Part 1 out of 7
THE LOCK AND KEY LIBRARY
THE MOST INTERESTING STORIES OF ALL NATIONS
Edited by Julian Hawthorne
Table of Contents
The Last of the Costellos
Lady Betty's Indiscretion
At the beginning of the summer of 1850, a Russian nobleman, Count
Kostia Petrovitch Leminof, had the misfortune to lose his wife
suddenly, and in the flower of her beauty. She was his junior by
twelve years. This cruel loss, for which he was totally
unprepared, threw him into a state of profound melancholy; and some
months later, seeking to mitigate his grief by the distractions of
travel, he left his domains near Moscow, never intending to return.
Accompanied by his twin children, ten years of age, a priest who
had served them as tutor, and a serf named Ivan, he repaired to
Odessa, and then took passage on a merchant ship for Martinique.
Disembarking at St. Pierre, he took lodgings in a remote part of
the suburbs. The profound solitude which reigned there did not at
first bring the consolation he had sought. It was not enough that
he had left his native country, he would have changed the planet
itself; and he complained that nature everywhere was too much
alike. No locality seemed to him sufficiently a stranger to his
experience, and in the deserted places, where the desperate
restlessness of his heart impelled him, he imagined the
reappearance of the obtrusive witnesses of his past joys, and of
the misfortune by which they were suddenly terminated.
He had lived a year in Martinique when the yellow fever carried off
one of his children. By a singular reaction in his vigorous
temperament, it was about this time that his somber melancholy gave
way to a bitter and sarcastic gayety, more in harmony with his
nature. From his early youth he had had a taste for jocularity, a
mocking turn of spirit, seasoned by that ironical grace of manner
peculiar to the great Moscovite nobleman, and resulting from the
constant habit of trifling with men and events. His recovery did
not, however, restore the agreeable manners which in former times
had distinguished him in his intercourse with the world. Suffering
had brought him a leaven of misanthropy, which he did not take the
trouble of disguising; his voice had lost its caressing notes and
had become rude and abrupt; his actions were brusque, and his smile
scornful. Sometimes his bearing gave evidence of a haughty will
which, tyrannized over by events, sought to avenge itself upon
Terrible, however, as he sometimes was to those who surrounded him,
Count Kostia was yet a civilized devil. So, after a stay of three
years under tropical skies, he began to sigh for old Europe, and
one fine day saw him disembark upon the quays of Lisbon. He
crossed Portugal, Spain, the south of France and Switzerland. At
Basle, he learned that on the borders of the Rhine, between Coblenz
and Bonn, in a situation quite isolated, an old castle was for
sale. To this place he hurried and bought the antique walls and
the lands which belonged to them, without discussing the price and
without making a detailed examination of the property. The bargain
concluded, he made some hasty and indispensable repairs on one of
the buildings which composed a part of his dilapidated manor, and
which claimed the imposing name of the fortress of Geierfels, and
at once installed himself therein, hoping to pass the rest of his
life in peaceable and studious seclusion.
Count Kostia was gifted with a quick and ready intellect, which he
had strengthened by study. He had always been passionately fond of
historical research, but above everything, knew and wished to know,
only that which the English call "the matter of fact." He
professed a cold scorn for generalities, and heartily abandoned
them to "dreamers;" he laughed at all abstract theories and at the
ingenuous minds which take them seriously. He held that all system
was but logical infatuation; that the only pardonable follies were
those which were frankly avowed; and that only a pedant could
clothe his imagination in geometrical theories. In general,
pedantry to his eyes was the least excusable of vices; he
understood it to be the pretension of tracing back phenomena to
first causes, "as if," said he, "there were any 'first causes,' or
chance admitted of calculation!" This did not prevent him however
from expending much logic to demonstrate that there was no such
thing as logic, either in nature or in man.
These are inconsistencies for which skeptics never dream of
reproaching themselves; they pass their lives in reasoning against
reason. In short, Count Kostia respected nothing but facts, and
believed that, properly viewed, there was nothing else, and that
the universe, considered as an entirety, was but a collection of
A member of the Historical and Antiquarian Society of Moscow, he
had once published important memoirs upon Slavonic antiquities and
upon some of the disputed questions in the history of the Lower
Empire. Hardly was he installed at Geierfels, before he occupied
himself in fitting up his library, but a few volumes of which he
had carried to Martinique. He at once ordered from Moscow most of
the books he had left, and also sent large orders to German
bookstores. When his "seraglio," as he called it, was nearly
complete, he again became absorbed in study, and particularly in
that of the Greek historians of the Byzantine Empire, of whose
collective works he had the good fortune to possess the Louvre
edition in thirty-six volumes folio; and he soon formed the
ambitious project of writing a complete history of that Empire from
Constantine the Great to the taking of Constantinople. So absorbed
did he become in this great design, that he scarcely ate or drank;
but the further he advanced in his researches the more he became
dismayed by the magnitude of the enterprise, and he conceived the
idea of procuring an intelligent assistant, upon whom he could
shift a part of the task. As he proposed to write his voluminous
work in French, it was in France this living instrument which he
needed must be sought, and he therefore broached the project to Dr.
Lerins, one of his old acquaintances in Paris. "For nearly three
years," he wrote to the Doctor, "I have dwelt in a veritable owl's
nest, and I should be much obliged to you if you would procure for
me a young night bird, who could endure life two or three years in
such an ugly hole without dying of ennui. Understand me, I must
have a secretary who is not contented with writing a fine hand and
knowing French a little better than I do: I wish him to be a
consummate philologist, and a hellenist of the first order,--one of
those men who ought to be met with in Paris,--born to belong to the
Institute, but so dependent upon circumstances as to make that
position impossible. If you succeed in finding this priceless
being, I will give him the best room in my castle and a salary of
twelve thousand francs. I stipulate that he shall not be a fool.
As to character, I say nothing about it; he will do me the favor to
have such as will suit me."
M. Lerins was intimate with a young man from Lorraine named Gilbert
Saville, a savant of great merit, who had left Nancy several years
before to seek his fortune in Paris. At the age of twenty-seven he
had presented, in a competition opened by the Academy of
Inscriptions, an essay on the Etruscan language, which took the
prize and was unanimously declared a masterpiece of sagacious
erudition. He had hoped for some time that this first success,
which had gained him renown among learned men, would aid him in
obtaining some lucrative position and rescue him from the
precarious situation in which he found himself. Nothing resulted
from it. His merits compelled esteem; the charm of his frank and
courteous manner won him universal good will; his friends were
numerous; he was well received and caressed; he even obtained,
without seeking it, the entree to more than one salon, where he met
men of standing who could be useful to him and assure him a
successful future. All this however amounted to nothing, and no
position was offered. What worked most to his prejudice was an
independence of opinion and character which was a part of his
nature. Only to look at him was to know that such a man could not
be tied down, and the only language which this able philologist
could not learn was the jargon of society. Add to this that
Gilbert had a speculative, dreamy temperament and the pride and
indolence which are its accessories. To bestir himself and to
importune were torture to him. A promise made to him could be
forgotten with impunity, for he was not the man to revive it; and
besides, as he never complained himself, no one was disposed to
complain for him. In short, among those who had been desirous of
protecting and advancing him, it was said: "What need has he of our
assistance? Such remarkable talent will make its own way." Others
thought, without expressing it: "Let us be guarded, this is another
Letronne,--once 'foot in the stirrup,' God only knows where he will
stop." Others said and thought: "This young man is charming,--he
is so discreet,--not like such and such a person." All those cited
as not "discreet," were provided for.
The difficulties of his life had rendered Gilbert serious and
reflective, but they had neither hardened his heart nor quenched
his imagination. He was too wise to revolt against his fate, but
determined to be superior to it. "Thou art all thou canst be,"
said he to himself; "but do not flatter thyself that thou hast
reached the measure of my aspirations."
After having read M. Leminof's letter, Dr. Lerins went in search of
Gilbert. He described Count Kostia to him according to his remote
recollections, but he asked him, before deciding, to weigh the
matter deliberately. After quitting his young friend he muttered
"After all, I hope he will refuse. He would be too much of a prize
for that boyard. Of his very Muscovite face, I remember only an
enormous pair of eyebrows,--the loftiest and bushiest I ever saw,
and perhaps there is nothing more of him! There are men who are
all in the eyebrows!"
A week later Gilbert was on his way to Geierfels. At Cologne he
embarked on board a steamboat to go up the Rhine ten or twelve
leagues beyond Bonn. Towards evening, a thick fog settled down
upon the river and its banks, and it became necessary to anchor
during the night. This mischance rendered Gilbert melancholy,
finding in it, as he did, an image of his life. He too had a
current to stem, and more than once a sad and somber fog had fallen
and obscured his course.
In the morning the weather cleared; they weighed anchor, and at two
o'clock in the afternoon, Gilbert disembarked at a station two
leagues from Geierfels. He was in no haste to arrive, and even
though "born with a ready-made consolation for anything," as M.
Lerins sometimes reproachfully said to him, he dreaded the moment
when his prison doors should close behind him, and he was disposed
to enjoy yet a few hours of his dear liberty. "We are about to
part," said he to himself; "let us at least take time to say
Instead of hiring a carriage to transport himself and his effects,
he consigned his trunk to a porter, who engaged to forward it to
him the next day, and took his way on foot, carrying under his arm
a little valise, and promising himself not to hurry. An hour later
he quitted the main road, and stopped to refresh himself at an
humble inn situated upon a hillock covered with pine trees. Dinner
was served to him under an arbor,--his repast consisted of a slice
of smoked ham and an omelette au cerfeuil, which he washed down
with a little good claret. This feast a la Jean Jacques appeared
to him delicious, flavored as it was by that "freedom of the inn"
which was dearer to the author of the Confessions than even the
freedom of the press.
When he had finished eating, Gilbert ordered a cup of coffee, or
rather of that black beverage called coffee in Germany. He was
hardly able to drink it, and he remembered with longing the
delicious Mocha prepared by the hands of Madame Lerins; and this
set him thinking of that amiable woman and her husband.
Gilbert's reverie soon took another turn. From the bank where he
was sitting, he saw the Rhine, the tow path which wound along by
the side of its grayish waters, and nearer to him the great white
road where, at intervals, heavy wagons and post chaises raised
clouds of dust. This dusty road soon absorbed all of his
attention. It seemed to him as if it cast tender glances upon him,
as if it called him and said: "Follow me; we will go together to
distant countries; we will keep the same step night and day and
never weary; we will traverse rivers and mountains, and every
morning we will have a new horizon. Come, I wait for thee, give me
thy heart. I am the faithful friend of vagabonds, I am the divine
mistress of those bold and strong hearts which look upon life as an
Gilbert was not the man to dream long. He became himself again,
rose to his feet, and shook off the vision. "Up to this hour I
thought myself rational; but it appears I am so no longer.
