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AFTER DARK by Wilkie Collins

Part 5 out of 8

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sister filled her with a vague sense of terror which she could
not explain to herself; which it was imperatively necessary that
she should conceal; and which, on those very accounts, became a
daily and hourly torment to her that was almost more than she
could bear.

One consolation alone supported her: Rosamond and she were not to
be separated. She knew that the baron secretly disliked her as
much as she disliked him; she knew that she must bid farewell to
the brighter and happier part of her life on the day when she
went to live under the same roof with her sister's husband; but,
true to the promise made years and years ago by her dying
mother's bed--true to the affection which was the ruling and
beautiful feeling of her whole existence--she never hesitated
about indulging Rosamond's wish, when the girl, in her bright,
light-hearted way, said that she could never get on comfortably
in the marriage state unless she had Ida to live with her and
help her just the same as ever. The baron was too polite a man
even to _look_ dissatisfied when he heard of the proposed
arrangement; and it was therefore settled from the beginning that
Ida was always to live with her sister.

The marriage took place in the summer, and the bride and
bridegroom went to spend their honeymoon in Cumberland. On their
return to Glenwith Grange, a visit to the baron's sisters, in
Normandy, was talked of; but the execution of this project was
suddenly and disastrously suspended by the death of Mr. Welwyn,
from an attack of pleurisy.

In consequence of this calamity, the projected journey was of
course deferred; and when autumn and the shooting season came,
the baron was unwilling to leave the well-stocked preserves of
the Grange. He seemed, indeed, to grow less and less inclined, as
time advanced, for the trip to Normandy; and wrote excuse after
excuse to his sisters, when letters arrived from them urging him
to pay the promised visit. In the winter-time, he said he would
not allow his wife to risk a long journey. In the spring, his
health was pronounced to be delicate. In the genial summer-time,
the accomplishment of the proposed visit would be impossible, for
at that period the baroness expected to become a mother. Such
were the apologies which Franval seemed almost glad to be able to
send to his sisters in France.

The marriage was, in the strictest sense of the term, a happy
one. The baron, though he never altogether lost the strange
restraint and reserve of his manner, was, in his quiet, peculiar
way, the fondest and kindest of husbands. He went to town
occasionally on business, but always seemed glad to return to the
baroness; he never varied in the politeness of his bearing toward
his wife's sister; he behaved with the most courteous hospitality
toward all the friends of the Welwyns; in short, he thoroughly
justified the good opinion which Rosamond and her father had
formed of him when they first met at Paris. And yet no experience
of his character thoroughly re-assured Ida. Months passed on
quietly and pleasantly; and still that secret sadness, that
indefinable, unreasonable apprehension on Rosamond's account,
hung heavily on her sister's heart.

At the beginning of the first summer months, a little domestic
inconvenience happened, which showed the baroness, for the first
time, that her husband's temper could be seriously ruffled--and
that by the veriest trifle. He was in the habit of taking in two
French provincial newspapers--one published at Bordeaux and the
other at Havre. He always opened these journals the moment they
came, looked at one particular column of each with the deepest
attention, for a few minutes, then carelessly threw them aside
into his waste-paper basket. His wife and her sister were at
first rather surprised at the manner in which he read his two
papers; but they thought no more of it when he explained that he
only took them in to consult them about French commercial
intelligence, which might be, occasionally, of importance to him.

These papers were published weekly. On the occasion to which I
have just referred, the Bordeaux paper came on the proper day, as
usual; but the Havre paper never made its appearance. This
trifling circumstance seemed to make the baron seriously uneasy.
He wrote off directly to the country post-office and to the
newspaper agent in London. His wife, astonished to see his
tranquillity so completely overthrown by so slight a cause, tried
to restore his good humor by jesting with him about the missing
newspaper. He replied by the first angry and unfeeling words that
she had heard issue from his lips. She was then within about six
weeks of her confinement, and very unfit to bear harsh answers
from anybody--least of all from her husband.

On the second day no answer came. On the afternoon of the third,
the baron rode off to the post town to make inquiries. About an
hour after he had gone, a strange gentleman came to the Grange
and asked to see th e baroness. On being informed that she was
not well enough to receive visitors, he sent up a message that
his business was of great importance and that he would wait
downstairs for a second answer.

On receiving this message, Rosamond turned, as usual, to her
elder sister for advice. Ida went downstairs immediately to see
the stranger. What I am now about to tell you of the
extraordinary interview which took place between them, and of the
shocking events that followed it, I have heard from Miss Welwyn's
own lips.

She felt unaccountably nervous when she entered the room. The
stranger bowed very politely, and asked, in a foreign accent, if
she were the Baroness Franval. She set him right on this point,
and told him she attended to all matters of business for the
baroness; adding that, if his errand at all concerned her
sister's husband, the baron was not then at home.

The stranger answered that he was aware of it when he called, and
that the unpleasant business on which he came could not be
confided to the baron--at least, in the first instance.

She asked why. He said he was there to explain; and expressed
himself as feeling greatly relieved at having to open his
business to her, because she would, doubtless, be best able to
prepare her sister for the bad news that he was, unfortunately,
obliged to bring. The sudden faintness which overcame her, as he
spoke those words, prevented her from addressing him in return.
He poured out some water for her from a bottle which happened to
be standing on the table, and asked if he might depend on her
fortitude. She tried to say "Yes"; but the violent throbbing of
her heart seemed to choke her. He took a foreign newspaper from
his pocket, saying that he was a secret agent of the French
police--that the paper was the Havre _Journal_, for the past
week, and that it had been expressly kept from reaching the
baron, as usual, through his (the agent's) interference. He then
opened the newspaper, and begged that she would nerve herself
sufficiently (for her sister's sake) to read certain lines, which
would give her some hint of the business that brought him there.
He pointed to the passage as he spoke. It was among the "Shipping
Entries," and was thus expressed:

"Arrived, the _Berenice_, from San Francisco, with a valuable
cargo of hides. She brings one passenger, the Baron Franval, of
Chateau Franval, in Normandy."

As Miss Welwyn read the entry, her heart, which had been
throbbing violently but the moment before, seemed suddenly to
cease from all action, and she began to shiver, though it was a
warm June evening. The agent held the tumbler to her lips, and
made her drink a little of the water, entreating her very
earnestly to take courage and listen to him. He then sat down,
and referred again to the entry, every word he uttered seeming to
burn itself in forever (as she expressed it) on her memory and
her heart.

He said: "It has been ascertained beyond the possibility of doubt
that there is no mistake about the name in the lines you have
just read. And it is as certain as that we are here, that there
is only _one_ Baron Franval now alive. The question, therefore,
is, whether the passenger by the _Berenice_ is the true baron,
or--I beg you most earnestly to bear with me and to compose
yourself--or the husband of your sister. The person who arrived
last week at Harve was scouted as an impostor by the ladies at
the chateau, the moment he presented himself there as the
brother, returning to them after sixteen years of absence. The
authorities were communicated with, and I and my assistants were
instantly sent for from Paris.

"We wasted no time in questioning the supposed impostor. He
either was, or affected to be, in a perfect frenzy of grief and
indignation. We just ascertained, from competent witnesses, that
he bore an extraordinary resemblance to the real baron, and that
he was perfectly familiar with places and persons in and about
the chateau; we just ascertained that, and then proceeded to
confer with the local authorities, and to examine their private
entries of suspected persons in their jurisdiction, ranging back
over a past period of twenty years or more. One of the entries
thus consulted contained these particulars: 'Hector Auguste
Monbrun, son of a respectable proprietor in Normandy. Well
educated; gentleman-like manners. On bad terms with his family.
Character: bold, cunning, unscrupulous, self-possessed. Is a
clever mimic. May be easily recognized by his striking likeness
to the Baron Franval. Imprisoned at twenty for theft and
assault.' "

Miss Welwyn saw the agent look up at her after he had read this
extract from the police-book, to ascertain if she was still able
to listen to him. He asked, with some appearance of alarm, as
their eyes met, if she would like some more water. She was just
able to make a sign in the negative. He took a second extract
from his pocket-book, and went on.

He said: "The next entry under the same name was dated four years
later, and ran thus, 'H. A. Monbrun, condemned to the galleys for
life, for assassination, and other crimes not officially
necessary to be here specified. Escaped from custody at Toulon.
Is known, since the expiration of his first term of imprisomnent,
to have allowed his beard to grow, and to have worn his hair
long, with the intention of rendering it impossible for those
acquainted with him in his native province to recognize him, as
heretofore, by his likeness to the Baron Franval.' There were
more particulars added, not important enough for extract. We
immediately examined the supposed impostor; for, if he was
Monbrun, we knew that we should find on his shoulder the two
letters of the convict brand, 'T. F.,' standing for _Travaux
Forces_. After the minutest examination with the mechanical and
chemical tests used on such occasions, not the slightest trace of
the brand was to be found. The moment this astounding discovery
was made, I started to lay an embargo on the forthcoming numbers
of the Havre _Journal_ for that week, which were about to be sent
to the English agent in London. I arrived at Havre on Saturday
(the morning of publication), in time to execute my design. I
waited there long enough to communicate by telegraph with my
superiors in Paris, then hastened to this place. What my errand
here is, you may--"

He might have gone on speaking for some moments longer; but Miss
Welwyn heard no more.

Her first sensation of returning consciousness was the feeling
that water was being sprinkled on her face. Then she saw that all
the windows in the room had been set wide open, to give her air;
and that she and the agent were still alone. At first she felt
bewildered, and hardly knew who he was; but he soon recalled to
her mind the horrible realities that had brought him there, by
apologizing for not having summoned assistance when she fainted.
He said it was of the last importance, in Franval's absence, that
no one in the house should imagine that anything unusual was
taking place in it. Then, after giving her an interval of a
minute or two to collect what little strength she had left, he
added that he would not increase her sufferings by saying
anything more, just then, on the shocking subject of the
investigation which it was his duty to make--that he would leave
her to recover herself, and to consider what was the best course
to be taken with the baroness in the present terrible
emergency--and that he would privately return to the house
between eight and nine o'clock that evening, ready to act as Miss
Welwyn wished, and to afford her and her sister any aid and
protection of which they might stand in need. With these words he
bowed, and noiselessly quitted the room.

For the first few awful minutes after she was left alone, Miss
Welwyn sat helpless and speechless; utterly numbed in heart, and
mind, and body--then a sort of instinct (she was incapable of
thinking) seemed to urge her to conceal the fearful news from her
sister as long as possible. She ran upstairs to Rosamond's
sitting-room, and called through the door (for she dared not
trust herself in her sister's presence) that the visitor had come
on some troublesome business from their
late father's lawyers, and that she was going to shut herself
up, and write some long letters in connection with that business.
After she had got into her own room, she was never sensible of
how time was passing--never conscious of any feeling within her,
except a baseless, helpless hope that the French police might yet
be proved to have made some terrible mistake--until she heard a
violent shower of rain come on a little after sunset. The noise
of the rain, and the freshness it brought with it in the air,
seemed to awaken her as if from a painful and a fearful sleep.
The power of reflection returned to her; her heart heaved and
bounded with an overwhelming terror, as the thought of Rosamond
came back vividly to it; her memory recurred despairingly to the
long-past day of her mother's death, and to the farewell promise
she had made by her mother's bedside. She burst into an
hysterical passion of weeping that seemed to be tearing her to
pieces. In the midst of it she heard the clatter of a horse's
hoofs in the courtyard, and knew that Rosamond's husband had come
back.

