Part 1 out of 6
Transcribed 1898 William Heinemann edition by David Price, email
THE ADVENTURES OF A FRENCH PRISONER IN ENGLAND
CHAPTER I--A TALE OF A LION RAMPANT
It was in the month of May 1813 that I was so unlucky as to fall at
last into the hands of the enemy. My knowledge of the English
language had marked me out for a certain employment. Though I
cannot conceive a soldier refusing to incur the risk, yet to be
hanged for a spy is a disgusting business; and I was relieved to be
held a prisoner of war. Into the Castle of Edinburgh, standing in
the midst of that city on the summit of an extraordinary rock, I
was cast with several hundred fellow-sufferers, all privates like
myself, and the more part of them, by an accident, very ignorant,
plain fellows. My English, which had brought me into that scrape,
now helped me very materially to bear it. I had a thousand
advantages. I was often called to play the part of an interpreter,
whether of orders or complaints, and thus brought in relations,
sometimes of mirth, sometimes almost of friendship, with the
officers in charge. A young lieutenant singled me out to be his
adversary at chess, a game in which I was extremely proficient, and
would reward me for my gambits with excellent cigars. The major of
the battalion took lessons of French from me while at breakfast,
and was sometimes so obliging as to have me join him at the meal.
Chevenix was his name. He was stiff as a drum-major and selfish as
an Englishman, but a fairly conscientious pupil and a fairly
upright man. Little did I suppose that his ramrod body and frozen
face would, in the end, step in between me and all my dearest
wishes; that upon this precise, regular, icy soldier-man my
fortunes should so nearly shipwreck! I never liked, but yet I
trusted him; and though it may seem but a trifle, I found his
snuff-box with the bean in it come very welcome.
For it is strange how grown men and seasoned soldiers can go back
in life; so that after but a little while in prison, which is after
all the next thing to being in the nursery, they grow absorbed in
the most pitiful, childish interests, and a sugar biscuit or a
pinch of snuff become things to follow after and scheme for!
We made but a poor show of prisoners. The officers had been all
offered their parole, and had taken it. They lived mostly in
suburbs of the city, lodging with modest families, and enjoyed
their freedom and supported the almost continual evil tidings of
the Emperor as best they might. It chanced I was the only
gentleman among the privates who remained. A great part were
ignorant Italians, of a regiment that had suffered heavily in
Catalonia. The rest were mere diggers of the soil, treaders of
grapes or hewers of wood, who had been suddenly and violently
preferred to the glorious state of soldiers. We had but the one
interest in common: each of us who had any skill with his fingers
passed the hours of his captivity in the making of little toys and
articles of Paris; and the prison was daily visited at certain
hours by a concourse of people of the country, come to exult over
our distress, or--it is more tolerant to suppose--their own
vicarious triumph. Some moved among us with a decency of shame or
sympathy. Others were the most offensive personages in the world,
gaped at us as if we had been baboons, sought to evangelise us to
their rustic, northern religion, as though we had been savages, or
tortured us with intelligence of disasters to the arms of France.
Good, bad, and indifferent, there was one alleviation to the
annoyance of these visitors; for it was the practice of almost all
to purchase some specimen of our rude handiwork. This led, amongst
the prisoners, to a strong spirit of competition. Some were neat
of hand, and (the genius of the French being always distinguished)
could place upon sale little miracles of dexterity and taste. Some
had a more engaging appearance; fine features were found to do as
well as fine merchandise, and an air of youth in particular (as it
appealed to the sentiment of pity in our visitors) to be a source
of profit. Others again enjoyed some acquaintance with the
language, and were able to recommend the more agreeably to
purchasers such trifles as they had to sell. To the first of these
advantages I could lay no claim, for my fingers were all thumbs.
Some at least of the others I possessed; and finding much
entertainment in our commerce, I did not suffer my advantages to
rust. I have never despised the social arts, in which it is a
national boast that every Frenchman should excel. For the approach
of particular sorts of visitors, I had a particular manner of
address, and even of appearance, which I could readily assume and
change on the occasion rising. I never lost an opportunity to
flatter either the person of my visitor, if it should be a lady,
or, if it should be a man, the greatness of his country in war.
And in case my compliments should miss their aim, I was always
ready to cover my retreat with some agreeable pleasantry, which
would often earn me the name of an 'oddity' or a 'droll fellow.'
In this way, although I was so left-handed a toy-maker, I made out
to be rather a successful merchant; and found means to procure many
little delicacies and alleviations, such as children or prisoners
I am scarcely drawing the portrait of a very melancholy man. It is
not indeed my character; and I had, in a comparison with my
comrades, many reasons for content. In the first place, I had no
family: I was an orphan and a bachelor; neither wife nor child
awaited me in France. In the second, I had never wholly forgot the
emotions with which I first found myself a prisoner; and although a
military prison be not altogether a garden of delights, it is still
preferable to a gallows. In the third, I am almost ashamed to say
it, but I found a certain pleasure in our place of residence:
being an obsolete and really mediaeval fortress, high placed and
commanding extraordinary prospects, not only over sea, mountain,
and champaign but actually over the thoroughfares of a capital
city, which we could see blackened by day with the moving crowd of
the inhabitants, and at night shining with lamps. And lastly,
although I was not insensible to the restraints of prison or the
scantiness of our rations, I remembered I had sometimes eaten quite
as ill in Spain, and had to mount guard and march perhaps a dozen
leagues into the bargain. The first of my troubles, indeed, was
the costume we were obliged to wear. There is a horrible practice
in England to trick out in ridiculous uniforms, and as it were to
brand in mass, not only convicts but military prisoners, and even
the children in charity schools. I think some malignant genius had
found his masterpiece of irony in the dress which we were condemned
to wear: jacket, waistcoat, and trousers of a sulphur or mustard
yellow, and a shirt or blue-and-white striped cotton. It was
conspicuous, it was cheap, it pointed us out to laughter--we, who
were old soldiers, used to arms, and some of us showing noble
scars,--like a set of lugubrious zanies at a fair. The old name of
that rock on which our prison stood was (I have heard since then)
the Painted Hill. Well, now it was all painted a bright yellow
with our costumes; and the dress of the soldiers who guarded us
being of course the essential British red rag, we made up together
the elements of a lively picture of hell. I have again and again
looked round upon my fellow-prisoners, and felt my anger rise, and
choked upon tears, to behold them thus parodied. The more part, as
I have said, were peasants, somewhat bettered perhaps by the drill-
sergeant, but for all that ungainly, loutish fellows, with no more
than a mere barrack-room smartness of address: indeed, you could
have seen our army nowhere more discreditably represented than in
this Castle of Edinburgh. And I used to see myself in fancy, and
blush. It seemed that my more elegant carriage would but point the
insult of the travesty. And I remembered the days when I wore the
coarse but honourable coat of a soldier; and remembered further
back how many of the noble, the fair, and the gracious had taken a
delight to tend my childhood. . . . But I must not recall these
tender and sorrowful memories twice; their place is further on, and
I am now upon another business. The perfidy of the Britannic
Government stood nowhere more openly confessed than in one
particular of our discipline: that we were shaved twice in the
week. To a man who has loved all his life to be fresh shaven, can
a more irritating indignity be devised? Monday and Thursday were
the days. Take the Thursday, and conceive the picture I must
present by Sunday evening! And Saturday, which was almost as bad,
was the great day for visitors.
Those who came to our market were of all qualities, men and women,
the lean and the stout, the plain and the fairly pretty. Sure, if
people at all understood the power of beauty, there would be no
prayers addressed except to Venus; and the mere privilege of
beholding a comely woman is worth paying for. Our visitors, upon
the whole, were not much to boast of; and yet, sitting in a corner
and very much ashamed of myself and my absurd appearance, I have
again and again tasted the finest, the rarest, and the most
ethereal pleasures in a glance of an eye that I should never see
again--and never wanted to. The flower of the hedgerow and the
star in heaven satisfy and delight us: how much more the look of
that exquisite being who was created to bear and rear, to madden
and rejoice, mankind!
There was one young lady in particular, about eighteen or nineteen,
tall, of a gallant carriage, and with a profusion of hair in which
the sun found threads of gold. As soon as she came in the
courtyard (and she was a rather frequent visitor) it seemed I was
aware of it. She had an air of angelic candour, yet of a high
spirit; she stepped like a Diana, every movement was noble and
free. One day there was a strong east wind; the banner was
straining at the flagstaff; below us the smoke of the city chimneys
blew hither and thither in a thousand crazy variations; and away
out on the Forth we could see the ships lying down to it and
scudding. I was thinking what a vile day it was, when she
appeared. Her hair blew in the wind with changes of colour; her
garments moulded her with the accuracy of sculpture; the ends of
her shawl fluttered about her ear and were caught in again with an
inimitable deftness. You have seen a pool on a gusty day, how it
suddenly sparkles and flashes like a thing alive? So this lady's
face had become animated and coloured; and as I saw her standing,
somewhat inclined, her lips parted, a divine trouble in her eyes, I
could have clapped my hands in applause, and was ready to acclaim
her a genuine daughter of the winds. What put it in my head, I
know not: perhaps because it was a Thursday and I was new from the
razor; but I determined to engage her attention no later than that
day. She was approaching that part of the court in which I sat
with my merchandise, when I observed her handkerchief to escape
from her hands and fall to the ground; the next moment the wind had
taken it up and carried it within my reach. I was on foot at once:
I had forgot my mustard-coloured clothes, I had forgot the private
soldier and his salute. Bowing deeply, I offered her the slip of
'Madam,' said I, 'your handkerchief. The wind brought it me.'
I met her eyes fully.
'I thank you, sir,' said she.
'The wind brought it me,' I repeated. 'May I not take it for an
omen? You have an English proverb, "It's an ill wind that blows
'Well,' she said, with a smile, '"One good turn deserves another."
I will see what you have.'
She followed me to where my wares were spread out under lee of a
piece of cannon.
'Alas, mademoiselle!' said I, 'I am no very perfect craftsman.
This is supposed to be a house, and you see the chimneys are awry.
You may call this a box if you are very indulgent; but see where my
tool slipped! Yes, I am afraid you may go from one to another, and
find a flaw in everything. Failures for Sale should be on my
signboard. I do not keep a shop; I keep a Humorous Museum.' I
cast a smiling glance about my display, and then at her, and
instantly became grave. 'Strange, is it not,' I added, 'that a
grown man and a soldier should be engaged upon such trash, and a
sad heart produce anything so funny to look at?'
An unpleasant voice summoned her at this moment by the name of
Flora, and she made a hasty purchase and rejoined her party.
