The Companions of Jehu by Alexandre Dumas, Pere - HTML preview
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12. Provincial Pleasures
That same day Roland put into execution part of his plans for his guest's amusement. He took Sir John to see the church of Brou.
Those who have seen the charming little chapel of Brou know that it is known as one of the hundred marvels of the Renaissance; those who have not seen it must have often heard it said. Roland, who had counted on doing the honors of this historic gem to Sir John, and who had not seen it for the last seven or eight years, was much disappointed when, on arriving in front of the building, he found the niches of the saints empty and the carved figures of the portal decapitated. He asked for the sexton; people laughed in his face. There was no longer a sexton. He inquired to whom he should go for the keys. They replied that the captain of the gendarmerie had them. The captain was not far off, for the cloister adjoining the church had been converted into a barrack.
Roland went up to the captain's room and made himself known as Bonaparte's aide-de-camp. The captain, with the placid obedience of a subaltern to his superior officer, gave him the keys and followed behind him. Sir John was waiting before the porch, admiring, in spite of the mutilation to which they had been subjected, the admirable details of the frontal.
Roland opened the door and started back in astonishment. The church was literally stuffed with hay like a cannon charged to the muzzle.
"What does this mean?" he asked the captain of the gendarmerie. "A precaution taken by the municipality."
"A precaution taken by the municipality?"
"To save the church. They were going to demolish it; but the mayor issued a decree declaring that, in expiation of the false worship for which it had served, it should be used to store fodder."
Roland burst out laughing, and, turning to Sir John, he said: "My dear Sir John, the church was well worth seeing, but I think what this gentleman has just told us is no less curious. You can always find--at Strasburg, Cologne, or Milan-churches or cathedrals to equal the chapel of Brou; but where will you find an administration idiotic enough to destroy such a masterpiece, and a mayor clever enough to turn it into a barn? A thousand thanks, captain. Here are your keys." "As I was saying at Avignon, the first time I had the pleasure of seeing you, my dear Roland," replied Sir John, "the French are a most amusing people." "This time, my lord, you are too polite," replied Roland. "Idiotic is the word. Listen. I can understand the political cataclysms which have convulsed society for the last thousand years; I can understand the communes, the pastorals, the Jacquerie, the maillotins, the Saint Bartholomew, the League, the Fronde, the dragonnades, the Revolution; I can understand the 14th of July, the 5th and 6th of October, the 20th of June, the 10th of August, the 2d and 3d of September, the 21st of January, the 31st of May, the 30th of October, and the 9th Thermidor; I can understand the egregious torch of civil wars, which inflames instead of soothing the blood; I can understand the tidal wave of revolution, sweeping on with its flux, that nothing can arrest, and its reflux, which carries with it the ruins of the institution which it has itself shattered. I can understand all that, but lance against lance, sword against sword, men against men, a people against a people! I can understand the deadly rage of the victors, the sanguinary reaction of the vanquished, the political volcanoes which rumble in the bowels of the globe, shake the earth, topple over thrones, upset monarchies, and roll heads and crowns on the scaffold. But what I cannot understand is this mutilation of the granite, this placing of monuments beyond the pale of the law, the destruction of inanimate things, which belong neither to those who destroy them nor to the epoch in which they are destroyed; this pillage of the gigantic library where the antiquarian can read the archeological history of a country. Oh! the vandals, the barbarians! Worse than that, the idiots! who revenge the Borgia crimes and the debauches of Louis XV. on stone. How well those Pharaohs, Menæs, and Cheops knew man as the most perversive, destructive and evil of animals! They who built their pyramids, not with carved traceries, nor lacy spires, but with solid blocks of granite fifty feet square! How they must have laughed in the depths of those sepulchres as they watched Time dull its scythe and pashas wear out their nails in vain against them. Let us build pyramids, my dear Sir John. They are not difficult as architecture, nor beautiful as art, but they are solid; and that enables a general to say four thousand years later: 'Soldiers, from the apex of these monuments forty centuries are watching you!' On my honor, my lord, I long to meet a windmill this moment that I might tilt against it."
And Roland, bursting into his accustomed laugh, dragged Sir John in the direction of the château. But Sir John stopped him and asked: "Is there nothing else to see in the city except the church?"
"Formerly, my lord," replied Roland, "before they made a hay-loft of it, I should have asked you to come down with me into the vaults of the Dukes of Savoy. We could have hunted for that subterranean passage, nearly three miles long, which is said to exist there, and which, according to these rumors, communicates with the grotto of Ceyzeriat. Please observe, I should never offer such a pleasure trip except to an Englishman; it would have been like a scene from your celebrated Anne Radcliffe in the 'Mysteries of Udolpho.' But, as you see, that is impossible, so we will have to be satisfied with our regrets. Come."
"Where are we going?"
"Faith, I don't know. Ten years ago I should have taken you to the farms where they fatten pullets. The pullets of Bresse, you must know, have a European reputation. Bourg was an annex to the great coop of Strasburg. But during the Terror, as you can readily imagine, these fatteners of poultry shut up shop. You earned the reputation of being an aristocrat if you ate a pullet, and you know the fraternal refrain: 'Ah, ça ira, ça ira--the aristocrats to the lantern!' After Robespierre's downfall they opened up again; but since the 18th of Fructidor, France has been commanded to fast, from fowls and all. Never mind; come on, anyway. In default of pullets, I can show you one thing, the square where they executed those who ate them. But since I was last in the town the streets have changed their names. I know the way, but I don't know the names." "Look here!" demanded Sir John; "aren't you a Republican?"
"I not a Republican? Come, come! Quite to the contrary. I consider myself an excellent Republican. I am quite capable of burning off my hand, like Mucius Scævola, or jumping into the gulf like Curtius to save the Republic; but I have, unluckily, a keen sense of the ridiculous. In spite of myself, the absurdity of things catches me in the side and tickles me till I nearly die of laughing. I am willing to accept the Constitution of 1791; but when poor Hérault de Séchelles wrote to the superintendent of the National Library to send him a copy of the laws of Minos, so that he could model his constitution on that of the Isle of Crete, I thought it was going rather far, and that we might very well have been content with those of Lycurgus. I find January, February, and March, mythological as they were, quite as good as Nivose, Pluviose, and Ventose. I can't understand why, when one was called Antoine or Chrystomome in 1789, he should be called Brutus or Cassius in 1793. Here, for example, my lord, is an honest street, which was called the Rue des Halles (Market Street). There was nothing indecent or aristocratic about that, was there? Well, now it is called--Just wait (Roland read the inscription). Well, now it is called the Rue de la Révolution. Here's another, which used to be called Notre Dame; it is now the Rue du Temple. Why Rue du Temple? Probably to perpetuate the memory of that place where the infamous Simon tried to teach cobbling to the heir of sixty-three kings. Don't quarrel with me if I am mistaken by one or two! Now here's a third; it was named Crèvecoeur, a name famous throughout Bresse, Burgundy and Flanders. It is now the Rue de la Federation. Federation is a fine thing, but Crèvecoeur was a fine name. And then you see to-day it leads straight to the Place de la Guillotine, which is, in my opinion, all wrong. I don't want any streets that lead to such places. This one has its advantages; it is only about a hundred feet from the prison, which economized and still economizes the tumbrel and the horse of M. de Bourg. By the way, have you noticed that the executioner remains noble and keeps his title? For the rest, the square is excellently arranged for spectators, and my ancestor, Montrevel, whose name it bears, doubtless, foreseeing its ultimate destiny, solved the great problem, still unsolved by the theatres, of being able to see well from every nook and corner. If ever they cut off my head, which, considering the times in which we are living, would in no wise be surprising, I shall have but one regret: that of being less well-placed and seeing less than the others. Now let us go up these steps. Here we are in the Place des Lices. Our Revolutionists left it its name, because in all probability they don't know what it means. I don't know much better than they, but I think I remember that a certain Sieur d'Estavayer challenged some Flemish count--I don't know who--and that the combat took place in this square. Now, my dear fellow, here is the prison, which ought to give you some idea of human vicissitudes. Gil Blas didn't change his condition more often than this monument its purposes. Before Cæsar it was a Gaelic temple; Cæsar converted it into a Roman fortress; an unknown architect transformed it into a military work during the Middle Ages; the Knights of Baye, following Cæsar's example, re-made it into a fortress; the princes of Savoy used it for a residence; the aunt of Charles V. lived here when she came to visit her church at Brou, which she never had the satisfaction of seeing finished. Finally, after the treaty of Lyons, when Bresse was returned to France, it was utilized both as a prison and a court-house. Wait for me a moment, my lord, if you dislike the squeaking of hinges and the grating of bolts. I have a visit to pay to a certain cell."
"The grating of bolts and the squeaking of hinges is not a very enlivening sound, but no matter. Since you were kind enough to undertake my education, show me your dungeon."
"Very well, then. Come in quickly. I see a crowd of persons who look as if they want to speak to me."
In fact, little by little, a sort of rumor seemed to spread throughout the town. People emerged from the houses, forming groups in the streets, and they all watched Roland with curiosity. He rang the bell of the gate, situated then where it is now, but opening into the prison yard. A jailer opened it for them. "Ah, ah! so you are still here, Father Courtois?" asked the young man. Then, turning to Sir John, he added: "A fine name for a jailer, isn't it, my lord?" The jailer looked at the young man in amazement.
"How is it," he asked through the grating, "that you know my name, when I don't know yours?"
"Good! I not only know your name, but also your opinions. You are an old royalist, Père Courtois."
"Monsieur," said the jailer, terrified, "don't make bad jokes if you please, and say what you want."
"Well, my good Father Courtois, I would like to visit the cell where they put my mother and sister, Madame and Mademoiselle Montrevel."
"Ah!" exclaimed the gatekeeper, "so it's you, M. Louis? You may well say that I know you. What a fine, handsome young man you've grown to be!" "Do you think so, Father Courtois? Well, I can return the compliment. Your daughter Charlotte is, on my word, a beautiful girl. Charlotte is my sister's maid, Sir John."
"And she is very happy over it. She is better off there than here, M. Roland. Is it true that you are General Bonaparte's aide-de-camp?"
"Alas! I have that honor, Courtois. You would prefer me to be Comte d'Artois's aide-de-camp, or that of M. le Duc of Angoulême?"
"Oh, do be quiet, M. Louis!" Then putting his lips to the young man's ear, "Tell me, is it true?"
"What, Father Courtois?"
"That General Bonaparte passed through Lyons yesterday?"
"There must be some truth in the rumor, for this is the second time that I have heard it. Ah! I understand now. These good people who were watching me so curiously apparently wanted to question me. They were like you, Father Courtois: they want to know what to make of General Bonaparte's arrival."
"Do you know what they say, M. Louis?"
"Still another rumor, Father Courtois?"
"I should think so, but they only whisper it."
"What is it?"
"They say that he has come to demand the throne of his Majesty Louis XVIII. from the Directory and the king's return to it; and that if Citizen Gohier as president doesn't give it up of his own accord he will take it by force." "Pooh!" exclaimed the young officer with an incredulous air bordering on irony. But Father Courtois insisted on his news with an affirmative nod.
"Possibly," said the young man; "but as for that, it's news for me. And now that you know me, will you open the gate?"
"Of course I will. I should think so. What the devil am I about?" and the jailer opened the gate with an eagerness equalling his former reluctance. The young man entered, and Sir John followed him. The jailer locked the gate carefully, then he turned, followed by Roland and the Englishman in turn. The latter was beginning to get accustomed to his young friend's erratic character. The spleen he saw in Roland was misanthropy, without the sulkiness of Timon or the wit of Alceste.
The jailer crossed the yard, which was separated from the law courts by a wall fifteen feet high, with an opening let into the middle of the receding wall, closed by a massive oaken door, to admit prisoners without taking them round by the street. The jailer, we say, crossed the yard to a winding stairway in the left angle of the courtyard which led to the interior of the prison.
If we insist upon these details, it is because we shall be obliged to return to this spot later, and we do not wish it to be wholly unfamiliar to our readers when that time comes.
These steps led first to the ante-chamber of the prison, that is to say to the porter's hall of the lower court-room. From that hall ten steps led down into an inner court, separated from a third, which was that of the prisoners, by a wall similar to the one we have described, only this one had three doors. At the further end of the courtyard a passage led to the jailer's own room, which gave into a second passage, on which were the cells which were picturesquely styled cages. The jailer paused before the first of these cages and said, striking the door:
"This is where I put madame, your mother, and your sister, so that if the dear ladies wanted either Charlotte or myself, they need but knock."
