Honore de Balzac
Part 6 out of 7
"God's thunder! citizen, you are right," he cried. "The brigands are
making a false attack over there to keep the coast clear; but the two
columns I sent to scour the environs between Antrain and Vitre have
not yet returned, so we shall have plenty of reinforcements if we need
them; and I dare say we shall, for the Gars is not such a fool as to
risk his life without a bodyguard of those damned owls. Gudin," he
added, "go and tell Captain Lebrun that he must rub those fellows'
noses at Florigny without me, and come back yourself in a flash. You
know the paths. I'll wait till you return, and /then/--we'll avenge
those murders at La Vivetiere. Thunder! how he runs," he added, seeing
Gudin disappear as if by magic. "Gerard would have loved him."
On his return Gudin found Hulot's little band increased in numbers by
the arrival of several soldiers taken from the various posts in the
town. The commandant ordered him to choose a dozen of his compatriots
who could best counterfeit the Chouans, and take them out by the Porte
Saint-Leonard, so as to creep round the side of the Saint-Sulpice
rocks which overlooks the valley of Couesnon and on which was the
hovel of Galope-Chopine. Hulot himself went out with the rest of his
troop by the Porte Saint-Sulpice, to reach the summit of the same
rocks, where, according to his calculations, he ought to meet the men
under Beau-Pied, whom he meant to use as a line of sentinels from the
suburb of Saint-Sulpice to the Nid-aux-Crocs.
Corentin, satisfied with having delivered over the fate of the Gars to
his implacable enemies, went with all speed to the Promenade, so as to
follow with his eyes the military arrangements of the commandant. He
soon saw Gudin's little squad issuing from the valley of the Nancon
and following the line of the rocks to the great valley, while Hulot,
creeping round the castle of Fougeres, was mounting the dangerous path
which leads to the summit of Saint-Sulpice. The two companies were
therefore advancing on parallel lines. The trees and shrubs, draped by
the rich arabesques of the hoarfrost, threw whitish reflections which
enabled the watcher to see the gray lines of the squads in motion.
When Hulot reached the summit of the rocks, he detached all the
soldiers in uniform from his main body, and made them into a line of
sentinels, each communicating with the other, the first with Gudin,
the last with Hulot; so that no shrub could escape the bayonets of the
three lines which were now in a position to hunt the Gars across field
"The sly old wolf!" thought Corentin, as the shining muzzle of the
last gun disappeared in the bushes. "The Gars is done for. If Marie
had only betrayed that damned marquis, she and I would have been
united in the strongest of all bonds--a vile deed. But she's mine, in
The twelve young men under Gudin soon reached the base of the rocks of
Saint-Sulpice. Here Gudin himself left the road with six of them,
jumping the stiff hedge into the first field of gorse that he came to,
while the other six by his orders did the same on the other side of
the road. Gudin advanced to an apple-tree which happened to be in the
middle of the field. Hearing the rustle of this movement through the
gorse, seven or eight men, at the head of whom was Beau-Pied, hastily
hid behind some chestnut-trees which topped the bank of this
particular field. Gudin's men did not see them, in spite of the white
reflections of the hoar-frost and their own practised sight.
"Hush! here they are," said Beau-Pied, cautiously putting out his
head. "The brigands have more men than we, but we have 'em at the
muzzles of our guns, and we mustn't miss them, or, by the Lord, we are
not fit to be soldiers of the pope."
By this time Gudin's keen eyes had discovered a few muzzles pointing
through the branches at his little squad. Just then eight voices cried
in derision, "Qui vive?" and eight shots followed. The balls whistled
round Gudin and his men. One fell, another was shot in the arm. The
five others who were safe and sound replied with a volley and the cry,
"Friends!" Then they marched rapidly on their assailants so as to
reach them before they had time to reload.
"We did not know how true we spoke," cried Gudin, as he recognized the
uniforms and the battered hats of his own brigade. "Well, we behaved
like Bretons, and fought before explaining."
The other men were stupefied on recognizing the little company.
"Who the devil would have known them in those goatskins?" cried Beau-
"It is a misfortune," said Gudin, "but we are all innocent if you were
not informed of the sortie. What are you doing here?" he asked.
"A dozen of those Chouans are amusing themselves by picking us off,
and we are getting away as best we can, like poisoned rats; but by
dint of scrambling over these hedges and rocks--may the lightning
blast 'em!--our compasses have got so rusty we are forced to take a
rest. I think those brigands are now somewhere near the old hovel
where you see that smoke."
"Good!" cried Gudin. "You," he added to Beau-Pied and his men, "fall
back towards the rocks through the fields, and join the line of
sentinels you'll find there. You can't go with us, because you are in
uniform. We mean to make an end of those curs now; the Gars is with
them. I can't stop to tell you more. To the right, march! and don't
administer any more shots to our own goatskins; you'll know ours by
their cravats, which they twist round their necks and don't tie.
Gudin left his two wounded men under the apple-tree, and marched
towards Galope-Chopine's cottage, which Beau-Pied had pointed out to
him, the smoke from the chimney serving as a guide.
While the young officer was thus closing in upon the Chouans, the
little detachment under Hulot had reached a point still parallel with
that at which Gudin had arrived. The old soldier, at the head of his
men, was silently gliding along the hedges with the ardor of a young
man; he jumped them from time to time actively enough, casting his
wary eyes to the heights and listening with the ear of a hunter to
every noise. In the third field to which he came he found a woman
about thirty years old, with bent back, hoeing the ground vigorously,
while a small boy with a sickle in his hand was knocking the hoarfrost
from the rushes, which he cut and laid in a heap. At the noise Hulot
made in jumping the hedge, the boy and his mother raised their heads.
Hulot mistook the young woman for an old one, naturally enough.
Wrinkles, coming long before their time, furrowed her face and neck;
she was clothed so grotesquely in a worn-out goatskin that if it had
not been for a dirty yellow petticoat, a distinctive mark of sex,
Hulot would hardly have known the gender she belonged to; for the
meshes of her long black hair were twisted up and hidden by a red
worsted cap. The tatters of the little boy did not cover him, but left
his skin exposed.
"Ho! old woman!" called Hulot, in a low voice, approaching her, "where
is the Gars?"
The twenty men who accompanied Hulot now jumped the hedge.
"Hey! if you want the Gars you'll have to go back the way you came,"
said the woman, with a suspicious glance at the troop.
"Did I ask you the road to Fougeres, old carcass?" said Hulot,
roughly. "By Saint-Anne of Auray, have you seen the Gars go by?"
"I don't know what you mean," replied the woman, bending over her hoe.
"You damned garce, do you want to have us eaten up by the Blues who
are after us?"
At these words the woman raised her head and gave another look of
distrust at the troop as she replied, "How can the Blues be after you?
I have just seen eight or ten of them who were going back to Fougeres
by the lower road."
"One would think she meant to stab us with that nose of hers!" cried
Hulot. "Here, look, you old nanny-goat!"
And he showed her in the distance three or four of his sentinels,
whose hats, guns, and uniforms it was easy to recognize.
"Are you going to let those fellows cut the throats of men who are
sent by Marche-a-Terre to protect the Gars?" he cried, angrily.
"Ah, beg pardon," said the woman; "but it is so easy to be deceived.
What parish do you belong to?"
"Saint-Georges," replied two or three of the men, in the Breton
patois, "and we are dying of hunger."
"Well, there," said the woman; "do you see that smoke down there?
that's my house. Follow the path to the right, and you will come to
the rock above it. Perhaps you'll meet my man on the way. Galope-
Chopine is sure to be on watch to warn the Gars. He is spending the
day in our house," she said, proudly, "as you seem to know."
"Thank you, my good woman," replied Hulot. "Forward, march! God's
thunder! we've got him," he added, speaking to his men.
The detachment followed its leader at a quick step through the path
pointed out to them. The wife of Galope-Chopine turned pale as she
heard the un-Catholic oath of the so-called Chouan. She looked at the
gaiters and goatskins of his men, then she caught her boy in her arms,
and sat down on the ground, saying, "May the holy Virgin of Auray and
the ever blessed Saint-Labre have pity upon us! Those men are not
ours; their shoes have no nails in them. Run down by the lower road
and warn your father; you may save his head," she said to the boy, who
disappeared like a deer among the bushes.
Mademoiselle de Verneuil met no one on her way, neither Blues nor
Chouans. Seeing the column of blue smoke which was rising from the
half-ruined chimney of Galope-Chopine's melancholy dwelling, her heart
was seized with a violent palpitation, the rapid, sonorous beating of
which rose to her throat in waves. She stopped, rested her hand
against a tree, and watched the smoke which was serving as a beacon to
the foes as well as to the friends of the young chieftain. Never had
she felt such overwhelming emotion.
"Ah! I love him too much," she said, with a sort of despair. "To-day,
perhaps, I shall no longer be mistress of myself--"
She hurried over the distance which separated her from the cottage,
and reached the courtyard, the filth of which was now stiffened by the
frost. The big dog sprang up barking, but a word from Galope-Chopine
silenced him and he wagged his tail. As she entered the house Marie
gave a look which included everything. The marquis was not there. She
breathed more freely, and saw with pleasure that the Chouan had taken
some pains to clean the dirty and only room in his hovel. He now took
his duck-gun, bowed silently to his guest and left the house, followed
by his dog. Marie went to the threshold of the door and watched him as
he took the path to the right of his hut. From there she could
overlook a series of fields, the curious openings to which formed a
perspective of gates; for the leafless trees and hedges were no longer
a barrier to a full view of the country. When the Chouan's broad hat
was out of sight Mademoiselle de Verneuil turned round to look for the
church at Fougeres, but the shed concealed it. She cast her eyes over
the valley of the Couesnon, which lay before her like a vast sheet of
muslin, the whiteness of which still further dulled a gray sky laden
with snow. It was one of those days when nature seems dumb and noises
are absorbed by the atmosphere. Therefore, though the Blues and their
contingent were marching through the country in three lines, forming a
triangle which drew together as they neared the cottage, the silence
was so profound that Mademoiselle de Verneuil was overcome by a
presentiment which added a sort of physical pain to her mental
torture. Misfortune was in the air.