A few days after she came again. But I must first tell you how she
came to be so frequent. Her aunt was one of those terrible British
old maids, of which the world has heard much; and having nothing
whatever to do, and a word or two of French, she had taken what she
called an INTEREST IN THE FRENCH PRISONERS. A big, bustling, bold
old lady, she flounced about our market-place with insufferable
airs of patronage and condescension. She bought, indeed, with
liberality, but her manner of studying us through a quizzing-glass,
and playing cicerone to her followers, acquitted us of any
gratitude. She had a tail behind her of heavy, obsequious old
gentlemen, or dull, giggling misses, to whom she appeared to be an
oracle. 'This one can really carve prettily: is he not a quiz
with his big whiskers?' she would say. 'And this one,' indicating
myself with her gold eye-glass, 'is, I assure you, quite an
oddity.' The oddity, you may be certain, ground his teeth. She
had a way of standing in our midst, nodding around, and addressing
us in what she imagined to be French: 'Bienne, hommes! ca va
bienne?' I took the freedom to reply in the same lingo: Bienne,
femme! ca va couci-couci tout d'meme, la bourgeoise!' And at that,
when we had all laughed with a little more heartiness than was
entirely civil, 'I told you he was quite an oddity!' says she in
triumph. Needless to say, these passages were before I had
remarked the niece.
The aunt came on the day in question with a following rather more
than usually large, which she manoeuvred to and fro about the
market and lectured to at rather more than usual length, and with
rather less than her accustomed tact. I kept my eyes down, but
they were ever fixed in the same direction, quite in vain. The
aunt came and went, and pulled us out, and showed us off, like
caged monkeys; but the niece kept herself on the outskirts of the
crowd and on the opposite side of the courtyard, and departed at
last as she had come, without a sign. Closely as I had watched
her, I could not say her eyes had ever rested on me for an instant;
and my heart was overwhelmed with bitterness and blackness. I tore
out her detested image; I felt I was done with her for ever; I
laughed at myself savagely, because I had thought to please; when I
lay down at night sleep forsook me, and I lay, and rolled, and
gloated on her charms, and cursed her insensibility, for half the
night. How trivial I thought her! and how trivial her sex! A man
might be an angel or an Apollo, and a mustard-coloured coat would
wholly blind them to his merits. I was a prisoner, a slave, a
contemned and despicable being, the butt of her sniggering
countrymen. I would take the lesson: no proud daughter of my foes
should have the chance to mock at me again; none in the future
should have the chance to think I had looked at her with
admiration. You cannot imagine any one of a more resolute and
independent spirit, or whose bosom was more wholly mailed with
patriotic arrogance, than I. Before I dropped asleep, I had
remembered all the infamies of Britain, and debited them in an
overwhelming column to Flora.
The next day, as I sat in my place, I became conscious there was
some one standing near; and behold, it was herself! I kept my
seat, at first in the confusion of my mind, later on from policy;
and she stood, and leaned a little over me, as in pity. She was
very still and timid; her voice was low. Did I suffer in my
captivity? she asked me. Had I to complain of any hardship?
'Mademoiselle, I have not learned to complain,' said I. 'I am a
soldier of Napoleon.'
She sighed. 'At least you must regret La France,' said she, and
coloured a little as she pronounced the words, which she did with a
pretty strangeness of accent.
'What am I to say?' I replied. 'If you were carried from this
country, for which you seem so wholly suited, where the very rains
and winds seem to become you like ornaments, would you regret, do
you think? We must surely all regret! the son to his mother, the
man to his country; these are native feelings.'
'You have a mother?' she asked.
'In heaven, mademoiselle,' I answered. 'She, and my father also,
went by the same road to heaven as so many others of the fair and
brave: they followed their queen upon the scaffold. So, you see,
I am not so much to be pitied in my prison,' I continued: 'there
are none to wait for me; I am alone in the world. 'Tis a different
case, for instance, with yon poor fellow in the cloth cap. His bed
is next to mine, and in the night I hear him sobbing to himself.
He has a tender character, full of tender and pretty sentiments;
and in the dark at night, and sometimes by day when he can get me
apart with him, he laments a mother and a sweetheart. Do you know
what made him take me for a confidant?'
She parted her lips with a look, but did not speak. The look
burned all through me with a sudden vital heat.
'Because I had once seen, in marching by, the belfry of his
village!' I continued. 'The circumstance is quaint enough. It
seems to bind up into one the whole bundle of those human instincts
that make life beautiful, and people and places dear--and from
which it would seem I am cut off!'
I rested my chin on my knee and looked before me on the ground. I
had been talking until then to hold her; but I was now not sorry
she should go: an impression is a thing so delicate to produce and
so easy to overthrow! Presently she seemed to make an effort.
'I will take this toy,' she said, laid a five-and-sixpenny piece in
my hand, and was gone ere I could thank her.
I retired to a place apart near the ramparts and behind a gun. The
beauty, the expression of her eyes, the tear that had trembled
there, the compassion in her voice, and a kind of wild elegance
that consecrated the freedom of her movements, all combined to
enslave my imagination and inflame my heart. What had she said?
Nothing to signify; but her eyes had met mine, and the fire they
had kindled burned inextinguishably in my veins. I loved her; and
I did not fear to hope. Twice I had spoken with her; and in both
interviews I had been well inspired, I had engaged her sympathies,
I had found words that she must remember, that would ring in her
ears at night upon her bed. What mattered if I were half shaved
and my clothes a caricature? I was still a man, and I had drawn my
image on her memory. I was still a man, and, as I trembled to
realise, she was still a woman. Many waters cannot quench love;
and love, which is the law of the world, was on my side. I closed
my eyes, and she sprang up on the background of the darkness, more
beautiful than in life. 'Ah!' thought I, 'and you too, my dear,
you too must carry away with you a picture, that you are still to
behold again and still to embellish. In the darkness of night, in
the streets by day, still you are to have my voice and face,
whispering, making love for me, encroaching on your shy heart. Shy
as your heart is, IT is lodged there--_I_ am lodged there; let the
hours do their office--let time continue to draw me ever in more
lively, ever in more insidious colours.' And then I had a vision
of myself, and burst out laughing.
A likely thing, indeed, that a beggar-man, a private soldier, a
prisoner in a yellow travesty, was to awake the interest of this
fair girl! I would not despair; but I saw the game must be played
fine and close. It must be my policy to hold myself before her,
always in a pathetic or pleasing attitude; never to alarm or
startle her; to keep my own secret locked in my bosom like a story
of disgrace, and let hers (if she could be induced to have one)
grow at its own rate; to move just so fast, and not by a hair's-
breadth any faster, than the inclination of her heart. I was the
man, and yet I was passive, tied by the foot in prison. I could
not go to her; I must cast a spell upon her at each visit, so that
she should return to me; and this was a matter of nice management.
I had done it the last time--it seemed impossible she should not
come again after our interview; and for the next I had speedily
ripened a fresh plan. A prisoner, if he has one great disability
for a lover, has yet one considerable advantage: there is nothing
to distract him, and he can spend all his hours ripening his love
and preparing its manifestations. I had been then some days upon a
piece of carving,--no less than the emblem of Scotland, the Lion
Rampant. This I proceeded to finish with what skill I was
possessed of; and when at last I could do no more to it (and, you
may be sure, was already regretting I had done so much), added on
the base the following dedication. -
A LA BELLE FLORA
LE PRISONNIER RECONNAISSANT
A. D. ST. Y. D. K.
I put my heart into the carving of these letters. What was done
with so much ardour, it seemed scarce possible that any should
behold with indifference; and the initials would at least suggest
to her my noble birth. I thought it better to suggest: I felt
that mystery was my stock-in-trade; the contrast between my rank
and manners, between my speech and my clothing, and the fact that
she could only think of me by a combination of letters, must all
tend to increase her interest and engage her heart.
This done, there was nothing left for me but to wait and to hope.
And there is nothing further from my character: in love and in
war, I am all for the forward movement; and these days of waiting
made my purgatory. It is a fact that I loved her a great deal
better at the end of them, for love comes, like bread, from a
perpetual rehandling. And besides, I was fallen into a panic of
fear. How, if she came no more, how was I to continue to endure my
empty days? how was I to fall back and find my interest in the
major's lessons, the lieutenant's chess, in a twopenny sale in the
market, or a halfpenny addition to the prison fare?
Days went by, and weeks; I had not the courage to calculate, and
to-day I have not the courage to remember; but at last she was
there. At last I saw her approach me in the company of a boy about
her own age, and whom I divined at once to be her brother.
I rose and bowed in silence.
'This is my brother, Mr. Ronald Gilchrist,' said she. 'I have told
him of your sufferings. He is so sorry for you!'
'It is more than I have the right to ask,' I replied; 'but among
gentlefolk these generous sentiments are natural. If your brother
and I were to meet in the field, we should meet like tigers; but
when he sees me here disarmed and helpless, he forgets his
animosity.' (At which, as I had ventured to expect, this beardless
champion coloured to the ears for pleasure.) 'Ah, my dear young
lady,' I continued, 'there are many of your countrymen languishing
in my country, even as I do here. I can but hope there is found
some French lady to convey to each of them the priceless
consolation of her sympathy. You have given me alms; and more than
alms--hope; and while you were absent I was not forgetful. Suffer
me to be able to tell myself that I have at least tried to make a
return; and for the prisoner's sake deign to accept this trifle.'
So saying, I offered her my lion, which she took, looked at in some
embarrassment, and then, catching sight of the dedication, broke
out with a cry.
'Why, how did you know my name?' she exclaimed.
'When names are so appropriate, they should be easily guessed,'
said I, bowing. 'But indeed, there was no magic in the matter. A
lady called you by name on the day I found your handkerchief, and I
was quick to remark and cherish it.'
'It is very, very beautiful,' said she, 'and I shall be always
proud of the inscription.--Come, Ronald, we must be going.' She
bowed to me as a lady bows to her equal, and passed on (I could
have sworn) with a heightened colour.
I was overjoyed: my innocent ruse had succeeded; she had taken my
gift without a hint of payment, and she would scarce sleep in peace
till she had made it up to me. No greenhorn in matters of the
heart, I was besides aware that I had now a resident ambassador at
the court of my lady. The lion might be ill chiselled; it was
mine. My hands had made and held it; my knife--or, to speak more
by the mark, my rusty nail--had traced those letters; and simple as
the words were, they would keep repeating to her that I was
grateful and that I found her fair. The boy had looked like a
gawky, and blushed at a compliment; I could see besides that he
regarded me with considerable suspicion; yet he made so manly a
figure of a lad, that I could not withhold from him my sympathy.