"Is there any one in the cell?"
"Then please open the door. My friend, Lord Tanlay, is a philanthropic Englishman who is travelling about to see if the French prisons are more comfortable than the English ones. Enter, Sir John."
Père Courtois having opened the door, Roland pushed Sir John into a perfectly square cell measuring ten or twelve feet each way.
"Oh, oh!" exclaimed Sir John, "this is lugubrious."
"Do you think so? Well, my dear friend, this is where my mother, the noblest woman in the world, and my sister, whom you know, spent six weeks with a prospect of leaving it only to make the trip to the Place de Bastion. Just think, that was five years ago, so my sister was scarcely twelve."
"But what crime had they committed?"
"Oh! a monstrous crime. At the anniversary festival with which the town of Bourg considered proper to commemorate the death of the 'Friend of the People,' my mother refused to permit my sister to represent one of the virgins who bore the tears of France in vases. What will you! Poor woman, she thought she had done enough for her country in giving it the blood of her son and her husband, which was flowing in Italy and Germany. She was mistaken. Her country, as it seems, claimed further the tears of her daughter. She thought that too much, especially as those tears were to flow for the citizen Marat. The result was that on the very evening of the celebration, during the enthusiastic exaltation, my mother was declared accused. Fortunately Bourg had not attained the celerity of Paris. A friend of ours, an official in the record-office, kept the affair dragging, until one fine day the fall and death of Robespierre were made known. That interrupted a good many things, among others the guillotinades. Our friend convinced the authorities that the wind blowing from Paris had veered toward clemency; they waited fifteen days, and on the sixteenth they told my mother and sister that they were free. So you understand, my friend--and this involves the most profound philosophical reflection--so that if Mademoiselle Teresa Cabarrus had not come from Spain, if she had not married M. Fontenay, parliamentary counsellor; had she not been arrested and brought before the pro-consul Tallien, son of the Marquis de Bercy's butler, ex-notary's clerk, ex-foreman of a printing-shop, exporter, ex-secretary to the Commune of Paris temporarily at Bordeaux; and had the ex-pro-consul not become enamored of her, and had she not been imprisoned, and if on the ninth of Thermidor she had not found means to send a dagger with these words: 'Unless the tyrant dies to-day, I die to-morrow'; had not Saint-Just been arrested in the midst of his discourse; had not Robespierre, on that day, had a frog in his throat; had not Garnier de l'Aube exclaimed: 'It is the blood of Danton choking you!' had not Louchet shouted for his arrest; had he not been arrested, released by the Commune, recaptured in spite of this, had his jaw broken by a pistol shot, and been executed next day--my mother would, in all probability, have had her head cut off for refusing to allow her daughter to weep for citizen Marat in one of the twelve lachrymal urns which Bourg was desirous of filling with its tears. Good-by, Courtois. You are a worthy man. You gave my mother and sister a little water to put with their wine, a little meat to eat with their bread, a little hope to fill their hearts; you lent them your daughter that they might not have to sweep their cell themselves. That deserves a fortune. Unfortunately I am not rich; but here are fifty louis I happen to have with me. Come, my lord." And the young man carried off Sir John before the jailer, recovered from his surprise and found time either to thank Roland or refuse the fifty louis; which, it must be said, would have been a remarkable proof of disinterestedness in a jailer, especially when that jailer's opinions were opposed to those of the government he served.
Leaving the prison, Roland and Sir John found the Place des Lices crowded with people who had heard of General Bonaparte's return to France, and were shouting "Vive Bonaparte!" at the top of their lungs--some because they really admired the victor of Arcola, Rivoli, and the Pyramids, others because they had been told, like Père Courtois, that this same victor had vanquished only that Louis XVIII. might profit by his victories.
Roland and Sir John, having now visited all that the town of Bourg offered of interest, returned to the Château des Noires-Fontaines, which they reached before long. Madame de Montrevel and Amélie had gone out. Roland installed Sir John in an easy chair, asking him to wait a few minutes for him. At the end of five minutes he returned with a sort of pamphlet of gray paper, very badly printed, in his hand.
"My dear fellow," said he, "you seemed to have some doubts about the authenticity of that festival which I just mentioned, and which nearly cost my mother and sister their lives, so I bring you the programme. Read it, and while you are doing so I will go and see what they have been doing with my dogs; for I presume that you would rather hold me quit of our fishing expedition in favor of a hunt."
He went out, leaving in Sir John's hands a copy of the decree of the municipality of the town of Bourg, instituting the funeral rites in honor of Marat, on the anniversary of his death.
13. The Wild-Boar
Sir John was just finishing that interesting bit of history when Madame de Montrevel and her daughter returned. Amélie, who did not know how much had been said about her between Roland and Sir John, was astounded by the expression with which that gentleman scrutinized her.
To him she seemed more lovely than before. He could readily understand that mother, who at the risk of life had been unwilling that this charming creature should profane her youth and beauty by serving as a mourner in a celebration of which Marat was the deity. He recalled that cold damp cell which he had lately visited, and shuddered at the thought that this delicate white ermine before his eyes had been imprisoned there, without sun or air, for six weeks. He looked at the throat, too long perhaps, but swan-like in its suppleness and graceful in its exaggeration, and he remembered that melancholy remark of the poor Princesse de Lamballe, as she felt her slender neck: "It will not give the executioner much trouble!"
The thoughts which succeeded each other in Sir John's mind gave to his face an expression so different from its customary aspect, that Madame de Montrevel could not refrain from asking what troubled him. He then told her of his visit to the prison, and Roland's pious pilgrimage to the dungeon where his mother and sister had been incarcerated. Just as Sir John had concluded his tale, a viewhalloo sounded without, and Roland entered, his hunting-horn in his hands. "My dear friend," he cried, "thanks to my mother, we shall have a splendid hunt to-morrow."
"Thanks to me?" queried Madame de Montrevel.
"How so?" added Sir John.
"I left you to see about my dogs, didn't I?"
"You said so, at any rate."
"I had two excellent beasts, Barbichon and Ravaude, male and female." "Oh!" exclaimed Sir John, "are they dead?"
"Well, yes; but just guess what this excellent mother of mine has done?" and, tilting Madame de Montrevel's head, he kissed her on both cheeks. "She wouldn't let them drown a single puppy because they were the dogs of my dogs; so the result is, that to-day the pups, grand-pups, and great-grand-pups of Barbichon and Ravaude are as numerous as the descendant of Ishmael. Instead of a pair of dogs, I have a whole pack, twenty-five beasts, all as black as moles with white paws, fire in their eyes and hearts, and a regiment of cornet-tails that would do you good to see."
And Roland sounded another halloo that brought his young brother to the scene. "Oh!" shouted the boy as he entered, "you are going hunting to-morrow, brother Roland. I'm going, too, I'm going, too!"
"Good!" said Roland, "but do you know what we are going to hunt?" "No. All I know is that I'm going, too."
"We're going to hunt a boar."
"Oh, joy!" cried the boy, clapping his little hands.
"Are you crazy?" asked Madame de Montrevel, turning pale.
"Why so, madame mother, if you please?"
"Because boar hunts are very dangerous."
"Not so dangerous as hunting men. My brother got back safe from that, and so will I from the other."
"Roland," cried Madame de Montrevel, while Amélie, lost in thought, took no part in the discussion, "Roland, make Edouard listen to reason. Tell him that he hasn't got common-sense."
But Roland, who recognized himself again in his young brother, instead of blaming him, smiled at his boyish ardor. "I'd take you willingly," said he, "only to go hunting one must at least know how to handle a gun."
"Oh, Master Roland," cried Edouard, "just come into the garden a bit. Put up your hat at a hundred yards, and I'll show you how to handle a gun."
"Naughty child," exclaimed Madame de Montrevel, trembling, "where did you learn?"
"Why, from the gunsmith at Montagnac, who keeps papa's and Roland's guns. You ask me sometimes what I do with my money, don't you? Well, I buy powder and balls with it, and I am learning to kill Austrians and Arabs like my brother Roland."
Madame de Montrevel raised her hands to heaven.
"What can you expect, mother?" asked Roland. "Blood will tell. No Montrevel could be afraid of powder. You shall come with us to-morrow, Edouard." The boy sprang upon his brother's neck.
"And I," said Sir John, "will equip you to-day like a regular huntsman, just as they used to arm the knights of old. I have a charming little rifle that I will give you. It will keep you contented until your sabre and pistols come."
"Well," asked Roland, "are you satisfied now, Edouard?"
"Yes; but when will he give it to me? If you have to write to England for it, I warn you I shan't believe in it."
"No, my little friend, we have only to go up to my room and open my gun-case. That's soon done."
"Then, let's go at once."
"Come on," said Sir John; and he went out, followed by Edouard. A moment later, Amélie, still absorbed in thought, rose and left the room. Neither Madame de Montrevel nor Roland noticed her departure, so interested were they in a serious discussion. Madame de Montrevel tried to persuade Roland not to take his young brother with him on the morrow's hunt. Roland explained that, since Edouard was to become a soldier like his father and brother, the sooner he learned to handle a gun and become familiar with powder and ball the better. The discussion was not yet ended when Edouard returned with his gun slung over his shoulder.
"Look, brother," said he, turning to Roland; "just see what a fine present Sir John has given me." And he looked gratefully at Sir John, who stood in the doorway vainly seeking Amélie with his eyes.
It was in truth a beautiful present. The rifle, designed with that plainness of ornament and simplicity of form peculiar to English weapons, was of the finest finish. Like the pistols, of which Roland had had opportunity to test the accuracy, the rifle was made by the celebrated Manton, and carried a twenty-four calibre bullet. That it had been originally intended for a woman was easily seen by the shortness of the stock and the velvet pad on the trigger. This original purpose of the weapon made it peculiarly suitable for a boy of twelve.
Roland took the rifle from his brother's shoulder, looked at it knowingly, tried its action, sighted it, tossed it from one hand to the other, and then, giving it back to Edouard, said: "Thank Sir John again. You have a rifle fit for a king's son. Let's go and try it."
All three went out to try Sir John's rifle, leaving Madame de Montrevel as sad as Thetis when she saw Achilles in his woman's garb draw the sword of Ulysses from its scabbard.
A quarter of an hour later, Edouard returned triumphantly. He brought his mother a bit of pasteboard of the circumference of a hat, in which he had put ten bullets out of twelve. The two men had remained behind in the park conversing. Madame de Montrevel listened to Edouard's slightly boastful account of his prowess. Then she looked at him with that deep and holy sorrow of mothers to whom fame is no compensation for the blood it sheds. Oh! ungrateful indeed is the child who has seen that look bent upon him and does not eternally remember it. Then, after a few seconds of this painful contemplation, she pressed her second son to her breast, and murmured sobbing: "You, too! you, too, will desert your mother some day."
"Yes, mother," replied the boy, "to become a general like my father, or an aidede-camp like Roland."
"And to be killed as your father was, as your brother perhaps will be." For the strange transformation in Roland's character had not escaped Madame de Montrevel. It was but an added dread to her other anxieties, among which Amélie's pallor and abstraction must be numbered.
Amélie was just seventeen; her childhood had been that of a happy laughing girl, joyous and healthy. The death of her father had cast a black veil over her youth and gayety. But these tempests of spring pass rapidly. Her smile, the sunshine of life's dawn, returned like that of Nature, sparkling through that dew of the heart we call tears.
Then, one day about six months before this story opens, Amélie's face had saddened, her cheeks had grown pale, and, like the birds who migrate at the approach of wintry weather, the childlike laughter that escaped her parted lips and white teeth had fled never to return.
Madame de Montrevel had questioned her, but Amélie asserted that she was still the same. She endeavored to smile, but as a stone thrown into a lake rings upon the surface, so the smiles roused by this maternal solicitude faded, little by little, from Amélie's face. With keen maternal instinct Madame de Montrevel had thought of love. But whom could Amélie love? There were no visitors at the Château des Noires-Fontaines, the political troubles had put an end to all society, and Amélie went nowhere alone. Madame de Montrevel could get no further than conjecture. Roland's return had given her a moment's hope; but this hope fled as soon as she perceived the effect which this event had produced upon Amélie. It was not a sister, but a spectre, it will be recalled, who had come to meet him. Since her son's arrival, Madame de Montrevel had not lost sight of Amélie, and she perceived, with dolorous amazement, that Roland's presence awakened a feeling akin to terror in his sister's breast. She, whose eyes had formerly rested so lovingly upon him, now seemed to view him with alarm. Only a few moments since, Amélie had profited by the first opportunity to return to her room, the one spot in the château where she seemed at ease, and where for the last six months she had spent most of her time. The dinner-bell alone possessed the power to bring her from it, and even then she waited for the second call before entering the dining-room.