At last, in a spot where a little curtain of wood closed the
perspective of gates, she saw a young man jumping the barriers like a
squirrel and running with astonishing rapidity. "It is he!" she
The Gars was dressed as a Chouan, with a musket slung from his
shoulder over his goatskin, and would have been quite disguised were
it not for the grace of his movements. Marie withdrew hastily into the
cottage, obeying one of those instinctive promptings which are as
little explicable as fear itself. The young man was soon beside her
before the chimney, where a bright fire was burning. Both were
voiceless, fearing to look at each other, or even to make a movement.
One and the same hope united them, the same doubt; it was agony, it
"Monsieur," said Mademoiselle de Verneuil at last, in a trembling
voice, "your safety alone has brought me here."
"My safety!" he said, bitterly.
"Yes," she answered; "so long as I stay at Fougeres your life is
threatened, and I love you too well not to leave it. I go to-night."
"Leave me! ah, dear love, I shall follow you."
"Follow me!--the Blues?"
"Dear Marie, what have the Blues got to do with our love?"
"But it seems impossible that you can stay with me in France, and
still more impossible that you should leave it with me."
"Is there anything impossible to those who love?"
"Ah, true! true! all is possible--have I not the courage to resign
you, for your sake."
"What! you could give yourself to a hateful being whom you did not
love, and you refuse to make the happiness of a man who adores you,
whose life you fill, who swears to be yours, and yours only. Hear me,
Marie, do you love me?"
"Yes," she said.
"Then be mine."
"You forget the infamous career of a lost woman; I return to it, I
leave you--yes, that I may not bring upon your head the contempt that
falls on mine. Without that fear, perhaps--"
"But if I fear nothing?"
"Can I be sure of that? I am distrustful. Who could be otherwise in a
position like mine? If the love we inspire cannot last at least it
should be complete, and help us to bear with joy the injustice of the
world. But you, what have you done for me? You desire me. Do you think
that lifts you above other men? Suppose I bade you renounce your
ideas, your hopes, your king (who will, perhaps, laugh when he hears
you have died for him, while I would die for you with sacred joy!); or
suppose I should ask you to send your submission to the First Consul
so that you could follow me to Paris, or go with me to America,--away
from the world where all is vanity; suppose I thus tested you, to know
if you loved me for myself as at this moment I love you? To say all in
a word, if I wished, instead of rising to your level, that you should
fall to mine, what would you do?"
"Hush, Marie, be silent, do not slander yourself," he cried. "Poor
child, I comprehend you. If my first desire was passion, my passion
now is love. Dear soul of my soul, you are as noble as your name, I
know it,--as great as you are beautiful. I am noble enough, I feel
myself great enough to force the world to receive you. Is it because I
foresee in you the source of endless, incessant pleasure, or because I
find in your soul those precious qualities which make a man forever
love the one woman? I do not know the cause, but this I know--that my
love for you is boundless. I know I can no longer live without you.
Yes, life would be unbearable unless you are ever with me."
"Ever with you!"
"Ah! Marie, will you not understand me?"
"You think to flatter me by the offer of your hand and name," she
said, with apparent haughtiness, but looking fixedly at the marquis as
if to detect his inmost thought. "How do you know you would love me
six months hence? and then what would be my fate? No, a mistress is
the only woman who is sure of a man's heart; duty, law, society, the
interests of children, are poor auxiliaries. If her power lasts it
gives her joys and flatteries which make the trials of life endurable.
But to be your wife and become a drag upon you,--rather than that, I
prefer a passing love and a true one, though death and misery be its
end. Yes, I could be a virtuous mother, a devoted wife; but to keep
those instincts firmly in a woman's soul the man must not marry her in
a rush of passion. Besides, how do I know that you will please me
to-morrow? No, I will not bring evil upon you; I leave Brittany," she
said, observing hesitation in his eyes. "I return to Fougeres now,
where you cannot come to me--"
"I can! and if to-morrow you see smoke on the rocks of Saint-Sulpice
you will know that I shall be with you at night, your lover, your
husband,--what you will that I be to you; I brave all!"
"Ah! Alphonse, you love me well," she said, passionately, "to risk
your life before you give it to me."
He did not answer; he looked at her and her eyes fell; but he read in
her ardent face a passion equal to his own, and he held out his arms
to her. A sort of madness overcame her, and she let herself fall
softly on his breast, resolved to yield to him, and turn this yielding
to great results,--staking upon it her future happiness, which would
become more certain if she came victorious from this crucial test. But
her head had scarcely touched her lover's shoulder when a slight noise
was heard without. She tore herself from his arms as if suddenly
awakened, and sprang from the cottage. Her coolness came back to her,
and she thought of the situation.
"He might have accepted me and scorned me," she reflected. "Ah! if I
could think that, I would kill him. But not yet!" she added, catching
sight of Beau-Pied, to whom she made a sign which the soldier was
quick to understand. He turned on his heel, pretending to have seen
nothing. Mademoiselle de Verneuil re-entered the cottage, putting her
finger to her lips to enjoin silence.
"They are there!" she whispered in a frightened voice.
"Ah! must I die without one kiss!"
"Take it," she said.
He caught her to him, cold and unresisting, and gathered from her lips
a kiss of horror and of joy, for while it was the first, it might also
be the last. Then they went together to the door and looked cautiously
out. The marquis saw Gudin and his men holding the paths leading to
the valley. Then he turned to the line of gates where the first rotten
trunk was guarded by five men. Without an instant's pause he jumped on
the barrel of cider and struck a hole through the thatch of the roof,
from which to spring upon the rocks behind the house; but he drew his
head hastily back through the gap he had made, for Hulot was on the
height; his retreat was cut off in that direction. The marquis turned
and looked at his mistress, who uttered a cry of despair; for she
heard the tramp of the three detachments near the house.
"Go out first," he said; "you shall save me."
Hearing the words, to her all-glorious, she went out and stood before
the door. The marquis loaded his musket. Measuring with his eye the
space between the door of the hut and the old rotten trunk where seven
men stood, the Gars fired into their midst and sprang forward
instantly, forcing a passage through them. The three troops rushed
towards the opening through which he had passed, and saw him running
across the field with incredible celerity.
"Fire! fire! a thousand devils! You're not Frenchmen! Fire, I say!"
As he shouted these words from the height above, his men and Gudin's
fired a volley, which was fortunately ill-aimed. The marquis reached
the gate of the next field, but as he did so he was almost caught by
Gudin, who was close upon his heels. The Gars redoubled his speed.
Nevertheless, he and his pursuer reached the next barrier together;
but the marquis dashed his musket at Gudin's head with so good an aim
that he stopped his rush. It is impossible to depict the anxiety
betrayed by Marie, or the interest of Hulot and his troops as they
watched the scene. They all, unconsciously or silently, repeated the
gestures which they saw the runners making. The Gars and Gudin reached
the little wood together, but as they did so the latter stopped and
darted behind a tree. About twenty Chouans, afraid to fire at a
distance lest they should kill their leader, rushed from the copse and
riddled the tree with balls. Hulot's men advanced at a run to save
Gudin, who, being without arms, retreated from tree to tree, seizing
his opportunity as the Chouans reloaded. His danger was soon over.
Hulot and the Blues met him at the spot where the marquis had thrown
his musket. At this instant Gudin perceived his adversary sitting
among the trees and out of breath, and he left his comrades firing at
the Chouans, who had retreated behind a lateral hedge; slipping round
them, he darted towards the marquis with the agility of a wild animal.
Observing this manoeuvre the Chouans set up a cry to warn their leader;
then, having fired on the Blues and their contingent with the gusto of
poachers, they boldly made a rush for them; but Hulot's men sprang
through the hedge which served them as a rampart and took a bloody
revenge. The Chouans then gained the road which skirted the fields and
took to the heights which Hulot had committed the blunder of
abandoning. Before the Blues had time to reform, the Chouans were
entrenched behind the rocks, where they could fire with impunity on
the Republicans if the latter made any attempt to dislodge them.
While Hulot and his soldiers went slowly towards the little wood to
meet Gudin, the men from Fougeres busied themselves in rifling the
dead Chouans and dispatching those who still lived. In this fearful
war neither party took prisoners. The marquis having made good his
escape, the Chouans and the Blues mutually recognized their respective
positions and the uselessness of continuing the fight; so that both
sides prepared to retreat.
"Ha! ha!" cried one of the Fougeres men, busy about the bodies,
"here's a bird with yellow wings."
And he showed his companions a purse full of gold which he had just
found in the pocket of a stout man dressed in black.
"What's this?" said another, pulling a breviary from the dead man's
"Communion bread--he's a priest!" cried the first man, flinging the
breviary on the ground.
"Here's a wretch!" cried a third, finding only two crowns in the
pockets of the body he was stripping, "a cheat!"
"But he's got a fine pair of shoes!" said a soldier, beginning to pull
"You can't have them unless they fall to your share," said the
Fougeres man, dragging the dead feet away and flinging the boots on a
heap of clothing already collected.
Another Chouan took charge of the money, so that lots might be drawn
as soon as the troops were all assembled. When Hulot returned with
Gudin, whose last attempt to overtake the Gars was useless as well as
perilous, he found about a score of his own men and thirty of the
contingent standing around eleven of the enemy, whose naked bodies
were thrown into a ditch at the foot of the bank.
"Soldiers!" cried Hulot, sternly. "I forbid you to share that
clothing. Form in line, quick!"
"Commandant," said a soldier, pointing to his shoes, at the points of
which five bare toes could be seen on each foot, "all right about the
money, but those boots," motioning to a pair of hobnailed boots with
the butt of his gun, "would fit me like a glove."
"Do you want to put English shoes on your feet?" retorted Hulot.
"But," said one of the Fougeres men, respectfully, "we've divided the
booty all through the war."
"I don't prevent you civilians from following your own ways," replied
"Here, Gudin, here's a purse with three louis," said the officer who
was distributing the money. "You have run hard and the commandant
won't prevent your taking it."
Hulot looked askance at Gudin, and saw that he turned pale.
"It's my uncle's purse!" exclaimed the young man.