Dipping her handkerchief in cold water, and passing it over her
eyes as she left the room, she instantly hastened to her sister.

Fortunately the daylight was fading in the old-fashioned chamber
that Rosamond occupied. Before they could say two words to each
other, Franval was in the room. He seemed violently irritated;
said that he had waited for the arrival of the mail--that the
missing newspaper had not come by it--that he had got wet
through--that he felt a shivering fit coming on--and that he
believed he had caught a violent cold. His wife anxiously
suggested some simple remedies. He roughly interrupted her,
saying there was but one remedy, the remedy of going to bed; and
so left them without another word. She just put her handkerchief
to her eyes, and said softly to her sister, "How he is changed!"
then spoke no more. They sat silent for half an hour or longer.
After that, Rosamond went affectionately and forgivingly to see
how her husband was. She returned, saying that he was in bed, and
in a deep, heavy sleep; and predicting hopefully that he would
wake up quite well the next morning. In a few minutes more the
clock stuck nine; and Ida heard the servant's step ascending the
stairs. She suspected what his errand was, and went out to meet
him. Her presentiment had not deceived her; the police agent had
arrived, and was waiting for her downstairs.

He asked her if she had said anything to her sister, or had
thought of any plan of action, the moment she entered the room;
and, on receiving a reply in the negative, inquired, further, if
"the baron" had come home yet. She answered that he had; that he
was ill and tired, and vexed, and that he had gone to bed. The
agent asked in an eager whisper if she knew that he was asleep,
and alone in bed? and, when he received her reply, said that he
must go up into the bedroom directly.

She began to feel the faintness coming over her again, and with
it sensations of loathing and terror that she could neither
express to others nor define to herself. He said that if she
hesitated to let him avail himself of this unexpected
opportunity, her scruples might lead to fatal results He reminded
her that if "the baron" were really the convict Monbrun, the
claims of society and of justice demanded that he should be
discovered by the first available means; and that if he were
not--if some inconceivable mistake had really been
committed--then such a plan for getting immediately at the truth
as was now proposed would insure the delivery of an innocent man
from suspicion; and at the same time spare him the knowledge that
he had ever been suspected. This last argument had its effect on
Miss Welwyn. The baseless, helpless hope that the French
authorities might yet be proved to be in error, which she had
already felt in her own room, returned to her now. She suffered
the agent to lead her upstairs.

He took the candle from her hand when she pointed to the door;
opened it softly; and, leaving it ajar, went into the room.

She looked through the gap with a feverish, horror-struck
curiosity. Franval was lying on his side in a profound sleep,
with his back turned toward the door. The agent softly placed the
candle upon a small reading-table between the door and the
bedside, softly drew down the bed-clothes a little away from the
sleeper's back, then took a pair of scissors from the
toilet-table, and very gently and slowly began to cut away, first
the loose folds, then the intervening strips of linen, from the
part of Franval's night-gown that was over his shoulders. When
the upper part of his back had been bared in this way, the agent
took the candle and held it near the flesh. Miss Welwyn heard him
ejaculate some word under his breath, then saw him looking round
to where she was standing, and beckoning to her to come in.

Mechanically she obeyed; mechanically she looked down where his
finger was pointing. It was the convict Monbrun--there, just
visible under the bright light of the candle, were the fatal
letters "T. F." branded on the villain's shoulder!

Though she could neither move nor speak, the horror of this
discovery did not deprive her of her consciousness. She saw the
agent softly draw up the bed-clothes again into their proper
position, replace the scissors on the toilet-table, and take from
it a bottle of smelling-salts. She felt him removing her from the
bedroom, and helping her quickly downstairs, giving her the salts
to smell to by the way. When they were alone again, he said, with
the first appearance of agitation that he had yet exhibited,
"Now, madam, for God's sake, collect all your courage, and be
guided by me. You and your sister had better leave the house
immediately. Have you any relatives in the neighborhood with whom
you could take refuge?" They had none. "What is the name of the
nearest town where you could get good accommodation for the
night?" Harleybrook (he wrote the name down on his tablets). "How
far off is it?" Twelve miles. "You had better have the carriage
out at once, to go there with as little delay as possible,
leaving me to pass the night here. I will communicate with you
to-morrow at the principal hotel. Can you compose yourself
sufficiently to be able to tell the head servant, if I ring for
him, that he is to obey my orders till further notice?" The
servant was summoned, and received his instructions, the agent
going out with him to see that the carriage was got ready quietly
and quickly. Miss Welwyn went upstairs to her sister.

How the fearful news was first broken to Rosamond, I cannot
relate to you. Miss Welwyn has never confided to me, has never
confided to anybody, what happened at the interview between her
sister and herself that night. I can tell you nothing of the
shock they both suffered, except that the younger and the weaker
died under it; that the elder and the stronger has never
recovered from it, and never will.

They went away the same night, with one attendant, to
Harleybrook, as the agent had advised. Before daybreak Rosamond
was seized with the pains of premature labor. She died three days
after, unconscious of the horror of her situation, wandering in
her mind about past times, and singing old tunes that Ida had
taught her as she lay in her sister's arms.

The child was born alive, and lives still. You saw her at the
window as we came in at the back way to the Grange. I surprised
you, I dare say, by asking you not to speak of her to Miss
Welwyn. Perhaps you noticed something vacant in the little girl's
expression. I am sorry to say that her mind is more vacant still.
If "idiot" did not sound like a mocking word, however tenderly
and pityingly one may wish to utter it, I should tell you that
the poor thing had been an idiot from her birth.

You will, doubtless, want to hear now what happened at Glenwith
Grange after Miss Welwyn and her sister had left it. I have seen
the letter which the police agent sent the next morning to
Harleybrook; and, speaking from my recollection of that, I shall
be able to relate all you can desire to know.

First, as to the past history of the scoundrel Monbrun, I
need only tell you that he was identical with an escaped
convict, who, for a long term of years, had successfully eluded
the vigilance of the authorities all over Europe, and in America
as well. In conjunction with two accomplices, he had succeeded in
possessing himself of large sums of money by the most criminal
means. He also acted secretly as the "banker" of his convict
brethren, whose dishonest gains were all confided to his hands
for safe-keeping. He would have been certainly captured, on
venturing back to France, along with his two associates, but for
the daring imposture in which he took refuge; and which, if the
true Baron Franval had really died abroad, as was reported,
would, in all probability, never have been found out.

Besides his extraordinary likeness to the baron, he had every
other requisite for carrying on his deception successfully.
Though his parents were not wealthy, he had received a good
education. He was so notorious for his gentleman-like manners
among the villainous associates of his crimes and excesses, that
they nicknamed him "the Prince." All his early life had been
passed in the neighborhood of the Chateau Franval. He knew what
were the circumstances which had induced the baron to leave it.
He had been in the country to which the baron had emigrated. He
was able to refer familiarly to persons and localities, at home
and abroad, with which the baron was sure to be acquainted. And,
lastly, he had an expatriation of fifteen years to plead for him
as his all-sufficient excuse, if he made any slight mistakes
before the baron's sisters, in his assumed character of their
long-absent brother. It will be, of course, hardly necessary for
me to tell you, in relation to this part of the subject, that the
true Franval was immediately and honorably reinstated in the
family rights of which the impostor had succeeded for a time in
depriving him.

According to Monbrun's own account, he had married poor Rosamond
purely for love; and the probabilities certainly are, that the
pretty, innocent English girl had really struck the villain's
fancy for the time; and that the easy, quiet life he was leading
at the Grange pleased him, by contrast with his perilous and
vagabond existence of former days. What might have happened if he
had had time enough to grow wearied of his ill-fated wife and his
English home, it is now useless to inquire. What really did
happen on the morning when he awoke after the flight of Ida and
her sister can be briefly told.

As soon as his eyes opened they rested on the police agent,
sitting quietly by the bedside, with a loaded pistol in his hand.
Monbrun knew immediately that he was discovered; but he never for
an instant lost the self-possession for which he was famous. He
said he wished to have five minutes allowed him to deliberate
quietly in bed, whether he should resist the French authorities
on English ground, and so gain time by obliging the one
Government to apply specially to have him delivered up by the
other--or whether he should accept the terms officially offered
to him by the agent, if he quietly allowed himself to be
captured. He chose the latter course--it was suspected, because
he wished to communicate personally with some of his convict
associates in France, whose fraudulent gains were in his keeping,
and because he felt boastfully confident of being able to escape
again, whenever he pleased. Be his secret motives, however, what
they might, he allowed the agent to conduct him peaceably from
the Grange; first writing a farewell letter to poor Rosamond,
full of heartless French sentiment and glib sophistries about
Fate and Society. His own fate was not long in overtaking him. He
attempted to escape again, as it had been expected he would, and
was shot by the sentinel on duty at the time. I remember hearing
that the bullet entered his head and killed him on the spot.

My story is done. It is ten years now since Rosamond was buried
in the churchyard yonder; and it is ten years also since Miss
Welwyn returned to be the lonely inhabitant of Glenwith Grange.
She now lives but in the remembrances that it calls up before her
of her happier existence of former days. There is hardly an
object in the old house which does not tenderly and solemnly
remind her of the mother, whose last wishes she lived to obey; of
the sister, whose happiness was once her dearest earthly care.
Those prints that you noticed on the library walls Rosamond used
to copy in the past time, when her pencil was often guided by
Ida's hand. Those music-books that you were looking over, she and
her mother have played from together through many a long and
quiet summer's evening. She has no ties now to bind her to the
present but the poor child whose affliction it is her constant
effort to lighten, and the little peasant population around her,
whose humble cares and wants and sorrows she is always ready to
relieve. Far and near her modest charities have penetrated among
us; and far and near she is heartily beloved and blessed in many
a laborer's household. There is no poor man's hearth, not in this
village only, but for miles away from it as well, at which you
would not be received with the welcome given to an old friend, if
you only told the cottagers that you knew the Lady of Glenwith
Grange!

PROLOGUE TO THE FIFTH STORY.

THE next piece of work which occupied my attention after taking
leave of Mr. Garthwaite, offered the strongest possible contrast
to the task which had last engaged me. Fresh from painting a bull
at a farmhouse, I set forth to copy a Holy Family, by Correggio,
at a convent of nuns. People who go to the Royal Academy
Exhibition, and see pictures by famous artists, painted year
after year in the same marked style which first made them
celebrated, would be amazed indeed if they knew what a
Jack-of-all-trades a poor painter must become before he can gain
his daily bread.

