Honore de Balzac
Part 5 out of 7
Brittany, the Republic, and the Chouans were far indeed from his
thoughts. Hulot sat erect and silent as the god Thermes. His want of
education made him quite incapable of taking part in a conversation of
this kind; he supposed that the talking pair were very witty, but his
efforts at comprehension were limited to discovering whether they were
plotting against the Republic in covert language.
"Montauran," the count was saying, "has birth and breeding, he is a
charming fellow, but he doesn't understand gallantry. He is too young
to have seen Versailles. His education is deficient. Instead of
diplomatically defaming, he strikes a blow. He may be able to love
violently, but he will never have that fine flower of breeding in his
gallantry which distinguished Lauzun, Adhemar, Coigny, and so many
others! He hasn't the winning art of saying those pretty nothings to
women which, after all, they like better than bursts of passion, which
soon weary them. Yes, though he has undoubtedly had many love-affairs,
he has neither the grace nor the ease that should belong to them."
"I have noticed that myself," said Marie.
"Ah!" thought the count, "there's an inflection in her voice, and a
look in her eye which shows me plainly I shall soon be /on terms/ with
her; and faith! to get her, I'll believe all she wants me to."
He offered her his hand, for dinner was now announced. Mademoiselle de
Verneuil did the honors with a politeness and tact which could only
have been acquired by the life and training of a court.
"Leave us," she whispered to Hulot as they left the table. "You will
only frighten him; whereas, if I am alone with him I shall soon find
out all I want to know; he has reached the point where a man tells me
everything he thinks, and sees through my eyes only."
"But afterwards?" said Hulot, evidently intending to claim the
"Afterwards, he is to be free--free as air," she replied.
"But he was taken with arms in his hand."
"No," she said, making one of those sophistical jokes with which women
parry unanswerable arguments, "I had disarmed him. Count," she said,
turning back to him as Hulot departed, "I have just obtained your
liberty, but--nothing for nothing," she added, laughing, with her head
on one side as if to interrogate him.
"Ask all, even my name and my honor," he cried, intoxicated. "I lay
them at your feet."
He advanced to seize her hand, trying to make her take his passion for
gratitude; but Mademoiselle de Verneuil was not a woman to be thus
misled. So, smiling in a way to give some hope to this new lover, she
drew back a few steps and said: "You might make me regret my
"The imagination of a young girl is more rapid than that of a woman,"
he answered, laughing.
"A young girl has more to lose than a woman."
"True; those who carry a treasure ought to be distrustful."
"Let us quit such conventional language," she said, "and talk
seriously. You are to give a ball at Saint-James. I hear that your
headquarters, arsenals, and base of supplies are there. When is the
ball to be?"
"You will not be surprised if a slandered woman desires, with a
woman's obstinacy, to obtain a public reparation for the insults
offered to her, in presence of those who witnessed them. I shall go to
your ball. I ask you to give me your protection from the moment I
enter the room until I leave it. I ask nothing more than a promise,"
she added, as he laid his hand on his heart. "I abhor oaths; they are
too like precautions. Tell me only that you engage to protect my
person from all dangers, criminal or shameful. Promise to repair the
wrong you did me, by openly acknowledging that I am the daughter of
the Duc de Verneuil; but say nothing of the trials I have borne in
being illegitimate,--this will pay your debt to me. Ha! two hours'
attendance on a woman in a ball-room is not so dear a ransom for your
life, is it? You are not worth a ducat more." Her smile took the
insult from her words.
"What do you ask for the gun?" said the count, laughing.
"Oh! more than I do for you."
"What is it?"
"Secrecy. Believe me, my dear count, a woman is never fathomed except
by a woman. I am certain that if you say one word of this, I shall be
murdered on my way to that ball. Yesterday I had warning enough. Yes,
that woman is quick to act. Ah! I implore you," she said, "contrive
that no harm shall come to me at the ball."
"You will be there under my protection," said the count, proudly.
"But," he added, with a doubtful air, "are you coming for the sake of
"You wish to know more than I know myself," she answered, laughing.
"Now go," she added, after a pause. "I will take you to the gate of
the town myself, for this seems to me a cannibal warfare."
"Then you do feel some interest in me?" exclaimed the count. "Ah!
mademoiselle, permit me to hope that you will not be insensible to my
friendship--for that sentiment must content me, must it not?" he added
with a conceited air.
"Ah! diviner!" she said, putting on the gay expression a woman assumes
when she makes an avowal which compromises neither her dignity nor her
Then, having slipped on a pelisse, she accompanied him as far as the
Nid-aux-Crocs. When they reached the end of the path she said,
"Monsieur, be absolutely silent on all this; even to the marquis"; and
she laid her finger on both lips.
The count, emboldened by so much kindness, took her hand; she let him
do so as though it were a great favor, and he kissed it tenderly.
"Oh! mademoiselle," he cried, on knowing himself beyond all danger,
"rely on me for life, for death. Though I owe you a gratitude equal to
that I owe my mother, it will be very difficult to restrain my
feelings to mere respect."
He sprang into the narrow pathway. After watching him till he reached
the rocks of Saint-Sulpice, Marie nodded her head in sign of
satisfaction, saying to herself in a low voice: "That fat fellow has
given me more than his life for his life! I can make him my creator at
a very little cost! Creature or creator, that's all the difference
there is between one man and another--"
She did not finish her thought, but with a look of despair she turned
and re-entered the Porte Saint-Leonard, where Hulot and Corentin were
"Two more days," she cried, "and then--" She stopped, observing that
they were not alone--"he shall fall under your guns," she whispered to
The commandant recoiled a step and looked with a jeering contempt,
impossible to render, at the woman whose features and expression gave
no sign whatever of relenting. There is one thing remarkable about
women: they never reason about their blameworthy actions,--feeling
carries them off their feet; even in their dissimulation there is an
element of sincerity; and in women alone crime may exist without
baseness, for it often happens that they do not know how it came about
that they committed it.
"I am going to Saint-James, to a ball the Chouans give to-morrow
"But," said Corentin, interrupting her, "that is fifteen miles
distant; had I not better accompany you?"
"You think a great deal too much of something I never think of at
all," she replied, "and that is yourself."
Marie's contempt for Corentin was extremely pleasing to Hulot, who
made his well-known grimace as she turned away in the direction of her
own house. Corentin followed her with his eyes, letting his face
express a consciousness of the fatal power he knew he could exercise
over the charming creature, by working upon the passions which sooner
or later, he believed, would give her to him.
As soon as Mademoiselle de Verneuil reached home she began to
deliberate on her ball-dress. Francine, accustomed to obey without
understanding her mistress's motives, opened the trunks, and suggested
a Greek costume. The Republican fashions of those days were all Greek
in style. Marie chose one which could be put in a box that was easy to
"Francine, my dear, I am going on an excursion into the country; do
you want to go with me, or will you stay behind?"
"Stay behind!" exclaimed Francine; "then who would dress you?"
"Where have you put that glove I gave you this morning?"
"Here it is."
"Sew this green ribbon into it, and, above all, take plenty of money."
Then noticing that Francine was taking out a number of the new
Republican coins, she cried out, "Not those; they would get us
murdered. Send Jeremie to Corentin--no, stay, the wretch would follow
me--send to the commandant; ask him from me for some six-franc
With the feminine sagacity which takes in the smallest detail, she
thought of everything. While Francine was completing the arrangements
for this extraordinary trip, Marie practised the art of imitating an
owl, and so far succeeded in rivalling Marche-a-Terre that the
illusion was a good one. At midnight she left Fougeres by the gate of
Saint-Leonard, took the little path to Nid-aux-Crocs, and started,
followed by Francine, to cross the Val de Gibarry with a firm step,
under the impulse of that strong will which gives to the body and its
bearing such an expression of force. To leave a ball-room with
sufficient care to avoid a cold is an important affair to the health
of a woman; but let her have a passion in her heart, and her body
becomes adamant. Such an enterprise as Marie had now undertaken would
have floated in a bold man's mind for a long time; but Mademoiselle de
Verneuil had no sooner thought of it than its dangers became to her
"You are starting without asking God to bless you," said Francine,
turning to look at the tower of Saint-Leonard.
The pious Breton stopped, clasped her hands, and said an "Ave" to
Saint Anne of Auray, imploring her to bless their expedition; during
which time her mistress waited pensively, looking first at the artless
attitude of her maid who was praying fervently, and then at the
effects of the vaporous moonlight as it glided among the traceries of
the church building, giving to the granite all the delicacy of
filagree. The pair soon reached the hut of Galope-Chopine. Light as
their steps were they roused one of those huge watch-dogs on whose
fidelity the Bretons rely, putting no fastening to their doors but a
simple latch. The dog ran to the strangers, and his bark became so
threatening that they were forced to retreat a few steps and call for
help. But no one came. Mademoiselle de Verneuil then gave the owl's
cry, and instantly the rusty hinges of the door made a creaking sound,
and Galope-Chopine, who had risen hastily, put out his head.
"I wish to go to Saint-James," said Marie, showing the Gars' glove.
"Monsieur le Comte de Bauvan told me that you would take me there and
protect me on the way. Therefore be good enough to get us two riding
donkeys, and make yourself ready to go with us. Time is precious, for
if we do not get to Saint-James before to-morrow night I can neither
see the ball nor the Gars."
Galope-Chopine, completely bewildered, took the glove and turned it
over and over, after lighting a pitch candle about a finger thick and
the color of gingerbread. This article of consumption, imported into
Brittany from the North, was only one more proof to the eyes in this
strange country of a utter ignorance of all commercial principles,
even the commonest. After seeing the green ribbon, staring at
Mademoiselle de Verneuil, scratching his ear, and drinking a beaker of
cider (having first offered a glass to the beautiful lady), Galope-
Chopine left her seated before the table and went to fetch the
The violet gleam cast by the pitch candle was not powerful enough to
counteract the fitful moonlight, which touched the dark floor and
furniture of the smoke-blackened cottage with luminous points. The
little boy had lifted his pretty head inquisitively, and above it two
cows were poking their rosy muzzles and brilliant eyes through the
holes in the stable wall. The big dog, whose countenance was by no
means the least intelligent of the family, seemed to be examining the
strangers with as much curiosity as the little boy. A painter would
have stopped to admire the night effects of this scene, but Marie, not
wishing to enter into conversation with Barbette, who sat up in bed
and began to show signs of amazement at recognizing her, left the
hovel to escape its fetid air and the questions of its mistress. She
ran quickly up the stone staircase behind the cottage, admiring the
vast details of the landscape, the aspect of which underwent as many
changes as spectators made steps either upward to the summits or
downward to the valleys. The moonlight was now enveloping like a
luminous mist the valley of Couesnon. Certainly a woman whose heart
was burdened with a despised love would be sensitive to the melancholy
which that soft brilliancy inspires in the soul, by the weird
appearance it gives to objects and the colors with which it tints the
The silence was presently broken by the braying of a donkey. Marie
went quickly back to the hut, and the party started. Galope-Chopine,
armed with a double-barrelled gun, wore a long goatskin, which gave
him something the look of Robinson Crusoe. His blotched face, seamed
with wrinkles, was scarcely visible under the broad-brimmed hat which
the Breton peasants still retain as a tradition of the olden time;
proud to have won, after their servitude, the right to wear the former
ornament of seignorial heads. This nocturnal caravan, protected by a
guide whose clothing, attitudes, and person had something patriarchal
about them, bore no little resemblance to the Flight into Egypt as we
see it represented by the sombre brush of Rembrandt. Galope-Chopine
carefully avoided the main-road and guided the two women through the
labyrinth of by-ways which intersect Brittany.
