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The Country Doctor by Honore de Balzac

Part 4 out of 5

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men carrying a lantern, and each man had a knife in his hand. Then
fear came upon her; for in those times, look you, they used to make
pates of human flesh for the seigneurs, who were very fond of them.
But the old woman plucked up heart again, for she was so thoroughly
shriveled and wrinkled that she thought they would think her a poorish
sort of diet. The two men went past the hunchback and walked up to a
bed that there was in the great room, and in which they had put the
gentleman with the big portmanteau, the one that passed for a
/negromancer/. The taller man holds up the lantern and takes the
gentleman by the feet, and the short one, that had pretended to be
drunk, clutches hold of his head and cuts his throat, clean, with one
stroke, swish! Then they leave the head and body lying in its own
blood up there, steal the portmanteau, and go downstairs with it. Here
is our woman in a nice fix! First of all she thinks of slipping out,
before any one can suspect it, not knowing that Providence had brought
her there to glorify God and to bring down punishment on the
murderers. She was in a great fright, and when one is frightened one
thinks of nothing else. But the woman of the house had asked the two
brigands about the hunchback, and that had alarmed them. So back they
came, creeping softly up the wooden staircase. The poor hunchback
curls up in a ball with fright, and she hears them talking about her
in whispers.

"'Kill her, I tell you.'

"'No need to kill her.'

"'Kill her!'


"Then they came in. The woman, who was no fool, shuts her eyes and
pretends to be asleep. She sets to work to sleep like a child, with
her hand on her heart, and takes to breathing like a cherub. The man
opens the lantern and shines the light straight into the eyes of the
sleeping old woman--she does not move an eyelash, she is in such
terror for her neck.

"'She is sleeping like a log; you can see that quite well,' so says
the tall one.

"'Old women are so cunning!' answers the short man. 'I will kill her.
We shall feel easier in our minds. Besides, we will salt her down to
feed the pigs.'

"The old woman hears all this talk, but she does not stir.

"'Oh! it is all right, she is asleep,' says the short ruffian, when
he saw that the hunchback had not stirred.

"That is how the old woman saved her life. And she may be fairly
called courageous; for it is a fact that there are not many girls here
who could have breathed like cherubs while they heard that talk going
on about the pigs. Well, the two brigands set to work to lift up the
dead man; they wrap him round in the sheets and chuck him out into the
little yard; and the old woman hears the pigs scampering up to eat
him, and grunting, /hon! hon/!

"So when morning comes," the narrator resumed after a pause, "the
woman gets up and goes down, paying a couple of sous for her bed. She
takes up her wallet, goes on just as if nothing had happened, asks for
the news of the countryside, and gets away in peace. She wants to run.
Running is quite out of the question, her legs fail her for fright;
and lucky it was for her that she could not run, for this reason. She
had barely gone half a quarter of a league before she sees one of the
brigands coming after her, just out of craftiness to make quite sure
that she had seen nothing. She guesses this, and sits herself down on
a boulder.

"'What is the matter, good woman?' asks the short one, for it was the
shorter one and the wickeder of the two who was dogging her.

"'Oh! master,' says she, 'my wallet is so heavy, and I am so tired,
that I badly want some good man to give me his arm' (sly thing, only
listen to her!) 'if I am to get back to my poor home.'

"Thereupon the brigand offers to go along with her, and she accepts
his offer. The fellow takes hold of her arm to see if she is afraid.
Not she! She does not tremble a bit, and walks quietly along. So there
they are, chatting away as nicely as possible, all about farming, and
the way to grow hemp, till they come to the outskirts of the town,
where the hunchback lived, and the brigand made off for fear of
meeting some of the sheriff's people. The woman reached her house at
mid-day, and waited there till her husband came home; she thought and
thought over all that had happened on her journey and during the
night. The hemp-grower came home in the evening. He was hungry;
something must be got ready for him to eat. So while she greases her
frying-pan, and gets ready to fry something for him, she tells him how
she sold her hemp, and gabbles away as females do, but not a word does
she say about the pigs, nor about the gentleman who was murdered and
robbed and eaten. She holds her frying-pan in the flames so as to
clean it, draws it out again to give it a wipe, and finds it full of

"'What have you been putting into it?' says she to her man.

"'Nothing,' says he.

"She thinks it must have been a nonsensical piece of woman's fancy,
and puts her frying-pan into the fire again. . . . /Pouf!/ A head comes
tumbling down the chimney!

"'Oh! look! It is nothing more nor less than the dead man's head,'
says the old woman. 'How he stares at me! What does he want!'

"'/You must avenge me/!' says a voice.

"'What an idiot you are!' said the hemp-grower. 'Always seeing
something or other that has no sort of sense about it! Just you all

"He takes up the head, which snaps at his finger, and pitches it out
into the yard.

"'Get on with my omelette,' he says, 'and do not bother yourself
about that. 'Tis a cat.'

"'A cat! says she; 'it was as round as a ball.'

"She puts back her frying-pan on the fire. . . . /Pouf!/ Down comes a
leg this time, and they go through the whole story again. The man was
no more astonished at the foot than he had been at the head; he
snatched up the leg and threw it out at the door. Before they had
finished, the other leg, both arms, the body, the whole murdered
traveler, in fact, came down piecemeal. No omelette all this time! The
old hemp-seller grew very hungry indeed.

"'By my salvation!' said he, 'when once my omelette is made we will
see about satisfying that man yonder.'

"'So you admit, now, that it was a man?' said the hunchback wife.
'What made you say that it was not a head a minute ago, you great

"The woman breaks the eggs, fries the omelette, and dishes it up
without any more grumbling; somehow this squabble began to make her
feel very uncomfortable. Her husband sits down and begins to eat. The
hunchback was frightened, and said that she was not hungry.

"'Tap! tap!' There was a stranger rapping at the door.

"'Who is there?'

"'The man that died yesterday!'

"'Come in,' answers the hemp-grower.

"So the traveler comes in, sits himself down on a three-legged stool,
and says: 'Are you mindful of God, who gives eternal peace to those
who confess His Name? Woman! You saw me done to death, and you have
said nothing! I have been eaten by the pigs! The pigs do not enter
Paradise, and therefore I, a Christian man, shall go down into hell,
all because a woman forsooth will not speak, a thing that has never
been known before. You must deliver me,' and so on, and so on.

"The woman, who was more and more frightened every minute, cleaned her
frying-pan, put on her Sunday clothes, went to the justice, and told
him about the crime, which was brought to light, and the robbers were
broken on the wheel in proper style on the Market Place. This good
work accomplished, the woman and her husband always had the finest
hemp you ever set eyes on. Then, which pleased them still better, they
had something that they had wished for for a long time, to-wit, a
man-child, who in course of time became a great lord of the king's.

"That is the true story of /The Courageous Hunchback Woman/.

"I do not like stories of that sort; they make me dream at night,"
said La Fosseuse. "Napoleon's adventures are much nicer, I think."

"Quite true," said the keeper. "Come now, M. Goguelat, tell us about
the Emperor."

"The evening is too far gone," said the postman, "and I do not care
about cutting short the story of a victory."

"Never mind, let us hear about it all the same! We know the stories,
for we have heard you tell them many a time; but it is always a
pleasure to hear them."

"Tell us about the Emperor!" cried several voices at once.

"You will have it?" answered Goguelat. "Very good, but you will see
that there is no sense in the story when it is gone through at a
gallop. I would rather tell you all about a single battle. Shall it be
Champ-Aubert, where we ran out of cartridges, and furbished them just
the same with the bayonet?"

"No, the Emperor! the Emperor!"

The old infantry man got up from his truss of hay and glanced round
about on those assembled, with the peculiar sombre expression in which
may be read all the miseries, adventures, and hardships of an old
soldier's career. He took his coat by the two skirts in front, and
raised them, as if it were a question of once more packing up the
knapsack in which his kit, his shoes, and all he had in the world used
to be stowed; for a moment he stood leaning all his weight on his left
foot, then he swung the right foot forward, and yielded with a good
grace to the wishes of his audience. He swept his gray hair to one
side, so as to leave his forehead bare, and flung back his head and
gazed upwards, as if to raise himself to the lofty height of the
gigantic story that he was about to tell.

"Napoleon, you see, my friends, was born in Corsica, which is a French
island warmed by the Italian sun; it is like a furnace there,
everything is scorched up, and they keep on killing each other from
father to son for generations all about nothing at all--'tis a notion
they have. To begin at the beginning, there was something
extraordinary about the thing from the first; it occurred to his
mother, who was the handsomest woman of her time, and a shrewd soul,
to dedicate him to God, so that he should escape all the dangers of
infancy and of his after life; for she had dreamed that the world was
on fire on the day he was born. It was a prophecy! So she asked God to
protect him, on condition that Napoleon should re-establish His holy
religion, which had been thrown to the ground just then. That was the
agreement; we shall see what came of it.

"Now, do you follow me carefully, and tell me whether what you are
about to hear is natural.

"It is certain sure that only a man who had had imagination enough to
make a mysterious compact would be capable of going further than
anybody else, and of passing through volleys of grape-shot and showers
of bullets which carried us off like flies, but which had a respect
for his head. I myself had particular proof of that at Eylau. I see
him yet; he climbs a hillock, takes his field-glass, looks along our
lines, and says, 'That is going on all right.' One of the deep
fellows, with a bunch of feathers in his cap, used to plague him a
good deal from all accounts, following him about everywhere, even when
he was getting his meals. This fellow wants to do something clever, so
as soon as the Emperor goes away he takes his place. Oh! swept away in
a moment! And this is the last of the bunch of feathers! You
understand quite clearly that Napoleon had undertaken to keep his
secret to himself. That is why those who accompanied him, and even his
especial friends, used to drop like nuts: Duroc, Bessieres, Lannes
--men as strong as bars of steel, which he cast into shape for his own
ends. And here is a final proof that he was the child of God, created
to be the soldier's father; for no one ever saw him as a lieutenant or
a captain. He is a commandant straight off! Ah! yes, indeed! He did
not look more than four-and-twenty, but he was an old general ever
since the taking of Toulon, when he made a beginning by showing the
rest that they knew nothing about handling cannon. Next thing he does,
he tumbles upon us. A little slip of a general-in-chief of the army of
Italy, which had neither bread nor ammunition nor shoes nor clothes--a
wretched army as naked as a worm.

"'Friends,' he said, 'here we all are together. Now, get it well
into your pates that in a fortnight's time from now you will be the
victors, and dressed in new clothes; you shall all have greatcoats,
strong gaiters, and famous pairs of shoes; but, my children, you will
have to march on Milan to take them, where all these things are.'

"So they marched. The French, crushed as flat as a pancake, held up
their heads again. There were thirty thousand of us tatterdemalions
against eighty thousand swaggerers of Germans--fine tall men and well
equipped; I can see them yet. Then Napoleon, who was only Bonaparte in
those days, breathed goodness knows what into us, and on we marched
night and day. We rap their knuckles at Montenotte; we hurry on to
thrash them at Rivoli, Lodi, Arcola, and Millesimo, and we never let
them go. The army came to have a liking for winning battles. Then
Napoleon hems them in on all sides, these German generals did not know
where to hide themselves so as to have a little peace and comfort; he
drubs them soundly, cribs ten thousand of their men at a time by
surrounding them with fifteen hundred Frenchmen, whom he makes to
spring up after his fashion, and at last he takes their cannon,
victuals, money, ammunition, and everything they have that is worth
taking; he pitches them into the water, beats them on the mountains,
snaps at them in the air, gobbles them up on the earth, and thrashes
them everywhere.