And as for the impulse that had made her bring and introduce him, I
could not sufficiently admire it. It seemed to me finer than wit,
and more tender than a caress. It said (plain as language), 'I do
not and I cannot know you. Here is my brother--you can know him;
this is the way to me--follow it.'
CHAPTER II--A TALE OF A PAIR OF SCISSORS
I was still plunged in these thoughts when the bell was rung that
discharged our visitors into the street. Our little market was no
sooner closed than we were summoned to the distribution, and
received our rations, which we were then allowed to eat according
to fancy in any part of our quarters.
I have said the conduct of some of our visitors was unbearably
offensive; it was possibly more so than they dreamed--as the sight-
seers at a menagerie may offend in a thousand ways, and quite
without meaning it, the noble and unfortunate animals behind the
bars; and there is no doubt but some of my compatriots were
susceptible beyond reason. Some of these old whiskerandos,
originally peasants, trained since boyhood in victorious armies,
and accustomed to move among subject and trembling populations,
could ill brook their change of circumstance. There was one man of
the name of Goguelat, a brute of the first water, who had enjoyed
no touch of civilisation beyond the military discipline, and had
risen by an extreme heroism of bravery to a grade for which he was
otherwise unfitted--that of marechal des logis in the 22nd of the
line. In so far as a brute can be a good soldier, he was a good
soldier; the Cross was on his breast, and gallantly earned; but in
all things outside his line of duty the man was no other than a
brawling, bruising ignorant pillar of low pothouses. As a
gentleman by birth, and a scholar by taste and education, I was the
type of all that he least understood and most detested; and the
mere view of our visitors would leave him daily in a transport of
annoyance, which he would make haste to wreak on the nearest
victim, and too often on myself.
It was so now. Our rations were scarce served out, and I had just
withdrawn into a corner of the yard, when I perceived him drawing
near. He wore an air of hateful mirth; a set of young fools, among
whom he passed for a wit, followed him with looks of expectation;
and I saw I was about to be the object of some of his insufferable
pleasantries. He took a place beside me, spread out his rations,
drank to me derisively from his measure of prison beer, and began.
What he said it would be impossible to print; but his admirers, who
believed their wit to have surpassed himself, actually rolled among
the gravel. For my part, I thought at first I should have died. I
had not dreamed the wretch was so observant; but hate sharpens the
ears, and he had counted our interviews and actually knew Flora by
her name. Gradually my coolness returned to me, accompanied by a
volume of living anger that surprised myself.
'Are you nearly done?' I asked. 'Because if you are, I am about to
say a word or two myself.'
'Oh, fair play!' said he. 'Turn about! The Marquis of Carabas to
'Very well,' said I. 'I have to inform you that I am a gentleman.
You do not know what that means, hey? Well, I will tell you. It
is a comical sort of animal; springs from another strange set of
creatures they call ancestors; and, in common with toads and other
vermin, has a thing that he calls feelings. The lion is a
gentleman; he will not touch carrion. I am a gentleman, and I
cannot bear to soil my fingers with such a lump of dirt. Sit
still, Philippe Goguelat! sit still and do not say a word, or I
shall know you are a coward; the eyes of our guards are upon us.
Here is your health!' said I, and pledged him in the prison beer.
'You have chosen to speak in a certain way of a young child,' I
continued, 'who might be your daughter, and who was giving alms to
me and some others of us mendicants. If the Emperor'--saluting--
'if my Emperor could hear you, he would pluck off the Cross from
your gross body. I cannot do that; I cannot take away what His
Majesty has given; but one thing I promise you--I promise you,
Goguelat, you shall be dead to-night.'
I had borne so much from him in the past, I believe he thought
there was no end to my forbearance, and he was at first amazed.
But I have the pleasure to think that some of my expressions had
pierced through his thick hide; and besides, the brute was truly a
hero of valour, and loved fighting for itself. Whatever the cause,
at least, he had soon pulled himself together, and took the thing
(to do him justice) handsomely.
'And I promise you, by the devil's horns, that you shall have the
chance!' said he, and pledged me again; and again I did him
The news of this defiance spread from prisoner to prisoner with the
speed of wings; every face was seen to be illuminated like those of
the spectators at a horse-race; and indeed you must first have
tasted the active life of a soldier, and then mouldered for a while
in the tedium of a jail, in order to understand, perhaps even to
excuse, the delight of our companions. Goguelat and I slept in the
same squad, which greatly simplified the business; and a committee
of honour was accordingly formed of our shed-mates. They chose for
president a sergeant-major in the 4th Dragoons, a greybeard of the
army, an excellent military subject, and a good man. He took the
most serious view of his functions, visited us both, and reported
our replies to the committee. Mine was of a decent firmness. I
told him the young lady of whom Goguelat had spoken had on several
occasions given me alms. I reminded him that, if we were now
reduced to hold out our hands and sell pill-boxes for charity, it
was something very new for soldiers of the Empire. We had all seen
bandits standing at a corner of a wood truckling for copper
halfpence, and after their benefactors were gone spitting out
injuries and curses. 'But,' said I, 'I trust that none of us will
fall so low. As a Frenchman and a soldier, I owe that young child
gratitude, and am bound to protect her character, and to support
that of the army. You are my elder and my superior: tell me if I
am not right.'
He was a quiet-mannered old fellow, and patted me with three
fingers on the back. 'C'est bien, mon enfant,' says he, and
returned to his committee.
Goguelat was no more accommodating than myself. 'I do not like
apologies nor those that make them,' was his only answer. And
there remained nothing but to arrange the details of the meeting.
So far as regards place and time we had no choice; we must settle
the dispute at night, in the dark, after a round had passed by, and
in the open middle of the shed under which we slept. The question
of arms was more obscure. We had a good many tools, indeed, which
we employed in the manufacture of our toys; but they were none of
them suited for a single combat between civilised men, and, being
nondescript, it was found extremely hard to equalise the chances of
the combatants. At length a pair of scissors was unscrewed; and a
couple of tough wands being found in a corner of the courtyard, one
blade of the scissors was lashed solidly to each with resined
twine--the twine coming I know not whence, but the resin from the
green pillars of the shed, which still sweated from the axe. It
was a strange thing to feel in one's hand this weapon, which was no
heavier than a riding-rod, and which it was difficult to suppose
would prove more dangerous. A general oath was administered and
taken, that no one should interfere in the duel nor (suppose it to
result seriously) betray the name of the survivor. And with that,
all being then ready, we composed ourselves to await the moment.
The evening fell cloudy; not a star was to be seen when the first
round of the night passed through our shed and wound off along the
ramparts; and as we took our places, we could still hear, over the
murmurs of the surrounding city, the sentries challenging its
further passage. Leclos, the sergeant-major, set us in our
stations, engaged our wands, and left us. To avoid blood-stained
clothing, my adversary and I had stripped to the shoes; and the
chill of the night enveloped our bodies like a wet sheet. The man
was better at fencing than myself; he was vastly taller than I,
being of a stature almost gigantic, and proportionately strong. In
the inky blackness of the shed, it was impossible to see his eyes;
and from the suppleness of the wands, I did not like to trust to a
parade. I made up my mind accordingly to profit, if I might, by my
defect; and as soon as the signal should be given, to throw myself
down and lunge at the same moment. It was to play my life upon one
card: should I not mortally wound him, no defence would be left
me; what was yet more appalling, I thus ran the risk of bringing my
own face against his scissor with the double force of our assaults,
and my face and eyes are not that part of me that I would the most
'Allez!' said the sergeant-major.
Both lunged in the same moment with an equal fury, and but for my
manoeuvre both had certainly been spitted. As it was, he did no
more than strike my shoulder, while my scissor plunged below the
girdle into a mortal part; and that great bulk of a man, falling
from his whole height, knocked me immediately senseless.
When I came to myself I was laid in my own sleeping-place, and
could make out in the darkness the outline of perhaps a dozen heads
crowded around me. I sat up. 'What is it?' I exclaimed.
'Hush!' said the sergeant-major. 'Blessed be God, all is well.' I
felt him clasp my hand, and there were tears in his voice. ''Tis
but a scratch, my child; here is papa, who is taking good care of
you. Your shoulder is bound up; we have dressed you in your
clothes again, and it will all be well.'
At this I began to remember. 'And Goguelat?' I gasped.
'He cannot bear to be moved; he has his bellyful; 'tis a bad
business,' said the sergeant-major.
The idea of having killed a man with such an instrument as half a
pair of scissors seemed to turn my stomach. I am sure I might have
killed a dozen with a firelock, a sabre, a bayonet, or any accepted
weapon, and been visited by no such sickness of remorse. And to
this feeling every unusual circumstance of our rencounter, the
darkness in which we had fought, our nakedness, even the resin on
the twine, appeared to contribute. I ran to my fallen adversary,
kneeled by him, and could only sob his name.
He bade me compose myself. 'You have given me the key of the
fields, comrade,' said he. 'Sans rancune!'
At this my horror redoubled. Here had we two expatriated Frenchmen
engaged in an ill-regulated combat like the battles of beasts.
Here was he, who had been all his life so great a ruffian, dying in
a foreign land of this ignoble injury, and meeting death with
something of the spirit of a Bayard. I insisted that the guards
should be summoned and a doctor brought. 'It may still be possible
to save him,' I cried.
The sergeant-major reminded me of our engagement. 'If you had been
wounded,' said he, 'you must have lain there till the patrol came
by and found you. It happens to be Goguelat--and so must he!
Come, child, time to go to by-by.' And as I still resisted,
'Champdivers!' he said, 'this is weakness. You pain me.'
'Ay, off to your beds with you!' said Goguelat, and named us in a
company with one of his jovial gross epithets.
Accordingly the squad lay down in the dark and simulated, what they
certainly were far from experiencing, sleep. It was not yet late.
The city, from far below, and all around us, sent up a sound of
wheels and feet and lively voices. Yet awhile, and the curtain of
the cloud was rent across, and in the space of sky between the
eaves of the shed and the irregular outline of the ramparts a
multitude of stars appeared. Meantime, in the midst of us lay
Goguelat, and could not always withhold himself from groaning.
We heard the round far off; heard it draw slowly nearer. Last of
all, it turned the corner and moved into our field of vision: two
file of men and a corporal with a lantern, which he swung to and
fro, so as to cast its light in the recesses of the yards and
'Hullo!' cried the corporal, pausing as he came by Goguelat.
He stooped with his lantern. All our hearts were flying.
'What devil's work is this?' he cried, and with a startling voice
summoned the guard.
