Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Free Classic E-books


Part 1 out of 7

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.8 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

Etext prepared by Dagny, dagnyj@hotmail.com
and John Bickers, jbickers@templar.actrix.gen.nz



Translated by
Stanley Young


George Sand
Pearl Mary-Teresa Craigie (John Oliver Hobbes)

Life of George Sand
Edmund Gosse

The Author's Preface



Napoleon in exile declared that were he again on the throne he should
make a point of spending two hours a day in conversation with women,
from whom there was much to be learnt. He had, no doubt, several types
of women in mind, but it is more than probable that the banishment of
Madame de Stael rose before him as one of the mistakes in his career.
It was not that he showed lack of judgment merely by the persecution
of a rare talent, but by failing to see that the rare talent was
pointing out truths very valuable to his own safety. This is what
happened in France when George Sand--the greatest woman writer the
world has known, or is ever likely to know--was attacked by the
orthodox critics of her time. They feared her warnings; they detested
her sincerity--a sincerity displayed as much in her life as in her
works (the hypocrite's Paradise was precisely her idea of Hell); they
resented bitterly an independence of spirit which in a man would have
been in the highest degree distinguished, which remained, under every
test, untamable. With a kind of /bonhomie/ which one can only compare
with Fielding's, with a passion as great as Montaigne's for
acknowledging the truths of experience, with an absence of self-
consciousness truly amazing in the artistic temperament of either sex,
she wrote exactly as she thought, saw and felt. Humour was not her
strong point. She had an exultant joy in living, but laughter, whether
genial or sardonic, is not in her work. Irony she seldom, if ever,
employed; satire she never attempted. It was on the maternal, the
sympathetic side that her femininity, and therefore her creative
genius, was most strongly developed. She was masculine only in the
deliberate libertinism of certain episodes in her own life. This was a
characteristic--one on no account to be overlooked or denied or
disguised, but it was not her character. The character was womanly,
tender, exquisitely patient and good-natured. She would take cross
humanity in her arms, and carry it out into the sunshine of the
fields; she would show it flowers and birds, sing songs to it, tell it
stories, recall its original beauty. Even in her moods of depression
and revolt, one recognises the fatigue of the strong. It is never for
a moment the lassitude of the feeble, the weary spite of a sick and
ill-used soul. As she was free from personal vanity, she was also free
from hysteria. On marriage--the one subject which drove her to a
certain though always disciplined violence--she clearly felt more for
others than they felt for themselves; and in observing certain
households and life partnerships, she may have been afflicted with a
dismay which the unreflecting sufferers did not share. No writer who
was carried away by egoistic anger or disappointment could have told
these stories of unhappiness, infidelity, and luckless love with such
dispassionate lucidity.

With the artist's dislike of all that is positive and arbitrary, she
was, nevertheless, subject rather to her intellect than her emotions.
An insult to her intelligence was the one thing she found it hard to
pardon, and she allowed no external interference to disturb her
relations with her own reasoning faculty. She followed caprices, no
doubt, but she was never under any apprehension with regard to their
true nature, displaying in this respect a detachment which is usually
considered exclusively virile. /Elle et Lui/, which, perhaps because
it is short and associated with actual facts, is the most frequently
discussed in general conversation on her work, remains probably the
sanest account of a sentimental experiment which was ever written. How
far it may have seemed accurate to De Musset is not to the point. Her
version of her grievance is at least convincing. Without fear and
without hope, she makes her statement, and it stands, therefore,
unique of its kind among indictments. It has been said that her fault
was an excess of emotionalism; that is to say, she attached too much
importance to mere feeling and described it, in French of marvellous
ease and beauty, with a good deal of something else which one can
almost condemn as the high-flown. Not that the high-flown is of
necessity unnatural, but it is misleading; it places the passing mood,
the lyrical note, dependent on so many accidents, above the essential
temperament and the dominant chord which depend on life only. Where
she falls short of the very greatest masters is in this all but
deliberate confusion of things which must change or can be changed
with things which are unchangeable, incurable, and permanent.
Shakespeare, it is true, makes all his villains talk poetry, but it is
the poetry which a villain, were he a poet, would inevitably write.
George Sand glorifies every mind with her own peculiar fire and tears.
The fire is, fortunately, so much stronger than the tears that her
passion never degenerates into the maudlin. All the same, she makes
too universal a use of her own strongest gifts, and this is why she
cannot be said to excel as a portrait painter. One merit, however, is
certain: if her earliest writings were dangerous, it was because of
her wonderful power of idealization, not because she filled her pages
with the revolting and epicene sensuality of the new Italian, French,
and English schools. Intellectual viciousness was not her failing, and
she never made the modern mistake of confusing indecency with vigour.
She loved nature, air, and light too well and too truly to go very far
wrong in her imaginations. It may indeed be impossible for many of us
to accept all her social and political views; they have no bearing,
fortunately, on the quality of her literary art; they have to be
considered under a different aspect. In politics, her judgment, as
displayed in the letters to Mazzini, was profound. Her correspondence
with Flaubert shows us a capacity for stanch, unblemished friendship
unequalled, probably, in the biographies, whether published or
unpublished, of the remarkable.

With regard to her impiety--for such it should be called--it did not
arise from arrogance, nor was it based in any way upon the higher
learning of her period. Simply she did not possess the religious
instinct. She understood it sympathetically--in /Spiridion/, for
instance, she describes an ascetic nature as it has never been done in
any other work of fiction. Newman himself has not written passages of
deeper or purer mysticism, of more sincere spirituality. Balzac, in
/Seraphita/, attempted something of the kind, but the result was never
more than a /tour de force/. He could invent, he could describe, but
George Sand felt; and as she felt, she composed, living with and
loving with an understanding love all her creations. But it has to be
remembered always that she repudiated all religious restraint, that
she believed in the human heart, that she acknowledged no higher law
than its own impulses, that she saw love where others see only a cruel
struggle for existence, that she found beauty where ordinary visions
can detect little besides a selfishness worse than brutal and a
squalor more pitiful than death. Everywhere she insists upon the
purifying influence of affection, no matter how degraded in its
circumstances or how illegal in its manifestation. No writer--not
excepting the Brontes--has shown a deeper sympathy with uncommon
temperaments, misunderstood aims, consciences with flickering lights,
the discontented, the abnormal, or the unhappy. The great modern
specialist for nervous diseases has not improved on her analysis of
the neuropathic and hysterical. There is scarcely a novel of hers in
which some character does not appear who is, in the usual phrase, out
of the common run. Yet, with this perfect understanding of the
exceptional case, she never permits any science of cause and effect to
obscure the rules and principles which in the main control life for
the majority. It was, no doubt, this balance which made her a popular
writer, even while she never ceased to keep in touch with the most
acute minds of France.

She possessed, in addition to creative genius of an order especially
individual and charming, a capacity for the invention of ideas. There
are in many of her chapters more ideas, more suggestions than one
would find in a whole volume of Flaubert. It is not possible that
these surprising, admirable, and usually sound thoughts were the
result of long hours of reflection. They belonged to her nature and a
quality of judgment which, even in her most extravagant romances, is
never for a moment swayed from that sane impartiality described by the
unobservant as common sense.

Her fairness to women was not the least astounding of her gifts. She
is kind to the beautiful, the yielding, above all to the very young,
and in none of her stories has she introduced any violently
disagreeable female characters. Her villains are mostly men, and even
these she invests with a picturesque fatality which drives them to
errors, crimes, and scoundrelism with a certain plaintive, if
relentless, grace. The inconstant lover is invariably pursued by the
furies of remorse; the brutal has always some mitigating influence in
his career; the libertine retains through many vicissitudes a seraphic
love for some faithful Solveig.

Humanity meant far more to her than art: she began her literary career
by describing facts as she knew them: critics drove her to examine
their causes, and so she gradually changed from the chronicler with
strong sympathies to the interpreter with a reasoned philosophy. She
discovered that a great deal of the suffering in this world is due not
so much to original sin, but to a kind of original stupidity, an
unimaginative, stubborn stupidity. People were dishonest because they
believed, wrongly, that dishonesty was somehow successful. They were
cruel because they supposed that repulsive exhibitions of power
inspired a prolonged fear. They were treacherous because they had
never been taught the greater strength of candour. George Sand tried
to point out the advantage of plain dealing, and the natural goodness
of mankind when uncorrupted by a false education. She loved the
wayward and the desolate: pretentiousness in any disguise was the one
thing she suspected and could not tolerate. It may be questioned
whether she ever deceived herself; but it must be said, that on the
whole she flattered weakness--and excused, by enchanting eloquence,
much which cannot always be justified merely on the ground that it is
explicable. But to explain was something--all but everything at the
time of her appearance in literature. Every novel she wrote made for
charity--for a better acquaintance with our neighbour's woes and our
own egoism. Such an attitude of mind is only possible to an absolutely
frank, even Arcadian, nature. She did what she wished to do: she said
what she had to say, not because she wanted to provoke excitement or
astonish the multitude, but because she had succeeded eminently in
leading her own life according to her own lights. The terror of
appearing inconsistent excited her scorn. Appearances never troubled
that unashamed soul. This is the magic, the peculiar fascination of
her books. We find ourselves in the presence of a freshness, a
primeval vigour which produces actually the effect of seeing new
scenes, of facing a fresh climate. Her love of the soil, of flowers,
and the sky, for whatever was young and unspoilt, seems to animate
every page--even in her passages of rhetorical sentiment we never
suspect the burning pastille, the gauze tea-gown, or the depressed
pink light. Rhetoric it may be, but it is the rhetoric of the sea and
the wheat field. It can be spoken in the open air and read by the
light of day.

George Sand never confined herself to any especial manner in her
literary work. Her spontaneity of feeling and the actual fecundity, as
it were, of her imaginative gift, could not be restrained,
concentrated, and formally arranged as it was in the case of the two
first masters of modern French novel-writing. Her work in this respect
may be compared to a gold mine, while theirs is rather the goldsmith's
craft. It must not be supposed, however, that she was a writer without
very strong views with regard to the construction of a plot and the
development of character. Her literary essays and reviews show a
knowledge of technique which could be accepted at any time as a text-
book for the critics and the criticised. She knew exactly how artistic
effects were obtained, how and why certain things were done, why
realism, so-called, could never be anything but caricature, and why
over-elaboration of small matters can never be otherwise than
disproportionate. Nothing could be more just than her saying about
Balzac that he was such a logician that he invented things more
truthful than the truth itself. No one knew better than she that the
truth, as it is commonly understood, does not exist; that it cannot be
logical because of its mystery; and that it is the knowledge of its
contradictions which shows the real expert in psychology.

Three of her stories--/La Petite Fadette/, /La Mare au Diable/, and
/Les Maitres Mosaistes/--are as neat in their workmanship as a Dutch
painting. Her brilliant powers of analysis, the intellectual
atmosphere with which she surrounds the more complex characters in her
longer romances, are entirely put aside, and we are given instead a
series of pictures and dialogues in what has been called the purely
objective style; so pure in its objectivity and detachment that it
would be hard for any one to decide from internal evidence that they
were in reality her own composition.

To those who seek for proportion and form there is, without doubt,
much that is unsymmetrical in her designs. Interesting she always is,
but to the trained eye scenes of minor importance are, strictly
speaking, too long: descriptions in musical language sometimes
distract the reader from the progress of the story. But this arose
from her own joy in writing: much as she valued proportion, she liked
expressing her mind better, not out of conceit or self-importance, but
as the birds, whom she loved so well, sing.