The picture by Correggio which I was now commissioned to copy had
been lent to the nuns by a Catholic gentleman of fortune, who
prized it as the gem of his collection, and who had never before
trusted it out of his own hands. My copy, when completed, was to
be placed over the high altar of the convent chapel; and my work
throughout its progress was to be pursued entirely in the parlor
of the nunnery, and always in the watchful presence of one or
other of the inmates of the house. It was only on such conditions
that the owner of the Correggio was willing to trust his treasure
out of his own hands, and to suffer it to be copied by a
stranger. The restrictions he imposed, which I thought
sufficiently absurd, and perhaps offensively suspicious as well,
were communicated to me politely enough before I was allowed to
undertake the commission. Unless I was inclined to submit to
precautionary regulations which would affect any other artist
exactly as they affected me, I was told not to think of offering
to make the copy; and the nuns would then address themselves to
some other person in my profession. After a day's consideration,
I submitted to the restrictions, by my wife's advice, and saved
the nuns the trouble of making application for a copier of
Correggio in any other quarter.

I found the convent was charmingly situated in a quiet little
valley in the West of England. The parlor in which I was to paint
was a large, well-lighted apartment; and the village inn, about
half a mile off, afforded me cheap and excellent quarters for the
night. Thus far, therefore, there was nothing to complain of. As
for the picture, which was the next object of interest to me, I
was surprised to find that the copying of it would be by no means
so difficult a task as I had anticipated. I am rather of a
revolutionary spirit in matters of art, and am bold enough to
think that the old masters have their faults as well as their
beauties. I can give my opinion, therefore, on the Coreggio at
the convent independently at least. Looked at technically, the
picture was a fine specimen of coloring and execution; but looked
at for the higher merits of delicacy, elevation, and feeling for
the subject, it deserved copying as little as the most
commonplace work that any unlucky modern arti st ever produced.
The faces of the Holy Family not only failed to display the right
purity and tenderness of expression, but absolutely failed to
present any expression at all. It is flat heresy to say so, but
the valuable Correggio was nevertheless emphatically, and, in so
many words, a very uninteresting picture.

So much for the convent and the work that I was to do in it. My
next anxiety was to see how the restrictions imposed on me were
to be carried out. The first day, the Mother Superior herself
mounted guard in the parlor--a stern, silent, fanatical-looking
woman, who seemed determined to awe me and make me uncomfortable,
and who succeeded thoroughly in the execution of her purpose. The
second day she was relieved by the officiating priest of the
convent--a mild, melancholy, gentleman-like man, with whom I got
on tolerably well. The third day, I had for overlooker the
portress of the house--a dirty, dismal, deaf, old woman, who did
nothing but knit stockings and chew orris-root. The fourth day, a
middle-aged nun, whom I heard addressed as Mother Martha,
occupied the post of guardian to the precious Correggio; and with
her the number of my overlookers terminated. She, and the
portress, and the priest, and the Mother Superior, relieved each
other with military regularity, until I had put the last touch to
my copy. I found them ready for me every morning on entering the
parlor, and I left them in the chair of observation every evening
on quitting it. As for any young and beautiful nuns who might
have been in the building, I never so much as set eyes on the
ends of their veils. From the door to the parlor, and from the
parlor to the door, comprised the whole of my experience of the
inside of the convent.

The only one of my superintending companions with whom I
established anything like a familiar acquaintance was Mother
Martha. She had no outward attractions to recommend her; but she
was simple, good-humored, ready to gossip, and inquisitive to a
perfectly incredible degree. Her whole life had been passed in
the nunnery; she was thoroughly accustomed to her seclusion,
thoroughly content with the monotonous round of her occupations;
not at all anxious to see the world for herself; but, on the
other hand, insatiably curious to know all about it from others.
There was no question connected with myself, my wife, my
children, my friends, my profession, my income, my travels, my
favorite amusements, and even my favorite sins, which a woman
could ask a man, that Mother Martha did not, in the smallest and
softest of voices, ask of me. Though an intelligent,
well-informed person in all that related to her own special
vocation, she was a perfect child in everything else. I
constantly caught myself talking to her, just as I should have
talked at home to one of my own little girls.

I hope no one will think that, in expressing myself thus, I am
writing disparagingly of the poor nun. On two accounts, I shall
always feel compassionately and gratefully toward Mother Martha.
She was the only person in the convent who seemed sincerely
anxious to make her presence in the parlor as agreeable to me as
possible; and she good-humoredly told me the story which it is my
object in these pages to introduce to the reader. In both ways I
am deeply indebted to her; and I hope always to remember the
obligation.

The circumstances under which the story came to be related to me
may be told in very few words.

The interior of a convent parlor being a complete novelty to me,
I looked around with some interest on first entering my
painting-room at the nunnery. There was but little in it to
excite the curiosity of any one. The floor was covered with
common matting, and the ceiling with plain whitewash. The
furniture was of the simplest kind; a low chair with a
praying-desk fixed to the back, and a finely carved oak
book-case, studded all over with brass crosses, being the only
useful objects that I could discern which had any conventional
character about them. As for the ornaments of the room, they were
entirely beyond my appreciation. I could feel no interest in the
colored prints of saints, with gold platters at the backs of
their heads, that hung on the wall; and I could see nothing
particularly impressive in the two plain little alabaster pots
for holy water, fastened, one near the door, the other over the
chimney-piece. The only object, indeed, in the whole room which
in the slightest degree attracted my curiosity was an old
worm-eaten wooden cross, made in the rudest manner, hanging by
itself on a slip of wall between two windows. It was so strangely
rough and misshapen a thing to exhibit prominently in a neat
roam, that I suspected some history must be attached to it, and
resolved to speak to my friend the nun about it at the earliest
opportunity.

"Mother Martha," said I, taking advantage of the first pause in
the succession of quaintly innocent questions which she was as
usual addressing to me, "I have been looking at that rough old
cross hanging between the windows, and fancying that it must
surely be some curiosity--"

"Hush! hush!" exclaimed the nun, "you must not speak of that as a
'curiosity'; the Mother Superior calls it a Relic."

"I beg your pardon," said I; "I ought to have chosen my
expressions more carefully--"

"Not," interposed Mother Martha, nodding to show me that my
apology need not be finished--"not that it is exactly a relic in
the strict Catholic sense of the word; but there were
circumstances in the life of the person who made it--" Here she
stopped, and looked at me doubtfully.

"Circumstances, perhaps, which it is not considered advisable to
communicate to strangers," I suggested.

"Oh, no!" answered the nun, "I never heard that they were to be
kept a secret. They were not told as a secret to me."

"Then you know all about them?" I asked.

"Certainly. I could tell you the whole history of the wooden
cross; but it is all about Catholics, and you are a Protestant."

"That, Mother Martha, does not make it at all less interesting to
me."

"Does it not, indeed?" exclaimed the nun, innocently. "What a
strange man you are! and what a remarkable religion yours must
be! What do your priests say about ours? Are they learned men,
your priests?"

I felt that my chance of hearing Mother Martha's story would be a
poor one indeed, if I allowed her to begin a fresh string of
questions. Accordingly, I dismissed the inquiries about the
clergy of the Established Church with the most irreverent
briefness, and recalled her attention forthwith to the subject of
the wooden cross.

"Yes, yes," said the good-natured nun; "surely you shall hear all
I can tell you about it; but--" she hesitated timidly, "but I
must ask the Mother Superior's leave first."

Saying these words, she summoned the portress, to my great
amusement, to keep guard over the inestimable Correggio in her
absence, and left the room. In less than five minutes she came
back, looking quite happy and important in her innocent way.

"The Mother Superior," she said, "has given me leave to tell all
I know about the wooden cross. She says it may do you good, and
improve your Protestant opinion of us Catholics."

I expressed myself as being both willing and anxious to profit by
what I heard; and the nun began her narrative immediately.

She related it in her own simple, earnest, minute way; dwelling
as long on small particulars as on important incidents; and
making moral reflections for my benefit at every place where it
was possible to introduce them. In spite, however, of these
drawbacks in the telling of it, the story interested and
impressed me in no ordinary degree; and I now purpose putting the
events of it together as skillfully and strikingly as I can, in
the hope that this written version of the narrative may appeal as
strongly to the reader's sympathies as the spoken version did to
mine.

THE NUN'S STORY

OF

GABRIEL'S MARRIAGE

CHAPTER I.

ONE night, during the period of the first French Revolution, the
family of Francois Sarzeau, a fisherman of Brittany, were all
waking and watching at a late hour in their cottage on the
peninsula of Quiberon. Francois had gone out in his boat that
evening,
as usual, to fish. Shortly after his departure, the wind had
risen, the clouds had gathered; and the storm, which had been
threatening at intervals throughout the whole day, burst forth
furiously about nine o'clock. It was now eleven; and the raging
of the wind over the barren, heathy peninsula still seemed to
increase with each fresh blast that tore its way out upon the
open sea; the crashing of the waves on the beach was awful to
hear; the dreary blackness of the sky terrible to behold. The
longer they listened to the storm, the oftener they looked out at
it, the fainter grew the hopes which the fisherman's family still
strove to cherish for the safety of Francois Sarzeau and of his
younger son who had gone with him in the boat.

There was something impressive in the simplicity of the scene
that was now passing within the cottage.

On one side of the great, rugged, black fire-place crouched two
little girls; the younger half asleep, with her head in her
sister's lap. These were the daughters of the fisherman; and
opposite to them sat their eldest brother, Gabriel. His right arm
had been badly wounded in a recent encounter at the national game
of the _Soule_, a sport resembling our English foot-ball; but
played on both sides in such savage earnest by the people of
Brittany as to end always in bloodshed, often in mutilation,
sometimes even in loss of life. On the same bench with Gabriel
sat his betrothed wife--a girl of eighteen--clothed in the plain,
almost monastic black-and-white costume of her native district.
She was the daughter of a small farmer living at some little
distance from the coast. Between the groups formed on either side
of the fire-place, the vacant space was occupied by the foot of a
truckle-bed. In this bed lay a very old man, the father of
Francois Sarzeau. His haggard face was covered with deep
wrinkles; his long white hair flowed over the coarse lump of
sacking which served him for a pillow, and his light gray eyes
wandered incessantly, with a strange expression of terror and
suspicion, from person to person, and from object to object, in
all parts of the room. Whenever the wind and sea whistled and
roared at their loudest, he muttered to himself and tossed his
hands fretfully on his wretched coverlet. On these occasions his
eyes always fixed themselves intently on a little delf image of
the Virgin placed in a niche over the fire-place. Every time they
saw him look in this direction Gabriel and the young girls
shuddered and crossed themselves; and even the child, who still
kept awake, imitated their example. There was one bond of feeling
at least between the old man and his grandchildren, which
connected his age and their youth unnaturally and closely
together. This feeling was reverence for the superstitions which
had been handed down to them by their ancestors from centuries
and centuries back, as far even as the age of the Druids. The
spirit warnings of disaster and death which the old man heard in
the wailing of the wind, in the crashing of the waves, in the
dreary, monotonous rattling of the casement, the young man and
his affianced wife and the little child who cowered by the
fireside heard too. All differences in sex, in temperament, in
years, superstition was strong enough to strike down to its own
dread level, in the fisherman's cottage, on that stormy night.