Forward, then,--courage, let us take our staff and on to
As he entered the kitchen of the inn to pay his bill, he found the
landlord there busy in bathing a child's face from which the blood
streamed profusely. During this operation, the child cried, and
the landlord swore. At this moment his wife came in.
"What has happened to Wilhelm?" she asked.
"What has happened?" replied he angrily. "It happened that when
Monsieur Stephane was riding on horseback on the road by the mill,
this child walked before him with his pigs. Monsieur Stephane's
horse snorted, and Monsieur Stephane, who could hardly hold him,
said to the child: 'Now then, little idiot, do you think my horse
was made to swallow the dust your pigs raise? Draw aside, drive
them into the brush, and give me the road.' 'Take to the woods
yourself,' answered the child, 'the path is only a few steps off.'
At this Monsieur Stephane got angry, and as the child began to
laugh, he rushed upon him and cut him in the face with his whip.
God-a-mercy! let him come back,--this little master,--and I'll
teach him how to behave himself. I mean to tie him to a tree, one
of these days, and break a dozen fagots of green sticks over his
"Ah take care what thou sayest, my old Peter," replied his wife
with a frightened air. "If thou'dst touch the little man thou'dst
get thyself into a bad business."
"Who is this Monsieur Stephane?" inquired Gilbert.
The landlord, recalled to prudence by the warning of his wife,
answered dryly: "Stephane is Stephane, pryers are pryers, and sheep
are put into the world to be sheared."
Thus repulsed, poor Gilbert paid five or six times its value for
his frugal repast, muttering as he departed: "I don't like this
Stephane; is it on his account that I've just been imposed upon?
Is it my fault that he carries matters with such a high hand?"
Gilbert descended the little hill, and retook the main road; it
pleased him no more, for he knew too well where it was leading him.
He inquired how much further it was to Geierfels, and was told that
by fast walking he would reach that place within an hour, whereupon
he slackened his pace. He was certainly in no haste to get there.
Gilbert was but a half a league from the castle when, upon his
right, a little out of his road, he perceived a pretty fountain
which partly veiled a natural grotto. A path led to it, and this
path had for Gilbert an irresistible attraction. He seated himself
upon the margin of the fountain, resting his feet upon a mossy
stone. This ought to be his last halt, for night was approaching.
Under the influence of the bubbling waters, Gilbert resumed his
dreamy soliloquy, but his meditations were presently interrupted by
the sound of a horse's feet which clattered over the path. Raising
his eyes, he saw coming towards him, mounted upon a large chestnut
horse, a young man of about sixteen, whose pale thin face was
relieved by an abundance of magnificent bright brown hair, which
fell in curls upon his shoulders. He was small but admirably
formed, and his features, although noble and regular, awakened in
Gilbert more of surprise than sympathy: their expression was hard,
sullen, and sad, and upon this beautiful face not any of the graces
of youth appeared.
The young cavalier came straight towards him, and when at a step or
two from the fountain, he called out in German, with an imperious
voice: "My horse is thirsty,--make room for me, my good man!"
Gilbert did not stir.
"You take a very lofty tone, my little friend," replied he in the
same language, which he understood very well, but pronounced like
the devil,--I mean like a Frenchman.
"My tall friend, how much do you charge for your lessons in
etiquette?" answered the young man in the same language, imitating
Gilbert's pronunciation. Then he added in French, with
irreproachable purity of accent: "Come, I can't wait, move
quicker," and he began cutting the air with his riding-whip.
"M. Stephane," said Gilbert, who had not forgotten the adventure of
the little Wilhelm, "your whip will get you into trouble some of
"Who gave you the right to know my name?" cried the young man,
raising his head haughtily.
"The name is already notorious through the country," retorted
Gilbert, "and you have written it in very legible characters upon
the cheek of a little pig-driver."
Stephane, for it was he, reddened with anger and raised his whip
with a threatening air; but with a blow of his stick Gilbert sent
it flying into the bottom of a ditch, twenty paces distant.
When he looked at the young man again, he repented of what he had
done, for his expression was terrible to behold; his pallor became
livid; all the muscles of his face contracted, and his body was
agitated by convulsive movements; in vain he tried to speak, his
voice died upon his lips, and reason seemed deserting him. He tore
off one of his gloves, and tried to throw it in Gilbert's face, but
it fell from his trembling hand. For an instant he looked with a
scornful and reproachful glance at that slender hand whose weakness
he cursed; then tears gushed in abundance from his eyes, he hung
his head over the neck of his horse, and in a choking voice
"For the love of God, if you do not wish me to die of rage, give me
back,--give me back--"
He could not finish; but Gilbert had already run to the ditch, and
having picked up the riding-whip, as well as the glove, returned
them to him. Stephane, without looking at him, answered by a
slight inclination of the head, but kept his eyes fixed upon the
pommel of his saddle,--evidently striving to recover his self-
possession. Gilbert, pitying his state of mind, turned to leave;
but at the moment he stooped to pick up his portmanteau and cane,
the youth, with a well-directed blow of his whip, struck off his
hat, which rolled into the ditch, and when Gilbert, surprised and
indignant, was about to throw himself upon the young traitor, he
had already pushed his horse to a full gallop, and in the twinkling
of an eye he reached the main road, where he disappeared in a
whirlwind of dust. Gilbert was much more affected by this
adventure than his philosophy should have permitted. He took up
his journey again with a feeling of depression, and haunted by the
pale, distorted face of the youth. "This excess of despair," said
he to himself, "indicates a proud and passionate character; but the
perfidy with which he repaid my generosity is the offspring of a
soul ignoble and depraved." And striking his forehead, he
continued: "It just occurs to me, judging from his name, that this
young man may be Count Kostia's son. Ah! what an amiable companion
I shall have to cheer my captivity! M. Leminof ought to have
forewarned me. It was an article which should have been included
in the contract."
Gilbert felt his heart sink; he saw himself already condemned to
defend his dignity incessantly against the caprices and insolence
of a badly-trained child,--the prospect was not attractive!
Plunged in these melancholy reflections, he lost his way, having
passed the place where he should have quitted the main road to
ascend the steep hill of which the castle formed the crown. By
good luck he met a peasant who put him again upon the right track.
The night had already fallen when he entered the court of the vast
building. This great assemblage of incongruous structures appeared
to him but a somber mass whose weight was crushing him. He could
only distinguish one or two projecting towers whose pointed roofs
stood out in profile against the starlit sky. While seeking to
make out his position, several huge dogs rushed upon him, and would
have torn him to pieces if, at the noise of their barking, a tall
stiff valet had not made his appearance with a lantern in hand.
Gilbert having given him his name, was requested to follow him.
They crossed a terrace, forced to turn aside at every step by the
dogs who growled fiercely,--apparently regretting "these amiable
hosts" the supper of which they had been deprived. Following his
guide Gilbert found himself upon a little winding staircase, which
they ascended to the third story, where the valet, opening an
arched door, introduced him into a large circular apartment where a
bed with a canopy had been prepared. "This is your room," said he
curtly, and having lighted two candles and placed them upon the
round table, he left the room, and did not return for half an hour,
when he re-appeared bearing a tray laden with a samovar, a venison
pie, and some cold fowl. Gilbert ate with a good appetite and felt
great satisfaction in finding that he had any at all. "My foolish
reveries," thought he, "have not spoiled my stomach at least."
Gilbert was still at the table when the valet re-entered and handed
him a note from the Count, which ran thus:
"M. Leminoff bids M. Gilbert Saville welcome. He will give himself
the pleasure of calling upon him to-morrow morning."
"To-morrow we shall commence the serious business of life," said
Gilbert to himself, as he enjoyed a cup of exquisite green tea,
"and I'm very glad of it, for I don't approve of the use I make of
my leisure. I have passed all this day reasoning upon myself,
dissecting my mind and heart,--a most foolish pastime, beyond a
doubt"--then drawing from his pocket a note-book, he wrote therein
these words: "Forget thyself, forget thyself, forget thyself,"
imitating the philosopher Kant, who being inconsolable at the loss
of an old servant named Lamp, wrote in his journal: "Remember to
He remained some moments standing in the embrasure of the window
gazing upon the celestial vault which shone with a thousand fires,
and then threw himself upon his bed. His sleep was not tranquil;
Stephane appeared to him in his dreams, and at one time he thought
he saw him kneeling before him, his face bathed in tears; but when
he approached to console him, the child drew a poignard from his
bosom and stabbed him to the heart.
Gilbert awakened with a start, and had some difficulty in getting
to sleep again.
A great pleasure was in store for Gilbert at his awakening; he rose
as the sun began to appear, and having dressed, hastened to the
window to see what view it offered.
The rotunda which had been assigned to him for a lodging formed the
entire upper story of a turret which flanked one of the angles of
the castle. This turret, and a great square tower situated at the
other extremity of the same front, commanded a view of the north,
and from this side the rock descended perpendicularly, forming an
imposing precipice of three hundred feet. When Gilbert's first
glance plunged into the abyss where a bluish vapor floated, which
the rising sun pierced with its golden arrows, the spectacle
transported him. To have a precipice under his window, was a
novelty which gave him infinite joy. The precipice was his domain,
his property, and his eyes took possession of it. He could not
cease gazing at the steep, wall-like rocks, the sides of which were
cut by transverse belts of brush-wood and dwarf trees. It was long
since he had experienced such a lively sensation, and he felt that
if his heart was old, his senses were entirely new. The fact is
that at this moment, Gilbert, the grave philosopher, was as happy
as a child, and in listening to the solemn murmur of the Rhine,
with which mingled the croaking of a raven and the shrill cries of
the martins, who with restless wings grazed the abutments of the
ancient turret, he persuaded himself that the river raised its
voice to salute him, that the birds were serenading him, and that
all nature celebrated a fete of which he was the hero.
He could hardly tear himself from his dear window to breakfast, and
he was again engaged in contemplation when M. Leminof entered the
room. He did not hear him, and it was not until the Count had
coughed three times that he turned his head. Perceiving the enemy,
Gilbert started, but quickly recovered himself. The nervous start,
however, which he had not been able to conceal, caused the Count to
smile, and his smile embarrassed Gilbert. He felt that M. Leminof
would regulate his conduct to him upon the impression he should
receive in this first interview, and he determined to keep close
watch upon himself.
Count Kostia was a man of middle age, very tall and well made,
broad-shouldered, with lofty bearing, a forehead stern and haughty,
a nose like the beak of a bird of prey, a head carried high and
slightly backwards, large, wide open gray eyes which shot glances
at once piercing and restless, an expressive face regularly cut, in
which Gilbert found little to criticise except that the eyebrows
were a little too bushy, and the cheek bones a little too
prominent; but what did not please him was, that M. Leminof
remained standing while praying him to be seated, and as Gilbert
made some objections the Count cut him short by an imperious
gesture and a frown.
"Monsieur le Comte," said Gilbert mentally, "you do not leave this
room until you have been seated too!"