Mademoiselle de Verneuil then understood the Chouan warfare. In
threading these complicated paths, she could better appreciate the
condition of a country which when she saw it from an elevation had
seemed to her so charming, but into which it was necessary to
penetrate before the dangers and inextricable difficulties of it could
be understood. Round each field, and from time immemorial, the
peasants have piled mud walls, about six feet high, and prismatic in
shape; on the top of which grow chestnuts, oaks and beeches. The walls
thus planted are called hedges (Norman hedges) and the long branches
of the trees sweeping over the pathways arch them. Sunken between
these walls (made of a clay soil) the paths are like the covered ways
of a fortification, and where the granite rock, which in these regions
comes to the surface of the ground, does not make a sort of rugged
natural pavement, they become so impracticable that the smallest
vehicles can only be drawn over them by two pairs of oxen or Breton
horses, which are small but usually vigorous. These by-ways are so
swampy that foot-passengers have gradually by long usage made other
paths beside them on the hedge-banks which are called "rotes"; and
these begin and end with each division into fields. In order to cross
from one field to another it is necessary to climb the clay banks by
means of steps which are often very slippery after a rain.
Travellers have many other obstacles to encounter in these intricate
paths. Thus surrounded, each field is closed by what is called in the
West an /echalier/. That is a trunk or stout branch of a tree, one end
of which, being pierced, is fitted to an upright post which serves as
a pivot on which it turns. One end of the /echalier/ projects far
enough beyond the pivot to hold a weight, and this singular rustic
gate, the post of which rests in a hole made in the bank, is so easy
to work that a child can handle it. Sometimes the peasants economize
the stone which forms the weight by lengthening the trunk or branch
beyond the pivot. This method of enclosure varies with the genius of
each proprietor. Sometimes it consists of a single trunk or branch,
both ends of which are embedded in the bank. In other places it looks
like a gate, and is made of several slim branches placed at regular
distances like the steps of a ladder lying horizontally. The form
turns, like the /echalier/, on a pivot. These "hedges" and /echaliers/
give the region the appearance of a huge chess-board, each field
forming a square, perfectly isolated from the rest, closed like a
fortress and protected by ramparts. The gate, which is very easy to
defend, is a dangerous spot for assailants. The Breton peasant thinks
he improves his fallow land by encouraging the growth of gorse, a
shrub so well treated in these regions that it soon attains the height
of a man. This delusion, worthy of a population which puts its manure
on the highest spot in the courtyard, has covered the soil to a
proportion of one fourth with masses of gorse, in the midst of which a
thousand men might ambush. Also there is scarcely a field without a
number of old apple-trees, the fruit being used for cider, which kill
the vegetation wherever their branches cover the ground. Now, if the
reader will reflect on the small extent of open ground within these
hedges and large trees whose hungry roots impoverish the soil, he will
have an idea of the cultivation and general character of the region
through which Mademoiselle de Verneuil was now passing.
It is difficult to say whether the object of these enclosures is to
avoid all disputes of possession, or whether the custom is a lazy one
of keeping the cattle from straying, without the trouble of watching
them; at any rate such formidable barriers are permanent obstacles,
which make these regions impenetrable and ordinary warfare impossible.
There lies the whole secret of the Chouan war. Mademoiselle de
Verneuil saw plainly the necessity the Republic was under to strangle
the disaffection by means of police and by negotiation, rather than by
a useless employment of military force. What could be done, in fact,
with a people wise enough to despise the possession of towns, and hold
to that of an open country already furnished with indestructible
fortifications? Surely, nothing except negotiate; especially as the
whole active strength of these deluded peasants lay in a single able
and enterprising leader. She admired the genius of the minister who,
sitting in his study, had been able to grasp the true way of procuring
peace. She thought she understood the considerations which act on the
minds of men powerful enough to take a bird's-eye view of an empire;
men whose actions, criminal in the eyes of the masses, are the outcome
of a vast and intelligent thought. There is in these terrible souls
some mysterious blending of the force of fate and that of destiny,
some prescience which suddenly elevates them above their fellows; the
masses seek them for a time in their own ranks, then they raise their
eyes and see these lordly souls above them.
Such reflections as these seemed to Mademoiselle de Verneuil to
justify and even to ennoble her thoughts of vengeance; this travail of
her soul and its expectations gave her vigor enough to bear the
unusual fatigues of this strange journey. At the end of each property
Galope-Chopine made the women dismount from their donkeys and climb
the obstructions; then, mounting again, they made their way through
the boggy paths which already felt the approach of winter. The
combination of tall trees, sunken paths, and enclosed places, kept the
soil in a state of humidity which wrapped the travellers in a mantle
of ice. However, after much wearisome fatigue, they managed to reach
the woods of Marignay by sunrise. The journey then became less
difficult, and led by a broad footway through the forest. The arch
formed by the branches, and the great size of the trees protected the
travellers from the weather, and the many difficulties of the first
half of their way did not recur.
They had hardly gone a couple of miles through the woods before they
heard a confused noise of distant voices and the tinkling of a bell,
the silvery tones of which did not have the monotonous sound given by
the movements of cattle. Galope-Chopine listened with great attention,
as he walked along, to this melody; presently a puff of wind brought
several chanted words to his ear, which seemed to affect him
powerfully, for he suddenly turned the wearied donkeys into a by-path,
which led away from Saint-James, paying no attention to the
remonstrances of Mademoiselle de Verneuil, whose fears were increased
by the darkness of the forest path along which their guide now led
them. To right and left were enormous blocks of granite, laid one upon
the other, of whimsical shape. Across them huge roots had glided, like
monstrous serpents, seeking from afar the juicy nourishment enjoyed by
a few beeches. The two sides of the road resembled the subterranean
grottos that are famous for stalactites. Immense festoons of stone,
where the darkling verdure of ivy and holly allied itself to the
green-gray patches of the moss and lichen, hid the precipices and the
openings into several caves. When the three travellers had gone a few
steps through a very narrow path a most surprising spectacle suddenly
unfolded itself to Mademoiselle de Verneuil's eyes, and made her
understand the obstinacy of her Chouan guide.
A semi-circular basin of granite blocks formed an ampitheatre, on the
rough tiers of which rose tall black pines and yellowing chestnuts,
one above the other, like a vast circus, where the wintry sun shed its
pale colors rather than poured its light, and autumn had spread her
tawny carpet of fallen leaves. About the middle of this hall, which
seemed to have had the deluge for its architect, stood three enormous
Druid stones,--a vast altar, on which was raised an old church-banner.
About a hundred men, kneeling with bared heads, were praying fervently
in this natural enclosure, where a priest, assisted by two other
ecclesiastics, was saying mass. The poverty of the sacerdotal
vestments, the feeble voice of the priest, which echoed like a murmur
through the open space, the praying men filled with conviction and
united by one and the same sentiment, the bare cross, the wild and
barren temple, the dawning day, gave the primitive character of the
earlier times of Christianity to the scene. Mademoiselle de Verneuil
was struck with admiration. This mass said in the depths of the woods,
this worship driven back by persecution to its sources, the poesy of
ancient times revived in the midst of this weird and romantic nature,
these armed and unarmed Chouans, cruel and praying, men yet children,
all these things resembled nothing that she had ever seen or yet
imagined. She remembered admiring in her childhood the pomps of the
Roman church so pleasing to the senses; but she knew nothing of God
/alone/, his cross on the altar, his altar the earth. In place of the
carved foliage of a Gothic cathedral, the autumnal trees upheld the
sky; instead of a thousand colors thrown through stained glass
windows, the sun could barely slide its ruddy rays and dull
reflections on altar, priest, and people. The men present were a fact,
a reality, and not a system,--it was a prayer, not a religion. But
human passions, the momentary repression of which gave harmony to the
picture, soon reappeared on this mysterious scene and gave it powerful
As Mademoiselle de Verneuil reached the spot the reading of the gospel
was just over. She recognized in the officiating priest, not without
fear, the Abbe Gudin, and she hastily slipped behind a granite block,
drawing Francine after her. She was, however, unable to move Galope-
Chopine from the place he had chosen, and from which he intended to
share in the benefits of the ceremony; but she noticed the nature of
the ground around her, and hoped to be able to evade the danger by
getting away, when the service was over, before the priests. Through a
large fissure of the rock that hid her, she saw the Abbe Gudin
mounting a block of granite which served him as a pulpit, where he
began his sermon with the words,--
"/In nomine Patris et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti/."
All present made the sign of the cross.
"My dear friends," continued the abbe, "let us pray in the first place
for the souls of the dead,--Jean Cochegrue, Nicalos Laferte, Joseph
Brouet, Francois Parquoi, Sulpice Coupiau, all of this parish, and
dead of wounds received in the fight on Mont Pelerine and at the siege
of Fougeres. /De profundis/," etc.
The psalm was recited, according to custom, by the congregation and
the priests, taking verses alternately with a fervor which augured
well for the success of the sermon. When it was over the abbe
continued, in a voice which became gradually louder and louder, for
the former Jesuit was not unaware that vehemence of delivery was in
itself a powerful argument with which to persuade his semi-savage
"These defenders of our God, Christians, have set you an example of
duty," he said. "Are you not ashamed of what will be said of you in
paradise? If it were not for these blessed ones, who have just been
received with open arms by all the saints, our Lord might have thought
that your parish is inhabited by Mahometans!--Do you know, men, what
is said of you in Brittany and in the king's presence? What! you don't
know? Then I shall tell you. They say: 'Behold, the Blues have cast
down altars, and killed priests, and murdered the king and queen; they
mean to make the parish folk of Brittany Blues like themselves, and
send them to fight in foreign lands, away from their churches, where
they run the risk of dying without confession and going eternally to
hell; and yet the gars of Marignay, whose churches they have burned,
stand still with folded arms! Oh! oh! this Republic of damned souls
has sold the property of God and that of the nobles at auction; it has
shared the proceeds with the Blues; it has decreed, in order to gorge
itself with money as it does with blood, that a crown shall be only
worth three francs instead of six; and yet the gars of Marignay
haven't seized their weapons and driven the Blues from Brittany! Ha!
paradise will be closed to them! they can never save their souls!'