Besides the benches by the fireside and the bed, the only piece
of furniture in the room was a coarse wooden table, with a loaf
of black bread, a knife, and a pitcher of cider placed on it. Old
nets, coils of rope, tattered sails, hung, about the walls and
over the wooden partition which separated the room into two
compartments. Wisps of straw and ears of barley drooped down
through the rotten rafters and gaping boards that made the floor
of the granary above.

These different objects, and the persons in the cottage, who
composed the only surviving members of the fisherman's family,
were strangely and wildly lit up by the blaze of the fire and by
the still brighter glare of a resin torch stuck into a block of
wood in the chimney-corner. The red and yellow light played full
on the weird face of the old man as he lay opposite to it, and
glanced fitfully on the figures of the young girl, Gabriel, and
the two children; the great, gloomy shadows rose and fell, and
grew and lessened in bulk about the walls like visions of
darkness, animated by a supernatural specter-life, while the
dense obscurity outside spreading before the curtainless window
seemed as a wall of solid darkness that had closed in forever
around the fisherman's house. The night scene within the cottage
was almost as wild and as dreary to look upon as the night scene
without.

For a long time the different persons in the room sat together
without speaking, even without looking at each other. At last the
girl turned and whispered something into Gabriel's ear

"Perrine, what were you saying to Gabriel?" asked the child
opposite, seizing the first opportunity of breaking the desolate
silence--doubly desolate at her age--which was preserved by all
around her.

"I was telling him," answered Perrine, simply, "that it was time
to change the bandages on his arm; and I also said to him, what I
have often said before, that he must never play at that terrible
game of the _Soule_ again."

The old man had been looking intently at Perrine and his
grandchild as they spoke. His harsh, hollow voice mingled with
the last soft tones of the young girl, repeating over and over
again the same terrible words, "Drowned! drowned! Son and
grandson, both drowned! both drowned!"

"Hush, grandfather," said Gabriel, "we must not lose all hope for
them yet. God and the Blessed Virgin protect them!" He looked at
the little delf image, and crossed himself; the others imitated
him, except the old man. He still tossed his hands over the
coverlet, and still repeated, "Drowned! drowned!"

"Oh, that accursed _Soule!_" groaned the young man. "But for this
wound I should have been with my father. The poor boy's life
might at least have been saved; for we should then have left him
here."

"Silence!" exclaimed the harsh voice from the bed. "The wail of
dying men rises louder than the loud sea; the devil's
psalm-singing roars higher than the roaring wind! Be silent, and
listen! Francois drowned! Pierre drowned! Hark! Hark!"

A terrific blast of wind burst over the house as he spoke,
shaking it to its center, overpowering all other sounds, even to
the deafening crash of the waves. The slumbering child awoke, and
uttered a scream of fear. Perrine, who had been kneeling before
her lover binding the fresh bandages on his wounded arm, paused
in her occupation, trembling from head to foot. Gabriel looked
toward the window; his experience told him what must be the
hurricane fury of that blast of wind out at sea, and he sighed
bitterly as he murmured to himself, "God help them both--man's
help will be as nothing to them now!"

Glabriel!" cried the voice from the bed in altered tones--very
faint and trembling.

He did not hear or did not attend to the old man. He was trying
to soothe and encourage the young girl at his feet.

"Don't be frightened, love," he said, kissing her very gently and
tenderly on the forehead. You are as safe here as anywhere. Was I
not right in saying that it would be madness to attempt taking
you back to the farmhouse this evening? You can sleep in that
room, Perrine, when you are tired--you can sleep with the two
girls."

"Gabriel! brother Gabriel!" cried one of the children. "Oh, look
at grandfather!"

Gabriel ran to the bedside. The old man had raised himself into a
sitting position; his eyes were dilated, his whole face was rigid
with terror, his hands were stretched out convulsively toward his
grandson. "The White Women!" he screamed. "The White Women; the
grave-diggers of the drowned are out on the sea!"

The children, with cries of terror, flung themselves into
Perrine's arms; even Gabriel uttered an exclamation of horror,
and started back from the bedside.

Still the old man reiterated, "The White Women! The White Women!
Open the door, Gabriel! look-out westward, where the ebb-tide has
left the sand dry. Y ou'll see them bright as lightning in the
darkness, mighty as the angels in stature, sweeping like the wind
over the sea, in their long white garments, with their white hair
trailing far behind them! Open the door, Gabriel! You'll see them
stop and hover over the place where your father and your brother
have been drowned; you'll see them come on till they reach the
sand, you'll see them dig in it with their naked feet and beckon
awfully to the raging sea to give up its dead. Open the door,
Gabriel--or, though it should be the death of me, I will get up
and open it myself!"

Gabriel's face whitened even to his lips, but he made a sign that
he would obey. It required the exertion of his whole strength to
keep the door open against the wind while he looked out.

"Do you see them, grandson Gabriel? Speak the truth, and tell me
if you see them," cried the old man.

"I see nothing but darkness--pitch darkness," answered Gabriel,
letting the door close again.

"Ah! woe! woe!" groaned his grandfather, sinking back exhausted
on the pillow. "Darkness to _you;_ but bright as lightning to the
eyes that are allowed to see them. Drowned! drowned! Pray for
their souls, Gabriel--_I_ see the White Women even where I lie,
and dare not pray for them. Son and grandson drowned! both
drowned!"

The young man went back to Perrine and the children.

"Grandfather is very ill to-night," he whispered. "You had better
all go into the bedroom, and leave me alone to watch by him."

They rose as he spoke, crossed themselves before the image of the
Virgin, kissed him one by one, and, without uttering a word,
softly entered the little room on the other side of the
partition. Gabriel looked at his grandfather, and saw that he lay
quiet now, with his eyes closed as if he were already dropping
asleep. The young man then heaped some fresh logs on the fire,
and sat down by it to watch till morning.

Very dreary was the moaning of the night storm; but it was not
more dreary than the thoughts which now occupied him in his
solitude--thoughts darkened and distorted by the terrible
superstitions of his country and his race. Ever since the period
of his mother's death he had been oppressed by the conviction
that some curse hung over the family. At first they had been
prosperous, they had got money, a little legacy had been left
them. But this good fortune had availed only for a time; disaster
on disaster strangely and suddenly succeeded. Losses,
misfortunes, poverty, want itself had overwhelmed them; his
father's temper had become so soured, that the oldest friends of
Francois Sarzeau declared he was changed beyond recognition. And
now, all this past misfortune--the steady, withering, household
blight of many years--had ended in the last, worst misery of
all--in death. The fate of his father and his brother admitted no
longer of a doubt; he knew it, as he listened to the storm, as he
reflected on his grandfather's words, as he called to mind his
own experience of the perils of the sea. And this double
bereavement had fallen on him just as the time was approaching
for his marriage with Perrine; just when misfortune was most
ominous of evil, just when it was hardest to bear! Forebodings,
which he dared not realize, began now to mingle with the
bitterness of his grief, whenever his thoughts wandered from the
present to the future; and as he sat by the lonely fireside,
murmuring from time to time the Church prayer for the repose of
the dead, he almost involuntarily mingled with it another prayer,
expressed only in his own simple words, for the safety of the
living--for the young girl whose love was his sole earthly
treasure; for the motherless children who must now look for
protection to him alone.

He had sat by the hearth a long, long time, absorbed in his
thoughts, not once looking round toward the bed, when he was
startled by hearing the sound of his grandfather's voice once
more.

"Gabriel," whispered the old man, trembling and shrinking as he
spoke, "Gabriel, do you hear a dripping of water--now slow, now
quick again--on the floor at the foot of my bed?"

"I hear nothing, grandfather, but the crackling of the fire, and
the roaring of the storm outside."

"Drip, drip, drip! Faster and faster; plainer and plainer. Take
the torch, Gabriel; look down on the floor--look with all your
eyes. Is the place wet there? Is it the rain from heaven that is
dropping through the roof?"

Gabriel took the torch with trembling fingers and knelt down on
the floor to examine it closely. He started back from the place,
as he saw that it was quite dry--the torch dropped upon the
hearth--he fell on his knees before the statue of the Virgin and
hid his face.

"Is the floor wet? Answer me, I command you--is the floor wet?"
asked the old man, quickly and breathlessly.

Gabriel rose, went back to the bedside, and whispered to him that
no drop of rain had fallen inside the cottage. As he spoke the
words, he saw a change pass over his grandfather's face--the
sharp features seemed to wither up on a sudden; the eager
expression to grow vacant and death-like in an instant. The
voice, too, altered; it was harsh and querulous no more; its
tones became strangely soft, slow, and solemn, when the old man
spoke again.

"I hear it still," he said, "drip! drip! faster and plainer than
ever. That ghostly dropping of water is the last and the surest
of the fatal signs which have told of your father's and your
brother's deaths tonight, and I know from the place where I hear
it--the foot of the bed I lie on--that it is a warning to me of
my own approaching end. I am called where my son and my grandson
have gone before me; my weary time in this world is over at last.
Don't let Perrine and the children come in here, if they should
awake--they are too young to look at death."

Gabriel's blood curdled when he heard these words--when he
touched his grandfather's hand, and felt the chill that it struck
to his own--when he listened to the raging wind, and knew that
all help was miles and miles away from the cottage. Still, in
spite of the storm, the darkness, and the distance, he thought
not for a moment of neglecting the duty that had been taught him
from his childhood--the duty of summoning the priest to the
bedside of the dying. I must call Perrine," he said, "to watch by
you while I am away."

"Stop!" cried the old man. "Stop, Gabriel; I implore, I command
you not to leave me!"

"The priest, grandfather--your confession--"

"It must be made to you. In this darkness and this hurricane no
man can keep the path across the heath. Gabriel, I am dying--I
should be dead before you got back. Gabriel, for the love of the
Blessed Virgin, stop here with me till I die--my time is short--I
have a terrible secret that I must tell to somebody before I draw
my last breath! Your ear to my mouth--quick! quick! "

As he spoke the last words, a slight noise was audible on the
other side of the partition, the door half opened, and Perrine
appeared at it, looking affrightedly into the room. The vigilant
eyes of the old man--suspicious even in death--caught sight of
her directly.

"Go back!" he exclaimed faintly, before she could utter a word;
"go back--push her back, Gabriel, and nail down the latch in the
door, if she won't shut it of herself!"

"Dear Perrine! go in again," implored Gabriel. "Go in, and keep
the children from disturbing us. You will only make him
worse--you can be of no use here!"

She obeyed without speaking, and shut the door again.

While the old man clutched him by the arm, and repeated, "Quick!
quick! your ear close to my mouth," Gabriel heard her say to the
children (who were both awake), "Let us pray for grandfather."
And as he knelt down by the bedside, there stole on his ear the
sweet, childish tones of his little sisters, and the soft,
subdued voice of the young girl who was teaching them the prayer,
mingling divinely with the solemn wailing of wind and sea, rising
in a still and awful purity over the hoarse, gasping whispers of
the dying man.