Exhausted as he was with his run, he sprang to the mound of bodies,
and the first that met his eyes was that of his uncle. But he had
hardly recognized the rubicund face now furrowed with blue lines, and
seen the stiffened arms and the gunshot wound before he gave a stifled
cry, exclaiming, "Let us be off, commandant."
The Blues started. Hulot gave his arm to his young friend.
"God's thunder!" he cried. "Never mind, it is no great matter."
"But he is dead," said Gudin, "dead! He was my only relation, and
though he cursed me, still he loved me. If the king returns, the
neighborhood will want my head, and my poor uncle would have saved
"What a fool Gudin is," said one of the men who had stayed behind to
share the spoils; "his uncle was rich, and he hasn't had time to make
a will and disinherit him."
The division over, the men of Fougeres rejoined the little battalion
of the Blues on their way to the town.
Towards midnight the cottage of Galope-Chopine, hitherto the scene of
life without a care, was full of dread and horrible anxiety. Barbette
and her little boy returned at the supper-hour, one with her heavy
burden of rushes, the other carrying fodder for the cattle. Entering
the hut, they looked about in vain for Galope-Chopine; the miserable
chamber never looked to them as large, so empty was it. The fire was
out, and the darkness, the silence, seemed to tell of some disaster.
Barbette hastened to make a blaze, and to light two /oribus/, the name
given to candles made of pitch in the region between the villages of
Amorique and the Upper Loire, and still used beyond Amboise in the
Vendomois districts. Barbette did these things with the slowness of a
person absorbed in one overpowering feeling. She listened to every
sound. Deceived by the whistling of the wind she went often to the
door of the hut, returning sadly. She cleaned two beakers, filled them
with cider, and placed them on the long table. Now and again she
looked at her boy, who watched the baking of the buckwheat cakes, but
did not speak to him. The lad's eyes happened to rest on the nails
which usually held his father's duck-gun, and Barbette trembled as she
noticed that the gun was gone. The silence was broken only by the
lowing of a cow or the splash of the cider as it dropped at regular
intervals from the bung of the cask. The poor woman sighed while she
poured into three brown earthenware porringers a sort of soup made of
milk, biscuit broken into bits, and boiled chestnuts.
"They must have fought in the field next to the Berandiere," said the
"Go and see," replied his mother.
The child ran to the place where the fighting had, as he said, taken
place. In the moonlight he found the heap of bodies, but his father
was not among them, and he came back whistling joyously, having picked
up several five-franc pieces trampled in the mud and overlooked by the
victors. His mother was sitting on a stool beside the fire, employed
in spinning flax. He made a negative sign to her, and then, ten
o'clock having struck from the tower of Saint-Leonard, he went to bed,
muttering a prayer to the holy Virgin of Auray. At dawn, Barbette, who
had not closed her eyes, gave a cry of joy, as she heard in the
distance a sound she knew well of hobnailed shoes, and soon after
Galope-Chopine's scowling face presented itself.
"Thanks to Saint-Labre," he said, "to whom I owe a candle, the Gars is
safe. Don't forget that we now owe three candles to the saint."
He seized a beaker of cider and emptied it at a draught without
drawing breath. When his wife had served his soup and taken his gun
and he himself was seated on the wooden bench, he said, looking at the
fire: "I can't make out how the Blues got here. The fighting was at
Florigny. Who the devil could have told them that the Gars was in our
house; no one knew it but he and the handsome garce and we--"
Barbette turned white.
"They made me believe they were the gars of Saint-Georges," she said,
trembling, "it was I who told them the Gars was here."
Galope-Chopine turned pale himself and dropped his porringer on the
"I sent the boy to warn you," said Barbette, frightened, "didn't you
The Chouan rose and struck his wife so violently that she dropped,
pale as death, upon the bed.
"You cursed woman," he said, "you have killed me!" Then seized with
remorse, he took her in his arms. "Barbette!" he cried, "Barbette!--
Holy Virgin, my hand was too heavy!"
"Do you think," she said, opening her eyes, "that Marche-a-Terre will
hear of it?"
"The Gars will certainly inquire who betrayed him."
"Will he tell it to Marche-a-Terre?"
"Marche-a-Terre and Pille-Miche were both at Florigny."
Barbette breathed a little easier.
"If they touch a hair of your head," she cried, "I'll rinse their
glasses with vinegar."
"Ah! I can't eat," said Galope-Chopine, anxiously.
His wife set another pitcher full of cider before him, but he paid no
heed to it. Two big tears rolled from the woman's eyes and moistened
the deep furrows of her withered face.
"Listen to me, wife; to-morrow morning you must gather fagots on the
rocks of Saint-Sulpice, to the right and Saint-Leonard and set fire to
them. That is a signal agreed upon between the Gars and the old rector
of Saint-Georges who is to come and say mass for him."
"Is the Gars going to Fougeres?"
"Yes, to see his handsome garce. I have been sent here and there all
day about it. I think he is going to marry her and carry her off; for
he told me to hire horses and have them ready on the road to Saint-
Thereupon Galope-Chopine, who was tired out, went to bed for an hour
or two, at the end of which time he again departed. Later, on the
following morning, he returned, having carefully fulfilled all the
commissions entrusted to him by the Gars. Finding that Marche-a-Terre
and Pille-Miche had not appeared at the cottage, he relieved the
apprehensions of his wife, who went off, reassured, to the rocks of
Saint-Sulpice, where she had collected the night before several piles
of fagots, now covered with hoarfrost. The boy went with her, carrying
fire in a broken wooden shoe.
Hardly had his wife and son passed out of sight behind the shed when
Galope-Chopine heard the noise of men jumping the successive barriers,
and he could dimly see, through the fog which was growing thicker, the
forms of two men like moving shadows.
"It is Marche-a-Terre and Pille-Miche," he said, mentally; then he
shuddered. The two Chouans entered the courtyard and showed their
gloomy faces under the broad-brimmed hats which made them look like
the figures which engravers introduce into their landscapes.
"Good-morning, Galope-Chopine," said Marche-a-Terre, gravely.
"Good-morning, Monsieur Marche-a-Terre," replied the other, humbly.
"Will you come in and drink a drop? I've some cold buckwheat cake and
"That's not to be refused, cousin," said Pille-Miche.
The two Chouans entered the cottage. So far there was nothing alarming
for the master of the house, who hastened to fill three beakers from
his huge cask of cider, while Marche-a-Terre and Pille-Miche, sitting
on the polished benches on each side of the long table, cut the cake
and spread it with the rich yellow butter from which the milk spurted
as the knife smoothed it. Galope-Chopine placed the beakers full of
frothing cider before his guests, and the three Chouans began to eat;
but from time to time the master of the house cast side-long glances
at Marche-a-Terre as he drank his cider.
"Lend me your snuff-box," said Marche-a-Terre to Pille-Miche.
Having shaken several pinches into the palm of his hand the Breton
inhaled the tobacco like a man who is making ready for serious
"It is cold," said Pille-Miche, rising to shut the upper half of the
The daylight, already dim with fog, now entered only through the
little window, and feebly lighted the room and the two seats; the
fire, however, gave out a ruddy glow. Galope-Chopine refilled the
beakers, but his guests refused to drink again, and throwing aside
their large hats looked at him solemnly. Their gestures and the look
they gave him terrified Galope-Chopine, who fancied he saw blood in
the red woollen caps they wore.
"Fetch your axe," said Marche-a-Terre.
"But, Monsieur Marche-a-Terre, what do you want it for?"
"Come, cousin, you know very well," said Pille-Miche, pocketing his
snuff-box which Marche-a-Terre returned to him; "you are condemned."
The two Chouans rose together and took their guns.
"Monsieur Marche-a-Terre, I never said one word about the Gars--"
"I told you to fetch your axe," said Marche-a-Terre.
The hapless man knocked against the wooden bedstead of his son, and
several five-franc pieces rolled on the floor. Pille-Miche picked them
"Ho! ho! the Blues paid you in new money," cried Marche-a-Terre.
"As true as that's the image of Saint-Labre," said Galope-Chopine, "I
have told nothing. Barbette mistook the Fougeres men for the gars of
Saint-Georges, and that's the whole of it."
"Why do you tell things to your wife?" said Marche-a-Terre, roughly.
"Besides, cousin, we don't want excuses, we want your axe. You are
At a sign from his companion, Pille-Miche helped Marche-a-Terre to
seize the victim. Finding himself in their grasp Galope-Chopine lost
all power and fell on his knees holding up his hands to his slayers in
"My friends, my good friends, my cousin," he said, "what will become
of my little boy?"
"I will take charge of him," said Marche-a-Terre.
"My good comrades," cried the victim, turning livid. "I am not fit to
die. Don't make me go without confession. You have the right to take
my life, but you've no right to make me lose a blessed eternity."
"That is true," said Marche-a-Terre, addressing Pille-Miche.
The two Chouans waited a moment in much uncertainty, unable to decide
this case of conscience. Galope-Chopine listened to the rustling of
the wind as though he still had hope. Suddenly Pille-Miche took him by
the arm into a corner of the hut.
"Confess your sins to me," he said, "and I will tell them to a priest
of the true Church, and if there is any penance to do I will do it for
Galope-Chopine obtained some respite by the way in which he confessed
his sins; but in spite of their number and the circumstances of each
crime, he came finally to the end of them.
"Cousin," he said, imploringly, "since I am speaking to you as I would
to my confessor, I do assure you, by the holy name of God, that I have
nothing to reproach myself with except for having, now and then,
buttered my bread on both sides; and I call on Saint-Labre, who is
there over the chimney-piece, to witness that I have never said one
word about the Gars. No, my good friends, I have not betrayed him."
"Very good, that will do, cousin; you can explain all that to God in
course of time."
"But let me say good-bye to Barbette."
"Come," said Marche-a-Terre, "if you don't want us to think you worse
than you are, behave like a Breton and be done with it."
The two Chouans seized him again and threw him on the bench where he
gave no other sign of resistance than the instinctive and convulsive
motions of an animal, uttering a few smothered groans, which ceased
when the axe fell. The head was off at the first blow. Marche-a-Terre
took it by the hair, left the room, sought and found a large nail in
the rough casing of the door, and wound the hair about it; leaving the
bloody head, the eyes of which he did not even close, to hang there.