We were all afoot upon the instant; more lanterns and soldiers
crowded in front of the shed; an officer elbowed his way in. In
the midst was the big naked body, soiled with blood. Some one had
covered him with his blanket; but as he lay there in agony, he had
partly thrown it off.
'This is murder!' cried the officer. 'You wild beasts, you will
hear of this to-morrow.'
As Goguelat was raised and laid upon a stretcher, he cried to us a
cheerful and blasphemous farewell.
CHAPTER III--MAJOR CHEVENIX COMES INTO THE STORY, AND GOGUELAT GOES
There was never any talk of a recovery, and no time was lost in
getting the man's deposition. He gave but the one account of it:
that he had committed suicide because he was sick of seeing so many
Englishmen. The doctor vowed it was impossible, the nature and
direction of the wound forbidding it. Goguelat replied that he was
more ingenious than the other thought for, and had propped up the
weapon in the ground and fallen on the point--'just like
Nebuchadnezzar,' he added, winking to the assistants. The doctor,
who was a little, spruce, ruddy man of an impatient temper, pished
and pshawed and swore over his patient. 'Nothing to be made of
him!' he cried. 'A perfect heathen. If we could only find the
weapon!' But the weapon had ceased to exist. A little resined
twine was perhaps blowing about in the castle gutters; some bits of
broken stick may have trailed in corners; and behold, in the
pleasant air of the morning, a dandy prisoner trimming his nails
with a pair of scissors!
Finding the wounded man so firm, you may be sure the authorities
did not leave the rest of us in peace. No stone was left unturned.
We were had in again and again to be examined, now singly, now in
twos and threes. We were threatened with all sorts of impossible
severities and tempted with all manner of improbable rewards. I
suppose I was five times interrogated, and came off from each with
flying colours. I am like old Souvaroff, I cannot understand a
soldier being taken aback by any question; he should answer, as he
marches on the fire, with an instant briskness and gaiety. I may
have been short of bread, gold or grace; I was never yet found
wanting in an answer. My comrades, if they were not all so ready,
were none of them less staunch; and I may say here at once that the
inquiry came to nothing at the time, and the death of Goguelat
remained a mystery of the prison. Such were the veterans of
France! And yet I should be disingenuous if I did not own this was
a case apart; in ordinary circumstances, some one might have
stumbled or been intimidated into an admission; and what bound us
together with a closeness beyond that of mere comrades was a secret
to which we were all committed and a design in which all were
equally engaged. No need to inquire as to its nature: there is
only one desire, and only one kind of design, that blooms in
prisons. And the fact that our tunnel was near done supported and
I came off in public, as I have said, with flying colours; the
sittings of the court of inquiry died away like a tune that no one
listens to; and yet I was unmasked--I, whom my very adversary
defended, as good as confessed, as good as told the nature of the
quarrel, and by so doing prepared for myself in the future a most
anxious, disagreeable adventure. It was the third morning after
the duel, and Goguelat was still in life, when the time came round
for me to give Major Chevenix a lesson. I was fond of this
occupation; not that he paid me much--no more, indeed, than
eighteenpence a month, the customary figure, being a miser in the
grain; but because I liked his breakfasts and (to some extent)
himself. At least, he was a man of education; and of the others
with whom I had any opportunity of speech, those that would not
have held a book upsidedown would have torn the pages out for pipe-
lights. For I must repeat again that our body of prisoners was
exceptional: there was in Edinburgh Castle none of that
educational busyness that distinguished some of the other prisons,
so that men entered them unable to read, and left them fit for high
employments. Chevenix was handsome, and surprisingly young to be a
major: six feet in his stockings, well set up, with regular
features and very clear grey eyes. It was impossible to pick a
fault in him, and yet the sum-total was displeasing. Perhaps he
was too clean; he seemed to bear about with him the smell of soap.
Cleanliness is good, but I cannot bear a man's nails to seem
japanned. And certainly he was too self-possessed and cold. There
was none of the fire of youth, none of the swiftness of the
soldier, in this young officer. His kindness was cold, and cruel
cold; his deliberation exasperating. And perhaps it was from this
character, which is very much the opposite of my own, that even in
these days, when he was of service to me, I approached him with
suspicion and reserve.
I looked over his exercise in the usual form, and marked six
'H'm. Six,' says he, looking at the paper. 'Very annoying! I can
never get it right.'
'Oh, but you make excellent progress!' I said. I would not
discourage him, you understand, but he was congenitally unable to
learn French. Some fire, I think, is needful, and he had quenched
his fire in soapsuds.
He put the exercise down, leaned his chin upon his hand, and looked
at me with clear, severe eyes.
'I think we must have a little talk,' said he.
'I am entirely at your disposition,' I replied; but I quaked, for I
knew what subject to expect.
'You have been some time giving me these lessons,' he went on, 'and
I am tempted to think rather well of you. I believe you are a
'I have that honour, sir,' said I.
'You have seen me for the same period. I do not know how I strike
you; but perhaps you will be prepared to believe that I also am a
man of honour,' said he.
'I require no assurances; the thing is manifest,' and I bowed.
'Very well, then,' said he. 'What about this Goguelat?'
'You heard me yesterday before the court,' I began. 'I was
'Oh yes; I "heard you yesterday before the court," no doubt,' he
interrupted, 'and I remember perfectly that you were "awakened
only." I could repeat the most of it by rote, indeed. But do you
suppose that I believed you for a moment?'
'Neither would you believe me if I were to repeat it here,' said I.
'I may be wrong--we shall soon see,' says he; 'but my impression is
that you will not "repeat it here." My impression is that you have
come into this room, and that you will tell me something before you
I shrugged my shoulders.
'Let me explain,' he continued. 'Your evidence, of course, is
nonsense. I put it by, and the court put it by.'
'My compliments and thanks!' said I.
'You MUST know--that's the short and the long,' he proceeded. 'All
of you in shed B are bound to know. And I want to ask you where is
the common-sense of keeping up this farce, and maintaining this
cock-and-bull story between friends. Come, come, my good fellow,
own yourself beaten, and laugh at it yourself.'
'Well, I hear you, go ahead,' said I. 'You put your heart in it.'
He crossed his legs slowly. 'I can very well understand,' he
began, 'that precautions have had to be taken. I dare say an oath
was administered. I can comprehend that perfectly.' (He was
watching me all the time with his cold, bright eyes.) 'And I can
comprehend that, about an affair of honour, you would be very
particular to keep it.'
'About an affair of honour?' I repeated, like a man quite puzzled.
'It was not an affair of honour, then?' he asked.
'What was not? I do not follow,' said I.
He gave no sign of impatience; simply sat awhile silent, and began
again in the same placid and good-natured voice: 'The court and I
were at one in setting aside your evidence. It could not deceive a
child. But there was a difference between myself and the other
officers, because _I_ KNEW MY MAN and they did not. They saw in
you a common soldier, and I knew you for a gentleman. To them your
evidence was a leash of lies, which they yawned to hear you
telling. Now, I was asking myself, how far will a gentleman go?
Not surely so far as to help hush a murder up? So that--when I
heard you tell how you knew nothing of the matter, and were only
awakened by the corporal, and all the rest of it--I translated your
statements into something else. Now, Champdivers,' he cried,
springing up lively and coming towards me with animation, 'I am
going to tell you what that was, and you are going to help me to
see justice done: how, I don't know, for of course you are under
oath--but somehow. Mark what I'm going to say.'
At that moment he laid a heavy, hard grip upon my shoulder; and
whether he said anything more or came to a full stop at once, I am
sure I could not tell you to this day. For, as the devil would
have it, the shoulder he laid hold of was the one Goguelat had
pinked. The wound was but a scratch; it was healing with the first
intention; but in the clutch of Major Chevenix it gave me agony.
My head swam; the sweat poured off my face; I must have grown
He removed his hand as suddenly as he had laid it there. 'What is
wrong with you?' said he.
'It is nothing,' said I. 'A qualm. It has gone by.'
'Are you sure?' said he. 'You are as white as a sheet.'
'Oh no, I assure you! Nothing whatever. I am my own man again,' I
said, though I could scarce command my tongue.
'Well, shall I go on again?' says he. 'Can you follow me?'
'Oh, by all means!' said I, and mopped my streaming face upon my
sleeve, for you may be sure in those days I had no handkerchief.
'If you are sure you can follow me. That was a very sudden and
sharp seizure,' he said doubtfully. 'But if you are sure, all
right, and here goes. An affair of honour among you fellows would,
naturally, be a little difficult to carry out, perhaps it would be
impossible to have it wholly regular. And yet a duel might be very
irregular in form, and, under the peculiar circumstances of the
case, loyal enough in effect. Do you take me? Now, as a gentleman
and a soldier.'
His hand rose again at the words and hovered over me. I could bear
no more, and winced away from him. 'No,' I cried, 'not that. Do
not put your hand upon my shoulder. I cannot bear it. It is
rheumatism,' I made haste to add. 'My shoulder is inflamed and
He returned to his chair and deliberately lighted a cigar.
'I am sorry about your shoulder,' he said at last. 'Let me send
for the doctor.'
'Not in the least,' said I. 'It is a trifle. I am quite used to
it. It does not trouble me in the smallest. At any rate, I don't
believe in doctors.'
'All right,' said he, and sat and smoked a good while in a silence
which I would have given anything to break. 'Well,' he began
presently, 'I believe there is nothing left for me to learn. I
presume I may say that I know all.'
'About what?' said I boldly.
'About Goguelat,' said he.
'I beg your pardon. I cannot conceive,' said I.
'Oh,' says the major, 'the man fell in a duel, and by your hand! I
am not an infant.'
'By no means,' said I. 'But you seem to me to be a good deal of a
'Shall we test it?' he asked. 'The doctor is close by. If there
is not an open wound on your shoulder, I am wrong. If there is--'
He waved his hand. 'But I advise you to think twice. There is a
deuce of a nasty drawback to the experiment--that what might have
remained private between us two becomes public property.'
'Oh, well!' said I, with a laugh, 'anything rather than a doctor!
I cannot bear the breed.'
His last words had a good deal relieved me, but I was still far
Major Chevenix smoked awhile, looking now at his cigar ash, now at
me. 'I'm a soldier myself,' he says presently, 'and I've been out
in my time and hit my man. I don't want to run any one into a
corner for an affair that was at all necessary or correct. At the
same time, I want to know that much, and I'll take your word of
honour for it. Otherwise, I shall be very sorry, but the doctor
must be called in.'
