A late, dull autumn night was closing in upon the river Saone. The stream, like a
sullied looking-glass in a gloomy place, reflected the clouds heavily; and the low
banks leaned over here and there, as if they were half curious, and half afraid, to
see their darkening pictures in the water. The flat expanse of country about
Chalons lay a long heavy streak, occasionally made a little ragged by a row of
poplar trees against the wrathful sunset. On the banks of the river Saone it was
wet, depressing, solitary; and the night deepened fast.
One man slowly moving on towards Chalons was the only visible figure in the
landscape. Cain might have looked as lonely and avoided. With an old sheepskin
knapsack at his back, and a rough, unbarked stick cut out of some wood in his
hand; miry, footsore, his shoes and gaiters trodden out, his hair and beard
untrimmed; the cloak he carried over his shoulder, and the clothes he wore,
sodden with wet; limping along in pain and difficulty; he looked as if the clouds
were hurrying from him, as if the wail of the wind and the shuddering of the grass
were directed against him, as if the low mysterious plashing of the water
murmured at him, as if the fitful autumn night were disturbed by him.
He glanced here, and he glanced there, sullenly but shrinkingly; and sometimes
stopped and turned about, and looked all round him. Then he limped on again,
toiling and muttering.
'To the devil with this plain that has no end! To the devil with these stones that
cut like knives! To the devil with this dismal darkness, wrapping itself about one
with a chill! I hate you!'
And he would have visited his hatred upon it all with the scowl he threw about
him, if he could. He trudged a little further; and looking into the distance before
him, stopped again. 'I, hungry, thirsty, weary. You, imbeciles, where the lights are
yonder, eating and drinking, and warming yourselves at fires! I wish I had the
sacking of your town; I would repay you, my children!'
But the teeth he set at the town, and the hand he shook at the town, brought the
town no nearer; and the man was yet hungrier, and thirstier, and wearier, when
his feet were on its jagged pavement, and he stood looking about him.
There was the hotel with its gateway, and its savoury smell of cooking; there was
the cafe with its bright windows, and its rattling of dominoes; there was the dyer's
with its strips of red cloth on the doorposts; there was the silversmith's with its
earrings, and its offerings for altars; there was the tobacco dealer's with its lively
group of soldier customers coming out pipe in mouth; there were the bad odours
of the town, and the rain and the refuse in the kennels, and the faint lamps slung
across the road, and the huge Diligence, and its mountain of luggage, and its six
grey horses with their tails tied up, getting under weigh at the coach office. But no
small cabaret for a straitened traveller being within sight, he had to seek one
round the dark corner, where the cabbage leaves lay thickest, trodden about the
public cistern at which women had not yet left off drawing water. There, in the
back street he found one, the Break of Day. The curtained windows clouded the
Break of Day, but it seemed light and warm, and it announced in legible