That's what they say of you in the king's presence! It is your own
salvation, Christians, which is at stake. Your souls are to be saved
by fighting for religion and the king. Saint Anne of Auray herself
appeared to me yesterday at half-past two o'clock; and she said to me
these very words which I now repeat to you: 'Are you a priest of
Marignay?' 'Yes, madame, ready to serve you.' 'I am Saint Anne of
Auray, aunt of God, after the manner of Brittany. I have come to bid
you warn the people of Marignay that they must not hope for salvation
if they do not take arms. You are to refuse them absolution for their
sins unless they serve God. Bless their guns, and those who gain
absolution will never miss the Blues, because their guns are
sanctified.' She disappeared, leaving an odor of incense behind her. I
marked the spot. It is under the oak of the Patte d'Oie; just where
that beautiful wooden Virgin was placed by the rector of Saint-James;
to whom the crippled mother of Pierre Leroi (otherwise called Marche-
a-Terre) came to pray, and was cured of all her pains, because of her
son's good deeds. You see her there in the midst of you, and you know
that she walks without assistance. It was a miracle--a miracle
intended, like the resurrection of Marie Lambrequin to prove to you
that God will never forsake the Breton cause so long as the people
fight for his servants and for the king. Therefore, my dear brothers,
if you wish to save your souls and show yourselves defenders of God
and the king, you will obey all the orders of the man whom God has
sent to us, and whom we call THE GARS. Then indeed, you will no longer
be Mahometans; you will rank with all the gars of Brittany under the
flag of God. You can take from the pockets of the Blues the money they
have stolen from you; for, if the fields have to go uncultivated while
you are making war, God and the king will deliver to you the spoils of
your enemies. Shall it be said, Christians, that the gars of Marignay
are behind the gars of the Morbihan, the gars of Saint-Georges, of
Vitre, or Antrain, who are all faithful to God and the king? Will you
let them get all the spoils? Will you stand like heretics, with your
arms folded, when other Bretons are saving their souls and saving
their king? 'Forsake all, and follow me,' says the Gospel. Have we not
forsaken our tithes, we priests? And you, I say to you, forsake all
for this holy war! You shall be like the Maccabees. All will be
forgiven you. You will find the priests and curates in your midst, and
you will conquer! Pay attention to these words, Christians," he said,
as he ended; "for this day only have we the power to bless your guns.
Those who do not take advantage of the Saint's favor will not find her
merciful; she will not forgive them or listen to them as she did in
the last war."
This appeal, enforced by the power of a loud voice and by many
gestures, the vehemence of which bathed the orator in perspiration,
produced, apparently, very little effect. The peasants stood
motionless, their eyes on the speaker, like statues; but Mademoiselle
de Verneuil presently noticed that this universal attitude was the
result of a spell cast by the abbe on the crowd. He had, like great
actors, held his audience as one man by addressing their passions and
self-interests. He had absolved excesses before committal, and broken
the only bonds which held these boorish men to the practice of
religious and social precepts. He had prostituted his sacred office to
political interests; but it must be said that, in these times of
revolution, every man made a weapon of whatever he possessed for the
benefit of his party, and the pacific cross of Jesus became as much an
instrument of war as the peasant's plough-share.
Seeing no one with whom to advise, Mademoiselle de Verneuil turned to
look for Francine, and was not a little astonished to see that she
shared in the rapt enthusiasm, and was devoutly saying her chaplet
over some beads which Galope-Chopine had probably given her during the
"Francine," she said, in a low voice, "are you afraid of being a
"Oh! mademoiselle," replied the girl, "just see Pierre's mother; she
Francine's whole attitude showed such deep conviction that Marie
understood at once the secret of the homily, the influence of the
clergy over the rural masses, and the tremendous effect of the scene
which was now beginning.
The peasants advanced one by one and knelt down, presenting their guns
to the preacher, who laid them upon the altar. Galope-Chopine offered
his old duck-shooter. The three priests sang the hymn "Veni, Creator,"
while the celebrant wrapped the instruments of death in bluish clouds
of incense, waving the smoke into shapes that appeared to interlace
one another. When the breeze had dispersed the vapor the guns were
returned in due order. Each man received his own on his knees from the
hands of the priests, who recited a Latin prayer as they returned
them. After the men had regained their places, the profound enthusiasm
of the congregation, mute till then, broke forth and resounded in a
"/Domine salvum fac regem/!" was the prayer which the preacher intoned
in an echoing voice, and was then sung vehemently by the people. The
cry had something savage and warlike in it. The two notes of the word
/regem/, readily interpreted by the peasants, were taken with such
energy that Mademoiselle de Verneuil's thoughts reverted almost
tenderly to the exiled Bourbon family. These recollections awakened
those of her past life. Her memory revived the fetes of a court now
dispersed, in which she had once a share. The face of the marquis
entered her reverie. With the natural mobility of a woman's mind she
forgot the scene before her and reverted to her plans of vengeance,
which might cost her her life or come to nought under the influence of
a look. Seeing a branch of holly the trivial thought crossed her mind
that in this decisive moment, when she wished to appear in all her
beauty at the ball, she had no decoration for her hair; and she
gathered a tuft of the prickly leaves and shining berries with the
idea of wearing them.
"Ho! ho! my gun may miss fire on a duck, but on a Blue, never!" cried
Galope-Chopine, nodding his head in sign of satisfaction.
Marie examined her guide's face attentively, and found it of the type
of those she had just seen. The old Chouan had evidently no more ideas
than a child. A naive joy wrinkled his cheeks and forehead as he
looked at his gun; but a pious conviction cast upon that expression of
his joy a tinge of fanaticism, which brought into his face for an
instant the signs of the vices of civilization.
Presently they reached a village, or rather a collection of huts like
that of Galope-Chopine, where the rest of the congregation arrived
before Mademoiselle de Verneuil had finished the milk and bread and
butter which formed the meal. This irregular company was led by the
abbe, who held in his hand a rough cross draped with a flag, followed
by a gars, who was proudly carrying the parish banner. Mademoiselle de
Verneuil was compelled to mingle with this detachment, which was on
its way, like herself, to Saint-James, and would naturally protect her
from all danger as soon as Galope-Chopine informed them that the Gars
glove was in her possession, provided always that the abbe did not see
Towards sunset the three travellers arrived safely at Saint-James, a
little town which owes its name to the English, by whom it was built
in the fourteenth century, during their occupation of Brittany. Before
entering it Mademoiselle de Verneuil was witness of a strange scene of
this strange war, to which, however, she gave little attention; she
feared to be recognized by some of her enemies, and this dread
hastened her steps. Five or six thousand peasants were camping in a
field. Their clothing was not in any degree warlike; in fact, this
tumultuous assembly resembled that of a great fair. Some attention was
needed to even observe that these Bretons were armed, for their
goatskins were so made as to hide their guns, and the weapons that
were chiefly visible were the scythes with which some of the men had
armed themselves while awaiting the distribution of muskets. Some were
eating and drinking, others were fighting and quarrelling in loud
tones, but the greater part were sleeping on the ground. An officer in
a red uniform attracted Mademoiselle de Verneuil's attention, and she
supposed him to belong to the English service. At a little distance
two other officers seemed to be trying to teach a few Chouans, more
intelligent than the rest, to handle two cannon, which apparently
formed the whole artillery of the royalist army. Shouts hailed the
coming of the gars of Marignay, who were recognized by their banner.
Under cover of the tumult which the new-comers and the priests excited
in the camp, Mademoiselle de Verneuil was able to make her way past it
and into the town without danger. She stopped at a plain-looking inn
not far from the building where the ball was to be given. The town was
so full of strangers that she could only obtain one miserable room.
When she was safely in it Galope-Chopine brought Francine the box
which contained the ball dress, and having done so he stood stock-
still in an attitude of indescribable irresolution. At any other time
Mademoiselle de Verneuil would have been much amused to see what a
Breton peasant can be like when he leaves his native parish; but now
she broke the charm by opening her purse and producing four crowns of
six francs each, which she gave him.
"Take it," she said, "and if you wish to oblige me, you will go
straight back to Fougeres without entering the camp or drinking any
The Chouan, amazed at her liberality, looked first at the crowns
(which he had taken) and then at Mademoiselle de Verneuil; but she
made him a sign with her hand and he disappeared.
"How could you send him away, mademoiselle?" said Francine. "Don't you
see how the place is surrounded? we shall never get away! and who will
protect you here?"
"You have a protector of your own," said Marie maliciously, giving in
an undertone Marche-a-Terre's owl cry which she was constantly
Francine colored, and smiled rather sadly at her mistress's gaiety.
"But who is yours?" she said.
Mademoiselle de Verneuil plucked out her dagger, and showed it to the
frightened girl, who dropped on a chair and clasped her hands.
"What have you come here for, Marie?" she cried in a supplicating
voice which asked no answer.
Mademoiselle de Verneuil was busily twisting the branches of holly
which she had gathered.
"I don't know whether this holly will be becoming," she said; "a
brilliant skin like mine may possibly bear a dark wreath of this kind.
What do you think, Francine?"
Several remarks of the same kind as she dressed for the ball showed
the absolute self-possession and coolness of this strange woman.
Whoever had listened to her then would have found it hard to believe
in the gravity of a situation in which she was risking her life. An
Indian muslin gown, rather short and clinging like damp linen,
revealed the delicate outlines of her shape; over this she wore a red
drapery, numerous folds of which, gradually lengthening as they fell
by her side, took the graceful curves of a Greek peplum. This
voluptuous garment of the pagan priestesses lessened the indecency of
the rest of the attire which the fashions of the time suffered women
to wear. To soften its immodesty still further, Marie threw a gauze
scarf over her shoulders, left bare and far too low by the red
drapery. She wound the long braids of her hair into the flat irregular
cone above the nape of the neck which gives such grace to certain
antique statues by an artistic elongation of the head, while a few
stray locks escaping from her forehead fell in shining curls beside
her cheeks. With a form and head thus dressed, she presented a perfect
likeness of the noble masterpieces of Greek sculpture. She smiled as
she looked with approval at the arrangement of her hair, which brought
out the beauties of her face, while the scarlet berries of the holly
wreath which she laid upon it repeated charmingly the color of the
peplum. As she twisted and turned a few leaves, to give capricious
diversity to their arrangement, she examined her whole costume in a
mirror to judge of its general effect.
"I am horrible to-night," she said, as though she were surrounded by
flatterers. "I look like a statue of Liberty."
She placed the dagger carefully in her bosom leaving the rubies in the
hilt exposed, their ruddy reflections attracting the eye to the hidden
beauties of her shape. Francine could not bring herself to leave her
mistress. When Marie was ready she made various pretexts to follow
her. She must help her to take off her mantle, and the overshoes which
the mud and muck in the streets compelled her to wear (though the
roads had been sanded for this occasion); also the gauze veil which
Mademoiselle de Verneuil had thrown over her head to conceal her
features from the Chouans who were collecting in the streets to watch
the company. The crowd was in fact so great that they were forced to
make their way through two hedges of Chouans. Francine no longer
strove to detain her mistress, and after giving a few last touches to
a costume the greatest charm of which was its exquisite freshness, she
stationed herself in the courtyard that she might not abandon this
beloved mistress to her fate without being able to fly to her succor;
for the poor girl foresaw only evil in these events.