Roland and Sir John, as we have said, had divided their time between their visit to Bourg and their preparations for the morrow's hunt. From morn until noon they were to beat the woods; from noon till evening they were to hunt the boar. Michel, that devoted poacher, confined to his chair for the present with a sprain, felt better as soon as the question of the hunt was mooted, and had himself hoisted on a little horse that was used for the errands of the house. Then he sallied forth to collect the beaters from Saint-Just and Montagnac. He, being unable to beat or run, was to remain with the pack, and watch Sir John's and Roland's horse, and Edouard's pony, in the middle of the forest, where it was intersected by one good road and two practicable paths. The beaters, who could not follow the hunt, were to return to the château with the game-bags. The beaters were at the door at six the following morning. Michel was not to leave with the horses and dogs until eleven. The Château des Noires-Fontaines was just at the edge of the forest of Seillon, so the hunt could begin at its very gates.
As the battue promised chiefly deer and hares, the guns were loaded with balls. Roland gave Edouard a simple little gun which he himself had used as a child. He had not enough confidence as yet in the boy's prudence to trust him with a double-barrelled gun. As for the rifle that Sir John had given him the day before, it could only carry cartridges. It was given into Michel's safe keeping, to be returned to him in case they started a boar for the second part of the hunt. For this Roland and Sir John were also to change their guns for rifles and hunting knives, pointed as daggers and sharp as razors, which formed part of Sir John's arsenal, and could be suspended from the belt or screwed on the point of the gun like bayonets.
From the beginning of the battue it was easy to see that the hunt would be a good one. A roebuck and two hares were killed at once. At noon two does, seven roebucks and two foxes had been bagged. They had also seen two boars, but these latter had only shaken their bristles in answer to the heavy balls and made off.
Edouard was in the seventh heaven; he had killed a roebuck. The beaters, well rewarded for their labor, were sent to the château with the game, as had been arranged. A sort of bugle was sounded to ascertain Michel's whereabout, to which he answered. In less than ten minutes the three hunters had rejoined the gardener with his hounds and horses.
Michel had seen a boar which he had sent his son to head off, and it was now in the woods not a hundred paces distant. Jacques, Michel's eldest son, beat up the woods with Barbichon and Ravaude, the heads of the pack, and in about five minutes the boar was found in his lair. They could have killed him at once, or at least shot at him, but that would have ended the hunt too quickly. The huntsmen launched the whole pack at the animal, which, seeing this troop of pygmies swoop down upon him, started off at a slow trot. He crossed the road, Roland giving the view-halloo, and headed in the direction of the Chartreuse of Seillon, the three riders following the path which led through the woods. The boar led them a chase which lasted until five in the afternoon, turning upon his tracks, evidently unwilling to leave the forest with its thick undergrowth.
At last the violent barking of the dogs warned them that the animal had been brought to bay. The spot was not a hundred paces distant from the pavilion belonging to the Chartreuse, in one of the most tangled thickets of the forest. It was impossible to force the horses through it, and the riders dismounted. The barking of the dogs guided them straight along the path, from which they deviated only where the obstacles they encountered rendered it necessary. From time to time yelps of pain indicated that members of the attacking party had ventured too close to the animal, and had paid the price of their temerity. About twenty feet from the scene of action the hunters began to see the actors. The boar was backed against a rock to avoid attack in the rear; then, bracing himself on his forepaws, he faced the dogs with his ensanguined eyes and enormous tusks. They quivered around him like a moving carpet; five or six, more or less badly wounded, were staining the battlefield with their blood, though still attacking the boar with a fury and courage that might have served as an example to the bravest men.
Each hunter faced the scene with the characteristic signs of his age, nature and nation. Edouard, at one and the same time, the most imprudent and the smallest, finding the path less difficult, owing to his small, stature, arrived first. Roland, heedless of danger of any kind, seeking rather than avoiding it, followed. Finally Sir John, slower, graver, more reflective, brought up the rear. Once the boar perceived his hunters he paid no further attention to the dogs. He fixed his gleaming, sanguinary eyes upon them; but his only movement was a snapping of the jaws, which he brought together with a threatening sound. Roland watched the scene for an instant, evidently desirous of flinging himself into the midst of the group, knife in hand, to slit the boar's throat as a butcher would that of a calf or a pig. This impulse was so apparent that Sir John caught his arm, and little Edouard exclaimed: "Oh! brother, let me shoot the boar!"
Roland restrained himself, and stacking his gun against a tree, waited, armed only with his hunting-knife, which he had drawn from its sheath.
"Very well," said he, "shoot him; but be careful about it."
"Oh! don't worry," retorted the child, between his set teeth. His face was pale but resolute as he aimed the barrel of his rifle at the animal's head.
"If he misses him, or only wounds him," observed Sir John, "you know that the brute will be upon us before we can see him through the smoke."
"I know it, my lord; but I am accustomed to these hunts," replied Roland, his nostrils quivering, his eyes sparkling, his lips parted: "Fire, Edouard!" The shot followed the order upon the instant; but after the shot, with, or even before it, the beast, swift as lightning, rushed upon the child. A second shot followed the first, but the animal's scarlet eyes still gleamed through the smoke. But, as it rushed, it met Roland with his knee on the ground, the knife in his hand. A moment later a tangled, formless group, man and boar, boar and man, was rolling on the ground. Then a third shot rang out, followed by a laugh from Roland.
"Ah! my lord," cried the young man, "you've wasted powder and shot. Can't you see that I have ripped him up? Only get his body off of me. The beast weighs at least four hundred pounds, and he is smothering me."
But before Sir John could stoop, Roland, with a vigorous push of the shoulder, rolled the animal's body aside, and rose to his feet covered with blood, but without a single scratch. Little Edouard, either from lack of time or from native courage, had not recoiled an inch. True, he was completely protected by his brother's body, which was between him and the boar. Sir John had sprung aside to take the animal in the flank. He watched Roland, as he emerged from this second duel, with the same amazement that he had experienced after the first. The dogs--those that were left, some twenty in all--had followed the boar, and were now leaping upon his body in the vain effort to tear the bristles, which were almost as impenetrable as iron.
"You will see," said Roland, wiping the blood from his face and hands with a fine cambric handkerchief, "how they will eat him, and your knife too, my lord." "True," said Sir John; "where is the knife?"
"In its sheath," replied Roland.
"Ah!" exclaimed the boy, "only the handle shows."
He sprang toward the animal and pulled out the poniard, which, as he said, was buried up to the hilt. The sharp point, guided by a calm eye and a firm hand, had pierced the animal's heart.
There were other wounds on the boar's body. The first, caused by the boy's shot, showed a bloody furrow just over the eye; the blow had been too weak to crush the frontal bone. The second came from Sir John's first shot; it had caught the animal diagonally and grazed his breast. The third, fired at close quarters, went through the body; but, as Roland had said, not until after the animal was dead.
14. An Unpleasant Commission
The hunt was over, darkness was falling, and it was now a question of returning to the château. The horses were nearby; they could hear them neighing impatiently. They seemed to be asking if their courage was so doubted that they were not allowed to share in the exciting drama.
Edouard was bent upon dragging the boar after them, fastening it to the saddlebow, and so carrying it back to the château; but Roland pointed out that it was simpler to send a couple of men for it with a barrow. Sir John being of the same opinion, Edouard--who never ceased pointing to the wound in the head, and saying, "That's my shot; that's where I aimed"--Edouard, we say, was forced to yield to the majority. The three hunters soon reached the spot where their horses were tethered, mounted, and in less than ten minutes were at the Château des Noires-Fontaines.
Madame de Montrevel was watching for them on the portico. The poor mother had waited there nearly an hour, trembling lest an accident had befallen one or the other of her sons. The moment Edouard espied her he put his pony to a gallop, shouting from the gate: "Mother, mother! We killed a boar as big as a donkey. I shot him in the head; you'll see the hole my ball, made; Roland stuck his hunting knife into the boar's belly up to the hilt, and Sir John fired at him twice. Quick, quick! Send the men for the carcass. Don't be frightened when you see Roland. He's all covered with blood--but it's from the boar, and he hasn't a scratch."
This was delivered with Edouard's accustomed volubility while Madame de Montrevel was crossing the clearing between the portico and the road to open the gate. She intended to take Edouard in her arms, but he jumped from his saddle and flung himself upon her neck. Roland and Sir John came up just then, and Amélie appeared on the portico at the same instant.
Edouard left his mother to worry over Roland, who, covered as he was with blood, looked very terrifying, and rushed to his sister with the tale he had rattled off to his mother. Amélie listened in an abstracted manner that probably hurt Edouard's vanity, for he dashed off to the kitchen to describe the affair to Michel, who was certain to listen to him.
Michel was indeed interested; but when, after telling him where the carcass lay, Edouard gave him Roland's order to send a couple of men after the beast, he shook his head.
"What!" demanded Edouard, "are you going to refuse to obey my brother?" "Heaven forbid! Master Edouard. Jacques shall start this instant for Montagnac." "Are you afraid he won't find any body?"
"Goodness, no; he could get a dozen. But the trouble is the time of night. You say the boar lies close to the pavilion of the Chartreuse?"
"Not twenty yards from it."
"I'd rather it was three miles," replied Michel scratching his head; "but never mind. I'll send for them anyway without telling them what they're wanted for. Once here, it's for your brother to make them go."
"Good! Good! Only get them here and I'll see to that myself."
"Oh!" exclaimed Michel, "if I hadn't this beastly sprain I'd go myself. But to-day's doings have made it worse. Jacques! Jacques!"
Jacques came, and Edouard not only waited to hear the order given, but until he had started. Then he ran upstairs to do what Roland and Sir John were already doing, that is, dress for dinner.
The whole talk at table, as may be easily imagined, centred upon the day's prowess. Edouard asked nothing better than to talk about it, and Sir John, astounded by Roland's skill, courage, and good luck, improved upon the child's narrative. Madame de Montrevel shuddered at each detail, and yet she made them repeat it twenty times. That which seemed most clear to her in all this was that Roland had saved Edouard's life.
"Did you thank him for it?" she asked the boy. "Thank whom?"
"Why should I thank him?" retorted Edouard. "I should have done the same thing."
"Ah, madame, what can you expect!" said Sir John; "you are a gazelle who has unwittingly given birth to a race of lions."
Amélie had also paid the closest attention to the account, especially when the hunters spoke of their proximity to the Chartreuse. From that time on she listened with anxious eyes, and seemed scarcely to breathe, until they told of leaving the woods after the killing.
After dinner, word was brought that Jacques had returned with two peasants from Montagnac. They wanted exact directions as to where the hunters had left the animal. Roland rose, intending to go to them, but Madame de Montrevel, who could never see enough of her son, turned to the messenger and said: "Bring these worthy men in here. It is not necessary to disturb M. Roland for that." Five minutes later the two peasants entered, twirling their hats in their hands. "My sons," said Roland, "I want you to fetch the boar we killed in the forest of Seillon."
"That can be done," said one of the peasants, consulting his companion with a look.
"Yes, it can be done," answered the other.
"Don't be alarmed," said Roland. "You shall lose nothing by your trouble." "Oh! we're not," interrupted one of the peasants. "We know you, Monsieur de Montrevel."
"Yes," answered the other, "we know that, like your father, you're not in the habit of making people work for nothing. Oh! if all the aristocrats had been like you, Monsieur Louis, there wouldn't have been any revolution."
"Of course not," said the other, who seemed to have come solely to echo affirmatively what his companion said.
"It remains to be seen now where the animal is," said the first peasant. "Yes," repeated the second, "remains to be seen where it is."
"Oh! it won't be hard to find."
"So much the better," interjected the peasant.
"Do you know the pavilion in the forest?"
"Yes, which one?"
"The one that belongs to the Chartreuse of Seillon."
The peasants looked at each other.
"Well, you'll find it some twenty feet distant from the front on the way to Genoud." The peasants looked at each other once more.
"Hum!" grunted the first one.
"Hum!" repeated the other, faithful echo of his companion.
"Well, what does this 'hum' mean?" demanded Roland.
"Come, explain yourselves. What's the matter?"
"The matter is that we'd rather that it was the other end of the forest." "But why the other end?" retorted Roland, impatiently; "it's nine miles from here to the other end, and barely three from here to where we left the boar." "Yes," said the first peasant, "but just where the boar lies--" And he paused and scratched his head.
"Exactly; that's what," added the other.