'I neither admit anything nor deny anything,' I returned. 'But if
this form of words will suffice you, here is what I say: I give
you my parole, as a gentleman and a soldier, there has nothing
taken place amongst us prisoners that was not honourable as the
'All right,' says he. 'That was all I wanted. You can go now,
And as I was going out he added, with a laugh: 'By the bye, I
ought to apologise: I had no idea I was applying the torture!'
The same afternoon the doctor came into the courtyard with a piece
of paper in his hand. He seemed hot and angry, and had certainly
no mind to be polite.
'Here!' he cried. 'Which of you fellows knows any English? Oh!'--
spying me--'there you are, what's your name! YOU'LL do. Tell
these fellows that the other fellow's dying. He's booked; no use
talking; I expect he'll go by evening. And tell them I don't envy
the feelings of the fellow who spiked him. Tell them that first.'
I did so.
'Then you can tell 'em,' he resumed, 'that the fellow, Goggle--
what's his name?--wants to see some of them before he gets his
marching orders. If I got it right, he wants to kiss or embrace
you, or some sickening stuff. Got that? Then here's a list he's
had written, and you'd better read it out to them--I can't make
head or tail of your beastly names--and they can answer PRESENT,
and fall in against that wall.'
It was with a singular movement of incongruous feelings that I read
the first name on the list. I had no wish to look again on my own
handiwork; my flesh recoiled from the idea; and how could I be sure
what reception he designed to give me? The cure was in my own
hand; I could pass that first name over--the doctor would not know-
-and I might stay away. But to the subsequent great gladness of my
heart, I did not dwell for an instant on the thought, walked over
to the designated wall, faced about, read out the name
'Champdivers,' and answered myself with the word 'Present.'
There were some half dozen on the list, all told; and as soon as we
were mustered, the doctor led the way to the hospital, and we
followed after, like a fatigue party, in single file. At the door
he paused, told us 'the fellow' would see each of us alone, and, as
soon as I had explained that, sent me by myself into the ward. It
was a small room, whitewashed; a south window stood open on a vast
depth of air and a spacious and distant prospect; and from deep
below, in the Grassmarket the voices of hawkers came up clear and
far away. Hard by, on a little bed, lay Goguelat. The sunburn had
not yet faded from his face, and the stamp of death was already
there. There was something wild and unmannish in his smile, that
took me by the throat; only death and love know or have ever seen
it. And when he spoke, it seemed to shame his coarse talk.
He held out his arms as if to embrace me. I drew near with
incredible shrinkings, and surrendered myself to his arms with
overwhelming disgust. But he only drew my ear down to his lips.
'Trust me,' he whispered. 'Je suis bon bougre, moi. I'll take it
to hell with me, and tell the devil.'
Why should I go on to reproduce his grossness and trivialities?
All that he thought, at that hour, was even noble, though he could
not clothe it otherwise than in the language of a brutal farce.
Presently he bade me call the doctor; and when that officer had
come in, raised a little up in his bed, pointed first to himself
and then to me, who stood weeping by his side, and several times
repeated the expression, 'Frinds--frinds--dam frinds.'
To my great surprise, the doctor appeared very much affected. He
nodded his little bob-wigged head at us, and said repeatedly, 'All
right, Johnny--me comprong.'
Then Goguelat shook hands with me, embraced me again, and I went
out of the room sobbing like an infant.
How often have I not seen it, that the most unpardonable fellows
make the happiest exits! It is a fate we may well envy them.
Goguelat was detested in life; in the last three days, by his
admirable staunchness and consideration, he won every heart; and
when word went about the prison the same evening that he was no
more, the voice of conversation became hushed as in a house of
For myself I was like a man distracted; I cannot think what ailed
me: when I awoke the following day, nothing remained of it; but
that night I was filled with a gloomy fury of the nerves. I had
killed him; he had done his utmost to protect me; I had seen him
with that awful smile. And so illogical and useless is this
sentiment of remorse, that I was ready, at a word or a look, to
quarrel with somebody else. I presume the disposition of my mind
was imprinted on my face; and when, a little after, I overtook,
saluted and addressed the doctor, he looked on me with
commiseration and surprise.
I had asked him if it was true.
'Yes,' he said, 'the fellow's gone.'
'Did he suffer much?' I asked.
'Devil a bit; passed away like a lamb,' said he. He looked on me a
little, and I saw his hand go to his fob. 'Here, take that! no
sense in fretting,' he said, and, putting a silver two-penny-bit in
my hand, he left me.
I should have had that twopenny framed to hang upon the wall, for
it was the man's one act of charity in all my knowledge of him.
Instead of that, I stood looking at it in my hand and laughed out
bitterly, as I realised his mistake; then went to the ramparts, and
flung it far into the air like blood money. The night was falling;
through an embrasure and across the gardened valley I saw the
lamplighters hasting along Princes Street with ladder and lamp, and
looked on moodily. As I was so standing a hand was laid upon my
shoulder, and I turned about. It was Major Chevenix, dressed for
the evening, and his neckcloth really admirably folded. I never
denied the man could dress.
'Ah!' said he, 'I thought it was you, Champdivers. So he's gone?'
'Come, come,' said he, 'you must cheer up. Of course it's very
distressing, very painful and all that. But do you know, it ain't
such a bad thing either for you or me? What with his death and
your visit to him I am entirely reassured.'
So I was to owe my life to Goguelat at every point.
'I had rather not discuss it,' said I.
'Well,' said he, 'one word more, and I'll agree to bury the
subject. What did you fight about?'
'Oh, what do men ever fight about?' I cried.
'A lady?' said he.
I shrugged my shoulders.
'Deuce you did!' said he. 'I should scarce have thought it of
And at this my ill-humour broke fairly out in words. 'He!' I
cried. 'He never dared to address her--only to look at her and
vomit his vile insults! She may have given him sixpence: if she
did, it may take him to heaven yet!'
At this I became aware of his eyes set upon me with a considering
look, and brought up sharply.
'Well, well,' said he. 'Good night to you, Champdivers. Come to
me at breakfast-time to-morrow, and we'll talk of other subjects.'
I fully admit the man's conduct was not bad: in writing it down so
long after the events I can even see that it was good.
CHAPTER IV--ST. IVES GETS A BUNDLE OF BANK NOTES
I was surprised one morning, shortly after, to find myself the
object of marked consideration by a civilian and a stranger. This
was a man of the middle age; he had a face of a mulberry colour,
round black eyes, comical tufted eyebrows, and a protuberant
forehead; and was dressed in clothes of a Quakerish cut. In spite
of his plainness, he had that inscrutable air of a man well-to-do
in his affairs. I conceived he had been some while observing me
from a distance, for a sparrow sat betwixt us quite unalarmed on
the breech of a piece of cannon. So soon as our eyes met, he drew
near and addressed me in the French language, which he spoke with a
good fluency but an abominable accent.
'I have the pleasure of addressing Monsieur le Vicomte Anne de
Keroual de Saint-Yves?' said he.
'Well,' said I, 'I do not call myself all that; but I have a right
to, if I chose. In the meanwhile I call myself plain Champdivers,
at your disposal. It was my mother's name, and good to go
'I think not quite,' said he; 'for if I remember rightly, your
mother also had the particle. Her name was Florimonde de
'Right again!' said I, 'and I am extremely pleased to meet a
gentleman so well informed in my quarterings. Is monsieur Born
himself?' This I said with a great air of assumption, partly to
conceal the degree of curiosity with which my visitor had inspired
me, and in part because it struck me as highly incongruous and
comical in my prison garb and on the lips of a private soldier.
He seemed to think so too, for he laughed.
'No, sir,' he returned, speaking this time in English; 'I am not
"BORN," as you call it, and must content myself with DYING, of
which I am equally susceptible with the best of you. My name is
Mr. Romaine--Daniel Romaine--a solicitor of London City, at your
service; and, what will perhaps interest you more, I am here at the
request of your great-uncle, the Count.'
'What!' I cried, 'does M. de Keroual de St.-Yves remember the
existence of such a person as myself, and will he deign to count
kinship with a soldier of Napoleon?'
'You speak English well,' observed my visitor.
'It has been a second language to me from a child,' said I. 'I had
an English nurse; my father spoke English with me; and I was
finished by a countryman of yours and a dear friend of mine, a Mr.
A strong expression of interest came into the lawyer's face.
'What!' he cried, 'you knew poor Vicary?'
'For more than a year,' said I; 'and shared his hiding-place for
'And I was his clerk, and have succeeded him in business,' said he.
'Excellent man! It was on the affairs of M. de Keroual that he
went to that accursed country, from which he was never destined to
return. Do you chance to know his end, sir?'
'I am sorry,' said I, 'I do. He perished miserably at the hands of
a gang of banditti, such as we call chauffeurs. In a word, he was
tortured, and died of it. See,' I added, kicking off one shoe, for
I had no stockings; 'I was no more than a child, and see how they
had begun to treat myself.'
He looked at the mark of my old burn with a certain shrinking.
'Beastly people!' I heard him mutter to himself.
'The English may say so with a good grace,' I observed politely.
Such speeches were the coin in which I paid my way among this
credulous race. Ninety per cent. of our visitors would have
accepted the remark as natural in itself and creditable to my
powers of judgment, but it appeared my lawyer was more acute.
'You are not entirely a fool, I perceive,' said he.
'No,' said I; 'not wholly.'
'And yet it is well to beware of the ironical mood,' he continued.
'It is a dangerous instrument. Your great-uncle has, I believe,
practised it very much, until it is now become a problem what he
'And that brings me back to what you will admit is a most natural
inquiry,' said I. 'To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?
how did you recognise me? and how did you know I was here?'
Carefull separating his coat skirts, the lawyer took a seat beside
me on the edge of the flags.
'It is rather an odd story,' says he, 'and, with your leave, I'll
answer the second question first. It was from a certain
resemblance you bear to your cousin, M. le Vicomte.'
'I trust, sir, that I resemble him advantageously?' said I.
'I hasten to reassure you,' was the reply: 'you do. To my eyes,
M. Alain de St.-Yves has scarce a pleasing exterior. And yet, when
I knew you were here, and was actually looking for you--why, the
likeness helped. As for how I came to know your whereabouts, by an
odd enough chance, it is again M. Alain we have to thank. I should
tell you, he has for some time made it his business to keep M. de
Keroual informed of your career; with what purpose I leave you to
judge. When he first brought the news of your--that you were
serving Buonaparte, it seemed it might be the death of the old
gentleman, so hot was his resentment. But from one thing to
another, matters have a little changed. Or I should rather say,
not a little. We learned you were under orders for the Peninsula,
to fight the English; then that you had been commissioned for a
piece of bravery, and were again reduced to the ranks. And from
one thing to another (as I say), M. de Keroual became used to the
idea that you were his kinsman and yet served with Buonaparte, and
filled instead with wonder that he should have another kinsman who
was so remarkably well informed of events in France. And it now
became a very disagreeable question, whether the young gentleman
was not a spy? In short, sir, in seeking to disserve you, he had
accumulated against himself a load of suspicions.'