A strange scene was taking place in Montauran's chamber as Marie was
on her way to the ball. The young marquis, who had just finished
dressing, was putting on the broad red ribbon which distinguished him
as first in rank of the assembly, when the Abbe Gudin entered the room
with an anxious air.
"Monsieur le marquis, come quickly," he said. "You alone can quell a
tumult which has broken out, I don't know why, among the leaders. They
talk of abandoning the king's cause. I think that devil of a Rifoel is
at the bottom of it. Such quarrels are always caused by some mere
nonsense. Madame du Gua reproached him, so I hear, for coming to the
"That woman must be crazy," cried the marquis, "to try to--"
"Rifoel retorted," continued the abbe, interrupting his chief, "that
if you had given him the money promised him in the king's name--"
"Enough, enough; I understand it all now. This scene has all been
arranged, and you are put forward as ambassador--"
"I, monsieur le marquis!" said the abbe, again interrupting him. "I am
supporting you vigorously, and you will, I hope, do me the justice to
believe that the restoration of our altars in France and that of the
king upon the throne of his fathers are far more powerful incentives
to my humble labors than the bishopric of Rennes which you--"
The abbe dared say no more, for the marquis smiled bitterly at his
last words. However, the young chief instantly repressed all
expression of feeling, his brow grew stern, and he followed the Abbe
Gudin into a hall where the worst of the clamor was echoing.
"I recognize no authority here," Rifoel was saying, casting angry
looks at all about him and laying his hand on the hilt of his sabre.
"Do you recognize that of common-sense?" asked the marquis, coldly.
The young Chevalier de Vissard, better known under his patronymic of
Rifoel, was silent before the general of the Catholic armies.
"What is all this about, gentlemen?" asked the marquis, examining the
faces round him.
"This, monsieur le marquis," said a famous smuggler, with the
awkwardness of a man of the people who long remains under the yoke of
respect to a great lord, though he admits no barriers after he has
once jumped them, and regards the aristocrat as an equal only,
"/this/," he said, "and you have come in the nick of time to hear it.
I am no speaker of gilded phrases, and I shall say things plainly. I
commanded five hundred men during the late war. Since we have taken up
arms again I have raised a thousand heads as hard as mine for the
service of the king. It is now seven years that I have risked my life
in the good cause; I don't blame you, but I say that the laborer is
worthy of his hire. Now, to begin with, I demand that I be called
Monsieur de Cottereau. I also demand that the rank of colonel shall be
granted me, or I send in my adhesion to the First Consul! Let me tell
you, monsieur le marquis, my men and I have a devilishly importunate
creditor who must be satisfied--he's here!" he added, striking his
"Have the musicians come?" said the marquis, in a contemptuous tone,
turning to Madame du Gua.
But the smuggler had dealt boldly with an important topic, and the
calculating, ambitious minds of those present had been too long in
suspense as to what they might hope for from the king to allow the
scorn of their new leader to put an end to the scene. Rifoel hastily
blocked the way before Montauran, and seized his hand to oblige him to
"Take care, monsieur le marquis," he said; "you are treating far too
lightly men who have a right to the gratitude of him whom you are here
to represent. We know that his Majesty has sent you with full powers
to judge of our services, and we say that they ought to be recognized
and rewarded, for we risk our heads upon the scaffold daily. I know,
so far as I am concerned, that the rank of brigadier-general--"
"You mean colonel."
"No, monsieur le marquis; Charette made me a colonel. The rank I
mention cannot be denied me. I am not arguing for myself, I speak for
my brave brothers-in-arms, whose services ought to be recorded. Your
signature and your promise will suffice them for the present; though,"
he added, in a low voice, "I must say they are satisfied with very
little. But," he continued, raising his voice, "when the sun rises on
the chateau of Versailles to glorify the return of the monarchy after
the faithful have conquered France, /in France/, for the king, will
they obtain favors for their families, pensions for widows, and the
restitution of their confiscated property? I doubt it. But, monsieur
le marquis, we must have certified proof of our services when that
time comes. I will never distrust the king, but I do distrust those
cormorants of ministers and courtiers, who tingle his ears with talk
about the public welfare, the honor of France, the interests of the
crown, and other crochets. They will sneer at a loyal Vendean or a
brave Chouan, because he is old and the sword he drew for the good
cause dangles on his withered legs, palsied with exposure. Can you say
that we are wrong in feeling thus?"
"You talk well, Monsieur du Vissard, but you are over hasty," replied
"Listen, marquis," said the Comte de Bauvan, in a whisper. "Rifoel has
really, on my word, told the truth. You are sure, yourself, to have
the ear of the king, while the rest of us only see him at a distance
and from time to time. I will own to you that if you do not give me
your word as a gentleman that I shall, in due course of time, obtain
the place of Master of Woods and Waters in France, the devil take me
if I will risk my neck any longer. To conquer Normandy for the king is
not an easy matter, and I demand the Order for it. But," he added,
coloring, "there's time enough to think of that. God forbid that I
should imitate these poor mercenaries and harass you. Speak to the
king for me, and that's enough."
Each of the chiefs found means to let the marquis know, in a more or
less ingenious manner, the exaggerated price they set upon their
services. One modestly demanded the governorship of Brittany; another
a barony; this one a promotion; that one a command; and all wanted
"Well, baron," said the marquis to Monsieur du Guenic, "don't you want
"These gentlemen have left me nothing but the crown of France,
marquis, but I might manage to put up with that--"
"Gentlemen!" cried the Abbe Gudin, in a loud voice, "remember that if
you are too eager you will spoil everything in the day of victory. The
king will then be compelled to make concessions to the
"To those Jacobins!" shouted the smuggler. "Ha! if the king would let
me have my way, I'd answer for my thousand men; we'd soon wring their
necks and be rid of them."
"Monsieur /de/ Cottereau," said the marquis, "I see some of our
invited guests arriving. We must all do our best by attention and
courtesy to make them share our sacred enterprise; you will agree, I
am sure, that this is not the moment to bring forward your demands,
however just they may be."
So saying, the marquis went to the door, as if to meet certain of the
country nobles who were entering the room, but the bold smuggler
barred his way in a respectful manner.
"No, no, monsieur le marquis, excuse me," he said; "the Jacobins
taught me too well in 1793 that it is not he who sows and reaps who
eats the bread. Sign this bit of paper for me, and to-morrow I'll
bring you fifteen hundred gars. If not, I'll treat with the First
Looking haughtily about him, the marquis saw plainly that the boldness
of the old partisan and his resolute air were not displeasing to any
of the spectators of this debate. One man alone, sitting by himself in
a corner of the room, appeared to take no part in the scene, and to be
chiefly occupied in filling his pipe. The contemptuous air with which
he glanced at the speakers, his modest demeanor, and a look of
sympathy which the marquis encountered in his eyes, made the young
leader observe the man, whom he then recognized as Major Brigaut, and
he went suddenly up to him.
"And you, what do you want?" he said.
"Oh, monsieur le marquis, if the king comes back that's all I want."
"But for yourself?"
"For myself? are you joking?"
The marquis pressed the horny hand of the Breton, and said to Madame
du Gua, who was near them: "Madame, I may perish in this enterprise
before I have time to make a faithful report to the king on the
Catholic armies of Brittany. I charge you, in case you live to see the
Restoration, not to forget this honorable man nor the Baron du Guenic.
There is more devotion in them than in all those other men put
He pointed to the chiefs, who were waiting with some impatience till
the marquis should reply to their demands. They were all holding
papers in their hands, on which, no doubt, their services were
recorded over the signatures of the various generals of the former
war; and all were murmuring. The Abbe Gudin, the Comte de Bauvan, and
the Baron du Guenic were consulting how best to help the marquis in
rejecting these extravagant demands, for they felt the position of the
young leader to be extremely delicate.
Suddenly the marquis ran his blue eyes, gleaming with satire, over the
whole assembly, and said in a clear voice: "Gentlemen, I do not know
whether the powers which the king has graciously assigned to me are
such that I am able to satisfy your demands. He doubtless did not
foresee such zeal, such devotion, on your part. You shall judge
yourselves of the duties put upon me,--duties which I shall know how
So saying, he left the room and returned immediately holding in his
hand an open letter bearing the royal seal and signature.
"These are the letters-patent in virtue of which you are to obey me,"
he said. "They authorize me to govern the provinces of Brittany,
Normandy, Maine, and Anjou, in the king's name, and to recognize the
services of such officers as may distinguish themselves in his
A movement of satisfaction ran through the assembly. The Chouans
approached the marquis and made a respectful circle round him. All
eyes fastened on the king's signature. The young chief, who was
standing near the chimney, suddenly threw the letters into the fire,
and they were burned in a second.
"I do not choose to command any," cried the young man, "but those who
see a king in the king, and not a prey to prey upon. You are free,
gentlemen, to leave me."
Madame du Gua, the Abbe Gudin, Major Brigaut, the Chevalier du
Vissard, the Baron du Guenic, and the Comte de Bauvan raised the cry
of "Vive le roi!" For a moment the other leaders hesitated; then,
carried away by the noble action of the marquis, they begged him to
forget what had passed, assuring him that, letters-patent or not, he
must always be their leader.
"Come and dance," cried the Comte de Bauvan, "and happen what will!
After all," he added, gaily, "it is better, my friends, to pray to God
than the saints. Let us fight first, and see what comes of it."
"Ha! that's good advice," said Brigaut. "I have never yet known a
day's pay drawn in the morning."
The assembly dispersed about the rooms, where the guests were now
arriving. The marquis tried in vain to shake off the gloom which
darkened his face. The chiefs perceived the unfavorable impression
made upon a young man whose devotion was still surrounded by all the
beautiful illusions of youth, and they were ashamed of their action.
However, a joyous gaiety soon enlivened the opening of the ball, at
which were present the most important personages of the royalist
party, who, unable to judge rightly, in the depths of a rebellious
province, of the actual events of the Revolution, mistook their hopes
for realities. The bold operations already begun by Montauran, his
name, his fortune, his capacity, raised their courage and caused that
political intoxication, the most dangerous of all excitements, which
does not cool till torrents of blood have been uselessly shed. In the
minds of all present the Revolution was nothing more than a passing
trouble to the kingdom of France, where, to their belated eyes,
nothing was changed. The country belonged as it ever did to the house
of Bourbon. The royalists were the lords of the soil as completely as
they were four years earlier, when Hoche obtained less a peace than an
armistice. The nobles made light of the revolutionists; for them
Bonaparte was another, but more fortunate, Marceau. So gaiety reigned.
The women had come to dance. A few only of the chiefs, who had fought
the Blues, knew the gravity of the situation; but they were well aware
that if they talked of the First Consul and his power to their
benighted companions, they could not make themselves understood. These
men stood apart and looked at the women with indifference. Madame du
Gua, who seemed to do the honors of the ball, endeavored to quiet the
impatience of the dancers by dispensing flatteries to each in turn.