"It's a little too near the Chartreuse."
"Not the Chartreuse; I said the pavilion."
"It's all the same. You know, Monsieur Louis, that there is an underground passage leading from the pavilion to the Chartreuse."
"Oh, yes, there is one, that's sure," added the other.
"But," exclaimed Roland, "what has this underground passage got to do with our boar?"
"This much, that the beast's in a bad place, that's all."
"Oh, yes! a bad place," repeated the other peasant.
"Come, now, explain yourselves, you rascals," said Roland, who was growing angry, while his mother seemed uneasy, and Amélie visibly turned pale. "Beg pardon, Monsieur Louis," answered the peasant; "we are not rascals; we're God-fearing men, that's all."
"By thunder," cried Roland, "I'm a God-fearing man myself. What of that?" "Well, we don't care to have any dealings with the devil."
"No, no, no," asserted the second peasant.
"A man can match a man if he's of his own kind," continued the first peasant. "Sometimes two," said the second, who was built like a Hercules. "But with ghostly beings phantoms, spectres--no thank you," continued the first peasant.
"No, thank you," repeated the other.
"Oh, mother, sister," queried Roland, addressing the two women, "in Heaven's name, do you understand anything of what these two fools are saying?" "Fools," repeated the first peasant; "well, possibly. But it's not the less true that Pierre Marey had his neck twisted just for looking over the wall. True, it was of a Saturday--the devil's sabbath."
"And they couldn't straighten it out," affirmed the second peasant, "so they had to bury him with his face turned round looking the other way.
"Oh!" exclaimed Sir John, "this is growing interesting. I'm very fond of ghost stories."
"That's more than sister Amélie is it seems," cried Edouard.
"What do you mean?"
"Just see how pale she's grown, brother Roland."
"Yes, indeed," said Sir John; "mademoiselle looks as if she were going to faint." "I? Not at all," exclaimed Amélie, wiping the perspiration from her forehead; "only don't you think it seems a little warm here, mother?"
"No," answered Madame de Montrevel.
"Still," insisted Amélie, "if it would not annoy you, I should like to open the window."
"Do so, my child."
Amélie rose hastily to profit by this permission, and went with tottering steps to a window opening upon the garden. After it was opened, she stood leaning against the sill, half-hidden by the curtains.
"Ah!" she said, "I can breathe here."
Sir John rose to offer her his smelling-salts, but Amélie declined hastily: "No, no, my lord. Thank you, but I am better now."
"Come, come," said Roland, "don't bother about that; it's our boar." "Well, Monsieur Louis, we will fetch your boar tomorrow."
"That's it," said the second peasant, "to-morrow morning, when it's light." "But to go there at night--"
"Oh! to go there at night--"
The peasant looked at his comrade and both shook their heads.
"It can't be done at night."
"Monsieur Louis, a man's not a coward because he's afraid."
"No, indeed; that's not being a coward," replied the other.
"Ah!" said Roland, "I wish some stronger minded men than you would face me with that argument; that a man is not a coward because he's afraid!" "Well, it's according to what he's afraid of, Monsieur Louis. Give me a good sickle and a good cudgel, and I'm not afraid of a wolf; give me a good gun and I'm not afraid of any man, even if I knew he's waiting to murder me."
"Yes," said Edouard, "but you're afraid of a ghost, even when it's only the ghost of a monk."
"Little Master Edouard," said the peasant, "leave your brother to do the talking; you're not old enough to jest about such things--"
"No," added the other peasant, "wait till your beard is grown, my little gentleman." "I haven't any beard," retorted Edouard, starting up, "but just the same if I was strong enough to carry the boar, I'd go fetch it myself either by day or night." "Much good may it do you, my young gentleman. But neither my comrade nor myself would go, even for a whole louis."
"Nor for two?" said Roland, wishing to corner them.
"Nor for two, nor four, nor ten, Monsieur de Montrevel. Ten louis are good, but what could I do with them if my neck was broken?"
"Yes, twisted like Pierre Marey's," said the other peasant.
"Ten louis wouldn't feed my wife and children for the rest of my life, would they?" "And besides, when you say ten louis," interrupted the second peasant, "you mean really five, because I'd get five, too."
"So the pavilion is haunted by ghosts, is it?" asked Roland.
"I didn't say the pavilion--I'm not sure about the pavilion--but in the Chartreuse--" "In the Chartreuse, are you sure?"
"Oh! there, certainly."
"Have you seen them?"
"I haven't; but some folks have."
"Has your comrade?" asked the young officer, turning to the second peasant. "I haven't seen them; but I did see flames, and Claude Philippon heard chains." "Ah! so they have flames and chains?" said Roland.
"Yes," replied the first peasant, "for I have seen the flames myself." "And Claude Philippon on heard the chains," repeated the other.
"Very good, my friends, very good," replied Roland, sneering; "so you won't go there to-night at any price?"
"Not at any price."
"Not for all the gold in the world."
"And you'll go to-morrow when it's light?"
"Oh! Monsieur Louis, before you're up the boar will be here."
"Before you're up," said Echo.
"All right," said Roland. "Come back to me the day after tomorrow." "Willingly, Monsieur Louis. What do you want us to do?"
"Never mind; just come."
"Oh! we'll come."
"That means that the moment you say, 'Come,' you can count upon us, Monsieur Louis."
"Well, then I'll have some information for you."
Amélie gave a stifled cry; Madame de Montrevel alone heard it. Louis dismissed the two peasants, and they jostled each other at the door in their efforts to go through together.
Nothing more was said that evening about the Chartreuse or the pavilion, nor of its supernatural tenants, spectres or phantoms who haunted them.
15. The Strong-Minded Man
At ten o'clock everyone was in bed at the Château des Noires-Fontaines, or, at any rate, all had retired to their rooms.
Three or four times in the course of the evening Amélie had approached Roland as if she had something to say to him; but each time the words died upon her lips. When the family left the salon, she had taken his arm, and, although his room was on the floor above hers, she had accompanied him to his very door. Roland had kissed her, bade her good-night, and closed his door, declaring himself very tired.
Nevertheless, in spite of this assertion, Roland, once alone, did not proceed to undress. He went to his collection of arms, selected a pair of magnificent pistols, manufactured at Versailles, and presented to his father by the Convention. He snapped the triggers, and blew into the barrels to see that there were no old charges in them. They were in excellent condition. After which he laid them side by side on the table; then going to the door, looking out upon the stairs, he opened it softly to see if any one were watching. Finding the corridor and stairs empty, he went to Sir John's door and knocked.
"Come in," said the Englishman. Sir John, like himself, was not prepared for bed. "I guessed from the sign you made me that you had something to say to me," said Sir John, "so I waited for you, as you see."
"Indeed, I have something to say to you," returned Roland, seating himself gayly in an armchair.
"My kind host," replied the Englishman, "I am beginning to understand you. When I see you as gay as you are now, I am like your peasants, I feel afraid." "Did you hear what they were saying?"
"I heard them tell a splendid ghost story. I, myself, have a haunted castle in England."
"Have you ever seen the ghosts, my lord?"
"Yes, when I was little. Unfortunately, since I have grown up they have disappeared."
"That's always the way with ghosts," said Roland gayly; "they come and go. How lucky it is that I should return just as the ghosts have begun to haunt the Chartreuse of Seillon."
"Yes," replied Sir John, "very lucky. Only are you sure that there are any there?" "No. But I'll know by the day after to-morrow."
"I intend to spend to-morrow night there."
"Oh!" said the Englishmen, "would you like to have me go with you?" "With pleasure, my lord. Only, unfortunately, that is impossible."
"As I have just told you, my dear fellow."
"But why impossible?"
"Are you acquainted with the manners and customs of ghosts, Sir John?" asked Roland gravely.
"Well, I am. Ghosts only show themselves under certain conditions." "Explain that."
"Well, for example, in Italy, my lord, and in Spain, the most superstitious of countries, there are no ghosts, or if there are, why, at the best, it's only once in ten or twenty years, or maybe in a century."
"And to what do you attribute their absence?"
"To the absence of fogs."
"Not a doubt of it. You understand the native atmosphere of ghosts is fog. Scotland, Denmark and England, regions of fog, are overrun with ghosts. There's the spectre of Hamlet, then that of Banquo, the shadows of Richard III. Italy has only one spectre, Cæsar, and then where did he appear to Brutus? At Philippi, in Macedonia and in Thessaly, the Denmark of Greece, the Scotland of the Orient; where the fog made Ovid so melancholy he named the odes he wrote there Tristia. Why did Virgil make the ghost of Anchises appear to Eneas? Because he came from Mantua. Do you know Mantua? A marsh, a frog-pond, a regular manufactory of rheumatism, an atmosphere of vapors, and consequently a nest of phantoms."
"Go on, I'm listening to you."
"Have you seen the Rhine?"
"Germany, isn't it?"
"Still another country of fairies, water sprites, sylphs, and consequently phantoms ('for whoso does the greater see, can see the less'), and all that on account of the fog. But where the devil can the ghosts hide in Italy and Spain? Not the least bit of mist. And, therefore, were I in Spain or Italy I should never attempt tomorrow's adventure."
"But all that doesn't explain why you refuse my company," insisted Sir John. "Wait a moment. I've just explained to you that ghosts don't venture into certain countries, because they do not offer certain atmospheric conditions. Now, let me explain the precautions we must take if we wish to see them."
"Explain! explain!" said Sir John, "I would rather hear you talk than any other man, Roland."
And Sir John, stretching himself out in his easy-chair, prepared to listen with delight to the improvisations of this fantastic mind, which he had seen under so many aspects during the few days of their acquaintance.
Roland bowed his head by way of thanks.
"Well, this is the way of it, and you will grasp it readily enough. I have heard so much about ghosts in my life that I know the scamps as if I had made them. Why do ghosts appear?"
"Are you asking me that?" inquired Sir John.
"Yes, I ask you."
"I own that, not having studied ghosts as you have, I am unable to give you a definitive answer."
"You see! Ghosts show themselves, my dear fellow, in order to frighten those who see them."
"That is undeniable."
"Of course! Now, if they don't frighten those to whom they appear, they are frightened by them; witness M. de Turenne, whose ghosts proved to be counterfeiters. Do you know that story?"
"I'll tell it to you some day; don't let's get mixed up. That is just why, when they decide to appear--which is seldom--ghosts select stormy nights, when it thunders, lightens and blows; that's their scenery."
"I am forced to admit that nothing could be more correct."
"Wait a moment! There are instances when the bravest man feels a shudder run through his veins. Even before I was suffering with this aneurism it has happened to me a dozen times, when I have seen the flash of sabres and heard the thunder of cannon around me. It is true that since I have been subject to this aneurism I rush where the lightning flashes and the thunder growls. Still there is the chance that these ghosts don't know this and believe that I can be frightened." "Whereas that is an impossibility, isn't it?" asked Sir John.
"What will you! When, right or wrong, one feels that, far from dreading death, one has every reason to seek it, what should he fear? But I repeat, these ghosts, who know so much, may not know that only ghosts know this; they know that the sense of fear increases or diminishes according to the seeing and hearing of exterior things. Thus, for example, where do phantoms prefer to appear? In dark places, cemeteries, old cloisters, ruins, subterranean passages, because the aspect of these localities predisposes the soul to fear. What precedes their appearance? The rattling of chains, groans, sighs, because there is nothing very cheerful in all that? They are careful not to appear in the bright light, or after a strain of dance music. No, fear is an abyss into which you descend step by step, until you are overcome by vertigo; your feet slip, and you plunge with closed eyes to the bottom of the precipice. Now, if you read the accounts of all these apparitions, you'll find they all proceed like this: First the sky darkens, the thunder growls, the wind howls, doors and windows rattle, the lamp--if there is a lamp in the room of the person the ghosts are trying to frighten--the lamp flares, flickers and goes out--utter darkness! Then, in the darkness, groans, wails and the rattling of chains are heard; then, at last, the door opens and the ghost appears. I must say that all the apparitions that I have not seen but read about have presented themselves under similar circumstances. Isn't that so, Sir John?" "Perfectly."
"And did you ever hear of a ghost appearing to two persons at the same time?" "I certainly never did hear of it."
"It's quite simple, my dear fellow. Two together, you understand, have no fear. Fear is something mysterious, strange, independent of the will, requiring isolation, darkness and solitude. A ghost is no more dangerous than a cannon ball. Well, a soldier never fears a cannon ball in the daytime, when his elbows touch a comrade to the right and left. No, he goes straight for the battery and is either killed or he kills. That's not what the phantoms want. That's why they never appear to two persons at the same time, and that is the reason I want to go to the Chartreuse alone, my lord. Your presence would prevent the boldest ghost from appearing. If I see nothing, or if I see something worth the trouble, you can have your turn the next day. Does the bargain suit you?"
