The Companions of Jehu HTML version

2. An Italian Proverb
Although the two sentiments which we have just indicated were the dominant
ones, they did not manifest themselves to an equal degree in all present. The
shades were graduated according to the sex, age, character, we may almost say,
the social positions of the hearers. The wine merchant, Jean Picot, the principal
personage in the late event, recognizing at first sight by his dress, weapons,
mask, one of the men who had stopped the coach on the preceding day, was at
first sight stupefied, then little by little, as he grasped the purport of this
mysterious brigand's visit to him, he had passed from stupefaction to joy, through
the intermediate phases separating these two emotions. His bag of gold was
beside him, yet he seemingly dared not touch it; perhaps he feared that the
instant his hand went forth toward it, it would melt like the dream-gold which
vanishes during that period of progressive lucidity which separates profound
slumber from thorough awakening.
The stout gentleman of the diligence and his wife had displayed, like their
travelling companions, the most absolute and complete terror. Seated to the left
of Jean Picot, when the bandit approached the wine merchant, the husband, in
the vain hope of maintaining a respectable distance between himself and the
Companion of Jehu, pushed his chair back against that of his wife, who, yielding
to the pressure, in turn endeavored to push back hers. But as the next chair was
occupied by citizen Alfred de Barjols, who had no reason to fear these men
whom he had just praised so highly, the chair of the stout man's wife
encountered an obstacle in the immovability of the young noble; so, as at
Marengo, eight or nine months later, when the general in command judged it time
to resume the offensive, the retrograde movement was arrested.
As for him--we are speaking of the citizen Alfred de Barjols--his attitude, like that
of the abbé who had given the Biblical explanation about Jehu, King of Israel,
and his mission from Elisha, his attitude, we say, was that of a man who not only
experiences no fear, but who even expects the event in question, however
unexpected it may be. His lips wore a smile as he watched the masked man, and
had the guests not been so preoccupied with the two principal actors in this
scene, they might have remarked the almost imperceptible sign exchanged
between the eyes of the bandit and the young noble, and transmitted instantly by
the latter to the abbé.
The two travellers whom we introduced to the table d'hôte, and who as we have
said sat apart at the end of the table, preserved an attitude conformable to their
respective characters. The younger of the two had instinctively put his hand to
his side, as if to seek an absent weapon, and had risen with a spring, as if to rush
at the masked man's throat, in which purpose he had certainly not failed had he
been alone; but the elder, who seemed to possess not only the habit but the right
of command, contented himself by regrasping his coat, and saying, in an
imperious, almost harsh tone: "Sit down, Roland!" And the young man had
resumed his seat.