The musicians were tuning their instruments and the dancing was about
to begin, when Madame du Gua noticed the gloom on de Montauran's face
and went hurriedly up to him.
"I hope it is not that vulgar scene you have just had with those
clodhoppers which depresses you?" she said.
She got no answer; the marquis, absorbed in thought, was listening in
fancy to the prophetic reasons which Marie had given him in the midst
of the same chiefs at La Vivetiere, urging him to abandon the struggle
of kings against peoples. But the young man's soul was too proud, too
lofty, too full perhaps of conviction, to abandon an enterprise he had
once begun, and he decided at this moment, to continue it boldly in
the face of all obstacles. He raised his head haughtily, and for the
first time noticed that Madame du Gua was speaking to him.
"Your mind is no doubt at Fougeres," she remarked bitterly, seeing how
useless her efforts to attract his attention had been. "Ah, monsieur,
I would give my life to put /her/ within your power, and see you happy
"Then why have you done all you could to kill her?"
"Because I wish her dead or in your arms. Yes, I may have loved the
Marquis de Montauran when I thought him a hero, but now I feel only a
pitying friendship for him; I see him shorn of all his glory by a
fickle love for a worthless woman."
"As for love," said the marquis, in a sarcastic tone, "you judge me
wrong. If I loved that girl, madame, I might desire her less; if it
were not for you, perhaps I should not think of her at all."
"Here she is!" exclaimed Madame du Gua, abruptly.
The haste with which the marquis looked round went to the heart of the
woman; but the clear light of the wax candles enabled her to see every
change on the face of the man she loved so violently, and when he
turned back his face, smiling at her woman's trick, she fancied there
was still some hope of recovering him.
"What are you laughing at?" asked the Comte de Bauvan.
"At a soap-bubble which has burst," interposed Madame du Gua, gaily.
"The marquis, if we are now to believe him, is astonished that his
heart ever beat the faster for that girl who presumes to call herself
Mademoiselle de Verneuil. You know who I mean."
"That girl!" echoed the count. "Madame, the author of a wrong is bound
to repair it. I give you my word of honor that she is really the
daughter of the Duc de Verneuil."
"Monsieur le comte," said the marquis, in a changed voice, "which of
your statements am I to believe,--that of La Vivetiere, or that now
The loud voice of a servant at the door announced Mademoiselle de
Verneuil. The count sprang forward instantly, offered his hand to the
beautiful woman with every mark of profound respect, and led her
through the inquisitive crowd to the marquis and Madame du Gua.
"Believe the one now made," he replied to the astonished young leader.
Madame du Gua turned pale at the unwelcome sight of the girl, who
stood for a moment, glancing proudly over the assembled company, among
whom she sought to find the guests at La Vivetiere. She awaited the
forced salutation of her rival, and, without even looking at the
marquis, she allowed the count to lead her to the place of honor
beside Madame du Gua, whose bow she returned with an air that was
slightly protecting. But the latter, with a woman's instinct, took no
offense; on the contrary, she immediately assumed a smiling, friendly
manner. The extraordinary dress and beauty of Mademoiselle de Verneuil
caused a murmur throughout the ballroom. When the marquis and Madame
du Gua looked towards the late guests at La Vivetiere they saw them in
an attitude of respectful admiration which was not assumed; each
seemed desirous of recovering favor with the misjudged young woman.
The enemies were in presence of each other.
"This is really magic, mademoiselle," said Madame du Gua; "there is no
one like you for surprises. Have you come all alone?"
"All alone," replied Mademoiselle de Verneuil. "So you have only one
to kill to-night, madame."
"Be merciful," said Madame du Gua. "I cannot express to you the
pleasure I have in seeing you again. I have truly been overwhelmed by
the remembrance of the wrongs I have done you, and am most anxious for
an occasion to repair them."
"As for those wrongs, madame, I readily pardon those you did to me,
but my heart bleeds for the Blues whom you murdered. However, I excuse
all, in return for the service you have done me."
Madame du Gua lost countenance as she felt her hand pressed by her
beautiful rival with insulting courtesy. The marquis had hitherto
stood motionless, but he now seized the arm of the count.
"You have shamefully misled me," he said; "you have compromised my
honor. I am not a Geronte of comedy, and I shall have your life or you
will have mine."
"Marquis," said the count, haughtily, "I am ready to give you all the
explanations you desire."
They passed into the next room. The witnesses of this scene, even
those least initiated into the secret, began to understand its nature,
so that when the musicians gave the signal for the dancing to begin no
"Mademoiselle, what service have I rendered you that deserves a
return?" said Madame du Gua, biting her lips in a sort of rage.
"Did you not enlighten me as to the true character of the Marquis de
Montauran, madame? With what utter indifference that man allowed me to
go to my death! I give him up to you willingly!"
"Then why are you here?" asked Madame du Gua, eagerly.
"To recover the respect and consideration you took from me at La
Vivetiere, madame. As for all the rest, make yourself easy. Even if
the marquis returned to me, you know very well that a return is never
Madame du Gua took Mademoiselle de Verneuil's hand with that
affectionate touch and motion which women practise to each other,
especially in the presence of men.
"Well, my poor dear child," she said, "I am glad to find you so
reasonable. If the service I did you was rather harsh," she added,
pressing the hand she held, and feeling a desire to rend it as her
fingers felt its softness and delicacy, "it shall at least be
thorough. Listen to me, I know the character of the Gars; he meant to
deceive you; he neither can nor will marry any woman except--"
"Yes, mademoiselle, he has accepted his dangerous mission to win the
hand of Mademoiselle d'Uxelles, a marriage to which his Majesty has
promised his countenance."
Mademoiselle de Verneuil added not a word to that scornful
ejaculation. The young and handsome Chevalier du Vissard, eager to be
forgiven for the joke which had led to the insults at La Vivetiere,
now came up to her and respectfully invited her to dance. She placed
her hand in his, and they took their places in a quadrille opposite to
Madame du Gua. The gowns of the royalist women, which recalled the
fashions of the exiled court, and their creped and powdered hair
seemed absurd as soon as they were contrasted with the attire which
republican fashions authorized Mademoiselle de Verneuil to wear. This
attire, which was elegant, rich, and yet severe, was loudly condemned
but inwardly envied by all the women present. The men could not
restrain their admiration for the beauty of her natural hair and the
adjustment of a dress the charm of which was in the proportions of the
form which it revealed.
At that moment the marquis and the count re-entered the ballroom
behind Mademoiselle de Verneuil, who did not turn her head. If a
mirror had not been there to inform her of Montauran's presence, she
would have known it from Madame du Gua's face, which scarcely
concealed, under an apparently indifferent air, the impatience with
which she awaited the conflict which must, sooner or later, take place
between the lovers. Though the marquis talked with the count and other
persons, he heard the remarks of all the dancers who from time to time
in the mazes of the quadrille took the place of Mademoiselle de
Verneuil and her partner.
"Positively, madame, she came alone," said one.
"She must be a bold woman," replied the lady.
"If I were dressed like that I should feel myself naked," said another
"Oh, the gown is not decent, certainly," replied her partner; "but it
is so becoming, and she is so handsome."
"I am ashamed to look at such perfect dancing, for her sake; isn't it
exactly that of an opera girl?" said the envious woman.
"Do you suppose that she has come here to intrigue for the First
Consul?" said another.
"A joke if she has," replied the partner.
"Well, she can't offer innocence as a dowry," said the lady, laughing.
The Gars turned abruptly to see the lady who uttered this sarcasm, and
Madame du Gua looked at him as if to say, "You see what people think
"Madame," said the count, laughing, "so far, it is only women who have
taken her innocence away from her."
The marquis privately forgave the count. When he ventured to look at
his mistress, whose beauty was, like that of most women, brought into
relief by the light of the wax candles, she turned her back upon him
as she resumed her place, and went on talking to her partner in a way
to let the marquis hear the sweetest and most caressing tones of her
"The First Consul sends dangerous ambassadors," her partner was
"Monsieur," she replied, "you all said that at La Vivetiere."
"You have the memory of a king," replied he, disconcerted at his own
"To forgive injuries one must needs remember them," she said quickly,
relieving his embarrassment with a smile.
"Are we all included in that amnesty?" said the marquis, approaching
But she darted away in the dance, with the gaiety of a child, leaving
him without an answer. He watched her coldly and sadly; she saw it,
and bent her head with one of those coquettish motions which the
graceful lines of her throat enabled her to make, omitting no movement
or attitude which could prove to him the perfection of her figure. She
attracted him like hope, and eluded him like a memory. To see her thus
was to desire to possess her at any cost. She knew that, and the sense
it gave her of her own beauty shed upon her whole person an
inexpressible charm. The marquis felt the storm of love, of rage, of
madness, rising in his heart; he wrung the count's hand violently, and
left the room.
"Is he gone?" said Mademoiselle de Verneuil, returning to her place.
The count gave her a glance and passed into the next room, from which
he presently returned accompanied by the Gars.
"He is mine!" she thought, observing his face in the mirror.
She received the young leader with a displeased air and said nothing,
but she smiled as she turned away from him; he was so superior to all
about him that she was proud of being able to rule him; and obeying an
instinct which sways all women more or less, she resolved to let him
know the value of a few gracious words by making him pay dear for
them. As soon as the quadrille was over, all the gentlemen who had
been at La Vivetiere surrounded Mademoiselle de Verneuil, wishing by
their flattering attentions to obtain her pardon for the mistake they
had made; but he whom she longed to see at her feet did not approach
the circle over which she now reigned a queen.
"He thinks I still love him," she thought, "and does not wish to be
confounded with mere flatterers."
She refused to dance again. Then, as if the ball were given for her,
she walked about on the arm of the Comte de Bauvan, to whom she was
pleased to show some familiarity. The affair at La Vivetiere was by
this time known to all present, thanks to Madame du Gua, and the
lovers were the object of general attention. The marquis dared not
again address his mistress; a sense of the wrong he had done her and
the violence of his returning passion made her seem to him actually
terrible. On her side Marie watched his apparently calm face while she
seemed to be observing the ball.
"It is fearfully hot here," she said to the count. "Take me to the
other side where I can breathe; I am stifling here."
And she motioned towards a small room where a few card-players were
assembled. The marquis followed her. He ventured to hope she had left
the crowd to receive him, and this supposed favor roused his passion
to extreme violence; for his love had only increased through the
resistance he had made to it during the last few days. Mademoiselle de
Verneuil still tormented him; her eyes, so soft and velvety for the
count, were hard and stern when, as if by accident, they met his.
Montauran at last made a painful effort and said, in a muffled voice,
"Will you never forgive me?"
"Love forgives nothing, or it forgives all," she said, coldly. "But,"
she added, noticing his joyful look, "it must be love."
She took the count's arm once more and moved forward into a small
boudoir which adjoined the cardroom. The marquis followed her.