The two Chouans then washed their hands, without the least haste, in a
pot full of water, picked up their hats and guns, and jumped the gate,
whistling the "Ballad of the Captain." Pille-Miche began to sing in a
hoarse voice as he reached the field the last verses of that rustic
song, their melody floating on the breeze:--
"At the first town
Her lover dressed her
All in white satin;
"At the next town
Her lover dressed her
In gold and silver.
"So beautiful was she
They gave her veils
To wear in the regiment."
The tune became gradually indistinguishable as the Chouans got further
away; but the silence of the country was so great that several of the
notes reached Barbette's ear as she neared home, holding her boy by
the hand. A peasant-woman never listens coldly to that song, so
popular is it in the West of France, and Barbette began,
unconsciously, to sing the first verses:--
"Come, let us go, my girl,
Let us go to the war;
Let us go, it is time.
Let it not trouble you,
But my daughter is not for you.
"You shall not have her on earth,
You shall not have her at sea,
Unless by treachery.
"The father took his daughter,
He unclothed her
And flung her out to sea.
"The captain, wiser still,
Into the waves he jumped
And to the shore he brought her.
"Come, let us go, my girl,
Let us go to the war;
Let us go, it is time.
"At the first town
Her lover dressed her,"
As Barbette reached this verse of the song, where Pille-Miche had
begun it, she was entering the courtyard of her home; her tongue
suddenly stiffened, she stood still, and a great cry, quickly
repressed, came from her gaping lips.
"What is it, mother?" said the child.
"Walk alone," she cried, pulling her hand away and pushing him
roughly; "you have neither father nor mother."
The child, who was rubbing his shoulder and weeping, suddenly caught
sight of the thing on the nail; his childlike face kept the nervous
convulsion his crying had caused, but he was silent. He opened his
eyes wide, and gazed at the head of his father with a stupid look
which betrayed no emotion; then his face, brutalized by ignorance,
showed savage curiosity. Barbette again took his hand, grasped it
violently, and dragged him into the house. When Pille-Miche and
Marche-a-Terre threw their victim on the bench one of his shoes,
dropping off, fell on the floor beneath his neck and was afterward
filled with blood. It was the first thing that met the widow's eye.
"Take off your shoe," said the mother to her son. "Put your foot in
that. Good. Remember," she cried, in a solemn voice, "your father's
shoe; never put on your own without remembering how the Chouans filled
it with his blood, and /kill the Chouans/!"
She swayed her head with so convulsive an action that the meshes of
her black hair fell upon her neck and gave a sinister expression to
"I call Saint-Labre to witness," she said, "that I vow you to the
Blues. You shall be a soldier to avenge your father. Kill, kill the
/Chouans/, and do as I do. Ha! they've taken the head of my man, and I
am going to give that of the Gars to the Blues."
She sprang at a bound on the bed, seized a little bag of money from a
hiding-place, took the hand of the astonished little boy, and dragged
him after her without giving him time to put on his shoe, and was on
her way to Fougeres rapidly, without once turning her head to look at
the home she abandoned. When they reached the summit of the rocks of
Saint-Sulpice Barbette set fire to the pile of fagots, and the boy
helped her to pile on the green gorse, damp with hoarfrost, to make
the smoke more dense.
"That fire will last longer than your father, longer than I, longer
than the Gars," said Barbette, in a savage voice.
While the widow of Galope-Chopine and her son with his bloody foot
stood watching, the one, with a gloomy expression of revenge, the
other with curiosity, the curling of the smoke, Mademoiselle de
Verneuil's eyes were fastened on the same rock, trying, but in vain,
to see her lover's signal. The fog, which had thickened, buried the
whole region under a veil, its gray tints obscuring even the outlines
of the scenery that was nearest the town. She examined with tender
anxiety the rocks, the castle, the buildings, which loomed like
shadows through the mist. Near her window several trees stood out
against this blue-gray background; the sun gave a dull tone as of
tarnished silver to the sky; its rays colored the bare branches of the
trees, where a few last leaves were fluttering, with a dingy red. But
too many dear and delightful sentiments filled Marie's soul to let her
notice the ill-omens of a scene so out of harmony with the joys she
was tasting in advance. For the last two days her ideas had undergone
a change. The fierce, undisciplined vehemence of her passions had
yielded under the influence of the equable atmosphere which a true
love gives to life. The certainty of being loved, sought through so
many perils, had given birth to a desire to re-enter those social
conditions which sanction love, and which despair alone had made her
leave. To love for a moment only now seemed to her a species of
weakness. She saw herself lifted from the dregs of society, where
misfortune had driven her, to the high rank in which her father had
meant to place her. Her vanity, repressed for a time by the cruel
alternations of hope and misconception, was awakened and showed her
all the benefits of a great position. Born in a certain way to rank,
marriage to a marquis meant, to her mind, living and acting in the
sphere that belonged to her. Having known the chances and changes of
an adventurous life, she could appreciate, better than other women,
the grandeur of the feelings which make the Family. Marriage and
motherhood with all their cares seemed to her less a task than a rest.
She loved the calm and virtuous life she saw through the clouds of
this last storm as a woman weary of virtue may sometimes covet an
illicit passion. Virtue was to her a new seduction.
"Perhaps," she thought, leaving the window without seeing the signal
on the rocks of Saint-Sulpice, "I have been too coquettish with him--
but I knew he loved me! Francine, it is not a dream; to-night I shall
be Marquise de Montauran. What have I done to deserve such perfect
happiness? Oh! I love him, and love alone is love's reward. And yet, I
think God means to recompense me for taking heart through all my
misery; he means me to forget my sufferings--for you know, Francine, I
"To-night, Marquise de Montauran, you, Marie? Ah! until it is done I
cannot believe it! Who has told him your true goodness?"
"Dear child! he has more than his handsome eyes to see me with, he has
a soul. If you had seen him, as I have, in danger! Oh! he knows how to
love--he is so brave!"
"If you really love him why do you let him come to Fougeres?"
"We had no time to say one word to each other when the Blues surprised
us. Besides, his coming is a proof of love. Can I ever have proofs
enough? And now, Francine, do my hair."
But she pulled it down a score of times with motions that seemed
electric, as though some stormy thoughts were mingling still with the
arts of her coquetry. As she rolled a curl or smoothed the shining
plaits she asked herself, with a remnant of distrust, whether the
marquis were deceiving her; but treachery seemed to her impossible,
for did he not expose himself to instant vengeance by entering
Fougeres? While studying in her mirror the effects of a sidelong
glance, a smile, a gentle frown, an attitude of anger, or of love, or
disdain, she was seeking some woman's wile by which to probe to the
last instant the heart of the young leader.
"You are right, Francine," she said; "I wish with you that the
marriage were over. This is the last of my cloudy days--it is big with
death or happiness. Oh! that fog is dreadful," she went on, again
looking towards the heights of Saint-Sulpice, which were still veiled
She began to arrange the silk and muslin curtains which draped the
window, making them intercept the light and produce in the room a
"Francine," she said, "take away those knick-knacks on the
mantelpiece; leave only the clock and the two Dresden vases. I'll fill
those vases myself with the flowers Corentin brought me. Take out the
chairs, I want only this sofa and a fauteuil. Then sweep the carpet,
so as to bring out the colors, and put wax candles in the sconces and
on the mantel."
Marie looked long and carefully at the old tapestry on the walls.
Guided by her innate taste she found among the brilliant tints of
these hangings the shades by which to connect their antique beauty
with the furniture and accessories of the boudoir, either by the
harmony of color or the charm of contrast. The same thought guided the
arrangement of the flowers with which she filled the twisted vases
which decorated her chamber. The sofa was placed beside the fire. On
either side of the bed, which filled the space parallel to that of the
chimney, she placed on gilded tables tall Dresden vases filled with
foliage and flowers that were sweetly fragrant. She quivered more than
once as she arranged the folds of the green damask above the bed, and
studied the fall of the drapery which concealed it. Such preparations
have a secret, ineffable happiness about them; they cause so many
delightful emotions that a woman as she makes them forgets her doubts;
and Mademoiselle de Verneuil forgot hers. There is in truth a
religious sentiment in the multiplicity of cares taken for one beloved
who is not there to see them and reward them, but who will reward them
later with the approving smile these tender preparations (always so
fully understood) obtain. Women, as they make them, love in advance;
and there are few indeed who would not say to themselves, as
Mademoiselle de Verneuil now thought: "To-night I shall be happy!"
That soft hope lies in every fold of silk or muslin; insensibly, the
harmony the woman makes about her gives an atmosphere of love in which
she breathes; to her these things are beings, witnesses; she has made
them the sharers of her coming joy. Every movement, every thought
brings that joy within her grasp. But presently she expects no longer,
she hopes no more, she questions silence; the slightest sound is to
her an omen; doubt hooks its claws once more into her heart; she
burns, she trembles, she is grasped by a thought which holds her like
a physical force; she alternates from triumph to agony, and without
the hope of coming happiness she could not endure the torture. A score
of times did Mademoiselle de Verneuil raise the window-curtain, hoping
to see the smoke rising above the rocks; but the fog only took a
grayer tone, which her excited imagination turned into a warning. At
last she let fall the curtain, impatiently resolving not to raise it
again. She looked gloomily around the charming room to which she had
given a soul and a voice, asking herself if it were done in vain, and
this thought brought her back to her preparations.
"Francine," she said, drawing her into a little dressing-room which
adjoined her chamber and was lighted through a small round window
opening on a dark corner of the fortifications where they joined the
rock terrace of the Promenade, "put everything in order. As for the
salon, you can leave that as it is," she added, with a smile which
women reserve for their nearest friends, the delicate sentiment of
which men seldom understand.
"Ah! how sweet you are!" exclaimed the little maid.
"A lover is our beauty--foolish women that we are!" she replied gaily.
Francine left her lying on the ottoman and went away convinced that,
whether her mistress were loved or not, she would never betray
"Are you sure of what you are telling me, old woman?" Hulot was saying
to Barbette, who had sought him out as soon as she had reached
"Have you got eyes? Look at the rocks of Saint-Sulpice, there, my good
man, to the right of Saint-Leonard."