"My dear sir," said the Count, pacing the room with folded arms,
"you have a very warm friend in Dr. Lerins. He sets a great value
upon your merit; he has even been obliging enough to give me to
understand that I was quite unworthy of having such a treasure of
wisdom and erudition in my house. He has also expressly
recommended me to treat you with the tenderest consideration; he
has made me feel that I am responsible for you to the world, and
that the world will hold me to a strict account. You are very
fortunate, sir, in having such good friends, they are among
Heaven's choicest blessings."
Gilbert made no answer but bit his lips and looked at the floor.
"M. Lerins," continued the Count, "informs me also, that you are
both timid and proud, and he desires me to deal gently with you.
He pretends that you are capable of suffering much without
complaint. This is an accomplishment which is uncommon nowadays.
But what I regret is, that our excellent friend M. Lerins
apparently considers me a sort of human wolf. I should be very
unhappy if I inspired you with fear." Then, turning half round
towards Gilbert: "Let us see, look at me well; have I claws at the
ends of my fingers?"
Poor Gilbert inwardly cursed M. Lerins and his indiscreet zeal.
"Oh, Monsieur le Comte," replied he in his frankest tones and with
the most tranquil air he could command, "I never suspect claws in a
fellow-creature;--only when occasion makes me feel them, I cry out
loudly and defend myself."
The sound of Gilbert's voice, and the expression of his face,
struck M. Leminof. It was his turn if not to start (he seldom
started) at least to be astonished. He looked at him an instant in
silence, and then resumed in a more sardonic tone:
"This is not all; M. Lerins (ah! what an admirable friend you have
there!) desires also to inform me that you are, sir, what is called
nowadays, a beautiful soul. What is 'a beautiful soul?' I know
nothing of the species." While thus speaking he seemed to be
looking by turns for a fly on the ceiling and a pin on the floor.
"I have old-fashioned ideas of everything, and I do not understand
the vocabulary of my age. I know a beautiful horse very well or a
beautiful woman;--but A BEAUTIFUL SOUL! Do you know how to explain
to me, sir, what 'this beautiful soul' is?"
Gilbert did not answer a word. He was entirely occupied in
addressing to Heaven the prayer of the philosopher: "Oh, my God!
save me from my friends, and I will take care of my enemies." "My
questions seem to you perhaps a little indiscreet," pursued M.
Leminof; "but M. Lerins is responsible for them. His last letter
caused me great uneasiness. He introduces you to me as an
exceptionable being; it is natural that I should wish to enlighten
myself, for I detest mysteries and surprises. I once heard of a
little Abyssinian prince, who to testify his gratitude to the
missionary who had converted him, sent to him, as a present, a
large chest of scented wood. When the missionary opened the chest,
he found in it a pretty living Nile crocodile. Fancy his delight!
Experiences like this teach prudence. So when our excellent friend
M. Lerins sends me a present of a beautiful soul, it is natural
that I should unpack it with caution, and that before I install
this beautiful soul in my house, I should seek to know what is
inside of it. A beautiful soul!" he repeated, in a less ironical
but harsher tone, "by dint of pondering upon it, I divine to be a
soul which has a passion for the trumpery of sentiment. In this
case, sir, suffer me to give you a piece of advice. Madame Leminof
had a great fancy for Chinese ornaments, and she filled her parlors
with them. Unfortunately, I am a little brusque, and it happened
more than once that I overturned her tables laden with porcelain
and other gewgaws. You can judge how well she liked it! My dear
sir, be prudent, shut up your Chinese ornaments carefully in your
closets, and carry the keys."
"I thank you for the advice," answered Gilbert gently; "but I am
distressed to see that you have received a very false idea of me.
Will you permit me to describe myself as I am?"
"I have no objection," said he.
"To begin then 'I am not a beautiful soul,' I am simply a good
soul, or if you like it better, an honest fellow who takes things
as they come and men as they are; who prides himself upon nothing,
pretends to nothing, and who cares not a straw what others think of
him. I do not deny that in my early youth I was subject, like
others, to what a man of wit has called 'the witchery of nonsense;'
but I have recovered from it entirely. I have found in life a
morose and rather brutal teacher, who has taught me the art of
living by severe discipline; so whatever of the romantic was in me
has taken refuge in my brains, and my heart has become the most
reasonable of all hearts. If I had the good fortune to be at the
same time an artist and rich, I should take life as a play; but
being neither the one nor the other I treat it as a matter of
M. Leminof commenced his walk again, and in passing Gilbert, gave
him a look at once haughty and caressing, such as a huge mastiff
would cast upon a spaniel, who fearing nothing, would approach his
great-toothed majesty familiarly and offer to play with him. He
growls loudly, but feels no anger. There is something in the eye
of a spaniel which forces the big dogs to take their familiarity in
"Ah, then, sir," said the Count, "by your own avowal you are a
perfect egotist. Your great aim is to live, and to live for
"It is nearly so," answered Gilbert, "only I avoid using the word,
it is a little hard. Not that I was born an egotist, but I have
become one. If I still possessed the heart I had at twenty, I
should have brought here with me some very romantic ideas. You may
well laugh, sir, but suppose I had arrived at your castle ten years
ago; it would have been with a fixed intention of loving you a
great deal, and of making you love me. But now, mon Dieu! now I
know a little of the world, and I say to myself that there can be
no question between us but a bargain, and that good bargains should
be advantageous to both parties."
"What a terrible man you are," cried the Count with a mocking
laugh. "You destroy my illusions without pity, you wound my
poetical soul. In my simplicity, I imagined that we should be
enamored of each other. I intended to make an intimate friend of
my secretary,--the dear confidant of all my thoughts, but at the
moment when I was prepared to open my arms to him, the ingrate says
to me in a studied tone: 'Sir, there is nothing but the question of
a bargain between us; I am the seller, you are the buyer; I sell
you Greek, and you pay me cash down.' Peste! Monsieur, 'your
beautiful soul' does not pride itself on its poetry. As an
experiment, I will take you at your word. There is nothing but a
bargain between us. I will make the terms and you will agree
without complaint, though I am the Turk and you the Moor."
"Pardon me," answered Gilbert, "it is naturally to your interest to
treat me with consideration. You may give me a great deal to do, I
shall not grudge my time or trouble, but you must not overburden
me. I am not exacting, and all that I ask for is a few hours of
leisure and solitude daily to enjoy in peace.
M. Leminof stopped suddenly before Gilbert, his hands resting upon
"You will sit down, you will sit down, Monsieur le Comte," muttered
Gilbert between his teeth.
"So you are a dreamer and an egotist," said M. Leminof, looking
fixedly at him. "I hope, sir, that you have the virtues of the
class. I mean to say, that while wholly occupied with yourself,
you are free from all indiscreet curiosity. Egotism is worth its
price only when it is accompanied by a scornful indifference to
others. I will explain: I do not live here absolutely alone, but I
am the only one with whom I desire you to have any intimate
acquaintance. The two persons who live in this house with me know
nothing of Greek, and therefore need not interest you. Remember, I
have the misfortune of being jealous as a tiger, and I intend that
you shall be mine without any division. And as for your fantasies,
should you think better of it, you will find me always ready to
admire them; but you show them to no one else, you understand, to
Count Kostia pronounced these last words with a tone so emphatic
that Gilbert was surprised, and was on the point of asking some
explanation; but the stern and almost threatening look of the Count
deterred him. "Your instructions, sir," answered he, "are
superfluous. To finish my own portrait, I am not very expansive,
and I have but little sociability in my character. To speak
frankly, solitude is my element; it is inexpressibly sweet to me.
Do you wish to try me? If so, shut me up under lock and key in
this room, and provided you have a little food passed through the
door to me daily, you will find me a year hence seated at this
table, fresh, well and happy, unless perhaps," he added, "I should
be unexpectedly attacked with some celestial longing, in which
case, I could some fine day easily fly out of the window; the loss
wouldn't be very great. Finding the cage empty, you would say, 'He
has grown his wings, poor fellow--much good may they do him.'"
"I don't admit that," cried the Count, "Monsieur Secretary. You
please me immensely, and for fear of accident, I will have this
With these words he drew a chair towards him, and seated himself
facing Gilbert, who could have clapped his hands at this propitious
result. Their conversation then turned upon the Byzantine Empire
and its history. The Count unfolded to Gilbert the plan of his
work, and the kind of researches he expected from him. This
conversation was prolonged for several hours.
A fortnight later, Gilbert wrote to his friends a letter conceived
"Madame:--I have found here neither fetes, cavalcades, gala-days
nor Muscovite beauties. What should we do, I beg to know, with
these Muscovite beauties? or perhaps I ought to ask, what would
they do with us? We live in the woods; our castle is an old, very
old one, and in the moonlight it looks like a specter. What I like
best about it, is its long and gloomy corridors, through which the
wind sweeps freely; but I assure you that I have not yet
encountered there a white robe or a plumed hat. Only the other
evening a bat, who had entered by a broken pane, brushed my face
with its wing and almost put out my candle. This, up to the
present time has been my sole adventure. And as for you, sir, know
that I am not obliged to resist the fascinations of my tyrant, for
the reason that he has not taken the trouble to be fascinating.
Know also that I am not bored. I am contented; I am enjoying the
tranquility of mind which comes from a well-defined, well-
regulated, and after all, very supportable position. I am no
longer compelled to urge my life on before me and to show it the
road; it makes its own way, and I follow it as Martin followed his
ass. And then pleasures are not wanting for us,--listen! Our
castle is a long series of dilapidated buildings, of which we
occupy the only one habitable. I am lodged alone in a turret which
commands a magnificent view, and I have a grand precipice under my
window. I can say 'my turret,' 'my precipice!' Oh, my poor
Parisians, you will never understand all there is in these two
words: MY PRECIPICE! 'What is it then but a precipice?' exclaims
Madame Lerins. 'It is only a great chasm.' Ah, yes! Madame, it is
'a great chasm'; but imagine that this morning this chasm was a
deep blue, and this evening at sunset it was--stay, of the color of
your nasturtiums. I opened my window and put my head out to inhale
the odor of this admirable precipice, for I have discovered that in
the evening precipices have an odor. How shall I describe it to
you? It is a perfume of rocks scorched by the sun, with which
mingles a subtle aroma of dry herbs. The combination is exquisite.
"The proud rock, of which we occupy the summit and which deserves
its name of Vulture's Crag, is bounded at the north as you already
know, at the west by a ravine which separates it from a range of
hills higher and fantastically jagged, and following the windings
of the river. This line of hills is not continuous; it is cut by
narrow gorges, which open into the valley and through which the
last rays of the sun reach us. The other evening there was a red
sunset, and one of these gorges seemed to vomit flames; you might
have supposed it the mouth of the furnace. Upon the east, from its
heights and its terrace, Geierfels overlooks the Rhine, from which
it is separated by the main road and a tow-path. At the south it
communicates by steep paths with a vast plateau, of which it forms,
as it were, the upper story, and which is clothed with a forest of
beeches, and furrowed here and there with noisy streams. It is on
this side only that our castle is accessible,--and here not to
carriages,--even a cart could reach us but with difficulty, and all
of our provisions are brought to us upon the backs of men or mules.