"Will you not hear me?" he said.
"One would really think, monsieur," she replied, "that I had come here
to meet you, and not to vindicate my own self-respect. If you do not
cease this odious pursuit I shall leave the ballroom."
"Ah!" he cried, recollecting one of the crazy actions of the last Duc
de Lorraine, "let me speak to you so long as I can hold this live coal
in my hand."
He stooped to the hearth and picking up a brand held it tightly.
Mademoiselle de Verneuil flushed, took her arm from that of the count,
and looked at the marquis in amazement. The count softly withdrew,
leaving them alone together. So crazy an action shook Marie's heart,
for there is nothing so persuasive in love as courageous folly.
"You only prove to me," she said, trying to make him throw away the
brand, "that you are willing to make me suffer cruelly. You are
extreme in everything. On the word of a fool and the slander of a
woman you suspected that one who had just saved your life was capable
of betraying you."
"Yes," he said, smiling, "I have been very cruel to you; but
nevertheless, forget it; I shall never forget it. Hear me. I have been
shamefully deceived; but so many circumstances on that fatal day told
"And those circumstances were stronger than your love?"
He hesitated; she made a motion of contempt, and rose.
"Oh, Marie. I shall never cease to believe in you now."
"Then throw that fire away. You are mad. Open your hand; I insist upon
He took delight in still resisting the soft efforts of her fingers,
but she succeeded in opening the hand she would fain have kissed.
"What good did that do you?" she said, as she tore her handkerchief
and laid it on the burn, which the marquis covered with his glove.
Madame du Gua had stolen softly into the cardroom, watching the lovers
with furtive eyes, but escaping theirs adroitly; it was, however,
impossible for her to understand their conversation from their
"If all that they said of me was true you must admit that I am avenged
at this moment," said Marie, with a look of malignity which startled
"What feeling brought you here?" he asked.
"Do you suppose, my dear friend, that you can despise a woman like me
with impunity? I came here for your sake and for my own," she
continued, after a pause, laying her hand on the hilt of rubies in her
bosom and showing him the blade of her dagger.
"What does all that mean?" thought Madame du Gua.
"But," she continued, "you still love me; at any rate, you desire me,
and the folly you have just committed," she added, taking his hand,
"proves it to me. I will again be that I desired to be; and I return
to Fougeres happy. Love absolves everything. You love me; I have
regained the respect of the man who represents to me the whole world,
and I can die."
"Then you still love me?" said the marquis.
"Have I said so?" she replied with a scornful look, delighting in the
torture she was making him endure. "I have run many risks to come
here. I have saved Monsieur de Bauvan's life, and he, more grateful
than others, offers me in return his fortune and his name. You have
never even thought of doing that."
The marquis, bewildered by these words, stifled the worst anger he had
ever felt, supposing that the count had played him false. He made no
"Ah! you reflect," she said, bitterly.
"Mademoiselle," replied the young man, "your doubts justify mine."
"Let us leave this room," said Mademoiselle de Verneuil, catching
sight of a corner of Madame du Gua's gown, and rising. But the wish to
reduce her rival to despair was too strong, and she made no further
motion to go.
"Do you mean to drive me to hell?" cried the marquis, seizing her hand
and pressing it violently.
"Did you not drive me to hell five days ago? are you not leaving me at
this very moment uncertain whether your love is sincere or not?"
"But how do I know whether your revenge may not lead you to obtain my
life to tarnish it, instead of killing me?"
"Ah! you do not love me! you think of yourself and not of me!" she
said angrily, shedding a few tears.
The coquettish creature well knew the power of her eyes when moistened
"Well, then," he cried, beside himself, "take my life, but dry those
"Oh, my love! my love!" she exclaimed in a stifled voice: "those are
the words, the accents, the looks I have longed for, to allow me to
prefer your happiness to mine. But," she added, "I ask one more proof
of your love, which you say is so great. I wish to stay here only so
long as may be needed to show the company that you are mine. I will
not even drink a glass of water in the house of a woman who has twice
tried to kill me, who is now, perhaps, plotting mischief against us,"
and she showed the marquis the floating corner of Madame du Gua's
drapery. Then she dried her eyes and put her lips to the ear of the
young man, who quivered as he felt the caress of her warm breath. "See
that everything is prepared for my departure," she said; "you shall
take me yourself to Fougeres and there only will I tell you if I love
you. For the second time I trust you. Will you trust me a second
"Ah, Marie, you have brought me to a point where I know not what I do.
I am intoxicated by your words, your looks, by you--by you, and I am
ready to obey you."
"Well, then, make me for an instant very happy. Let me enjoy the only
triumph I desire. I want to breathe freely, to drink of the life I
have dreamed, to feed my illusions before they are gone forever. Come
--come into the ballroom and dance with me."
They re-entered the room together, and though Mademoiselle de Verneuil
was as completely satisfied in heart and vanity as any woman ever
could be, the unfathomable gentleness of her eyes, the demure smile on
her lips, the rapidity of the motions of a gay dance, kept the secret
of her thoughts as the sea swallows those of the criminal who casts a
weighted body into its depths. But a murmur of admiration ran through
the company as, circling in each other's arms, voluptuously
interlaced, with heavy heads, and dimmed sight, they waltzed with a
sort of frenzy, dreaming of the pleasures they hoped to find in a
A few moments later Mademoiselle de Verneuil and the marquis were in
the latter's travelling-carriage drawn by four horses. Surprised to
see these enemies hand in hand, and evidently understanding each
other, Francine kept silence, not daring to ask her mistress whether
her conduct was that of treachery or love. Thanks to the darkness, the
marquis did not observe Mademoiselle de Verneuil's agitation as they
neared Fougeres. The first flush of dawn showed the towers of Saint-
Leonard in the distance. At that moment Marie was saying to herself:
"I am going to my death."
As they ascended the first hill the lovers had the same thought; they
left the carriage and mounted the rise on foot, in memory of their
first meeting. When Marie took the young man's arm she thanked him by
a smile for respecting her silence; then, as they reached the summit
of the plateau and looked at Fougeres, she threw off her reverie.
"Don't come any farther," she said; "my authority cannot save you from
the Blues to-day."
Montauran showed some surprise. She smiled sadly and pointed to a
block of granite, as if to tell him to sit down, while she herself
stood before him in a melancholy attitude. The rending emotions of her
soul no longer permitted her to play a part. At that moment she would
have knelt on red-hot coals without feeling them any more than the
marquis had felt the fire-brand he had taken in his hand to prove the
strength of his passion. It was not until she had contemplated her
lover with a look of the deepest anguish that she said to him, at
"All that you have suspected of me is true."
The marquis started.
"Ah! I pray you," she said, clasping her hands, "listen to me without
interruption. I am indeed the daughter of the Duc de Verneuil,--but
his natural daughter. My mother, a Demoiselle de Casteran, who became
a nun to escape the reproaches of her family, expiated her fault by
fifteen years of sorrow, and died at Seez, where she was abbess. On
her death-bed she implored, for the first time and only for me, the
help of the man who had betrayed her, for she knew she was leaving me
without friends, without fortune, without a future. The duke accepted
the charge, and took me from the roof of Francine's mother, who had
hitherto taken care of me; perhaps he liked me because I was
beautiful; possibly I reminded him of his youth. He was one of those
great lords of the old regime, who took pride in showing how they
could get their crimes forgiven by committing them with grace. I will
say no more, he was my father. But let me explain to you how my life
in Paris injured my soul. The society of the Duc de Verneuil, to which
he introduced me, was bitten by that scoffing philosophy about which
all France was then enthusiastic because it was wittily professed. The
brilliant conversations which charmed my ear were marked by subtlety
of perception and by witty contempt for all that was true and
spiritual. Men laughed at sentiments, and pictured them all the better
because they did not feel them; their satirical epigrams were as
fascinating as the light-hearted humor with which they could put a
whole adventure into a word; and yet they had sometimes too much wit,
and wearied women by making love an art, and not a matter of feeling.
I could not resist the tide. And yet my soul was too ardent--forgive
this pride--not to feel that their minds had withered their hearts;
and the life I led resulted in a perpetual struggle between my natural
feelings and beliefs and the vicious habits of mind which I there
contracted. Several superior men took pleasure in developing in me
that liberty of thought and contempt for public opinion which do tear
from a woman her modesty of soul, robbed of which she loses her charm.
Alas! my subsequent misfortunes have failed to lessen the faults I
learned through opulence. My father," she continued, with a sigh, "the
Duc de Verneuil, died, after duly recognizing me as his daughter and
making provisions for me by his will, which considerably reduced the
fortune of my brother, his legitimate son. I found myself one day
without a home and without a protector. My brother contested the will
which made me rich. Three years of my late life had developed my
vanity. By satisfying all my fancies my father had created in my
nature a need of luxury, and given me habits of self-indulgence of
which my own mind, young and artless as it then was, could not
perceive either the danger or the tyranny. A friend of my father, the
Marechal Duc de Lenoncourt, then seventy years old, offered to become
my guardian, and I found myself, soon after the termination of the
odious suit, in a brilliant home, where I enjoyed all the advantages
of which my brother's cruelty had deprived me. Every evening the old
marechal came to sit with me and comfort me with kind and consoling
words. His white hair and the many proofs he gave me of paternal
tenderness led me to turn all the feelings of my heart upon him, and I
felt myself his daughter. I accepted his presents, hiding none of my
caprices from him, for I saw how he loved to gratify them. I heard one
fatal evening that all Paris believed me the mistress of the poor old
man. I was told that it was then beyond my power to recover an
innocence thus gratuitously denied me. They said that the man who had
abused my inexperience could not be lover, and would not be my
husband. The week in which I made this horrible discovery the duke
left Paris. I was shamefully ejected from the house where he had
placed me, and which did not belong to him. Up to this point I have
told you the truth as though I stood before God; but now, do not ask a
wretched woman to give account of sufferings which are buried in her
heart. The time came when I found myself married to Danton. A few days
later the storm uprooted the mighty oak around which I had thrown my
arms. Again I was plunged into the worst distress, and I resolved to
kill myself. I don't know whether love of life, or the hope of
wearying ill-fortune and of finding at the bottom of the abyss the
happiness which had always escaped me were, unconsciously to myself,
my advisers, or whether I was fascinated by the arguments of a young
man from Vendome, who, for the last two years, has wound himself about
me like a serpent round a tree,--in short, I know not how it is that I
accepted, for a payment of three hundred thousand francs, the odious
mission of making an unknown man fall in love with me and then
betraying him. I met you; I knew you at once by one of those
presentiments which never mislead us; yet I tried to doubt my
recognition, for the more I came to love you, the more the certainty
appalled me. When I saved you from the hands of Hulot, I abjured the
part I had taken; I resolved to betray the slaughterers, and not their
victim. I did wrong to play with men, with their lives, their
principles, with myself, like a thoughtless girl who sees only
sentiments in this life. I believed you loved me; I let myself cling
to the hope that my life might begin anew; but all things have
revealed my past,--even I myself, perhaps, for you must have
distrusted a woman so passionate as you have found me. Alas! is there
no excuse for my love and my deception? My life was like a troubled
sleep; I woke and thought myself a girl; I was in Alencon, where all
my memories were pure and chaste. I had the mad simplicity to think
that love would baptize me into innocence. For a moment I thought
myself pure, for I had never loved. But last night your passion seemed
to me true, and a voice cried to me, 'Do not deceive him.' Monsieur le
marquis," she said, in a guttural voice which haughtily challenged
condemnation, "know this; I am a dishonored creature, unworthy of you.