"There are the troops in full feather again! For, look you, the
Emperor (who, for that matter, was a wit) soon sent for the
inhabitant, and told him that he had come there to deliver him.
Whereupon the civilian finds us free quarters and makes much of us, so
do the women, who showed great discernment. To come to a final end; in
Ventose '96, which was at that time what the month of March is now, we
had been driven up into a corner of the Pays des Marmottes; but after
the campaign, lo and behold! we were the masters of Italy, just as
Napoleon had prophesied. And in the month of March following, in one
year and in two campaigns, he brings us within sight of Vienna; we had
made a clean sweep of them. We had gobbled down three armies one after
another, and taken the conceit out of four Austrian generals; one of
them, an old man who had white hair, had been roasted like a rat in
the straw before Mantua. The kings were suing for mercy on their
knees. Peace had been won. Could a mere mortal have done that? No. God
helped him, that is certain. He distributed himself about like the
five loaves in the Gospel, commanded on the battlefield all day, and
drew up his plans at night. The sentries always saw him coming; he
neither ate nor slept. Therefore, recognizing these prodigies, the
soldier adopts him for his father. But, forward!

"The other folk there in Paris, seeing all this, say among themselves:

"'Here is a pilgrim who appears to take his instructions from Heaven
above; he is uncommonly likely to lay a hand on France. We must let
him loose on Asia or America, and that, perhaps, will keep him quiet.

"The same thing was decreed for him as for Jesus Christ; for, as a
matter of fact, they give him orders to go on duty down in Egypt. See
his resemblance to the Son of God! That is not all, though. He calls
all his fire-eaters about him, all those into whom he had more
particularly put the devil, and talks to them in this way:

"'My friends, for the time being they are giving us Egypt to stop our
mouths. But we will swallow down Egypt in a brace of shakes, just as
we swallowed Italy, and private soldiers shall be princes, and shall
have broad lands of their own. Forward!'

"'Forward, lads!' cry the sergeants.

"So we come to Toulon on the way to Egypt. Whereupon the English put
to sea with all their fleet. But when we are on board, Napoleon says
to us:

"'They will not see us: and it is right and proper that you should
know henceforward that your general has a star in the sky that guides
us and watches over us!'

"So said, so done. As we sailed over the sea we took Malta, by way of
an orange to quench his thirst for victory, for he was a man who must
always be doing something. There we are in Egypt. Well and good.
Different orders. The Egyptians, look you, are men who, ever since the
world has been the world, have been in the habit of having giants to
reign over them, and armies like swarms of ants; because it is a
country full of genii and crocodiles, where they have built up
pyramids as big as our mountains, the fancy took them to stow their
kings under the pyramids, so as to keep them fresh, a thing which
mightily pleases them all round out there. Whereupon, as we landed,
the Little Corporal said to us:

"'My children, the country which you are about to conquer worships a
lot of idols which you must respect, because the Frenchman ought to be
on good terms with all the world, and fight people without giving
annoyance. Get it well into your heads to let everything alone at
first; for we shall have it all by and by! and forward!'

"So far so good. But all those people had heard a prophecy of
Napoleon, under the name of /Kebir Bonaberdis/; a word which in our
lingo means, 'The Sultan fires a shot,' and they feared him like the
devil. So the Grand Turk, Asia, and Africa have recourse to magic, and
they send a demon against us, named the Mahdi, who it was thought had
come down from heaven on a white charger which, like its master was
bullet-proof, and the pair of them lived on the air of that part of
the world. There are people who have seen them, but for my part I
cannot give you any certain informations about them. They were the
divinities of Arabia and of the Mamelukes who wished their troopers to
believe that the Mahdi had the power of preventing them from dying in
battle. They gave out that he was an angel sent down to wage war on
Napoleon, and to get back Solomon's seal, part of their paraphernalia
which they pretended our general had stolen. You will readily
understand that we made them cry peccavi all the same.

"Ah, just tell me now how they came to know about that compact of
Napoleon's? Was that natural?

"They took it into their heads for certain that he commanded the
genii, and that he went from place to place like a bird in the
twinkling of an eye; and it is a fact that he was everywhere. At
length it came about that he carried off a queen of theirs. She was
the private property of a Mameluke, who, although he had several more
of them, flatly refused to strike a bargain, though 'the other'
offered all his treasures for her and diamonds as big as pigeon's
eggs. When things had come to that pass, they could not well be
settled without a good deal of fighting; and there was fighting enough
for everybody and no mistake about it.

"Then we are drawn up before Alexandria, and again at Gizeh, and
before the Pyramids. We had to march over the sands and in the sun;
people whose eyes dazzled used to see water that they could not drink
and shade that made them fume. But we made short work of the Mamelukes
as usual, and everything goes down before the voice of Napoleon, who
seizes Upper and Lower Egypt and Arabia, far and wide, till we came to
the capitals of kingdoms which no longer existed, where there were
thousands and thousands of statues of all the devils in creation, all
done to the life, and another curious thing too, any quantity of
lizards. A confounded country where any one could have as many acres
of land as he wished for as little as he pleased.

"While he was busy inland, where he meant to carry out some wonderful
ideas of his, the English burn his fleet for him in Aboukir Bay, for
they never could do enough to annoy us. But Napoleon, who was
respected East and West, and called 'My Son' by the Pope, and 'My dear
Father' by Mahomet's cousin, makes up his mind to have his revenge on
England, and to take India in exchange for his fleet. He set out to
lead us into Asia, by way of the Red Sea, through a country where
there were palaces for halting-places, and nothing but gold and
diamonds to pay the troops with, when the Mahdi comes to an
understanding with the Plague, and sends it among us to make a break
in our victories. Halt! Then every man files off to that parade from
which no one comes back on his two feet. The dying soldier cannot take
Acre, into which he forces an entrance three times with a warrior's
impetuous enthusiasm; the Plague was too strong for us; there was not
even time to say 'Your servant, sir!' to the Plague. Every man was
down with it. Napoleon alone was as fresh as a rose; the whole army
saw him drinking in the Plague without it doing him any harm whatever.

"There now, my friends, was that natural, do you think?

"The Mamelukes, knowing that we were all on the sick-list, want to
stop our road; but it was no use trying that nonsense with Napoleon.
So he spoke to his familiars, who had tougher skins than the rest:

"'Go and clear the road for me.'

"Junot, who was his devoted friend, and a first-class fighter, only
takes a thousand men, and makes a clean sweep of the Pasha's army,
which had the impudence to bar our way. Thereupon back we came to
Cairo, our headquarters, and now for another story.

"Napoleon being out of the country, France allowed the people in Paris
to worry the life out of her. They kept back the soldiers' pay and all
their linen and clothing, left them to starve, and expected them to
lay down law to the universe, without taking any further trouble in
the matter. They were idiots of the kind that amuse themselves with
chattering instead of setting themselves to knead the dough. So our
armies were defeated, France could not keep her frontiers; The Man was
not there. I say The Man, look you, because that was how they called
him; but it was stuff and nonsense, for he had a star of his own and
all his other peculiarities, it was the rest of us that were mere men.
He hears this history of France after his famous battle of Aboukir,
where with a single division he routed the grand army of the Turks,
twenty-five thousand strong, and jostled more than half of them into
the sea, rrrah! without losing more than three hundred of his own men.
That was his last thunder-clap in Egypt. He said to himself, seeing
that all was lost down there, 'I know that I am the saviour of France,
and to France I must go.'

"But you must clearly understand that the army did not know of his
departure; for if they had, they would have kept him there by force to
make him Emperor of the East. So there we all are without him, and in
low spirits, for he was the life of us. He leaves Kleber in command, a
great watchdog who passed in his checks at Cairo, murdered by an
Egyptian whom they put to death by spiking him with a bayonet, which
is their way of guillotining people out there; but he suffered so
much, that a soldier took pity on the scoundrel and handed his flask
to him; and the Egyptian turned up his eyes then and there with all
the pleasure in life. But there is not much fun for us about this
little affair. Napoleon steps aboard of a little cockleshell, a mere
nothing of a skiff, called the /Fortune/, and in the twinkling of an
eye, and in the teeth of the English, who were blockading the place
with vessels of the line and cruisers and everything that carries
canvas, he lands in France for he always had the faculty of taking the
sea at a stride. Was that natural? Bah! as soon as he landed at
Frejus, it is as good as saying that he has set foot in Paris.
Everybody there worships him; but he calls the Government together.

"'What have you done to my children, the soldiers?' he says to the
lawyers. 'You are a set of good-for-nothings who make fools of other
people, and feather your own nests at the expense of France. It will
not do. I speak in the name of every one who is discontented.'

"Thereupon they want to put him off and to get rid of him; but not a
bit of it! He locks them up in the barracks where they used to argufy
and makes them jump out of the windows. Then he makes them follow in
his train, and they all become as mute as fishes and supple as tobacco
pouches. So he becomes Consul at a blow. He was not the man to doubt
the existence of the Supreme Being; he kept his word with Providence,
who had kept His promise in earnest; he sets up religion again, and
gives back the churches, and they ring the bells for God and Napoleon.
So every one is satisfied: /primo/, the priests with whom he allows no
one to meddle; /segondo/, the merchant folk who carry on their trades
without fear of the /rapiamus/ of the law that had pressed too heavily
on them; /tertio/, the nobles; for people had fallen into an unfortunate
habit of putting them to death, and he puts a stop to this.

"But there were enemies to be cleared out of the way, and he was not
the one to go to sleep after mess; and his eyes, look you, traveled
all over the world as if it had been a man's face. The next thing he
did was to turn up in Italy; it was just as if he had put his head out
of the window and the sight of him was enough; they gulp down the
Austrians at Marengo like a whale swallowing gudgeons! /Haouf!/ The
French Victories blew their trumpets so loud that the whole world
could hear the noise, and there was an end of it.

"'We will not keep on at this game any longer!' say the Germans.

"'That is enough of this sort of thing,' say the others.

"Here is the upshot. Europe shows the white feather, England knuckles
under, general peace all round, and kings and peoples pretending to
embrace each other. While then and there the Emperor hits on the idea
of the Legion of Honor. There's a fine thing if you like!

"He spoke to the whole army at Boulogne. 'In France,' so he said,
'every man is brave. So the civilian who does gloriously shall be the
soldier's sister, the soldier shall be his brother, and both shall
stand together beneath the flag of honor.'

"By the time that the rest of us who were away down there in Egypt had
come back again, everything was changed. We had seen him last as a
general, and in no time we find that he is Emperor! And when this was
settled (and it may safely be said that every one was satisfied) there
was a holy ceremony such as was never seen under the canopy of heaven.
Faith, France gave herself to him, like a handsome girl to a lancer,
and the Pope and all his cardinals in robes of red and gold come
across the Alps on purpose to anoint him before the army and the
people, who clap their hands.

"There is one thing that it would be very wrong to keep back from you.
While he was in Egypt, in the desert not far away from Syria, the Red
Man had appeared to him on the mountain of Moses, in order to say,
'Everything is going on well.' Then again, on the eve of victory at
Marengo, /the Red Man/ springs to his feet in front of the Emperor for
the second time, and says to him:

"'You shall see the world at your feet; you shall be Emperor of the
French, King of Italy, master of Holland, ruler of Spain, Portugal,
and the Illyrian Provinces, protector of Germany, saviour of Poland,
first eagle of the Legion of Honor and all the rest of it.'

"That Red Man, look you, was a notion of his own, who ran on errands
and carried messages, so many people say, between him and his star. I
myself have never believed that; but the Red Man is, undoubtedly, a
fact. Napoleon himself spoke of the Red Man who lived up in the roof
of the Tuileries, and who used to come to him, he said, in moments of
trouble and difficulty. So on the night after his coronation Napoleon
saw him for the third time, and they talked over a lot of things

"Then the Emperor goes straight to Milan to have himself crowned King
of Italy, and then came the real triumph of the soldier. For every one
who could write became an officer forthwith, and pensions and gifts of
duchies poured down in showers. There were fortunes for the staff that
never cost France a penny, and the Legion of Honor was as good as an
annuity for the rank and file; I still draw my pension on the strength
of it. In short, here were armies provided for in a way that had never
been seen before! But the Emperor, who knew that he was to be Emperor
over everybody, and not only over the army, bethinks himself of the
bourgeois, and sets them to build fairy monuments in places that had
been as bare as the back of my hand till then. Suppose, now, that you
are coming out of Spain and on the way to Berlin; well, you would see
triumphal arches, and in the sculpture upon them the common soldiers
are done every bit as beautifully as the generals!