"I took an oath not to tell it, Gabriel--lean down closer! I'm
weak, and they mustn't hear a word in that room--I took an oath
not to tell it; but death is a warrant to all men for breaking
such an oath as that. Listen; don't lose a word I'm saying! Don't
look away into the room: the stain of blood-guilt has defiled it
forever! Hush! hush! hush! Let me speak. Now your father's dead,
I can't carry the horrid secret with me into the grave. Just
remember, Gabriel--try if you can't remember the time before I
was bedridden, ten years ago and more--it was about six weeks,
you know, before your mother's death; you can remember it by
that. You and all the children were in that room with your
mother; you were asleep, I think; it was night, not very
late--only nine o'clock. Your father and I were standing at the
door, looking out at the heath in the moonlight. He was so poor
at that time, he had been obliged to sell his own boat, and none
of the neighbors would take him out fishing with them--your
father wasn't liked by any of the neighbors. Well; we saw a
stranger coming toward us; a very young man, with a knapsack on
his back. He looked like a gentleman, though he was but poorly
dressed. He came up, and told us he was dead tired, and didn't
think he could reach the town that night and asked if we would
give him shelter till morning. And your father said yes, if he
would make no noise, because the wife was ill, and the children
were asleep. So he said all he wanted was to go to sleep himself
before the fire. We had nothing to give him but black bread. He
had better food with him than that, and undid his knapsack to get
at it, and--and--Gabriel! I'm sinking--drink! something to
drink--I'm parched with thirst."

Silent and deadly pale, Gabriel poured some of the cider from the
pitcher on the table into a drinking-cup, and gave it to the old
man. Slight as the stimulant was, its effect on him was almost
instantaneous. His dull eyes brightened a little, and he went on
in the same whispering tones as before:

"He pulled the food out of his knapsack rather in a hurry, so
that some of the other small things in it fell on the floor.
Among these was a pocketbook, which your father picked up and
gave him back; and he put it in his coat-pocket--there was a tear
in one of the sides of the book, and through the hole some
bank-notes bulged out. I saw them, and so did your father (don't
move away, Gabriel; keep close, there's nothing in me to shrink
from). Well, he shared his food, like an honest fellow, with us;
and then put his hand in his pocket, and gave me four or five
livres, and then lay down before the fire to go to sleep. As he
shut his eyes, your father looked at me in a way I didn't like.
He'd been behaving very bitterly and desperately toward us for
some time past, being soured about poverty, and your mother's
illness, and the constant crying out of you children for more to
eat. So when he told me to go and buy some wood, some bread, and
some wine with money I had got, I didn't like, somehow, to leave
him alone with the stranger; and so made excuses, saying (which
was true) that it was too late to buy things in the village that
night. But he told me in a rage to go and do as he bid me, and
knock the people up if the shop was shut. So I went out, being
dreadfully afraid of your father--as indeed we all were at that
time--but I couldn't make up my mind to go far from the house; I
was afraid of something happening, though I didn't dare to think
what. I don't know how it was, but I stole back in about ten
minutes on tiptoe to the cottage; I looked in at the window, and
saw--O God! forgive him! O God! forgive me!--I saw--I--more to
drink, Gabriel! I can't speak again--more to drink!"

The voices in the next room had ceased; but in the minute of
silence which now ensued, Gabriel heard his sisters kissing
Perrine, and wishing her good-night. They were all three trying
to go asleep again.

"Gabriel, pray yourself, and teach your children after you to
pray, that your father may find forgiveness where he is now gone.
I saw him as plainly as I now see you, kneeling with his knife in
one hand over the sleeping man. He was taking the little book
with the notes in it out of the stranger's pocket. He got the
book into his possession, and held it quite still in his hand for
an instant, thinking. I believe--oh no! no! I'm sure--he was
repenting; I'm sure he was going to put the book back; but just
at that moment the stranger moved, and raised one of his arms, as
if he was waking up. Then the temptation of the devil grew too
strong for your father--I saw him lift the hand with the knife in
it--but saw nothing more. I couldn't look in at the window--I
couldn't move away--I couldn't cry out; I stood with my back
turned toward the house, shivering all over, though it was a warm
summer-time, and hearing no cries, no noises at all, from the
room behind me. I was too frightened to know how long it was
before the opening of the cottage door made me turn round; but
when I did, I saw your father standing before me in the yellow
moonlight, carrying in his arms the bleeding body of the poor lad
who had shared his food with us and slept on our hearth. Hush!
hush! Don't groan and sob in that way! Stifle it with the
bedclothes. Hush! you'll wake them in the next room!"

"Gabriel--Gabriel!" exclaimed a voice from behind the partition.
"What has happened? Gabriel! let me come out and be with you!"

"No! no!" cried the old man, collecting the last remains of his
strength in the attempt to speak above the wind, which was just
then howling at the loudest; "stay where you are--don't speak,
don't come out--I command you! Gabriel" (his voice dropped to a
faint whisper), "raise me up in bed--you must hear the whole of
it now; raise me; I'm choking so that I can hardly speak. Keep
close and listen--I can't say much more. Where was I?--Ah, your
father! He threatened to kill me if I didn't swear to keep it
secret; and in terror of my life I swore. He made me help him to
carry the body--we took it all across the heath--oh! horrible,
horrible, under the bright moon--(lift me higher, Gabriel). You
know the great stones yonder, set up by the heathens; you know
the hollow place under the stones they call 'The Merchant's
Table'; we had plenty of room to lay him in that, and hide him
so; and then we ran back to the cottage. I never dared to go near
the place afterward; no, nor your father either! (Higher,
Gabriel! I'm choking again.) We burned the pocket-book and the
knapsack--never knew his name--we kept the money to spend.
(You're not lifting me; you're not listening close enough!) Your
father said it was a legacy, when you and your mother asked about
the money. (You hurt me, you shake me to pieces, Gabriel, when
you sob like that.) It brought a curse on us, the money; the
curse has drowned your father and your brother; the curse is
killing me; but I've confessed--tell the priest I confessed
before I died. Stop her; stop Perrine! I hear her getting up.
Take his bones away from the Merchant's Table, and bury them for
the love of God! and tell the priest (lift me higher, lift me
till I am on my knees)--if your father was alive, he'd murder me;
but tell the priest--because of my guilty soul--to pray,
and--remember the Merchant's Table--to bury, and to pray--to pray
always for--"

As long as Perrine heard faintly the whispering of the old man,
though no word that he said reached her ear, she shrank from
opening the door in the partition. But, when the whispering
sounds, which terrified her she knew not how or why, first
faltered, then ceased altogether; when she heard the sobs that
followed them; and when her heart told her who was weeping in the
next room--then, she began to be influenced by a new feeling
which was stronger than the strongest fear, and she opened the
door without hesitation, almost without trembling.

The coverlet was drawn up over the old man; Gabriel was kneeling
by the bedside, with his face hidden. When she spoke to him, he
neither answered nor looked at her. After a while the sobs that
shook him ceased; but still he never moved, except once when she
touched him, and then he shuddered--shuddered under _her_ hand!
She called in his little sisters, and they spoke to him, and
still he uttered no word in reply. They wept. One by one, often
and often, they entreated him with loving words; but the stupor
of grief which held him speechless and motionless was beyond the
power of human tears, stronger even than the strength of human
love.

It was near daybreak, and the storm was lulling, but still no
change occurred at the bedside. Once or twice, as Perrine knelt
near Gabriel, still vainly endeavoring to arouse him to a sense
of her presence, she thought she heard the old man breathing
feebly, and stretched out her hand toward the coverlet; but she
could not summon courage to touch him or to look at him. This was
the first time she had ever been present at a death-bed; the
stillness in the room, the stupor of despair that had seized on
Gabriel, so horrified her, that she was almost as helpless as the
two children by her side. It was not till the dawn looked in at
the cottage window--so coldly, so drearily, and yet so
re-assuringly--that she began to recover her self-possession at
all. Then she knew that her best resource would be to summon
assistance immediately from the nearest house. While she was
trying to persuade the two children to remain alone in the
cottage with Gabriel during her temporary absence, she was
startled by the sound of footsteps outside the door. It opened,
and a man appeared on the threshold, standing still there for a
moment in the dim, uncertain light.

She looked closer--looked intently at him. It was Francois
Sarzeau himself

CHAPTER II.

THE fisherman was dripping with wet; but his face, always pale
and inflexible, seemed to be but little altered in expression by
the perils through which he must have passed during the night.
Young Pierre lay almost insensible in his arms. In the
astonishment and fright of the first moment, Perrine screamed as
she recognized him.

"There, there, there!" he said, peevishly, advancing straight to
the hearth with his burden; "don't make a noise. You never
expected to see us alive again, I dare say. We gave ourselves up
as lost, and only escaped after all by a miracle."

He laid the boy down where he could get the full warmth of the
fire; and then, turning round, took a wicker-covered bottle from
his pocket, and said, "If it hadn't been for the brandy--" He
stopped suddenly--started--put down the bottle on the bench near
him--and advanced quickly to the bedside.

Perrine looked after him as he went; and saw Gabriel, who had
risen when the door was opened, moving back from the bed as
Francois approached. The young man's face seemed to have been
suddenly struck to stone--its blank, ghastly whiteness was awful
to look at. He moved slowly backward and backward till he came to
the cottage wall--then stood quite still, staring on his father
with wild, vacant eyes, moving his hands to and fro before him,
muttering, but never pronouncing one audible word.

Francois did not appear to notice his son; he had the coverlet of
the bed in his hand.

"Anything the matter here?" he asked, as he drew it down.

Still Gabriel could not speak. Perrine saw it, and answered for
him.

"Gabriel is afraid that his poor grandfather is dead," she
whispered, nervously.

"Dead!" There was no sorrow in the tone as he echoed the word.
"Was he very bad in the night before his death happened? Did he
wander in his mind? He has been rather lightheaded lately."

"He was very restless, and spoke of the ghostly warnings that we
all know of; he said he saw and heard many things which told him
from the other world that you and Pierre-- Gabriel!" she
screamed, suddenly interrupting herself, "look at him! Look at
his face! Your grandfather is not dead!"

At this moment, Francois was raising his father's head to look
closely at him. A faint spasm had indeed passed over the deathly
face; the lips quivered, the jaw dropped. Francois shuddered as
he looked, and moved away hastily from the bed. At the same
instant Gabriel started from the wall; his expression altered,
his pale cheeks flushed suddenly, as he snatched up the
wicker-cased bottle, and poured all the little brandy that was
left in it down his grandfather's throat.

The effect was nearly instantaneous; the sinking vital forces
rallied desperately. The old man's eyes opened again, wandered
round the room, then fixed themselves intently on Francois as he
stood near the fire. Trying and terrible as his position was at
that moment, Gabriel still retained self-possession enough to
whisper a few words in Perrine's ear. "Go back again into the
bedroom, and take the children with you," he said. "We may have
something to speak about which you had better not hear."