From this hour I accept my fate as a lost woman. I am weary of playing
a part,--the part of a woman to whom you had brought back the
sanctities of her soul. Virtue is a burden to me. I should despise you
if you were weak enough to marry me. The Comte de Bauvan might commit
that folly, but you--you must be worthy of your future and leave me
without regret. A courtesan is too exacting; I should not love you
like the simple, artless girl who felt for a moment the delightful
hope of being your companion, of making you happy, of doing you honor,
of becoming a noble wife. But I gather from that futile hope the
courage to return to a life of vice and infamy, that I may put an
eternal barrier between us. I sacrifice both honor and fortune to you.
The pride I take in that sacrifice will support me in my wretchedness,
--fate may dispose of me as it will. I will never betray you. I shall
return to Paris. There your name will be to me a part of myself, and
the glory you win will console my grief. As for you, you are a man,
and you will forget me. Farewell."
She darted away in the direction of the gorges of Saint-Sulpice, and
disappeared before the marquis could rise to detain her. But she came
back unseen, hid herself in a cavity of the rocks, and examined the
young man with a curiosity mingled with doubt. Presently she saw him
walking like a man overwhelmed, without seeming to know where he went.
"Can he be weak?" she thought, when he had disappeared, and she felt
she was parted from him. "Will he understand me?" She quivered. Then
she turned and went rapidly towards Fougeres, as though she feared the
marquis might follow her into the town, where certain death awaited
"Francine, what did he say to you?" she asked, when the faithful girl
"Ah! Marie, how I pitied him. You great ladies stab a man with your
"How did he seem when he came up to you?"
"As if he saw me not at all! Oh, Marie, he loves you!"
"Yes, he loves me, or he does not love me--there is heaven or hell for
me in that," she answered. "Between the two extremes there is no spot
where I can set my foot."
After thus carrying out her resolution, Marie gave way to grief, and
her face, beautified till then by these conflicting sentiments,
changed for the worse so rapidly that in a single day, during which
she floated incessantly between hope and despair, she lost the glow of
beauty, and the freshness which has its source in the absence of
passion or the ardor of joy. Anxious to ascertain the result of her
mad enterprise, Hulot and Corentin came to see her soon after her
return. She received them smiling.
"Well," she said to the commandant, whose care-worn face had a
questioning expression, "the fox is coming within range of your guns;
you will soon have a glorious triumph over him."
"What happened?" asked Corentin, carelessly, giving Mademoiselle de
Verneuil one of those oblique glances with which diplomatists of his
class spy on thought.
"Ah!" she said, "the Gars is more in love than ever; I made him come
with me to the gates of Fougeres."
"Your power seems to have stopped there," remarked Corentin; "the
fears of your /ci-devant/ are greater than the love you inspire."
"You judge him by yourself," she replied, with a contemptuous look.
"Well, then," said he, unmoved, "why did you not bring him here to
your own house?"
"Commandant," she said to Hulot, with a coaxing smile, "if he really
loves me, would you blame me for saving his life and getting him to
The old soldier came quickly up to her, took her hand, and kissed it
with a sort of enthusiasm. Then he looked at her fixedly and said in a
gloomy tone: "You forget my two friends and my sixty-three men."
"Ah, commandant," she cried, with all the naivete of passion, "he was
not accountable for that; he was deceived by a bad woman, Charette's
mistress, who would, I do believe, drink the blood of the Blues."
"Come, Marie," said Corentin, "don't tease the commandant; he does not
understand such jokes."
"Hold your tongue," she answered, "and remember that the day when you
displease me too much will have no morrow for you."
"I see, mademoiselle," said Hulot, without bitterness, "that I must
prepare for a fight."
"You are not strong enough, my dear colonel. I saw more than six
thousand men at Saint-James,--regular troops, artillery, and English
officers. But they cannot do much unless /he/ leads them? I agree with
Fouche, his presence is the head and front of everything."
"Are we to get his head?--that's the point," said Corentin,
"I don't know," she answered, carelessly.
"English officers!" cried Hulot, angrily, "that's all that was wanting
to make a regular brigand of him. Ha! ha! I'll give him English, I
"It seems to me, citizen-diplomat," said Hulot to Corentin, after the
two had taken leave and were at some distance from the house, "that
you allow that girl to send you to the right-about when she pleases."
"It is quite natural for you, commandant," replied Corentin, with a
thoughtful air, "to see nothing but fighting in what she said to us.
You soldiers never seem to know there are various ways of making war.
To use the passions of men and women like wires to be pulled for the
benefit of the State; to keep the running-gear of the great machine we
call government in good order, and fasten to it the desires of human
nature, like baited traps which it is fun to watch,--I call /that/
creating a world, like God, and putting ourselves at the centre of
"You will please allow me to prefer my calling to yours," said the
soldier, curtly. "You can do as you like with your running-gear; I
recognize no authority but that of the minister of war. I have my
orders; I shall take the field with veterans who don't skulk, and face
an enemy you want to catch behind."
"Oh, you can fight if you want to," replied Corentin. "From what that
girl has dropped, close-mouthed as you think she is, I can tell you
that you'll have to skirmish about, and I myself will give you the
pleasure of an interview with the Gars before long."
"How so?" asked Hulot, moving back a step to get a better view of this
"Mademoiselle de Verneuil is in love with him," replied Corentin, in a
thick voice, "and perhaps he loves her. A marquis, a knight of Saint-
Louis, young, brilliant, perhaps rich,--what a list of temptations!
She would be foolish indeed not to look after her own interests and
try to marry him rather than betray him. The girl is attempting to
fool us. But I saw hesitation in her eyes. They probably have a
rendezvous; perhaps they've met already. Well, to-morrow I shall have
him by the forelock. Yesterday he was nothing more than the enemy of
the Republic, to-day he is mine; and I tell you this, every man who
has been so rash as to come between that girl and me has died upon the
So saying, Corentin dropped into a reverie which hindered him from
observing the disgust on the face of the honest soldier as he
discovered the depths of this intrigue, and the mechanism of the means
employed by Fouche. Hulot resolved on the spot to thwart Corentin in
every way that did not conflict essentially with the success of the
government, and to give the Gars a fair chance of dying honorably,
sword in hand, before he could fall a prey to the executioner, for
whom this agent of the detective police acknowledged himself the
"If the First Consul would listen to me," thought Hulot, as he turned
his back on Corentin, "he would leave those foxes to fight
aristocrats, and send his solders on other business."
Corentin looked coldly after the old soldier, whose face had
brightened at the resolve, and his eyes gleamed with a sardonic
expression, which showed the mental superiority of this subaltern
"Give an ell of blue cloth to those fellows, and hang a bit of iron at
their waists," he said to himself, "and they'll think there's but one
way to kill people." Then, after walking up and down awhile very
slowly, he exclaimed suddenly, "Yes, the time has come, that woman
shall be mine! For five years I've been drawing the net round her, and
I have her now; with her, I can be a greater man in the government
than Fouche himself. Yes, if she loses the only man she has ever
loved, grief will give her to me, body and soul; but I must be on the
watch night and day."
A few moments later the pale face of this man might have been seen
through the window of a house, from which he could observe all who
entered the cul-de-sac formed by the line of houses running parallel
with Saint-Leonard, one of those houses being that now occupied by
Mademoiselle de Verneuil. With the patience of a cat watching a mouse
Corentin was there in the same place on the following morning,
attentive to the slightest noise, and subjecting the passers-by to the
closest examination. The day that was now beginning was a market-day.
Although in these calamitous times the peasants rarely risked
themselves in the towns, Corentin presently noticed a small man with a
gloomy face, wrapped in a goatskin, and carrying on his arm a small
flat basket; he was making his way in the direction of Mademoiselle de
Verneuil's house, casting careless glances about him. Corentin watched
him enter the house; then he ran down into the street, meaning to
waylay the man as he left; but on second thoughts it occurred to him
that if he called unexpectedly on Mademoiselle de Verneuil he might
surprise by a single glance the secret that was hidden in the basket
of the emissary. Besides, he had already learned that it was
impossible to extract anything from the inscrutable answers of Bretons
"Galope-Chopine!" cried Mademoiselle de Verneuil, when Francine
brought the man to her. "Does he love me?" she murmured to herself, in
a low voice.
The instinctive hope sent a brilliant color to her cheeks and joy into
her heart. Galope-Chopine looked alternately from the mistress to the
maid with evident distrust of the latter; but a sign from Mademoiselle
de Verneuil reassured him.
"Madame," he said, "about two o'clock /he/ will be at my house waiting
Emotion prevented Mademoiselle de Verneuil from giving any other reply
than a movement of her head, but the man understood her meaning. At
that moment Corentin's step was heard in the adjoining room, but
Galope-Chopine showed no uneasiness, though Mademoiselle de Verneuil's
look and shudder warned him of danger, and as soon as the spy had
entered the room the Chouan raised his voice to an ear-splitting tone.
"Ha, ha!" he said to Francine, "I tell you there's Breton butter /and/
Breton butter. You want the Gibarry kind, and you won't give more than
eleven sous a pound; then why did you send me to fetch it? It is good
butter that," he added, uncovering the basket to show the pats which
Barbette had made. "You ought to be fair, my good lady, and pay one
His hollow voice betrayed no emotion, and his green eyes, shaded by
thick gray eyebrows, bore Corentin's piercing glance without
"Nonsense, my good man, you are not here to sell butter; you are
talking to a lady who never bargained for a thing in her life. The
trade you run, old fellow, will shorten you by a head in a very few
days"; and Corentin, with a friendly tap on the man's shoulder, added,
"you can't keep up being a spy of the Blues and a spy of the Chouans
Galope-Chopine needed all his presence of mind to subdue his rage, and
not deny the accusation which his avarice had made a just one. He
contented himself with saying:--
"Monsieur is making game of me."
Corentin turned his back on the Chouan, but, while bowing to
Mademoiselle de Verneuil, whose heart stood still, he watched him in
the mirror behind her. Galope-Chopine, unaware of this, gave a glance
to Francine, to which she replied by pointing to the door, and saying,
"Come with me, my man, and we will settle the matter between us."
Nothing escaped Corentin, neither the fear which Mademoiselle de
Verneuil could not conceal under a smile, nor her color and the
contraction of her features, nor the Chouan's sign and Francine's
reply; he had seen all. Convinced that Galope-Chopine was sent by the
marquis, he caught the man by the long hairs of his goatskin as he was
leaving the room, turned him round to face him, and said with a keen
look: "Where do you live, my man? I want butter, too."