"In two or three years Napoleon fills his cellars with gold, makes
bridges, palaces, roads, scholars, festivals, laws, fleets, and
harbors; he spends millions on millions, ever so much, and ever so
much more to it, so that I have heard it said that he could have paved
the whole of France with five-franc pieces if the fancy had taken him;
and all this without putting any taxes on you people here. So when he
was comfortably seated on his throne, and so thoroughly the master of
the situation, that all Europe was waiting for leave to do anything
for him that he might happen to want; as he had four brothers and
three sisters, he said to us, just as it might be by way of
conversation, in the order of the day:

"'Children, is it fitting that your Emperor's relations should beg
their bread? No; I want them all to be luminaries, like me in fact!
Therefore, it is urgently necessary to conquer a kingdom for each one
of them, so that the French nation may be masters everywhere, so that
the Guard may make the whole earth tremble, and France may spit
wherever she likes, and every nation shall say to her, as it is
written on my coins, "God protects you."'

"'All right!' answers the army, 'we will fish up kingdoms for you
with the bayonet.'

"Ah! there was no backing out of it, look you! If he had taken it into
his head to conquer the moon, we should have had to put everything in
train, pack our knapsacks, and scramble up; luckily, he had no wish
for that excursion. The kings who were used to the comforts of a
throne, of course, objected to be lugged off, so we had marching
orders. We march, we get there, and the earth begins to shake to
its centre again. What times they were for wearing out men and
shoe-leather! And the hard knocks that they gave us! Only Frenchmen
could have stood it. But you are not ignorant that a Frenchman is a
born philosopher; he knows that he must die a little sooner or a
litter later. So we used to die without a word, because we had the
pleasure of watching the Emperor do /this/ on the maps."

Here the soldier swung quickly round on one foot, so as to trace a
circle on the barn floor with the other.

"'There, that shall be a kingdom,' he used to say, and it was a
kingdom. What fine times they were! Colonels became generals whilst
you were looking at them, generals became marshals of France, and
marshals became kings. There is one of them still left on his feet to
keep Europe in mind of those days, Gascon though he may be, and a
traitor to France that he might keep his crown; and he did not blush
for his shame, for, after all, a crown, look you, is made of gold. The
very sappers and miners who knew how to read became great nobles in
the same way. And I who am telling you all this have seen in Paris
eleven kings and a crowd of princes all round about Napoleon, like
rays about the sun! Keep this well in your minds, that as every
soldier stood a chance of having a throne of his own (provided he
showed himself worthy of it), a corporal of the Guard was by way of
being a sight to see, and they gaped at him as he went by; for every
one came by his share after a victory, it was made perfectly clear in
the bulletin. And what battles they were! Austerlitz, where the army
was manoeuvred as if it had been a review; Eylau, where the Russians
were drowned in a lake, just as if Napoleon had breathed on them and
blown them in; Wagram, where the fighting was kept up for three whole
days without flinching. In short, there were as many battles as there
are saints in the calendar.

"Then it was made clear beyond a doubt that Napoleon bore the Sword of
God in his scabbard. He had a regard for the soldier. He took the
soldier for his child. He was anxious that you should have shoes,
shirts, greatcoats, bread, and cartridges; but he kept up his majesty,
too, for reigning was his own particular occupation. But, all the
same, a sergeant, or even a common soldier, could go up to him and
call him 'Emperor,' just as you might say 'My good friend' to me at
times. And he would give an answer to anything you put before him. He
used to sleep on the snow just like the rest of us--in short, he
looked almost like an ordinary man; but I who am telling you all these
things have seen him myself with the grape-shot whizzing about his
ears, no more put out by it than you are at this moment; never moving
a limb, watching through his field-glass, always looking after his
business; so we stood our ground likewise, as cool and calm as John
the Baptist. I do not know how he did it; but whenever he spoke, a
something in his words made our hearts burn within us; and just to let
him see that we were his children, and that it was not in us to shirk
or flinch, we used to walk just as usual right up to the sluts of
cannon that were belching smoke and vomiting battalions of balls, and
never a man would so much as say, 'Look out!' It was a something that
made dying men raise their heads to salute him and cry, 'Long live the

"Was that natural? Would you have done this for a mere man?

"Thereupon, having fitted up all his family, and things having so
turned out that the Empress Josephine (a good woman for all that) had
no children, he was obliged to part company with her, although he
loved her not a little. But he must have children, for reasons of
State. All the crowned heads of Europe, when they heard of his
difficulty, squabbled among themselves as to who should find him a
wife. He married an Austrian princess, so they say, who was the
daughter of the Caesars, a man of antiquity whom everybody talks
about, not only in our country, where it is said that most things were
his doing, but also all over Europe. And so certain sure is that, that
I who am talking to you have been myself across the Danube, where I
saw the ruins of a bridge built by that man; and it appeared that he
was some connection of Napoleon's at Rome, for the Emperor claimed
succession there for his son.

"So, after his wedding, which was a holiday for the whole world, and
when they let the people off their taxes for ten years to come (though
they had to pay them just the same after all, because the excisemen
took no notice of the proclamation)--after his wedding, I say, his
wife had a child who was King of Rome; a child was born a King while
his father was alive, a thing that had never been seen in the world
before! That day a balloon set out from Paris to carry the news to
Rome, and went all the way in one day. There, now! Is there one of you
who will stand me out that there was nothing supernatural in that? No,
it was decreed on high. And the mischief take those who will not allow
that it was wafted over by God Himself, so as to add to the honor and
glory of France!

"But there was the Emperor of Russia, a friend of our Emperor's, who
was put out because he had not married a Russian lady. So the Russian
backs up our enemies the English; for there had always been something
to prevent Napoleon from putting a spoke in their wheel. Clearly an
end must be made of fowl of that feather. Napoleon is vexed, and he
says to us:

"'Soldiers! You have been the masters of every capital in Europe,
except Moscow, which is allied to England. So, in order to conquer
London and India, which belongs to them in London, I find it
absolutely necessary that we go to Moscow.'

"Thereupon the greatest army that ever wore gaiters, and left its
footprints all over the globe, is brought together, and drawn up with
such peculiar cleverness, that the Emperor passed a million men in
review, all in a single day.

"'Hourra!' cry the Russians, and there is all Russia assembled, a lot
of brutes of Cossacks, that you never can come up with! It was country
against country, a general stramash; we had to look out for ourselves.
'It was all Asia against Europe,' as the Red Man had said to Napoleon.
'All right,' Napoleon had answered, 'I shall be ready for them.'

"And there, in fact, were all the kings who came to lick Napoleon's
hand. Austria, Prussia, Bavaria, Saxony, Poland, and Italy, all
speaking us fair and going along with us; it was a fine thing! The
Eagles had never cooed before as they did on parade in those days,
when they were reared above all the flags of all the nations of
Europe. The Poles could not contain their joy because the Emperor had
a notion of setting up their kingdom again; and ever since Poland and
France have always been like brothers. In short, the army shouts,
'Russia shall be ours!'

"We cross the frontiers, all the lot of us. We march and better march,
but never a Russian do we see. At last all our watch-dogs are encamped
at Borodino. That was where I received the Cross, and there is no
denying that it was a cursed battle. The Emperor was not easy in his
mind; he had seen the Red Man, who said to him, 'My child, you are
going a little too fast for your feet; you will run short of men, and
your friends will play you false.'

"Thereupon the Emperor proposes a treaty. But before he signs it, he
says to us:

"'Let us give these Russians a drubbing!'

"'All right!' cried the army.

"'Forward!' say the sergeants.

"My clothes were all falling to pieces, my shoes were worn out with
trapezing over those roads out there, which are not good going at all.
But it is all one. 'Since here is the last of the row,' said I to
myself, 'I mean to get all I can out of it.'

"We were posted before the great ravine; we had seats in the front
row. The signal is given, and seven hundred guns begin a conversation
fit to make the blood spirt from your ears. One should give the devil
his due, and the Russians let themselves be cut in pieces just like
Frenchmen; they did not give way, and we made no advance.

"'Forward!' is the cry; 'here is the Emperor!'

"So it was. He rides past us at a gallop, and makes a sign to us that
a great deal depends on our carrying the redoubt. He puts fresh heart
into us; we rush forward, I am the first man to reach the gorge. Ah!
/mon Dieu/! how they fell, colonels, lieutenants, and common soldiers,
all alike! There were shoes to fit up those who had none, and
epaulettes for the knowing fellows that knew how to write. . . .
Victory is the cry all along the line! And, upon my word, there were
twenty-five thousand Frenchmen lying on the field. No more, I assure
you! Such a thing was never seen before, it was just like a field when
the corn is cut, with a man lying there for every ear of corn. That
sobered the rest of us. The Man comes, and we make a circle round
about him, and he coaxes us round (for he could be very nice when he
chose), and persuades us to dine with Duke Humphrey, when we were
hungry as hunters. Then our consoler distributes the Crosses of the
Legion of Honor himself, salutes the dead, and says to us, 'On to

"'To Moscow, so be it,' says the army.

"We take Moscow. What do the Russians do but set fire to their city!
There was a blaze, two leagues of bonfire that burned for two days!
The buildings fell about our ears like slates, and molten lead and
iron came down in showers; it was really horrible; it was a light to
see our sorrows by, I can tell you! The Emperor said, 'There, that is
enough of this sort of thing; all my men shall stay here.'

"We amuse ourselves for a bit by recruiting and repairing our frames,
for we really were much fatigued by the campaign. We take away with us
a gold cross from the top of the Kremlin, and every soldier had a
little fortune. But on the way back the winter came down on us a month
earlier than usual, a matter which the learned (like a set of fools)
have never sufficiently explained; and we are nipped with the cold. We
were no longer an army after that, do you understand? There was an end
of generals and even of the sergeants; hunger and misery took the
command instead, and all of us were absolutely equal under their
reign. All we thought of was how to get back to France; no one stooped
to pick up his gun or his money; every one walked straight before him,
and armed himself as he thought fit, and no one cared about glory.

"The Emperor saw nothing of his star all the time, for the weather was
so bad. There was some misunderstanding between him and heaven. Poor
man, how bad he felt when he saw his Eagles flying with their backs
turned on victory! That was really too rough! Well, the next thing is
the Beresina. And here and now, my friends, any one can assure you on
his honor, and by all that is sacred, that /never/, no, never since
there have been men on earth, never in this world has there been such
a fricasse of an army, caissons, transports, artillery and all, in
such snow as that and under such a pitiless sky. It was so cold that
you burned your hand on the barrel of your gun if you happened to
touch it. There it was that the pontooners saved the army, for the
pontooners stood firm at their posts; it was there that Gondrin
behaved like a hero, and he is the sole survivor of all the men who
were dogged enough to stand in the river so as to build the bridges on
which the army crossed over, and so escaped the Russians, who still
respected the Grand Army on account of its past victories. And Gondrin
is an accomplished soldier," he went on, pointing to his friend, who
was gazing at him with the rapt attention peculiar to deaf people, "a
distinguished soldier who deserves to have your very highest esteem.

"I saw the Emperor standing by the bridge," he went on, "and never
feeling the cold at all. Was that, again, a natural thing? He was
looking on at the loss of his treasures, of his friends, and those who
had fought with him in Egypt. Bah! there was an end of everything.
Women and wagons and guns were all engulfed and swallowed up,
everything went to wreck and ruin. A few of the bravest among us saved
the Eagles, for the Eagles, look you, meant France, and all the rest
of you; it was the civil and military honor of France that was in our
keeping, there must be no spot on the honor of France, and the cold
could never make her bow her head. There was no getting warm except in
the neighborhood of the Emperor; for whenever he was in danger we
hurried up, all frozen as we were--we who would not stop to hold out a
hand to a fallen friend.