Good nature is what we need above all in reading George Sand. It is
there--infectious enough in her own pages, and with it the courage
which can come only from a heart at peace with itself. This is why
neither fashion nor new nor old criticism can affect the title of
George Sand among the greatest influences of the last century and the
present one. Much that she has said still seems untried and
unexpected. Writers so opposite as Ibsen and Anatole France have
expanded her themes. She is quoted unconsciously to-day by hundreds
who are ignorant of their real source of inspiration. No woman ever
wrote with such force before, and no woman since has even approached
her supreme accomplishments.



George Sand, in whose life nothing was commonplace, was born in Paris,
"in the midst of roses, to the sound of music," at a dance which her
mother had somewhat rashly attended, on the 5th of July, 1804. Her
maiden name was Armentine Lucile Aurore Dupin, and her ancestry was of
a romantic character. She was, in fact, of royal blood, being the
great-grand-daughter of the Marshal Maurice du Saxe and a Mlle.
Verriere; her grandfather was M. Dupin de Francueil, the charming
friend of Rousseau and Mme. d'Epinay; her father, Maurice Dupin, was a
gay and brilliant soldier, who married the pretty daughter of a bird-
fancier, and died early. She was a child of the people on her mother's
side, an aristocrat on her father's. In 1807 she was taken by her
father, who was on Murat's staff, into Spain, from which she returned
to the house of her grandmother, at Nohant in Berry. This old lady
adopted Aurore at the death of her father, in 1808. Of her childhood
George Sand has given a most picturesque account in her "Histoire de
ma Vie." In 1817 the girl was sent to the Convent of the English
Augustinians in Paris, where she passed through a state of religious
mysticism. She returned to Nohant in 1820, and soon threw off her
pietism in the outdoor exercises of a wholesome country life. Within a
few months, Mme. Dupin de Francueil died at a great age, and Aurore
was tempted to return to Paris. Her relatives, however, were anxious
that she should not do this, and they introduced to her the natural
son of a retired colonel, the Baron Dudevant, whom, in September,
1822, she married. She brought him to live with her at Nohant, and she
bore him two sons, Maurice and Solange, and a daughter. She quickly
perceived, as her own intellectual nature developed, that her boorish
husband was unsuited to her, but their early years of married life
were not absolutely intolerable. In 1831, however, she could endure
him no longer, and an amicable separation was agreed upon. She left M.
Dudevant at Nohant, resigning her fortune, and proceeded to Paris,
where she was hard pressed to find a living. She endeavoured, without
success, to paint the lids of cigar-boxes, and in final desperation,
under the influence of Jules Sandeau--who became her lover, and who
invented the pseudonym of George Sand for her--she turned her
attention to literature. Her earliest work was to help Sandeau in the
composition of his novel, "Rose et Blanche" Her first independent
novel, "Indiana," appeared at the close of 1831, and her second,
"Valentine," two months later. These books produced a great and
immediate sensation, and she felt that she had found her vocation. In
1833 she produced "Lebia"; in 1834 the "Lettres d'un Voyageur" and
"Jacques"; in 1835 "Andre" and "Leone Leoni." After this her works
become too numerous and were produced with too monotonous a regularity
to be chronicled here. But it should be said that "Mauprat" was
written in 1836 at Nohant, while she was pleading for a legal
separation from her husband, which was given her by the tribunal of
Bourges, with full authority over the education of her children. These
early novels all reflect in measure the personal sorrows of the
author, although George Sand never ceased to protest against too
strict a biographical interpretation of their incidents. "Spiridion"
(1839), composed under the influence of Lamennais, deals with
questions of free thought in religion. But the novels of the first
period of her literary activity, which came to a close in 1840, are
mainly occupied with a lyrical individualism, and are inspired by the
wrongs and disillusions of the author's personal adventures.

The years 1833 and 1834 were marked by her too-celebrated relations
with Alfred de Musset, with whom she lived in Paris and at Venice, and
with whom she quarrelled at last in circumstances deplorably
infelicitous. Neither of these great creatures had the reticence to
exclude the world from a narrative of their misfortunes and
adventures; of the two it was fairly certainly the woman who came the
less injured out of the furnace. In "Elle et Lui" (1859) she gave long
afterward her version of the unhappy and undignified story. Her stay
in Venice appears to have impressed her genius more deeply than any
other section of her numerous foreign sojournings.

The writings of George Sand's second period, which extended from 1840
to 1848, are of a more general character, and are tinged with a
generous but not very enlightened ardour for social emancipation. Of
these novels, the earliest is "Le Compagnon du Tour de France" (1840),
which is scarcely a masterpiece. In the pursuit of foreign modes of
thought, and impelled by experiences of travel, George Sand rose to
far greater heights in "Jeanne" (1842), in "Consuelo" (1842-'43), and
in "La Comtesse de Rudolstade" (1844). All these books were composed
in her retirement at Nohant, where she definitely settled in 1839,
after having travelled for several months in Switzerland with Liszt
and Mme. d'Agoult, and having lived in the island of Majorca for some
time with the dying Chopin, an episode which is enshrined in her
"Lucrezia Floriani" (1847).

The Revolution of 1848 appeared to George Sand a realization of her
Utopian dreams, and plunged her thoughts into a painful disorder. She
soon, however, became dissatisfied with the result of her republican
theories, and she turned to two new sources of success, the country
story and the stage. Her delicious romance of "Francois le Champi"
(1850) attracted a new and enthusiastic audience to her, and her
entire emancipation from "problems" was marked in the pages of "La
Petite Fadette" and of "La Mare au Diable." To the same period belong
"Les Visions de la Nuit des les Campagnes," "Les Maitres Sonneurs,"
and "Cosina." From 1850 to 1864 she gave a great deal of attention to
the theatre, and of her numerous pieces several enjoyed a wide and
considerable success, although it cannot be said that any of her plays
have possessed the vitality of her best novels. The most solid of the
former was her dramatization of her story, "Le Marquis de Villemer"
(1864), which was one of the latest, and next to it "Le Mariage de
Victorine" (1851), which was one of the earliest. Her successes on the
stage, such as they are, appear mainly due to collaboration with

In her latest period, from 1860 to 1876, George Sand returned to her
first lyrical manner, although with more reticence and a wider
experience of life. Of the very abundant fruitage of these last years,
not many rank with the masterpieces of her earlier periods, although
such novels as "Tamaris" (1862), "La Confession d'une Jeune Fille"
(1865), and "Cadio," seemed to her admirers to show no decline of
force or fire. Still finer, perhaps, were "Le Marquis de Villemer"
(1861) and "Jean de la Roche" (1860). Her latest production, which
appeared after her death, was the "Contes d'une Grand'mere," a
collection full of humanity and beauty. George Sand died at Nohant on
the 8th of June, 1876. She had great qualities of soul, and in spite
of the naive irregularities of her conduct in early middle life, she
cannot be regarded otherwise than as an excellent woman. She was
brave, courageous, heroically industrious, a loyal friend, a tender
and wise mother. Her principle fault has been wittily defined by Mr.
Henry James, who has remarked that in affairs of the heart George Sand
never "behaved like a gentleman."

E. G.


When I wrote my novel /Mauprat/ at Nohant--in 1846, if I remember
rightly--I had just been suing for a separation. Hitherto I had
written much against the abuses of marriage, and perhaps, though
insufficiently explaining my views, had induced a belief that I failed
to appreciate its essence; but it was at this time that marriage
itself stood before me in all the moral beauty of its principle.

Misfortune is not without its uses to the thoughtful mind. The more
clearly I had realized the pain and pity of having to break a sacred
bond, the more profoundly I felt that where marriage is wanting, is in
certain elements of happiness and justice of too lofty a nature to
appeal to our actual society. Nay, more; society strives to take from
the sanctity of the institution by treating it as a contract of
material interests, attacking it on all sides at once, by the spirit
of its manners, by its prejudices, by its hypocritical incredulity.

While writing a novel as an occupation and distraction for my mind, I
conceived the idea of portraying an exclusive and undying love,
before, during, and after marriage. Thus I drew the hero of my book
proclaiming, at the age of eighty, his fidelity to the one woman he
had ever loved.

The ideal of love is assuredly eternal fidelity. Moral and religious
laws have aimed at consecrating this ideal. Material facts obscure it.
Civil laws are so framed as to make it impossible or illusory. Here,
however, is not the place to prove this. Nor has /Mauprat/ been
burdened with a proof of the theory; only, the sentiment by which I
was specially penetrated at the time of writing it is embodied in the
words of /Mauprat/ towards the end of the book: "She was the only
woman I loved in all my life; none other ever won a glance from me, or
knew the pressure of my hand."


June 5, 1857.


Though fashion may proscribe the patriarchal fashion of dedications, I
would ask you, brother and friend, to accept this of a tale which is
not new to you. I have drawn my materials in part from the cottages of
our Noire valley. May we live and die there, repeating every evening
our beloved invocation:




On the borders of La Marche and Berry, in the district known as
Varenne, which is naught but a vast moor studded with forests of oak
and chestnut, and in the most thickly wooded and wildest part of the
country, may be found, crouching within a ravine, a little ruined
chateau. The dilapidated turrets would not catch your eye until you
were about a hundred yards from the principal portcullis. The
venerable trees around and the scattered rocks above, bury it in
everlasting obscurity; and you would experience the greatest
difficulty, even in broad daylight, in crossing the deserted path
leading to it, without stumbling against the gnarled trunks and
rubbish that bar every step. The name given to this dark ravine and
gloomy castle is Roche-Mauprat.

It was not so long ago that the last of the Mauprats, the heir to this
property, had the roofing taken away and all the woodwork sold. Then,
as if to give a kick to the memory of his ancestors, he ordered the
entrance gate to be thrown down, the north tower to be gutted, and a
breach to be made in the surrounding wall. This done, he departed with
his workmen, shaking the dust from off his feet, and abandoning his
domain to foxes, and cormorants, and vipers. Since then, whenever the
wood-cutters and charcoal-burners from the huts in the neighbourhood
pass along the top of the Roche-Mauprat ravine, if it is in daytime
they whistle with a defiant air or hurl a hearty curse at the ruins;
but when day falls and the goat-sucker begins to screech from the top
of the loopholes, wood-cutter and charcoal-burner pass by silently,
with quickened step, and cross themselves from time to time to ward
off the evil spirits that hold sway among the ruins.

For myself, I own that I have never skirted the ravine at night
without feeling a certain uneasiness; and I would not like to swear
that on some stormy nights I have not given my horse a touch of the
spur, in order to escape the more quickly from the disagreeable
impression this neighbourhood made on me.

The reason is that in childhood I classed the name of Mauprat with
those of Cartouche and Bluebeard; and in the course of horrible dreams
I often used to mix up the ancient legends of the Ogre and the Bogey
with the quite recent events which in our province had given such a
sinister lustre to this Mauprat family.

Frequently, out shooting, when my companions and I have left our posts
to go and warm ourselves at the charcoal fires which the workmen keep
up all night, I have heard this name dying away on their lips at our
approach. But when they had recognised us and thoroughly satisfied
themselves that the ghosts of none of these robbers were hiding in our
midst, they would tell us in a whisper such stories as might make
one's hair stand on end, stories which I shall take good care not to
pass on to you, grieved as I am that they should ever have darkened
and pained my own memory.

Not that the story I am about to tell is altogether pleasant and
cheerful. On the contrary, I must ask your pardon for unfolding so
sombre a tale. Yet, in the impression which it has made on myself
there is something so consoling and, if I may venture the phrase, so
healthful to the soul, that you will excuse me, I hope, for the sake
of the result. Besides this is a story which has just been told to me.
And now you ask me for one. The opportunity is too good to be missed
for one of my laziness or lack of invention.