"Son Gabriel, your grandfather is trembling all over," said
Francois. "If he is dying at all, he is dying of cold; help me to
lift him, bed and all, to the hearth."

"No, no! don't let him touch me!" gasped the old man. "Don't let
him look at me in that way! Don't let him come near me, Gabriel!
Is it his ghost? or is it himself?"

As Gabriel answered he heard a knocking at the door. His father
opened it, and disclosed to view some people from the neighboring
fishing village, who had come--more out of curiosity than
sympathy--to inquire whether Francois and the boy Pierre had
survived the night. Without asking any one to enter, the
fisherman surlily and shortly answered the various questions
addressed to him, standing in his own doorway. While he was thus
engaged, Gabriel heard his grandfather muttering vacantly to
himself, "Last night--how about last night, grandson? What was I
talking about last night? Did I say your father was drowned? Very
foolish to say he was drowned, and then see him come back alive
again! But it wasn't that--I'm so weak in my head, I can't
remember. What was it, Gabriel? Something too horrible to speak
of? Is that what you're whispering and trembling about? I said
nothing horrible. A crime! Bloodshed! I know nothing of any crime
or bloodshed here--I must have been frightened out of my wits to
talk in that way! The Merchant's Table? Only a big heap of old
stones! What with the storm, and thinking I was going to die, and
being afraid about your father, I must have been light-headed.
Don't give another thought to that nonsense, Gabriel! I'm better
now. We shall all live to laugh at poor grandfather for talking
nonsense about crime and bloodshed in his sleep. Ah, poor old
man--last night--light-headed--fancies and nonsense of an old
man--why don't you laugh at it? I'm laughing--so light-headed, so
light--"

He stopped suddenly. A low cry, partly of terror and partly of
pain, escaped him; the look of pining anxiety and imbecile
cunning which had distorted his face while he had been speaking,
faded from it forever. He shivered a little, breathed heavily
once or twice, then became quite still.

Had he died with a falsehood on his lips?

Gabriel looked round and saw that the cottage door was closed,
and that his father was standing against it. How long he had
occupied that position, how many of the old man's last words he
had heard, it was impossible to conjecture, but there was a
lowering suspicion in his harsh face as he now looked away from
the corpse to his son, which made Gabriel shudder; and the first
question that he asked, on once more approaching the bedside, was
expressed in tones which, quiet as they were, had a fearful
meaning in them.

"What did your grandfather talk about last night?" he asked.

Gabriel did not answer. All that he had heard, all that he had
seen, all the misery and horror that might yet be to come, had
stunned his mind. The unspeakable dangers of his present position
were too tremendous to be realized. He could only feel them
vaguely in the weary torpor that oppressed his heart; while in
every other direction the use of his faculties, physical and
mental, seemed to have suddenly and totally abandoned him.

"Is your tongue wounded, son Gabriel, as well as your arm?" his
father went on, with a bitter laugh. "I come back to you, saved
by a miracle; and you never speak to me. Would you rather I had
died than the old man there? He can't hear you now--why shouldn't
you tell me what nonsense he was talking last night? You won't? I
say you shall!" (He crossed the room and put his back to the
door.) "Before either of us leave this pla ce, you shall confess
it! You know that my duty to the Church bids me to go at once and
tell the priest of your grandfather's death. If I leave that duty
unfulfilled, remember it is through your fault! _You_ keep me
here--for here I stop till I'm obeyed. Do you hear that, idiot?
Speak! Speak instantly, or you shall repeat it to the day of your
death! I ask again--what did your grandfather say to you when he
was wandering in his mind last night?"

"He spoke of a crime committed by another, and guiltily kept
secret by him," answered Gabriel, slowly and sternly. "And this
morning he denied his own words with his last living breath. But
last night, if he spoke the truth--"

"The truth!" echoed Francois. "What truth?"

He stopped, his eyes fell, then turned toward the corpse. For a
few minutes he stood steadily contemplating it; breathing
quickly, and drawing his hand several times across his forehead.
Then he faced his son once more. In that short interval he had
become in outward appearance a changed man; expression, voice,
and manner, all were altered.

"Heaven forgive me!" he went on, "but I could almost laugh at
myself, at this solemn moment, for having spoken and acted just
now so much like a fool! Denied his words, did he? Poor old man!
they say sense often comes back to light-headed people just
before death; and he is a proof of it. The fact is, Gabriel, my
own wits must have been a little shaken--and no wonder--by what I
went through last night, and what I have come home to this
morning. As if you, or anybody, could ever really give serious
credit to the wandering speeches of a dying old man! (Where is
Perrine? Why did you send her away?) I don't wonder at your still
looking a little startled, and feeling low in your mind, and all
that--for you've had a trying night of it, trying in every way.
He must have been a good deal shaken in his wits last night,
between fears about himself and fears about me. (To think of my
being angry with you, Gabriel, for being a little alarmed--very
naturally--by an old man's queer fancies!) Come out,
Perrine--come out of the bedroom whenever you are tired of it:
you must learn sooner or later to look at death calmly. Shake
hands, Gabriel; and let us make it up, and say no more about what
has passed. You won't? Still angry with me for what I said to you
just now? Ah! you'll think better about it by the time I return.
Come out, Perrine; we've no secrets here."

"Where are you going to?" asked Gabriel, as he saw his father
hastily open the door.

"To tell the priest that one of his congregation is dead, and to
have the death registered," answered Francois. "These are _my_
duties, and must be performed before I take any rest."

He went out hurriedly as he said these words. Gabriel almost
trembled at himself when he found that he breathed more freely,
that he felt less horribly oppressed both in mind and body, the
moment his father's back was turned. Fearful as thought was now,
it was still a change for the better to be capable of thinking at
all. Was the behavior of his father compatible with innocence?
Could the old man's confused denial of his own words in the
morning, and in the presence of his son, be set for one instant
against the circumstantial confession that he had made during the
night alone with his grandson? These were the terrible questions
which Gabriel now asked himself, and which he shrank
involuntarily from answering. And yet that doubt, the solution of
which would, one way or the other, irrevocably affect the whole
future of his life, must sooner or later be solved at any hazard!

Was there any way of setting it at rest? Yes, one way--to go
instantly, while his father was absent, and examine the hollow
place under the Merchant's Table. If his grandfather's confession
had really been made while he was in possession of his senses,
this place (which Gabriel knew to be covered in from wind and
weather) had never been visited since the commission of the crime
by the perpetrator, or by his unwilling accomplice; though time
had destroyed all besides, the hair and the bones of the victim
would still be left to bear witness to the truth--if truth had
indeed been spoken. As this conviction grew on him, the young
man's cheek paled; and he stopped irresolute half-way between the
hearth and the door. Then he looked down doubtfully at the corpse
on the bed; and then there came upon him suddenly a revulsion of
feeling. A wild, feverish impatience to know the worst without
another instant of delay possessed him. Only telling Perrine that
he should be back soon, and that she must watch by the dead in
his absence, he left the cottage at once, without waiting to hear
her reply, even without looking back as he closed the door behind
him.

There were two tracks to the Merchant's Table. One, the longer of
the two, by the coast cliffs; the other across the heath. But
this latter path was also, for some little distance, the path
which led to the village and the church. He was afraid of
attracting his father's attention here, so he took the direction
of the coast. At one spot the track trended inland, winding round
some of the many Druid monuments scattered over the country. This
place was on high ground, and commanded a view, at no great
distance, of the path leading to the village, just where it
branched off from the heathy ridge which ran in the direction of
the Merchant's Table. Here Gabriel descried the figure of a man
standing with his back toward the coast.

This figure was too far off to be identified with absolute
certainty, but it looked like, and might well be, Francois
Sarzeau. Whoever he was, the man was evidently uncertain which
way he should proceed. When he moved forward, it was first to
advance several paces toward the Merchant's Table; then he went
back again toward the distant cottages and the church. Twice he
hesitated thus; the second time pausing long before he appeared
finally to take the way that led to the village.

Leaving the post of observation among the stones, at which he had
instinctively halted for some minutes past, Gabriel now proceeded
on his own path. Could this man really be his father? And if it
were so, why did Francois Sarzeau only determine to go to the
village where his business lay, after having twice vainly
attempted to persevere in taking the exactly opposite direction
of the Merchant's Table? Did he really desire to go there? Had he
heard the name mentioned, when the old man referred to it in his
dying words? And had he failed to summon courage enough to make
all safe by removing-- This last question was too horrible to be
pursued; Gabriel stifled it affrightedly in his own heart as he
went on.

He reached the great Druid monument without meeting a living soul
on his way. The sun was rising, and the mighty storm-clouds of
the night were parting asunder wildly over the whole eastward
horizon. The waves still leaped and foamed gloriously: but the
gale had sunk to a keen, fresh breeze. As Gabriel looked up, and
saw how brightly the promise of a lovely day was written in the
heavens, he trembled as he thought of the search which he was now
about to make. The sight of the fair, fresh sunrise jarred
horribly with the suspicions of committed murder that were
rankling foully in his heart. But he knew that his errand must be
performed, and he nerved himself to go through with it; for he
dared not return to the cottage until the mystery had been
cleared up at once and forever.

The Merchant's Table was formed by two huge stones resting
horizontally on three others. In the troubled times of more than
half a century ago, regular tourists were unknown among the Druid
monuments of Brittany; and the entrance to the hollow place under
the stones--since often visited by strangers--was at this time
nearly choked up by brambles and weeds. Gabriel's first look at
this tangled nook of briers convinced him that the place had not
been entered perhaps for years, by any living being. Without
allowing himself to hesitate (for he felt that the slightest
delay might be fatal to his resolution), he passed as gently as
possible through the brambles, and knelt down at the low, dusky,
irregular entr ance of the hollow place under the stones.

His heart throbbed violently, his breath almost failed him; but
he forced himself to crawl a few feet into the cavity, and then
groped with his hand on the ground about him.

He touched something! Something which it made his flesh creep to
handle; something which he would fain have dropped, but which he
grasped tight in spite of himself. He drew back into the outer
air and sunshine. Was it a human bone? No! he had been the dupe
of his own morbid terror--he had only taken up a fragment of
dried wood!

Feeling shame at such self-deception as this, he was about to
throw the wood from him before he re-entered the place, when
another idea occurred to him.

Though it was dimly lighted through one or two chinks in the
stones, the far part of the interior of the cavity was still too
dusky to admit of perfect examination by the eye, even on a
bright sunshiny morning. Observing this, he took out the
tinder-box and matches, which, like the other inhabitants of the
district, he always carried about with him for the purpose of
lighting his pipe, determining to use the piece of wood as a
torch which might illuminate the darkest corner of the place when
he next entered it. Fortunately the wood had remained so long and
had been preserved so dry in its sheltered position, that it
caught fire almost as easily as a piece of paper. The moment it
was fairly aflame Gabriel went into the cavity, penetrating at
once--this time--to its furthest extremity.