"They say, too, that he shed tears of a night over his poor family of
soldiers. Only he and Frenchmen could have pulled themselves out of
such a plight; but we did pull ourselves out, though, as I am telling
you, it was with loss, ay, and heavy loss. The Allies had eaten up all
our provisions; everybody began to betray him, just as the Red Man had
foretold. The rattle-pates in Paris, who had kept quiet ever since the
Imperial Guard had been established, think that HE is dead, and hatch
a conspiracy. They set to work in the Home Office to overturn the
Emperor. These things come to his knowledge and worry him; he says to
us at parting, 'Good-bye, children; keep to your posts, I will come
back again.'

"Bah! Those generals of his lose their heads at once; for when he was
away, it was not like the same thing. The marshals fall out among
themselves, and make blunders, as was only natural, for Napoleon in
his kindness had fed them on gold till they had grown as fat as
butter, and they had no mind to march. Troubles came of this, for many
of them stayed inactive in garrison towns in the rear, without
attempting to tickle up the backs of the enemy behind us, and we were
being driven back on France. But Napoleon comes back among us with
fresh troops; conscripts they were, and famous conscripts too; he had
put some thorough notions of discipline into them--the whelps were
good to set their teeth in anybody. He had a bourgeois guard of honor
too, and fine troops they were! They melted away like butter on a
gridiron. We may put a bold front on it, but everything is against us,
although the army still performs prodigies of valor. Whole nations
fought against nations in tremendous battles, at Dresden, Lutzen, and
Bautzen, and then it was that France showed extraordinary heroism, for
you must all of you bear in mind that in those times a stout grenadier
only lasted six months.

"We always won the day, but the English were always on our track,
putting nonsense into other nations' heads, and stirring them up to
revolt. In short, we cleared a way through all these mobs of nations;
for wherever the Emperor appeared, we made a passage for him; for on
the land as on the sea, whenever he said, 'I wish to go forward,' we
made the way.

"There comes a final end to it at last. We are back in France; and in
spite of the bitter weather, it did one's heart good to breathe one's
native air again, it set up many a poor fellow; and as for me, it put
new life into me, I can tell you. But it was a question all at once of
defending France, our fair land of France. All Europe was up in arms
against us; they took it in bad part that we had tried to keep the
Russians in order by driving them back within their own borders, so
that they should not gobble us up, for those Northern folk have a
strong liking for eating up the men of the South, it is a habit they
have; I have heard the same thing of them from several generals.

"So the Emperor finds his own father-in-law, his friends whom he had
made crowned kings, and the rabble of princes to whom he had given
back their thrones, were all against him. Even Frenchmen and allies in
our own ranks turned against us, by orders from high quarters, as at
Leipsic. Common soldiers would hardly be capable of such abominations;
yet these princes, as they called themselves, broke their words three
times a day! The next thing they do is to invade France. Wherever our
Emperor shows his lion's face, the enemy beats a retreat; he worked
more miracles for the defence of France than he had ever wrought in
the conquest of Italy, the East, Spain, Europe, and Russia; he has a
mind to bury every foreigner in French soil, to give them a respect
for France, so he lets them come close up to Paris, so as to do for
them at a single blow, and to rise to the highest height of genius in
the biggest battle that ever was fought, a mother of battles! But the
Parisians wanting to save their trumpery skins, and afraid for their
twopenny shops, open their gates and there is a beginning of the
/ragusades/, and an end of all joy and happiness; they make a fool of
the Empress, and fly the white flag out at the windows. The Emperor's
closest friends among his generals forsake him at last and go over to
the Bourbons, of whom no one had ever heard tell. Then he bids us
farewell at Fontainbleau:

"'Soldiers!' . . . (I can hear him yet, we were all crying just like
children; the Eagles and the flags had been lowered as if for a
funeral. Ah! and it was a funeral, I can tell you; it was the funeral
of the Empire; those smart armies of his were nothing but skeletons
now.) So he stood there on the flight of steps before his chateau, and
he said:

"'Children, we have been overcome by treachery, but we shall meet
again up above in the country of the brave. Protect my child, I leave
him in your care. /Long live Napoleon II.!/'

"He had thought of killing himself, so that no one should behold
Napoleon after his defeat; like Jesus Christ before the Crucifixion,
he thought himself forsaken by God and by his talisman, and so he took
enough poison to kill a regiment, but it had no effect whatever upon
him. Another marvel! he discovered that he was immortal; and feeling
sure of his case, and knowing that he would be Emperor for ever, he
went to an island for a little while, so as to study the dispositions
of those folk who did not fail to make blunder upon blunder. Whilst he
was biding his time, the Chinese and the brutes out in Africa, the
Moors and what-not, awkward customers all of them, were so convinced
that he was something more than mortal, that they respected his flag,
saying that God would be displeased if any one meddled with it. So he
reigned over all the rest of the world, although the doors of his own
France had been closed upon him.

"Then he goes on board the same nutshell of a skiff that he sailed in
from Egypt, passes under the noses of the English vessels, and sets
foot in France. France recognizes her Emperor, the cuckoo flits from
steeple to steeple; France cries with one voice, 'Long live the
Emperor!' The enthusiasm for that Wonder of the Ages was thoroughly
genuine in these parts. Dauphine behaved handsomely; and I was
uncommonly pleased to learn that people here shed tears of joy on
seeing his gray overcoat once more.

"It was on March 1st that Napoleon set out with two hundred men to
conquer the kingdom of France and Navarre, which by March 20th had
become the French Empire again. On that day he found himself in Paris,
and a clean sweep had been made of everything; he had won back his
beloved France, and had called all his soldiers about him again, and
three words of his had done it all--'Here am I!' 'Twas the greatest
miracle God ever worked! Was it ever known in the world before that a
man should do nothing but show his hat, and a whole Empire became his?
They fancied that France was crushed, did they? Never a bit of it. A
National Army springs up again at the sight of the Eagle, and we all
march to Waterloo. There the Guard fall all as one man. Napoleon in
his despair heads the rest, and flings himself three times on the
enemy's guns without finding the death he sought; we all saw him do
it, we soldiers, and the day was lost! That night the Emperor calls
all his old soldiers about him, and there on the battlefield, which
was soaked with our blood, he burns his flags and his Eagles--the poor
Eagles that had never been defeated, that had cried, 'Forward!' in
battle after battle, and had flown above us all over Europe. That was
the end of the Eagles--all the wealth of England could not purchase
for her one tail-feather. The rest is sufficiently known.

"The Red Man went over to the Bourbons like the low scoundrel he is.
France is prostrate, the soldier counts for nothing, they rob him of
his due, send him about his business, and fill his place with nobles
who could not walk, they were so old, so that it made you sorry to see
them. They seize Napoleon by treachery, the English shut him up on a
desert island in the ocean, on a rock ten thousand feet above the rest
of the world. That is the final end of it; there he has to stop till
the Red Man gives him back his power again, for the happiness of
France. A lot of them say that he is dead! Dead? Oh! yes, very likely.
They do not know him, that is plain! They go on telling that fib to
deceive the people, and to keep things quiet for their tumble-down
government. Listen; this is the whole truth of the matter. His friends
have left him alone in the desert to fulfil a prophecy that was made
about him, for I forgot to tell you that his name Napoleon really
means the /Lion of the Desert/. And that is gospel truth. You will hear
plenty of other things said about the Emperor, but they are all
monstrous nonsense. Because, look you, to no man of woman born would
God have given the power to write his name in red, as he did, across
the earth, where he will be remembered for ever! . . . Long live
'Napoleon, the father of the soldier, the father of the people!'"

"Long live General Eble!" cried the pontooner.

"How did you manage not to die in the gorge of the redoubts at
Borodino?" asked a peasant woman.

"Do I know? we were a whole regiment when we went down into it, and
only a hundred foot were left standing; only infantry could have
carried it; for the infantry, look you, is everything in an army----"

"But how about the cavalry?" cried Genestas, slipping down out of the
hay in a sudden fashion that drew a startled cry from the boldest.

"He, old boy! you are forgetting Poniatowski's Red Lancers, the
Cuirassiers, the Dragoons, and the whole boiling. Whenever Napoleon
grew tired of seeing his battalions gain no ground towards the end of
a victory, he would say to Murat, 'Here, you! cut them in two for me!'
and we set out first at a trot, and then at a gallop, /one, two/! and
cut a way clean through the ranks of the enemy; it was like slicing an
apple in two with a knife. Why, a charge of cavalry is nothing more
nor less than a column of cannon balls."

"And how about the pontooners?" cried the deaf veteran.

"There, there! my children," Genestas went on, repenting in his
confusion of the sally he had made, when he found himself in the
middle of a silent and bewildered group, "there are no agents of
police spying here! Here, drink to the Little Corporal with this!"

"Long live the Emperor!" all cried with one voice.

"Hush! children," said the officer, concealing his own deep sorrow
with an effort. "Hush! /He is dead/. He died saying, '/Glory, France,
and battle/.' So it had to be, children, he must die; but his memory

Goguelat made an incredulous gesture, then he whispered to those about
him, "The officer is still in the service, and orders have been issued
that they are to tell the people that the Emperor is dead. You must
not think any harm of him because, after all, a soldier must obey

As Genestas went out of the barn, he heard La Fosseuse say, "That
officer, you know, is M. Benassis' friend, and a friend of the

Every soul in the barn rushed to the door to see the commandant again;
they saw him in the moonlight, as he took the doctor's arm.

"It was a stupid thing to do," said Genestas. "Quick! let us go into
the house. Those Eagles, cannon, and campaigns! . . . I had quite
forgotten where I was."

"Well, what do you think of our Goguelat?" asked Benassis.

"So long as such stories are told in France, sir, she will always find
the fourteen armies of the Republic within her, at need; and her
cannon will be perfectly able to keep up a conversation with the rest
of Europe. That is what I think."

A few moments later they reached Benassis' dwelling, and soon were
sitting on either side of the hearth in the salon; the dying fire in
the grate still sent up a few sparks now and then. Each was absorbed
in thought. Genestas was hesitating to ask one last question. In spite
of the marks of confidence that he had received, he feared lest the
doctor should regard his inquiry as indiscreet. He looked searchingly
at Benassis more than once; and an answering smile, full of a kindly
cordiality, such as lights up the faces of men of real strength of
character, seemed to give him in advance the favorable reply for which
he sought. So he spoke:

"Your life, sir, is so different from the lives of ordinary men, that
you will not be surprised to hear me ask you the reason of your
retired existence. My curiosity may seem to you to be unmannerly, but
you will admit that it is very natural. Listen a moment: I have had
comrades with whom I have never been on intimate terms, even though I
have made many campaigns with them; but there have been others to whom
I would say, 'Go to the paymaster and draw our money,' three days
after we had got drunk together, a thing that will happen, for the
quietest folk must have a frolic fit at times. Well, then, you are one
of those people whom I take for a friend without waiting to ask leave,
nay, without so much as knowing wherefore."

"Captain Bluteau----"

Whenever the doctor had called his guest by his assumed name, the
latter had been unable for some time past to suppress a slight
grimace. Benassis, happening to look up just then, caught this
expression of repugnance; he sought to discover the reason of it, and
looked full into the soldier's face, but the real enigma was well-nigh
insoluble for him, so he set down these symptoms to physical suffering
and went on:

"Captain, I am about to speak of myself. I have had to force myself to
do so already several times since yesterday, while telling you about
the improvements that I have managed to introduce here; but it was a
question of the interests of the people and the commune, with which
mine are necessarily bound up. But, now, if I tell you my story, I
should have to speak wholly of myself, and mine has not been a very
interesting life."