Mountains, perpendicular rocks, turrets overhanging a precipice,
grand and somber woods, rugged paths and brooks which fall in
cascades, do not all these, Madame, make this a very wild and very
romantic retreat? On the right bank of the Rhine which stretches
out under our eyes, it is another thing. Picture to yourself a
landscape of infinite sweetness, a great cultivated plain, which
rises by imperceptible gradation to the base of a distant chain of
mountains, the undulating outlines of which are traced upon the sky
in aerial indentations.
"Directly in front of the chateau, beyond the Rhine, a market town,
with neat houses carefully whitewashed and with gardens attached,
spreads itself around a little cove, like a fan. Upon the right of
this great village a rustic church reflects the sun from its tinned
spire; on the left, some large mills show their lazily turning
wheels, and behind these mills, the church and the market town,
extends the fertile plain which I have just endeavored to describe
to you, and which I cannot praise too much. Oh! charming
landscape! This afternoon I was occupied in feasting my eyes upon
it, when a white goat came to distract my attention, followed at a
distance by a little girl whom I suspected of being very pretty;
but I forgot them both in watching a steamboat passing up the river
towing a flotilla of barges, covered with awnings and attended by
their lighters, and a huge raft laden with timber from the Black
Forest, manned by fifty or sixty boatmen, some of whom in front,
and some in the rear, directed its course with vigorous strokes of
"But what pleases me above everything else is, that Geierfels, by
its position, is a kind of acoustic focus to which all the noises
of the valley incessantly ascend. This afternoon, the dull
murmuring of the river, the panting respiration of the tug-boat,
the vibration of a bell in a distant church tower, the song of a
peasant girl washing her linen in a spring, the bleating of sheep,
the tic tac of the mills, the tinkling bells of a long train of
mules drawing a barge by a rope, the reverberating clamors of
boatmen stowing casks in their boats--all these various sounds came
to my ear in vibrations of surprising clearness, when suddenly a
gust of wind mingled them confusedly together, and I could hear but
a vague music which seemed to fall from the skies. But a moment
afterwards all of these vibrating voices emerged anew from the
whirlwind of confused harmony, and each, sonorous and distinct,
recounted to my enraptured heart some episode in the life of man
and nature. And then, when night comes, Madame, to all of these
noises of the day succeed others more mysterious, more penetrating,
more melancholy. Do you like the hooting of the owl, Madame? But
first, I wonder if you have ever heard it. It is a cry-- No, it
is not a cry, it is a soft, stifled wail; a monotonous and resigned
sorrow, which unbosoms itself to the moon and stars. One of these
sad birds lodges within two steps of me, in the hollow of a tree,
and when night comes, he amuses himself by singing a duet with the
singing wind. The Rhine plays an accompaniment, and its grave,
subdued voice furnishes a continuous bass, whose volume swells and
falls in rhythmic waves. The other evening this concert failed;
neither the wind nor the owl was in voice. The Rhine alone
grumbled beneath; but it arranged a surprise for me and proved that
it could make harmony of its own without other aid. Towards
midnight a barge carrying a lantern on its prow had become detached
from the bank and had drifted across the river, and I distinctly
heard, or imagined that I heard, the wash of the waves upon the
side of the boat, the bubbling of the eddy which formed under the
stern, the dull sound of the oar when it dipped into the current,
and still sweeter, when raised out of it the tender tears which
dripped from it drop by drop. This music contrasted strongly with
that I had heard the night before at the same hour. The north wind
had risen during the evening, and near eleven o'clock it became
furious; it filled the air with sad howlings, and increased to a
rage that was inexpressible. The weathercocks creaked, the tiles
ground against each other, the roof timbers trembled in their
mortices, and the walls shook upon their foundations. From time to
time a blast would hurl itself against my window with wild shrieks,
and from my bed I imagined I could see through the panes the
bloodshot eyes of a band of famished wolves. In the brief
intervals when this outside tumult subsided, strange murmurs came
from the interior of the castle; the wainscoting gave forth dismal
creakings;--there was not a crack in the partitions, nor a fissure
in the ceiling from which did not issue a sigh, or hoarse groans.
Then again all this became silent, and I heard only something like
a low whispering in the far off corridors, as of phantoms murmuring
in the darkness as they swept the walls in their flight; then
suddenly they seemed to gather up their forces, the floors trembled
under their spasmodic tramping, while they clambered in confusion
up the staircase which led to my room, throwing themselves over the
threshold of my door and uttering indescribable lamentations.
"But enough of this, perhaps you will say; let us now talk a little
of your patron: This terrible man, will you believe it, has not
inspired me with the antagonism which you prophesied. But in the
first place we do not live together from morning to night. The day
after my arrival, he sent me a long list of difficult or mutilated
passages to interpret and restore. It is a work of time, to which
I devote all my afternoons. He has had some of his finest folios
sent to my room, and I live in these like a rat in a Dutch cheese.
It is true, I pass my mornings in his study, where we hold learned
discussions which would edify the Academy of Inscriptions; but to
my delight, after nightfall I can dispose of myself as I choose.
He has even agreed that, after seven o'clock, I may lock myself in
my room, and that no human being under any pretext whatever shall
come to disturb me there. This privilege M. Leminof granted to me
in the most gracious manner, and you can imagine how grateful I am
to him for it. I do not mean to say by this that he is an amiable
man, nor that he cares to be; but he is a man of sense and wit. He
understood me at once, and he means to make me serviceable to him.
I am like a horse who feels that he carries a skilful rider."
The next day was Sunday, and for Gilbert was a day of liberty.
Towards the middle of the forenoon, he went out to take a walk in
the woods. He had wandered for an hour, when, turning his head, he
saw coming behind him a little troop of children, decked out in
strange costumes. The two oldest wore blue dresses and red
mantles, and their heads were covered with felt caps encircled by
bands of gilt paper in imitation of aureoles. A smaller one wore a
gray dress, upon which were painted black devils and inverted
torches. The last five were clothed in white; their shoulders were
ornamented with long wings of rose-tinted gauze, and they held in
their hands sprigs of box by way of palm branches.
Gilbert slackened his pace, and when they came up with him, he
recognized in the one who wore the san-benito the little hog-
driver, so maltreated by Stephane. The child, who while marching
looked down complacently on the torches and the devils with which
his robe was decorated, advanced towards Gilbert, and without
waiting for his questions, said to him, "I am Judas Iscariot. Here
is Saint Peter, and here is Saint John. The others are angels. We
are all going to R----, to take part in a grand procession, that
they have there every five years. If you want to see something
fine, just follow us. I shall sing a solo and so will Saint Peter;
the others sing in the chorus."
Upon which Judas Iscariot, Saint Peter, Saint John and the angels
resumed their march, and Gilbert decided to follow them. The first
houses of the village of R---- rise at the extremity of the wooded
plain which extends to the south of Geierfels. In about half an
hour, the little procession made its entry into the village in the
midst of a considerable crowd which hastily gathered from the
neighboring hamlets. Gilbert made his way along the main street,
decorated with hangings and altars, and passed on to an open square
planted with elms, of which the church formed one of the sides.
Presently the bells sounded a grand peal; the doors of the church
opened, and the procession came out. At the head marched priests,
monks, and laymen of both sexes, bearing wax tapers, crosses, and
banners. Behind them came a long train of children representing
the escort of the Saviour to Calvary. One of them, a young lad of
ten years, filled the role of Christ.
At a moment when Gilbert was absorbed in reflection, a voice which
was not unknown to him murmured in his ear these words, which made
"You seem prodigiously interested, Monsieur, in this ridiculous
Turning his head quickly, he recognized Stephane. The young man
had just dismounted from his horse, which he had left in the care
of his servant, and had pushed his way through the crowd,
indifferent to the exclamations of the good people whose pious
meditations he disturbed. Gilbert looked at him a moment severely,
and then fixed his eyes on the procession, and tried, but in vain,
to forget the existence of this Stephane whom he had not met before
since the adventure at the fountain, and whose presence at this
moment caused him an indefinable uneasiness. The reproachful look
which he had cast upon the young man, far from intimidating him,
served but to excite his mocking humor, and after a few seconds of
silence he commenced the following soliloquy in French, speaking
low, but in a voice so distinct that Gilbert, to his great regret,
lost not a word of it:
"Mon Dieu! how ridiculous these young ones are! They really seem
to take the whole thing seriously; what vulgar types! what square,
bony faces. Don't their low, stupid expressions contrast oddly
with their wings? Do you see that little chap twisting his mouth
and rolling his eyes? His air of contrition is quite edifying.
The other day he was caught stealing fagots from a neighbor. . . .
And look at that other one who has lost his wings! What an unlucky
accident! He is stooping to pick them up, and tucks them under his
arm like a cocked hat. The idea is a happy one! But thank God,
their litanies are over. It's Saint Peter's turn to sing."
For a long time Gilbert looked about him anxiously, seeking an
opportunity to escape, but the crowd was so compact that it was
impossible to make his way through it. He saw himself forced to
remain where he was and to submit, even to the end, to Stephane's
amiable soliloquy. So he pretended not to hear him, and concealed
his impatience as well as he could; but his nervousness betrayed
him in spite of himself, and to the great diversion of Stephane,
who maliciously enjoyed his own success. Fortunately for Gilbert,
when Judas had stopped singing, the procession resumed its march
towards a second station at the other end of the village, and this
caused a general movement among the bystanders who hedged his
passage. Gilbert profited by this disorder to escape, and was soon
lost in the crowd, where even Stephane's piercing eyes could not
Hastening from the village he took the road to the woods. "This
Stephane is decidedly a nuisance," thought he. "Three weeks since
he surprised me at a bright fountain, where I was deliciously
dreaming, and put my fancies to flight, and now by his impertinent
babbling he has spoiled a fete in which I took interest and
pleasure. What is he holding in reserve for me? The most annoying
part of it is, that henceforth I shall be condemned to see him
daily. Even to-day, in a few hours, I shall meet him at his
father's table. Presentiments do not always deceive, and at first
sight I recognize in him a strong enemy to my repose and happiness;
but I shall manage to keep him at a distance. We won't distress
ourselves over a trifle. What does philosophy amount to, if the
happiness of a philosopher is to be at the mercy of a spoiled
Thus saying, he drew from his pocket a book which he often carried
in his walks: It was a volume of Goethe, containing the admirable
treatise on the "Metamorphosis of Plants." He began to read, often
raising his head from the page to gaze at a passing cloud, or a
bird fluttering from tree to tree. To this pleasant occupation he
abandoned himself for nearly an hour, when he heard the neighing of
a horse behind him, and turning, he saw Stephane advancing at full
speed on his superb chestnut and followed at a few paces by his
groom, mounted on a gray horse. Gilbert's first impulse was to
dart into a path which opened at his left, and thus gain the
shelter of the copse; but he did not wish to give Stephane the
pleasure of imagining that he was afraid of him, and so continued
on his way, his eyes riveted upon the book.