He remained among the stones long enough for the wood to burn
down nearly to his hand. When he came out, and flung the burning
fragment from him, his face was flushed deeply, his eyes
sparkled. He leaped carelessly on to the heath, over the bushes
through which he had threaded his way so warily but a few minutes
before, exclaiming, "I may marry Perrine with a clear conscience
now; I am the son of as honest a man as there is in Brittany!"

He had closely examined the cavity in every corner, and not the
slightest sign that any dead body had ever been laid there was
visible in the hollow place under the Merchant's Table.

CHAPTER III.

"I MAY marry Perrine with a clear conscience now!"

There are some parts of the world where it would be drawing no
natural picture of human nature to represent a son as believing
conscientiously that an offense against life and the laws of
hospitality, secretly committed by his father, rendered him,
though innocent of all participation in it, unworthy to fulfill
his engagement with his affianced wife. Among the simple
inhabitants of Gabriel's province, however, such acuteness of
conscientious sensibility as this was no extraordinary exception
to all general rules. Ignorant and superstitious as they might
be, the people of Brittany practiced the duties of hospitality as
devoutly as they practiced the duties of the national religion.
The presence of the stranger-guest, rich or poor, was a sacred
presence at their hearths. His safety was their especial charge,
his property their especial responsibility. They might be half
starved, but they were ready to share the last crust with him,
nevertheless, as they would share it with their own children.

Any outrage on the virtue of hospitality, thus born and bred in
the people, was viewed by them with universal disgust, and
punished with universal execration. This ignominy was uppermost
in Gabriel's thoughts by the side of his grandfather's bed; the
dread of this worst dishonor, which there was no wiping out, held
him speechless before Perrine, shamed and horrified him so that
he felt unworthy to look her in the face; and when the result of
his search at the Merchant's Table proved the absence there of
all evidence of the crime spoken of by the old man, the blessed
relief, the absorbing triumph of that discovery, was expressed
entirely in the one thought which had prompted his first joyful
words: He could marry Perrine with a clear conscience, for he was
the son of an honest man!

When he returned to the cottage, Francois had not come back.
Perrine was astonished at the change in Gabriel's manner; even
Pierre and the children remarked it. Rest and warmth had by this
time so far recovered the younger brother, that he was able to
give some account of the perilous adventures of the night at sea.
They were still listening to the boy's narrative when Francois at
last returned. It was now Gabriel who held out his hand, and made
the first advances toward reconciliation.

To his utter amazement, his father recoiled from him. The
variable temper of Francois had evidently changed completely
during his absence at the village. A settled scowl of distrust
darkened his face as he looked at his son.

"I never shake hands with people who have once doubted me," he
exclaimed, loudly and irritably; "for I always doubt them forever
after. You are a bad son! You have suspected your father of some
infamy that you dare not openly charge him with, on no other
testimony than the rambling nonsense of a half-witted, dying old
man. Don't speak to me! I won't hear you! An innocent man and a
spy are bad company. Go and denounce me, you Judas in disguise! I
don't care for your secret or for you. What's that girl Perrine
doing here still? Why hasn't she gone home long ago? The priest's
coming; we don't want strangers in the house of death. Take her
back to the farmhouse, and stop there with her, if you like;
nobody wants you here!"

There was something in the manner and look of the speaker as he
uttered these words, so strange, so sinister, so indescribably
suggestive of his meaning much more than he said, that Gabriel
felt his heart sink within him instantly; and almost at the same
moment this fearful question forced itself irresistibly on his
mind: might not his father have followed him to the Merchant's
Table?

Even if he had been desired to speak, he could not have spoken
now, while that question and the suspicion that it brought with
it were utterly destroying all the re-assuring hopes and
convictions of the morning. The mental suffering produced by the
sudden change from pleasure to pain in all his thoughts, reacted
on him physically. He felt as if he were stifling in the air of
the cottage, in the presence of his father; and when Perrine
hurried on her walking attire, and with a face which alternately
flushed and turned pale with every moment, approached the door,
he went out with her as hastily as if he had been flying from his
home. Never had the fresh air and the free daylight felt like
heavenly and guardian influences to him until now!

He could comfort Perrine under his father's harshness, he could
assure her of his own affection, which no earthly influence could
change, while they walked together toward the farmhouse; but he
could do no more. He durst not confide to her the subject that
was uppermost in his mind; of all human beings she was the last
to whom he could reveal the terrible secret that was festering at
his heart. As soon as they got within sight of the farmhouse,
Gabriel stopped; and, promising to see her again soon, took leave
of Perrine with assumed ease in his manner and with real despair
in his heart. Whatever the poor girl might think of it, he felt,
at that moment, that he had not courage to face her father, and
hear him talk happily and pleasantly, as his custom was, of
Perrine's approaching marriage.

Left to himself, Gabriel wandered hither and thither over the
open heath, neither knowing nor caring in what direction he
turned his steps. The doubts about his father's innocence which
had been dissipated by his visit to the Merchant's Table, that
father's own language and manner had now revived--had even
confirmed, though he dared not yet acknowledge so much to
himself. It was terrible enough to be obliged to admit that the
result of his morning's search was, after all, not
conclusive--that the mystery was, in very truth, not yet cleared
up. The violence of his father's last words of distrust; the
extraordinary and indescribable changes in his father's manner
while uttering them--what did these things mean? Guilt or
innocence? Again, was it any longer reasonable to doubt the
deathbed confession mad e by his grandfather? Was it not, on the
contrary, far more probable that the old man's denial in the
morning of his own words at night had been made under the
influence of a panic terror, when his moral consciousness was
bewildered, and his intellectual faculties were sinking? The
longer Gabriel thought of these questions, the less
competent--possibly also the less willing--he felt to answer
them. Should he seek advice from others wiser than he? No; not
while the thousandth part of a chance remained that his father
was innocent.

This thought was still in his mind, when he found himself once
more in sight of his home. He was still hesitating near the door,
when he saw it opened cautiously. His brother Pierre looked out,
and then came running toward him. "Come in, Gabriel; oh, do come
in!" said the boy, earnestly. "We are afraid to be alone with
father. He's been beating us for talking of you."

Gabriel went in. His father looked up from the hearth where he
was sitting, muttered the word "Spy!" and made a gesture of
contempt but did not address a word directly to his son. The
hours passed on in silence; afternoon waned into evening, and
evening into night; and still he never spoke to any of his
children. Soon after it was dark, he went out, and took his net
with him, saying that it was better to be alone on the sea than
in the house with a spy.

When he returned the next morning there was no change in him.
Days passed--weeks, months, even elapsed, and still, though his
manner insensibly became what it used to be toward his other
children, it never altered toward his eldest son At the rare
periods when they now met, except when absolutely obliged to
speak, he preserved total silence in his intercourse with
Gabriel. He would never take Gabriel out with him in the boat; he
would never sit alone with Gabriel in the house; he would never
eat a meal with Gabriel; he would never let the other children
talk to him about Gabriel; and he would never hear a word in
expostulation, a word in reference to anything his dead father
had said or done on the night of the storm, from Gabriel himself.

The young man pined and changed, so that even Perrine hardly knew
him again, under this cruel system of domestic excommunication;
under the wearing influence of the one unchanging doubt which
never left him; and, more than all, under the incessant
reproaches of his own conscience, aroused by the sense that he
was evading a responsibility which it was his solemn, his
immediate duty to undertake. But no sting of conscience, no ill
treatment at home, and no self-reproaches for failing in his duty
of confession as a good Catholic, were powerful enough in their
influence over Gabriel to make him disclose the secret, under the
oppression of which his very life was wasting away. He knew that
if he once revealed it, whether his father was ultimately proved
to be guilty or innocent, there would remain a slur and a
suspicion on the family, and on Perrine besides, from her
approaching connection with it, which in their time and in their
generation could never be removed. The reproach of the world is
terrible even in the crowded city, where many of the dwellers in
our abiding-place are strangers to us--but it is far more
terrible in the country, where none near us are strangers, where
all talk of us and know of us, where nothing intervenes between
us and the tyranny of the evil tongue. Gabriel had not courage to
face this, and dare the fearful chance of life-long ignominy--no,
not even to serve the sacred interests of justice, of atonement,
and of truth.

CHAPTER IV.

WHILE Gabriel still remained prostrated under the affliction that
was wasting his energies of body and mind, Brittany was visited
by a great public calamity, in which all private misfortunes were
overwhelmed for a while.

It was now the time when the ever-gathering storm of the French
Revolution had risen to its hurricane climax. Those chiefs of the
new republic were in power whose last, worst madness it was to
decree the extinction of religion and the overthrow of everything
that outwardly symbolized it throughout the whole of the country
that they governed. Already this decree had been executed to the
letter in and around Paris; and now the soldiers of the Republic
were on their way to Brittany, headed by commanders whose
commission was to root out the Christian religion in the last and
the surest of the strongholds still left to it in France.

These men began their work in a spirit worthy of the worst of
their superiors who had sent them to do it. They gutted churches,
they demolished chapels, they overthrew road-side crosses
wherever they found them. The terrible guillotine devoured human
lives in the villages of Brittany as it had devoured them in the
streets of Paris; the musket and the sword, in highway and byway,
wreaked havoc on the people--even on women and children kneeling
in the act of prayer; the priests were tracked night and day from
one hiding-place, where they still offered up worship, to
another, and were killed as soon as overtaken--every atrocity was
committed in every district; but the Christian religion still
spread wider than the widest bloodshed; still sprang up with
ever-renewed vitality from under the very feet of the men whose
vain fury was powerless to trample it down. Everywhere the people
remained true to their Faith; everywhere the priests stood firm
by them in their sorest need. The executioners of the Republic
had been sent to make Brittany a country of apostates; they did
their worst, and left it a country of martyrs.

One evening, while this frightful persecution was still raging,
Gabriel happened to be detained unusually late at the cottage of
Perrine's father. He had lately spent much of his time at the
farm house; it was his only refuge now from that place of
suffering, of silence, and of secret shame, which he had once
called home! Just as he had taken leave of Perrine for the night,
and was about to open the farmhouse door, her father stopped him,
and pointed to a chair in the chimney-corner.

"Leave us alone, my dear," said the old man to his daughter; "I
want to speak to Gabriel. You can go to your mother in the next
room."

The words which Pere Bonan--as he was called by the
neighbors--had now to say in private were destined to lead to
very unexpected events. After referring to the alteration which
had appeared of late in Gabriel's manner, the old man began by
asking him, sorrowfully but not suspiciously, whether he still
preserved his old affection for Perrine. On receiving an eager
answer in the affirmative, Pere Bonan then referred to the
persecution still raging through the country, and to the
consequent possibility that he, like others of his countrymen,
might yet be called to suffer, and perhaps to die, for the cause
of his religion. If this last act of self-sacrifice were required
of him, Perrine would be left unprotected, unless her affianced
husband performed his promise to her, and assumed, without delay,
the position of her lawful guardian. "Let me know that you will
do this," concluded the old man; "I shall be resigned to all that
may be required of me, if I can only know that I shall not die
leaving Perrine unprotected." Gabriel gave the promise--gave it
with his whole heart. As he took leave of Pere Bonan, the old man
said to him:

"Come here to-morrow; I shall know more then than I know now--I
shall be able to fix with certainty the day for the fulfillment
of your engagement with Perrine."