"If it were as uneventful as La Fosseuse's life," answered Genestas,
"I should still be glad to know about it; I should like to know the
untoward events that could bring a man of your calibre into this

"Captain, for these twelve years I have lived in silence; and now, as
I wait at the brink of the grave for the stroke that will cast me into
it, I will candidly own to you that this silence is beginning to weigh
heavily upon me. I have borne my sorrows alone for twelve years; I
have had none of the comfort that friendship gives in such full
measure to a heart in pain. My poor sick folk and my peasants
certainly set me an example of unmurmuring resignation; but they know
that I at least understand them and their troubles, while there is not
a soul here who knows of the tears that I have shed, no one to give me
the hand-clasp of a comrade, the noblest reward of all, a reward that
falls to the lot of every other; even Gondrin has not missed that."

Genestas held out his hand, a sudden impulsive movement by which
Benassis was deeply touched.

"There is La Fosseuse," he went on in a different voice; "she perhaps
would have understood as the angels might; but then, too, she might
possibly have loved me, and that would have been a misfortune. Listen,
captain, my confession could only be made to an old soldier who looks
as leniently as you do on the failings of others, or to some young man
who has not lost the illusions of youth; for only a man who knows life
well, or a lad to whom it is all unknown, could understand my story.
The captains of past times who fell upon the field of battle used to
make their last confession to the cross on the hilt of their sword; if
there was no priest at hand, it was the sword that received and kept
the last confidences between a human soul and God. And will you hear
and understand me, for you are one of Napoleon's finest sword-blades,
as thoroughly tempered and as strong as steel? Some parts of my story
can only be understood by a delicate tenderness, and through a
sympathy with the beliefs that dwell in simple hearts; beliefs which
would seem absurd to the sophisticated people who make use in their
own lives of the prudential maxims of worldly wisdom that only apply
to the government of states. To you I shall speak openly and without
reserve, as a man who does not seek to apologize for his life with the
good and evil done in the course of it; as one who will hide nothing
from you, because he lives so far from the world of to-day, careless
of the judgements of man, and full of hope in God."

Benassis stopped, rose to his feet, and said, "Before I begin my
story, I will order tea. Jacquotte has never missed asking me if I
will take it for these twelve years past, and she will certainly
interrupt us. Do you care about it, captain?"

"No, thank you."

In another moment Benassis returned.



"I was born in a little town in Languedoc," the doctor resumed. "My
father had been settled there for many years, and there my early
childhood was spent. When I was eight years old I was sent to the
school of the Oratorians at Sorreze, and only left it to finish my
studies in Paris. My father had squandered his patrimony in the course
of an exceedingly wild and extravagant youth. He had retrieved his
position partly by a fortunate marriage, partly by the slow persistent
thrift characteristic of provincial life; for in the provinces people
pride themselves on accumulating rather than on spending, and all the
ambition in a man's nature is either extinguished or directed to
money-getting, for want of any nobler end. So he had grown rich at
last, and thought to transmit to his only son all the cut-and-dried
experience which he himself had purchased at the price of his lost
illusions; a noble last illusion of age which fondly seeks to bequeath
its virtues and its wary prudence to heedless youth, intent only on
the enjoyment of the enchanted life that lies before it.

"This foresight on my father's part led him to make plans for my
education for which I had to suffer. He sedulously concealed my
expectations of wealth from me, and during the fairest years of my
youth compelled me, for my own good, to endure the burden of anxiety
and hardship that presses upon a young man who has his own way to make
in the world. His idea in so doing was to instill the virtues of
poverty into me--patience, a thirst for learning, and a love of work
for its own sake. He hoped to teach me to set a proper value on my
inheritance, by letting me learn, in this way, all that it costs to
make a fortune; wherefore, as soon as I was old enough to understand
his advice, he urged me to choose a profession and to work steadily at
it. My tastes inclined me to the study of medicine.

"So I left Sorreze, after ten years of almost monastic discipline of
the Oratorians; and, fresh from the quiet life of a remote provincial
school, I was taken straight to the capital. My father went with me in
order to introduce me to the notice of a friend of his; and (all
unknown to me) my two elders took the most elaborate precautions
against any ebullitions of youth on my part, innocent lad though I
was. My allowance was rigidly computed on a scale based upon the
absolute necessaries of life, and I was obliged to produce my
certificate of attendance at the Ecole de Medecine before I was
allowed to draw my quarter's income. The excuse for this sufficiently
humiliating distrust was the necessity of my acquiring methodical and
business-like habits. My father, however, was not sparing of money for
all the necessary expenses of my education and for the amusements of
Parisian life.

"His old friend was delighted to have a young man to guide through the
labyrinth into which I had entered. He was one of those men whose
natures lead them to docket their thoughts, feelings, and opinions
every whit as carefully as their papers. He would turn up last year's
memorandum book, and could tell in a moment what he had been doing a
twelvemonth since in this very month, day, and hour of the present
year. Life, for him, was a business enterprise, and he kept the books
after the most approved business methods. There was real worth in him
though he might be punctilious, shrewd, and suspicious, and though he
never lacked specious excuses for the precautionary measures that he
took with regard to me. He used to buy all my books; he paid for my
lessons; and once, when the fancy took me to learn to ride, the good
soul himself found me out a riding-school, went thither with me, and
anticipated my wishes by putting a horse at my disposal whenever I had
a holiday. In spite of all this cautious strategy, which I managed to
defeat as soon as I had any temptation to do so, the kind old man was
a second father to me.

"'My friend,' he said, as soon as he surmised that I should break
away altogether from my leading strings, unless he relaxed them,
'young folk are apt to commit follies which draw down the wrath of
their elders upon their heads, and you may happen to want money at
some time or other; if so, come to me. Your father helped me nobly
once upon a time, and I shall always have a few crowns to spare for
you; but never tell any lies, and do not be ashamed to own to your
faults. I myself was young once; we shall always get on well together,
like two good comrades.'

"My father found lodgings for me with some quiet, middle-class people
in the Latin Quarter, and my room was furnished nicely enough; but
this first taste of independence, my father's kindness, and the
self-denial which he seemed to be exercising for me, brought me but
little happiness. Perhaps the value of liberty cannot be known until it
has been experienced; and the memories of the freedom of my childhood
had been almost effaced by the irksome and dreary life at school, from
which my spirits had scarcely recovered. In addition to this, my
father had urged new tasks upon me, so that altogether Paris was an
enigma. You must acquire some knowledge of its pleasures before you
can amuse yourself in Paris.

"My real position, therefore, was quite unchanged, save that my new
/lycee/ was a much larger building, and was called the Ecole de
Medecine. Nevertheless, I studied away bravely at first; I attended
lectures diligently; I worked desperately hard and without relaxation,
so strongly was my imagination affected by the abundant treasures of
knowledge to be gained in the capital. But very soon I heedlessly made
acquaintances; danger lurks hidden beneath the rash confiding
friendships that have so strong a charm for youth, and gradually I was
drawn into the dissipated life of the capital. I became an
enthusiastic lover of the theatre; and with my craze for actors and
the play, the work of my demoralization began. The stage, in a great
metropolis, exerts a very deadly influence over the young; they never
quit the theatre save in a state of emotional excitement almost always
beyond their power to control; society and the law seem to me to be
accessories to the irregularities brought about in this way. Our
legislation has shut its eyes, so to speak, to the passions that
torment a young man between twenty and five-and-twenty years of age.
In Paris he is assailed by temptations of every kind. Religion may
preach and Law may demand that he should walk uprightly, but all his
surroundings and the tone of those about him are so many incitements
to evil. Do not the best of men and the most devout women there look
upon continence as ridiculous? The great city, in fact, seems to have
set herself to give encouragement to vice and to this alone; for a
young man finds that the entrance to every honorable career in which
he might look for success is barred by hindrances even more numerous
than the snares that are continually set for him, so that through his
weaknesses he may be robbed of his money.

"For a long while I went every evening to some theatre, and little by
little I fell into idle ways. I grew more and more slack over my work;
even my most pressing tasks were apt to be put off till the morrow,
and before very long there was an end of my search after knowledge for
its own sake; I did nothing more than the work which was absolutely
required to enable me to get through the examinations that must be
passed before I could become a doctor. I attended the public lectures,
but I no longer paid any attention to the professors, who, in my
opinion, were a set of dotards. I had already broken my idols--I
became a Parisian.

"To be brief, I led the aimless drifting life of a young, provincial
thrown into the heart of a great city; still retaining some good and
true feeling, still clinging more or less to the observance of certain
rules of conduct, still fighting in vain against the debasing
influence of evil examples, though I offered but a feeble,
half-hearted resistance, for the enemy had accomplices within me. Yes,
sir, my face is not misleading; past storms have plainly left their
traces there. Yet, since I had drunk so deeply of the pure fountain of
religion in my early youth, I was haunted in the depths of my soul,
through all my wanderings, by an ideal of moral perfection which could
not fail one day to bring me back to God by the paths of weariness and
remorse. Is not he who feels the pleasures of earth most keenly, sure
to be attracted, soon or late, by the fruits of heaven?

"At first I went through the experience, more or less vivid, that
always comes with youth--the countless moments of exultation, the
unnumbered transports of despair. Sometimes I took my vehement energy
of feeling for a resolute will, and over-estimated my powers;
sometimes, at the mere sight of some trifling obstacle with which I
was about to come into collision, I was far more cast down than I
ought to have been. Then I would devise vast plans, would dream of
glory, and betake myself to work; but a pleasure party would divert me
from the noble projects based on so infirm a purpose. Vague
recollections of these great abortive schemes of mine left a deceptive
glow in my soul and fostered my belief in myself, without giving me
the energy to produce. In my indolent self-sufficiency I was in a very
fair way to become a fool, for what is a fool but a man who fails to
justify the excellent opinion which he has formed of himself? My
energy was directed towards no definite aims; I wished for the flowers
of life without the toil of cultivating them. I had no idea of the
obstacles, so I imagined that everything was easy; luck, I thought,
accounted for success in science and in business, and genius was
charlatanism. I took it for granted that I should be a great man,
because there was the power of becoming one within me; so I discounted
all my future glory, without giving a thought to the patience required
for the conception of a great work, nor of the execution, in the
course of which all the difficulties of the task appear.

"The sources of my amusements were soon exhausted. The charm of the
theatre does not last for very long; and, for a poor student, Paris
shortly became an empty wilderness. They were dull and uninteresting
people that I met with in the circle of the family with whom I lived;
but these, and an old man who had now lost touch with the world, were
all the society that I had.

"So, like every young man who takes a dislike to the career marked out
for him, I rambled about the streets for whole days together; I
strolled along the quays, through the museums and public gardens,
making no attempt to arrive at a clear understanding of my position,
and without a single definite idea in my head. The burden of
unemployed energies is more felt at that age than at any other; there
is such an abundance of vitality running to waste, so much activity
without result. I had no idea of the power that a resolute will puts
into the hands of a man in his youth; for when he has ideas and puts
his whole heart and soul into the work of carrying them out, his
strength is yet further increased by the undaunted courage of youthful

"Childhood in its simplicity knows nothing of the perils of life;
youth sees both its vastness and its difficulties, and at the prospect
the courage of youth sometimes flags. We are still serving our
apprenticeship to life; we are new to the business, a kind of
faint-heartedness overpowers us, and leaves us in an almost dazed
condition of mind. We feel that we are helpless aliens in a strange
country. At all ages we shrink back involuntarily from the unknown. And
a young man is very much like the soldier who will walk up to the
cannon's mouth, and is put to flight by a ghost. He hesitates among the
maxims of the world. The rules of attack and of self-defence are alike
unknown to him; he can neither give nor take; he is attracted by
women, and stands in awe of them; his very good qualities tell against
him, he is all generosity and modesty, and completely innocent of
mercenary designs. Pleasure and not interest is his object when he
tells a lie; and among many dubious courses, the conscience, with
which as yet he has not juggled, points out to him the right way,
which he is slow to take.