Stephane soon came up to him, and bringing his horse to a walk,
thus accosted him:
"Do you know, sir, that you are not very polite? You quitted me
abruptly, without taking leave. Your proceedings are singular, and
you seem to be a stranger to the first principles of good
"What do you expect, my dear sir?" answered Gilbert. "You were so
amiable, so prepossessing the first time I had the honor of meeting
you, that I was discouraged. I said to myself, that do what I
would, I should always be in arrears to you."
"You are spiteful, Mr. Secretary," retorted Stephane. "What, have
you not forgotten that little affair at the spring?"
"You have taken no trouble, it seems, to make me forget it."
"It is true, I was wrong," replied he with a sneer; "wait a moment,
I will dismount, go upon my knees there in the middle of the road,
and say to you in dolorous voice, 'Sir, I'm grieved, heart-broken,
desperate,'--For what? I know not. Tell me, I pray you, sir, for
what must I beg your pardon? For if I rightly remember, you
commenced by raising your cane to me.
"I did not raise my cane to you," replied Gilbert, beside himself
with indignation; "I contented myself with parrying the blow which
you were about to give me."
"It was not my intention to strike you," rejoined Stephane,
impetuously. "And besides, learn once for all, that between us
things are not equal, and that even should I provoke you, you would
be a wretch to raise the end of your finger against me."
"Oh, that is too much!" cried Gilbert, laughing loudly.
"And why so, my little friend?"
"Because--because--" stammered Stephane; and then suddenly stopped.
An expression of bitter sadness passed over his face; his brows
contracted and his eyes became fixed. It was thus that terrible
paroxysm had commenced which so alarmed Gilbert at their first
meeting. This time, fortunately, the attack was less violent. The
good Gilbert passed quickly from anger to pity; "there is a secret
wound in that heart," thought he, and he was still more convinced
of it when, after a long pause Stephane, recovering the use of his
speech, said to him in a broken voice: "I was ill the other day, I
often am. People should have some consideration for invalids."
Gilbert made no answer; he feared by a hard word to exasperate his
soul so passionate, and so little master of itself; but he thought
that when Stephane felt ill, he had better stay in his room.
They walked on some moments in silence until, recovering from his
dejection, Stephane said ironically: "You made a mistake in leaving
the fete so soon. If you had stayed until the end, you would have
heard Christ and his mother sing; you lost a charming duet."
"Let us drop that subject," interrupted Gilbert; "we could not
understand each other. Yours is a kind of pleasantry for which I
have but little taste."
"Pedant!" murmured Stephane, turning his head, then adding with
animation: "It is just because I respect religion that I do not
like to see it burlesqued and parodied. Let a true angel appear
and I am ready to render him homage; but I am enraged when I see
great seraph's wings tied with white strings to the shoulders of
wicked, boorish, little thieves, liars, cowards, slaves, and
rascals. Their hypocritical airs do not impose on me, for I read
their base natures in their eyes. I detest all affectations, all
shams. I have the misfortune of being able to see through all
"These are very old words for such very young lips," answered
Gilbert sadly. "I suspect, my child, you are repeating a lesson
you have learned."
"And what do you know of my age?" cried he angrily. "By what do
you judge? Are faces clocks which mark the hours and minutes of
life? Well, yes, I am but sixteen; but I have lived longer than
you. I am not a library rat, and have not studied the world in
duodecimos. Thank God! for the advancement of my education. He
has gathered under my eyes a few specimens of the human race which
have enabled me to judge of the rest, and the more experience I
gain, the more I am convinced that all men are alike. On that
account I scorn them all,--all without exception!"
"I thank you sincerely for myself and your groom," answered Gilbert
"Don't trouble yourself about my groom," replied Stephane, beating
down with his whip the foliage which obstructed his path. "In the
first place, he knows but little French; and it is useless to tell
him in Russian that I despise him,--he would be none the worse for
it. He is well lodged, well fed, and well clothed; what matters my
scorn to him? And besides, let me tell you for your guidance, that
my groom is not a groom, he is my jailer. I am a prisoner under
constant surveillance; these woods constitute a yard, where I can
walk but twice a week, and this excellent Ivan is my keeper.
Search his pockets and you will find a scourge."
Gilbert turned to examine the groom, who answered his scrutinizing
look by a jovial and intelligent smile. Ivan represented the type
of the Russian serf in all his original beauty. He was small, but
vigorous and robust; he had a fresh complexion, cheeks full and
rosy, hair of a pale yellow, large soft eyes and a long chestnut
beard, in which threads of silver already mingled. It was such a
face as one often sees among the lower classes of Slavonians;
indicating at once energy in action and placidity in repose.
When Gilbert had looked at him well, he said, "My dear sir, I do
not believe in Ivan's scourge."
"Ah! that is like you bookworms," exclaimed Stephane with an angry
gesture. "You receive all the monstrous nonsense which you find in
your old books for Gospel truth, and without any hesitation, while
the ordinary matters of life appear to you prodigious absurdities,
which you refuse to believe."
"Don't be angry. Ivan's scourge is not exactly an article of
faith. One can fail to believe in it without being in danger of
hell-fire. Besides, I am ready to recant my heresy; but I will
confess to you that I find nothing ferocious or stern in the face
of this honest servant. At all events, he is a jailer who does not
keep his prisoners closely, and who sometimes gives them a
relaxation beyond his orders; for the other day, it seems to me,
you scoured the country without him, and really the use you make of
"The other day," interrupted Stephane, "I did a foolish thing. For
the first time I amused myself by evading Ivan's vigilance. It was
an effort that I longed to make, but it turned out badly for me.
Would you like to see with your own eyes what this fine exploit
Then pushing up the right sleeve of his black velvet blouse, he
showed Gilbert a thin delicate wrist marked by a red circle, which
indicated the prolonged friction of an iron ring. Gilbert could
not repress an exclamation of surprise and pity at the sight, and
repented his pleasantry.
"I have been chained for a fortnight in a dungeon which I thought I
should never come out of again," said Stephane, "and I indulged in
a good many reflections there. Ah! you were right when you accused
me of repeating a lesson I had learned. The pretty bracelet which
I bear on my right arm is my thought-teacher, and if I dared to
repeat all that it taught me--" Then interrupting himself:
"A lie!" exclaimed he in a bitter tone, drawing his cap down over
his eyes. "The truth is, that I came out of the dungeon like a
lamb, flexible as a glove, and that I am capable of committing a
thousand base acts to save myself the horror of returning there. I
am a coward like the rest, and when I tell you that I despise all
men, do not believe that I make an exception in my own favor."
And at these words he drove the spurs into his horse's flank so
violently that the fiery chestnut, irritated by the rude attack,
kicked and pranced. Stephane subdued him by the sole power of his
haughty and menacing voice; then exciting him again, he launched
him forward at full speed and amused himself by suddenly bringing
him up with a jerk of the rein, and by turns making him dance and
plunge; then urging him across the road he made him clear at a
bound, the ditch and hedge which bordered it. After several
minutes of this violent exercise, he trotted away, followed by his
inseparable Ivan, leaving Gilbert to his reflections, which were
not the most agreeable.
He had experienced in talking with Stephane an uneasiness, a secret
trouble which had never oppressed him before. The passionate
character of this young man, the rudeness of his manners, in which
a free savage grace mingled, the exaggeration of his language,
betraying the disorder of an ill-governed mind, the rapidity with
which his impressions succeeded each other, the natural sweetness
of his voice, the caressing melody of which was disturbed by loud
exclamations and rude and harsh accents; his gray eyes turning
nearly black and flashing fire in a paroxysm of anger or emotion;
the contrast between the nobility and distinction of his face and
bearing, and the arrogant scorn of proprieties in which he seemed
to delight--in short, some painful mystery written upon his
forehead and betrayed in his smile--all gave Gilbert much to
speculate upon and troubled him profoundly. The aversion he had at
first felt for Stephane had changed to pity since the poor child
had shown him the red bracelet, which he called his "thought-
teacher,"--but pity without sympathy is a sentiment to which one
yields with reluctance. Gilbert reproached himself for taking such
a lively interest in this young man who had so little merited his
esteem, and more especially as with his pity mingled an indefinable
terror or apprehension. In fact, he hardly knew himself; he so
calm, so reasonable, to be the victim of such painful
presentiments! It seemed to him that Stephane was destined to
exercise great influence over his fate, and to bring disorder into
Suddenly, he heard once more the sound of horse's hoofs and
Stephane re-appeared. Perceiving Gilbert, the young man stopped
his horse and cried out, "Mr. Secretary, I am looking for you."
And then, laughing, continued:
"This is a tender avowal I have just made; for believe me, it is
years since I have thought of looking for anybody; but as in your
estimation I have not been very courteous, and as I pride myself on
my good manners, I wish to obtain your pardon by flattering you a
"This is too much goodness," answered Gilbert. "Don't take the
trouble. The best course you can pursue to win my esteem is to
trouble yourself about me as little as possible."
"And you will do the same in regard to me?"
"Remember that matters are not equal between us. I am but an
insect,--it is easy for you to avoid me, whilst--"
"You are not talking with common sense," interrupted Stephane;
"look at this green beetle crawling across the road. I see him,
but he does not see me. But to drop this bantering--for it's quite
out of character with me--what I like in you is your remarkable
frankness, it really amuses me. By the way, be good enough to tell
me what book that is which never leaves you for a moment and which
you ponder over with such intensity. Do tell me," added he in a
coaxing, childish tone, "what is the book that you press to your
heart with so much tenderness."
Gilbert handed it to him.
"'Essay on the Metamorphosis of Plants.' So, plants have the
privilege of changing themselves? Mon Dieu, they must be happy!
But they ought to tell us their secret."
Then closing the volume, and returning it to Gilbert, he exclaimed:
"Happy man! you live among the plants of the field as if in your
element. Are you not something of a plant yourself? I am not sure
but that you have just now stopped reading to say to the primroses
and anemones covering this slope, 'I am your brother!' Mon Dieu! I
am sorry to have disturbed the charming conversation! And hold!
your eyes are a little the color of the periwinkle."
He turned his head and looked at Gilbert with a scornful air, and
had already prepared to leave him, when a glance over the road
dispersed his ill-humor, for in the distance he saw Wilhelm and his
comrades returning from the fete.
"Come quick, my children," cried he, rising in his stirrups. "Come
quick, my lambs, for I have something of the greatest importance to
propose to you."