"Perfectly! But why can't I take the first night?"
"Ah! first, because the idea didn't occur to you, and it is only just that I should benefit by my own cleverness. Besides, I belong to the region; I was friendly with the good monks in their lifetime, and there may be a chance of their appearing to me after death. Moreover, as I know the localities, if it becomes necessary to run away or pursue I can do it better than you. Don't you see the justice of that, my dear fellow?"
"Yes, it couldn't be fairer; but I am sure of going the next night."
"The next night, and the one after, and every day and night if you wish; I only hold to the first. Now," continued Roland rising, "this is between ourselves, isn't it? Not a word to any one. The ghosts might be forewarned and act accordingly. It would never do to let those gay dogs get the best of us; that would be too grotesque."
"Oh, be easy about that. You will go armed, won't you?"
"If I thought I was only dealing with ghosts, I'd go with my hands in my pockets and nothing in my fobs. But, as I told you, M. de Turenne's ghosts were counterfeiters, so I shall take my pistols."
"Do you want mine?"
"No, thanks. Though yours are good, I am about resolved never to use them again." Then, with a smile whose bitterness it would be impossible to describe, he added: "They brought me ill-luck. Good-night! Sir John. I must sleep soundly to-night, so as not to want to sleep to-morrow night."
Then, shaking the Englishman's hand vigorously a second time, he left the room and returned to his own. There he was greatly surprised to find the door, which he was sure he had left closed, open. But as soon as he entered, the sight of his sister explained the matter to him.
"Hello!" he exclaimed, partly astonished, partly uneasy; "is that you, Amélie?" "Yes, it is I," she said. Then, going close to her brother, and letting him kiss her forehead, she added in a supplicating voice: "You won't go, will you, dear Roland?"
"Go where?" asked Roland.
"To the Chartreuse."
"Good! Who told you that?"
"Oh! for one who knows, how difficult it is to guess!"
"And why don't you want me to go to the Chartreuse?"
"I'm afraid something might happen to you."
"What! So you believe in ghosts, do you?" he asked, looking fixedly into Amélie's eyes.
Amélie lowered her glance, and Roland felt his sister's hand tremble in his. "Come," said Roland; "Amélie, at least the one I used to know, General de Montrevel's daughter and Roland's sister, is too intelligent to yield to these vulgar terrors. It's impossible that you can believe these tales of apparitions, chains, flames, spectres, and phantoms."
"If I did believe them, Roland, I should not be so alarmed. If ghosts do exist, they must be souls without bodies, and consequently cannot bring their material hatred from the grave. Besides, why should a ghost hate you, Roland; you, who never harmed any one?"
"Good! You forget all those I have killed in war or in duels."
Amélie shook her head. "I'm not afraid of them."
"Then what are you afraid of?"
The young girl raised her beautiful eyes, wet with tears, to Roland, and threw herself in his arms, saying: "I don't know, Roland. But I can't help it, I am afraid." The young man raised her head, which she was hiding in his breast, with gentle force, and said, kissing her eyelids softly and tenderly: "You don't believe I shall have ghosts to fight with to-morrow, do you?"
"Oh, brother, don't go to the Chartreuse!" cried Amélie, eluding the question. "Mother told you to say this to me, didn't she?"
"Oh, no, brother! Mother said nothing to me. It is I who guessed that you intended to go."
"Well, if I want to go," replied Roland firmly, "you ought to know, Amélie, that I shall go."
"Even if I beseech you on my knees, brother?" cried Amélie in a tone of anguish, slipping down to her brother's feet; "even if I beseech you on my knees?" "Oh! women! women!" murmured Roland, "inexplicable creatures, whose words are all mystery, whose lips never tell the real secrets of their hearts, who weep, and pray, and tremble--why? God knows, but man, never! I shall go, Amélie, because I have resolved to go; and when once I have taken a resolution no power on earth can make me change it. Now kiss me and don't be frightened, and I will tell you a secret."
Amélie raised her head, and gazed questioningly, despairingly, at Roland. "I have known for more than a year," replied the young man, "that I have the misfortune not to be able to die. So reassure yourself, and don't be afraid." Roland uttered these words so dolefully that Amélie, who had, until then, kept her emotion under control, left the room sobbing.
The young officer, after assuring himself that her door was closed, shut his, murmuring: "We'll see who will weary first, Fate or I."
16. The Ghost
The next evening, at about the same hour, the young officer, after convincing himself that every one in the Château des Noires-Fontaines had gone to bed, opened his door softly, went downstairs holding his breath, reached the vestibule, slid back the bolts of the outer door noiselessly, and turned round to make sure that all was quiet. Reassured by the darkened windows, he boldly opened the iron gate. The hinges had probably been oiled that day, for they turned without grating, and closed as noiselessly as they had opened behind Roland, who walked rapidly in the direction of Pont d'Ain at Bourg. He had hardly gone a hundred yards before the clock at Saint-Just struck once; that of Montagnac answered like a bronze echo. It was half-past ten o'clock. At the pace the young man was walking he needed only twenty minutes to reach the Chartreuse; especially if, instead of skirting the woods, he took the path that led direct to the monastery. Roland was too familiar from youth with every nook of the forest of Seillon to needlessly lengthen his walk ten minutes. He therefore turned unhesitatingly into the forest, coming out on the other side in about five minutes. Once there, he had only to cross a bit of open ground to reach the orchard wall of the convent. This took barely another five minutes. At the foot of the wall he stopped, but only for a few seconds. He unhooked his cloak, rolled it into a ball, and tossed it over the wall. The cloak off, he stood in a velvet coat, white leather breeches, and top-boots. The coat was fastened round the waist by a belt in which were a pair of pistols. A broad-brimmed hat covered his head and shaded his face.
With the same rapidity with which he had removed his garment that might have hindered his climbing the wall, he began to scale it. His foot readily found a chink between the stones; he sprang up, seizing the coping, and was on the other side without even touching the top of the wall over which he bounded. He picked up his cloak, threw it over his shoulder, hooked it, and crossed the orchard to a little door communicating with the cloister. The clock struck eleven as he passed through it. Roland stopped, counted the strokes, and slowly walked around the cloister, looking and listening.
He saw nothing and heard no noise. The monastery was the picture of desolation and solitude; the doors were all open, those of the cells, the chapel, and the refectory. In the refectory, a vast hall where the tables still stood in their places, Roland noticed five or six bats circling around; a frightened owl flew through a broken casement, and perched upon a tree close by, hooting dismally. "Good!" said Roland, aloud; "I'll make my headquarters here; bats and owls are the vanguards of ghosts."
The sound of that human voice, lifted in the midst of this solitude, darkness and desolation, had something so uncanny, so lugubrious about it, that it would have caused even the speaker to shudder, had not Roland, as he himself said, been inaccessible to fear. He looked about for a place from which he could command the entire hall. An isolated table, placed on a sort of stage at one end of the refectory, which had no doubt been used by the superior of the convent to take his food apart from the monks, to read from pious books during the repast, seemed to Roland best adapted to his needs. Here, backed by the wall, he could not be surprised from behind, and, once his eye grew accustomed to the darkness, he could survey every part of the hall. He looked for a seat, and found an overturned stool about three feet from the table, probably the one occupied by the reader or the person dining there in solitude.
Roland sat down at the table, loosened his cloak to insure greater freedom of movement, took his pistols from his belt, laid one on the table, and striking three blows with the butt-end of the other, he said, in a loud voice: "The meeting is open; the ghosts can appear!"
Those who have passed through churches and cemeteries at night have often experienced, without analyzing it, the supreme necessity of speaking low and reverently which attaches to certain localities. Only such persons can understand the strange impression produced on any one who heard it by that curt, mocking voice which now disturbed the solitude and the shadows. It vibrated an instant in the darkness, which seemed to quiver with it; then it slowly died away without an echo, escaping by all the many openings made by the wings of time. As he had expected, Roland's eyes had accustomed themselves to the darkness, and now, by the pale light of the rising moon, whose long, white rays penetrated the refectory through the broken windows, he could see distinctly from one end to the other of the vast apartment. Although Roland was as evidently without fear internally as externally, he was not without distrust, and his ear caught the slightest sounds.
He heard the half-hour strike. In spite of himself the sound startled him, for it came from the bell of the convent. How was it that, in this ruin where all was dead, a clock, the pulse of time, was living?
"Oh! oh!" said Roland; "that proves that I shall see something."
The words were spoken almost in an aside. The majesty of the place and the silence acted upon that heart of iron, firm as the iron that had just tolled the call of time upon eternity. The minutes slowly passed, one after the other. Perhaps a cloud was passing between earth and moon, for Roland fancied that the shadows deepened. Then, as midnight approached, he seemed to hear a thousand confused, imperceptible sounds, coming no doubt from the nocturnal universe which wakes while the other sleeps. Nature permits no suspension of life, even for repose. She created her nocturnal world, even as she created her daily world, from the gnat which buzzes about the sleeper's pillow to the lion prowling around the Arab's bivouac.
But Roland, the camp watcher, the sentinel of the desert, Roland, the hunter, the soldier, knew all those sounds; they were powerless to disturb him. Then, mingling with these sounds, the tones of the clock, chiming the hour, vibrated above his head. This time it was midnight. Roland counted the twelve strokes, one after the other. The last hung, quivering upon the air, like a bird with iron wings, then slowly expired, sad and mournful. Just then the young man, thought he heard a moan. He listened in the direction whence it came. Again he heard it, this time nearer at hand.
He rose, his hands resting upon the table, the butt-end of a pistol beneath each palm. A rustle like that of a sheet or a gown trailing along the grass was audible on his right, not ten paces from him. He straightened up as if moved by a spring. At the same moment a shade appeared on the threshold of the vast hall. This shade resembled the ancient statues lying on the tombs. It was wrapped in an immense winding-sheet which trailed behind it.
For an instant Roland doubted his own eyes. Had the preoccupation of his mind made him see a thing which was not? Was he the dupe of his senses, the sport of those hallucinations which physicians assert, but cannot explain? A moan, uttered by the phantom, put his doubts to flight.
"My faith!" he cried in a burst of laughter, "now for a tussle, friend ghost!" The spectre paused and extended a hand toward the, young officer. "Roland! Roland!" said the spectre in a muffled voice, "it would be a pity not to follow to the grave those you have sent there."
And the spectre, without hastening its step, continued on its way.
Roland, astounded for an instant, came down from the stage, and resolutely followed the ghost. The path was difficult, encumbered with stones, benches awry, and over-turned tables. And yet, through all these obstacles, an invisible channel seemed open for the spectre, which pursued its way unchecked. Each time it passed before a window, the light from with out, feeble as it was, shone upon the winding-sheet and the ghost, outlining the figure, which passed into the obscurity to reappear and vanish again at each succeeding one, Roland, his eyes fixed upon the figure, fearing to lose sight of it if he diverted his gaze from it, dared not look at the path, apparently so easy to the spectre, yet bristling with obstacles for him. He stumbled at every step. The ghost was gaining upon him. It reached the door opposite to that by which it had entered. Roland saw the entrance to a dark passage. Feeling that the ghost would escape him, he cried: "Man or ghost, robber or monk, halt or I fire!"
"A dead body cannot be killed twice, and death has no power over the spirit," replied the ghost in its muffled voice.
"Who are you?"
"The Shade of him you tore violently from the earth."
The young officer burst into that harsh, nervous laugh, made more terrible by the darkness around him.
"Faith!" said he, "if you have no further indications to give me, I shall not trouble myself to discover you."
"Remember the fountain at Vaucluse," said the Shade, in a voice so faint the words seemed to escape his lips like a sigh rather than articulate speech. For an instant Roland felt, not his heart failing him, but the sweat pouring from his forehead. Making an effort over himself, he regained his voice and cried, menacingly: "For a last time, apparition or reality, I warn you that, if you do not stop, I shall fire!"
The Shade did not heed him, but continued on its way.
Roland paused an instant to take aim. The spectre was not ten paces from him. Roland was a sure shot; he had himself loaded his pistols, and only a moment before he had looked to the charge to see that it was intact.