My visitor now paused, took snuff, and looked at me with an air of
'Good God, sir!' says I, 'this is a curious story.'
'You will say so before I have done,' said he. 'For there have two
events followed. The first of these was an encounter of M. de
Keroual and M. de Mauseant.'
'I know the man to my cost,' said I: 'it was through him I lost my
'Do you tell me so?' he cried. 'Why, here is news!'
'Oh, I cannot complain!' said I. 'I was in the wrong. I did it
with my eyes open. If a man gets a prisoner to guard and lets him
go, the least he can expect is to be degraded.'
'You will be paid for it,' said he. 'You did well for yourself and
better for your king.'
'If I had thought I was injuring my emperor,' said I, 'I would have
let M. de Mauseant burn in hell ere I had helped him, and be sure
of that! I saw in him only a private person in a difficulty: I
let him go in private charity; not even to profit myself will I
suffer it to be misunderstood.'
'Well, well,' said the lawyer, 'no matter now. This is a foolish
warmth--a very misplaced enthusiasm, believe me! The point of the
story is that M. de Mauseant spoke of you with gratitude, and drew
your character in such a manner as greatly to affect your uncle's
views. Hard upon the back of which, in came your humble servant,
and laid before him the direct proof of what we had been so long
suspecting. There was no dubiety permitted. M. Alain's expensive
way of life, his clothes and mistresses, his dicing and racehorses,
were all explained: he was in the pay of Buonaparte, a hired spy,
and a man that held the strings of what I can only call a
convolution of extremely fishy enterprises. To do M. de Keroual
justice, he took it in the best way imaginable, destroyed the
evidences of the one great-nephew's disgrace--and transferred his
interest wholly to the other.'
'What am I to understand by that?' said I.
'I will tell you,' says he. 'There is a remarkable inconsistency
in human nature which gentlemen of my cloth have a great deal of
occasion to observe. Selfish persons can live without chick or
child, they can live without all mankind except perhaps the barber
and the apothecary; but when it comes to dying, they seem
physically unable to die without an heir. You can apply this
principle for yourself. Viscount Alain, though he scarce guesses
it, is no longer in the field. Remains, Viscount Anne.'
'I see,' said I, 'you give a very unfavourable impression of my
uncle, the Count.'
'I had not meant it,' said he. 'He has led a loose life--sadly
loose--but he is a man it is impossible to know and not to admire;
his courtesy is exquisite.'
'And so you think there is actually a chance for me?' I asked.
'Understand,' said he: 'in saying as much as I have done, I travel
quite beyond my brief. I have been clothed with no capacity to
talk of wills, or heritages, or your cousin. I was sent here to
make but the one communication: that M. de Keroual desires to meet
'Well,' said I, looking about me on the battlements by which we sat
surrounded, 'this is a case in which Mahomet must certainly come to
'Pardon me,' said Mr. Romaine; 'you know already your uncle is an
aged man; but I have not yet told you that he is quite broken up,
and his death shortly looked for. No, no, there is no doubt about
it--it is the mountain that must come to Mahomet.'
'From an Englishman, the remark is certainly significant,' said I;
'but you are of course, and by trade, a keeper of men's secrets,
and I see you keep that of Cousin Alain, which is not the mark of a
truculent patriotism, to say the least.'
'I am first of all the lawyer of your family!' says he.
'That being so,' said I, 'I can perhaps stretch a point myself.
This rock is very high, and it is very steep; a man might come by a
devil of a fall from almost any part of it, and yet I believe I
have a pair of wings that might carry me just so far as to the
bottom. Once at the bottom I am helpless.'
'And perhaps it is just then that I could step in,' returned the
lawyer. 'Suppose by some contingency, at which I make no guess,
and on which I offer no opinion--'
But here I interrupted him. 'One word ere you go further. I am
under no parole,' said I.
'I understood so much,' he replied, 'although some of you French
gentry find their word sit lightly on them.'
'Sir, I am not one of those,' said I.
'To do you plain justice, I do not think you one,' said he.
'Suppose yourself, then, set free and at the bottom of the rock,'
he continued, 'although I may not be able to do much, I believe I
can do something to help you on your road. In the first place I
would carry this, whether in an inside pocket or my shoe.' And he
passed me a bundle of bank notes.
'No harm in that,' said I, at once concealing them.
'In the second place,' he resumed, 'it is a great way from here to
where your uncle lives--Amersham Place, not far from Dunstable; you
have a great part of Britain to get through; and for the first
stages, I must leave you to your own luck and ingenuity. I have no
acquaintance here in Scotland, or at least' (with a grimace) 'no
dishonest ones. But further to the south, about Wakefield, I am
told there is a gentleman called Burchell Fenn, who is not so
particular as some others, and might be willing to give you a cast
forward. In fact, sir, I believe it's the man's trade: a piece of
knowledge that burns my mouth. But that is what you get by
meddling with rogues; and perhaps the biggest rogue now extant, M.
de Saint-Yves, is your cousin, M. Alain.'
'If this be a man of my cousin's,' I observed, 'I am perhaps better
to keep clear of him?'
'It was through some paper of your cousin's that we came across his
trail,' replied the lawyer. 'But I am inclined to think, so far as
anything is safe in such a nasty business, you might apply to the
man Fenn. You might even, I think, use the Viscount's name; and
the little trick of family resemblance might come in. How, for
instance, if you were to call yourself his brother?'
'It might be done,' said I. 'But look here a moment? You propose
to me a very difficult game: I have apparently a devil of an
opponent in my cousin; and, being a prisoner of war, I can scarcely
be said to hold good cards. For what stakes, then, am I playing?'
'They are very large,' said he. 'Your great-uncle is immensely
rich--immensely rich. He was wise in time; he smelt the revolution
long before; sold all that he could, and had all that was movable
transported to England through my firm. There are considerable
estates in England; Amersham Place itself is very fine; and he has
much money, wisely invested. He lives, indeed, like a prince. And
of what use is it to him? He has lost all that was worth living
for--his family, his country; he has seen his king and queen
murdered; he has seen all these miseries and infamies,' pursued the
lawyer, with a rising inflection and a heightening colour; and then
broke suddenly off,--'In short, sir, he has seen all the advantages
of that government for which his nephew carries arms, and he has
the misfortune not to like them.'
'You speak with a bitterness that I suppose I must excuse,' said I;
'yet which of us has the more reason to be bitter? This man, my
uncle, M. de Keroual, fled. My parents, who were less wise
perhaps, remained. In the beginning, they were even republicans;
to the end they could not be persuaded to despair of the people.
It was a glorious folly, for which, as a son, I reverence them.
First one and then the other perished. If I have any mark of a
gentleman, all who taught me died upon the scaffold, and my last
school of manners was the prison of the Abbaye. Do you think you
can teach bitterness to a man with a history like mine?'
'I have no wish to try,' said he. 'And yet there is one point I
cannot understand: I cannot understand that one of your blood and
experience should serve the Corsican. I cannot understand it: it
seems as though everything generous in you must rise against that--
'And perhaps,' I retorted, 'had your childhood passed among wolves,
you would have been overjoyed yourself to see the Corsican
'Well, well,' replied Mr. Romaine, 'it may be. There are things
that do not bear discussion.'
And with a wave of his hand he disappeared abruptly down a flight
of steps and under the shadow of a ponderous arch.
CHAPTER V--ST. IVES IS SHOWN A HOUSE
The lawyer was scarce gone before I remembered many omissions; and
chief among these, that I had neglected to get Mr. Burchell Fenn's
address. Here was an essential point neglected; and I ran to the
head of the stairs to find myself already too late. The lawyer was
beyond my view; in the archway that led downward to the castle
gate, only the red coat and the bright arms of a sentry glittered
in the shadow; and I could but return to my place upon the
I am not very sure that I was properly entitled to this corner.
But I was a high favourite; not an officer, and scarce a private,
in the castle would have turned me back, except upon a thing of
moment; and whenever I desired to be solitary, I was suffered to
sit here behind my piece of cannon unmolested. The cliff went down
before me almost sheer, but mantled with a thicket of climbing
trees; from farther down, an outwork raised its turret; and across
the valley I had a view of that long terrace of Princes Street
which serves as a promenade to the fashionable inhabitants of
Edinburgh. A singularity in a military prison, that it should
command a view on the chief thoroughfare!
It is not necessary that I should trouble you with the train of my
reflections, which turned upon the interview I had just concluded
and the hopes that were now opening before me. What is more
essential, my eye (even while I thought) kept following the
movement of the passengers on Princes Street, as they passed
briskly to and fro--met, greeted, and bowed to each other--or
entered and left the shops, which are in that quarter, and, for a
town of the Britannic provinces, particularly fine. My mind being
busy upon other things, the course of my eye was the more random;
and it chanced that I followed, for some time, the advance of a
young gentleman with a red head and a white great-coat, for whom I
cared nothing at the moment, and of whom it is probable I shall be
gathered to my fathers without learning more. He seemed to have a
large acquaintance: his hat was for ever in his hand; and I
daresay I had already observed him exchanging compliments with half
a dozen, when he drew up at last before a young man and a young
lady whose tall persons and gallant carriage I thought I
It was impossible at such a distance that I could be sure, but the
thought was sufficient, and I craned out of the embrasure to follow
them as long as possible. To think that such emotions, that such a
concussion of the blood, may have been inspired by a chance
resemblance, and that I may have stood and thrilled there for a
total stranger! This distant view, at least, whether of Flora or
of some one else, changed in a moment the course of my reflections.
It was all very well, and it was highly needful, I should see my
uncle; but an uncle, a great-uncle at that, and one whom I had
never seen, leaves the imagination cold; and if I were to leave the
castle, I might never again have the opportunity of finding Flora.
The little impression I had made, even supposing I had made any,
how soon it would die out! how soon I should sink to be a phantom
memory, with which (in after days) she might amuse a husband and
children! No, the impression must be clenched, the wax impressed
with the seal, ere I left Edinburgh. And at this the two interests
that were now contending in my bosom came together and became one.
I wished to see Flora again; and I wanted some one to further me in
my flight and to get me new clothes. The conclusion was apparent.