Corentin, who was with Hulot, looked towards the summit in the
direction pointed out by Barbette, and, as the fog was beginning to
lift, he could see with some distinctness the column of white smoke
the woman told of.
"But when is he coming, old woman?--to-night, or this evening?"
"My good man," said Barbette, "I don't know."
"Why do you betray your own side?" said Hulot, quickly, having drawn
her out of hearing of Corentin.
"Ah! general, see my boy's foot--that's washed in the blood of my man,
whom the Chouans have killed like a calf, to punish him for the few
words you got out of me the other day when I was working in the
fields. Take my boy, for you've deprived him of his father and his
mother; make a Blue of him, my good man, teach him to kill Chouans.
Here, there's two hundred crowns,--keep them for him; if he is
careful, they'll last him long, for it took his father twelve years to
lay them by."
Hulot looked with amazement at the pale and withered woman, whose eyes
"But you, mother," he said, "what will become of you? you had better
keep the money."
"I?" she replied, shaking her head sadly. "I don't need anything in
this world. You might bolt me into that highest tower over there"
(pointing to the battlements of the castle) "and the Chouans would
contrive to come and kill me."
She kissed her boy with an awful expression of grief, looked at him,
wiped away her tears, looked at him again, and disappeared.
"Commandant," said Corentin, "this is an occasion when two heads are
better than one. We know all, and yet we know nothing. If you
surrounded Mademoiselle de Verneuil's house now, you will only warn
her. Neither you, nor I, nor your Blues and your battalions are strong
enough to get the better of that girl if she takes it into her head to
save the /ci-devant/. The fellow is brave, and consequently wily; he
is a young man full of daring. We can never get hold of him as he
enters Fougeres. Perhaps he is here already. Domiciliary visit?
Absurdity! that's no good, it will only give them warning."
"Well," said Hulot impatiently, "I shall tell the sentry on the Place
Saint-Leonard to keep his eye on the house, and pass word along the
other sentinels, if a young man enters it; as soon as the signal
reaches me I shall take a corporal and four men and--"
"--and," said Corentin, interrupting the old soldier, "if the young
man is not the marquis, or if the marquis doesn't go in by the front
door, or if he is already there, if--if--if--what then?"
Corentin looked at the commandant with so insulting an air of
superiority that the old soldier shouted out: "God's thousand
thunders! get out of here, citizen of hell! What have I got to do with
your intrigues? If that cockchafer buzzes into my guard-room I shall
shoot him; if I hear he is in a house I shall surround that house and
take him when he leaves it and shoot him, but may the devil get me if
I soil my uniform with any of your tricks."
"Commandant, the order of the ministers states that you are to obey
Mademoiselle de Verneuil."
"Let her come and give them to me herself and I'll see about it."
"Well, citizen," said Corentin, haughtily, "she shall come. She shall
tell you herself the hour at which she expects the /ci-devant/.
Possibly she won't be easy till you do post the sentinels round the
"The devil is made man," thought the old leader as he watched Corentin
hurrying up the Queen's Staircase at the foot of which this scene had
taken place. "He means to deliver Montauran bound hand and foot, with
no chance to fight for his life, and I shall be harrassed to death
with a court-martial. However," he added, shrugging his shoulders,
"the Gars certainly is an enemy of the Republic, and he killed my poor
Gerard, and his death will make a noble the less--the devil take him!"
He turned on the heels of his boots and went off, whistling the
Marseillaise, to inspect his guard-rooms.
Mademoiselle de Verneuil was absorbed in one of those meditations the
mysteries of which are buried in the soul, and prove by their thousand
contradictory emotions, to the woman who undergoes them, that it is
possible to have a stormy and passionate existence between four walls
without even moving from the ottoman on which her very life is burning
itself away. She had reached the final scene of the drama she had come
to enact, and her mind was going over and over the phases of love and
anger which had so powerfully stirred her during the ten days which
had now elapsed since her first meeting with the marquis. A man's step
suddenly sounded in the adjoining room and she trembled; the door
opened, she turned quickly and saw Corentin.
"You little cheat!" said the police-agent, "when will you stop
deceiving? Ah, Marie, Marie, you are playing a dangerous game by not
taking me into your confidence. Why do you play such tricks without
consulting me? If the marquis escapes his fate--"
"It won't be your fault, will it?" she replied, sarcastically.
"Monsieur," she continued, in a grave voice, "by what right do you
come into my house?"
"Your house?" he exclaimed.
"You remind me," she answered, coldly, "that I have no home. Perhaps
you chose this house deliberately for the purpose of committing
murder. I shall leave it. I would live in a desert to get away from--"
"Spies, say the word," interrupted Corentin. "But this house is
neither yours nor mine, it belongs to the government; and as for
leaving it you will do nothing of the kind," he added, giving her a
Mademoiselle de Verneuil rose indignantly, made a few steps to leave
the room, but stopped short suddenly as Corentin raised the curtain of
the window and beckoned her, with a smile, to come to him.
"Do you see that column of smoke?" he asked, with the calmness he
always kept on his livid face, however intense his feelings might be.
"What has my departure to do with that burning brush?" she asked.
"Why does your voice tremble?" he said. "You poor thing!" he added, in
a gentle voice, "I know all. The marquis is coming to Fougeres this
evening; and it is not with any intention of delivering him to us that
you have arranged this boudoir and the flowers and candles."
Mademoiselle de Verneuil turned pale, for she saw her lover's death in
the eyes of this tiger with a human face, and her love for him rose to
frenzy. Each hair on her head caused her an acute pain she could not
endure, and she fell on the ottoman. Corentin stood looking at her for
a moment with his arms folded, half pleased at inflicting a torture
which avenged him for the contempt and the sarcasms this woman had
heaped upon his head, half grieved by the sufferings of a creature
whose yoke was pleasant to him, heavy as it was.
"She loves him!" he muttered.
"Loves him!" she cried. "Ah! what are words? Corentin! he is my life,
my soul, my breath!" She flung herself at the feet of the man, whose
silence terrified her. "Soul of vileness!" she cried, "I would rather
degrade myself to save his life than degrade myself by betraying him.
I will save him at the cost of my own blood. Speak, what price must I
"I came to take your orders, Marie," he said, raising her. "Yes,
Marie, your insults will not hinder my devotion to your wishes,
provided you will promise not to deceive me again; you must know by
this time that no one dupes me with impunity."
"If you want me to love you, Corentin, help me to save him."
"At what hour is he coming?" asked the spy, endeavoring to ask the
"Alas, I do not know."
They looked at each other in silence.
"I am lost!" thought Mademoiselle de Verneuil.
"She is deceiving me!" thought Corentin. "Marie," he continued, "I
have two maxims. One is never to believe a single word a woman says to
me--that's the only means of not being duped; the other is to find
what interest she has in doing the opposite of what she says, and
behaving in contradiction to the facts she pretends to confide to me.
I think that you and I understand each other now."
"Perfectly," replied Mademoiselle de Verneuil. "You want proofs of my
good faith; but I reserve them for the time when you give me some of
"Adieu, mademoiselle," said Corentin, coolly.
"Nonsense," said the girl, smiling; "sit down, and pray don't sulk;
but if you do I shall know how to save the marquis without you. As for
the three hundred thousand francs which are always spread before your
eyes, I will give them to you in good gold as soon as the marquis is
Corentin rose, stepped back a pace or two, and looked at Marie.
"You have grown rich in a very short time," he said, in a tone of ill-
"Montauran," she continued, "will make you a better offer still for
his ransom. Now, then, prove to me that you have the means of
guaranteeing him from all danger and--"
"Can't you send him away the moment he arrives?" cried Corentin,
suddenly. "Hulot does not know he is coming, and--" He stopped as if
he had said too much. "But how absurd that you should ask me how to
play a trick," he said, with an easy laugh. "Now listen, Marie, I do
feel certain of your loyalty. Promise me a compensation for all I lose
in furthering your wishes, and I will make that old fool of a
commandant so unsuspicious that the marquis will be as safe at
Fougeres as at Saint-James."
"Yes, I promise it," said the girl, with a sort of solemnity.
"No, not in that way," he said, "swear it by your mother."
Mademoiselle de Verneuil shuddered; raising a trembling hand she made
the oath required by the man whose tone to her had changed so
"You can command me," he said; "don't deceive me again, and you shall
have reason to bless me to-night."
"I will trust you, Corentin," cried Mademoiselle de Verneuil, much
moved. She bowed her head gently towards him and smiled with a
kindness not unmixed with surprise, as she saw an expression of
melancholy tenderness on his face.
"What an enchanting creature!" thought Corentin, as he left the house.
"Shall I ever get her as a means to fortune and a source of delight?
To fling herself at my feet! Oh, yes, the marquis shall die! If I
can't get that woman in any other way than by dragging her through the
mud, I'll sink her in it. At any rate," he thought, as he reached the
square unconscious of his steps, "she no longer distrusts me. Three
hundred thousand francs down! she thinks me grasping! Either the offer
was a trick or she is already married to him."
Corentin, buried in thought, was unable to come to a resolution. The
fog which the sun had dispersed at mid-day was now rolling thicker and
thicker, so that he could hardly see the trees at a little distance.
"That's another piece of ill-luck," he muttered, as he turned slowly
homeward. "It is impossible to see ten feet. The weather protects the
lovers. How is one to watch a house in such a fog? Who goes there?" he
cried, catching the arm of a boy who seemed to have clambered up the
dangerous rocks which made the terrace of the Promenade.
"It is I," said a childish voice.
"Ah! the boy with the bloody foot. Do you want to revenge your
father?" said Corentin.
"Yes," said the child.
"Very good. Do you know the Gars?"
"Good again. Now, don't leave me except to do what I bid you, and you
will obey your mother and earn some big sous--do you like sous?"
"You like sous, and you want to kill the Gars who killed your father--
well, I'll take care of you. Ah! Marie," he muttered, after a pause,
"you yourself shall betray him, as you engaged to do! She is too
violent to suspect me--passion never reflects. She does not know the
marquis's writing. Yes, I can set a trap into which her nature will
drive her headlong. But I must first see Hulot."
Mademoiselle de Verneuil and Francine were deliberating on the means
of saving the marquis from the more than doubtful generosity of
Corentin and Hulot's bayonets.