As the spectre passed, tall and white, beneath the gloomy vault of the passage, Roland fired. The flash illumined the corridor like lightning, down which the spectre passed with unfaltering, unhastening steps. Then all was blacker than before. The ghost vanished in the darkness. Roland dashed after him, changing his other pistol from the left hand to the right. But short as his stop had been, the ghost had gained ground. Roland saw him at the end of the passage, this time distinctly outlined against the gray background of the night. He redoubled his pace, and as he crossed the threshold of the passage, he fancied that the ghost was plunging into the bowels of the earth. But the torso still remained visible. "Devil or not," cried Roland, "I follow you!"
He fired a second shot, which filled the cavernous space, into which the ghost had disappeared, with flame and smoke.
When the smoke had cleared away, Roland looked vainly around. He was alone. He sprang into the cistern howling with rage. He sounded the walls with the buttend of his pistol, he stamped on the ground; but everywhere, earth and stone gave back the sound of solid objects. He tried to pierce the darkness, but it was impossible. The faint moonlight that filtered into the cistern died out at the first steps.
"Oh!" cried Roland, "a torch! a torch!"
No one answered. The only sound to be heard was the spring bubbling close at hand. Realizing that further search would be useless, he emerged from the cavern. Drawing a powder-horn and two balls from his pocket, he loaded his pistols hastily. Then he took the path along which he had just come, found the dark passage, then the vast refectory, and again took his place at the end of the silent hall and waited.
But the hours of the night sounded successively, until the first gleam of dawn cast its pallid light upon the walls of the cloister.
"Well," muttered Roland, "it's over for to-night. Perhaps I shall be more fortunate the next time."
Twenty minutes later he re-entered the Château des Noires-Fontaines.
Two persons were waiting for Roland's return; one in anguish, the other with impatience. These two persons were Amélie and Sir John. Neither of them had slept for an instant. Amélie displayed her anguish only by the sound of her door, which was furtively closed as Roland came up the staircase. Roland heard the sound. He had not the courage to pass before her door without reassuring her. "Be easy, Amélie, I am here," he said. It did not occur to him that his sister might be anxious for any one but him.
Amélie darted from her room in her night-dress. It was easy to see from her pallor and the dark circles which spread nearly to the middle of her cheeks that she had not closed her eyes all night.
"Has nothing happened to you, Roland?" she cried, clasping her brother in her arms and feeling him over anxiously.
"Nor to any one else?"
"And you saw nothing?"
"I didn't say that," answered Roland.
"Good God! What did you see?"
"I'll tell that to you later. Meantime, there is no one either killed or wounded." "Ah! I breathe again!"
"Now, let me give you a bit of advice, little sister. Go to bed and sleep, if you can, till breakfast. I am going to do the same thing, and can assure yon I won't need any rocking. Good-night, or rather good-morning."
Roland kissed his sister tenderly. Then affecting to whistle a hunting-air carelessly, he ran up the next flight of steps. Sir John was frankly waiting for him in the hall. He went straight to the young man.
"Well?" he asked.
"Well, I didn't roll my stone entirely for nothing."
"Did you see any ghosts?"
"At any rate I saw something that resembled one very closely."
"Come, tell me all about it."
"I see you won't be able to sleep, or at best only fitfully, if I don't. Here's what happened, in a nutshell."
And Roland gave him a minute account of the night's adventure.
"Excellent," said Sir John, when Roland had finished. "I hope you have left something for me to do."
"I am even afraid," answered Roland, "that I have left you the hardest part." Then, as Sir John went over each detail, asking many questions about the localities, he said:
"Listen, Sir John. We will pay the Chartreuse a visit in broad daylight after breakfast, which will not interfere in the least with your night-watch. On the contrary, it will acquaint you with the localities. Only you must tell no one." "Oh!" exclaimed Sir John, "do I look like a gabbler?"
"No, that's true," cried Roland laughing, "you are not a gabbler, but I am a ninny." So saying, he entered his bedchamber.
After breakfast the two young men sauntered down the slopes of the garden, as if to take a walk along the banks of the Reissouse. Then they bore to the left, swung up the hill for about forty paces, struck into the highroad, and crossed the woods, till they reached the convent wall at the very place where Roland had climbed over it on the preceding night.
"My lord," said Roland, "this is the way."
"Very well," replied Sir John, "let us take it."
Slowly, with a wonderful strength of wrist, which betokened a man well trained in gymnastics, the Englishman seized the coping of the wall, swung himself to the top, and dropped down on the other side. Roland followed with the rapidity of one who is not achieving a feat for the first time. They were both on the other side, where the desertion and desolation were more visible by night than by day. The grass was growing knee high in the paths; the espaliers were tangled with vines so thick that the grapes could not ripen in the shadow of the leaves. The wall had given way in several places, and ivy, the parasite rather than the friend of ruins, was spreading everywhere.
As for the trees in the open space, plums, peaches and apricots, they had grown with the freedom of the oaks and beeches in the forest, whose breadth and thickness they seemed to envy. The sap, completely absorbed by the branches which were many and vigorous, produced but little fruit, and that imperfect. By the rustle of the tall grass, Sir John and Roland divined that the lizards, those crawling offsprings of solitude, had established their domicile there, from which they fled in amazement at this disturbance.
Roland led his friend straight to the door between the orchard and the cloister, but before entering he glanced at the clock. That clock, which went at night, was stopped in the day time. From the cloister he passed into the refectory. There the daylight showed under their true aspect the various objects which the darkness had clothed with such fantastic forms the night before. Roland showed Sir John the overturned stools, the table marked by the blow of the pistol, the door by which the phantom had entered. Accompanied by the Englishman, he followed the path he had taken in pursuit of the spectre. He recognized the obstacles which had hindered him, and noted how easily one who knew the locality might cross or avoid them.
At the spot where he had fired, he found the wad, but he looked in vain for the bullet. The arrangement of the passage, which ran slanting, made it impossible for the bullet, if its marks were not on the walls, to have missed the ghost. And yet if the ghost were hit, supposing it to be a solid body, how came it to remain erect? How had it escaped being wounded, and if wounded, why were there no bloodstains on the ground? And there was no trace of either blood or ball. Sir John was almost ready to admit that his friend had had to do with a veritable ghost.
"Some one came after me," said Roland, "and picked up the ball." "But if you fired at a man, why didn't the ball go into him?"
"Oh! that's easily explained. The man wore a coat of mail under his shroud." That was possible, but, nevertheless, Sir John shook his head dubiously. He preferred to believe in a supernatural occurrence; it gave him less trouble. Roland and he continued their investigations. They reached the end of the passage which opened on the furthest extremity of the orchard. It was there that Roland had seen his spectre for an instant as it glided into the dark vault. He made for the cistern, and so little did he hesitate that he might still have been following the ghost. There he understood how the darkness of the night had seemed to deepen by the absence of all exterior reflection. It was even difficult to see there by day.
Roland took two torches about a foot long from beneath his cloak, took a flint, lighted the tinder, and a match from the tinder. Both torches flared up. The problem was now to discover the way by which the ghost had disappeared. Roland and Sir John lowered their torches and examined the ground. The cistern was paved with large squares of limestone, which seemed to fit perfectly. Roland looked for his second ball as persistently as for the first. A stone lay loose at his feet, and, pushing it aside, he disclosed an iron ring screwed into one of the limestone blocks.
Without a word Roland seized the ring, braced his feet and pulled. The square turned on its pivot with an ease which proved that it was frequently subjected to the same manipulation. As it turned, it disclosed a subterranean passage. "Ah!" exclaimed Roland, "this is the way my spectre went."
He entered the yawning cavern, followed by Sir John. They traversed the same path that Morgan took when he returned to give an account of his expedition. At the end of the passage they came upon an iron gate opening into the mortuary vaults. Roland shook the gate, which yielded to his touch. They crossed this subterranean cemetery, and came to a second gate; like the first, it was open. With Roland still in front, they went up several steps, and found themselves in the choir of the chapel, where the scene we have related between Morgan and the Company of Jehu took place. Only now the stalls were empty, the choir was deserted, and the altar, degraded by the abandonment of worship, was no longer covered by the burning tapers or the sacred cloth.
It was evident to Roland that this was the goal of the false ghost, which Sir John persisted in believing a real one. But, real or false, Sir John admitted that its flight had brought it to this particular spot. He reflected a moment and then remarked: "As it is my turn to watch tonight, I have the right to choose my ground; I shall watch here."
And he pointed to a sort of table formed in the centre of the choir by an oaken pedestal which had formerly supported the eagle lectern.
"Indeed," said Roland, with the same heedlessness he showed in his own affairs, "you'll do very well there, only as you may find the gates locked and the stone fastened tonight, we had better look for some more direct way to get here." In less than five minutes they had found an outlet. The door of the old sacristy opened into the choir, and from the sacristy a broken window gave passage into the forest. The two men climbed through the window and found themselves in the forest thicket some twenty feet from the spot where they had killed the boar. "That's what we want," said Roland; "only, my dear Sir John, as you would never find your way by night in a forest which, even by day, is so impenetrable, I shall accompany you as far as this."
"Very well. But once I am inside, you are to leave me," said the Englishman. "I remember what you told me about the susceptibility of ghosts. If they know you are near, they may hesitate to appear, and as you have seen one, I insist on seeing at least one myself."
"I'll leave you, don't be afraid," replied Roland, adding, with a laugh, "Only I do fear one thing."
"What is that?"
"That in your double capacity of an Englishman and a heretic they won't feel at ease with you."
"Oh," replied Sir John, gravely, "what a pity I shall not have time to abjure before this evening."
The two friends, having seen all there was to see, returned to the chateau. No one, not even Amélie, had suspected that their walk was other than an ordinary one. The day passed without questions and without apparent anxiety; besides, it was already late when the two gentlemen returned.
At dinner, to Edouard's great delight, another hunt was proposed, and it furnished a topic for conversation during dinner and part of the evening. By ten o'clock, as usual, all had retired to their rooms, except Roland, who was in that of Sir John. The difference of character showed itself markedly in the preparations of the two men. Roland had made them joyously, as if for a pleasure trip; Sir John made his gravely, as if for a duel. He loaded his pistols with the utmost care and put them into his belt English fashion. And, instead of a cloak, which might have impeded his movements, he wore a top-coat with a high collar put on over his other coat. At half-past ten the pair left the house with the same precautions that Roland had observed when alone. It was five minutes before eleven when they reached the broken window, where the fallen stones served as a stepping-block. There, according to agreement, they were to part. Sir John, reminded Roland of this agreement.
"Yes," said Roland, "an agreement is an agreement with me. Only, let me give you a piece of advice."
"What is it?"
"I could not find the bullets because some one had been here and carried them off; and that was done beyond doubt to prevent me from seeing the dents on them."
"What sort of dent do you mean?"
"Those of the links of a coat of mail; my ghost was a man in armor." "That's too bad!" said Sir John; "I hoped for a ghost." Then, after a moment's silence and a sigh expressive of his deep regret in resigning the ghost, he asked: "What was your advice?"
"Fire at his face!"
Sir John nodded assent, pressed the young officer's hand, clambered through the window and disappeared in the sacristy.
"Good-night!" called Roland after him. Then with the indifference to danger which a soldier generally feels for himself and his companions, Roland took his way back to the Château des Noires-Fontaines, as he had promised Sir John.
18. The Trial
The next day Roland, who had been unable to sleep till about two in the morning, woke about seven. Collecting his scattered wits, he recalled what had passed between Sir John and himself the night before, and was astonished that the Englishman had not wakened him. He dressed hastily and went to Sir John's room at the risk of rousing him from his first sleep.
He knocked at the door. Sir John made no answer. Roland knocked again, louder this time. The same silence. This time some uneasiness mingled with Roland's curiosity. The key was on the outside; the young officer opened the door, and cast a rapid glance around the room. Sir John was not there; he had not returned. The bed was undisturbed. What had happened?
There was not an instant to lose, and we may be sure that, with that rapidity of decision we know in Roland, he lost not an instant. He rushed to his room, finished dressing, put his hunting knife into his belt, slung his rifle over his shoulder and went out. No one was yet awake except the chambermaid. Roland met her on the stairs.
"Tell Madame de Montrevel," said he, "that I have gone into the forest of Seillon with my gun. She must not worry if Sir John and I are not on time for breakfast." Then he darted rapidly away. Ten minutes later he reached the window where he had left Sir John the night before. He listened, not a sound came from within; the huntsman's ear could detect the morning woodland sounds, but no others. Roland climbed through the window with his customary agility, and rushed through the choir into the sacristy.
One look sufficed to show him that not only the choir but the entire chapel was empty. Had the spectres led the Englishman along the reverse of the way he had come himself? Possibly. Roland passed rapidly behind the altar, into the vaults, where he found the gate open. He entered the subterranean cemetery. Darkness hid its depths. He called Sir John three times. No one answered.