Hearing his challenge, the children raised their eyes and
recognizing Stephane, they stopped and took counsel together. The
somewhat brutal impudence of the young Russian had given him a bad
reputation, and the little peasants would rather have turned back
than encounter his morose jesting or his terrible whip.
The three apostles and the five angels, after consulting together,
concluded prudently to beat a retreat, when Stephane drawing from
his pocket a great leather purse, shook it in the air crying,
"There is money to be gained here,--come, my dear children, you
shall have all you want."
The large, full purse which Stephane shook in his hand was a very
tempting bait for the eight children; but his whip, which he held
under his left arm, warned them to be careful. Hesitating between
fear and covetousness, they stood still like the ass in the fable
between his two bundles of hay; but Stephane at that moment was
seized with a happy inspiration and threw his switch to the top of
a neighboring tree, where it rested. This produced a magical
effect, the children with one accord deciding to approach him,
although with slow and hesitating steps. Wilhelm alone,
remembering his recent treatment, darted into a path nearby and
disappeared in the bushes.
The troop of children stopped a dozen paces from Stephane and
formed in a group, the little ones hiding behind the larger. All
of them fumbled nervously with the ends of their belts, and kept
their heads down, awkward and ashamed, with eyes fixed upon the
ground, but casting sidelong glances at the great leather purse
which danced between Stephane's hands.
"You, Saint Peter," said he to them in a grave tone; "you, Saint
John, and your five dear little angels of Heaven, listen to me
closely. You have sung to-day very pretty songs in honor of the
good Lord; he will reward you some day in the other world; but for
the little pleasures people give me, I reward them at once. So
every one of you shall have a bright dollar, if you will do the
little thing I ask. It is only to kiss delicately and respectfully
the toe of my boot. I tell you again, that this little ceremony
will gain for each of you a bright dollar, and you will afterwards
have the happiness of knowing that you have learned to do something
which you can't do too well if you want to get on in this world."
The seven children looked at Stephane with a sheepish air and open
mouths. Not one of them stirred. Their immobility, and their
seven pairs of fixed round eyes directed upon him, provoked him.
"Come, my little lambs," he continued persuasively, "don't stretch
your eyes in this way; they look like barn doors wide open. You
should do this bravely and neatly. Ah! mon Dieu! you will see it
done often enough, and do it yourselves again too in your lifetime.
There must always be a beginning. Come on, make haste. A thaler
is worth thirty-six silbergroschen, and a silbergroschen is worth
ten pfennigs, and for five pfennigs you can buy a cake, a hot
muffin, or a little man in licorice--"
And shaking the leather purse again, he cried:
"Ah, what a pretty sound that makes! How pleasantly the click,
click of these coins sounds to our ears. All music is discordant
compared to that. Nightingales and thrushes, stop your concerts!
we can sing better than you. I am an artist who plays your
favorite air on his violin. Let us open the ball, my darlings."
The seven children seemed still uncertain. They were red with
excitement, and consulted each other by looks. At last the
youngest, a little blond fellow, made up his mind.
"Monsieur HAS ONE CHEVRON TOO MANY," said he to his companions,
which being interpreted means: "Monsieur is a little foolish with
pride, his head is turned, he is crack-brained, and," added he
laughingly, "after all, it's only in fun, and there is a dollar to
So speaking, he approached Stephane deliberately and gave his boot
a loud kiss. The ice was broken; all of his companions followed
his example, some with a grave and composed air, others laughing
till they showed all their teeth. Stephane clapped his hands in
"Bravo! my dear friends," exclaimed he. "The business went off
Then drawing seven dollars from his purse, he threw them into the
road with a scornful gesture:
"Now then, Messrs. Apostles and Seraphim," cried he in a thundering
voice, "pick up your money quick, and scamper away as fast as your
legs can carry you. Vile brood, go and tell your mothers by what a
glorious exploit you won this prize!
And while the children were moving off, he turned towards Gilbert
and said, crossing his arms: "Well, my man of the periwinkles, what
do you think of it?"
Gilbert had witnessed this little scene with mingled sadness and
disgust. He would have given much if only one of the children had
resisted Stephane's insolent caprice; but not having this
satisfaction, he tried to conceal his chagrin as best he could.
"What does it prove?" replied he dryly.
"It seems to me it proves many things, and among others this: that
certain emotions are very ridiculous, and that certain mentors of
my acquaintance who thrust their lessons upon others--"
He said no more, for at this moment a pebble thrown by a vigorous
hand whistled by his ears, and rolled his cap in the dust.
Starting, he uttered an angry cry, and striking spurs into his
horse, he launched him at a gallop across the bushes. Gilbert
picked up the cap, and handed it to Ivan, who said to him in bad
"Pardon him; the poor child is sick," and then departed hastily in
pursuit of his young master.
Gilbert ran after them. When he had overtaken them, Stephane had
dismounted, and stood with clenched fists before a child, who,
quite out of breath from running, had thrown himself exhausted at
the foot of a tree. In running he had torn many holes in his San-
benito, and he was looking with mournful eyes at these rents, and
replied only in monosyllables to all of Stephane's threats.
"You are at my mercy," said the young man to him at last. "I will
forgive you if you ask my pardon on your knees."
"I won't do it," replied the child, getting up. "I have no pardon
to ask. You struck me with your whip, and I swore to pay you for
it. I'm a good shot. I sighted your cap and I was sure I'd hit
it. That makes you mad, and now we're even. But I'll promise not
to throw any more stones, if you'll promise not to strike me with
your whip any more."
"That is a very reasonable proposition," said Gilbert.
"I don't ask your opinion, sir," interrupted Stephane haughtily,--
then turning to Ivan: "Ivan, my dear Ivan," continued he, "in this
matter you ought to obey me. You know very well the Count does not
love me, but he does not mean to have others insult me: it is a
privilege he reserves to himself. Dismount, and make this little
rascal kneel to me and ask my pardon."
Ivan shook his head.
"You struck him first," answered he; "why should he ask your
In vain Stephane exhausted supplications and threats. The serf
remained inflexible, and during his talk Gilbert approached
Wilhelm, and said to him in a low voice:
"Run away quickly, my child; but remember your promise; if you
don't, you'll have to settle with me."
Stephane, seeing him escape, would have started in pursuit; but
Gilbert barred his way.
"Ivan!" cried he, wringing his hands, "drive this man out of my
Ivan shook his head again.
"I don't wish to harm the young Frenchman," replied he; "he has a
kind way and loves children."
Stephane's face was painfully agitated. His lips trembled. He
looked with sinister eye first at Ivan, then at Gilbert. At last
he said to himself in a stifled voice:
"Wretch that I am! I am as feeble as a worm, and weakness is not
Then lowering his head, he approached his horse, mounted him, and
pushed slowly through the copse. When he had regained the wood,
looking fixedly at Gilbert:
"Mr. Secretary," said he, "my father often quotes that diplomatist
who said that all men have their price; unfortunately I am not rich
enough to buy you; you are worth more than a dollar; but permit me
to give you some good advice. When you return to the castle,
repeat to Count Kostia certain words that I have allowed to escape
me to-day. It will give him infinite pleasure. Perhaps he will
make you his spy-in-chief, and without asking it, he may double
your salary. The most profitable trade in the world is burning
candles on the devil's shrine. You will do wonders in it, as well
Upon which, with a profound bow to Gilbert, he disappeared at a
"The devil! the devil! he talks of nothing but the devil!" said
Gilbert to himself, taking the road to the castle. "My poor
friend, you are condemned to pass some years of your life here
between a tyrant who is sometimes amiable, and a victim who is
never so at all!"
When Gilbert got back to the castle, M. Leminof was walking on the
terrace. He perceived his secretary at some distance, and made
signs to him to come and join him. They made several turns on the
parapet, and while walking, Gilbert studied Stephane's father with
still greater attention than he had done before. He was now most
forcibly struck by his eyes, of a slightly turbid gray, whose
glances, vague, unsteady, indiscernible, became at moments cold and
dull as lead. Never had M. Leminof been so amiable to his
secretary; he spoke to him playfully, and looked at him with an
expression of charming good nature. They had conversed for a
quarter of an hour when the sound of a bell gave notice that dinner
was served. Count Kostia conducted Gilbert to the dining-room. It
was an immense vaulted apartment, wainscoted in black oak, and
lighted by three small ogive windows, looking out upon the terrace.
The arches of the ceiling were covered with old apocalyptic
paintings, which time had molded and scaled off. In the center
could be seen the Lamb with seven horns seated on his throne; and
round about him the four-and-twenty elders clothed in white. On
the lower parts of the pendentive the paintings were so much
damaged that the subjects were hardly recognizable. Here and there
could be seen wings of angels, trumpets, arms which had lost their
hands, busts from which the head had disappeared, crowns, stars,
horses' manes, and dragons' tails. These gloomy relics sometimes
formed combinations that were mysterious and ominous. It was a
strange decoration for a dining-hall.
At this hour of the day, the three arched windows gave but a dull
and scanty light; and more was supplied by three bronze lamps,
suspended from the ceiling by iron chains; even their brilliant
flames were hardly sufficient to light up the depths of this
cavernous hall. Below the three lamps was spread a long table,
where twenty guests might easily find room; at one of the rounded
ends of this table, three covers and three morocco chairs had been
arranged in a semi-circle; at the other end, a solitary cover was
placed before a simple wooden stool. The Count seated himself and
motioned Gilbert to place himself at his right; then unfolding his
napkin, he said harshly to the great German valet de chambre:
"Why are not my son and Father Alexis here yet? Go and find them."
Some moments after, the door opened, and Stephane appeared. He
crossed the hall, his eyes downcast, and bending over the long thin
hand which his father presented to him without looking at him, he
touched it slightly with his lips. This mark of filial deference
must have cost him much, for he was seized with that nervous
trembling to which he was subject when moved by strong emotions.
Gilbert could not help saying to himself:
"My child, the seraphim and apostles are well revenged for the
humiliation you inflicted upon them."
It seemed as if the young man divined Gilbert's thoughts, for as he
raised his head, he launched a ferocious glance at him; then
seating himself at his father's left, he remained as motionless as
a statue, his eyes fixed upon his plate. Meantime he whom they
called Father Alexis did not make his appearance, and the Count,
becoming impatient, threw his napkin brusquely upon the table, and
rose to go after him; but at this same moment the door opened, and
Gilbert saw a bearded face which wore an expression of anxiety and
terror. Much heated and out of breath, the priest threw a
scrutinizing glance upon his lord and master, and from the Count
turned his eyes towards the empty stool, and looked as if he would
have given his little finger to be able to reach even that
uncomfortable seat without being seen.
"Father Alexis, you forget yourself in your eternal daubs!"
exclaimed M. Leminof, reseating himself. "You know that I dislike
to wait. I profess, it is true, a passionate admiration for the
burlesque masterpieces with which you are decorating the walls of
my chapel; but I cannot suffer them to annoy me, and I beg you not
to sacrifice again the respect you owe me to your foolish passion
for those coarse paintings; if you do, I shall some fine morning
bury your sublime daubings under a triple coat of whitewash."