"I could go and warn him," said the Breton girl.
"But we don't know where he is," replied Marie; "even I, with the
instincts of love, could never find him."
After making and rejecting a number of plans Mademoiselle de Verneuil
exclaimed, "When I see him his danger will inspire me."
She thought, like other ardent souls, to act on the spur of the
moment, trusting to her star, or to that instinct of adroitness which
rarely, if ever, fails a woman. Perhaps her heart was never so wrung.
At times she seemed stupefied, her eyes were fixed, and then, at the
least noise, she shook like a half-uprooted tree which the woodsman
drags with a rope to hasten its fall. Suddenly, a loud report from a
dozen guns echoed from a distance. Marie turned pale and grasped
Francine's hand. "I am dying," she cried; "they have killed him!"
The heavy footfall of a man was heard in the antechamber. Francine
went out and returned with a corporal. The man, making a military
salute to Mademoiselle de Verneuil, produced some letters, the covers
of which were a good deal soiled. Receiving no acknowledgment, the
Blue said as he withdrew, "Madame, they are from the commandant."
Mademoiselle de Verneuil, a prey to horrible presentiments, read a
letter written apparently in great haste by Hulot:--
"Mademoiselle--a party of my men have just caught a messenger from
the Gars and have shot him. Among the intercepted letters is one
which may be useful to you and I transmit it--etc."
"Thank God, it was not he they shot," she exclaimed, flinging the
letter into the fire.
She breathed more freely and took up the other letter, enclosed by
Hulot. It was apparently written to Madame du Gua by the marquis.
"No, my angel," the letter said, "I cannot go to-night to La
Vivetiere. You must lose your wager with the count. I triumph over
the Republic in the person of their beautiful emissary. You must
allow that she is worth the sacrifice of one night. It will be my
only victory in this campaign, for I have received the news that
La Vendee surrenders. I can do nothing more in France. Let us go
back to England--but we will talk of all this to-morrow."
The letter fell from Marie's hands; she closed her eyes, and was
silent, leaning backward, with her head on a cushion. After a long
pause she looked at the clock, which then marked four in the
"My lord keeps me waiting," she said, with savage irony.
"Oh! God grant he may not come!" cried Francine.
"If he does not come," said Marie, in a stifled tone, "I shall go to
him. No, no, he will soon be here. Francine, do I look well?"
"You are very pale."
"Ah!" continued Mademoiselle de Verneuil, glancing about her, "this
perfumed room, the flowers, the lights, this intoxicating air, it is
full of that celestial life of which I dreamed--"
"Marie, what has happened?"
"I am betrayed, deceived, insulted, fooled! I will kill him, I will
tear him bit by bit! Yes, there was always in his manner a contempt he
could not hide and which I would not see. Oh! I shall die of this!
Fool that I am," she went on laughing, "he is coming; I have one night
in which to teach him that, married or not, the man who has possessed
me cannot abandon me. I will measure my vengeance by his offence; he
shall die with despair in his soul. I did believe he had a soul of
honor, but no! it is that of a lackey. Ah, he has cleverly deceived
me, for even now it seems impossible that the man who abandoned me to
Pille-Miche should sink to such back-stair tricks. It is so base to
deceive a loving woman, for it is so easy. He might have killed me if
he chose, but lie to me! to me, who held him in my thoughts so high!
The scaffold! the scaffold! ah! could I only see him guillotined! Am I
cruel? He shall go to his death covered with caresses, with kisses
which might have blessed him for a lifetime--"
"Marie," said Francine, gently, "be the victim of your lover like
other women; not his mistress and his betrayer. Keep his memory in
your heart; do not make it an anguish to you. If there were no joys in
hopeless love, what would become of us, poor women that we are? God,
of whom you never think, Marie, will reward us for obeying our
vocation on this earth,--to love, and suffer."
"Dear," replied Mademoiselle de Verneuil, taking Francine's hand and
patting it, "your voice is very sweet and persuasive. Reason is
attractive from your lips. I should like to obey you, but--"
"You will forgive him, you will not betray him?"
"Hush! never speak of that man again. Compared with him Corentin is a
noble being. Do you hear me?"
She rose, hiding beneath a face that was horribly calm the madness of
her soul and a thirst for vengeance. The slow and measured step with
which she left the room conveyed the sense of an irrevocable
resolution. Lost in thought, hugging her insults, too proud to show
the slightest suffering, she went to the guard-room at the Porte
Saint-Leonard and asked where the commandant lived. She had hardly
left her house when Corentin entered it.
"Oh, Monsieur Corentin," cried Francine, "if you are interested in
this young man, save him; Mademoiselle has gone to give him up because
of this wretched letter."
Corentin took the letter carelessly and asked,--
"Which way did she go?"
"I don't know."
"Yes," he said, "I will save her from her own despair."
He disappeared, taking the letter with him. When he reached the street
he said to Galope-Chopine's boy, whom he had stationed to watch the
door, "Which way did a lady go who left the house just now?"
The boy went with him a little way and showed him the steep street
which led to the Porte Saint-Leonard. "That way," he said.
At this moment four men entered Mademoiselle de Verneuil's house,
unseen by either the boy or Corentin.
"Return to your watch," said the latter. "Play with the handles of the
blinds and see what you can inside; look about you everywhere, even on
Corentin darted rapidly in the direction given him, and thought he
recognized Mademoiselle de Verneuil through the fog; he did, in fact,
overtake her just as she reached the guard-house.
"Where are you going?" he said; "you are pale--what has happened? Is
it right for you to be out alone? Take my arm."
"Where is the commandant?" she asked.
Hardly had the words left her lips when she heard the movement of
troops beyond the Porte Saint-Leonard and distinguished Hulot's gruff
voice in the tumult.
"God's thunder!" he cried, "I never saw such fog as this for a
reconnaissance! The Gars must have ordered the weather."
"What are you complaining of?" said Mademoiselle de Verneuil, grasping
his arm. "The fog will cover vengeance as well as perfidy.
Commandant," she added, in a low voice, "you must take measures at
once so that the Gars may not escape us."
"Is he at your house?" he asked, in a tone which showed his amazement.
"Not yet," she replied; "but give me a safe man and I will send him to
you when the marquis comes."
"That's a mistake," said Corentin; "a soldier will alarm him, but a
boy, and I can find one, will not."
"Commandant," said Mademoiselle de Verneuil, "thanks to this fog which
you are cursing, you can surround my house. Put soldiers everywhere.
Place a guard in the church to command the esplanade on which the
windows of my salon open. Post men on the Promenade; for though the
windows of my bedroom are twenty feet above the ground, despair does
sometimes give a man the power to jump even greater distances safely.
Listen to what I say. I shall probably send this gentleman out of the
door of my house; therefore see that only brave men are there to meet
him; for," she added, with a sigh, "no one denies him courage; he will
assuredly defend himself."
"Gudin!" called the commandant. "Listen, my lad," he continued in a
low voice when the young man joined him, "this devil of a girl is
betraying the Gars to us--I am sure I don't know why, but that's no
matter. Take ten men and place yourself so as to hold the cul-de-sac
in which the house stands; be careful that no one sees either you or
"Yes, commandant, I know the ground."
"Very good," said Hulot. "I'll send Beau-Pied to let you know when to
play your sabres. Try to meet the marquis yourself, and if you can
manage to kill him, so that I sha'n't have to shoot him judicially,
you shall be a lieutenant in a fortnight or my name's not Hulot."
Gudin departed with a dozen soldiers.
"Do you know what you have done?" said Corentin to Mademoiselle de
Verneuil, in a low voice.
She made no answer, but looked with a sort of satisfaction at the men
who were starting, under command of the sub-lieutenant, for the
Promenade, while others, following the next orders given by Hulot,
were to post themselves in the shadows of the church of Saint-Leonard.
"There are houses adjoining mine," she said; "you had better surround
them all. Don't lay up regrets by neglecting a single precaution."
"She is mad," thought Hulot.
"Was I not a prophet?" asked Corentin in his ear. "As for the boy I
shall send with her, he is the little gars with a bloody foot;
He did not finish his sentence, for Mademoiselle de Verneuil by a
sudden movement darted in the direction of her house, whither he
followed her, whistling like a man supremely satisfied. When he
overtook her she was already at the door of her house, where Galope-
Chopine's little boy was on the watch.
"Mademoiselle," said Corentin, "take the lad with you; you cannot have
a more innocent or active emissary. Boy," he added, "when you have
seen the Gars enter the house come to me, no matter who stops you;
you'll find me at the guard-house and I'll give you something that
will make you eat cake for the rest of your days."
At these words, breathed rather than said in the child's ear, Corentin
felt his hand squeezed by that of the little Breton, who followed
Mademoiselle de Verneuil into the house.
"Now, my good friends, you can come to an explanation as soon as you
like," cried Corentin when the door was closed. "If you make love, my
little marquis, it will be on your winding-sheet."
But Corentin could not bring himself to let that fatal house
completely out of sight, and he went to the Promenade, where he found
the commandant giving his last orders. By this time it was night. Two
hours went by; but the sentinels posted at intervals noticed nothing
that led them to suppose the marquis had evaded the triple line of men
who surrounded the three sides by which the tower of Papegaut was
accessible. Twenty times had Corentin gone from the Promenade to the
guard-room, always to find that his little emissary had not appeared.
Sunk in thought, the spy paced the Promenade slowly, enduring the
martyrdom to which three passions, terrible in their clashing, subject
a man,--love, avarice, and ambition. Eight o'clock struck from all the
towers in the town. The moon rose late. Fog and darkness wrapped in
impenetrable gloom the places where the drama planned by this man was
coming to its climax. He was able to silence the struggle of his
passions as he walked up and down, his arms crossed, and his eyes
fixed on the windows which rose like the luminous eyes of a phantom
above the rampart. The deep silence was broken only by the rippling of
the Nancon, by the regular and lugubrious tolling from the belfries,
by the heavy steps of the sentinels or the rattle of arms as the guard
was hourly relieved.
"The night's as thick as a wolf's jaw," said the voice of Pille-Miche.