It was only last week that I met Bernard Mauprat, the last of the
line, the man who, having long before severed himself from his
infamous connections, determined to demolish his manor as a sign of
the horror aroused in him by the recollections of childhood. This
Bernard is one of the most respected men in the province. He lives in
a pretty house near Chateauroux, in a flat country. Finding myself in
the neighbourhood, with a friend of mine who knows him, I expressed a
wish to be introduced; and my friend, promising me a hearty welcome,
took me to his house then and there.

I already knew in outline the remarkable history of this old man; but
I had always felt a keen desire to fill in the details, and above all
to receive them from himself. For me, the strange destiny of the man
was a philosophical problem to be solved. I therefore noticed his
features, his manners, and his home with peculiar interest.

Bernard Mauprat must be fully eighty-four, though his robust health,
his upright figure, his firm step, and the absence of any infirmity
might indicate some fifteen or twenty years less. His face would have
appeared to me extremely handsome, had not a certain harshness of
expression brought before my eyes, in spite of myself, the shades of
his fathers. I very much fear that, externally at all events, he must
resemble them. This he alone could have told us; for neither my friend
nor myself had known any other Mauprat. Naturally, however, we were
very careful not to inquire.

It struck us that his servants waited on him with a promptitude and
punctuality quite marvellous in Berrichon domestics. Nevertheless, at
the least semblance of delay he raised his voice, knitted his eyebrows
(which still showed very black under his white hair), and muttered a
few expressions of impatience which lent wings even to the slowest. At
first I was somewhat shocked at this habit; it appeared to savour
rather too strongly of the Mauprats. But the kindly and almost
paternal manner in which he spoke to them a moment later, and their
zeal, which seemed so distinct from fear, soon reconciled me to him.
Towards us, moreover, he showed an exquisite politeness, and expressed
himself in the choicest terms. Unfortunately, at the end of dinner, a
door which had been left open and through which a cold air found its
way to his venerable skull, drew from him such a frightful oath that
my friend and I exchanged a look of surprise. He noticed it.

"I beg your pardon, gentlemen," he said. "I am afraid you find me an
odd mixture. Ah, you see but a short distance. I am an old branch,
happily torn from a vile trunk and transplanted into good soil, but
still knotted and rough like the wild holly of the original stock. I
have, believe me, had no little trouble in reaching the state of
comparative gentleness and calm in which you behold me. Alas! if I
dared, I should reproach Providence with a great injustice--that of
having allotted me a life as short as other men's. When one has to
struggle for forty or fifty years to transform one's self from a wolf
into a man, one ought to live a hundred years longer to enjoy one's
victory. Yet what good would that do me?" he added in a tone of
sadness. "The kind fairy who transformed me is here no more to take
pleasure in her work. Bah! it is quite time to have done with it all."

Then he turned towards me, and, looking at me with big dark eyes,
still strangely animated, said:

"Come, my dear young man; I know what brings you to see me; you are
curious to hear my history. Draw nearer the fire, then. Mauprat though
I am, I will not make you do duty for a log. In listening you are
giving me the greatest pleasure you could give. Your friend will tell
you, however, that I do not willingly talk of myself. I am generally
afraid of having to deal with blockheads, but you I have already heard
of; I know your character and your profession; you are an observer and
narrator--in other words, pardon me, inquisitive and a chatterbox."

He began to laugh, and I made an effort to laugh too, though with a
rising suspicion that he was making game of us. Nor could I help
thinking of the nasty tricks that his grandfather took a delight in
playing on the imprudent busybodies who called upon him. But he put
his arm through mine in a friendly way, and making me sit down in
front of a good fire, near a table covered with cups--

"Don't be annoyed," he said. "At my age I cannot get rid of hereditary
sarcasm; but there is nothing spiteful in mine. To speak seriously, I
am delighted to see you and to confide in you the story of my life. A
man as unfortunate as I have been deserves to find a faithful
biographer to clear his memory from all stain. Listen, then, and take
some coffee."

I offered him a cup in silence. He refused it with a wave of the arm
and a smile which seemed to say, "That is rather for your effeminate

Then he began his narrative in these words:


You live not very far from Roche-Mauprat, and must have often passed
by the ruins. Thus there is no need for me to describe them. All I can
tell you is that the place has never been so attractive as it is now.
On the day that I had the roof taken off, the sun for the first time
brightened the damp walls within which my childhood was passed; and
the lizards to which I have left them are much better housed there
than I once was. They can at least behold the light of day and warm
their cold limbs in the rays of the sun at noon.

There used to be an elder and a younger branch of the Mauprats. I
belong to the elder. My grandfather was that old Tristan de Mauprat
who ran through his fortune, dishonoured his name, and was such a
blackguard that his memory is already surrounded by a halo of the
marvelous. The peasants still believe that his ghost appears, either
in the body of a wizard who shows malefactors the way to the dwellings
of Varenne, or in that of an old white hare which reveals itself to
people meditating some evil deed. When I came into the world the only
living member of the younger branch was Monsieur Hubert de Mauprat,
known as the chevalier, because he belonged to the Order of the
Knights of Malta; a man just as good as his cousin was bad. Being the
youngest son of his family, he had taken the vow of celibacy; but,
when he found himself the sole survivor of several brothers and
sisters, he obtained release from his vow, and took a wife the year
before I was born. Rumour says that before changing his existence in
this way he made strenuous efforts to find some descendant of the
elder branch worthy to restore the tarnished family name, and preserve
the fortune which had accumulated in the hands of the younger branch.
He had endeavoured to put his cousin Tristan's affairs in order, and
had frequently paid off the latter's creditors. Seeing, however, that
the only effect of his kindness was to encourage the vices of the
family, and that, instead of respect and gratitude, he received
nothing but secret hatred and churlish jealousy, he abandoned all
attempts at friendship, broke with his cousins, and in spite of his
advanced age (he was over sixty), took a wife in order to have heirs
of his own. He had one daughter, and there his hopes of posterity
ended; for soon afterward his wife died of a violent illness which the
doctors called iliac passion. He then left that part of the country
and returned but rarely to his estates. These were situated about six
leagues from Roche-Mauprat, on the borders of the Varenne du
Fromental. He was a prudent man and a just, because he was cultured,
because his father had moved with the spirit of his century, and had
had him educated. None the less he had preserved a firm character and
an enterprising mind, and, like his ancestors, he was proud of hearing
as a sort of surname the knightly title of Headbreaker, hereditary in
the original Mauprat stock. As for the elder branch, it had turned out
so badly, or rather had preserved from the old feudal days such
terrible habits of brigandage, that it had won for itself the
distinctive title of Hamstringer. [I hazard "Headbreaker" and
"Hamstringer" as poor equivalents for the "Casse-Tete" and "Coupe-
Jarret" of the French.--TR.] Of the sons of Tristan, my father, the
eldest, was the only one who married. I was his only child. Here it is
necessary to mention a fact of which I was long ignorant. Hubert de
Mauprat, on hearing of my birth, begged me of my parents, undertaking
to make me his heir if he were allowed absolute control over my
education. At a shooting-party about this time my father was killed by
an accidental shot, and my grandfather refused the chevalier's offer,
declaring that his children were the sole legitimate heirs of the
younger branch, and that consequently he would resist with all his
might any substitution in my favour. It was then that Hubert's
daughter was born. But when, seven years later, his wife died leaving
him this one child, the desire, so strong in the nobles of that time,
to perpetuate their name, urged him to renew his request to my mother.
What her answer was I do not know; she fell ill and died. The country
doctors again brought in a verdict of iliac passion. My grandfather
had spent the last two days she passed in this world with her.

Pour me out a glass of Spanish wine; for I feel a cold shiver running
through my body. It is nothing serious--merely the effect that these
early recollections have on me when I begin to narrate them. It will
soon pass off.

He swallowed a large glass of wine, and we did the same; for a
sensation of cold came upon us too as we gazed at his stern face and
listened to his brief, abrupt sentences. He continued:

Thus at the age of seven I found myself an orphan. My grandfather
searched my mother's house and seized all the money and valuables he
could carry away. Then, leaving the rest, and declaring he would have
nothing to do with lawyers, he did not even wait for the funeral, but
took me by the collar and flung me on to the crupper of his horse,
saying: "Now, my young ward, come home with me; and try to stop that
crying soon, for I haven't much patience with brats." In fact, after a
few seconds he gave me such hard cuts with his whip that I stopped
crying, and, withdrawing myself like a tortoise into my shell,
completed the journey without daring to breathe.

He was a tall old man, bony and cross-eyed. I fancy I see him now as
he was then. The impression that evening made on me can never be
effaced. It was a sudden realization of all the horrors which my
mother had foreshadowed when speaking of her execrable father-in-law
and his brigands of sons. The moon, I remember, was shining here and
there through the dense foliage of the forest. My grandfather's horse
was lean, hardy, and bad-tempered like himself. It kicked at every cut
of the whip, and its master gave it plenty. Swift as an arrow it
jumped the ravines and little torrents which everywhere intersect
Varenne in all directions. At each jump I lost my balance, and clung
in terror to the saddle or my grandfather's coat. As for him, he was
so little concerned about me that, had I fallen, I doubt whether he
would have taken the trouble to pick me up. Sometimes, noticing my
terror, he would jeer at me, and, to make me still more afraid, set
his horse plunging again. Twenty times, in a frenzy of despair, I was
on the point of throwing myself off; but the instinctive love of life
prevented me from giving way to the impulse. At last, about midnight,
we suddenly stopped before a small pointed gate, and the drawbridge
was soon lifted behind us. My grandfather took me, bathed in a cold
sweat as I was, and threw me over to a great fellow, lame and horribly
ugly, who carried me into the house. This was my Uncle John, and I was
at Roche-Mauprat.

At that time my grandfather, along with his eight sons, formed the
last relic in our province of that race of petty feudal tyrants by
which France had been overrun and harassed for so many centuries.
Civilization, already advancing rapidly towards the great convulsion
of the Revolution, was gradually stamping out the systematic
extortions of these robbers. The light of education, a species of good
taste reflected, however dimly, from a polished court, and perhaps a
presentiment of the impending terrible awakening of the people, were
spreading through the castles and even through the half-rustic manors
of the lordlings. Ever in our midland provinces, the most backward by
reason of their situation, the sentiment of social equality was
already driving out the customs of a barbarous age. More than one vile
scapegrace had been forced to reform, in spite of his privileges; and
in certain places where the peasants, driven to desperation, had rid
themselves of their overlord, the law had not dreamt of interfering,
nor had the relatives dared to demand redress.

In spite of the prevailing tone of mind, my grandfather had long
maintained his position in the country without experiencing any
opposition. But, having had a large family, endowed like himself with
a goodly number of vices, he finally found himself pestered and
besieged by creditors who, instead of being frightened by his threats,
as of old, were themselves threatening to make him suffer. He was
obliged to devise some means of avoiding the bailiffs on the one hand,
and, on the other, the fights which were continually taking place. In
these fights the Mauprats no longer shone, despite their numbers,
their complete union, and their herculean strength; since the whole
population of the district sided with their opponents and took upon
itself the duty of stoning them. So, rallying his progeny around him,
as the wild boar gathers together its young after a hunt, Tristan
withdrew into his castle and ordered the drawbridge to be raised. Shut
up with him were ten or twelve peasants, his servants, all of them
poachers or refugees, who like himself had some interest in "retiring
from the world" (his own expression), and in finding a place of safety
behind good stout walls. An enormous pile of hunting weapons, duck-
guns, carbines, blunderbusses, spears, and cutlasses, were raised on
the platform, and the porter received orders never to let more than
two persons at a time approach within range of his gun.