Why did Gabriel hesitate at the farmhouse door, looking back on
Pere Bonan as though he would fain say something, and yet not
speaking a word? Why, after he had gone out and had walked onward
several paces, did he suddenly stop, return quickly to the
farmhouse, stand irresolute before the gate, and then retrace his
steps, sighing heavily as he went, but never pausing again on his
homeward way? Because the torment of his horrible secret had
grown harder to bear than ever, since he had given the promise
that had been required of him. Because, while a strong impulse
moved him frankly to lay bare his hidden dread and doubt to the
father whose beloved daughter was soo n to be his wife, there was
a yet stronger passive influence which paralyzed on his lips the
terrible confession that he knew not whether he was the son of an
honest man, or the son of an assassin, and a robber. Made
desperate by his situation, he determined, while he hastened
homeward, to risk the worst, and ask that fatal question of his
father in plain words. But this supreme trial for parent and
child was not to be. When he entered the cottage, Francois was
absent. He had told the younger children that he should not be
home again before noon on the next day.

Early in the morning Gabriel repaired to the farmhouse, as he had
been bidden. Influenced, by his love for Perrine, blindly
confiding in the faint hope (which, in despite of heart and
conscience, he still forced himself to cherish) that his father
might be innocent, he now preserved the appearance at least of
perfect calmness. "If I tell my secret to Perrine's father, I
risk disturbing in him that confidence in the future safety of
his child for which I am his present and only warrant." Something
like this thought was in Gabriel's mind, as he took the hand of
Pere Bonan, and waited anxiously to hear what was required of him
on that day.

"We have a short respite from danger, Gabriel," said the old man.
"News has come to me that the spoilers of our churches and the
murderers of our congregations have been stopped on their way
hitherward by tidings which have reached them from another
district. This interval of peace and safety will be a short
one--we must take advantage of it while it is yet ours. My name
is among the names on the list of the denounced. If the soldiers
of the Republic find me here--but we will say nothing more of
this; it is of Perrine and of you that I must now speak. On this
very evening your marriage may be solemnized with all the wonted
rites of our holy religion, and the blessing may be pronounced
over you by the lips of a priest. This evening, therefore,
Gabriel, you must become the husband and the protector of
Perrine. Listen to me attentively, and I will tell you how."

This was the substance of what Gabriel now heard from Pere Bonan:

Not very long before the persecutions broke out in Brittany, a
priest, known generally by the name of Father Paul, was appointed
to a curacy in one of the northern districts of the province. He
fulfilled all the duties of his station in such a manner as to
win the confidence and affection of every member of his
congregation, and was often spoken of with respect, even in parts
of the country distant from the scene of his labors. It was not,
however, until the troubles broke out, and the destruction and
bloodshed began, that he became renowned far and wide, from one
end of Brittany to another. From the date of the very first
persecutions the name of Father Paul was a rallying-cry of the
hunted peasantry; he was their great encouragement under
oppression, their example in danger, their last and only consoler
in the hour of death. Wherever havoc and ruin raged most
fiercely, wherever the pursuit was hottest and the slaughter most
cruel, there the intrepid priest was sure to be seen pursuing his
sacred duties in defiance of every peril. His hair-breadth
escapes from death; his extraordinary re-appearances in parts of
the country where no one ever expected to see him again, were
regarded by the poorer classes with superstitious awe. Wherever
Father Paul appeared, with his black dress, his calm face, and
the ivory crucifix which he always carried in his hand, the
people reverenced him as more than mortal; and grew at last to
believe, that, single-handed, he would successfully defend his
religion against the armies of the Republic. But their simple
confidence in his powers of resistance was soon destined to be
shaken. Fresh re-enforcements arrived in Brittany, and overran
the whole province from one end to the other. One morning, after
celebrating service in a dismantled church, and after narrowly
escaping with his life from those who pursued him, the priest
disappeared. Secret inquiries were made after him in all
directions; but he was heard of no more.

Many weary days had passed, and the dispirited peasantry had
already mourned him as dead,when some fishermen on the northern
coast observed a ship of light burden in the offing, making
signals to the shore. They put off to her in their boats; and on
reaching the deck saw standing before them the well-remembered
figure of Father Paul.

The priest had returned to his congregations, and had founded the
new altar that they were to worship at on the deck of the ship!
Razed from the face of the earth, their church had not been
destroyed--for Father Paul and the priests who acted with him had
given that church a refuge on the sea. Henceforth, their children
could still be baptized, their sons and daughters could still be
married, the burial of their dead could still be solemnized,
under the sanction of the old religion for which, not vainly,
they had suffered so patiently and so long.

Throughout the remaining time of trouble the services were
uninterrupted on board the ship. A code of signals was
established by which those on shore were always enabled to direct
their brethren at sea toward such parts of the coast as happened
to be uninfested by the enemies of their worship. On the morning
of Gabriel's visit to the farmhouse these signals had shaped the
course of the ship toward the extremity of the peninsula of
Quiberon. The people of the district were all prepared to expect
the appearance of the vessel some time in the evening, and had
their boats ready at a moment's notice to put off, and attend the
service. At the conclusion of this service Pere Bonan had
arranged that the marriage of his daughter and Gabriel was to
take place.

They waited for evening at the farmhouse. A little before sunset
the ship was signaled as in sight; and then Pere Bonan and his
wife, followed by Gabriel and Perrine, set forth over the heath
to the beach. With the solitary exception of Francois Sarzeau,
the whole population of the neighborhood was already assembled
there, Gabriel's brother and sisters being among the number.

It was the calmest evening that had been known for months. There
was not a cloud in the lustrous sky--not a ripple on the still
surface of the sea. The smallest children were suffered by their
mothers to stray down on the beach as they pleased; for the waves
of the great ocean slept as tenderly and noiselessly on their
sandy bed as if they had been changed into the waters of an
inland lake. Slow, almost imperceptible, was the approach of the
ship--there was hardly a breath of wind to carry her on--she was
just drifting gently with the landward set of the tide at that
hour, while her sails hung idly against the masts. Long after the
sun had gone down, the congregation still waited and watched on
the beach. The moon and stars were arrayed in their glory of the
night before the ship dropped anchor. Then the muffled tolling of
a bell came solemnly across the quiet waters; and then, from
every creek along the shore, as far as the eye could reach, the
black forms of the fishermen's boats shot out swift and stealthy
into the shining sea.

By the time the boats had arrived alongside of the ship, the lamp
had been kindled before the altar, and its flame was gleaming red
and dull in the radiant moonlight. Two of the priests on board
were clothed in their robes of office, and were waiting in their
appointed places to begin the service. But there was a third,
dressed only in the ordinary attire of his calling, who mingled
with the congregation, and spoke a few words to each of the
persons composing it, as, one by one, they mounted the sides of
the ship. Those who had never seen him before knew by the famous
ivory crucifix in his hand that the priest who received them was
Father Paul. Gabriel looked at this man, whom he now beheld for
the first time, with a mixture of astonishment and awe; for he
saw that the renowned chief of the Christians of Brittany was, to
all appearance, but little older than himself.

The expression on the pale, calm face of the priest was so gentle
and kind, that children j ust able to walk tottered up to him,
and held familiarly by the skirts of his black gown, whenever his
clear blue eyes rested on theirs, while he beckoned them to his
side. No one would ever have guessed from the countenance of
Father Paul what deadly perils he had confronted, but for the
scar of a saber-wound, as yet hardly healed, which ran across his
forehead. That wound had been dealt while he was kneeling before
the altar in the last church in Brittany which had escaped
spoliation. He would have died where he knelt, but for the
peasants who were praying with him, and who, unarmed as they
were, threw themselves like tigers on the soldiery, and at awful
sacrifice of their own lives saved the life of their priest.
There was not a man now on board the ship who would have
hesitated, had the occasion called for it again, to have rescued
him in the same way.

The service began. Since the days when the primitive Christians
worshiped amid the caverns of the earth, can any service be
imagined nobler in itself, or sublimer in the circumstances
surrounding it, than that which was now offered up? Here was no
artificial pomp, no gaudy profusion of ornament, no attendant
grandeur of man's creation. All around this church spread the
hushed and awful majesty of the tranquil sea. The roof of this
cathedral was the immeasurable heaven, the pure moon its one
great light, the countless glories of the stars its only
adornment. Here were no hired singers or rich priest-princes; no
curious sight-seers, or careless lovers of sweet sounds. This
congregation and they who had gathered it together, were all poor
alike, all persecuted alike, all worshiping alike, to the
overthrow of their worldly interests, and at the imminent peril
of their lives. How brightly and tenderly the moonlight shone
upon the altar and the people before it! how solemnly and
divinely the deep harmonies, as they chanted the penitential
Psalms, mingled with the hoarse singing of the freshening night
breeze in the rigging of the ship! how sweetly the still rushing
murmur of many voices, as they uttered the responses together,
now died away, and now rose again softly into the mysterious
night!

Of all the members of the congregation--young or old--there was
but one over whom that impressive service exercised no influence
of consolation or of peace; that one was Gabriel. Often,
throughout the day, his reproaching conscience had spoken within
him again and again. Often when he joined the little assembly on
the beach, he turned away his face in secret shame and
apprehension from Perrine and her father. Vainly, after gaining
the deck of the ship, did he try to meet the eye of Father Paul
as frankly, as readily, and as affectionately as others met it.
The burden of concealment seemed too heavy to be borne in the
presence of the priest--and yet, torment as it was, he still bore
it! But when he knelt with the rest of the congregation and saw
Perrine kneeling by his side--when he felt the calmness of the
solemn night and the still sea filling his heart--when the sounds
of the first prayers spoke with a dread spiritual language of
their own to his soul--then the remembrance of the confession
which he had neglected, and the terror of receiving unprepared
the sacrament which he knew would be offered to him--grew too
vivid to be endured; the sense that he merited no longer, though
once worthy of it, the confidence in his perfect truth and candor
placed in him by the woman with whom he was soon to stand before
the altar, overwhelmed him with shame: the mere act of kneeling
among that congregation, the passive accomplice by his silence
and secrecy, for aught he knew to the contrary, of a crime which
it was his bounden duty to denounce, appalled him as if he had
already committed sacrilege that could never be forgiven. Tears
flowed down his cheeks, though he strove to repress them: sobs
burst from him, though he tried to stifle them. He knew that
others besides Perrine were looking at him in astonishment and
alarm; but he could neither control himself, nor move to leave
his place, nor raise his eyes even--until suddenly he felt a hand
laid on his shoulder. That touch, slight as it was, ran through
him instantly He looked up, and saw Father Paul standing by his
side.

Beckoning him to follow, and signing to the congregation not to
suspend their devotions, he led Gabriel out of the assembly--then
paused for a moment, reflecting--then beckoning him again, took
him into the cabin of the ship, and closed the door carefully.

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