"Go on," growled Marche-a-Terre, "and don't talk more than a dead
"I'm hardly breathing," said the Chouan.
"If the man who made that stone roll down wants his heart to serve as
the scabbard for my knife he'll do it again," said Marche-a-Terre, in
a low voice scarcely heard above the flowing of the river.
"It was I," said Pille-Miche.
"Well, then, old money-bag, down on your stomach," said the other,
"and wriggle like a snake through a hedge, or we shall leave our
carcasses behind us sooner than we need."
"Hey, Marche-a-Terre," said the incorrigible Pille-Miche, who was
using his hands to drag himself along on his stomach, and had reached
the level of his comrade's ear. "If the Grande-Garce is to be believed
there'll be a fine booty to-day. Will you go shares with me?"
"Look here, Pille-Miche," said Marche-a-Terre stopping short on the
flat of his stomach. The other Chouans, who were accompanying the two
men, did the same, so wearied were they with the difficulties they had
met with in climbing the precipice. "I know you," continued Marche-a-
Terre, "for a Jack Grab-All who would rather give blows than receive
them when there's nothing else to be done. We have not come here to
grab dead men's shoes; we are devils against devils, and sorrow to
those whose claws are too short. The Grande-Garce has sent us here to
save the Gars. He is up there; lift your dog's nose and see that
window above the tower."
Midnight was striking. The moon rose, giving the appearance of white
smoke to the fog. Pille-Miche squeezed Marche-a-Terre's arm and
silently showed him on the terrace just above them, the triangular
iron of several shining bayonets.
"The Blues are there already," said Pille-Miche; "we sha'n't gain
anything by force."
"Patience," replied Marche-a-Terre; "if I examined right this morning,
we must be at the foot of the Papegaut tower between the ramparts and
the Promenade,--that place where they put the manure; it is like a
feather-bed to fall on."
"If Saint-Labre," remarked Pille-Miche, "would only change into cider
the blood we shall shed to-night the citizens might lay in a good
Marche-a-Terre laid his large hand over his friend's mouth; then an
order muttered by him went from rank to rank of the Chouans suspended
as they were in mid-air among the brambles of the slate rocks.
Corentin, walking up and down the esplanade had too practiced an ear
not to hear the rustling of the shrubs and the light sound of pebbles
rolling down the sides of the precipice. Marche-a-Terre, who seemed to
possess the gift of seeing in darkness, and whose senses, continually
in action, were acute as those of a savage, saw Corentin; like a
trained dog he had scented him. Fouche's diplomatist listened but
heard nothing; he looked at the natural wall of rock and saw no signs.
If the confusing gleam of the fog enabled him to see, here and there,
a crouching Chouan, he took him, no doubt, for a fragment of rock, for
these human bodies had all the appearance of inert nature. This danger
to the invaders was of short duration. Corentin's attention was
diverted by a very distinct noise coming from the other end of the
Promenade, where the rock wall ended and a steep descent leading down
to the Queen's Staircase began. When Corentin reached the spot he saw
a figure gliding past it as if by magic. Putting out his hand to grasp
this real or fantastic being, who was there, he supposed, with no good
intentions, he encountered the soft and rounded figure of a woman.
"The devil take you!" he exclaimed, "if any one else had met you,
you'd have had a ball through your head. What are you doing, and where
are you going, at this time of night? Are you dumb? It certainly is a
woman," he said to himself.
The silence was suspicious, but the stranger broke it by saying, in a
voice which suggested extreme fright, "Ah, my good man, I'm on my way
back from a wake."
"It is the pretended mother of the marquis," thought Corentin. "I'll
see what she's about. Well, go that way, old woman," he replied,
feigning not to recognize her. "Keep to the left if you don't want to
He stood quite still; then observing that Madame du Gua was making for
the Papegaut tower, he followed her at a distance with diabolical
caution. During this fatal encounter the Chouans had posted themselves
on the manure towards which Marche-a-Terre had guided them.
"There's the Grande-Garce!" thought Marche-a-Terre, as he rose to his
feet against the tower wall like a bear.
"We are here," he said to her in a low voice.
"Good," she replied, "there's a ladder in the garden of that house
about six feet above the manure; find it, and the Gars is saved. Do
you see that small window up there? It is in the dressing-room; you
must get to it. This side of the tower is the only one not watched.
The horses are ready; if you can hold the passage over the Nancon, a
quarter of an hour will put him out of danger--in spite of his folly.
But if that woman tries to follow him, stab her."
Corentin now saw several of the forms he had hitherto supposed to be
stones moving cautiously but swiftly. He went at once to the guard-
room at the Porte Saint-Leonard, where he found the commandant fully
dressed and sound asleep on a camp bed.
"Let him alone," said Beau-Pied, roughly, "he has only just lain
"The Chouans are here!" cried Corentin, in Hulot's ear.
"Impossible! but so much the better," cried the old soldier, still
half asleep; "then he can fight."
When Hulot reached the Promenade Corentin pointed out to him the
singular position taken by the Chouans.
"They must have deceived or strangled the sentries I placed between
the castle and the Queen's Staircase. Ah! what a devil of a fog!
However, patience! I'll send a squad of men under a lieutenant to the
foot of the rock. There is no use attacking them where they are, for
those animals are so hard they'd let themselves roll down the
precipice without breaking a limb."
The cracked clock of the belfry was ringing two when the commandant
got back to the Promenade after giving these orders and taking every
military precaution to seize the Chouans. The sentries were doubled
and Mademoiselle de Verneuil's house became the centre of a little
army. Hulot found Corentin absorbed in contemplation of the window
which overlooked the tower.
"Citizen," said the commandant, "I think the /ci-devant/ has fooled
us; there's nothing stirring."
"He is there," cried Corentin, pointing to the window. "I have seen a
man's shadow on the curtain. But I can't think what has become of that
boy. They must have killed him or locked him up. There! commandant,
don't you see that? there's a man's shadow; come, come on!"
"I sha'n't seize him in bed; thunder of God! He will come out if he
went in; Gudin won't miss him," cried Hulot, who had his own reasons
for waiting till the Gars could defend himself.
"Commandant, I enjoin you, in the name of the law to proceed at once
into that house."
"You're a fine scoundrel to try to make me do that."
Without showing any resentment at the commandant's language, Corentin
said coolly: "You will obey me. Here is an order in good form, signed
by the minister of war, which will force you to do so." He drew a
paper from his pocket and held it out. "Do you suppose we are such
fools as to leave that girl to do as she likes? We are endeavoring to
suppress a civil war, and the grandeur of the purpose covers the
pettiness of the means."
"I take the liberty, citizen, of sending you to--you understand me?
Enough. To the right-about, march! Let me alone, or it will be the
worse for you."
"But read that," persisted Corentin.
"Don't bother me with your functions," cried Hulot, furious at
receiving orders from a man he regarded as contemptible.
At this instant Galope-Chopine's boy suddenly appeared among them like
a rat from a hole.
"The Gars has started!" he cried.
"The rue Saint-Leonard."
"Beau-Pied," said Hulot in a whisper to the corporal who was near him,
"go and tell your lieutenant to draw in closer round the house, and
make ready to fire. Left wheel, forward on the tower, the rest of
you!" he shouted.
To understand the conclusion of this fatal drama we must re-enter the
house with Mademoiselle de Verneuil when she returned to it after
denouncing the marquis to the commandant.
When passions reach their crisis they bring us under the dominion of
far greater intoxication than the petty excitements of wine or opium.
The lucidity then given to ideas, the delicacy of the high-wrought
senses, produce the most singular and unexpected effects. Some persons
when they find themselves under the tyranny of a single thought can
see with extraordinary distinctness objects scarcely visible to
others, while at the same time the most palpable things become to them
almost as if they did not exist. When Mademoiselle de Verneuil
hurried, after reading the marquis's letter, to prepare the way for
vengeance just as she had lately been preparing all for love, she was
in that stage of mental intoxication which makes real life like the
life of a somnambulist. But when she saw her house surrounded, by her
own orders, with a triple line of bayonets a sudden flash of light
illuminated her soul. She judged her conduct and saw with horror that
she had committed a crime. Under the first shock of this conviction
she sprang to the threshold of the door and stood there irresolute,
striving to think, yet unable to follow out her reasoning. She knew so
vaguely what had happened that she tried in vain to remember why she
was in the antechamber, and why she was leading a strange child by the
hand. A million of stars were floating in the air before her like
tongues of fire. She began to walk about, striving to shake off the
horrible torpor which laid hold of her; but, like one asleep, no
object appeared to her under its natural form or in its own colors.
She grasped the hand of the little boy with a violence not natural to
her, dragging him along with such precipitate steps that she seemed to
have the motions of a madwoman. She saw neither persons nor things in
the salon as she crossed it, and yet she was saluted by three men who
made way to let her pass.
"That must be she," said one of them.
"She is very handsome," exclaimed another, who was a priest.
"Yes," replied the first; "but how pale and agitated--"
"And beside herself," said the third; "she did not even see us."
At the door of her own room Mademoiselle de Verneuil saw the smiling
face of Francine, who whispered to her: "He is here, Marie."
Mademoiselle de Verneuil awoke, reflected, looked at the child whose
hand she held, remembered all, and replied to the girl: "Shut up that
boy; if you wish me to live do not let him escape you."
As she slowly said the words her eyes were fixed on the door of her
bedroom, and there they continued fastened with so dreadful a
fixedness that it seemed as if she saw her victim through the wooden
panels. Then she gently opened it, passed through and closed it behind
her without turning round, for she saw the marquis standing before the
fireplace. His dress, without being too choice, had the look of
careful arrangement which adds so much to the admiration which a woman
feels for her lover. All her self-possession came back to her at the
sight of him. Her lips, rigid, although half-open, showed the enamel
of her white teeth and formed a smile that was fixed and terrible
rather than voluptuous. She walked with slow steps toward the young
man and pointed with her finger to the clock.
"A man who is worthy of love is worth waiting for," she said with
Then, overcome with the violence of her emotions, she dropped upon the
sofa which was near the fireplace.
"Dear Marie, you are so charming when you are angry," said the
marquis, sitting down beside her and taking her hand, which she let
him take, and entreating a look, which she refused him. "I hope," he
continued, in a tender, caressing voice, "that my wife will not long
refuse a glance to her loving husband."