From that day Mauprat and his sons broke with all civil laws as they
had already broken with all moral laws. They formed themselves into a
band of adventurers. While their well-beloved and trusty poachers
supplied the house with game, they levied illegal taxes on the small
farms in the neighbourhood. Now, without being cowards (and they are
far from that), the peasants of our province, as you know, are meek
and timid, partly from listlessness, partly from distrust of the law,
which they have never understood, and of which even to this day they
have but a scanty knowledge. No province of France has preserved more
old traditions or longer endured the abuses of feudalism. Nowhere
else, perhaps, has the title of the lord of the manor been handed
down, as hitherto with us, to the owners of certain estates; and
nowhere is it so easy to frighten the people with reports of some
absurd and impossible political event. At the time of which I speak
the Mauprats, being the only powerful family in a district remote from
towns and cut off from communication with the outside world, had
little difficulty in persuading their vassals that serfdom was about
to be re-established, and that it would go hard with all who resisted.
The peasants hesitated, listened timorously to the few among
themselves who preached independence, then thought the matter over and
decided to submit. The Mauprats were clever enough not to demand money
of them, for money is what the peasant in such a district obtains with
the greatest difficulty, and parts from with the greatest reluctance.
"Money is dear," is one of his proverbs, because in his eyes money
stands for something different from manual labour. It means traffic
with men and things outside his world, an effort of foresight or
circumspection, a bargain, a sort of intellectual struggle, which
lifts him out of his ordinary heedless habits; it means, in a word,
mental labour, and this for him is the most painful and the most

The Mauprats, knowing how the ground lay, and having no particular
need of money any longer, since they had repudiated their debts,
demanded payments in kind only. They ruled that one man should
contribute capons, another calves, a third corn, a fourth fodder, and
so on. They were careful, too, to tax judiciously, to demand from each
the commodity he could provide with least inconvenience to himself. In
return they promised help and protection to all; and up to a certain
point they kept their word. They cleared the land of wolves and foxes,
gave a welcome and a hiding-place to all deserters, and helped to
defraud the state by intimidating the excise officers and tax-

They took advantage of their power to give the poor man a false notion
of his real interests, and to corrupt the simple folk by undermining
all sense of their dignity and natural liberty. They made the whole
district combine in a sort of secession from the law, and they so
frightened the functionaries appointed to enforce respect for it, that
after a few years it fell into a veritable desuetude. Thus it happened
that, while France at a short distance from this region was advancing
with rapid strides towards the enfranchisement of the poorer classes,
Varenne was executing a retrograde march and returning at full speed
to the ancient tyranny of the country squires. It was easy enough for
the Mauprats to pervert these poor folk; they feigned a friendly
interest in them to mark their difference from the other nobles in the
province whose manners still retained some of the haughtiness of their
ancient power. Above all, my grandfather lost no opportunity of making
the peasants share his own hatred of his own cousin, Hubert de
Mauprat. The latter, whenever he interviewed his vassals, would remain
seated in his arm-chair, while they stood before him bareheaded;
whereas Tristan de Mauprat would make them sit down at his table, and
drink some of the wine they had brought him as a sign of voluntary
homage. He would then have them led home by his men in the middle of
the night, all dead drunk, torches in hand, and making the forest
resound with ribald songs. Libertinism completed the demoralization of
the peasantry. In every family the Mauprats soon had their mistresses.
This was tolerated, partly because it was profitable, and partly
(alas! that it should have to be said) because it gratified vanity.
The very isolation of the houses was favourable to the evil. No
scandal, no denunciation were to be feared. The tiniest village would
have been sufficient for the creation and maintenance of a public
opinion. There, however, there were only scattered cottages and
isolated farms; wastes and woods so separated the families from one
another that the exercise of any mutual control was impossible. Shame
is stronger than conscience. I need not tell you of all the bonds of
infamy that united masters and slaves. Debauchery, extortion, and
fraud were both precept and example for my youth, and life went on
merrily. All notions of justice were scoffed at; creditors were
defrauded of both interest and capital; any law officer who ventured
to serve a summons received a sound thrashing, and the mounted police
were fired on if they approached too near the turrets. A plague on
parliament; starvation to all imbued with the new philosophy; and
death to the younger branch of the Mauprats--such were the watchwords
of these men who, to crown all, gave themselves the airs of knights-
errant of the twelfth century. My grandfather talked of nothing but
his pedigree and the prowess of his ancestors. He regretted the good
old days when every lordling had instruments of torture in his manor,
and dungeons, and, best, of all cannon. In ours we only had pitchforks
and sticks, and a second-rate culverin which my Uncle John used to
point--and point very well, in fact--and which was sufficient to keep
at a respectful distance the military force of the district.


Old Mauprat was a treacherous animal of the carnivorous order, a cross
between a lynx and a fox. Along with a copious and easy flow of
language, he had a veneer of education which helped his cunning. He
made a point of excessive politeness, and had great powers of
persuasion, even with the objects of his vengeance. He knew how to
entice them to his castle, where he would make them undergo frightful
ill-treatment, for which, however, having no witnesses, they were
unable to obtain redress by law. All his villainies bore the stamp of
such consummate skill that the country came to view them with a sort
of awe akin to respect. No one could ever catch him out of his den,
though he issued forth often enough, and apparently without taking
many precautions. In truth, he was a man with a genius for evil; and
his sons, bound to him by no ties of affection, of which, indeed, they
were incapable, yet acknowledged the sway of this superior evil
genius, and gave him a uniform and ready obedience, in which there was
something almost fanatic. He was their deliverer in all desperate
cases; and when the weariness of confinement under our chilly vaults
began to fill them with /ennui/, his mind, brutal even in jest, would
cure them by arranging for their pleasure shows worthy of a den of
thieves. Sometimes poor mendicant monks collecting alms would be
terrified or tortured for their benefit; their beards would be burned
off, or they would be lowered into a well and kept hanging between
life and death until they had sung some foul song or uttered some
blasphemy. Everybody knows the story of the notary who was allowed to
enter in company with his four clerks, and whom they received with all
the assiduity of pompous hospitality. My grandfather pretended to
agree with a good grace to the execution of their warrant, and
politely helped them to make an inventory of his furniture, of which
the sale had been decreed. After this, when dinner was served and the
king's men had taken their places at table, he said to the notary:

"Ah, mon Dieu! I was forgetting a poor hack of mine in the stable.
It's a small matter. Still, you might be reprimanded for omitting it;
and as I see that you are a worthy fellow I should be sorry to mislead
you. Come with me and see it; it won't take us a moment."

The notary followed Mauprat unsuspectingly. Just as they were about to
enter the stable together, Mauprat, who was leading the way, told him
to put in his head only. The notary, anxious to show great
consideration in the performance of his duties, and not to pry into
things too closely, did as he was told. Then Mauprat suddenly pushed
the door to and squeezed his neck so violently between it and the wall
that the wretched man could not breathe. Deeming him sufficiently
punished, Tristan opened the door again, and, asking pardon for his
carelessness, with great civility offered the man his arm to take him
back to dinner. This the notary did not consider it wise to refuse;
but as soon as he re-entered the room where his colleagues were, he
threw himself into a chair, and pointing to his livid face and mangled
neck, demanded justice for the trap into which he had just been led.
It was then that my grandfather, revelling in his rascally wit, went
through a comedy scene of sublime audacity. He gravely reproached the
notary with accusing him unjustly, and always addressing him kindly
and with studied politeness, called the others to bear witness to his
conduct, begging them to make allowances if his precarious position
had forced him to give them such a poor reception, all the while doing
the honours of the table in splendid style. The poor notary did not
dare to press the matter and was compelled to dine, although half
dead. His companions were so completely duped by Mauprat's assurance
that they ate and drank merrily, treating the notary as a lunatic and
a boor. They left Roche-Mauprat all drunk, singing the praises of
their host, and laughing at the notary, who fell down dead upon the
threshold of his house on dismounting from his horse.

The eight sons, the pride and strength of old Mauprat, all resembled
him in physical vigour, brutality of manners, and, to some extent, in
craftiness and jesting ill-nature. The truth is they were veritable
brutes, capable of any evil, and completely dead to any noble thought
or generous sentiment. Nevertheless, they were endowed with a sort of
reckless, dashing courage which now and then seemed to have in it an
element of grandeur. But it is time that I told you about myself, and
gave you some idea of the development of my character in the thick of
this filthy mire into which it had pleased God to plunge me, on
leaving my cradle.

I should be wrong if, in order to gain your sympathy in these early
years of my life, I asserted that I was born with a noble nature, a
pure and incorruptible soul. As to this, I know nothing. Maybe there
are no incorruptible souls. Maybe there are. That is what neither you
nor any one will ever know. The great questions awaiting an answer are
these: "Are our innate tendencies invincible? If not, can they be
modified merely or wholly destroyed by education?" For myself, I would
not dare to affirm. I am neither a metaphysician, nor a psychologist,
nor a philosopher; but I have had a terrible life, gentlemen, and if I
were a legislator, I would order that man to have his tongue torn out,
or his head cut off, who dared to preach or write that the nature of
individuals is unchangeable, and that it is no more possible to reform
the character of a man than the appetite of a tiger. God has preserved
me from believing this.

All I can tell you is that my mother instilled into me good
principles, though, perhaps, I was not endowed by nature with her good
qualities. Even with her I was of a violent disposition, but my
violence was sullen and suppressed. I was blind and brutal in anger,
nervous even to cowardice at the approach of danger, daring almost to
foolhardiness when hand to hand with it--that is to say, at once timid
and brave from my love of life. My obstinacy was revolting; yet my
mother alone could conquer me; and without attempting to reason, for
my mind developed very slowly, I used to obey her as if by a sort of
magnetic necessity. This one guiding hand which I remember, and
another woman's which I felt later, were and have been sufficient to
lead me towards good. But I lost my mother before she had been able to
teach me anything seriously; and when I was transplanted to Roche-
Mauprat, my feeling for the evil done there was merely an instinctive
aversion, feeble enough, perhaps, if fear had not been mingled with

But I thank Heaven from the bottom of my heart for the cruelties
heaped upon me there, and above all for the hatred which my Uncle John
conceived for me. My ill-fortune preserved me from indifference in the
presence of evil, and my sufferings helped me to detest those who
wrought it.

This John was certainly the most detestable of his race. Ever since a
fall from his horse had maimed him, his evil temper had developed in
proportion to his inability to do as much harm as his companions.
Compelled to remain at home when the others set out on their
expeditions, for he could not bestride a horse, he found his only
chance of pleasure in those fruitless little attacks which the mounted
police sometimes made on the castle, as if to ease their conscience.
Then, intrenched behind a rampart of freestone which he had had built
to suit himself, John, calmly seated near his culverin, would pick off
a gentleman from time to time, and at once regain, as he said, his
sleeping and eating power, which want of exercise had taken from him.
And he would even climb up to his beloved platform without waiting for
the excuse of an attack, and there, crouching down like a cat ready to
spring, as soon as he saw any one appear in the distance without
giving the signal, he would try his skill upon the target, and make
the man retrace his steps. This he called sweeping the path clean.