This reprimand, pronounced in a thundering tone, produced the most
unhappy effect upon Father Alexis. His first movement was to raise
his eyes and arms toward the arched ceiling where, as if calling
the four-and-twenty elders to witness, he exclaimed:
"You hear! The profane dare call them daubs, those incomparable
frescoes which will carry down the name of Father Alexis to the
But in the heart of the poor priest terror soon succeeded to
indignation. He dropped his arms, and bending down, sunk his head
between his shoulders, and tried to make himself as small as
possible; much as a frightened turtle draws himself into his shell,
and fears that even there he is taking up too much room.
"Well! what are these grimaces for? Do you mean to make us wait
until to-morrow for your benediction?"
The Count pronounced these words in the rude tone of a corporal
ordering recruits to march in double-quick time. Father Alexis
made a bound as if he had received a sharp blow from a whip across
his back, and in his agitation and haste to reach his stool, he
struck violently against the corner of a carved sideboard; this
terrible shock drew from him a cry of pain, but did not arrest his
speed, and rubbing his hip, he threw himself into his place and,
without giving himself time to recover breath, he mumbled in a
nasal tone and in an unintelligible voice, a grace which he soon
finished, and everybody having made the sign of the cross, dinner
"What a strange role religion plays here," thought Gilbert to
himself as he carried his spoon to his lips. "They would on no
account dine until it had blessed the soup, and at the same time
they banish it to the end of the table as a leper whose impure
contact they fear."
During the first part of the repast, Gilbert's attention was
concentrated on Father Alexis. This priestly face excited his
curiosity. At first sight it seemed impressed with a certain
majesty, which was heightened by the black folds of his robe, and
the gold crucifix which hung upon his breast. Father Alexis had a
high, open forehead; his large, strongly aquiline nose gave a manly
character to his face; his black eyes, finely set, were surmounted
by well-curved eyebrows, and his long grizzly beard harmonized very
well with his bronzed cheeks furrowed by venerable wrinkles. Seen
in repose, this face had a character of austere and imposing
beauty. And if you had looked at Father Alexis in his sleep, you
would have taken him for a holy anchorite recently come out of the
desert, or better still, for a Saint John contemplating with closed
eyes upon the height of his Patmos rock, the sublime visions of the
Apocalypse; but as soon as the face of the good priest became
animated, the charm was broken. It was but an expressive mask,
flexible, at times grotesque, where were predicted the fugitive and
shallow impressions of a soul gentle, innocent, and easy, but not
imaginative or exalted. It was then that the monk and the
anchorite suddenly disappeared, and there remained but a child
sixty years old, whose countenance, by turns uneasy or smiling,
expressed nothing but puerile pre-occupations, or still more
puerile content. This transformation was so rapid that it seemed
almost like a juggler's trick. You sought St. John, but found him
no more, and you were tempted to cry out, "Oh, Father Alexis, what
has become of you? The soul now looking out of your face is not
yours." This Father Alexis was an excellent man; but
unfortunately, he had too decided a taste for the pleasures of the
table. He could also be accused of having a strong ingredient of
vanity in his character; but his self-love was so ingenuous, that
the most severe judge could but pardon it. Father Alexis had
succeeded in persuading himself that he was a great artist, and
this conviction constituted his happiness. This much at least
could be said of him, that he managed his brush and pencil with
remarkable dexterity, and could execute four or five square feet of
fresco painting in a few hours. The doctrines of Mount Athos,
which place he had visited in his youth, had no more secrets for
him; Byzantine aesthetics had passed into his flesh and bones; he
knew by heart the famous "Guide to Painting," drawn up by the monk
Denys and his pupil Cyril of Scio. In short, he was thoroughly
acquainted with all the receipts by means of which works of genius
are produced, and thus, with the aid of compasses, he painted from
inspiration, those good and holy men who strikingly resembled
certain figures on gold backgrounds in the convents of Lavra and
Iveron. But one thing brought mortification and chagrin to Father
Alexis,--Count Kostia Petrovitch refused to believe in his genius!
But on the other hand, he was a little consoled by the fact that
the good Ivan professed unreserved admiration for his works; so he
loved to talk of painting and high art with this pious worshiper of
"Look, my son," he would say to him, extending the thumb, index and
middle fingers of his right hand, "thou seest these three fingers:
I have only to say a word to them, and from them go forth Saint
Georges, Saint Michaels, Saint Nicholases, patriarchs of the old
covenant, and apostles of the new, the good Lord himself and all
his dear family!"
And then he would give him his hand to kiss, which duty the good
serf performed with humble veneration. However, if Count Kostia
had the barbarous taste to treat the illuminated works of Father
Alexis as daubs, he was not cruel enough to prevent him from
cultivating his dearly-loved art. He had even lately granted this
disciple of the great Panselinos, the founder of the Byzantine
school, an unexpected favor, for which the good father promised
himself to be eternally grateful. One of the wings of the Castle
of Geierfels enclosed a pretty and sufficiently spacious chapel,
which the Count had appropriated to the services of the Greek
Church, and one fine day, yielding to the repeated solicitations of
Father Alexis, he had authorized him to cover the walls and dome
with "daubs" after his own fashion. The priest commenced the work
immediately. This great enterprise absorbed at least half of his
thoughts; he worked many hours every day, and at night he saw in
dreams great patriarchs in gold and azure, hanging over him and
"Dear Alexis, we commend ourselves to thy good care; let thy genius
perpetuate our glory through the Universe."
The conversation at length turned upon subjects which the Count
amused himself by debating every day with his secretary. They
spoke of the Lower Empire, which M. Leminof regarded as the most
prosperous and most glorious age of humanity. He had little fancy
for Pericles, Caesar, Augustus, and Napoleon, and considered that
the art of reigning had been understood by Justinian and Alexis
Comnenus alone. And when Gilbert protested warmly in the name of
human dignity against this theory:
"Stop just there!" said the Count; "no big words, no declamation,
but listen to me! These pheasants are good. See how Father Alexis
is regaling himself upon them. To whom do they owe this flavor
which is so enchanting him? To the high wisdom of my cook, who
gave them time to become tender. He has served them to us just at
the right moment. A few days sooner they would have been too
tough; a few days later would have been risking too much, and we
should have had the worms in them. My dear sir, societies are very
much like game. Their supreme moment is when they are on the point
of decomposition. In their youth they have a barbarous toughness.
But a certain degree of corruption, on the contrary, imperils their
existence. Very well! Byzantium possessed the art of making minds
gamey and arresting decomposition at that point. Unfortunately she
carried the secret to the grave with her."
A profound silence reigned in the great hall, uninterrupted except
by the rhythmic sound of the good father's jaws. Stephane leaned
his elbows on the table; his attitude expressive of dreamy
melancholy; his head inclined and leaning against the palm of his
right hand; his black tunic without any collar exposing a neck of
perfect whiteness; his long silky hair falling softly upon his
shoulders; the pure and delicate contour of his handsome face; his
sensitive mouth, the corners curving slightly upwards, all reminded
Gilbert of the portrait of Raphael painted by himself, all, except
the expression, which was very different.
A profound melancholy filled Gilbert's heart. Nothing about him
commanded his sympathies, nothing promised any companionship for
his soul; at his left the stern face of a drowsy tyrant, made more
sinister by sleep; opposite him a young misanthrope, for the moment
lost in clouds; at his right an old epicure who consoled himself
for everything by eating figs; above his head the dragons of the
Apocalypse. And then this great vaulted hall was cold, sepulchral;
he felt as though he were breathing the air of a cellar; the
recesses and the corners of the room were obscured by black
shadows; the dark wainscotings which covered the walls had a
lugubrious aspect; outside were heard ominous noises. A gale of
wind had risen and uttered long bellowings like a wounded bull, to
which the grating of weathercocks and the dismal cry of the owls
When Gilbert had re-entered his own room he opened the window that
he might better hear the majestic roll of the river. At the same
moment a voice, carried by the wind from the great square tower,
cried to him:
"Monsieur, the grand vizier, don't forget to burn plenty of candles
to the devil! this is the advice which your most faithful subject
gives you in return for the profound lessons of wisdom with which
you favored his inexperience to-day!"
It was thus Gilbert learned Stephane was his neighbor.
"It is consoling," thought he, "to know that he can't possibly come
in here without wings. And," added he, closing his window,
"whatever happens, I did well to write to Mme. Lerins yesterday--
to-day I am not so well satisfied."
This is what Gilbert wrote in his journal six weeks after his
arrival at Geierfels:
A son who has towards his father the sentiments of a slave toward
his master; a father who habitually shows towards his son a dislike
bordering on hatred--such are the sad subjects for study that I
have found here. At first I wished to persuade myself that M.
Leminof was simply a cold hard character, a skeptic by disposition,
a blase grandee, who believed it a duty to himself to openly
testify his scorn for all the humbug of sentiment. He is nothing
of the kind. The Count's mind is diseased, his soul tormented, his
heart eaten by a secret ulcer and he avenges its sufferings by
making others suffer. Yes, the misanthrope seeks vengeance for
some deadly affront which has been put upon him by man or by fate;
his irony breathes anger and hatred; it conceals deep resentment
which breaks out occasionally in his voice, in his look and in his
unexpected and violent acts; for he is not always master of
himself. At certain times the varnish of cold politeness and icy
sportiveness with which he ordinarily conceals his passions, scales
off suddenly and falls into dust, and his soul appears in its
nakedness. During the first weeks of my residence here he
controlled himself in my presence, now I have the honor of
possessing his confidence, and he no longer deems it necessary to
hide his face from me, nor does he try any longer to deceive me.
It is singular, I thought myself entirely master of my glances, but
in spite of myself, they betrayed too much curiosity on one
occasion. The other day while I was working with him in his study,
he suddenly became dreamy and absent, his brow was like a
thundercloud; he neither saw nor heard me. When he came out of his
reverie his eyes met mine fixed upon his face, and he saw that I
was observing him too attentively.
"Come now," said he brusquely, "you remember our stipulations; we
are two egotists who have made a bargain with each other. Egotists
are not curious; the only thing which interests them in the mind of
a fellow-creature, is in the domain of utility."
And then fearing that he had offended me, he continued in a softer
"I am the least interesting soul in the world to know. My nerves
are very sensitive, and let me say to you once for all, that this
is the secret of all the disorders which you may observe in my poor
"No, Count Kostia, this is not your secret!" I was tempted to
answer. "It is not your nerves which torment you. I would wager
that in despite of your cynicism and skepticism, you have once
believed in something, or in some one who has broken faith with
you," but I was careful not to let him suspect my conjectures. I
believe he would have devoured me. The anger of this man is
terrible, and he does not always spare me the sight of it.