Except for persons in the garrison itself, with whom it was a point
of honour and military duty to retain me captive, I knew, in the
whole country of Scotland, these two alone. If it were to be done
at all, they must be my helpers. To tell them of my designed
escape while I was still in bonds, would be to lay before them a
most difficult choice. What they might do in such a case, I could
not in the least be sure of, for (the same case arising) I was far
from sure what I should do myself. It was plain I must escape
first. When the harm was done, when I was no more than a poor
wayside fugitive, I might apply to them with less offence and more
security. To this end it became necessary that I should find out
where they lived and how to reach it; and feeling a strong
confidence that they would soon return to visit me, I prepared a
series of baits with which to angle for my information. It will be
seen the first was good enough.
Perhaps two days after, Master Ronald put in an appearance by
himself. I had no hold upon the boy, and pretermitted my design
till I should have laid court to him and engaged his interest. He
was prodigiously embarrassed, not having previously addressed me
otherwise than by a bow and blushes; and he advanced to me with an
air of one stubbornly performing a duty, like a raw soldier under
fire. I laid down my carving; greeted him with a good deal of
formality, such as I thought he would enjoy; and finding him to
remain silent, branched off into narratives of my campaigns such as
Goguelat himself might have scrupled to endorse. He visibly thawed
and brightened; drew more near to where I sat; forgot his timidity
so far as to put many questions; and at last, with another blush,
informed me he was himself expecting a commission.
'Well,' said I, 'they are fine troops, your British troops in the
Peninsula. A young gentleman of spirit may well be proud to be
engaged at the head of such soldiers.'
'I know that,' he said; 'I think of nothing else. I think shame to
be dangling here at home and going through with this foolery of
education, while others, no older than myself, are in the field.'
'I cannot blame you,' said I. 'I have felt the same myself.'
'There are--there are no troops, are there, quite so good as ours?'
'Well,' said I, 'there is a point about them: they have a defect,-
-they are not to be trusted in a retreat. I have seen them behave
very ill in a retreat.'
'I believe that is our national character,' he said--God forgive
him!--with an air of pride.
'I have seen your national character running away at least, and had
the honour to run after it!' rose to my lips, but I was not so ill
advised as to give it utterance. Every one should be flattered,
but boys and women without stint; and I put in the rest of the
afternoon narrating to him tales of British heroism, for which I
should not like to engage that they were all true.
'I am quite surprised,' he said at last. 'People tell you the
French are insincere. Now, I think your sincerity is beautiful. I
think you have a noble character. I admire you very much. I am
very grateful for your kindness to--to one so young,' and he
offered me his hand.
'I shall see you again soon?' said I.
'Oh, now! Yes, very soon,' said he. 'I--I wish to tell you. I
would not let Flora--Miss Gilchrist, I mean--come to-day. I wished
to see more of you myself. I trust you are not offended: you
know, one should be careful about strangers.'
I approved his caution, and he took himself away: leaving me in a
mixture of contrarious feelings, part ashamed to have played on one
so gullible, part raging that I should have burned so much incense
before the vanity of England; yet, in the bottom of my soul,
delighted to think I had made a friend--or, at least, begun to make
a friend--of Flora's brother.
As I had half expected, both made their appearance the next day. I
struck so fine a shade betwixt the pride that is allowed to
soldiers and the sorrowful humility that befits a captive, that I
declare, as I went to meet them, I might have afforded a subject
for a painter. So much was high comedy, I must confess; but so
soon as my eyes lighted full on her dark face and eloquent eyes,
the blood leaped into my cheeks--and that was nature! I thanked
them, but not the least with exultation; it was my cue to be
mournful, and to take the pair of them as one.
'I have been thinking,' I said, 'you have been so good to me, both
of you, stranger and prisoner as I am, that I have been thinking
how I could testify to my gratitude. It may seem a strange subject
for a confidence, but there is actually no one here, even of my
comrades, that knows me by my name and title. By these I am called
plain Champdivers, a name to which I have a right, but not the name
which I should bear, and which (but a little while ago) I must hide
like a crime. Miss Flora, suffer me to present to you the Vicomte
Anne de Keroual de Saint-Yves, a private soldier.'
'I knew it!' cried the boy; 'I knew he was a noble!'
And I thought the eyes of Miss Flora said the same, but more
persuasively. All through this interview she kept them on the
ground, or only gave them to me for a moment at a time, and with a
'You may conceive, my friends, that this is rather a painful
confession,' I continued. 'To stand here before you, vanquished, a
prisoner in a fortress, and take my own name upon my lips, is
painful to the proud. And yet I wished that you should know me.
Long after this, we may yet hear of one another--perhaps Mr.
Gilchrist and myself in the field and from opposing camps--and it
would be a pity if we heard and did not recognise.'
They were both moved; and began at once to press upon me offers of
service, such as to lend me books, get me tobacco if I used it, and
the like. This would have been all mighty welcome, before the
tunnel was ready. Now it signified no more to me than to offer the
transition I required.
'My dear friends,' I said--'for you must allow me to call you that,
who have no others within so many hundred leagues--perhaps you will
think me fanciful and sentimental; and perhaps indeed I am; but
there is one service that I would beg of you before all others.
You see me set here on the top of this rock in the midst of your
city. Even with what liberty I have, I have the opportunity to see
a myriad roofs, and I dare to say, thirty leagues of sea and land.
All this hostile! Under all these roofs my enemies dwell; wherever
I see the smoke of a house rising, I must tell myself that some one
sits before the chimney and reads with joy of our reverses. Pardon
me, dear friends, I know that you must do the same, and I do not
grudge at it! With you, it is all different. Show me your house
then, were it only the chimney, or, if that be not visible, the
quarter of the town in which it lies! So, when I look all about
me, I shall be able to say: "THERE IS ONE HOUSE IN WHICH I AM NOT
QUITE UNKINDLY THOUGHT OF."'
Flora stood a moment.
'It is a pretty thought,' said she, 'and, as far as regards Ronald
and myself, a true one. Come, I believe I can show you the very
smoke out of our chimney.'
So saying, she carried me round the battlements towards the
opposite or southern side of the fortress, and indeed to a bastion
almost immediately overlooking the place of our projected flight.
Thence we had a view of some foreshortened suburbs at our feet, and
beyond of a green, open, and irregular country rising towards the
Pentland Hills. The face of one of these summits (say two leagues
from where we stood) is marked with a procession of white scars.
And to this she directed my attention.
'You see these marks?' she said. 'We call them the Seven Sisters.
Follow a little lower with your eye, and you will see a fold of the
hill, the tops of some trees, and a tail of smoke out of the midst
of them. That is Swanston Cottage, where my brother and I are
living with my aunt. If it gives you pleasure to see it, I am
glad. We, too, can see the castle from a corner in the garden, and
we go there in the morning often--do we not, Ronald?--and we think
of you, M. de Saint-Yves; but I am afraid it does not altogether
make us glad.'
'Mademoiselle!' said I, and indeed my voice was scarce under
command, 'if you knew how your generous words--how even the sight
of you--relieved the horrors of this place, I believe, I hope, I
know, you would be glad. I will come here daily and look at that
dear chimney and these green hills, and bless you from the heart,
and dedicate to you the prayers of this poor sinner. Ah! I do not
say they can avail!'
'Who can say that, M. de Saint-Yves?' she said softly. 'But I
think it is time we should be going.'
'High time,' said Ronald, whom (to say the truth) I had a little
On the way back, as I was laying myself out to recover lost ground
with the youth, and to obliterate, if possible, the memory of my
last and somewhat too fervent speech, who should come past us but
the major? I had to stand aside and salute as he went by, but his
eyes appeared entirely occupied with Flora.
'Who is that man?' she asked.
'He is a friend of mine,' said I. 'I give him lessons in French,
and he has been very kind to me.'
'He stared,' she said,--'I do not say, rudely; but why should he
'If you do not wish to be stared at, mademoiselle, suffer me to
recommend a veil,' said I.
She looked at me with what seemed anger. 'I tell you the man
stared,' she said.
And Ronald added. 'Oh, I don't think he meant any harm. I suppose
he was just surprised to see us walking about with a pr--with M.
But the next morning, when I went to Chevenix's rooms, and after I
had dutifully corrected his exercise--'I compliment you on your
taste,' said he to me.
'I beg your pardon?' said I.
'Oh no, I beg yours,' said he. 'You understand me perfectly, just
as I do you.'
I murmured something about enigmas.
'Well, shall I give you the key to the enigma?' said he, leaning
back. 'That was the young lady whom Goguelat insulted and whom you
avenged. I do not blame you. She is a heavenly creature.'
'With all my heart, to the last of it!' said I. 'And to the first
also, if it amuses you! You are become so very acute of late that
I suppose you must have your own way.'
'What is her name?' he asked.
'Now, really!' said I. 'Do you think it likely she has told me?'
'I think it certain,' said he.
I could not restrain my laughter. 'Well, then, do you think it
likely I would tell you?' I cried.
'Not a bit.' said he. 'But come, to our lesson!'
CHAPTER VI--THE ESCAPE
The time for our escape drew near, and the nearer it came the less
we seemed to enjoy the prospect. There is but one side on which
this castle can be left either with dignity or safety; but as there
is the main gate and guard, and the chief street of the upper city,
it is not to be thought of by escaping prisoners. In all other
directions an abominable precipice surrounds it, down the face of
which (if anywhere at all) we must regain our liberty. By our
concurrent labours in many a dark night, working with the most
anxious precautions against noise, we had made out to pierce below
the curtain about the south-west corner, in a place they call the
Devil's Elbow. I have never met that celebrity; nor (if the rest
of him at all comes up to what they called his elbow) have I the
least desire of his acquaintance. From the heel of the masonry,
the rascally, breakneck precipice descended sheer among waste
lands, scattered suburbs of the city, and houses in the building.
I had never the heart to look for any length of time--the thought
that I must make the descent in person some dark night robbing me
of breath; and, indeed, on anybody not a seaman or a steeple-jack,
the mere sight of the Devil's Elbow wrought like an emetic.
I don't know where the rope was got, and doubt if I much cared. It
was not that which gravelled me, but whether, now that we had it,
it would serve our turn. Its length, indeed, we made a shift to
fathom out; but who was to tell us how that length compared with
the way we had to go? Day after day, there would be always some of
us stolen out to the Devil's Elbow and making estimates of the
descent, whether by a bare guess or the dropping of stones. A
private of pioneers remembered the formula for that--or else
remembered part of it and obligingly invented the remainder. I had
never any real confidence in that formula; and even had we got it
from a book, there were difficulties in the way of the application
that might have daunted Archimedes. We durst not drop any
considerable pebble lest the sentinels should hear, and those that
we dropped we could not hear ourselves. We had never a watch--or
none that had a second-hand; and though every one of us could guess
a second to a nicety, all somehow guessed it differently. In
short, if any two set forth upon this enterprise, they invariably
returned with two opinions, and often with a black eye in the
bargain. I looked on upon these proceedings, although not without
laughter, yet with impatience and disgust. I am one that cannot
bear to see things botched or gone upon with ignorance; and the
thought that some poor devil was to hazard his bones upon such
premises, revolted me. Had I guessed the name of that unhappy
first adventurer, my sentiments might have been livelier still.