As I was too young to accompany my uncles on their hunting and
plundering expeditions, John naturally became my guardian and tutor--
that is to say, my jailor and tormentor. I will not give you all the
details of that infernal existence. For nearly ten years I endured
cold, hunger, insults, the dungeon, and blows, according to the more
or less savage caprices of this monster. His fierce hatred of me arose
from the fact that he could not succeed in depraving me; my rugged,
headstrong, and unsociable nature preserved me from his vile
seductions. It is possible that I had not any strong tendencies to
virtue; to hatred I luckily had. Rather than do the bidding of my
tyrant I would have suffered a thousand deaths. And so I grew up
without conceiving any affection for vice. However, my notions about
society were so strange that my uncles' mode of life did not in itself
cause me any repugnance. Seeing that I was brought up behind the walls
of Roche-Mauprat, and that I lived in a state of perpetual siege, you
will understand that I had precisely such ideas as any armed retainer
in the barbarous ages of feudalism might have had. What, outside our
den, was termed by other men assassinating, plundering, and torturing,
I was taught to call fighting, conquering, and subduing. My sole
knowledge of history consisted of an acquaintance with certain legends
and ballads of chivalry which my grandfather used to repeat to me of
an evening, when he had time to think of what he was pleased to call
my education. Whenever I asked him any question about the present
time, he used to answer that times had sadly changed, that all
Frenchmen had become traitors and felons, that they had frightened
their kings, and that these, like cravens, had deserted the nobles,
who in their turn had been cowardly enough to renounce their
privileges and let laws be made for them by clodhoppers. I listened
with surprise, almost with indignation, to this account of the age in
which I lived, for me an age of shadows and mysteries. My grandfather
had but vague ideas of chronology; not a book of any kind was to be
found at Roche-Mauprat, except, I should say, the History of the Sons
of Aymon, and a few chronicles of the same class brought by our
servants from country fairs. Three names, and only three, stood clear
in the chaos of my ignorance--Charlemagne, Louis XI, and Louis XIV;
because my grandfather would frequently introduce these into
dissertations on the unrecognised rights of the nobles. In truth, I
was so ignorant that I scarcely knew the difference between a reign
and a race; and I was by no means sure that my grandfather had not
seen Charlemagne, for he spoke of him more frequently and more gladly
than of any other man.

But, while my native energy led me to admire the exploits of my
uncles, and filled me with a longing to share in them, the cold-
blooded cruelty they perpetrated on returning from their expeditions,
and the perfidious artifices by which they lured their dupes to the
castle, in order to torture them to extort ransom, roused in me
strange and painful emotions, which, now that I am speaking in all
sincerity, it would be difficult for me to account for exactly. In the
absence of all ordinary moral principles it might have been natural
for me to accept the theory which I daily saw carried into practice,
that makes it right; but the humiliation and suffering which my Uncle
John inflicted on me in virtue of this theory, taught me to be
dissatisfied with it. I could appreciate the right of the bravest, and
I genuinely despised those who, with death in their power, yet chose
life at the price of such ignominy as they had to bear at Roche-
Mauprat. But I could only explain these insults and horrors heaped on
prisoners, some of them women and mere children, as manifestations of
bloodthirsty appetites. I do not know if I was sufficiently
susceptible of a noble sentiment to be inspired with pity for the
victim; but certain it is that I experienced that feeling of selfish
commiseration which is common to all natures, and which, purified and
ennobled, has become charity among civilized peoples. Under my coarse
exterior my heart no doubt merely felt passing shocks of fear and
disgust at the sight of punishments which I myself might have to
endure any day at the caprice of my oppressors; especially as John,
when he saw me turn pale at these frightful spectacles, had a habit of
saying, in a mocking tone:

"That's what I'll do to you when you are disobedient."

All I know is that in presence of such iniquitous acts I experienced a
horrible uneasiness; my blood curdled in my veins, my throat began to
close, and I had to rush away, so as not to repeat the cries which
pierced my ears. In time, however, I became somewhat hardened to these
terrible impressions. The fibres of feeling grew tougher, and habit
gave me power to hide what they termed my cowardice. I even felt
ashamed of the signs of weakness I showed, and forced my face into the
hyena smile which I saw on the faces of my kinsmen. But I could never
prevent convulsive shudders from running through my limbs, and the
coldness as of death from falling on my heart, at the recollection of
these scenes of agony. The women, dragged half-willingly, half by
force, under the roof of Roche-Mauprat, caused me inconceivable
agitation. I began to feel the fires of youth kindling within me, and
even to look with envy on this part of my uncles' spoil; but with
these new-born desires were mingled inexpressible pangs. To all around
me women were merely objects of contempt, and vainly did I try to
separate this idea from that of the pleasure which was luring me. My
mind was bewildered, and my irritated nerves imparted a violent and
sickly strain to all my temptations. In other matters, I had as vile a
disposition as my companions; if my heart was better than theirs, my
manners were no less arrogant, and my jokes in no better taste. And
here it may be well to give you an illustration of my youthful malice,
especially as the results of these events have had an influence on the
rest of my life.


Some three leagues from Roche-Mauprat, on your way to Fromental, you
must have noticed an old tower standing by itself in the middle of the
woods. It is famous for the tragic death of a prisoner about a century
ago. The executioner, on his rounds, thought good to hang him without
any further formality, merely to gratify an old Mauprat, his overlord.

At the time of which I am speaking Gazeau Tower was already deserted
and falling into ruins. It was state property, and, more from
negligence than kindness, the authorities had allowed a poor old
fellow to take up his abode there. He was quite a character, used to
live completely alone, and was known in the district as Gaffer

"Yes," I interrupted; "I have heard my nurse's grandmother speak of
him; she believed he was a sorcerer."

Exactly so; and while we are at this point let me tell you what sort
of a man this Patience really was, for I shall have to speak of him
more than once in the course of my story. I had opportunities of
studying him thoroughly.

Patience, then, was a rustic philosopher. Heaven had endowed him with
a keen intellect, but he had had little education. By a sort of
strange fatality, his brain had doggedly resisted the little
instruction he might have received. For instance, he had been to the
Carmelite's school at ----, and instead of showing any aptitude for
work, he had played truant with a keener delight than any of his
school-fellows. His was an eminently contemplative nature, kindly and
indolent, but proud and almost savage in its love of independence;
religious, yet opposed to all authority; somewhat captious, very
suspicious, and inexorable with hypocrites. The observances of the
cloister inspired him with but little awe; and as a result of once or
twice speaking his mind too freely to the monks he was expelled from
the school. From that time forth he was the sworn foe of what he
called monkism, and declared openly for the cure of the Briantes, who
was accused of being a Jansenist. In the instruction of Patience,
however, the cure succeeded no better than the monks. The young
peasant, endowed though he was with herculean strength and a great
desire for knowledge, displayed an unconquerable aversion for every
kind of work, whether physical or mental. He professed a sort of
artless philosophy which the cure found it very difficult to argue
against. There was, he said, no need for a man to work as long as he
did not want money; and he was in no need of money as long as his
wants were moderate. Patience practised what he preached: during the
years when passions are so powerful he lived a life of austerity,
drank nothing but water, never entered a tavern, and never joined in a
dance. He was always very awkward and shy with women, who, it must be
owned, found little to please in his eccentric character, stern face,
and somewhat sarcastic wit. As if to avenge himself for this by
showing his contempt, or to console himself by displaying his wisdom,
he took a pleasure, like Diogenes of old, in decrying the vain
pleasures of others; and if at times he was to be seen passing under
the branches in the middle of the fetes, it was merely to throw out
some shaft of scorn, a flash from his inexorable good sense.
Sometimes, too, his uncompromising morality found expression in biting
words, which left clouds of sadness or fear hanging over agitated
consciences. This naturally gained him violent enemies; and the
efforts of impotent hatred, helped by the feeling of awe which his
eccentric behaviour produced, fastened upon him the reputation of a

When I said that Patience was lacking in education, I expressed myself
badly. Longing for a knowledge of the sublime mysteries of Nature, his
mind wished to soar to heaven on its first flight. From the very
beginning, the Jansenist vicar was so perplexed and startled by the
audacity of his pupil, he had to say so much to calm him into
submission, he was obliged to sustain such assaults of bold questions
and proud objections, that he had no leisure to teach him the
alphabet; and at the end of ten years of studies, broken off and taken
up at the bidding of a whim or on compulsion, Patience could not even
read. It was only with great difficulty, after poring over a book for
some two hours, that he deciphered a single page, and even then he did
not grasp the meaning of most of the words expressing abstract ideas.
Yet these abstract ideas were undoubtedly in him; you felt their
presence while watching and listening to him; and the way in which he
managed to embody them in homely phrase enlivened with a rude poetry
was so marvellous, that one scarcely knew whether to feel astounded or

Always serious, always positive himself, he scorned dalliance with any
dialectic. A Stoic by nature and on principle, enthusiastic in the
propagation of his doctrine of severance from false ideas, but
resolute in the practice of resignation, he made many a breach in the
poor cure's defences; and it was in these discussions, as he often
told me in his last years, that he acquired his knowledge of
philosophy. In order to make a stand against the battering-ram of
natural logic, the worthy Jansenist was obliged to invoke the
testimony of all the Fathers of the Church, and to oppose these, often
even to corroborate them, with the teaching of all the sages and
scholars of antiquity. Then Patience, his round eyes starting from his
head (this was his own expression), lapsed into silence, and,
delighted to learn without having the bother of studying, would ask
for long explanations of the doctrines of these men, and for an
account of their lives. Noticing this attention and this silence, his
adversary would exult; but just as he thought he had convinced this
rebellious soul, Patience, hearing the village clock strike midnight,
would rise, take an affectionate leave of his host, and on the very
threshold of the vicarage, would dismay the good man with some laconic
and cutting comment that confounded Saint Jerome and Plato alike,
Eusebius equally with Seneca, Tertullian no less than Aristotle.

The cure was not too ready to acknowledge the superiority of this
untutored intellect. Still, he was quite astonished at passing so many
winter evenings by his fireside with this peasant without feeling
either bored or tired; and he would wonder how it was that the village
schoolmaster, and even the prior of the convent, in spite of their
Greek and Latin, appeared to him, the one a bore, the other a sophist,
in all their discussions. Knowing the perfect purity of the peasant's
life, he attributed the ascendency of his mind to the power of virtue
and the charm it spreads over all things. Then, each evening, he would
humbly accuse himself before God of not having disputed with his pupil
from a sufficiently Christian point of view; he would confess to his
guardian angel that pride in his own learning and joy at being
listened to so devoutly had carried him somewhat beyond the bounds of
religious instruction; that he had quoted profane writers too
complacently; that he had even experienced a dangerous pleasure in
roaming with his disciple through the fields of the past, plucking
pagan flowers unsprinkled by the waters of baptism, flowers in whose
fragrance a priest should not have found such delight.

On his side, Patience loved the cure dearly. He was his only friend,
his only bond of union with society, his only bond of union, through
the light of knowledge, with God. The peasant largely over-estimated
his pastor's learning. He did not know that even the most enlightened
men often draw wrong conclusions, or no conclusions at all, from the
course of progress. Patience would have been spared great distress of
mind if he could have seen for certain that his master was frequently
mistaken and that it was the man, not the truth, that was at fault.
Not knowing this, and finding the experience of the ages at variance
with his innate sense of justice, he was continually a prey to
agonizing reveries; and, living by himself, and wandering through the
country at all hours of the day and night, wrapped in thoughts
undreamed of by his fellows, he gave more and more credit to the tales
of sorcery reported against him.