He reached the second gate; it was open like the first. He entered the vaulted passage; only, as it would be impossible to use his gun in such darkness, he slung it over his shoulder and drew out his hunting-knife. Feeling his way, he continued to advance without meeting anybody, but the further he went the deeper became the darkness, which indicated that the stone in the cistern was closed. He reached the steps, and mounted them until his head touched the revolving stone; then he made an effort, and the block turned. Roland saw daylight and leaped into the cistern. The door into the orchard stood open. Roland passed through it, crossed that portion of the orchard which lay between the cistern and the corridor at the other end of which he had fired upon the phantom. He passed along the corridor and entered the refectory. The refectory was empty.
Again, as in the funereal passageway, Roland called three times. The wondering echo, which seemed to have forgotten the tones of the human voice, answered stammering. It was improbable that Sir John had come this way; it was necessary to go back. Roland retraced his steps, and found himself in the choir again. That was where Sir John had intended to spend the night, and there some trace of him must be found.
Roland advanced only a short distance, and then a cry escaped him. A large spot of blood lay at his feet, staining the pavement. On the other side of the choir, a dozen feet from the blood, was another stain, not less large, nor less red, nor less recent. It seemed to make a pendant for the first.
One of these stains was to the right, the other to the left of that sort of pedestal intended, as we have said, to support the eagle lectern--the pedestal which Sir John had selected for his place of waiting. Roland went up to it. It was drenched with blood! Evidently the drama had taken place on that spot; a drama which, if all the signs were true, must have been terrible.
Roland, in his double capacity of huntsman and soldier, was keen at a quest. He could calculate the amount of blood lost by a man who was dead, or by one who was only wounded. That night three men had fallen, either dead or wounded. What were the probabilities?
The two stains in the choir to the right and left of the pedestal were probably the blood of Sir John's two antagonists. That on the pedestal was probably his own. Attacked on both sides, right and left, he had fired with both hands, killing or wounding a man with each shot. Hence these two bloodstains which reddened the pavement. He himself must have been struck down beside the pedestal, on which his blood had spurted.
After a few seconds of examination, Roland was as sure of this as if he had witnessed the struggle with his own eyes. Now, what had been done with the bodies? He cared little enough about two of them; but he was determined to know what had become of that of Sir John.
A track of blood started from the pedestal and led straight to the door. Sir John's body had been carried outside. Roland shook the massive door. It was only latched, and opened at the first pressure. Outside the sill the tracks of blood still continued. Roland could see through the underbrush the path by which the body had been carried. The broken branches, the trampled grass, led Roland to the edge of the wood on the road leading from Pont d'Ain to Bourg. There the body, living or dead, seemed to have been laid on the bank of the ditch. Beyond that no traces whatever.
A man passed just then, coming from the direction of the Château des NoiresFontaines. Roland went up to him.
"Have you seen anything on the road? Did you meet any one?" he inquired. "Yes," replied the man, "I saw two peasants carrying a body on a litter." "Ah!" cried Roland, "was it that of a living man?"
"The man was pale and motionless; he looked as if he were dead." "Was the blood flowing?"
"I saw some drops on the road."
"In that case, he is living."
Then taking a louis from his pocket he said: "There's a louis for you. Run for Dr. Milliet at Bourg; tell him to get a horse and come at full speed to the Château des Noires-Fontaines. You can add that there is a man there in danger of dying." While the peasant, stimulated by the reward, made all haste to Bourg, Roland, leaping along on his vigorous legs, was hurrying to the château.
And now, as our readers are, in all probability, as curious as Roland to know what had happened to Sir John, we shall give an account of the events of the night.
A few minutes before eleven, Sir John, as we have seen, entered what was usually known as La Correrie, or the pavilion of the Chartreuse, which was nothing more than a chapel erected in the woods. From the sacristy he entered the choir. It was empty and seemed solitary. A rather brilliant moon, veiled from time to time by a cloud, sent its bluish rays through the stained glass, cracked and broken, of the pointed windows. Sir John advanced to the middle of the choir, where he paused and remained standing beside the pedestal. The minutes slipped away. But this time it was not the convent clock which marked the time, it was the church at Péronnaz; that is to say, the nearest village to the chapel where Sir John was watching.
Everything happened up to midnight just as it had to Roland. Sir John heard only the vague rustling and passing noises of the night.
Midnight sounded; it was the moment he awaited with impatience, for it was then that something would happen, if anything was to happen. As the last stroke died away he thought he heard footsteps underground, and saw a light appear behind the iron gate leading to the mortuary vault. His whole attention was fixed on that spot.
A monk emerged from the passage, his hood brought low over his eyes, and carrying a torch in his hand. He wore the dress of a Chartreux. A second one followed, then a third. Sir John counted twelve. They separated before the altar. There were twelve stalls in the choir; six to the right of Sir John, six to his left. The twelve monks silently took their places in the twelve stalls. Each one placed his torch in a hole made for that purpose in the oaken desk, and waited. A thirteenth monk appeared and took his stand before the altar.
None of the monks affected the fantastic behavior of ghosts or shades; they all belonged undoubtedly to the earth, and were living men.
Sir John, a pistol in each hand, stood leaning against the pedestal in the middle of the choir, and watched with the utmost coolness this manoeuvre which tended to surround him. The monks were standing, like him, erect and silent. The monk at the altar broke the silence.
"Brothers," he asked, "why are the Avengers assembled?"
"To judge a blasphemer!" replied the monks.
"What crime has this blasphemer committed?" continued the interlocutor. "He has tried to discover the secrets of the Companions of Jehu." "What penalty has he incurred?"
The monk at the altar waited, apparently, to give time for the sentence which had just been pronounced to reach the heart of him whom it concerned. Then turning to the Englishman, who continued as calm as if he were at a comedy, he said: "Sir John Tanlay, you are a foreigner and an Englishman--a double reason why you should leave the Companions of Jehu to fight their own battles with the government, whose downfall they have sworn. You failed in wisdom, you yielded to idle curiosity; instead of keeping away, you have entered the lion's den, and the lion will rend you."
Then after an instant's silence, during which he seemed to await the Englishman's reply, he resumed, seeing that he remained silent: "Sir John Tanlay, you are condemned to death. Prepare to die!"
"Ah! I see that I have fallen into the hands of a band of thieves. If so, I can buy myself off with a ransom." Then turning to the monk at the altar he asked, "How much do you demand, captain?"
A threatening murmur greeted these insolent words. The monk at the altar stretched out his hand.
"You are mistaken, Sir John. We are not a band of thieves," said he in a tone as calm and composed as Sir John's, "and the proof is, that if you have money or jewels upon you, you need only give me your instructions, and they will be remitted either to your family or the person whom you designate." "And what guarantee shall I have that my last wishes will be carried out?" "My word."
"The word of the leader of assassins! I don't trust it."
"This time, as before, you are mistaken, Sir John. I am no more the leader of assassins than I am a captain of thieves."
"Who are you, then?"
"The elect of celestial vengeance. I am the envoy of Jehu, King of Israel, who was anointed by the prophet Elisha to destroy the house of Ahab." "If you are what you say, why do you veil your faces? Why do you wear armor under your robes? The elect strike openly; they risk death in giving death. Throw back your hoods, show me your naked breasts, and I will admit that you are what you pretend to be."
"Brothers, you have heard him," said the monk at the altar.
Then, stripping off his gown, he opened his coat, waistcoat and even his shirt. Each monk did the same, and stood with face exposed and bared breast. They were all handsome young men, of whom the eldest was apparently not more than thirty-five. Their dress was elegant, but, strange fact, none was armed. They were judges and nothing more.
"Be satisfied, Sir John Tanlay," said the monk at the altar. "You will die, but in dying, you can, as you wished just now, recognize and kill your judges. Sir John, you have five minutes to prepare your soul for death!"
Sir John, instead of profiting by this permission to think of his eternal salvation, coolly cocked his pistols to see that the triggers were all right, and passed a ramrod down the barrels to make sure that the balls were there. Then, without waiting for the five minutes to expire, he said: "Gentlemen, I am ready. Are you?" The young men looked at each other; then, on a sign from their chief, they walked straight to Sir John, and surrounded him on all sides. The monk at the altar stood immovable, commanding with his eye the scene that was about to take place.
Sir John had only two pistols, consequently he could only kill two men. He selected his victims and fired. Two Companions of Jehu rolled upon the pavement, which they reddened with their blood. The others, as if nothing had happened, still advanced with outstretched hands upon Sir John. Sir John seized his pistols by the muzzle, using them like hammers. He was vigorous and the struggle was long. For ten minutes, a confused group tussled in the centre of the choir; then this violent commotion ceased, and the Companions of Jehu drew away to right and left, and regained their stalls, leaving Sir John bound with their girdles and lying upon the pedestal in the choir.
"Have you commended your soul to God?" asked the monk at the altar. "Yes, assassin," answered Sir John; "you may strike."
The monk took a dagger from the altar, advanced with uplifted arm, and, standing over Sir John, levelled the dagger at his breast: "Sir John Tanlay," he said, "you are a brave man, and doubtless a man of honor. Swear that you will never breathe a syllable of what you have seen; swear that under no circumstances, whatever they may be, you will recognize us, and we will spare your life."
"As soon as I leave here," replied Sir John, "I shall denounce you. The moment I am free I will trail you down."
"Swear," repeated the monk a second time.
"No," said Sir John.
"Swear," said the monk for the third time.
"Never," replied Sir John.
"Then die, since you will it!"
And he drove his dagger up to the hilt in Sir John's breast; who, whether by force of will, or because the blow killed him at once, did not even sigh. Then the monk in a loud sonorous voice, like a man conscious of having done his duty, exclaimed: "Justice is done!"
Then he returned to the altar, leaving the dagger in the wound and said: "Brothers, you are invited to the ball of the Victims, which takes place in Paris on the 21st of January next, at No. 35 Rue du Bac, in memory of the death of King Louis XVI."
So saying, he re-entered the subterranean passage, followed by the remaining ten monks, each bearing his torch in his hand. Two torches remained to light the three bodies.
A moment later four serving brothers entered, and raised first the bodies of the two monks, which they carried into the vault. Then they returned, lifted that of Sir John, placed it on a stretcher, and carried it out of the chapel by the entrance door, which they closed after them. Two of the monks walked in front of the stretcher, carrying the two torches left in the chapel.
And now, if our readers ask why there was this difference between the treatment received by Roland and that administered to Sir John, why this mansuetude toward one and this rigor toward the other, we reply: Remember that Morgan enjoined on his brethren the safety of Amélie's brother, and thus safeguarded, under no circumstances could Roland die by the hand of a Companion of Jehu.
19. The Little House In The Rue De La Victoire
While they are bearing Sir John Tanlay's body to the Château des NoiresFontaines; while Roland is hurrying in the same direction; while the peasant, despatched by him, is hastening to Bourg to notify Dr. Milliet of the catastrophe which necessitated his immediate presence at Madame de Montrevel's home, let us jump over the distance which separates Bourg from Paris, and the time which elapsed between the 16th of October and the 7th of November; that is to say, between the 24th of Vendemiaire and the 16th Brumaire, and repair to that little house in the Rue de la Victoire rendered historically famous by the conspiracy of the 18th Brumaire, which issued from it fully armed.
It is the same house which stands there to-day on the right of the street at No. 60, apparently astonished to present to the eye, after so many successive changes of government, the consular fasces which may still be seen on the panels of its double oaken doors.
Let us follow the long, narrow alley of lindens that leads from the gate on the street to the door of the house; let us enter the antechamber, take the hall to the right, ascend the twenty steps that lead to a study hung with green paper, and furnished with curtains, easy chairs and couches of the same color. The walls are covered with geographical charts and plans of cities. Bookcases of maple are ranged on either side of the fireplace, which they inclose. The chairs, sofas, tables and desks are piled with books; there is scarcely any room on the chairs to sit down, or on the desks and tables to write.
In the midst of this encumbering mass of reports, letters, pamphlets and books, a man had cleared a space for himself where he was now seated, clutching his hair impatiently from time to time, as he endeavored to decipher a page of notes, compared to which the hieroglyphics on the obelisk of Luxor, would have been transparently intelligible. Just as the secretary's impatience was approaching desperation, the door opened and a young officer wearing an aide's uniform entered.
The secretary raised his head, and a lively expression of satisfaction crossed his face.
"Oh! my dear Roland," said he; "you here at last! I am delighted to see you, for three reasons. First, because I am wearying for you; second, because the general is impatient for your return, and keeps up a hullaballoo about it; and third, because you can help me to read this, with which I have been struggling for the last ten minutes. But first of all, kiss me."