Yesterday especially, he was transported beyond himself, to such an
extent that I blushed for him. Stephane had gone to ride with
Ivan. The dinner-bell rang and they had not returned. The Count
himself went to the entrance of the court to wait for them. His
lips were pale, his voice harsh and grating, veiled by a hoarseness
which always comes with his gusts of passion. When the delinquents
appeared at the end of the path, he ran to them, and measured
Stephane from head to foot with a glance so menacing that the child
trembled in every limb; but his anger exploded itself entirely upon
Ivan. The poor jailer had, however, good excuses to offer:
Stephane's horse had stumbled and cut his knee, and they had been
obliged to slacken their pace. The Count appeared to hear nothing.
He signed to Ivan to dismount; which having done, he seized him by
the collar, tore from him his whip and beat him like a dog. The
unhappy serf allowed himself to be whipped without uttering a cry,
without making a movement. The idea of flight or self-defense
never occurred to him. Riveted to the spot, his eyes closed, he
was the living image of slavery resigned to the last outrages.
Indeed I believe that during this punishment I suffered more than
he. My throat was parched, my blood boiled in my veins. My first
impulse was to throw myself upon the Count, but I restrained
myself; such a violent interference would but have aggravated the
fate of Ivan. I clasped my hands and with a stifled voice cried:
"Mercy! mercy!" The Count did not hear me. Then I threw myself
between the executioner and his victim. Stupefied, with arm raised
and immovable, the Count stared at me with flaming eyes; little by
little he became calm, and his face resumed its ordinary
"Let it pass for this time," said he at last, in a hollow voice;
"but in future meddle no more in my affairs!"
Then dropping the whip to the ground, he strode away. Ivan raised
his eyes to me full of tears, his glance expressed at once
tenderness, gratitude, and admiration. He seized my hands and
covered them with kisses, after which he passed his handkerchief
over his face, streaming with perspiration, foam, and blood, and
taking the two horses by the bridles, quietly led them to the
stable. I found the Count at the table; he had recovered his good
humor; he discharged several arrows of playful sarcasm at my
"heresies" in matters of history. It was not without effort that I
answered him, for at this moment he inspired me with an aversion
that I could hardly conceal. But I felt bound to recognize the
victory which he had gained over himself in abridging Ivan's
punishment. After dinner he sent for the serf, who appeared with
his forehead and hands furrowed with bloody scars. His lips bore
their habitual smile, which was always a mystery to me. His master
ordered him to take off his vest, turn down his shirt, and kneel
before him; then drawing from his pocket a vial full of some
ointment whose virtues he lauded highly, he dressed the wounds of
the moujik with his own hands. This operation finished, he said to
"That will amount to nothing, my son. Go and sin no more."
Upon which the serf raised himself and left the room, smiling
throughout. Ivan's smile is an exotic plant which I am not
acquainted with, and which only grows in Slavonic soil, a strange
smile,--real prodigy of baseness or heroism. Which is it? I am
sure I cannot tell.
In spite of my trouble, I had been able to observe Stephane at the
beginning of the punishment. At the first blow, a flash of
triumphant joy passed over his face; but when the blood started he
became horribly pale, and pressed one of his hands to his throat as
if to arrest a cry of horror, and with the other he covered his
eyes to shut out the sight; then not being able to contain himself,
he hurried away. God be praised! compassion had triumphed in his
heart over the joy of seeing his jailer chastised. There is in
this young soul, embittered as it is by long sufferings, a fund of
generosity and goodness; but will it not in time lose the last
vestiges of its native qualities? Three years hence will Stephane
cover his eyes to avoid the sight of an enemy's punishment? Within
three years will not the habit of suffering have stifled pity in
his breast? To-morrow, to-morrow perhaps, will not his heart have
uttered its last cry!
Since you have no tender words for him, Count Kostia, would that I
could close his ears to the desolating lessons that you give him!
Do you not see that the life he leads is enough to teach him to
hate men and life, without the necessity of your interference? He
knows nothing of humanity, but what he sees through the bars of his
prison; and imagines that there is nothing in the world but
capricious tyrants and trembling, degraded slaves. Why thus kill
in his heart every germ of enthusiasm, of hope, of manly and
But may not Stephane be a vicious child, whose perverse instincts a
justly provoked father seeks to curb by a pitiless discipline? No,
a thousand times no! It is false, it is impossible; it is only
necessary to look at him to be satisfied of this. His face is
often hard, cold, scornful; but it never expresses a low thought, a
pollution of soul, or a precocious corruption of mind. In his
quiet moods there is upon his brow a stamp of infantile purity. I
was wrong in supposing that his soul had lost its youth.
Alas! with what cruel harshness they dispute the little pleasures
which remain to him. In spite of his jests over the periwinkles,
he has a taste for flowers, and had obtained from the gardener the
concession of a little plot of ground to cultivate according to his
fancy. The Count, it appears, had ratified this favor; but this
unheard-of condescension proved to be but a refinement of cruelty.
For some time, every evening after dinner, Stephane passed an hour
in his little parterre; he plucked out the weeds, planted, watered,
and watched with a paternal eye the growth of his favorites.
Yesterday, an hour after the sanguinary castigation, while his
father was dressing Ivan's wounds, he had gone out on tiptoe. Some
minutes after, as I was walking upon the terrace, I saw him
occupied. with absorbing gravity, in this great work of watering.
I was but a few paces from him, when the gardener approached,
pickax in hand, and, without a word, struck it violently into the
middle of a tuft of verbenas which grew at one end of the plot of
ground. Stephane raised himself briskly, and, believing him
stupid, threw himself upon him, crying out:
"Wretch, what are you doing there?"
"I am doing what his excellency ordered me to," answered the
At this moment the Count strolled toward us, his hands in his
pockets, humming an aria, and an expression of amiable good humor
on his face. Stephane extended his arms towards him, but one of
those looks which always petrifies him kept him silent and
motionless in the middle of the pathway. He watched with wild eyes
the fatal pickax ravage by degrees his beloved garden. In vain he
tried to disguise his despair; his legs trembled and his heart
throbbed violently. He fixed his large eyes upon his dear,
devastated treasures; two great tears escaped them and rolled
slowly down his cheeks. But when the instrument of destruction
approached a magnificent carnation, the finest ornament of his
garden, his heart failed him, he uttered a piercing cry, and
raising his hands to Heaven, ran away sobbing. The Count looked
after him as he fled, and an atrocious smile passed over his lips!
Ah! if this father does not hate his son, I know not what hatred
is, nor how it depicts itself upon a human face. Meantime I threw
myself between the carnation and the pickax, as an hour before
between the knout and Ivan. Stephane's despair had rent my heart;
I wished at any cost to preserve this flower which was so dear to
him. The face of Kostia Petrovitch took all hope from me. It
seemed to say:
"You still indulge in sentiment; this is a little too much of it."
"This plant is beautiful," I said to him; "why destroy it?"
"Ah! you love flowers, my dear Gilbert;" answered he, with an air
of diabolical malice. "I am truly glad of it!"
And turning to the gardener, he added:
"You will carefully take up all these flowers and place them in
pots--they shall decorate Monsieur's room. I am delighted to have
it in my power to do him this little favor."
Thus speaking, he rubbed his hands gleefully, and turning his back
upon me, commenced humming his tune again. He was evidently
satisfied with his day's work.
And now Stephane's flowers are here under my eyes, they have become
my property. Oh! if he knew it! I do not doubt that M. Leminof
wishes his son to hate me; and his wish is gratified. Overwhelmed
with respect and attentions, petted, praised, extolled, treated as
a favorite and grand vizier, how can I be otherwise than an object
of scorn and aversion to this young man? But could he read my
heart! what would he read there, after all? An impotent pity from
which his pride would revolt. I can do nothing for him; I could
not mitigate his misfortunes or pour balm into his wounds.
Go, then, Gilbert, occupy yourself with the Byzantines! Remember
your contract, Gilbert! The master of this house has made you
promise not to meddle in his affairs. Translate Greek, my friend,
and, in your leisure moments, amuse yourself with your puppets.
Beyond that, closed eyes and sealed mouth; that must be your motto.
But do you say, "I shall become a wretch in seeing this child
suffer"? Well! if your useless pity proves too much of a burden,
six months hence you can break your bonds, resume your liberty, and
with three hundred crowns in your pocket, you can undertake that
journey to Italy,--object of your secret dreams and most ardent
longing. Happy man! arming yourself with the white staff of the
pilgrim, you will shake the dust of Geierfels from your feet, and
go far away to forget, before the facades of Venetian palaces, the
dark mysteries of the old Gothic castle and its wicked occupants.
As Gilbert rapidly traced these last lines, the dinner-bell
sounded. He descended in haste to the grand hall. They were
already at the table.
"Tell me, if you please," said Count Kostia, addressing him gayly,
"what you think of our new comrade?"
Gilbert then noticed a fifth guest, whose face was not absolutely
unknown to him. This newly invited individual was seated at the
right of Father Alexis, who seemed to relish his society but
little, and was no less a personage than Solon, the favorite of the
master, one of those apes which are vulgarly called "monkeys in
mourning," with black hair, but with face, hands, and feet of a
"You will not be vexed with me for inviting Solon to dine with us?"
continued M. Leminof. "The poor beast has been hypochondriacal for
several days, and I am glad to procure this little distraction for
him. I hope it will dissipate it. I cannot bear melancholy faces;
hypochondria is the fate of fools who have no mental resources."
He pronounced these last words half turning towards Stephane. The
young man's face was more gloomy than ever. His eyes were swollen,
and dark circles surrounded them. The indignation with which the
brutal remark of his father filled him, gave him strength to
recover from his dejection. He resolutely set about eating his
soup, which he had not touched before, and feeling that Gilbert's
eyes were fixed upon him, he raised his head quickly and darted
upon him a withering glance. Gilbert thought he divined that he
called him to account for his carnation, and could not help
blushing,--so true is it that innocence does not suffice to secure
one a clear conscience.
"Frankly, now," resumed the Count, lowering his voice, "don't you
see some resemblance between the two persons who adorn the lower
end of this table?"
"The resemblance does not strike me," answered Gilbert coldly.
"Ah! mon Dieu, I do not mean to say that they are identical in all
points. I readily grant that Father Alexis uses his thumbs better;
I admit, too, that he has a grain or two more of phosphorus in his
brain, for you know the savants of to-day, at their own risk and
peril, have discovered that the human mind is nothing but a
"It is these same savants," said Gilbert, "who consider genius a
nervous disorder. Much good may it do them. They are not my men."
"You treat science lightly; but answer my question seriously: do
you not discover certain analogies between these two personages in
black clothes and red faces?"
"My opinion," interrupted Gilbert impatiently, "is that Solon is
very ugly, and that Father Alexis is very handsome."
"Your answer embarrasses me," retorted the Count, "and I don't know