"There are men whose lives are destined to be shaped by the impulses
of their hearts, rather than by any reasoning process that takes place
in their heads, and such natures as these will remain for a long while
in the position that I have described. This was my own case. I became
the plaything of two contending impulses; the desires of youth were
always held in check by a faint-hearted sentimentality. Life in Paris
is a cruel ordeal for impressionable natures, the great inequalities
of fortune or of position inflame their souls and stir up bitter
feelings. In that world of magnificence and pettiness envy is more apt
to be a dagger than a spur. You are bound either to fall a victim or
to become a partisan in this incessant strife of ambitions, desires,
and hatreds, in the midst of which you are placed; and by slow degrees
the picture of vice triumphant and virtue made ridiculous produces its
effect on a young man, and he wavers; life in Paris soon rubs the
bloom from conscience, the infernal work of demoralization has begun,
and is soon accomplished. The first of pleasures, that which at the
outset comprehends all the others, is set about with such perils that
it is impossible not to reflect upon the least actions which it
provokes, impossible not to calculate all its consequences. These
calculations lead to selfishness. If some poor student, carried away
by an impassioned enthusiasm, is fain to rise above selfish
considerations, the suspicious attitude of those about him makes him
pause and doubt; it is so hard not to share their mistrust, so
difficult not to be on his guard against his own generous thoughts.
His heart is seared and contracted by this struggle, the current of
life sets toward the brain, and the callousness of the Parisian is the
result--the condition of things in which schemes for power and wealth
are concealed by the most charming frivolity, and lurk beneath the
sentimental transports that take the place of enthusiasm. The
simplest-natured woman in Paris always keeps a clear head even in the
intoxication of happiness.

"This atmosphere was bound to affect my opinions and my conduct. The
errors that have poisoned my life would have lain lightly on many a
conscience, but we in the South have a religious faith that leads us
to believe in a future life, and in the truths set forth by the
Catholic Church. These beliefs give depth and gravity to every
feeling, and to remorse a terrible and lasting power.

"The army were masters of society at the time when I was studying
medicine. In order to shine in women's eyes, one had to be a colonel
at the very least. A poor student counted for absolutely nothing.
Goaded by the strength of my desires, and finding no outlet for them;
hampered at every step and in every wish by the want of money; looking
on study and fame as too slow a means of arriving at the pleasures
that tempted me; drawn one way by my inward scruples, and another by
evil examples; meeting with every facility for low dissipation, and
finding nothing but hindrances barring the way to good society, I
passed my days in wretchedness, overwhelmed by a surging tumult of
desires, and by indolence of the most deadly kind, utterly cast down
at times, only to be as suddenly elated.

"The catastrophe which at length put an end to this crisis was
commonplace enough. The thought of troubling the peace of a household
has always been repugnant to me; and not only so, I could not
dissemble my feelings, the instinct of sincerity was too strong in me;
I should have found it a physical impossibility to lead a life of
glaring falsity. There is for me but little attraction in pleasures
that must be snatched. I wish for full consciousness of my happiness.
I led a life of solitude, for which there seemed to be no remedy; for
I shrank from openly vicious courses, and the many efforts that I made
to enter society were all in vain. There I might have met with some
woman who would have undertaken the task of teaching me the perils of
every path, who would have formed my manners, counseled me without
wounding my vanity, and introduced me everywhere where I was likely to
make friends who would be useful to me in my future career. In my
despair, an intrigue of the most dangerous kind would perhaps have had
its attractions for me; but even peril was out of my reach. My
inexperience sent me back again to my solitude, where I dwelt face to
face with my thwarted desires.

"At last I formed a connection, at first a secret one, with a girl,
whom I persuaded, half against her will, to share my life. Her people
were worthy folk, who had but small means. It was not very long before
she left her simple sheltered life, and fearlessly intrusted me with a
future that virtue would have made happy and fair; thinking, no doubt,
that my narrow income was the surest guarantee of my faithfulness to
her. From that moment the tempest that had raged within me ceased, and
happiness lulled my wild desires and ambitions to sleep. Such
happiness is only possible for a young man who is ignorant of the
world, who knows nothing as yet of its accepted codes nor of the
strength of prejudice; but while it lasts, his happiness is as
all-absorbing as a child's. Is not first love like a return of
childhood across the intervening years of anxiety and toil?

"There are men who learn life at a glance, who see it for what it is
at once, who learn experience from the mistakes of others, who apply
the current maxims of worldly wisdom to their own case with signal
success, and make unerring forecasts at all times. Wise in their
generation are such cool heads as these! But there is also a luckless
race endowed with the impressionable, keenly-sensitive temperament of
the poet; these are the natures that fall into error, and to this
latter class I belonged. There was no great depth in the feeling that
first drew me towards this poor girl; I followed my instinct rather
than my heart when I sacrificed her to myself, and I found no lack of
excellent reasons wherewith to persuade myself that there was no harm
whatever in what I had done. And as for her--she was devotion itself,
a noble soul with a clear, keen intelligence and a heart of gold. She
never counseled me other than wisely. Her love put fresh heart into me
from the first; she foretold a splendid future of success and fortune
for me, and gently constrained me to take up my studies again by her
belief in me. In these days there is scarcely a branch of science that
has no bearing upon medicine; it is a difficult task to achieve
distinction, but the reward is great, for in Paris fame always means
fortune. The unselfish girl devoted herself to me, shared in every
interest, even the slightest, of my life, and managed so carefully and
wisely that we lived in comfort on my narrow income. I had more money
to spare, now that there were two of us, than I had ever had while I
lived by myself. Those were my happiest days. I worked with
enthusiasm, I had a definite aim before me, I had found the
encouragement I needed. Everything I did or thought I carried to her,
who had not only found the way to gain my love, but above and beyond
this had filled me with sincere respect for her by the modest
discretion which she displayed in a position where discretion and
modesty seemed well-nigh impossible. But one day was like another,
sir; and it is only after our hears have passed through all the storms
appointed for us that we know the value of a monotonous happiness, and
learn that life holds nothing more sweet for us than this; a calm
happiness in which the fatigue of existence is felt no longer, and the
inmost thoughts of either find response in the other's soul.

"My former dreams assailed me again. They were my own vehement
longings for the pleasures of wealth that awoke, though it was in
love's name that I now asked for them. In the evenings I grew
abstracted and moody, rapt in imaginings of the pleasures I could
enjoy if I were rich, and thoughtlessly gave expression to my desires
in answer to a tender questioning voice. I must have drawn a painful
sigh from her who had devoted herself to my happiness; for she, sweet
soul, felt nothing more cruelly than the thought that I wished for
something that she could not give me immediately. Oh! sir, a woman's
devotion is sublime!"

There was a sharp distress in the doctor's exclamation which seemed
prompted by some recollection of his own; he paused for a brief while,
and Genestas respected his musings.

"Well, sir," Benassis resumed, "something happened which should have
concluded the marriage thus begun; but instead of that it put an end
to it, and was the cause of all my misfortunes. My father died and
left me a large fortune. The necessary business arrangements demanded
my presence in Languedoc for several months, and I went thither alone.
At last I had regained my freedom! Even the mildest yoke is galling to
youth; we do not see its necessity any more than we see the need to
work, until we have had some experience of life. I came and went
without giving an account of my actions to any one; there was no need
to do so now unless I wished, and I relished liberty with all the keen
capacity for enjoyment that we have in Languedoc. I did not absolutely
forget the ties that bound me; but I was so absorbed in other matters
of interest, that my mind was distracted from them, and little by
little the recollection of them faded away. Letters full of heartfelt
tenderness reached me; but at two-and-twenty a young man imagines that
all women are alike tender; he does not know love from a passing
infatuation; all things are confused in the sensations of pleasure
which seem at first to comprise everything. It was only later, when I
came to a clearer knowledge of men and of things as they are, that I
could estimate those noble letters at their just worth. No trace of
selfishness was mingled with the feeling expressed in them; there was
nothing but gladness on my account for my change of fortune, and
regret on her own; it never occurred to her that I could change
towards her, for she felt that she herself was incapable of change.
But even then I had given myself up to ambitious dreams; I thought of
drinking deeply of all the delights that wealth could give, of
becoming a person of consequence, of making a brilliant marriage. So I
read the letters, and contented myself with saying, 'She is very fond
of me,' with the indifference of a coxcomb. Even then I was perplexed
as to how to extricate myself from this entanglement; I was ashamed of
it, and this fact as well as my perplexity led me to be cruel. We
begin by wounding the victim, and then we kill it, that the sight of
our cruelty may no longer put us to the blush. Late reflections upon
those days of error have unveiled for me many a dark depth in the
human heart. Yes, believe me, those who best have fathomed the good
and evil in human nature have honestly examined themselves in the
first instance. Conscience is the starting-point of our
investigations; we proceed from ourselves to others, never from others
to ourselves.

"When I returned to Paris I took up my abode in a large house which,
in pursuance with my orders, had been taken for me, and the one person
interested in my return and change of address was not informed of it.
I wished to cut a figure among young men of fashion. I waited a few
days to taste the first delights of wealth; and when, flushed with the
excitement of my new position, I felt that I could trust myself to do
so, I went to see the poor girl whom I meant to cast off. With a
woman's quickness she saw what was passing in my mind, and hid her
tears from me. She could not but have despised me; but it was her
nature to be gentle and kindly, and she never showed her scorn. Her
forbearance was a cruel punishment. An unresisting victim is not a
pleasant thing; whether the murder is done decorously in the
drawing-room, or brutally on the highway, there should be a struggle to
give some plausible excuse for taking a life. I renewed my visits very
affectionately at first, making efforts to be gracious, if not tender;
by slow degrees I became politely civil; and one day, by a sort of
tacit agreement between us, she allowed me to treat her as a stranger,
and I thought that I had done all that could be expected of me.
Nevertheless I abandoned myself to my new life with almost frenzied
eagerness, and sought to drown in gaiety any vague lingering remorse
that I felt. A man who has lost his self-respect cannot endure his own
society, so I led the dissipated life that wealthy young men lead in
Paris. Owing to a good education and an excellent memory, I seemed
cleverer than I really was, forthwith I looked down upon other people;
and those who, for their own purposes, wished to prove to me that I
was possessed of extraordinary abilities, found me quite convinced on
that head. Praise is the most insidious of all methods of treachery
known to the world; and this is nowhere better understood than in
Paris, where intriguing schemers know how to stifle every kind of
talent at its birth by heaping laurels on its cradle. So I did nothing
worthy of my reputation; I reaped no advantages from the golden
opinions entertained of me, and made no acquaintances likely to be
useful in my future career. I wasted my energies in numberless
frivolous pursuits, and in the short-lived love intrigues that are the
disgrace of salons in Paris, where every one seeks for love, grows
blase in the pursuit, falls into the libertinism sanctioned by polite
society, and ends by feeling as much astonished at real passion as the
world is over a heroic action. I did as others did. Often I dealt to
generous and candid souls the deadly wound from which I myself was
slowly perishing. Yet though deceptive appearances might lead others
to misjudge me, I could never overcome my scrupulous delicacy. Many
times I have been duped, and should have blushed for myself had it
been otherwise; I secretly prided myself on acting in good faith,
although this lowered me in the eyes of others. As a matter of fact
the world has a considerable respect for cleverness, whatever form it
takes, and success justifies everything. So the world was pleased to
attribute to me all the good qualities and evil propensities, all the
victories and defeats which had never been mine; credited me with
conquests of which I knew nothing, and sat in judgment upon actions of
which I had never been guilty. I scorned to contradict the slanders,
and self-love led me to regard the more flattering rumors with a
certain complacence. Outwardly my existence was pleasant enough, but
in reality I was miserable. If it had not been for the tempest of
misfortunes that very soon burst over my head, all good impulses must
have perished, and evil would have triumphed in the struggle that went
on within me; enervating self-indulgence would have destroyed the
body, as the detestable habits of egotism exhausted the springs of the
soul. But I was ruined financially. This was how it came about.