And the secretary and the aide-de-camp embraced each other.
"Well," said the latter, "let us see this word that is troubling you so, my dear Bourrienne!"
"Ah! my dear fellow, what writing! I get a white hair for every page I decipher, and this is my third to-day! Here, read it if you can."
Roland took the sheet from the secretary, and fixing his eyes on the spot indicated, read quite fluently: "Paragraph XI. The Nile, from Assouan to a distance of twelve miles north of Cairo, flows in a single stream"--"Well," said he, interrupting himself, "that's all plain sailing. What did you mean? The general, on the contrary, took pains when he wrote that."
"Go on, go on," said Bourrienne.
The young man resumed: "'From that point, which is called'--ah! Ah!" "There you are! Now what do you say to that?"
Roland repeated: "'Which is called'--The devil! 'Which is called--'" "Yes, 'Which is called'--after that?"
"What will you give me, Bourrienne," cried Roland, "if I guess it?"
"The first colonel's commission I find signed in blank."
"By my faith, no! I don't want to leave the general; I'd rather have a good father than five hundred naughty children. I'll give you the three words for nothing." "What! are there three words there?"
"They don't look as if they were quite three, I admit. Now listen, and make obeisance to me: 'From the point called Ventre della Vacca.'"
"Ha! Ventre de la Vache! Confound it! He's illegible enough in French, but if he takes it into his head to go off in Italian, and that Corsican patois to boot! I thought I only ran the risk of going crazy, but then I should become stupid, too. Well, you've got it," and he read the whole sentence consecutively: "'The Nile, from Assouan to a distance of twelve miles north of Cairo, flows in a single stream; from that point, which is called Ventre de la Vache, it forms the branches of the Rosetta and the Damietta.' Thank you, Roland," and he began to write the end of the paragraph, of which the first lines were already committed to paper. "Tell me," said Roland; "is he still got his hobby, the dear general, of colonizing Egypt?"
"Yes; and then, as a sort of offset, a little governing in France; we will colonize from a distance."
"Well, my dear Bourrienne, suppose you post me a little on matters in this country, so that I won't seem to have just arrived from Timbuctoo." "In the first place, did you come back of your own accord, or were you recalled?" "Recalled? I should think so!"
"The general himself."
"Written by himself; see!"
The young man drew a paper from his pocket containing two lines, not signed, in the same handwriting as that which Bourrienne had before him. These two lines said: "'Start. Be in Paris 16th Brumaire. I need you."
"Yes," said Bourrienne, "I think it will be on the eighteenth."
"What will be on the eighteenth?"
"On my word, Roland, you ask more than I know. That man, as you are aware, is not communicative. What will take place on the 18th Brumaire? I don't know as yet; but I'll answer for it that something will happen."
"Oh! you must have a suspicion!"
"I think he means to make himself Director in place of Sièyes, or perhaps president in Gohier's stead."
"Good! How about the Constitution of the year III.?"
"The Constitution of the year III. What about that?"
"Why, yes, a man must be forty years old to be a Director; and the general lacks just ten of them."
"The deuce! so much the worse for the Constitution. They must violate it." "It is rather young yet, Bourrienne; they don't, as a rule, violate children of seven."
"My dear fellow, in Barras' hands everything grows old rapidly. The little girl of seven is already an old prostitute."
Roland shook his head.
"Well, what is it?" asked Bourrienne.
"Why, I don't believe the general will make himself a simple Director with four colleagues. Just imagine it--five kings of France! It wouldn't be a Directory any longer, but a four-in-hand."
"Anyway, up to the present, that is all he has allowed any one to perceive; but you know, my dear friend, if we want to know the general's secrets we must guess them."
"Faith! I'm too lazy to take the trouble, Bourrienne. Besides, I'm a regular Janissary--what is to be, will be. Why the devil should I bother to form an opinion and battle for it. It's quite wearisome enough to have to live." And the young man enforced his favorite aphorism with a long yawn; then he added: "Do you think there will be any sword play?"
"Then there will be a chance of getting killed; that's all I want. Where is the general?"
"With Madame Bonaparte. He went to her about fifteen minutes ago. Have you let him know you are here?"
"No, I wanted to see you first. But I hear his step now."
Just then the door was opened abruptly, and the same historical personage whom we saw playing a silent part incognito at Avignon appeared on the threshold, in the picturesque uniform of the general-in-chief of the army of Egypt, except that, being in his own house, he was bare-headed. Roland thought his eyes were more hollow and his skin more leaden than usual. But the moment he saw the young man, Bonaparte's gloomy, or rather meditative, eye emitted a flash of joy.
"Ah, here you are, Roland!" he said. "True as steel! Called, you come. Welcome, my dear fellow." And he offered Roland his hand. Then he asked, with an imperceptible smile, "What were you doing with Bourrienne?"
"Waiting for you, general."
"And in the meantime gossiping like two old women."
"I admit it, general. I was showing him my order to be here on the 16th Brumaire."
"Did I write the 16th or the 17th?"
"Oh! the 16th, general. The 17th would have been too late."
"Why too late?"
"Why, hang it, Bourrienne says there are to be great doings here on the 18th." "Capital," muttered Bourrienne; "the scatter-brain will earn me a wigging." "Ah! So he told you I had planned great doings for the 18th?" Then, approaching Bourrienne, Bonaparte pinched his ear, and said, "Tell-tale!" Then to Roland he added: "Well, it is so, my dear fellow, we have made great plans for the 18th. My wife and I dine with President Gohier; an excellent man, who was very polite to Josephine during my absence. You are to dine with us, Roland."
Roland looked at Bonaparte. "Was it for that you brought me here, general?" he asked, laughing.
"For that, and something else, too, perhaps. Bourrienne, write--"
Bourrienne hastily seized his pen.
"Are you ready?"
"'My dear President, I write to let you know that my wife and I, with one of my aides-de-camp, will dine with you the day after to-morrow. This is merely to say that we shall be quite satisfied with a family dinner.'"
"How do you mean?"
"Shall I put, 'Liberty, equality, fraternity'?"
"Or death," added Roland.
"No," said Bonaparte; "give me the pen."
He took the pen from Bourrienne's hands and wrote, "Ever yours, Bonaparte." Then, pushing away the paper, he added: "Address it, Bourrienne, and send an orderly with it."
Bourrienne wrote the address, sealed it, and rang the bell. An officer on duty entered.
"Send an orderly with that," said Bourrienne.
"There is an answer," added Bonaparte.
The officer closed the door.
"Bourrienne," said Bonaparte, pointing to Roland, "look at your friend." "Well, general, I am looking at him."
"Do you know what he did at Avignon?"
"I hope he didn't make a pope."
"No, he threw a plate at a man's head."
"Oh, that was hasty!"
"That's not all."
"That I can well imagine."
"He fought a duel with that man."
"And, most naturally, he killed him."
"Exactly. Do you know why he did it?"
The general shrugged his shoulders, and said: "Because the man said that I was a thief." Then looking at Roland with an indefinable expression of raillery and affection, he added: "Ninny!" Then suddenly he burst out: "Oh! by the way, and the Englishman?"
"Exactly, the Englishman, general. I was just going to speak to you about him." "Is he still in France?"
"Yes, and for awhile even I thought he would remain here till the last trumpet blew its blast through the valley of Jehosaphat."
"Did you miss killing him?"
"Oh! no, not I. We are the best friends in the world. General, he is a capital fellow, and so original to boot that I'm going to ask a bit of a favor for him." "The devil! For an Englishman?" said Bonaparte, shaking his head. "I don't like the English."
"Good! As a people, but individually--"
"Well, what happened to your friend?"
"He was tried, condemned, and executed."
"What the devil are you telling us?"
"God's truth, general."
"What do you mean when you say, 'He was tried, condemned, and guillotined'?" "Oh! not exactly that. Tried and condemned, but not guillotined. If he had been guillotined he would be more dangerously ill than he is now."
"Now, what are you gabbling about? What court tried and condemned him?" "That of the Companions of Jehu!"
"And who are the Companions of Jehu?"
"Goodness! Have you forgotten our friend Morgan already, the masked man who brought back the wine-merchant's two hundred louis?"
"No," replied Bonaparte, "I have not forgotten him. I told you about the scamp's audacity, didn't I, Bourrienne?"
"Yes, general," said Bourrienne, "and I answered that, had I been in your place, I should have tried to find out who he was."
"And the general would know, had he left me alone. I was just going to spring at his throat and tear off his mask, when the general said, in that tone you know so well: 'Friend Roland!'"
"Come back to your Englishman, chatterbox!" cried the general. "Did Morgan murder him?"
"No, not he himself, but his Companions."
"But you were speaking of a court and a trial just now."
"General, you are always the same," said Roland, with their old school familiarity; "you want to know, and you don't give me time to tell you."
"Get elected to the Five Hundred, and you can talk as much as you like." "Good! In the Five Hundred I should have four hundred and ninety-nine colleagues who would want to talk as much as I, and who would take the words out of my mouth. I'd rather be interrupted by you than by a lawyer." "Will you go on?"
"I ask nothing better. Now imagine, general, there is a Chartreuse near Bourg--" "The Chartreuse of Seillon; I know it."
"What! You know the Chartreuse of Seillon?" demanded Roland.
"Doesn't the general know everything?" cried Bourrienne.
"Well, about the Chartreuse; are there any monks there now?"
"No; only ghosts--"
"Are you, perchance, going to tell me a ghost-story?"
"And a famous one at that!"
"The devil! Bourrienne knows I love them. Go on."
"Well, we were told at home that the Chartreuse was haunted by ghosts. Of course, you understand that Sir John and I, or rather I and Sir John, wanted to clear our minds about it. So we each spent a night there."
"Why, at the Chartreuse."
Bonaparte made an imperceptible sign of the cross with his thumb, a Corsican habit which he never lost.
"Ah!" he exclaimed, "did you see any ghosts?"
"And what did you do to it?"
"Shot at it."
"It walked away."
"And you allowed yourself to be baffled?"
"Good! How well yon know me! I followed it, and fired again. But as he knew his way among the ruins better than I, he escaped me."
"The next day it was Sir John's turn; I mean our Englishman."
"Did he see your ghost?"
"He saw something better. He saw twelve monks enter the church, who tried him for trying to find out their secrets, condemned him to death, and who, on my word of honor, stabbed him."
"Didn't he defend himself?"
"Like a lion. He killed two."
"Is he dead?"
"Almost, but I hope he will recover. Just imagine, general; he was found by the road, and brought home with a dagger in his breast, like a prop in a vineyard." "Why, it's like a scene of the Sainte-Vehme, neither more nor less." "And on the blade of the dagger, that there might be no doubt as to who did the deed, were graven the words: 'Companions of Jehu.'"
"Why, it isn't possible that such things can happen in France, in the last year of the eighteenth century. It might do for Germany in the Middle Ages, in the days of the Henrys and the Ottos."
"Not possible, general? But here is the dagger. What do you say to that? Attractive, isn't it?"
And the young man drew from under his coat a dagger made entirely of steel, blade and handle. The handle was shaped like a cross, and on the blade, sure enough, were engraved the words, "Companions of Jehu."
Bonaparte examined the weapon carefully.
"And you say they planted that plaything in your Englishman's breast?" "Up to the hilt."
"And he's not dead?"
"Not yet, at any rate."
"Have you been listening, Bourrienne?"
"With the greatest interest."
"You must remind me of this, Roland."
"When?--when I am master. Come and say good-day to Josephine. Come, Bourrienne, you will dine with us, and be careful what you say, you two, for Moreau is coming to dinner. Ah! I will keep the dagger as a curiosity." He went out first, followed by Roland, who was, soon after, followed by Bourrienne. On the stairs they met the orderly who had taken the note to Gohier. "Well?" asked the general.
"Here is the President's answer."
"Give it to me."
Bonaparte broke the seal, and read:
The President Gohier is enchanted the good fortune promised him by General Bonaparte. He will expect him to dinner the day after to-morrow, the 18th Brumaire, with his charming wife, and the aide-de-camp, whoever he may be. Dinner will be served at five o'clock.
If the hour does not suit General Bonaparte, will he kindly make known the one he would prefer.
The President, GOHIER. 16th Brumaire, year VII.
With an indescribable smile, Bonaparte put the letter in his pocket. Then turning to Roland, he asked: "Do you know President Gohier?"
"Ah! you'll see; he's an excellent man."
These words were pronounced in a tone no less indescribable than the smile.