The convent did not like the pastor. A few monks whom Patience had
unmasked hated Patience. Hence, both pastor and pupil were persecuted.
The ignorant monks did not scruple to accuse the cure to his bishop of
devoting himself to the occult sciences in concert with the magician
Patience. A sort of religious war broke out in the village and
neighbourhood. All who were not for the convent were for the cure, and
/vice versa/. Patience scorned to take part in this struggle. One
morning he went to see his friend, with tears in his eyes, and said to

"You are the one man in all the world that I love, and I will not have
you persecuted on my account. Since, after you, I neither know nor
care for a soul, I am going off to live in the woods, like the men of
primitive times. I have inherited a field which brings me in fifty
francs a year. It is the only land I have ever stirred with these
hands, and half its wretched rent has gone to pay the tithe of labour
I owe the seignior. I trust to die without ever doing duty as a beast
of burden for others. And yet, should they remove you from your
office, or rob you of your income, if you have a field that needs
ploughing, only send me word, and you will see that these arms have
not grown altogether stiff in their idleness."

It was in vain that the pastor opposed this resolve. Patience
departed, carrying with him as his only belonging the coat he had on
his back, and an abridgment of the teachings of Epictetus. For this
book he had a great affection, and, thanks to much study of it, could
read as many as three of its pages a day without unduly tiring
himself. The rustic anchorite went into the desert to live. At first
he built himself a hut of branches in a wood. Then, as wolves attacked
him, he took refuge in one of the lower halls of Gazeau Tower, which
he furnished luxuriously with a bed of moss, and some stumps of trees;
wild roots, wild fruit, and goat's milk constituted a daily fare very
little inferior to what he had had in the village. This is no
exaggeration. You have to see the peasants in certain parts of Varenne
to form an idea of the frugal diet on which a man can live and keep in
good health. In the midst of these men of stoical habits all round
him, Patience was still exceptional. Never had wine reddened his lips,
and bread had seemed to him a superfluity. Besides, the doctrine of
Pythagoras was not wholly displeasing to him; and in the rare
interviews which he henceforth had with his friend he would declare
that, without exactly believing in metempsychosis, and without making
it a rule to eat vegetables only, he felt a secret joy at being able
to live thus, and at having no further occasion to see death dealt out
every day to innocent animals.

Patience had formed this curious resolution at the age of forty. He
was sixty when I saw him for the first time, and he was then possessed
of extraordinary physical vigour. In truth, he was in the habit of
roaming about the country every year. However, in proportion as I tell
you about my own life, I shall give you details of the hermit life of

At the time of which I am about to speak, the forest rangers, more
from fear of his casting a spell over them than out of compassion, had
finally ceased their persecutions, and given him full permission to
live in Gazeau Tower, not, however, without warning him that it would
probably fall about his head during the first gale of wind. To this
Patience had replied philosophically that if he was destined to be
crushed to death, the first tree in the forest would do the work quite
as well as the walls of Gazeau Tower.

Before putting my actor Patience on the stage, and with many apologies
for inflicting on you such a long preliminary biography, I have still
to mention that during the twenty years of which I have spoken the
cure's mind had bowed to a new power. He loved philosophy, and in
spite of himself, dear man, could not prevent this love from embracing
the philosophers too, even the least orthodox. The works of Jean
Jacques Rousseau carried him away into new regions, in spite of all
his efforts at resistance; and when one morning, when returning from a
visit to some sick folk, he came across Patience gathering his dinner
of herbs from the rocks of Crevant, he sat down near him on one of the
druidical stones and made, without knowing it, the profession of faith
of the Savoyard vicar. Patience drank more willingly of this poetic
religion than of the ancient orthodoxy. The pleasure with which he
listened to a summary of the new doctrines led the cure to arrange
secret meetings with him in isolated parts of Varenne, where they
agreed to come upon each other as if by chance. At these mysterious
interviews the imagination of Patience, fresh and ardent from long
solitude, was fired with all the magic of the thoughts and hopes which
were then fermenting in France, from the court of Versailles to the
most uninhabitable heath. He became enamoured of Jean Jacques, and
made the cure read as much of him as he possibly could without
neglecting his duties. Then he begged a copy of the /Contrat Social/,
and hastened to Gazeau Tower to spell his way through it feverishly.
At first the cure had given him of this manna only with a sparing
hand, and while making him admire the lofty thoughts and noble
sentiments of the philosopher, had thought to put him on his guard
against the poison of anarchy. But all the old learning, all the happy
texts of bygone days--in a word, all the theology of the worthy priest
--was swept away like a fragile bridge by the torrent of wild
eloquence and ungovernable enthusiasm which Patience had accumulated
in his desert. The vicar had to give way and fall back terrified upon
himself. There he discovered that the shrine of his own science was
everywhere cracking and crumbling to ruin. The new sun which was
rising on the political horizon and making havoc in so many minds,
melted his own like a light snow under the first breath of spring. The
sublime enthusiasm of Patience; the strange poetic life of the man
which seemed to reveal him as one inspired; the romantic turn which
their mysterious relations were taking (the ignoble persecutions of
the convent making it noble to revolt)--all this so worked upon the
priest that by 1770 he had already travelled far from Jansenism, and
was vainly searching all the religious heresies for some spot on which
he might rest before falling into the abyss of philosophy so often
opened at his feet by Patience, so often hidden in vain by the
exorcisms of Roman theology.


After this account of the philosophical life of Patience, set forth by
me now in manhood (continued Bernard, after a pause), it is not
altogether easy to return to the very different impressions I received
in boyhood on meeting the wizard of Gazeau Tower. I will make an
effort, however, to reproduce my recollections faithfully.

It was one summer evening, as I was returning from bird-snaring with
several peasant-boys, that I passed Gazeau Tower for the first time.
My age was about thirteen, and I was bigger and stronger than any of
my comrades; besides, I exercised over them, sternly enough, the
authority I drew from my noble birth. In fact, the mixture of
familiarity and etiquette in our intercourse was rather fantastic.
Sometimes, when the excitement of sport or the fatigue of the day had
greater powers over them than I, they used to have their own way; and
I already knew how to yield at the right moment, as tyrants do, so as
always to avoid the appearance of being compelled. However, I
generally found a chance for revenge, and soon saw them trembling
before the hated name of my family.

Well, night was coming on, and we were walking along gaily, whistling,
knocking down crab-apples with stones, imitating the notes of birds,
when the boy who was ahead suddenly stopped, and, coming back to us,
declared that he was not going by the Gazeau Tower path, but would
rather cut across the wood. This idea was favoured by two others. A
third objected that we ran the risk of losing ourselves if we left the
path, that night was near, and that there were plenty of wolves about.

"Come on, you funks!" I cried in a princely tone, pushing forward the
guide; "follow the path, and have done with this nonsense."

"Not me," said the youngster. "I've just seen the sorcerer at his door
saying magic words, and I don't want to have a fever all the year."

"Bah!" said another; "he doesn't do harm to everybody. He never hurts
children; and, besides, we have only to pass by very quietly without
saying anything to him. What do you suppose he'll do to us?"

"Oh, it would be all right if we were alone," answered the first; "but
M. Bernard is here; we're sure to have a spell cast on us."

"What do you say, you fool?" I cried, doubling my fist.

"It's not my fault, my lord," replied the boy. "That old wretch
doesn't like the gentry, and he has said he would be glad to see M.
Tristan and all his sons hanging from the same bough."

"He said that, did he? Good!" I answered. "Come on, and you shall see.
All who are my friends will follow; any one that leaves me is a

Two of my companions, out of vanity, let themselves be drawn on. The
others pretended to imitate them; but, after a few steps, they had all
taken flight and disappeared into the copse. However, I went on
proudly, escorted by my two acolytes. Little Sylvain, who was in
front, took off his hat as soon as he saw Patience in the distance;
and when we arrived opposite him, though the man was looking on the
ground without appearing to notice us, he was seized with terror, and
said, in a trembling voice:

"Good evening, Master Patience; a good night's rest to you."

The sorcerer, roused out of his reverie, started like a man waked from
sleep; and I saw, not without a certain emotion, his weather-beaten
face half covered with a thick gray beard. His big head was quite
bald, and the bareness of his forehead only served to make his bushy
eyebrows more prominent. Behind these his round deepset eyes seemed to
flash like lightning at the end of summer behind the fading foliage.
He was of small stature, but very broad-shouldered; in fact, built
like a gladiator. The rags in which he was clad were defiantly filthy.
His face was short and of a vulgar type, like that of Socrates; and if
the fire of genius glowed in his strongly marked features, I certainly
could not perceive it. He appeared to me a wild beast, an unclean
animal. Filled with a sense of loathing, and determined to avenge the
insult he had offered to my name, I put a stone in my sling, and
without further ado hurled it at him with all my might.

At the moment the stone flew out, Patience was in the act of replying
to the boy's greeting.

"Good evening, lads; God be with you!" he was saying when the stone
whistled past his ear and struck a tame owl of which Patience had made
a pet, and which at the approach of night was beginning to rouse
itself in the ivy above the door.

The owl gave a piercing cry and fell bleeding at the feet of its
master, who answered it with a roar of anger. For a few seconds he
stood motionless with surprise and fury. Then suddenly, taking the
palpitating victim by the feet, he lifted it up, and, coming towards
us, cried in a voice of thunder:

"Which of you wretches threw that stone?"

The boy who had been walking behind, flew with the swiftness of the
wind; but Sylvain, seized by the great hand of the sorcerer, fell upon
his knees, swearing by the Holy Virgin and by Saint Solange, the
patroness of Berry, that he was innocent of the death of the bird. I
felt, I confess, a strong inclination to let him get out of the scrape
as best he could, and make my escape into the thicket. I had expected
to see a decrepit old juggler, not to fall into the hands of a robust
enemy; but pride held me back.

"If you did this," said Patience to my trembling comrade, "I pity you;
for you are a wicked child, and you will grow into a dishonest man.
You have done a bad deed; you have made it your pleasure to cause pain
to an old man who never did you any harm; and you have done this
treacherously, like a coward, while feigning politeness and bidding
him good-evening. You are a liar, a miscreant; you have robbed me of
my only society, my only riches; you have taken delight in evil. God
preserve you from living if you are going on in this way."

"Oh, Monsieur Patience!" cried the boy, clasping his hands; "do not
curse me; do not bewitch me; do not give me any illness; it wasn't I!
May God strike me dead if it was!"

"If it wasn't you, it was this one, then!" said Patience, seizing me
by the coat-collar and shaking me like a young tree to be uprooted.

"Yes, I did it," I replied, haughtily; "and if you wish to know my
name, learn that I am called Bernard Mauprat, and that a peasant who
lays a hand on a nobleman deserves death."

"Death! You! You would put me to death, Mauprat!" cried the old man,
petrified with surprise and indignation. "And what would God be, then,
if a brat like you had a right to threaten a man of my age? Death! Ah,
you are a genuine Mauprat, and you bite like your breed, cursed whelp!
Such things as they talk of putting to death the very moment they are
born! Death, my wolf-cub! Do you know it is yourself who deserves
death, not for what you have just done, but for being the son of your
father, and the nephew of your uncles? Ah! I am glad to hold a Mauprat
in the hollow of my hand, and see whether a cur of a nobleman weighs
as much as a Christian."

As he spoke he lifted me from the ground as he would have lifted a

"Little one," he said to my comrade, "you can run home; you needn't be
afraid. Patience rarely gets angry with his equals; and he always
pardons his brothers, because his brothers are ignorant like himself,
and know not what they do; but a Mauprat, look you, is a thing that
knows how to read and write, and is only the viler for it all. Run
away, then. But no; stay; I should like you once in your life to see a
nobleman receive a thrashing from the hand of a peasant. And that is
what you are going to see; and I ask you not to forget it, little one,
and to tell your parents about it."

