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The Last Galley Impressions and Tales

The Marriage Of The Brigadier
I am speaking, my friends, of days which are long gone by, when I had scarcely begun to
build up that fame which has made my name so familiar. Among the thirty officers of the
Hussars of Conflans there was nothing to indicate that I was superior in any way to the
others. I can well imagine how surprised they would all have been had they realized that
young Lieutenant Etienne Gerard was destined for so glorious a career, and would live to
command a brigade and to receive from the Emperor's own hands that cross which I can
show you any time that you do me the honour to visit me in my little cottage. You know,
do you not, the little white-washed cottage with the vine in front, in the field beside the
Garonne?
People have said of me that I have never known what fear was. No doubt you have heard
them say it. For many years, out of a foolish pride, I have let the saying pass. And yet
now, in my old age, I can afford to be honest. The brave man dares to be frank. It is only
the coward who is afraid to make admissions. So I tell you now that I also am human;
that I also have felt my skin grow cold, and my hair rise; that I have even known what it
was to run away until my limbs could scarce support me. It shocks you to hear it? Well,
some day it may comfort you, when your own courage has reached its limits, to know
that even Etienne Gerard has known what it was to be afraid. I will tell you now how this
experience befell me, and also how it brought me a wife.
For the moment France was at peace, and we, the Hussars of Conflans, were in camp all
that summer a few miles from the town of Les Andelys in Normandy. It is not a very gay
place by itself, but we of the Light Cavalry make all places gay which we visit, and so we
passed our time very pleasantly. Many years and many scenes have dulled my
remembrance, but still the name Les Andelys brings back to me a huge ruined castle,
great orchards of apple trees, and above all, a vision of the lovely maidens of Normandy.
They were the very finest of their sex, as we may be said to have been of ours, and so we
were well met in that sweet sunlit summer. Ah, the youth, the beauty, the valour, and then
the dull, dead years that blurr them all! There are times when the glorious past weighs on
my heart like lead. No, sir, no wine can wash away such thoughts, for they are of the
spirit and the soul. It is only the gross body which responds to wine, but if you offer it for
that, then I will not refuse it.
Now of all the maidens who dwelt in those parts there was one who was so superior in
beauty and in charm that she seemed to be very specially marked out for me. Her name
was Marie Ravon, and her people, the Ravons, were of yeoman stock who had farmed
their own land in those parts since the days when Duke William went to England. If I
close my eyes now, I see her as she then was, her cheeks, dusky like moss roses; her
hazel eyes, so gentle and yet so full of spirit; her hair of that deepest black which goes
most fitly with poetry and with passion; her finger as supple as a young birch tree in the
wind. Ah! how she swayed away from me when first I laid my arm round it, for she was
full of fire and pride, ever evading, ever resisting, fighting to the last that her surrender
 
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