"No matter how large his fortune may be, a man is sure to find some
one else in Paris possessed of yet greater wealth, whom he must needs
aim at surpassing. In this unequal conquest I was vanquished at the
end of four years; and, like many another harebrained youngster, I was
obliged to sell part of my property and to mortgage the remainder to
satisfy my creditors. Then a terrible blow suddenly struck me down.

"Two years had passed since I had last seen the woman whom I had
deserted. The turn that my affairs were taking would no doubt have
brought me back to her once more; but one evening, in the midst of a
gay circle of acquaintances, I received a note written in a trembling
hand. It only contained these few words:

"'I have only a very little while to live, and I should like to see
you, my friend, so that I may know what will become of my child
--whether henceforward he will be yours; and also to soften the regret
that some day you might perhaps feel for my death.'

"The letter made me shudder. It was a revelation of secret anguish in
the past, while it contained a whole unknown future. I set out on
foot, I would not wait for my carriage, I went across Paris, goaded by
remorse, and gnawed by a dreadful fear that was confirmed by the first
sight of my victim. In the extreme neatness and cleanliness beneath
which she had striven to hid her poverty I read all the terrible
sufferings of her life; she was nobly reticent about them in her
effort to spare my feelings, and only alluded to them after I had
solemnly promised to adopt our child. She died, sir, in spite of all
the care lavished upon her, and all that science could suggest was
done for her in vain. The care and devotion that had come too late
only served to render her last moments less bitter.

"To support her little one she had worked incessantly with her needle.
Love for her child had given her strength to endure her life of
hardship; but it had not enabled her to bear my desertion, the keenest
of all her griefs. Many times she had thought of trying to see me, but
her woman's pride had always prevented this. While I squandered floods
of gold upon my caprices, no memory of the past had ever bidden a
single drop to fall in her home to help mother and child to live; but
she had been content to weep, and had not cursed me; she had looked
upon her evil fortune as the natural punishment of her error. With the
aid of a good priest of Saint Sulpice, whose kindly voice had restored
peace to her soul, she had sought for hope in the shadow of the altar,
whither she had gone to dry her tears. The bitter flood that I had
poured into her heart gradually abated; and one day, when she heard
her child say 'Father,' a word that she had not taught him, she
forgave my crime. But sorrow and weeping and days and nights of
ceaseless toil injured her health. Religion had brought its
consolations and the courage to bear the ills of life, but all too
late. She fell ill of a heart complaint brought on by grief and by the
strain of expectation, for she always thought that I should return,
and her hopes always sprang up afresh after every disappointment. Her
health grew worse; and at last, as she was lying on her deathbed, she
wrote those few lines, containing no word of reproach, prompted by
religion, and by a belief in the goodness in my nature. She knew, she
said, that I was blinded rather than bent on doing wrong. She even
accused herself of carrying her womanly pride too far. 'If I had only
written sooner,' she said, 'perhaps there might have been time for a
marriage which would have legitimated our child.'

"It was only on her child's account that she wished for the
solemnization of the ties that bound us, nor would she have sought for
this if she had not felt that death was at hand to unloose them. But
it was too late; even then she had only a few hours to live. By her
bedside, where I learned to know the worth of a devoted heart, my
nature underwent a final change. I was still at an age when tears are
shed. During those last days, while the precious life yet lingered, my
tears, my words, and everything I did bore witness to my heartstricken
repentance. The meanness and pettiness of the society in which I had
moved, the emptiness and selfishness of women of fashion, had taught
me to wish for and to seek an elect soul, and now I had found it--too
late. I was weary of lying words and of masked faces; counterfeit
passion had set me dreaming; I had called on love; and now I beheld
love lying before me, slain by my own hands, and had no power to keep
it beside me, no power to keep what was so wholly mine.

"The experience of four years had taught me to know my own real
character. My temperament, the nature of my imagination, my religious
principles, which had not been eradicated, but had rather lain
dormant; my turn of mind, my heart that only now began to make itself
felt--everything within me led me to resolve to fill my life with the
pleasures of affection, to replace a lawless love by family happiness
--the truest happiness on earth. Visions of close and dear
companionship appealed to me but the more strongly for my wanderings
in the wilderness, my grasping at pleasures unennobled by thought or
feeling. So though the revolution within me was rapidly effected, it
was permanent. With my southern temperament, warped by the life I led
in Paris, I should certainly have come to look without pity on an
unhappy girl betrayed by her lover; I should have laughed at the story
if it had been told me by some wag in merry company (for with us in
France a clever bon mot dispels all feelings of horror at a crime),
but all sophistries were silenced in the presence of this angelic
creature, against whom I could bring no least word of reproach. There
stood her coffin, and my child, who did not know that I had murdered
his mother, and smiled at me.

"She died. She died happy when she saw that I loved her, and that this
new love was due neither to pity nor to the ties that bound us
together. Never shall I forget her last hours. Love had been won back,
her mind was at rest about her child, and happiness triumphed over
suffering. The comfort and luxury about her, the merriment of her
child, who looked prettier still in the dainty garb that had replaced
his baby-clothes, were pledges of a happy future for the little one,
in whom she saw her own life renewed.

"The curate of Saint Sulpice witnessed my terrible distress. His words
well-nigh made me despair. He did not attempt to offer conventional
consolation, and put the gravity of my responsibilities unsparingly
before me, but I had no need of a spur. The conscience within me spoke
loudly enough already. A woman had placed a generous confidence in me.
I had lied to her from the first; I had told her that I loved her, and
then I had cast her off; I had brought all this sorrow upon an unhappy
girl who had braved the opinion of the world for me, and who therefore
should have been sacred in my eyes. She had died forgiving me. Her
implicit trust in the word of a man who had once before broken his
promise to her effaced the memory of all her pain and grief, and she
slept in peace. Agatha, who had given me her girlish faith, had found
in her heart another faith to give me--the faith of a mother. Oh! sir,
the child, /her/ child! God alone can know all that he was to me! The
dear little one was like his mother; he had her winning grace in his
little ways, his talk and ideas; but for me, my child was not only a
child, but something more; was he not the token of my forgiveness, my

"He should have more than a father's affection. He should be loved as
his mother would have loved him. My remorse might change to happiness
if I could only make him feel that his mother's arms were still about
him. I clung to him with all the force of human love and the hope of
heaven, with all the tenderness in my heart that God has given to
mothers. The sound of the child's voice made me tremble. I used to
watch him while he slept with a sense of gladness that was always new,
albeit a tear sometimes fell on his forehead; I taught him to come to
say his prayer upon my bed as soon as he awoke. How sweet and touching
were the simple words of the /Pater noster/ in the innocent childish
mouth! Ah! and at times how terrible! '/Our Father which art in
heaven/,' he began one morning; then he paused--'Why is it not /our
mother/?' he asked, and my heart sank at his words.

"From the very first I had sown the seeds of future misfortune in the
life of the son whom I idolized. Although the law has almost
countenanced errors of youth by conceding to tardy regret a legal
status to natural children, the insurmountable prejudices of society
bring a strong force to the support of the reluctance of the law. All
serious reflection on my part as to the foundations and mechanism of
society, on the duties of man, and vital questions of morality date
from this period of my life. Genius comprehends at first sight the
connection between a man's principles and the fate of the society of
which he forms a part; devout souls are inspired by religion with the
sentiments necessary for their happiness; but vehement and impulsive
natures can only be schooled by repentance. With repentance came new
light for me; and I, who only lived for my child, came through that
child to think over great social questions.

"I determined from the first that he should have all possible means of
success within himself, and that he should be thoroughly prepared to
take the high position for which I destined him. He learned English,
German, Italian, and Spanish in succession; and, that he might speak
these languages correctly, tutors belonging to each of these various
nationalities were successively placed about him from his earliest
childhood. His aptitude delighted me. I took advantage of it to give
him lessons in the guise of play. I wished to keep his mind free from
fallacies, and strove before all things to accustom him from childhood
to exert his intellectual powers, to make a rapid and accurate general
survey of a matter, and then, by a careful study of every least
particular, to master his subject in detail. Lastly, I taught him to
submit to discipline without murmuring. I never allowed an impure or
improper word to be spoken in his hearing. I was careful that all his
surroundings, and the men with whom he came in contact, should conduce
to one end--to ennoble his nature, to set lofty ideals before him, to
give him a love of truth and a horror of lies, to make him simple and
natural in manner, as in word and deed. His natural aptitude had made
his other studies easy to him, and his imagination made him quick to
grasp these lessons that lay outside the province of the schoolroom.
What a fair flower to tend! How great are the joys that mothers know!
In those days I began to understand how his own mother had been able
to live and to bear her sorrow. This, sir, was the great event of my
life; and now I am coming to the tragedy which drove me hither.

"It is the most ordinary commonplace story imaginable; but to me it
meant the most terrible pain. For some years I had thought of nothing
but my child, and how to make a man of him; then, when my son was
growing up and about to leave me, I grew afraid of my loneliness. Love
was a necessity of my existence; this need for affection had never
been satisfied, and only grew stronger with years. I was in every way
capable of a real attachment; I had been tried and proved. I knew all
that a steadfast love means, the love that delights to find a pleasure
in self-sacrifice; in everything I did my first thought would always
be for the woman I loved. In imagination I was fain to dwell on the
serene heights far above doubt and uncertainty, where love so fills
two beings that happiness flows quietly and evenly into their life,
their looks, and words. Such love is to a life what religion is to the
soul; a vital force, a power that enlightens and upholds. I understood
the love of husband and wife in nowise as most people do; for me its
full beauty and magnificence began precisely at the point where love
perishes in many a household. I deeply felt the moral grandeur of a
life so closely shared by two souls that the trivialities of everyday
existence should be powerless against such lasting love as theirs. But
where will the hearts be found whose beats are so nearly /isochronous/
(let the scientific term pass) that they may attain to this beatific
union? If they exist, nature and chance have set them far apart, so
that they cannot come together; they find each other too late, or
death comes too soon to separate them. There must be some good reasons
for these dispensations of fate, but I have never sought to discover
them. I cannot make a study of my wound, because I suffer too much
from it. Perhaps perfect happiness is a monster which our species
should not perpetuate. There were other causes for my fervent desire
for such a marriage as this. I had no friends, the world for me was a
desert. There is something in me that repels friendship. More than one
person has sought me out, but, in spite of efforts on my part, it came
to nothing. With many men I have been careful to show no sign of
something that is called 'superiority;' I have adapted my mind to
theirs; I have placed myself at their point of view, joined in their
laughter, and overlooked their defects; any fame I might have gained,
I would have bartered for a little kindly affection. They parted from
me without regret. If you seek for real feeling in Paris, snares await
you everywhere, and the end is sorrow. Wherever I set my foot, the
ground round about me seemed to burn. My readiness to acquiesce was
considered weakness though if I unsheathed my talons, like a man
conscious that he may some day wield the thunderbolts of power, I was
thought ill-natured; to others, the delightful laughter that ceases
with youth, and in which in later years we are almost ashamed to
indulge, seemed absurd, and they amused themselves at my expense.
People may be bored nowadays, but none the less they expect you to
treat every trivial topic with befitting seriousness.

"A hateful era! You must bow down before mediocrity, frigidly polite
mediocrity which you despise--and obey. On more mature reflection, I
have discovered the reasons of these glaring inconsistencies.
Mediocrity is never out of fashion, it is the daily wear of society;
genius and eccentricity are ornaments that are locked away and only
brought out on certain days. Everything that ventures forth beyond the
protection of the grateful shadow of mediocrity has something
startling about it.