Hearing the words she turned abruptly and looked into his eyes.
"What is the meaning of that dreadful look?" he said, laughing. "But
your hand is burning! oh, my love, what is it?"
"Your love!" she repeated, in a dull, changed voice.
"Yes," he said, throwing himself on his knees beside her and taking
her two hands which he covered with kisses. "Yes, my love--I am thine
She pushed him violently away from her and rose. Her features
contracted, she laughed as mad people laugh, and then she said to him:
"You do not mean one word of all you are saying, base man--baser than
the lowest villain." She sprang to the dagger which was lying beside a
flower-vase, and let it sparkle before the eyes of the amazed young
marquis. "Bah!" she said, flinging it away from her, "I do not respect
you enough to kill you. Your blood is even too vile to be shed by
soldiers; I see nothing fit for you but the executioner."
The words were painfully uttered in a low voice, and she moved her
feet like a spoilt child, impatiently. The marquis went to her and
tried to clasp her.
"Don't touch me!" she cried, recoiling from him with a look of horror.
"She is mad!" said the marquis in despair.
"Mad, yes!" she repeated, "but not mad enough to be your dupe. What
would I not forgive to passion? but to seek to possess me without
love, and to write to that woman--"
"To whom have I written?" he said, with an astonishment which was
certainly not feigned.
"To that chaste woman who sought to kill me."
The marquis turned pale with anger and said, grasping the back of a
chair until he broke it, "If Madame du Gua has committed some
Mademoiselle de Verneuil looked for the letter; not finding it she
called to Francine.
"Where is that letter?" she asked.
"Monsieur Corentin took it."
"Corentin! ah! I understand it all; he wrote the letter; he has
deceived me with diabolical art--as he alone can deceive."
With a piercing cry she flung herself on the sofa, tears rushing from
her eyes. Doubt and confidence were equally dreadful now. The marquis
knelt beside her and clasped her to his breast, saying, again and
again, the only words he was able to utter:--
"Why do you weep, my darling? there is no harm done; your reproaches
were all love; do not weep, I love you--I shall always love you."
Suddenly he felt her press him with almost supernatural force. "Do you
still love me?" she said, amid her sobs.
"Can you doubt it?" he replied in a tone that was almost melancholy.
She abruptly disengaged herself from his arms, and fled, as if
frightened and confused, to a little distance.
"Do I doubt it?" she exclaimed, but a smile of gentle meaning was on
her lover's face, and the words died away upon her lips; she let him
take her by the hand and lead her to the salon. There an altar had
been hastily arranged during her absence. The priest was robed in his
officiating vestments. The lighted tapers shed upon the ceiling a glow
as soft as hope itself. She now recognized the two men who had bowed
to her, the Comte de Bauvan and the Baron du Guenic, the witnesses
chosen by Montauran.
"You will not still refuse?" said the marquis.
But at the sight she stopped, stepped backward into her chamber and
fell on her knees; raising her hands towards the marquis she cried
out: "Pardon! pardon! pardon!"
Her voice died away, her head fell back, her eyes closed, and she lay
in the arms of her lover and Francine as if dead. When she opened her
eyes they met those of the young man full of loving tenderness.
"Marie! patience! this is your last trial," he said.
"The last!" she exclaimed, bitterly.
Francine and the marquis looked at each other in surprise, but she
silenced them by a gesture.
"Call the priest," she said, "and leave me alone with him."
They did so, and withdrew.
"My father," she said to the priest so suddenly called to her, "in my
childhood an old man, white-haired like yourself, used to tell me that
God would grant all things to those who had faith. Is that true?"
"It is true," replied the priest; "all things are possible to Him who
Mademoiselle de Verneuil threw herself on her knees before him with
"Oh, my God!" she cried in ecstasy, "my faith in thee is equal to my
love for him; inspire me! do here a miracle, or take my life!"
"Your prayer will be granted," said the priest.
Marie returned to the salon leaning on the arm of the venerable old
man. A deep and secret emotion brought her to the arms of her lover
more brilliant than on any of her past days, for a serenity like that
which painters give to the martyrs added to her face an imposing
dignity. She held out her hand to the marquis and together they
advanced to the altar and knelt down. The marriage was about to be
celebrated beside the nuptial bed, the altar hastily raised, the
cross, the vessels, the chalice, secretly brought thither by the
priest, the fumes of incense rising to the ceiling, the priest
himself, who wore a stole above his cassock, the tapers on an altar in
a salon,--all these things combined to form a strange and touching
scene, which typified those times of saddest memory, when civil
discord overthrew all sacred institutions. Religious ceremonies then
had the savor of the mysteries. Children were baptized in the chambers
where the mothers were still groaning from their labor. As in the
olden time, the Saviour went, poor and lowly, to console the dying.
Young girls received their first communion in the home where they had
played since infancy. The marriage of the marquis and Mademoiselle de
Verneuil was now solemnized, like many other unions, by a service
contrary to the recent legal enactments. In after years these
marriages, mostly celebrated at the foot of oaks, were scrupulously
recognized and considered legal. The priest who thus preserved the
ancient usages was one of those men who hold to their principles in
the height of the storm. His voice, which never made the oath exacted
by the Republic, uttered no word throughout the tempest that did not
make for peace. He never incited, like the Abbe Gudin, to fire and
sword; but like many others, he devoted himself to the still more
dangerous mission of performing his priestly functions for the souls
of faithful Catholics. To accomplish this perilous ministry he used
all the pious deceptions necessitated by persecution, and the marquis,
when he sought his services on this occasion, had found him in one of
those excavated caverns which are known, even to the present day, by
the name of "the priest's hiding-place." The mere sight of that pale
and suffering face was enough to give this worldly room a holy aspect.
All was now ready for the act of misery and of joy. Before beginning
the ceremony the priest asked, in the dead silence, the names of the
"Marie-Nathalie, daughter of Mademoiselle Blanche de Casteran, abbess,
deceased, of Notre-Dame de Seez, and Victor-Amedee, Duc de Verneuil."
"At La Chasterie, near Alencon."
"I never supposed," said the baron in a low voice to the count, "that
Montauran would have the folly to marry her. The natural daughter of a
"If it were of the king, well and good," replied the Comte de Bauvan,
smiling. "However, it is not for me to blame him; I like Charette's
mistress full as well; and I shall transfer the war to her--though
she's not one to bill and coo."
The names of the marquis had been filled in previously, and the two
lovers now signed the document with their witnesses. The ceremony then
began. At that instant Marie, and she alone, heard the sound of
muskets and the heavy tread of soldiers,--no doubt relieving the guard
in the church which she had herself demanded. She trembled violently
and raised her eyes to the cross on the altar.
"A saint at last," said Francine, in a low voice.
"Give me such saints, and I'll be devilishly devout," added the count,
in a whisper.
When the priest made the customary inquiry of Mademoiselle de
Verneuil, she answered by a "yes" uttered with a deep sigh. Bending to
her husband's ear she said: "You will soon know why I have broken the
oath I made never to marry you."
After the ceremony all present passed into the dining-room, where
dinner was served, and as they took their places Jeremie, Marie's
footman, came into the room terrified. The poor bride rose and went to
him; Francine followed her. With one of those pretexts which never
fail a woman, she begged the marquis to do the honors for a moment,
and went out, taking Jeremie with her before he could utter the fatal
"Ah! Francine, to be dying a thousand deaths and not to die!" she
This absence might well be supposed to have its cause in the ceremony
that had just taken place. Towards the end of the dinner, as the
marquis was beginning to feel uneasy, Marie returned in all the pomp
of a bridal robe. Her face was calm and joyful, while that of Francine
who followed her had terror imprinted on every feature, so that the
guests might well have thought they saw in these two women a fantastic
picture by Salvator Rosa, of Life and Death holding each other by the
"Gentlemen," said Marie to the priest, the baron, and the count, "you
are my guests for the night. I find you cannot leave Fougeres; it
would be dangerous to attempt it. My good maid has instructions to
make you comfortable in your apartments. No, you must not rebel," she
added to the priest, who was about to speak. "I hope you will not
thwart a woman on her wedding-day."
An hour later she was alone with her husband in the room she had so
joyously arranged a few hours earlier. They had reached that fatal bed
where, like a tomb, so many hopes are wrecked, where the waking to a
happy life is all uncertain, where love is born or dies, according to
the natures that are tried there. Marie looked at the clock. "Six
hours to live," she murmured.
"Can I have slept?" she cried toward morning, wakening with one of
those sudden movements which rouse us when we have made ourselves a
promise to wake at a certain hour. "Yes, I have slept," she thought,
seeing by the light of the candles that the hands of the clock were
pointing to two in the morning. She turned and looked at the sleeping
marquis, lying like a child with his head on one hand, the other
clasping his wife's hand, his lips half smiling as though he had
fallen asleep while she kissed him.
"Ah!" she whispered to herself, "he sleeps like an infant; he does not
distrust me--me, to whom he has given a happiness without a name."
She touched him softly and he woke, continuing to smile. He kissed the
hand he held and looked at the wretched woman with eyes so sparkling
that she could not endure their light and slowly lowered her large
eyelids. Her husband might justly have accused her of coquetry if she
were not concealing the terrors of her soul by thus evading the fire
of his looks. Together they raised their charming heads and made each
other a sign of gratitude for the pleasures they had tasted; but after
a rapid glance at the beautiful picture his wife presented, the
marquis was struck with an expression on her face which seemed to him
melancholy, and he said in a tender voice, "Why sad, dear love?"
"Poor Alphonse," she answered, "do you know to what I have led you?"
Shuddering with horror she sprang from the bed; the marquis,
astonished, followed her. His wife motioned him to a window and raised
the curtain, pointing as she did so to a score of soldiers. The moon
had scattered the fog and was now casting her white light on the
muskets and the uniforms, on the impassible Corentin pacing up and
down like a jackal waiting for his prey, on the commandant, standing
still, his arms crossed, his nose in the air, his lips curling,
watchful and displeased.
"Come, Marie, leave them and come back to me."
"Why do you smile? I placed them there."
"You are dreaming."
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