The
sailor, full of ardent desires, was determined to break the reserve
that checked him, of which, however, he was not the dupe. He fancied
that he could succeed by dallying with the young lady in that tone of
courteous amiability and wit, sometimes frivolous, sometimes serious,
which characterized the men of the exiled aristocracy. But the smiling
Parisian beauty parried him so mischievously, and rejected his
frivolities with such disdain, evidently preferring the stronger ideas
and enthusiasms which he betrayed from time to time in spite of
himself, that he presently began to understand the true way of
pleasing her. The conversation then changed. He realized the hopes her
expressive face had given him; yet, as he did so, new difficulties
arose, and he was still forced to suspend his judgment on a girl who
seemed to take delight in thwarting him, a siren with whom he grew
more and more in love. After yielding to the seduction of her beauty,
he was still more attracted to her mysterious soul, with a curiosity
which Marie perceived and took pleasure in exciting. Their intercourse
assumed, insensibly, a character of intimacy far removed from the tone
of indifference which Mademoiselle de Verneuil endeavored in vain to
give to it.
Though Madame du Gua had followed the lovers, the latter had
unconsciously walked so much more rapidly than she that a distance of
several hundred feet soon separated them. The charming pair trod the
fine sand beneath their feet, listening with childlike delight to the
union of their footsteps, happy in being wrapped by the same ray of a
sunshine that seemed spring-like, in breathing with the same breath
autumnal perfumes laden with vegetable odors which seemed a
nourishment brought by the breezes to their dawning love. Though to
them it may have been a mere circumstance of their fortuitous meeting,
yet the sky, the landscape, the season of the year, did communicate to
their emotions a tinge of melancholy gravity which gave them an
element of passion. They praised the weather and talked of its beauty;
then of their strange encounter, of the coming rupture of an
intercourse so delightful; of the ease with which, in travelling,
friendships, lost as soon as made, are formed. After this last remark,
the young man profited by what seemed to be a tacit permission to make
a few tender confidences, and to risk an avowal of love like a man who
was not unaccustomed to such situations.
"Have you noticed, mademoiselle," he said, "how little the feelings of
the heart follow the old conventional rules in the days of terror in
which we live? Everything about us bears the stamp of suddenness. We
love in a day, or we hate on the strength of a single glance. We are
bound to each other for life in a moment, or we part with the celerity
of death itself. All things are hurried, like the convulsions of the
nation. In the midst of such dangers as ours the ties that bind should
be stronger than under the ordinary course of life. In Paris during
the Terror, every one came to know the full meaning of a clasp of the
hand as men do on a battle-field."
"People felt the necessity of living fast and ardently," she answered,
"for they had little time to live." Then, with a glance at her
companion which seemed to tell him that the end of their short
intercourse was approaching, she added, maliciously: "You are very
well informed as to the affairs of life, for a young man who has just
left the Ecole Polytechnique!"
"What are you thinking of me?" he said after a moment's silence. "Tell
me frankly, without disguise."
"You wish to acquire the right to speak to me of myself," she said
"You do not answer me," he went on after a slight pause. "Take care,
silence is sometimes significant."
"Do you think I cannot guess all that you would like to say to me?
Good heavens! you have already said enough."
"Oh, if we understand each other," he replied, smiling, "I have
obtained more than I dared hope for."
She smiled in return so graciously that she seemed to accept the
courteous struggle into which all men like to draw a woman. They
persuaded themselves, half in jest, half in earnest, that they never
could be more to each other than they were at that moment. The young
man fancied, therefore, he might give reins to a passion that could
have no future; the young woman felt she might smile upon it. Marie
suddenly struck her foot against a stone and stumbled.
"Take my arm," said her companion.
"It seems I must," she replied; "you would be too proud if I refused;
you would fancy I feared you."
"Ah, mademoiselle," he said, pressing her arm against his heart that
she might feel the beating of it, "you flatter my pride by granting
such a favor."
"Well, the readiness with which I do so will cure your illusions."
"Do you wish to save me from the danger of the emotions you cause?"
"Stop, stop!" she cried; "do not try to entangle me in such boudoir
riddles. I don't like to find the wit of fools in a man of your
character. See! here we are beneath the glorious sky, in the open
country; before us, above us, all is grand. You wish to tell me that I
am beautiful, do you not? Well, your eyes have already told me so;
besides, I know it; I am not a woman whom mere compliments can please.
But perhaps you would like," this with satirical emphasis, "to talk
about your /sentiments/? Do you think me so simple as to believe that
sudden sympathies are powerful enough to influence a whole life
through the recollections of one morning?"
"Not the recollections of a morning," he said, "but those of a
beautiful woman who has shown herself generous."
"You forget," she retorted, laughing, "half my attractions,--a
mysterious woman, with everything odd about her, name, rank,
situation, freedom of thought and manners."
"You are not mysterious to me!" he exclaimed. "I have fathomed you;
there is nothing that could be added to your perfections except a
little more faith in the love you inspire."
"Ah, my poor child of eighteen, what can you know of love?" she said
smiling. "Well, well, so be it!" she added, "it is a fair subject of
conversation, like the weather when one pays a visit. You shall find
that I have neither false modesty nor petty fears. I can hear the word
love without blushing; it has been so often said to me without one
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
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