"So, in the midst of Paris, I led a solitary life. I had given up
everything to society, but it had given me nothing in return; and my
child was not enough to satisfy my heart, because I was not a woman.
My life seemed to be growing cold within me; I was bending under a
load of secret misery when I met the woman who was to make me know the
might of love, the reverence of an acknowledged love, love with its
teeming hopes of happiness--in one word--love.

"I had renewed my acquaintance with that old friend of my father's who
had once taken charge of my affairs. It was in his house that I first
met her whom I must love as long as life shall last. The longer we
live, sir, the more clearly we see the enormous influence of ideas
upon the events of life. Prejudices, worthy of all respect, and bred
by noble religious ideas, occasioned my misfortunes. This young girl
belonged to an exceeding devout family, whose views of Catholicism
were due to the spirit of a sect improperly styled Jansenists, which,
in former times, caused troubles in France. You know why?"

"No," said Genestas.

"Jansenius, Bishop of Ypres, once wrote a book which was believed to
contain propositions at variance with the doctrines of the Holy See.
When examined at a later date, there appeared to be nothing heretical
in the wording of the text, some authors even went so far as to deny
that the heretical propositions had any real existence. However it
was, these insignificant disputes gave rise to two parties in the
Gallican Church--the Jansenists and the Jesuits. Great men were found
in either camp, and a struggle began between two powerful bodies. The
Jansenists affected an excessive purity of morals and of doctrine, and
accused the Jesuits of preaching a relaxed morality. The Jansenists,
in fact, were Catholic Puritans, if two contradictory terms can be
combined. During the Revolution, the Concordat occasioned an
unimportant schism, a little segregation of ultra-catholics who
refused to recognize the Bishops appointed by the authorities with the
consent of the Pope. This little body of the faithful was called the
Little Church; and those within its fold, like the Jansenists, led the
strictly ordered lives that appear to be a first necessity of
existence in all proscribed and persecuted sects. Many Jansenist
families had joined the Little Church. The family to which this young
girl belonged had embraced the equally rigid doctrines of both these
Puritanisms, tenets which impart a stern dignity to the character and
mien of those who hold them. It is the nature of positive doctrine to
exaggerate the importance of the most ordinary actions of life by
connecting them with ideas of a future existence. This is the source
of a splendid and delicate purity of heart, a respect for others and
for self, of an indescribably keen sense of right and wrong, a wide
charity, together with a justice so stern that it might well be called
inexorable, and lastly, a perfect hatred of lies and of all the vices
comprised by falsehood.

"I can recall no more delightful moments than those of our first
meeting at my old friend's house. I beheld for the first time this shy
young girl with her sincere nature, her habits of ready obedience. All
the virtues peculiar to the sect to which she belonged shone in her,
but she seemed to be unconscious of her merit. There was a grace,
which no austerity could diminish, about every movement of her
lissome, slender form; her quiet brow, the delicate grave outlines of
her face, and her clearly cut features indicated noble birth; her
expression was gentle and proud; her thick hair had been simply
braided, the coronet of plaits about her head served, all unknown to
her, as an adornment. Captain, she was for me the ideal type that is
always made real for us in the woman with whom we fall in love; for
when we love, is it not because we recognize beauty that we have
dreamed of, the beauty that has existed in idea for us is realized?
When I spoke to her, she answered simply, without shyness or
eagerness; she did not know the pleasure it was to me to see her, to
hear the musical sounds of her voice. All these angels are revealed to
our hearts by the same signs; by the sweetness of their tongues, the
tenderness in their eyes, by their fair, pale faces, and their
gracious ways. All these things are so blended and mingled that we
feel the charm of their presence, yet cannot tell in what that charm
consists, and every movement is an expression of a divine soul within.
I loved passionately. This newly awakened love satisfied all my
restless longings, all my ambitious dreams. She was beautiful,
wealthy, and nobly born; she had been carefully brought up; she had
all the qualifications which the world positively demands of a woman
placed in the high position which I desired to reach; she had been
well educated, she expressed herself with a sprightly facility at once
rare and common in France; where the most prettily worded phrases of
many women are emptiness itself, while her bright talk was full of
sense. Above all, she had a deep consciousness of her own dignity
which made others respect her; I know of no more excellent thing in a
wife. I must stop, captain; no one can describe the woman he loves
save very imperfectly, preexistent mysteries which defy analysis lie
between them.

"I very soon took my old friend into my confidence. He introduced me
to her family, and gave me the countenance of his honorable character.
I was received at first with the frigid politeness characteristic of
those exclusive people who never forsake those whom they have once
admitted to their friendship. As time went on they welcomed me almost
as one of the family; this mark of their esteem was won by my behavior
in the matter. In spite of my passionate love, I did nothing that
could lower me in my own eyes; I did not cringe, I paid no court to
those upon whom my fate depended, before all things I showed myself a
man, and not other than I really was. When I was well known to them,
my old friend, who was as desirous as I myself that my life of
melancholy loneliness should come to an end, spoke of my hopes and met
with a favorable reception; but with the diplomatic shrewdness which
is almost a second nature with men of the world, he was silent with
regard to an error of my youth, as he termed it. He was anxious to
bring about a 'satisfactory marriage' for me, an expression that makes
of so solemn an act a business transaction in which husband and wife
endeavor to cheat each other. In his opinion, the existence of my
child would excite a moral repugnance, in comparison with which the
question of money would be as nought, and the whole affair would be
broken off at once, and he was right.

"'It is a matter which will be very easily settled between you and
your wife; it will be easy to obtain her full and free forgiveness,'
he said.

"In short, he tried to silence my scruples, and all the insidious
arguments that worldly wisdom could suggest were brought to bear upon
me to this end. I will confess to you, sir, that in spite of my
promise, my first impulse was to act straightforwardly and to make
everything known to the head of the family, but the thought of his
uncompromising sternness made me pause, and the probable consequences
of the confession appalled me; my courage failed, I temporized with my
conscience, I determined to wait until I was sufficiently sure of the
affection of the girl I hoped to win, before hazarding my happiness by
the terrible confession. My resolution to acknowledge everything
openly, at a convenient season, vindicated the sophistries of worldly
wisdom and the sagacity of my old friend. So the young girl's parents
received me as their future son-in-law without, as yet, taking their
friends into their confidence.

"An infinite discretion is the distinguishing quality of pious
families; they are reticent about everything, even about matters of no
importance. You would not believe, sir, how this sedate gravity and
reserve, pervading every least action, deepens the current of feeling
and thought. Everything in that house was done with some useful end in
view; the women spent their leisure time in making garments for the
poor; their conversation was never frivolous; laughter was not
banished, but there was a kindly simplicity about their merriment.
Their talk had none of the piquancy which scandal and ill-natured
gossip give to the conversation of society; only the father and uncle
read the newspapers, even the most harmless journal contains
references to crimes or to public evils, and she whom I hoped to win
had never cast her eyes over their sheets. How strange it was, at
first, to listen to these orthodox people! But in a little while, the
pure atmosphere left the same impression upon the soul that subdued
colors give to the eyes, a sense of serene repose and of tranquil

"To a superficial observer, their life would have seemed terribly
monotonous. There was something chilling about the appearance of the
interior of the house. Day after day I used to see everything, even
the furniture in constant use, always standing in the same place, and
this uniform tidiness pervaded the smallest details. Yet there was
something very attractive about their household ways. I had been used
to the pleasures of variety, to the luxury and stir of life in Paris;
it was only when I had overcome my first repugnance that I saw the
advantages of this existence; how it lent itself to continuity of
thought and to involuntary meditation; how a life in which the heart
has undisturbed sway seems to widen and grow vast as the sea. It is
like the life of the cloister, where the outward surroundings never
vary, and thought is thus compelled to detach itself from outward
things and to turn to the infinite that lies within the soul!

"For a man as sincerely in love as I was, the silence and simplicity
of the life, the almost conventual regularity with which the same
things are done daily at the same hours, only deepened and
strengthened love. In that profound calm the interest attaching to the
least action, word, or gesture became immense. I learned to know that,
in the interchange of glances and in answering smiles, there lies an
eloquence and a variety of language far beyond the possibilities of
the most magnificent of spoken phrases; that when the expression of
the feelings is spontaneous and unforced, there is no idea, no joy nor
sorrow that cannot thus be communicated by hearts that understand each
other. How many times I have tried to set forth my soul in my eyes or
on my lips, compelled at once to speak and to be silent concerning my
passion; for the young girl who, in my presence, was always serene and
unconscious had not been informed of the reason of my constant visits;
her parents were determined that the most important decision of her
life should rest entirely with her. But does not the presence of our
beloved satisfy the utmost desire of passionate love? In that presence
do we not know the happiness of the Christian who stands before God?
If for me more than for any other it was torture to have no right to
give expression to the impulses of my heart, to force back into its
depths the burning words that treacherously wrong the yet more ardent
emotions which strive to find an utterance in speech; I found,
nevertheless, in the merest trifles a channel through which my
passionate love poured itself forth but the more vehemently for this
constraint, till every least occurrence came to have an excessive

"I beheld her, not for brief moments, but for whole hours. There were
pauses between my question and her answer, and long musings, when,
with the tones of her voice lingering in my ears, I sought to divine
from them the secret of her inmost thoughts; perhaps her fingers would
tremble as I gave her some object of which she had been in search, or
I would devise pretexts to lightly touch her dress or her hair, to
take her hand in mine, to compel her to speak more than she wished;
all these nothings were great events for me. Eyes and voice and
gestures were freighted with mysterious messages of love in hours of
ecstasy like these, and this was the only language permitted me by the
quiet maidenly reserve of the young girl before me. Her manner towards
me underwent no change; with me she was always as a sister with a
brother; yet, as my passion grew, and the contrast between her glances
and mine, her words and my utterance, became more striking, I felt at
last that this timid silence was the only means by which she could
express her feelings. Was she not always in the salon whenever I came?
Did she not stay there until my visit, expected and perhaps foreseen,
was over? Did not this mute tryst betray the secret of her innocent
soul? Nay, whilst I spoke, did she not listen with a pleasure which
she could not hide?

"At last, no doubt, her parents grew impatient with this artless
behavior and sober love-making. I was almost as timid as their
daughter, and perhaps on this account found favor in their eyes. They
regarded me as a man worthy of their esteem. My old friend was taken
into their confidence; both father and mother spoke of me in the most
flattering terms; I had become their adopted son, and more especially
they singled out my moral principles for praise. In truth, I had found
my youth again; among these pure and religious surroundings early
beliefs and early faith came back to the man of thirty-two.

"The summer was drawing to a close. Affairs of some importance had
detained the family in Paris longer than their wont; but when
September came, and they were able to leave town at last for an estate
in Auvergne, her father entreated me to spend a couple of months with
them in an old chateau hidden away among the mountains of Cantal. I
paused before accepting this friendly invitation. My hesitation
brought me the sweetest and most delightful unconscious confession, a
revelation of the mysteries of a girlish heart. Evelina . . . /Dieu!/"
exclaimed Benassis; and he said no more for a time, wrapped in his own

"Pardon me, Captain Bluteau," he resumed, after a long pause. "For
twelve years I have not uttered the name that is always hovering in my
thoughts, that a voice calls in my hearing even when I sleep. Evelina
(since I have named her) raised her head with a strange quickness and
abruptness, for about all her movements there was an instinctive grace
and gentleness, and looked at me. There was no pride in her face, but
rather a wistful anxiety. Then her color rose, and her eyelids fell;
it gave me an indescribable pleasure never felt before that they
should fall so slowly; I could only stammer out my reply in a
faltering voice. The emotion of my own heart made swift answer to
hers. She thanked me by a happy look, and I almost thought that there
were tears in her eyes. In that moment we had told each other
everything. So I went into the country with her family. Since the day
when our hearts had understood each other, nothing seemed to be as it

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