The designation of this personage was indeed all that remained for
us to do; and even in that we had advanced so far that the lot had
fallen on Shed B. It had been determined to mingle the bitter and
the sweet; and whoever went down first, the whole of his shed-mates
were to follow next in order. This caused a good deal of joy in
Shed B, and would have caused more if it had not still remained to
choose our pioneer. In view of the ambiguity in which we lay as to
the length of the rope and the height of the precipice--and that
this gentleman was to climb down from fifty to seventy fathoms on a
pitchy night, on a rope entirely free, and with not so much as an
infant child to steady it at the bottom, a little backwardness was
perhaps excusable. But it was, in our case, more than a little.
The truth is, we were all womanish fellows about a height; and I
have myself been put, more than once, hors de combat by a less
affair than the rock of Edinburgh Castle.
We discussed it in the dark and between the passage of the rounds;
and it was impossible for any body of men to show a less
adventurous spirit. I am sure some of us, and myself first among
the number, regretted Goguelat. Some were persuaded it was safe,
and could prove the same by argument; but if they had good reasons
why some one else should make the trial, they had better still why
it should not be themselves. Others, again, condemned the whole
idea as insane; among these, as ill-luck would have it, a seaman of
the fleet; who was the most dispiriting of all. The height, he
reminded us, was greater than the tallest ship's mast, the rope
entirely free; and he as good as defied the boldest and strongest
to succeed. We were relieved from this dead-lock by our sergeant-
major of dragoons.
'Comrades,' said he, 'I believe I rank you all; and for that
reason, if you really wish it, I will be the first myself. At the
same time, you are to consider what the chances are that I may
prove to be the last, as well. I am no longer young--I was sixty
near a month ago. Since I have been a prisoner, I have made for
myself a little bedaine. My arms are all gone to fat. And you
must promise not to blame me, if I fall and play the devil with the
'We cannot hear of such a thing!' said I. 'M. Laclas is the oldest
man here; and, as such, he should be the very last to offer. It is
plain, we must draw lots.'
'No,' said M. Laclas; 'you put something else in my head! There is
one here who owes a pretty candle to the others, for they have kept
his secret. Besides, the rest of us are only rabble; and he is
another affair altogether. Let Champdivers--let the noble go the
I confess there was a notable pause before the noble in question
got his voice. But there was no room for choice. I had been so
ill-advised, when I first joined the regiment, as to take ground on
my nobility. I had been often rallied on the matter in the ranks,
and had passed under the by-names of Monseigneur and the Marquis.
It was now needful I should justify myself and take a fair revenge.
Any little hesitation I may have felt passed entirely unnoticed,
from the lucky incident of a round happening at that moment to go
by. And during the interval of silence there occurred something
that sent my blood to the boil. There was a private in our shed
called Clausel, a man of a very ugly disposition. He had made one
of the followers of Goguelat; but, whereas Goguelat had always a
kind of monstrous gaiety about him, Clausel was no less morose than
he was evil-minded. He was sometimes called the General, and
sometimes by a name too ill-mannered for repetition. As we all sat
listening, this man's hand was laid on my shoulder, and his voice
whispered in my ear: 'If you don't go, I'll have you hanged,
As soon as the round was past--'Certainly, gentlemen!' said I. 'I
will give you a lead, with all the pleasure in the world. But,
first of all, there is a hound here to be punished. M. Clausel has
just insulted me, and dishonoured the French army; and I demand
that he run the gauntlet of this shed.'
There was but one voice asking what he had done, and, as soon as I
had told them, but one voice agreeing to the punishment. The
General was, in consequence, extremely roughly handled, and the
next day was congratulated by all who saw him on his NEW
DECORATIONS. It was lucky for us that he was one of the prime
movers and believers in our project of escape, or he had certainly
revenged himself by a denunciation. As for his feelings towards
myself, they appeared, by his looks, to surpass humanity; and I
made up my mind to give him a wide berth in the future.
Had I been to go down that instant, I believe I could have carried
it well. But it was already too late--the day was at hand. The
rest had still to be summoned. Nor was this the extent of my
misfortune; for the next night, and the night after, were adorned
with a perfect galaxy of stars, and showed every cat that stirred
in a quarter of a mile. During this interval, I have to direct
your sympathies on the Vicomte de Saint-Yves! All addressed me
softly, like folk round a sickbed. Our Italian corporal, who had
got a dozen of oysters from a fishwife, laid them at my feet, as
though I were a Pagan idol; and I have never since been wholly at
my ease in the society of shellfish. He who was the best of our
carvers brought me a snuff-box, which he had just completed, and
which, while it was yet in hand, he had often declared he would not
part with under fifteen dollars. I believe the piece was worth the
money too! And yet the voice stuck in my throat with which I must
thank him. I found myself, in a word, to be fed up like a prisoner
in a camp of anthropophagi, and honoured like the sacrificial bull.
And what with these annoyances, and the risky venture immediately
ahead, I found my part a trying one to play.
It was a good deal of a relief when the third evening closed about
the castle with volumes of sea-fog. The lights of Princes Street
sometimes disappeared, sometimes blinked across at us no brighter
than the eyes of cats; and five steps from one of the lanterns on
the ramparts it was already groping dark. We made haste to lie
down. Had our jailers been upon the watch, they must have observed
our conversation to die out unusually soon. Yet I doubt if any of
us slept. Each lay in his place, tortured at once with the hope of
liberty and the fear of a hateful death. The guard call sounded;
the hum of the town declined by little and little. On all sides of
us, in their different quarters, we could hear the watchman cry the
hours along the street. Often enough, during my stay in England,
have I listened to these gruff or broken voices; or perhaps gone to
my window when I lay sleepless, and watched the old gentleman
hobble by upon the causeway with his cape and his cap, his hanger
and his rattle. It was ever a thought with me how differently that
cry would re-echo in the chamber of lovers, beside the bed of
death, or in the condemned cell. I might be said to hear it that
night myself in the condemned cell! At length a fellow with a
voice like a bull's began to roar out in the opposite thoroughfare:
'Past yin o'cloak, and a dark, haary moarnin'.'
At which we were all silently afoot.
As I stole about the battlements towards the--gallows, I was about
to write--the sergeant-major, perhaps doubtful of my resolution,
kept close by me, and occasionally proffered the most indigestible
reassurances in my ear. At last I could bear them no longer.
'Be so obliging as to let me be!' said I. 'I am neither a coward
nor a fool. What do YOU know of whether the rope be long enough?
But I shall know it in ten minutes!'
The good old fellow laughed in his moustache, and patted me.
It was all very well to show the disposition of my temper before a
friend alone; before my assembled comrades the thing had to go
handsomely. It was then my time to come on the stage; and I hope I
took it handsomely.
'Now, gentlemen,' said I, 'if the rope is ready, here is the
The tunnel was cleared, the stake driven, the rope extended. As I
moved forward to the place, many of my comrades caught me by the
hand and wrung it, an attention I could well have done without.
'Keep an eye on Clausel!' I whispered to Laclas; and with that, got
down on my elbows and knees took the rope in both hands, and worked
myself, feet foremost, through the tunnel. When the earth failed
under my feet, I thought my heart would have stopped; and a moment
after I was demeaning myself in mid-air like a drunken jumping-
jack. I have never been a model of piety, but at this juncture
prayers and a cold sweat burst from me simultaneously.
The line was knotted at intervals of eighteen inches; and to the
inexpert it may seem as if it should have been even easy to
descend. The trouble was, this devil of a piece of rope appeared
to be inspired, not with life alone, but with a personal malignity
against myself. It turned to the one side, paused for a moment,
and then spun me like a toasting-jack to the other; slipped like an
eel from the clasp of my feet; kept me all the time in the most
outrageous fury of exertion; and dashed me at intervals against the
face of the rock. I had no eyes to see with; and I doubt if there
was anything to see but darkness. I must occasionally have caught
a gasp of breath, but it was quite unconscious. And the whole
forces of my mind were so consumed with losing hold and getting it
again, that I could scarce have told whether I was going up or
Of a sudden I knocked against the cliff with such a thump as almost
bereft me of my sense; and, as reason twinkled back, I was amazed
to find that I was in a state of rest, that the face of the
precipice here inclined outwards at an angle which relieved me
almost wholly of the burthen of my own weight, and that one of my
feet was safely planted on a ledge. I drew one of the sweetest
breaths in my experience, hugged myself against the rope, and
closed my eyes in a kind of ecstasy of relief. It occurred to me
next to see how far I was advanced on my unlucky journey, a point
on which I had not a shadow of a guess. I looked up: there was
nothing above me but the blackness of the night and the fog. I
craned timidly forward and looked down. There, upon a floor of
darkness, I beheld a certain pattern of hazy lights, some of them
aligned as in thoroughfares, others standing apart as in solitary
houses; and before I could well realise it, or had in the least
estimated my distance, a wave of nausea and vertigo warned me to
lie back and close my eyes. In this situation I had really but the
one wish, and that was: something else to think of! Strange to
say, I got it: a veil was torn from my mind, and I saw what a fool
I was--what fools we had all been--and that I had no business to be
thus dangling between earth and heaven by my arms. The only thing
to have done was to have attached me to a rope and lowered me, and
I had never the wit to see it till that moment!
I filled my lungs, got a good hold on my rope, and once more
launched myself on the descent. As it chanced, the worst of the
danger was at an end, and I was so fortunate as to be never again
exposed to any violent concussion. Soon after I must have passed
within a little distance of a bush of wallflower, for the scent of
it came over me with that impression of reality which characterises
scents in darkness. This made me a second landmark, the ledge
being my first. I began accordingly to compute intervals of time:
so much to the ledge, so much again to the wallflower, so much more
below. If I were not at the bottom of the rock, I calculated I
must be near indeed to the end of the rope, and there was no doubt
that I was not far from the end of my own resources. I began to be
light-headed and to be tempted to let go,--now arguing that I was
certainly arrived within a few feet of the level and could safely
risk a fall, anon persuaded I was still close at the top and it was
idle to continue longer on the rock. In the midst of which I came