Livid, and gnashing my teeth with rage, I made desperate efforts to
resist. Patience, with hideous calmness, bound me to a tree with an
osier shoot. At the touch of his great horny hand I bent like a reed;
and yet I was remarkably strong for my age. He fixed the owl to a
branch above my head, and the bird's blood, as it fell on me drop by
drop, caused me unspeakable horror; for though this was only the
correction we administer to sporting dogs that worry game, my brain,
bewildered by rage, despair, and my comrades' cries, began to imagine
some frightful witchcraft. However, I really think I would rather have
been metamorphosed into an owl at once than undergo the punishment he
inflicted on me. In vain did I fling threats at him; in vain did I
take terrible vows of vengeance; in vain did the peasant child throw
himself on his knees again and supplicate:

"Monsieur Patience, for God's sake, for your own sake, don't harm him;
the Mauprats will kill you."

He laughed, and shrugged his shoulders. Then, taking a handful of
holly twigs, he flogged me in a manner, I must own, more humiliating
than cruel; for no sooner did he see a few drops of my blood appear,
than he stopped and threw down the rod. I even noticed a sudden
softening of his features and voice, as if he were sorry for his

"Mauprat," he said, crossing his arms on his breast and looking at me
fixedly, "you have now been punished; you have now been insulted, my
fine gentleman; that is enough for me. As you see, I might easily
prevent you from ever harming me by stopping your breath with a touch
of my finger, and burying you under the stone at my door. Who would
think of coming to Gaffer Patience to look for this fine child of
noble blood? But, as you may also see, I am not fond of vengeance; at
the first cry of pain that escaped you, I stopped. No; I don't like to
cause suffering; I'm not a Mauprat. Still, it was well for you to
learn by experience what is to be a victim. May this disgust you of
the hangman's trade, which had been handed down from father to son in
your family. Good-evening! You can go now; I no longer bear you
malice; the justice of God is satisfied. You can tell your uncles to
put me on their gridiron; they will have a tough morsel to eat; and
they will swallow flesh that will come to life again in their gullets
and choke them."

Then he picked up the dead owl, and looking at it sadly:

"A peasant's child would not have done this," he said. "This is sport
for gentle blood."

As he retired to his door he gave utterance to an exclamation which
escaped him only on solemn occasions, and from which he derived his
curious surname:

"Patience, patience!" he cried.

This, according to the gossips, was a cabalistic formula of his; and
whenever he had been heard to pronounce it, some misfortune had
happened to the individual who had offended him. Sylvain crossed
himself to ward off the evil spirit. The terrible words resounded
through the tower into which Patience had just withdrawn, then the
door closed behind him with a bang.

My comrade was so eager to be off that he was within an ace of leaving
me there bound to the tree. As soon as he had released me, he

"A sign of the cross! For God's sake, a sign of the cross! If you
don't cross yourself you are bewitched; we shall be devoured by wolves
as we go, or else we shall meet the great monster."

"Idiot!" I said; "I have something else to think about. Listen; if you
are ever unlucky enough to tell a single soul of what has happened, I
will strangle you."

"Alas! sir, what am I to do?" he replied with a mixture of innocence
and malice. "The sorcerer said I was to tell my parents."

I raised my fist to strike him, but my strength failed. Choking with
rage at the treatment I had just undergone, I fell down almost in a
faint, and Sylvain seized the opportunity for flight.

When I came to I found myself alone. I did not know this part of
Varenne; I had never been here before, and it was horribly wild. All
through the day I had seen tracks of wolves and wild boars in the
sand. And now night had come and I was still two leagues from Roche-
Mauprat. The gate would be shut, the drawbridge up; and I should get a
bullet through me if I tried to enter after nine o'clock. As I did not
know the way, it was a hundred to one against my doing the two leagues
in an hour. However, I would have preferred to die a thousand deaths
rather than ask shelter of the man in Gazeau Tower, even had he
granted it gracefully. My pride was bleeding more than my flesh.

I started off at a run, heedless of all risks. The path made a
thousand turns; a thousand other paths kept crossing it. When I
reached the plain I found myself in a pasture surrounded by hedges.
There every trace of the path disappeared. I jumped the hedge at a
venture, and fell into a field. The night was pitch-dark; even had it
been day it would have been impossible to ascertain my way in the
midst of little properties buried between high banks bristling with
thorns. Finally I reached a heath, then some woods; and my fears,
which had been somewhat subdued, now grew intense. Yes, I own I was a
prey to mortal terrors. Trained to bravery, as a dog is to sport, I
bore myself well enough before others. Spurred by vanity, indeed, I
was foolishly bold when I had spectators; but left to myself, in the
middle of the night, exhausted by toil and hunger, though with no
longing for food, unhinged by the emotions I had just experienced,
certain that my uncles would beat me when I returned, yet as anxious
to return as if I were going to find paradise on earth at Roche-
Mauprat, I wandered about until daybreak, suffering indescribable
agonies. The howls of wolves, happily far off, more than once reached
my ears and froze the blood in my veins; and, as if my position had
not been perilous enough in reality, my overwrought imagination must
needs add to it a thousand extravagant fantasies. Patience had the
reputation of being a wolf-rearer. This, as you know, is a cabalistic
speciality accredited in all countries. I kept on fancying, therefore,
that I saw this devilish little gray-beard, escorted by his ravening
pack, and himself in the form of a demi-wolf, pursing me through the
woods. Several times when rabbits got up at my feet I almost fell
backwards from the shock. And now, as I was certain that nobody could
see, I made many a sign of the cross; for, while affecting
incredulity, I was, of course, at heart filled with all the
superstitions born of fear.

At last, at daybreak, I reached Roche-Mauprat. I waited in a moat
until the gates were opened, and then slipped up to my room without
being seen by anybody. As it was not altogether an unfailing
tenderness that watched over me at Roche-Mauprat, my absence had not
been noticed during the night. Meeting my Uncle John on the stairs, I
led him to believe that I had just got up; and, as the artifice proved
successful, I went off to the hayloft and slept for the rest of the


As I had nothing further to fear for myself, it would have been easy
to take vengeance on my enemy. Everything was favourable. The words he
had uttered against my family would have been sufficient without any
mention of the outrage done to my own person, which, in truth, I
hardly cared to make known. I had only to say a word, and in a quarter
of an hour seven Mauprats would have been in the saddle, delighted at
the opportunity of making an example of a man who paid them no dues.
Such a man would have seemed to them good for nothing but hanging as a
warning to others.

But even if things had not been likely to reach this pitch, I somehow
felt an unconquerable aversion to asking eight men to avenge me on a
single one. Just as I was about to ask them (for, in my anger, I had
firmly resolved to do so), I was held back by some instinct for fair
dealing to which I had hitherto been a stranger, and whose presence in
myself I could hardly explain. Perhaps, too, the words of Patience
had, unknown to myself, aroused in me a healthy sense of shame.
Perhaps his righteous maledictions on the nobles had given me glimpses
of the idea of justice. Perhaps, in short, what I had hitherto
despised in myself as impulses of weakness and compassion, henceforth
began dimly to take a more solemn and less contemptible shape.

Be that as it may, I kept silent. I contented myself with thrashing
Sylvain as a punishment for having deserted me, and to impress upon
him that he was not to breathe a word about my unfortunate adventure.
The bitterness of the recollection was intensified by an incident
which happened toward the end of autumn when I was out with him
beating the woods for game. The poor boy was genuinely attached to me;
for, my brutality notwithstanding, he always used to be at my heels
the instant I was outside the castle. When any of his companions spoke
ill of me, he would take up my cause, and declare that I was merely
somewhat hasty and not really bad at heart. Ah, it is the gentle,
resigned souls of the humble that keep up the pride and roughness of
the great. Well, we were trying to trap larks when my sabot-shot page,
who always hunted about ahead of me, came back, saying in his rude

"I can see the wolf-driver with the mole-catcher."

This announcement sent a shudder through all my limbs. However, the
longing for revenge produced a reaction, and I marched straight on to
meet the sorcerer. Perhaps, too, I felt somewhat reassured by the
presence of his companion, who was a frequenter of Roche-Mauprat, and
would be likely to show me respect and afford me assistance.

Marcasse, the mole-catcher, as he was called, professed to rid the
dwellings and fields of the district of polecats, weasels, rats and
other vermin. Nor did he confine his good offices to Berry; every year
he went the round of La Marche, Nivernais, Limousin, and Saintonge,
visiting, alone and on foot, all the places that had the good sense to
appreciate his talents. He was well received everywhere, in the castle
no less than in the cottage; for his was a trade that had been carried
on successfully and honestly in his family for generations (indeed,
his descendants still carry it on). Thus he had work and a home
awaiting him for every day in the year. As regular in his round as the
earth in her rotation, he would reappear on a given day at the very
place where he had appeared the year before, and always with the same
dog and with the same long sword.

This personage was as curious as the sorcerer Patience; perhaps more
comic in his way than the sorcerer. He was a bilious, melancholy man,
tall, lean, angular, full of languor, dignity, and deliberation in
speech and action. So little did he like talking that he answered all
questions in monosyllables; and yet he never failed to obey the laws
of the most scrupulous politeness, and rarely said a word without
raising his hand to the corner of his hat as a sign of respect and
civility. Was he thus by nature, or, in his itinerant trade, had this
wise reserve arisen from a fear of alienating some of his numerous
clients by incautious chatter? No one knew. In all houses he was
allowed a free hand; during the day he had the key of every granary;
in the evening, a place at the fireside of every kitchen. He knew
everything that happened; for his dreamy, absorbed air led people to
talk freely in his presence; yet he had never been known to inform any
household of the doings of another.

If you wish to know how I had become struck by this strange character,
I may tell you that I had been a witness of my uncle's and
grandfather's efforts to make him talk. They hoped to draw from him
some information about the chateau of Saint-Severe, the home of a man
they hated and envied, M. Hubert de Mauprat. Although Don Marcasse
(they called him Don because he seemed to have the bearing and pride
of a ruined hidalgo), although Don Marcasse, I say, had shown himself
as incompressible here as elsewhere, the Coupe-Jarret Mauprats never
failed to squeeze him a little more in the hope of extracting some
details about the Casse-Tete Mauprats.

Nobody, then, could discover Marcasse's opinions about anything; it
would have been simplest to suppose that he did not take the trouble
to have any. Yet the attraction which Patience seemed to feel towards
him--so great that he would accompany him on his travels for several
weeks altogether--led one to believe that there was some witchery in
the man's mysterious air, and that it was not solely the length of his
sword and the skill of his dog which played such wonderful havoc with
the moles and weasels. There were whispered rumours of the enchanted
herbs that he employed to lure these suspicious animals from their
holes into his nets. However, as people found themselves better off
for his magic, no one dreamt of denouncing it as criminal.

I do not know if you have ever seen one of the rat-hunts. It is a
curious sight, especially in a fodder-loft. The man and dog climbing
up ladders and running along beams with marvellous assurance and
agility, the dog sniffing every hole in the wall, playing the cat,
crouching down and lying in wait until the game comes out for his
master's rapier; the man thrusting through bundles of straw and
putting the enemy to the sword--all this, when arranged and carried
out with gravity and dignity by Don Marcasse, was, I assure you, a
most singular and interesting performance.

When I saw this trusty fellow I felt equal to braving the sorcerer,
and advanced boldly. Sylvain stared at me in admiration, and I noticed
that Patience himself was not prepared for such audacity. I pretended
to go up to Marcasse and speak to him, as though quite unconcerned
about the presence of my enemy. Seeing this he gently thrust aside the
mole-catcher, and, laying his heavy hand on my head, said very

"You have grown of late, my fine gentleman!"

The blood rushed to my face, and, drawing back scornfully, I answered:

"Take care what you are doing, clodhopper; you should remember that if
you still have your two ears, it is to my kindness that you owe them."