"My good monsieur," said the Chouan, "all Fougeres knows where I live.
"Corentin!" exclaimed Mademoiselle de Verneuil, interrupting Galope-
Chopine. "Why do you come here at this time of day? I am scarcely
dressed. Let that peasant alone; he does not understand your tricks
any more than I understand the motive of them. You can go, my man."
Galope-Chopine hesitated a moment. The indecision, real or feigned, of
the poor devil, who knew not which to obey, deceived even Corentin;
but the Chouan, finally, after an imperative gesture from the lady,
left the room with a dragging step. Mademoiselle de Verneuil and
Corentin looked at each other in silence. This time Marie's limpid
eyes could not endure the gleam of cruel fire in the man's look. The
resolute manner in which the spy had forced his way into her room, an
expression on his face which Marie had never seen there before, the
deadened tones of his shrill voice, his whole demeanor,--all these
things alarmed her; she felt that a secret struggle was about to take
place between them, and that he meant to employ against her all the
powers of his evil influence. But though she had at this moment a full
and distinct view of the gulf into which she was plunging, she
gathered strength from her love to shake off the icy chill of these
"Corentin," she said, with a sort of gayety, "I hope you are going to
let me make my toilet?"
"Marie," he said,--"yes, permit me to call you so,--you don't yet know
me. Listen; a much less sagacious man than I would see your love for
the Marquis de Montauran. I have several times offered you my heart
and hand. You have never thought me worthy of you; and perhaps you are
right. But however much you may feel yourself too high, too beautiful,
too superior for me, I can compel you to come down to my level. My
ambition and my maxims have given you a low opinion of me; frankly,
you are mistaken. Men are not worth even what I rate them at, and that
is next to nothing. I shall certainly attain a position which will
gratify your pride. Who will ever love you better, or make you more
absolutely mistress of yourself and of him, than the man who has loved
you now for five years? Though I run the risk of exciting your
suspicions,--for you cannot conceive that any one should renounce an
idolized woman out of excessive love,--I will now prove to you the
unselfishness of my passion. If the marquis loves you, marry him; but
before you do so, make sure of his sincerity. I could not endure to
see you deceived, for I do prefer your happiness to my own. My
resolution may surprise you; lay it to the prudence of a man who is
not so great a fool as to wish to possess a woman against her will. I
blame myself, not you, for the failure of my efforts to win you. I
hoped to do so by submission and devotion, for I have long, as you
well know, tried to make you happy according to my lights; but you
have never in any way rewarded me."
"I have suffered you to be near me," she said, haughtily.
"Add that you regret it."
"After involving me in this infamous enterprise, do you think that I
have any thanks to give you?"
"When I proposed to you an enterprise which was not exempt from blame
to timid minds," he replied, audaciously, "I had only your own
prosperity in view. As for me, whether I succeed or fail, I can make
all results further my ends. If you marry Montauran, I shall be
delighted to serve the Bourbons in Paris, where I am already a member
of the Clichy club. Now, if circumstances were to put me in
correspondence with the princes I should abandon the interests of the
Republic, which is already on its last legs. General Bonaparte is much
too able a man not to know that he can't be in England and in Italy at
the same time, and that is how the Republic is about to fall. I have
no doubt he made the 18th Brumaire to obtain greater advantages over
the Bourbons when it came to treating with them. He is a long-headed
fellow, and very keen; but the politicians will get the better of him
on their own ground. The betrayal of France is another scruple which
men of superiority leave to fools. I won't conceal from you that I
have come here with the necessary authority to open negotiations with
the Chouans, /or/ to further their destruction, as the case may be;
for Fouche, my patron, is deep; he has always played a double part;
during the Terror he was as much for Robespierre as for Danton--"
"Whom you basely abandoned," she said.
"Nonsense; he is dead,--forget him," replied Corentin. "Come, speak
honestly to me; I have set you the example. Old Hulot is deeper than
he looks; if you want to escape his vigilance, I can help you.
Remember that he holds all the valleys and will instantly detect a
rendezvous. If you make one in Fougeres, under his very eyes, you are
at the mercy of his patrols. See how quickly he knew that this Chouan
had entered your house. His military sagacity will show him that your
movements betray those of the Gars--if Montauran loves you."
Mademoiselle de Verneuil had never listened to a more affectionate
voice; Corentin certainly seemed sincere, and spoke confidingly. The
poor girl's heart was so open to generous impressions that she was on
the point of betraying her secret to the serpent who had her in his
folds, when it occurred to her that she had no proof beyond his own
words of his sincerity, and she felt no scruple in blinding him.
"Yes," she said, "you are right, Corentin. I do love the marquis, but
he does not love me--at least, I fear so; I can't help fearing that
the appointment he wishes me to make with him is a trap."
"But you said yesterday that he came as far as Fougeres with you,"
returned Corentin. "If he had meant to do you bodily harm you wouldn't
be here now."
"You've a cold heart, Corentin. You can draw shrewd conclusions as to
the ordinary events of human life, but not on those of passion.
Perhaps that is why you inspire me with such repulsion. As you are so
clear-sighted, you may be able to tell me why a man from whom I
separated myself violently two days ago now wishes me to meet him in a
house at Florigny on the road to Mayenne."
At this avowal, which seemed to escape her with a recklessness that
was not unnatural in so passionate a creature, Corentin flushed, for
he was still young; but he gave her a sidelong penetrating look,
trying to search her soul. The girl's artlessness was so well played,
however, that she deceived the spy, and he answered with crafty good-
humor, "Shall I accompany you at a distance? I can take a few solders
with me, and be ready to help and obey you."
"Very good," she said; "but promise me, on your honor,--no, I don't
believe in it; by your salvation,--but you don't believe in God; by
your soul,--but I don't suppose you have any! what pledge /can/ you
give me of your fidelity? and yet you expect me to trust you, and put
more than my life--my love, my vengeance--into your hands?"
The slight smile which crossed the pallid lips of the spy showed
Mademoiselle de Verneuil the danger she had just escaped. The man,
whose nostrils contracted instead of dilating, took the hand of his
victim, kissed it with every mark of the deepest respect, and left the
room with a bow that was not devoid of grace.
Three hours after this scene Mademoiselle de Verneuil, who feared the
man's return, left the town furtively by the Porte Saint-Leonard, and
made her way through the labyrinth of paths to the cottage of Galope-
Chopine, led by the dream of at last finding happiness, and also by
the purpose of saving her lover from the danger that threatened him.
During this time Corentin had gone to find the commandant. He had some
difficulty in recognizing Hulot when he found him in a little square,
where he was busy with certain military preparations. The brave
veteran had made a sacrifice, the full merit of which may be difficult
to appreciate. His queue and his moustache were cut off, and his hair
had a sprinkling of powder. He had changed his uniform for a goatskin,
wore hobnailed shoes, a belt full of pistols, and carried a heavy
carbine. In this costume he was reviewing about two hundred of the
natives of Fougeres, all in the same kind of dress, which was fitted
to deceive the eye of the most practised Chouan. The warlike spirit of
the little town and the Breton character were fully displayed in this
scene, which was not at all uncommon. Here and there a few mothers and
sisters were bringing to their sons and brothers gourds filled with
brandy, or forgotten pistols. Several old men were examining into the
number and condition of the cartridges of these young national guards
dressed in the guise of Chouans, whose gaiety was more in keeping with
a hunting expedition than the dangerous duty they were undertaking. To
them, such encounters with Chouannerie, where the Breton of the town
fought the Breton of the country district, had taken the place of the
old chivalric tournaments. This patriotic enthusiasm may possibly have
been connected with certain purchases of the "national domain." Still,
the benefits of the Revolution which were better understood and
appreciated in the towns, party spirit, and a certain national delight
in war, had a great deal to do with their ardor.
Hulot, much gratified, was going through the ranks and getting
information from Gudin, on whom he was now bestowing the confidence
and good-will he had formerly shown to Merle and Gerard. A number of
the inhabitants stood about watching the preparations, and comparing
the conduct of their tumultuous contingent with the regulars of
Hulot's brigade. Motionless and silent the Blues were awaiting, under
control of their officers, the orders of the commandant, whose figure
they followed with their eyes as he passed from rank to rank of the
contingent. When Corentin came near the old warrior he could not help
smiling at the change which had taken place in him. He looked like a
portrait that has little or no resemblance to the original.
"What's all this?" asked Corentin.
"Come with us under fire, and you'll find out," replied Hulot.
"Oh! I'm not a Fougeres man," said Corentin.
"Easy to see that, citizen," retorted Gudin.
A few contemptuous laughs came from the nearest ranks.
"Do you think," said Corentin, sharply, "that the only way to serve
France is with bayonets?"
Then he turned his back to the laughers, and asked a woman beside him
if she knew the object of the expedition.
"Hey! my good man, the Chouans are at Florigny. They say there are
more than three thousand, and they are coming to take Fougeres."
"Florigny?" cried Corentin, turning white; "then the rendezvous is not
there! Is Florigny on the road to Mayenne?" he asked.
"There are not two Florignys," replied the woman, pointing in the
direction of the summit of La Pelerine.
"Are you going in search of the Marquis de Montauran?" said Corentin
"Perhaps I am," answered the commandant, curtly.
"He is not at Florigny," said Corentin. "Send your troops there by all
means; but keep a few of those imitation Chouans of yours with you,
and wait for me."
"He is too malignant not to know what he's about," thought Hulot as
Corentin made off rapidly, "he's the king of spies."
Hulot ordered the battalion to start. The republican soldiers marched
without drums and silently through the narrow suburb which led to the
Mayenne high-road, forming a blue and red line among the trees and
houses. The disguised guard followed them; but Hulot, detaining Gudin
and about a score of the smartest young fellows of the town, remained
in the little square, awaiting Corentin, whose mysterious manner had
piqued his curiosity. Francine herself told the astute spy, whose
suspicions she changed into certainty, of her mistress's departure.
Inquiring of the post guard at the Porte Saint-Leonard, he learned
that Mademoiselle de Verneuil had passed that way. Rushing to the
Promenade, he was, unfortunately, in time to see her movements. Though
she was wearing a green dress and hood, to be less easily
distinguished, the rapidity of her almost distracted step enabled him
to follow her with his eye through the leafless hedges, and to guess
the point towards which she was hurrying.
"Ha!" he cried, "you said you were going to Florigny, but you are in
the valley of Gibarry! I am a fool, she has tricked me! No matter, I
can light my lamp by day as well as by night."
Corentin, satisfied that he knew the place of the lovers' rendezvous,
returned in all haste to the little square, which Hulot, resolved not
to wait any longer, was just quitting to rejoin his troops.
"Halt, general!" he cried to the commandant, who turned round.
He then told Hulot the events relating to the marquis and Mademoiselle
de Verneuil, and showed him the scheme of which he held a thread.
Hulot, struck by his perspicacity, seized him by the arm.
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