"My two ears!" said Patience, with a bitter laugh.

Then making an allusion to the nickname of my family, he added:

"Perhaps you mean my two hamstrings? Patience, patience! The time,
maybe, is not far distant when clodhoppers will rid the nobles of
neither ears nor hamstrings, but of their heads and their purses."

"Silence, Master Patience!" said the mole-catcher solemnly; "these are
not the words of a philosopher."

"You are quite right, quite right," replied the sorcerer; "and in
truth, I don't know why I allow myself to argue with this lad. He
might have had me made into pap by his uncles. I whipped him in the
summer for playing me a stupid trick; and I don't know what happened
to the family, but the Mauprats lost a fine chance of injuring a

"Learn, peasant," I said, "that a nobleman always takes vengeance
nobly. I did not want my wrongs avenged by people more powerful than
yourself; but wait a couple of years; I promise I will hang you with
my own hand on a certain tree that I shall easily recognise, not very
far from the door of Gazeau Tower. If I don't I will renounce my
birthright; if I spare you I will take the title of wolf-driver."

Patience smiled; then, suddenly becoming serious, he fixed on me that
searching look which rendered his physiognomy so striking. Then
turning to the weasel-hunter:

"It is strange," he said; "there must be something in blood. Take the
vilest noble, and you will find that in certain things he has more
spirit than the bravest of us. Ah! it is simple enough," he added,
speaking to himself; "they are brought up like that, whilst we--we,
they tell us, are born to obey. Patience!"

He was silent for an instant; then, rousing himself from his reverie,
he said to me in a kindly though somewhat mocking tone:

"And so you want to hang me, Monseigneur Straw-Stalk? You will have to
eat a lot of beef, then, for you are not yet tall enough to reach the
branch which is to bear me; and before then . . . perhaps many things
will happen that are not dreamt of in your little philosophy."

"Nonsense! Why talk nonsense?" said the mole-catcher, with a serious
air; "come, make peace. Monseigneur Bernard, I ask pardon for
Patience; he is an old man, a fool."

"No, no," said Patience; "I want him to hang me; he is right; this is
merely my due; and, in fact, it may come more quickly than all the
rest. You must not make too much haste to grow, monsieur; for I--well,
I am making more haste to grow old than I would wish; and you who are
so brave, you would not attack a man no longer able to defend

"You didn't hesitate to use your strength against me!" I cried.
"Confess, now; didn't you treat me brutally? Wasn't it a coward's
work, that?"

"Oh, children, children!" he said. "See how the thing reasons! Out of
the mouths of children cometh truth."

And he moved away dreamily, and muttering to himself as was his wont.
Marcasse took off his hat to me and said in an impassive tone:

"He is wrong . . . live at peace . . . pardon . . . peace . . .

They disappeared; and there ended my relations with Patience. I did
not come in contact with him again until long afterward.


I was fifteen when my grandfather died. At Roche-Mauprat his death
caused no sorrow, but infinite consternation. He was the soul of every
vice that reigned therein, and it is certain that he was more cruel,
though less vile, than his sons. On his death the sort of glory which
his audacity had won for us grew dim. His sons, hitherto held under
firm control, became more and more drunken and debauched. Moreover,
each day added some new peril to their expeditions.

Except for the few trusty vassals whom we treated well, and who were
all devoted to us, we were becoming more and more isolated and
resourceless. People had left the neighbouring country in consequence
of our violent depredations. The terror that we inspired pushed back
daily the bounds of the desert around us. In making our ventures we
had to go farther afield, even to the borders of the plain. There we
had not the upper hand; and my Uncle Laurence, the boldest of us all,
was dangerously wounded in a skirmish. Other schemes had to be
devised. John suggested them. One was that we should slip into the
fairs under various disguises, and exercise our skill in thieving.
From brigands we became pick-pockets, and our detested name sank lower
and lower in infamy. We formed a fellowship with the most noisome
characters our province concealed, and, by an exchange of rascally
services, once again managed to avoid destitution.

I say we, for I was beginning to take a place in this band of
cutthroats when my grandfather died. He had yielded to my entreaties
and allowed me to join in some of the last expeditions he attempted. I
shall make no apologies; but here, gentlemen, you behold a man who has
followed the profession of a bandit. I feel no remorse at the
recollection, no more than a soldier would feel at having served a
campaign under orders from his general. I thought that I was still
living in the middle ages. The laws of the land, with all their
strength and wisdom, were to me words devoid of meaning. I felt brave
and full of vigour; fighting was a joy. Truly, the results of our
victories often made me blush; but, as they in no way profited myself,
I washed my hands of them. Nay, I remember with pleasure that I helped
more than one victim who had been knocked down to get up and escape.

This existence, with its movement, its dangers, and its fatigues, had
a numbing effect on me. It took me away from any painful reflections
which might have arisen in my mind. Besides, it freed me from the
immediate tyranny of John. However, after the death of my grandfather,
when our band degraded itself to exploits of a different nature, I
fell back under his odious sway. I was by no means fitted for lying
and fraud. I displayed not only aversion but also incapacity for this
new industry. Consequently my uncle looked upon me as useless, and
began to maltreat me again. They would have driven me away had they
not been afraid that I might make my peace with society, and become a
dangerous enemy to themselves. While they were in doubt as to whether
it was wiser to feed me or to live in fear of me, they often thought
(as I have since learned) of picking a quarrel with me, and forcing a
fight in which I might be got rid of. This was John's suggestion.
Antony, however, who retained more of Tristan's energy and love of
fair play at home than any of his brothers, proved clearly that I did
more good than harm. I was, he declared, a brave fighter, and there
was no knowing when they might need an extra hand. I might also be
shaped into a swindler. I was very young and very ignorant; but John,
perhaps, would endeavour to win me over by kindness, and make my lot
less wretched. Above all, he might enlighten me as to my true
position, by explaining that I was an outcast from society, and could
not return to it without being hanged immediately. Then, perhaps, my
obstinacy and pride would give way, out of regard to my own well-being
on the one hand, and from necessity on the other. At all events, they
should try this before getting rid of me.

"For," said Antony to round off his homily, "we were ten Mauprats last
year; our father is dead, and, if we kill Bernard, we shall only be

This argument gained the day. They brought me forth from the species
of dungeon in which I had languished for several months; they gave me
new clothes; they exchanged my old gun for a beautiful carbine that I
had always coveted; they explained to me my position in the world;
they honoured me with the best wine at meals. I promised to reflect,
and meanwhile, became rather more brutalized by inaction and
drunkenness than I had been by brigandage.

However, my captivity had made such a terrible impression on me that I
took a secret oath to dare any dangers that might assail me on the
territories of the King of France, rather than endure a repetition of
that hideous experience. Nothing but a miserable point of honour now
kept me at Roche-Mauprat. It was evident that a storm was gathering
over our heads. The peasants were discontented, in spite of all our
efforts to attach them to us; doctrines of independence were secretly
insinuating themselves into their midst; our most faithful retainers
were growing tired of merely having their fill of bread and meat; they
were demanding money, and we had none. We had received more than one
serious summons to pay our fiscal dues to the state, and as our
private creditors had joined hands with the crown officers and the
recalcitrant peasants, everything was threatening us with a
catastrophe like that which had just overtaken the Seigneur de
Pleumartin in our province.[*]

[*] The reputation which the Seigneur de Pleumartin has left behind
him in the province will preserve the story of Mauprat from the
reproach of exaggeration. Pen would refuse to trace the savage
obscenities and refinements of cruelty which marked the life of
this madman, and which perpetuated the traditions of feudal
brigandage in Berry down to the last days of the ancient monarchy.
His chateau was besieged, and after a stubborn resistance he was
taken and hanged. There are many people still living, nor yet very
advanced in years, who knew the man.

My uncles had long thought of making common cause with this country
squire in his marauding expeditions and his resistance to authority.
However, just as Pleumartin, about to fall into the hands of his
enemies, had given his word of honour that he would welcome us as
friends and allies if we went to his assistance, we had heard of his
defeat and tragic end. Thus we ourselves were now on our guard night
and day. It was a question of either fleeing the country or bracing
ourselves for a decisive struggle. Some counselled the former
alternative; the others declared their resolve to follow the advice of
their dying father and to find a grave under the ruins of the keep.
Any suggestion of flight or compromise they denounced as contemptible
cowardice. The fear, then, of incurring such a reproach, and perhaps
in some measure an instinctive love of danger, still kept me back.
However, my aversion to this odious existence was only lying dormant,
ready to break out violently at any moment.

One evening, after a heavy supper, we remained at table, drinking and
conversing--God knows in what words and on what subject! It was
frightful weather. The rain, driven through the broken windows, was
running in streams across the stone floor of the hall; and the old
walls were trembling in the storm. The night wind was whistling
through chinks in the roof and making the flames of our resin torches
flicker weirdly. During the meal my uncles had rallied me very much on
what they called my virtue; they had treated my shyness in the
presence of women as a sign of continence; and it was especially in
this matter that they urged me to evil by ridiculing my modesty. While
parrying these coarse gibes and making thrusts in the same strain, I
had been drinking enormously. Consequently, my wild imagination had
become inflamed, and I boasted that I would be bolder and more
successful with the first woman brought to Roche-Mauprat than any of
my uncles. The challenge was accepted amid roars of laughter. Peals of
thunder sent back an answer to the infernal merriment.

All at once the horn was heard at the portcullis. Everybody stopped
talking. The blast just blown was the signal used by the Mauprats to
summon each other or make themselves known. It was my Uncle Laurence,
who had been absent all day and who was now asking to be let in. We
had so little confidence in others that we acted as our own turnkeys
in the fortress. John rose and took down the keys, but he stopped
immediately on hearing a second blast of the horn. This meant that
Laurence was bringing in a prize, and that we were to go and meet him.
In the twinkling of an eye all the Mauprats were at the portcullis,
torch in hand--except myself, whose indifference at this moment was
profound, and whose legs were seriously conscious of wine.

"If it is a woman, cried Antony as he went out, "I swear by the soul
of my father that she shall be handed over to you, my valiant young
man, and we'll see if your courage comes up to your conceit."

I remained with my elbows on the table, sunk in an uncomfortable

When the door opened again I saw a woman in a strange costume entering
with a confident step. It required an effort to keep my mind from
wandering, and to grasp what one of the Mauprats came and whispered to
me. In the middle of a wolf-hunt, at which several of the nobles in
the neighbourhood had been present with their wives, this young lady's
horse had taken fright and bolted away from the rest of the field.
When it had pulled up after a gallop of about a league, she had tried
to find her way back; but, not knowing the Varenne district, where all
the landmarks are so much alike, she had gone farther and farther
astray. The storm and the advent of night had completed her
perplexity. Laurence, happening to meet her, had offered to escort her
to the chateau of Rochemaure, which, as a fact, was more than six
leagues distant; but he had declared that it was quite near, and had
pretended to be the gamekeeper there. She did not actually know the
lady of Rochemaure, but being a distant connection of hers, she
counted upon a welcome. Never having seen the face of a single
Mauprat, and little dreaming that she was so near their haunt, she had
followed her guide confidingly; and as she had never in her life
caught a glimpse of Roche-Mauprat, whether in the distance or close at
hand, she was led upon the scene of our orgies without having the
least suspicion of the trap into which she had fallen.

When I rubbed my heavy eyes and beheld this woman, so young and so
beautiful, with her expression of calm sincerity and of goodness, the
like of which I had never seen on the brow of any other (for all those
who had passed the portcullis of our abode were either insolent
prostitutes or stupid victims), I could not but think I was dreaming.

Book of the day: