Part 1 out of 2
Etext prepared by John Bickers, firstname.lastname@example.org
and Dagny, email@example.com
THE HATED SON by HONORE DE BALZAC
Katharine Prescott Wormeley
To Madame la Baronne James Rothschild.
THE HATED SON
HOW THE MOTHER LIVED
A BEDROOM OF THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY
On a winter's night, about two in the morning, the Comtesse Jeanne
d'Herouville felt such violent pains that in spite of her
inexperience, she was conscious of an approaching confinement; and the
instinct which makes us hope for ease in a change of posture induced
her to sit up in her bed, either to study the nature of these new
sufferings, or to reflect on her situation. She was a prey to cruel
fears,--caused less by the dread of a first lying-in, which terrifies
most women, than by certain dangers which awaited her child.
In order not to awaken her husband who was sleeping beside her, the
poor woman moved with precautions which her intense terror made as
minute as those of a prisoner endeavoring to escape. Though the pains
became more and more severe, she ceased to feel them, so completely
did she concentrate her own strength on the painful effort of resting
her two moist hands on the pillow and so turning her suffering body
from a posture in which she could find no ease. At the slightest
rustling of the huge green silk coverlet, under which she had slept
but little since her marriage, she stopped as though she had rung a
bell. Forced to watch the count, she divided her attention between the
folds of the rustling stuff and a large swarthy face, the moustache of
which was brushing her shoulder. When some noisier breath than usual
left her husband's lips, she was filled with a sudden terror that
revived the color driven from her cheeks by her double anguish.
The prisoner reached the prison door in the dead of night and trying
to noiselessly turn the key in a pitiless lock, was never more timidly
When the countess had succeeded in rising to her seat without
awakening her keeper, she made a gesture of childlike joy which
revealed the touching naivete of her nature. But the half-formed smile
on her burning lips was quickly suppressed; a thought came to darken
that pure brow, and her long blue eyes resumed their sad expression.
She gave a sigh and again laid her hands, not without precaution, on
the fatal conjugal pillow. Then--as if for the first time since her
marriage she found herself free in thought and action--she looked at
the things around her, stretching out her neck with little darting
motions like those of a bird in its cage. Seeing her thus, it was easy
to divine that she had once been all gaiety and light-heartedness, but
that fate had suddenly mown down her hopes, and changed her ingenuous
gaiety to sadness.
The chamber was one of those which, to this day octogenarian porters
of old chateaus point out to visitors as "the state bedroom where
Louis XIII. once slept." Fine pictures, mostly brown in tone, were
framed in walnut, the delicate carvings of which were blackened by
time. The rafters of the ceiling formed compartments adorned with
arabesques in the style of the preceding century, which preserved the
colors of the chestnut wood. These decorations, severe in tone,
reflected the light so little that it was difficult to see their
designs, even when the sun shone full into that long and wide and
lofty chamber. The silver lamp, placed upon the mantel of the vast
fireplace, lighted the room so feebly that its quivering gleam could
be compared only to the nebulous stars which appear at moments through
the dun gray clouds of an autumn night. The fantastic figures crowded
on the marble of the fireplace, which was opposite to the bed, were so
grotesquely hideous that she dared not fix her eyes upon them, fearing
to see them move, or to hear a startling laugh from their gaping and
At this moment a tempest was growling in the chimney, giving to every
puff of wind a lugubrious meaning,--the vast size of the flute putting
the hearth into such close communication with the skies above that the
embers upon it had a sort of respiration; they sparkled and went out
at the will of the wind. The arms of the family of Herouville, carved
in white marble with their mantle and supporters, gave the appearance
of a tomb to this species of edifice, which formed a pendant to the
bed, another erection raised to the glory of Hymen. Modern architects
would have been puzzled to decide whether the room had been built for
the bed or the bed for the room. Two cupids playing on the walnut
headboard, wreathed with garlands, might have passed for angels; and
columns of the same wood, supporting the tester were carved with
mythological allegories, the explanation of which could have been
found either in the Bible or Ovid's Metamorphoses. Take away the bed,
and the same tester would have served in a church for the canopy of
the pulpit or the seats of the wardens. The married pair mounted by
three steps to this sumptuous couch, which stood upon a platform and
was hung with curtains of green silk covered with brilliant designs
called "ramages"--possibly because the birds of gay plumage there
depicted were supposed to sing. The folds of these immense curtains
were so stiff that in the semi-darkness they might have been taken for
some metal fabric. On the green velvet hanging, adorned with gold
fringes, which covered the foot of this lordly couch the superstition
of the Comtes d'Herouville had affixed a large crucifix, on which
their chaplain placed a fresh branch of sacred box when he renewed at
Easter the holy water in the basin at the foot of the cross.
On one side of the fireplace stood a large box or wardrobe of choice
woods magnificently carved, such as brides receive even now in the
provinces on their wedding day. These old chests, now so much in
request by antiquaries, were the arsenals from which women drew the
rich and elegant treasures of their personal adornment,--laces,
bodices, high collars and ruffs, gowns of price, alms-purses, masks,
gloves, veils,--in fact all the inventions of coquetry in the
On the other side, by way of symmetry, was another piece of furniture,
somewhat similar in shape, where the countess kept her books, papers,
and jewels. Antique chairs covered with damask, a large and greenish
mirror, made in Venice, and richly framed in a sort of rolling toilet-
table, completed the furnishings of the room. The floor was covered
with a Persian carpet, the richness of which proved the gallantry of
the count; on the upper step of the bed stood a little table, on which
the waiting-woman served every night in a gold or silver cup a drink
prepared with spices.
After we have gone some way in life we know the secret influence
exerted by places on the condition of the soul. Who has not had his
darksome moments, when fresh hope has come into his heart from things
that surrounded him? The fortunate, or the unfortunate man, attributes
an intelligent countenance to the things among which he lives; he
listens to them, he consults them--so naturally superstitious is he.
At this moment the countess turned her eyes upon all these articles of
furniture, as if they were living beings whose help and protection she
implored; but the answer of that sombre luxury seemed to her
Suddenly the tempest redoubled. The poor young woman could augur
nothing favorable as she listened to the threatening heavens, the
changes of which were interpreted in those credulous days according to
the ideas or the habits of individuals. Suddenly she turned her eyes
to the two arched windows at the end of the room; but the smallness of
their panes and the multiplicity of the leaden lines did not allow her
to see the sky and judge if the world were coming to an end, as
certain monks, eager for donations, affirmed. She might easily have
believed in such predictions, for the noise of the angry sea, the
waves of which beat against the castle wall, combined with the mighty
voice of the tempest, so that even the rocks appeared to shake. Though
her sufferings were now becoming keener and less endurable, the
countess dared not awaken her husband; but she turned and examined his
features, as if despair were urging her to find a consolation there
against so many sinister forebodings.
If matters were sad around the poor young woman, that face,
notwithstanding the tranquillity of sleep, seemed sadder still. The
light from the lamp, flickering in the draught, scarcely reached
beyond the foot of the bed and illumined the count's head
capriciously; so that the fitful movements of its flash upon those
features in repose produced the effect of a struggle with angry
thought. The countess was scarcely reassured by perceiving the cause
of that phenomenon. Each time that a gust of wind projected the light
upon the count's large face, casting shadows among its bony outlines,
she fancied that her husband was about to fix upon her his two
insupportably stern eyes.
Implacable as the war then going on between the Church and Calvinism,
the count's forehead was threatening even while he slept. Many
furrows, produced by the emotions of a warrior life, gave it a vague
resemblance to the vermiculated stone which we see in the buildings of
that period; his hair, like the whitish lichen of old oaks, gray
before its time, surrounded without grace a cruel brow, where
religious intolerance showed its passionate brutality. The shape of
the aquiline nose, which resembled the beak of a bird of prey, the
black and crinkled lids of the yellow eyes, the prominent bones of a
hollow face, the rigidity of the wrinkles, the disdain expressed in
the lower lip, were all expressive of ambition, despotism, and power,
the more to be feared because the narrowness of the skull betrayed an
almost total absence of intelligence, and a mere brute courage devoid
of generosity. The face was horribly disfigured by a large transversal
scar which had the appearance of a second mouth on the right cheek.
At the age of thirty-three the count, anxious to distinguish himself
in that unhappy religious war the signal for which was given on Saint-
Bartholomew's day, had been grievously wounded at the siege of
Rochelle. The misfortune of this wound increased his hatred against
the partisans of what the language of that day called "the Religion,"
but, by a not unnatural turn of mind, he included in that antipathy
all handsome men. Before the catastrophe, however, he was so
repulsively ugly that no lady had ever been willing to receive him as
a suitor. The only passion of his youth was for a celebrated woman
called La Belle Romaine. The distrust resulting from this new
misfortune made him suspicious to the point of not believing himself
capable of inspiring a true passion; and his character became so
savage that when he did have some successes in gallantry he owed them
to the terror inspired by his cruelty. The left hand of this terrible
Catholic, which lay on the outside of the bed, will complete this
sketch of his character. Stretched out as if to guard the countess, as
a miser guards his hoard, that enormous hand was covered with hair so
thick, it presented such a network of veins and projecting muscles,
that it gave the idea of a branch of birch clasped with a growth of
Children looking at the count's face would have thought him an ogre,
terrible tales of whom they knew by heart. It was enough to see the
width and length of the space occupied by the count in the bed, to
imagine his gigantic proportions. When awake, his gray eyebrows hid
his eyelids in a way to heighten the light of his eye, which glittered
with the luminous ferocity of a wolf skulking on the watch in a
forest. Under his lion nose, with its flaring nostrils, a large and
ill-kept moustache (for he despised all toilet niceties) completely
concealed the upper lip. Happily for the countess, her husband's wide
mouth was silent at this moment, for the softest sounds of that harsh
voice made her tremble. Though the Comte d'Herouville was barely fifty
years of age, he appeared at first sight to be sixty, so much had the
toils of war, without injuring his robust constitution, dilapidated
The countess, who was now in her nineteenth year, made a painful
contrast to that large, repulsive figure. She was fair and slim. Her
chestnut locks, threaded with gold, played upon her neck like russet
shadows, and defined a face such as Carlo Dolce has painted for his
ivory-toned madonnas,--a face which now seemed ready to expire under
the increasing attacks of physical pain. You might have thought her
the apparition of an angel sent from heaven to soften the iron will of
the terrible count.
"No, he will not kill us!" she cried to herself mentally, after
contemplating her husband for a long time. "He is frank, courageous,
faithful to his word--faithful to his word!"
Repeating that last sentence in her thoughts, she trembled violently,
and remained as if stupefied.
To understand the horror of her present situation, we must add that
this nocturnal scene took place in 1591, a period when civil war raged
throughout France, and the laws had no vigor. The excesses of the
League, opposed to the accession of Henri IV., surpassed the
calamities of the religious wars. License was so universal that no one
was surprised to see a great lord kill his enemy in open day. When a
military expedition, having a private object, was led in the name of
the King or of the League, one or other of these parties applauded it.
It was thus that Blagny, a soldier, came near becoming a sovereign
prince at the gates of France. Sometime before Henri III.'s death, a
court lady murdered a nobleman who made offensive remarks about her.
One of the king's minions remarked to him:--
"Hey! vive Dieu! sire, she daggered him finely!"
The Comte d'Herouville, one of the most rabid royalists in Normandy,
kept the part of that province which adjoins Brittany under subjection
to Henri IV. by the rigor of his executions. The head of one of the
richest families in France, he had considerably increased the revenues
of his great estates by marrying seven months before the night on
which this history begins, Jeanne de Saint-Savin, a young lady who, by
a not uncommon chance in days when people were killed off like flies,
had suddenly become the representative of both branches of the Saint-
Savin family. Necessity and terror were the causes which led to this
union. At a banquet given, two months after the marriage, to the Comte
and Comtesse d'Herouville, a discussion arose on a topic which in
those days of ignorance was thought amusing: namely, the legitimacy of
children coming into the world ten months after the death of their
fathers, or seven months after the wedding day.
"Madame," said the count brutally, turning to his wife, "if you give
me a child ten months after my death, I cannot help it; but be careful
that you are not brought to bed in seven months!"
"What would you do then, old bear?" asked the young Marquis de
Verneuil, thinking that the count was joking.
"I should wring the necks of mother and child!"
An answer so peremptory closed the discussion, imprudently started by
a seigneur from Lower Normandy. The guests were silent, looking with a
sort of terror at the pretty Comtesse d'Herouville. All were convinced
that if such an event occurred, her savage lord would execute his
The words of the count echoed in the bosom of the young wife, then
pregnant; one of those presentiments which furrow a track like
lightning through the soul, told her that her child would be born at
seven months. An inward heat overflowed her from head to foot, sending
the life's blood to her heart with such violence that the surface of
her body felt bathed in ice. From that hour not a day had passed that
the sense of secret terror did not check every impulse of her innocent
gaiety. The memory of the look, of the inflections of voice with which
the count accompanied his words, still froze her blood, and silenced
her sufferings, as she leaned over that sleeping head, and strove to
see some sign of a pity she had vainly sought there when awake.
The child, threatened with death before its life began, made so
vigorous a movement that she cried aloud, in a voice that seemed like
a sigh, "Poor babe!"
She said no more; there are ideas that a mother cannot bear. Incapable
of reasoning at this moment, the countess was almost choked with the
intensity of a suffering as yet unknown to her. Two tears, escaping
from her eyes, rolled slowly down her cheeks, and traced two shining
lines, remaining suspended at the bottom of that white face, like
dewdrops on a lily. What learned man would take upon himself to say
that the child unborn is on some neutral ground, where the emotions of
its mother do not penetrate during those hours when soul clasps body
and communicates its impressions, when thought permeates blood with
healing balm or poisonous fluids? The terror that shakes the tree, will
it not hurt the fruit? Those words, "Poor babe!" were they dictated by
a vision of the future? The shuddering of this mother was violent; her
The bloody answer given by the count at the banquet was a link
mysteriously connecting the past with this premature confinement. That
odious suspicion, thus publicly expressed, had cast into the memories
of the countess a dread which echoed to the future. Since that fatal
gala, she had driven from her mind, with as much fear as another woman
would have found pleasure in evoking them, a thousand scattered scenes
of her past existence. She refused even to think of the happy days
when her heart was free to love. Like as the melodies of their native
land make exiles weep, so these memories revived sensations so
delightful that her young conscience thought them crimes, and sued
them to enforce still further the savage threat of the count. There
lay the secret of the horror which was now oppressing her soul.
Sleeping figures possess a sort of suavity, due to the absolute repose
of both body and mind; but though that species of calmness softened
but slightly the harsh expression of the count's features, all
illusion granted to the unhappy is so persuasive that the poor wife
ended by finding hope in that tranquillity. The roar of the tempest,
now descending in torrents of rain, seemed to her no more than a
melancholy moan; her fears and her pains both yielded her a momentary
respite. Contemplating the man to whom her life was bound, the
countess allowed herself to float into a reverie, the sweetness of
which was so intoxicating that she had no strength to break its charm.
For a moment, by one of those visions which in some way share the
divine power, there passed before her rapid images of a happiness lost
Jeanne in her vision saw faintly, and as if in a distant gleam of
dawn, the modest castle where her careless childhood had glided on;
there were the verdant lawns, the rippling brook, the little chamber,
the scenes of her happy play. She saw herself gathering flowers and
planting them, unknowing why they wilted and would not grow, despite
her constancy in watering them. Next, she saw confusedly the vast town
and the vast house blackened by age, to which her mother took her when
she was seven years old. Her lively memory showed her the old gray
heads of the masters who taught and tormented her. She remembered the
person of her father; she saw him getting off his mule at the door of
the manor-house, and taking her by the hand to lead her up the stairs;
she recalled how her prattle drove from his brow the judicial cares he
did not always lay aside with his black or his red robes, the white
fur of which fell one day by chance under the snipping of her
mischievous scissors. She cast but one glance at the confessor of her
aunt, the mother-superior of a convent of Poor Clares, a rigid and
fanatical old man, whose duty it was to initiate her into the
mysteries of religion. Hardened by the severities necessary against
heretics, the old priest never ceased to jangle the chains of hell; he
told her of nothing but the vengeance of Heaven, and made her tremble
with the assurance that God's eye was on her. Rendered timid, she
dared not raise her eyes in the priest's presence, and ceased to have
any feeling but respect for her mother, whom up to that time she had
made a sharer in all her frolics. When she saw that beloved mother
turning her blue eyes towards her with an appearance of anger, a
religious terror took possession of the girl's heart.
Then suddenly the vision took her to the second period of her
childhood, when as yet she understood nothing of the things of life.
She thought with an almost mocking regret of the days when all her
happiness was to work beside her mother in the tapestried salon, to
pray in the church, to sing her ballads to a lute, to read in secret a
romance of chivalry, to pluck the petals of a flower, discover what
gift her father would make her on the feast of the Blessed Saint-John,
and find out the meaning of speeches repressed before her. Passing
thus from her childish joys through the sixteen years of her girlhood,
the grace of those softly flowing years when she knew no pain was
eclipsed by the brightness of a memory precious though ill-fated. The
joyous peace of her childhood was far less sweet to her than a single
one of the troubles scattered upon the last two years of her
childhood,--years that were rich in treasures now buried forever in
The vision brought her suddenly to that morning, that ravishing
morning, when in the grand old parlor panelled and carved in oak,
which served the family as a dining-room, she saw her handsome cousin
for the first time. Alarmed by the seditions in Paris, her mother's
family had sent the young courtier to Rouen, hoping that he could
there be trained to the duties of the magistracy by his uncle, whose
office might some day devolve upon him. The countess smiled
involuntarily as she remembered the haste with which she retired on
seeing this relation whom she did not know. But, in spite of the
rapidity with which she opened and shut the door, a single glance had
put into her soul so vigorous an impression of the scene that even at
this moment she seemed to see it still occurring. Her eye again
wandered from the violet velvet mantle embroidered with gold and lined
with satin to the spurs on the boots, the pretty lozenges slashed into
the doublet, the trunk-hose, and the rich collaret which gave to view
a throat as white as the lace around it. She stroked with her hand the
handsome face with its tiny pointed moustache, and "royale" as small
as the ermine tips upon her father's hood.
In the silence of the night, with her eyes fixed on the green silk
curtains which she no longer saw, the countess, forgetting the storm,
her husband, and her fears, recalled the days which seemed to her
longer than years, so full were they,--days when she loved, and was
beloved!--and the moment when, fearing her mother's sternness, she had
slipped one morning into her father's study to whisper her girlish
confidences on his knee, waiting for his smile at her caresses to say
in his ear, "Will you scold me if I tell you something?" Once more she
heard her father say, after a few questions in reply to which she
spoke for the first time of her love, "Well, well, my child, we will
think of it. If he studies well, if he fits himself to succeed me, if
he continues to please you, I will be on your side."
After that she had listened no longer; she had kissed her father, and,
knocking over his papers as she ran from the room, she flew to the
great linden-tree where, daily, before her formidable mother rose, she
met that charming cousin, Georges de Chaverny.
Faithfully the youth promised to study law and customs. He laid aside
the splendid trappings of the nobility of the sword to wear the
sterner costume of the magistracy.
"I like you better in black," she said.
It was a falsehood, but by that falsehood she comforted her lover for
having thrown his dagger to the winds. The memory of the little
schemes employed to deceive her mother, whose severity seemed great,
brought back to her the soulful joys of that innocent and mutual and
sanctioned love; sometimes a rendezvous beneath the linden, where
speech could be freer than before witnesses; sometimes a furtive
clasp, or a stolen kiss,--in short, all the naive instalments of a
passion that did not pass the bounds of modesty. Reliving in her
vision those delightful days when she seemed to have too much
happiness, she fancied that she kissed, in the void, that fine young
face with the glowing eyes, that rosy mouth that spoke so well of
love. Yes, she had loved Chaverny, poor apparently; but what treasures
had she not discovered in that soul as tender as it was strong!
Suddenly her father died. Chaverny did not succeed him. The flames of
civil war burst forth. By Chaverny's care she and her mother found
refuge in a little town of Lower Normandy. Soon the deaths of other
relatives made her one of the richest heiresses in France. Happiness
disappeared as wealth came to her. The savage and terrible face of
Comte d'Herouville, who asked her hand, rose before her like a
thunder-cloud, spreading its gloom over the smiling meadows so lately
gilded by the sun. The poor countess strove to cast from her memory
the scenes of weeping and despair brought about by her long
At last came an awful night when her mother, pale and dying, threw
herself at her daughter's feet. Jeanne could save Chaverny's life by
yielding; she yielded. It was night. The count, arriving bloody from
the battlefield was there; all was ready, the priest, the altar, the
torches! Jeanne belonged henceforth to misery. Scarcely had she time
to say to her young cousin who was set at liberty:--
"Georges, if you love me, never see me again!"
She heard the departing steps of her lover, whom, in truth, she never
saw again; but in the depths of her heart she still kept sacred his
last look which returned perpetually in her dreams and illumined them.
Living like a cat shut into a lion's cage, the young wife dreaded at
all hours the claws of the master which ever threatened her. She knew
that in order to be happy she must forget the past and think only of
the future; but there were days, consecrated to the memory of some
vanished joy, when she deliberately made it a crime to put on the gown
she had worn on the day she had seen her lover for the first time.
"I am not guilty," she said, "but if I seem guilty to the count it is
as if I were so. Perhaps I am! The Holy Virgin conceived without--"
She stopped. During this moment when her thoughts were misty and her
soul floated in a region of fantasy her naivete made her attribute to
that last look with which her lover transfixed her the occult power of
the visitation of the angel to the Mother of her Lord. This
supposition, worthy of the days of innocence to which her reverie had
carried her back, vanished before the memory of a conjugal scene more
odious than death. The poor countess could have no real doubt as to
the legitimacy of the child that stirred in her womb. The night of her
marriage reappeared to her in all the horror if its agony, bringing in
its train other such nights and sadder days.
"Ah! my poor Chaverny!" she cried, weeping, "you so respectful, so
gracious, YOU were always kind to me."
She turned her eyes to her husband as if to persuade herself that that
harsh face contained a promise of mercy, dearly brought. The count was
awake. His yellow eyes, clear as those of a tiger, glittered beneath
their tufted eyebrows and never had his glance been so incisive. The
countess, terrified at having encountered it, slid back under the
great counterpane and was motionless.
"Why are you weeping?" said the count, pulling away the covering which
hid his wife.
That voice, always a terror to her, had a specious softness at this
moment which seemed to her of good augury.
"I suffer much," she answered.
"Well, my pretty one, it is no crime to suffer; why did you tremble
when I looked at you? Alas! what must I do to be loved?" The wrinkles
of his forehead between the eyebrows deepened. "I see plainly you are
afraid of me," he added, sighing.
Prompted by the instinct of feeble natures the countess interrupted
the count by moans, exclaiming:--
"I fear a miscarriage! I clambered over the rocks last evening and
Hearing those words, the count cast so horribly suspicious a look upon
his wife, that she reddened and shuddered. He mistook the fear of the
innocent creature for remorse.
"Perhaps it is the beginning of a regular childbirth," he said.
"What then?" she said.
"In any case, I must have a proper man here," he said. "I will fetch
The gloomy look which accompanied these words overcame the countess,
who fell back in the bed with a moan, caused more by a sense of her
fate than by the agony of the coming crisis; that moan convinced the
count of the justice of the suspicions that were rising in his mind.
Affecting a calmness which the tones of his voice, his gestures, and
looks contradicted, he rose hastily, wrapped himself in a dressing-
gown which lay on a chair, and began by locking a door near the
chimney through which the state bedroom was entered from the reception
rooms which communicated with the great staircase.
Seeing her husband pocket that key, the countess had a presentiment of
danger. She next heard him open the door opposite to that which he had
just locked and enter a room where the counts of Herouville slept when
they did not honor their wives with their noble company. The countess
knew of that room only by hearsay. Jealousy kept her husband always
with her. If occasionally some military expedition forced him to leave
her, the count left more than one Argus, whose incessant spying proved
his shameful distrust.
In spite of the attention the countess now gave to the slightest
noise, she heard nothing more. The count had, in fact, entered a long
gallery leading from his room which continued down the western wing of
the castle. Cardinal d'Herouville, his great-uncle, a passionate lover
of the works of printing, had there collected a library as interesting
for the number as for the beauty of its volumes, and prudence had
caused him to build into the walls one of those curious inventions
suggested by solitude or by monastic fears. A silver chain set in
motion, by means of invisible wires, a bell placed at the bed's head
of a faithful servitor. The count now pulled the chain, and the boots
and spurs of the man on duty sounded on the stone steps of a spiral
staircase, placed in the tall tower which flanked the western corner
of the chateau on the ocean side.
When the count heard the steps of his retainer he pulled back the
rusty bolts which protected the door leading from the gallery to the
tower, admitting into the sanctuary of learning a man of arms whose
stalwart appearance was in keeping with that of his master. This man,
scarcely awakened, seemed to have walked there by instinct; the horn
lantern which he held in his hand threw so feeble a gleam down the
long library that his master and he appeared in that visible darkness
like two phantoms.
"Saddle my war-horse instantly, and come with me yourself."
This order was given in a deep tone which roused the man's
intelligence. He raised his eyes to those of his master and
encountered so piercing a look that the effect was that of an electric
"Bertrand," added the count laying his right hand on the servant's
arm, "take off your cuirass, and wear the uniform of a captain of
"Heavens and earth, monseigneur! What? disguise myself as a Leaguer!
Excuse me, I will obey you; but I would rather be hanged."
The count smiled; then to efface that smile, which contrasted with the
expression of his face, he answered roughly:--
"Choose the strongest horse there is in the stable and follow me. We
shall ride like balls shot from an arquebuse. Be ready when I am
ready. I will ring to let you know."
Bertrand bowed in silence and went away; but when he had gone a few
steps he said to himself, as he listened to the howling of the
"All the devils are abroad, jarnidieu! I'd have been surprised to see
this one stay quietly in his bed. We took Saint-Lo in just such a
tempest as this."
The count kept in his room a disguise which often served him in his
campaign stratagems. Putting on the shabby buff-coat that looked as
thought it might belong to one of the poor horse-soldiers whose
pittance was so seldom paid by Henri IV., he returned to the room
where his wife was moaning.
"Try to suffer patiently," he said to her. "I will founder my horse if
necessary to bring you speedy relief."
These words were certainly not alarming, and the countess, emboldened
by them, was about to make a request when the count asked her
"Tell me where you keep your masks?"
"My masks!" she replied. "Good God! what do you want to do with them?"
"Where are they?" he repeated, with his usual violence.
"In the chest," she said.
She shuddered when she saw her husband select from among her masks a
"touret de nez," the wearing of which was as common among the ladies
of that time as the wearing of gloves in our day. The count became
entirely unrecognizable after he had put on an old gray felt hat with
a broken cock's feather on his head. He girded round his loins a broad
leathern belt, in which he stuck a dagger, which he did not wear
habitually. These miserable garments gave him so terrifying an air and
he approached the bed with so strange a motion that the countess
thought her last hour had come.
"Ah! don't kill us!" she cried, "leave me my child, and I will love
"You must feel yourself very guilty to offer as the ransom of your
faults the love you owe me."
The count's voice was lugubrious and the bitter words were enforced by
a look which fell like lead upon the countess.
"My God!" she cried sorrowfully, "can innocence be fatal?"
"Your death is not in question," said her master, coming out of a sort
of reverie into which he had fallen. "You are to do exactly, and for
love of me, what I shall now tell you."
He flung upon the bed one of the two masks he had taken from the
chest, and smiled with derision as he saw the gesture of involuntary
fear which the slight shock of the black velvet wrung from his wife.
"You will give me a puny child!" he cried. "Wear that mask on your
face when I return. I'll have no barber-surgeon boast that he has seen
the Comtesse d'Herouville."
"A man!--why choose a man for the purpose?" she said in a feeble
"Ho! ho! my lady, am I not master here?" replied the count.
"What matters one horror the more!" murmured the countess; but her
master had disappeared, and the exclamation did her no injury.
Presently, in a brief lull of the storm, the countess heard the gallop
of two horses which seemed to fly across the sandy dunes by which the
castle was surrounded. The sound was quickly lost in that of the
waves. Soon she felt herself a prisoner in the vast apartment, alone
in the midst of a night both silent and threatening, and without
succor against an evil she saw approaching her with rapid strides. In
vain she sought for some stratagem by which to save that child
conceived in tears, already her consolation, the spring of all her
thoughts, the future of her affections, her one frail hope.
Sustained by maternal courage, she took the horn with which her
husband summoned his men, and, opening a window, blew through the
brass tube feeble notes that died away upon the vast expanse of water,
like a bubble blown into the air by a child. She felt the uselessness
of that moan unheard of men, and turned to hasten through the
apartments, hoping that all the issues were not closed upon her.
Reaching the library she sought in vain for some secret passage; then,
passing between the long rows of books, she reached a window which
looked upon the courtyard. Again she sounded the horn, but without
success against the voice of the hurricane.
In her helplessness she thought of trusting herself to one of the
women,--all creatures of her husband,--when, passing into her oratory,
she found that the count had locked the only door that led to their
apartments. This was a horrible discovery. Such precautions taken to
isolate her showed a desire to proceed without witnesses to some
horrible execution. As moment after moment she lost hope, the pangs of
childbirth grew stronger and keener. A presentiment of murder, joined
to the fatigue of her efforts, overcame her last remaining strength.
She was like a shipwrecked man who sinks, borne under by one last wave
less furious than others he has vanquished. The bewildering pangs of
her condition kept her from knowing the lapse of time. At the moment
when she felt that, alone, without help, she was about to give birth
to her child, and to all her other terrors was added that of the
accidents to which her ignorance exposed her, the count appeared,
without a sound that let her know of his arrival. The man was there,
like a demon claiming at the close of a compact the soul that was sold
to him. He muttered angrily at finding his wife's face uncovered; then
after masking her carefully, he took her in his arms and laid her on
the bed in her chamber.
The terror of that apparition and hasty removal stopped for a moment
the physical sufferings of the countess, and so enabled her to cast a
furtive glance at the actors in this mysterious scene. She did not
recognize Bertrand, who was there disguised and masked as carefully as
his master. After lighting in haste some candles, the light of which
mingled with the first rays of the sun which were reddening the window
panes, the old servitor had gone to the embrasure of a window and
stood leaning against a corner of it. There, with his face towards the
wall, he seemed to be estimating its thickness, keeping his body in
such absolute immobility that he might have been taken for a statue.
In the middle of the room the countess beheld a short, stout man,
apparently out of breath and stupefied, whose eyes were blindfolded
and his features so distorted with terror that it was impossible to
guess at their natural expression.
"God's death! you scamp," said the count, giving him back his eyesight
by a rough movement which threw upon the man's neck the bandage that
had been upon his eyes. "I warn you not to look at anything but the
wretched woman on whom you are now to exercise your skill; if you do,
I'll fling you into the river that flows beneath those windows, with a
collar round your neck weighing a hundred pounds!"
With that, he pulled down upon the breast of his stupefied hearer the
cravat with which his eyes had been bandaged.
"Examine first if this can be a miscarriage," he continued; "in which
case your life will answer to me for the mother's; but, if the child
is living, you are to bring it to me."
So saying, the count seized the poor operator by the body and placed
him before the countess, then he went himself to the depths of a bay-
window and began to drum with his fingers upon the panes, casting
glances alternately on his serving-man, on the bed, and at the ocean,
as if he were pledging to the expected child a cradle in the waves.
The man whom, with outrageous violence, the count and Bertrand had
snatched from his bed and fastened to the crupper of the latter's
horse, was a personage whose individuality may serve to characterize
the period,--a man, moreover, whose influence was destined to make
itself felt in the house of Herouville.
Never in any age were the nobles so little informed as to natural
science, and never was judicial astrology held in greater honor; for
at no period in history was there a greater general desire to know the
future. This ignorance and this curiosity had led to the utmost
confusion in human knowledge; all things were still mere personal
experience; the nomenclatures of theory did not exist; printing was
done at enormous cost; scientific communication had little or no
facility; the Church persecuted science and all research which was
based on the analysis of natural phenomena. Persecution begat mystery.
So, to the people as well as to the nobles, physician and alchemist,
mathematician and astronomer, astrologer and necromancer were six
attributes, all meeting in the single person of the physician. In
those days a superior physician was supposed to be cultivating magic;
while curing his patient he was drawing their horoscopes. Princes
protected the men of genius who were willing to reveal the future;
they lodged them in their palaces and pensioned them. The famous
Cornelius Agrippa, who came to France to become the physician of Henri
II., would not consent, as Nostradamus did, to predict the future, and
for this reason he was dismissed by Catherine de' Medici, who replaced
him with Cosmo Ruggiero. The men of science, who were superior to
their times, were therefore seldom appreciated; they simply inspired
an ignorant fear of occult sciences and their results.
Without being precisely one of the famous mathematicians, the man whom
the count had brought enjoyed in Normandy the equivocal reputation
which attached to a physician who was known to do mysterious works. He
belonged to the class of sorcerers who are still called in parts of
France "bonesetters." This name belonged to certain untutored geniuses
who, without apparent study, but by means of hereditary knowledge and
the effect of long practice, the observations of which accumulated in
the family, were bonesetters; that is, they mended broken limbs and
cured both men and beasts of certain maladies, possessing secrets said
to be marvellous for the treatment of serious cases. But not only had
Maitre Antoine Beauvouloir (the name of the present bonesetter) a
father and grandfather who were famous practitioners, from whom he
inherited important traditions, he was also learned in medicine, and
was given to the study of natural science. The country people saw his
study full of books and other strange things which gave to his
successes a coloring of magic. Without passing strictly for a
sorcerer, Antoine Beauvouloir impressed the populace through a
circumference of a hundred miles with respect akin to terror, and
(what was far more really dangerous for himself) he held in his power
many secrets of life and death which concerned the noble families of
that region. Like his father and grandfather before him, he was
celebrated for his skill in confinements and miscarriages. In those
days of unbridled disorder, crimes were so frequent and passions so
violent that the higher nobility often found itself compelled to
initiate Maitre Antoine Beauvouloir into secrets both shameful and
terrible. His discretion, so essential to his safety, was absolute;
consequently his clients paid him well, and his hereditary practice
greatly increased. Always on the road, sometimes roused in the dead of
night, as on this occasion by the count, sometimes obliged to spend
several days with certain great ladies, he had never married; in fact,
his reputation had hindered certain young women from accepting him.
Incapable of finding consolation in the practice of his profession,
which gave him such power over feminine weakness, the poor bonesetter
felt himself born for the joys of family and yet was unable to obtain
The good man's excellent heart was concealed by a misleading
appearance of joviality in keeping with his puffy cheeks and rotund
figure, the vivacity of his fat little body, and the frankness of his
speech. He was anxious to marry that he might have a daughter who
should transfer his property to some poor noble; he did not like his
station as bonesetter and wished to rescue his family name from the
position in which the prejudices of the times had placed it. He
himself took willingly enough to the feasts and jovialities which
usually followed his principal operations. The habit of being on such
occasions the most important personage in the company, had added to
his natural gaiety a sufficient dose of serious vanity. His
impertinences were usually well received in crucial moments when it
often pleased him to perform his operations with a certain slow
majesty. He was, in other respects, as inquisitive as a nightingale,
as greedy as a hound, and as garrulous as all diplomatists who talk
incessantly and betray no secrets. In spite of these defects developed
in him by the endless adventures into which his profession led him,
Antoine Beauvouloir was held to be the least bad man in Normandy.
Though he belonged to the small number of minds who are superior to
their epoch, the strong good sense of a Norman countryman warned him
to conceal the ideas he acquired and the truths he from time to time
As soon as he found himself placed by the count in presence of a woman
in childbirth, the bonesetter recovered his presence of mind. He felt
the pulse of the masked lady; not that he gave it a single thought,
but under cover of that medical action he could reflect, and he did
reflect on his own situation. In none of the shameful and criminal
intrigues in which superior force had compelled him to act as a blind
instrument, had precautions been taken with such mystery as in this
case. Though his death had often been threatened as a means of
assuring the secrecy of enterprises in which he had taken part against
his will, his life had never been so endangered as at that moment. He
resolved, before all things, to find out who it was who now employed
him, and to discover the actual extent of his danger, in order to
save, if possible, his own little person.
"What is the trouble?" he said to the countess in a low voice, as he
placed her in a manner to receive his help.
"Do not give him the child--"
"Speak loud!" cried the count in thundering tones which prevented
Beauvouloir from hearing the last word uttered by the countess. "If
not," added the count who was careful to disguise his voice, "say your
"Complain aloud," said the leech to the lady; "cry! scream! Jarnidieu!
that man has a necklace that won't fit you any better than me.
Courage, my little lady!"
"Touch her lightly!" cried the count.
"Monsieur is jealous," said the operator in a shrill voice,
fortunately drowned by the countess's cries.
For Maitre Beauvouloir's safety Nature was merciful. It was more a
miscarriage than a regular birth, and the child was so puny that it
caused little suffering to the mother.
"Holy Virgin!" cried the bonesetter, "it isn't a miscarriage, after
The count made the floor shake as he stamped with rage. The countess
"Ah! I see!" he said to himself. "It ought to be a premature birth,
ought it?" he whispered to the countess, who replied with an
affirmative sign, as if that gesture were the only language in which
to express her thoughts.
"It is not all clear to me yet," thought the bonesetter.
Like all men in constant practice, he recognized at once a woman in
her first trouble as he called it. Though the modest inexperience of
certain gestures showed him the virgin ignorance of the countess, the
mischievous operator exclaimed:--
"Madame is delivered as if she knew all about it!"
The count then said, with a calmness more terrifying than his anger:--
"Give me the child."
"Don't give it him, for the love of God!" cried the mother, whose
almost savage cry awoke in the heart of the little man a courageous
pity which attached him, more than he knew himself, to the helpless
infant rejected by his father.
"The child is not yet born; you are counting your chicken before it is
hatched," he said, coldly, hiding the infant.
Surprised to hear no cries, he examined the child, thinking it dead.
The count, seeing the deception, sprang upon him with one bound.
"God of heaven! will you give it to me?" he cried, snatching the
hapless victim which uttered feeble cries.
"Take care; the child is deformed and almost lifeless; it is a seven
months' child," said Beauvouloir clinging to the count's arm. Then,
with a strength given to him by the excitement of his pity, he clung
to the father's fingers, whispering in a broken voice: "Spare yourself
a crime, the child cannot live."
"Wretch!" replied the count, from whose hands the bonesetter had
wrenched the child, "who told you that I wished to kill my son? Could
I not caress it?"
"Wait till he is eighteen years old to caress him in that way,"
replied Beauvouloir, recovering the sense of his importance. "But," he
added, thinking of his own safety, for he had recognized the Comte
d'Herouville, who in his rage had forgotten to disguise his voice,
"have him baptized at once and do not speak of his danger to the
mother, or you will kill her."
The gesture of satisfaction which escaped the count when the child's
death was prophesied, suggested this speech to the bonesetter as the
best means of saving the child at the moment. Beauvouloir now hastened
to carry the infant back to its mother who had fainted, and he pointed
to her condition reprovingly, to warn the count of the results of his
violence. The countess had heard all; for in many of the great crises
of life the human organs acquire an otherwise unknown delicacy. But
the cries of the child, laid beside her on the bed, restored her to
life as if by magic; she fancied she heard the voices of angels, when,
under cover of the whimperings of the babe, the bonesetter said in her
"Take care of him, and he'll live a hundred years. Beauvouloir knows
what he is talking about."
A celestial sigh, a silent pressure of the hand were the reward of the
leech, who had looked to see, before yielding the frail little
creature to its mother's embrace, whether that of the father had done
no harm to its puny organization. The half-crazed motion with which
the mother hid her son beside her and the threatening glance she cast
upon the count through the eye-holes of her mask, made Beauvouloir
"She will die if she loses that child too soon," he said to the count.
During the latter part of this scene the lord of Herouville seemed to
hear and see nothing. Rigid, and as if absorbed in meditation, he
stood by the window drumming on its panes. But he turned at the last
words uttered by the bonesetter, with an almost frenzied motion, and
came to him with uplifted dagger.
"Miserable clown!" he cried, giving him the opprobrious name by which
the Royalists insulted the Leaguers. "Impudent scoundrel! your science
which makes you the accomplice of men who steal inheritances is all
that prevents me from depriving Normandy of her sorcerer."
So saying, and to Beauvouloir's great satisfaction, the count replaced
the dagger in its sheath.
"Could you not," continued the count, "find yourself for once in your
life in the honorable company of a noble and his wife, without
suspecting them of the base crimes and trickery of your own kind? Kill
my son! take him from his mother! Where did you get such crazy ideas?
Am I a madman? Why do you attempt to frighten me about the life of
that vigorous child? Fool! I defy your silly talk--but remember this,
since you are here, your miserable life shall answer for that of the
mother and the child."
The bonesetter was puzzled by this sudden change in the count's
intentions. This show of tenderness for the infant alarmed him far
more than the impatient cruelty and savage indifference hitherto
manifested by the count, whose tone in pronouncing the last words
seemed to Beauvouloir to point to some better scheme for reaching his
infernal ends. The shrewd practitioner turned this idea over in his
mind until a light struck him.
"I have it!" he said to himself. "This great and good noble does not
want to make himself odious to his wife; he'll trust to the vials of
the apothecary. I must warn the lady to see to the food and medicine
of her babe."
As he turned toward the bed, the count who had opened a closet,
stopped him with an imperious gesture, holding out a purse.
Beauvouloir saw within its red silk meshes a quantity of gold, which
the count now flung to him contemptuously.
"Though you make me out a villain I am not released from the
obligation of paying you like a lord. I shall not ask you to be
discreet. This man here," (pointing to Bertrand) "will explain to you
that there are rivers and trees everywhere for miserable wretches who
chatter of me."
So saying the count advanced slowly to the bonesetter, pushed a chair
noisily toward him, as if to invite him to sit down, as he did himself
by the bedside; then he said to his wife in a specious voice:--
"Well, my pretty one, so we have a son; this is a joyful thing for us.
Do you suffer much?"
"No," murmured the countess.
The evident surprise of the mother, and the tardy demonstrations of
pleasure on the part of the father, convinced Beauvouloir that there
was some incident behind all this which escaped his penetration. He
persisted in his suspicion, and rested his hand on that of the young
wife, less to watch her condition than to convey to her some advice.
"The skin is good, I fear nothing for madame. The milk fever will
come, of course; but you need not be alarmed; that is nothing."
At this point the wily bonesetter paused, and pressed the hand of the
countess to make her attentive to his words.
"If you wish to avoid all anxiety about your son, madame," he
continued, "never leave him; suckle him yourself, and beware of the
drugs of apothecaries. The mother's breast is the remedy for all the
ills of infancy. I have seen many births of seven months' children,
but I never saw any so little painful as this. But that is not
surprising; the child is so small. You could put him in a wooden shoe!
I am certain he doesn't weight more than sixteen ounces. Milk, milk,
milk. Keep him always on your breast and you will save him."
These last words were accompanied by a significant pressure of the
fingers. Disregarding the yellow flames flashing from the eyeholes of
the count's mask, Beauvouloir uttered these words with the serious
imperturbability of a man who intends to earn his money.
"Ho! ho! bonesetter, you are leaving your old felt hat behind you,"
said Bertrand, as the two left the bedroom together.
The reasons of the sudden mercy which the count had shown to his son
were to be found in a notary's office. At the moment when Beauvouloir
arrested his murderous hand avarice and the Legal Custom of Normandy
rose up before him. Those mighty powers stiffened his fingers and
silenced the passion of his hatred. One cried out to him, "The
property of your wife cannot belong to the house of Herouville except
through a male child." The other pointed to a dying countess and her
fortune claimed by the collateral heirs of the Saint-Savins. Both
advised him to leave to nature the extinction of that hated child, and
to wait the birth of a second son who might be healthy and vigorous
before getting rid of his wife and first-born. He saw neither wife nor
child; he saw the estates only, and hatred was softened by ambition.
The mother, who knew his nature, was even more surprised than the
bonesetter, and she still retained her instinctive fears, showing them
at times openly, for the courage of mothers seemed suddenly to have
doubled her strength.
THE MOTHER'S LOVE
For several days the count remained assiduously beside his wife,
showing her attentions to which self-interest imparted a sort of
tenderness. The countess saw, however, that she alone was the object
of these attentions. The hatred of the father for his son showed
itself in every detail; he abstained from looking at him or touching
him; he would rise abruptly and leave the room if the child cried; in
short, he seemed to endure it living only through the hope of seeing
it die. But even this self-restraint was galling to the count. The day
on which he saw that the mother's intelligent eye perceived, without
fully comprehending, the danger that threatened her son, he announced
his departure on the morning after the mass for her churching was
solemnized, under pretext of rallying his forces to the support of the
Such were the circumstances which preceded and accompanied the birth
of Etienne d'Herouville. If the count had no other reason for wishing
the death of this disowned son poor Etienne would still have been the
object of his aversion. In his eyes the misfortune of a rickety,
sickly constitution was a flagrant offence to his self-love as a
father. If he execrated handsome men, he also detested weakly ones, in
whom mental capacity took the place of physical strength. To please
him a man should be ugly in face, tall, robust, and ignorant. Etienne,
whose debility would bow him, as it were, to the sedentary occupations
of knowledge, was certain to find in his father a natural enemy. His
struggle with that colossus began therefore from his cradle, and his
sole support against that cruel antagonist was the heart of his mother
whose love increased, by a tender law of nature, as perils threatened
Buried in solitude after the abrupt departure of the count, Jeanne de
Saint-Savin owed to her child the only semblance of happiness that
consoled her life. She loved him as women love the child of an illicit
love; obliged to suckle him, the duty never wearied her. She would not
let her women care for the child. She dressed and undressed him,
finding fresh pleasures in every little care that he required.
Happiness glowed upon her face as she obeyed the needs of the little
being. As Etienne had come into the world prematurely, no clothes were
ready for him, and those that were needed she made herself,--with what
perfection, you know, ye mothers, who have worked in silence for a
treasured child. The days had never hours long enough for these
manifold occupations and the minute precautions of the nursing mother;
those days fled by, laden with her secret content.
The counsel of the bonesetter still continued in the countess's mind.
She feared for her child, and would gladly not have slept in order to
be sure that no one approached him during her sleep; and she kept his
cradle beside her bed. In the absence of the count she ventured to
send for the bonesetter, whose name she had caught and remembered. To
her, Beauvouloir was a being to whom she owed an untold debt of
gratitude; and she desired of all things to question him on certain
points relating to her son. If an attempt were made to poison him, how
should she foil it? In what way ought she to manage his frail
constitution? Was it well to nurse him long? If she died, would
Beauvouloir undertake the care of the poor child's health?
To the questions of the countess, Beauvouloir, deeply touched, replied
that he feared, as much as she did, an attempt to poison Etienne; but
there was, he assured her, no danger as long as she nursed the child;
and in future, when obliged to feed him, she must taste the food
"If Madame la comtesse," he said, "feels anything strange upon her
tongue, a prickly, bitter, strong salt taste, reject the food. Let the
child's clothes be washed under her own eye and let her keep the key
of the chest which contains them. Should anything happen to the child
send instantly to me."
These instructions sank deep into Jeanne's heart. She begged
Beauvouloir to regard her always as one who would do him any service
in her power. On that the poor man told her that she held his
happiness in her hands.
Then he related briefly how the Comte d'Herouville had in his youth
loved a courtesan, known by the name of La Belle Romaine, who had
formerly belonged to the Cardinal of Lorraine. Abandoned by the count
before very long, she had died miserably, leaving a child named
Gertrude, who had been rescued by the Sisters of the Convent of Poor
Clares, the Mother Superior of which was Mademoiselle de Saint-Savin,
the countess's aunt. Having been called to treat Gertrude for an
illness, he, Beauvouloir, had fallen in love with her, and if Madame
la comtesse, he said, would undertake the affair, she should not only
more than repay him for what she thought he had done for her, but she
would make him grateful to her for life. The count might, sooner or
later, be brought to take an interest in so beautiful a daughter, and
might protect her indirectly by making him his physician.
The countess, compassionate to all true love, promised to do her best,
and pursued the affair so warmly that at the birth of her second son
she did obtain from her husband a "dot" for the young girl, who was
married soon after to Beauvouloir. The "dot" and his savings enabled
the bonesetter to buy a charming estate called Forcalier near the
castle of Herouville, and to give his life the dignity of a student
and man of learning.
Comforted by the kind physician, the countess felt that to her were
given joys unknown to other mothers. Mother and child, two feeble
beings, seemed united in one thought, they understood each other long
before language could interpret between them. From the moment when
Etienne first turned his eyes on things about him with the stupid
eagerness of a little child, his glance had rested on the sombre
hangings of the castle walls. When his young ear strove to listen and
to distinguish sounds, he heard the monotonous ebb and flow of the sea
upon the rocks, as regular as the swinging of a pendulum. Thus places,
sounds, and things, all that strikes the senses and forms the
character, inclined him to melancholy. His mother, too, was doomed to
live and die in the clouds of melancholy; and to him, from his birth
up, she was the only being that existed on the earth, and filled for
him the desert. Like all frail children, Etienne's attitude was
passive, and in that he resembled his mother. The delicacy of his
organs was such that a sudden noise, or the presence of a boisterous
person gave him a sort of fever. He was like those little insects for
whom God seems to temper the violence of the wind and the heat of the
sun; incapable, like them, of struggling against the slightest
obstacle, he yielded, as they do, without resistance or complaint, to
everything that seemed to him aggressive. This angelic patience
inspired in the mother a sentiment which took away all fatigue from
the incessant care required by so frail a being.
Soon his precocious perception of suffering revealed to him the power
that he had upon his mother; often he tried to divert her with
caresses and make her smile at his play; and never did his coaxing
hands, his stammered words, his intelligent laugh fail to rouse her
from her reverie. If he was tired, his care for her kept him from
"Poor, dear, little sensitive!" cried the countess as he fell asleep
tired with some play which had driven the sad memories from her mind,
"how can you live in this world? who will understand you? who will
love you? who will see the treasures hidden in that frail body? No
one! Like me, you are alone on earth."
She sighed and wept. The graceful pose of her child lying on her knees
made her smile sadly. She looked at him long, tasting one of those
pleasures which are a secret between mothers and God. Etienne's
weakness was so great that until he was a year and a half old she had
never dared to take him out of doors; but now the faint color which
tinted the whiteness of his skin like the petals of a wild rose,
showed that life and health were already there.
One morning the countess, giving herself up to the glad joy of all
mothers when their first child walks for the first time, was playing
with Etienne on the floor when suddenly she heard the heavy step of a
man upon the boards. Hardly had she risen with a movement of
involuntary surprise, when the count stood before her. She gave a cry,
but endeavored instantly to undo that involuntary wrong by going up to
him and offering her forehead for a kiss.
"Why not have sent me notice of your return?" she said.
"My reception would have been more cordial, but less frank," he
Suddenly he saw the child. The evident health in which he found it
wrung from him a gesture of surprise mingled with fury. But he
repressed his anger, and began to smile.
"I bring good news," he said. "I have received the governorship of
Champagne and the king's promise to be made duke and peer. Moreover,
we have inherited a princely fortune from your cousin; that cursed
Huguenot, Georges de Chaverny is killed."
The countess turned pale and dropped into a chair. She saw the secret
of the devilish smile on her husband's face.
"Monsieur," she said in a voice of emotion, "you know well that I
loved my cousin Chaverny. You will answer to God for the pain you
inflict upon me."
At these words the eye of the count glittered; his lips trembled, but
he could not utter a word, so furious was he; he flung his dagger on
the table with such violence that the metal resounded like a thunder-
"Listen to me," he said in his strongest voice, "and remember my
words. I will never see or hear the little monster you hold in your
arms. He is your child, and not mine; there is nothing of me in him.
Hide him, I say, hide him from my sight, or--"
"Just God!" cried the countess, "protect us!"
"Silence!" said her husband. "If you do not wish me to throttle him,
see that I never find him in my way."
"Then," said the countess gathering strength to oppose her tyrant,
"swear to me that if you never meet him you will do nothing to injure
him. Can I trust your word as a nobleman for that?"
"What does all this mean?" said the count.
"If you will not swear, kill us now together!" cried the countess,
falling on her knees and pressing her child to her breast.
"Rise, madame. I give you my word as a man of honor to do nothing
against the life of that cursed child, provided he lives among the
rocks between the sea and the house, and never crosses my path. I will
give him that fisherman's house down there for his dwelling, and the
beach for a domain. But woe betide him if I ever find him beyond those
The countess began to weep.
"Look at him!" she said. "He is your son."
At that word, the frightened mother carried away the child whose heart
was beating like that of a bird caught in its nest. Whether innocence
has a power which the hardest men cannot escape, or whether the count
regretted his violence and feared to plunge into despair a creature so
necessary to his pleasures and also to his worldly prosperity, it is
certain that his voice was as soft as it was possible to make it when
his wife returned.
"Jeanne, my dear," he said, "do not be angry with me; give me your
hand. One never knows how to trust you women. I return, bringing you
fresh honors and more wealth, and yet, tete-Dieu! you receive me like
an enemy. My new government will oblige me to make long absences until
I can exchange it for that of Lower Normandy; and I request, my dear,
that you will show me a pleasant face while I am here."
The countess understood the meaning of the words, the feigned softness
of which could no longer deceive her.
"I know my duty," she replied in a tone of sadness which the count
mistook for tenderness.
The timid creature had too much purity and dignity to try, as some
clever women would have done, to govern the count by putting
calculation into her conduct,--a sort of prostitution by which noble
souls feel degraded. Silently she turned away, to console her despair
"Tete-Dieu! shall I never be loved?" cried the count, seeing the tears
in his wife's eyes as she left the room.
Thus incessantly threatened, motherhood became to the poor woman a
passion which assumed the intensity that women put into their guilty
affections. By a species of occult communion, the secret of which is
in the hearts of mothers, the child comprehended the peril that
threatened him and dreaded the approach of his father. The terrible
scene of which he had been a witness remained in his memory, and
affected him like an illness; at the sound of the count's step his
features contracted, and the mother's ear was not so alert as the
instinct of her child. As he grew older this faculty created by terror
increased, until, like the savages of America, Etienne could
distinguish his father's step and hear his voice at immense distances.
To witness the terror with which the count inspired her thus shared by
her child made Etienne the more precious to the countess; their union
was so strengthened that like two flowers on one twig they bent to the
same wind, and lifted their heads with the same hope. In short, they
were one life.
When the count again left home Jeanne was pregnant. This time she gave
birth in due season, and not without great suffering, to a stout boy,
who soon became the living image of his father, so that the hatred of
the count for his first-born was increased by this event. To save her
cherished child the countess agreed to all the plans which her husband
formed for the happiness and wealth of his second son, whom he named
Maximilien. Etienne was to be made a priest, in order to leave the
property and titles of the house of Herouville to his younger brother.
At that cost the poor mother believed she ensured the safety of her
No two brothers were ever more unlike than Etienne and Maximilien. The
younger's taste was all for noise, violent exercises, and war, and the
count felt for him the same excessive love that his wife felt for
Etienne. By a tacit compact each parent took charge of the child of
their heart. The duke (for about this time Henri IV. rewarded the
services of the Seigneur d'Herouville with a dukedom), not wishing, he
said, to fatigue his wife, gave the nursing of the youngest boy to a
stout peasant-woman chosen by Beauvouloir, and announced his
determination to bring up the child in his own manner. He gave him, as
time went on, a holy horror of books and study; taught him the
mechanical knowledge required by a military career, made him a good
rider, a good shot with an arquebuse, and skilful with his dagger.
When the boy was big enough he took him to hunt, and let him acquire
the savage language, the rough manners, the bodily strength, and the
vivacity of look and speech which to his mind were the attributes of
an accomplished man. The boy became, by the time he was twelve years
old, a lion-cub ill-trained, as formidable in his way as the father
himself, having free rein to tyrannize over every one, and using the
Etienne lived in the little house, or lodge, near the sea, given to
him by his father, and fitted up by the duchess with some of the
comforts and enjoyments to which he had a right. She herself spent the
greater part of her time there. Together the mother and child roamed
over the rocks and the shore, keeping strictly within the limits of
the boy's domain of beach and shells, of moss and pebbles. The boy's
terror of his father was so great that, like the Lapp, who lives and
dies in his snow, he made a native land of his rocks and his cottage,
and was terrified and uneasy if he passed his frontier.
The duchess, knowing her child was not fitted to find happiness except
in some humble and retired sphere, did not regret the fate that was
thus imposed upon him; she used this enforced vocation to prepare him
for a noble life of study and science, and she brought to the chateau
Pierre de Sebonde as tutor to the future priest. Nevertheless, in
spite of the tonsure imposed by the will of the father, she was
determined that Etienne's education should not be wholly
ecclesiastical, and took pains to secularize it. She employed
Beauvouloir to teach him the mysteries of natural science; she herself
superintended his studies, regulating them according to her child's
strength, and enlivening them by teaching him Italian, and revealing
to him little by little the poetic beauties of that language. While
the duke rode off with Maximilien to the forest and the wild-boars at
the risk of his life, Jeanne wandered with Etienne in the milky way of
Petrarch's sonnets, or the mighty labyrinth of the Divina Comedia.
Nature had endowed the youth, in compensation for his infirmities,
with so melodious a voice that to hear him sing was a constant
delight; his mother taught him music, and their tender, melancholy
songs, accompanied by a mandolin, were the favorite recreation
promised as a reward for some more arduous study required by the Abbe
de Sebonde. Etienne listened to his mother with a passionate
admiration she had never seen except in the eyes of Georges de
Chaverny. The first time the poor woman found a memory of her girlhood
in the long, slow look of her child, she covered him with kisses; and
she blushed when Etienne asked her why she seemed to love him better
at that moment than ever before. She answered that every hour made him
dearer to her. She found in the training of his soul, and in the
culture of his mind, pleasures akin to those she had tasted in feeding
him with her milk. She put all her pride and self-love into making him
superior to herself, and not in ruling him. Hearts without tenderness
covet dominion, but a true love treasures abnegation, that virtue of
strength. When Etienne could not at first comprehend a demonstration,
a theme, a theory, the poor mother, who was present at the lessons,
seemed to long to infuse knowledge, as formerly she had given
nourishment at the child's least cry. And then, what joy suffused her
eyes when Etienne's mind seized the true sense of things and
appropriated it. She proved, as Pierre de Sebonde said, that a mother
is a dual being whose sensations cover two existences.
"Ah, if some woman as loving as I could infuse into him hereafter the
life of love, how happy he might be!" she often thought.
But the fatal interests which consigned Etienne to the priesthood
returned to her mind, and she kissed the hair that the scissors of the
Church were to shear, leaving her tears upon them. Still, in spite of
the unjust compact she had made with the duke, she could not see
Etienne in her visions of the future as priest or cardinal; and the
absolute forgetfulness of the father as to his first-born, enabled her
to postpone the moment of putting him into Holy Orders.
"There is time enough," she said to herself.
The day came when all her cares, inspired by a sentiment which seemed
to enter into the flesh of her son and give it life, had their reward.
Beauvouloir--that blessed man whose teachings had proved so precious
to the child, and whose anxious glance at that frail idol had so often
made the duchess tremble--declared that Etienne was now in a condition
to live long years, provided no violent emotion came to convulse his
delicate body. Etienne was then sixteen.
At that age he was just five feet, a height he never passed. His skin,
as transparent and satiny as that of a little girl, showed a delicate
tracery of blue veins; its whiteness was that of porcelain. His eyes,
which were light blue and ineffably gentle, implored the protection of
men and women; that beseeching look fascinated before the melody of
his voice was heard to complete the charm. True modesty was in every
feature. Long chestnut hair, smooth and very fine, was parted in the
middle of his head into two bandeaus which curled at their extremity.
His pale and hollow cheeks, his pure brow, lined with a few furrows,
expressed a condition of suffering which was painful to witness. His
mouth, always gracious, and adorned with very white teeth, wore the
sort of fixed smile which we often see on the lips of the dying. His
hands, white as those of a woman, were remarkably handsome. The habit
of meditation had taught him to droop his head like a fragile flower,
and the attitude was in keeping with his person; it was like the last
grace that a great artist touches into a portrait to bring out its
latent thought. Etienne's head was that of a delicate girl placed upon
the weakly and deformed body of a man.
Poesy, the rich meditations of which make us roam like botanists
through the vast fields of thought, the fruitful comparison of human
ideas, the enthusiasm given by a clear conception of works of genius,
came to be the inexhaustible and tranquil joys of the young man's
solitary and dreamy life. Flowers, ravishing creatures whose destiny
resembled his own, were his loves. Happy to see in her son the
innocent passions which took the place of the rough contact with
social life which he never could have borne, the duchess encouraged
Etienne's tastes; she brought him Spanish "romanceros," Italian
"motets," books, sonnets, poems. The library of Cardinal d'Herouville
came into Etienne's possession, the use of which filled his life.
These readings, which his fragile health forbade him to continue for
many hours at a time, and his rambles among the rocks of his domain,
were interspersed with naive meditations which kept him motionless for
hours together before his smiling flowers--those sweet companions!--or
crouching in a niche of the rocks before some species of algae, a
moss, a seaweed, studying their mysteries; seeking perhaps a rhythm in
their fragrant depths, like a bee its honey. He often admired, without
purpose, and without explaining his pleasure to himself, the slender
lines on the petals of dark flowers, the delicacy of their rich tunics
of gold or purple, green or azure, the fringes, so profusely
beautiful, of their calyxes or leaves, their ivory or velvet textures.
Later, a thinker as well as a poet, he would detect the reason of
these innumerable differences in a single nature, by discovering the
indication of unknown faculties; for from day to day he made progress
in the interpretation of the Divine Word writing upon all things here
These constant and secret researches into matters occult gave to
Etienne's life the apparent somnolence of meditative genius. He would
spend long days lying upon the shore, happy, a poet, all-unconscious
of the fact. The sudden irruption of a gilded insect, the shimmering
of the sun upon the ocean, the tremulous motion of the vast and limpid
mirror of the waters, a shell, a crab, all was event and pleasure to
that ingenuous young soul. And then to see his mother coming towards
him, to hear from afar the rustle of her gown, to await her, to kiss
her, to talk to her, to listen to her gave him such keen emotions that
often a slight delay, a trifling fear would throw him into a violent
fever. In him there was nought but soul, and in order that the weak,
debilitated body should not be destroyed by the keen emotions of that
soul, Etienne needed silence, caresses, peace in the landscape, and
the love of a woman. For the time being, his mother gave him the love
and the caresses; flowers and books entranced his solitude; his little
kingdom of sand and shells, algae and verdure seemed to him a
universe, ever fresh and new.
Etienne imbibed all the benefits of this physical and absolutely
innocent life, this mental and moral life so poetically extended. A
child by form, a man in mind, he was equally angelic under either
aspect. By his mother's influence his studies had removed his emotions
to the region of ideas. The action of his life took place, therefore,
in the moral world, far from the social world which would either have
killed him or made him suffer. He lived by his soul and by his
intellect. Laying hold of human thought by reading, he rose to
thoughts that stirred in matter; he felt the thoughts of the air, he
read the thoughts on the skies. Early he mounted that ethereal summit
where alone he found the delicate nourishment that his soul needed;
intoxicating food! which predestined him to sorrow whenever to these
accumulated treasures should be added the riches of a passion rising
suddenly in his heart.
If, at times, Jeanne de Saint-Savin dreaded that coming storm, he
consoled herself with a thought which the otherwise sad vocation of
her son put into her mind,--for the poor mother found no remedy for
his sorrows except some lesser sorrow.
"He will be a cardinal," she thought; "he will live in the sentiment
of Art, of which he will make himself the protector. He will love Art
instead of loving a woman, and Art will not betray him."
The pleasures of this tender motherhood were incessantly held in check
by sad reflections, born of the strange position in which Etienne was
placed. The brothers had passed the adolescent age without knowing
each other, without so much as even suspecting their rival existence.
The duchess had long hoped for an opportunity, during the absence of
her husband, to bind the two brothers to each other in some solemn
scene by which she might enfold them both in her love. This hope, long
cherished, had now faded. Far from wishing to bring about an
intercourse between the brothers, she feared an encounter between
them, even more than between the father and son. Maximilien, who
believed in evil only, might have feared that Etienne would some day
claim his rights, and, so fearing, might have flung him into the sea
with a stone around his neck. No son had ever less respect for a
mother than he. As soon as he could reason he had seen the low esteem
in which the duke held his wife. If the old man still retained some
forms of decency in his manners to the duchess, Maximilien,
unrestrained by his father, caused his mother many a grief.
Consequently, Bertrand was incessantly on the watch to prevent
Maximilien from seeing Etienne, whose existence was carefully
concealed. All the attendants of the castle cordially hated the
Marquis de Saint-Sever (the name and title borne by the younger
brother), and those who knew of the existence of the elder looked upon
him as an avenger whom God was holding in reserve.
Etienne's future was therefore doubtful; he might even be persecuted
by his own brother! The poor duchess had no relations to whom she
could confide the life and interests of her cherished child. Would he
not blame her when in his violet robes he longed to be a father as she
had been a mother? These thoughts, and her melancholy life so full of
secret sorrows were like a mortal illness kept at bay for a time by
remedies. Her heart needed the wisest management, and those about her
were cruelly inexpert in gentleness. What mother's heart would not
have been torn at the sight of her eldest son, a man of mind and soul
in whom a noble genius made itself felt, deprived of his rights, while
the younger, hard and brutal, without talent, even military talent,
was chosen to wear the ducal coronet and perpetuate the family? The
house of Herouville was discarding its own glory. Incapable of anger
the gentle Jeanne de Saint-Savin could only bless and weep, but often
she raised her eyes to heaven, asking it to account for this singular
doom. Those eyes filled with tears when she thought that at her death
her cherished child would be wholly orphaned and left exposed to the
brutalities of a brother without faith or conscience.
Such emotions repressed, a first love unforgotten, so many sorrows
ignored and hidden within her,--for she kept her keenest sufferings
from her cherished child,--her joys embittered, her griefs unrelieved,
all these shocks had weakened the springs of life and were developing
in her system a slow consumption which day by day was gathering
greater force. A last blow hastened it. She tried to warn the duke as
to the results of Maximilien's education, and was repulsed; she saw
that she could give no remedy to the shocking seeds which were
germinating in the soul of her second child. From this moment began a
period of decline which soon became so visible as to bring about the
appointment of Beauvouloir to the post of physician to the house of
Herouville and the government of Normandy.
The former bonesetter came to live at the castle. In those days such
posts belonged to learned men, who thus gained a living and the
leisure necessary for a studious life and the accomplishment of
scientific work. Beauvouloir had for some time desired the situation,
because his knowledge and his fortune had won him numerous bitter
enemies. In spite of the protection of a great family to whom he had
done great services, he had recently been implicated in a criminal
case, and the intervention of the Governor of Normandy, obtained by
the duchess, had alone saved him from being brought to trial. The duke
had no reason to repent this protection given to the old bonesetter.
Beauvouloir saved the life of the Marquis de Saint-Sever in so
dangerous an illness that any other physician would have failed in
doing so. But the wounds of the duchess were too deep-seated and dated
too far back to be cured, especially as they were constantly kept open
in her home. When her sufferings warned this angel of many sorrows
that her end was approaching, death was hastened by the gloomy
apprehensions that filled her mind as to the future.
"What will become of my poor child without me?" was a thought renewed
every hour like a bitter tide.
Obliged at last to keep her bed, the duchess failed rapidly, for she
was then unable to see her son, forbidden as he was by her compact
with his father to approach the house. The sorrow of the youth was
equal to that of the mother. Inspired by the genius of repressed
feeling, Etienne created a mystical language by which to communicate
with his mother. He studied the resources of his voice like an opera-
singer, and often he came beneath her windows to let her hear his
melodiously melancholy voice, when Beauvouloir by a sign informed him
she was alone. Formerly, as a babe, he had consoled his mother with
his smiles, now, become a poet, he caressed her with his melodies.
"Those songs give me life," said the duchess to Beauvouloir, inhaling
the air that Etienne's voice made living.
At length the day came when the poor son's mourning began. Already he
had felt the mysterious correspondences between his emotions and the
movements of the ocean. The divining of the thoughts of matter, a
power with which his occult knowledge had invested him, made this
phenomenon more eloquent to him than to all others. During the fatal
night when he was taken to see his mother for the last time, the ocean
was agitated by movements that to him were full of meaning. The
heaving waters seemed to show that the sea was working intestinally;
the swelling waves rolled in and spent themselves with lugubrious
noises like the howling of a dog in distress. Unconsciously, Etienne
found himself saying:--
"What does it want of me? It quivers and moans like a living creature.
My mother has often told me that the ocean was in horrible convulsions
on the night when I was born. Something is about to happen to me."
This thought kept him standing before his window with his eyes
sometimes on his mother's windows where a faint light trembled,
sometimes on the ocean which continued to moan. Suddenly Beauvouloir
knocked on the door of his room, opened it, and showed on his saddened
face the reflection of some new misfortune.
"Monseigneur," he said, "Madame la duchesse is in so sad a state that
she wishes to see you. All precautions are taken that no harm shall
happen to you in the castle; but we must be prudent; to see her you
will have to pass through the room of Monseigneur the duke, the room
where you were born."
These words brought the tears to Etienne's eyes, and he said:--
"The Ocean DID speak to me!"
Mechanically he allowed himself to be led towards the door of the
tower which gave entrance to the private way leading to the duchess's
room. Bertrand was awaiting him, lantern in hand. Etienne reached the
library of the Cardinal d'Herouville, and there he was made to wait
with Beauvouloir while Bertrand went on to unlock the other doors, and
make sure that the hated son could pass through his father's house
without danger. The duke did not awake. Advancing with light steps,
Etienne and Beauvouloir heard in that immense chateau no sound but the
plaintive groans of the dying woman. Thus the very circumstances
attending the birth of Etienne were renewed at the death of his
mother. The same tempest, same agony, same dread of awaking the
pitiless giant, who, on this occasion at least, slept soundly.
Bertrand, as a further precaution, took Etienne in his arms and
carried him through the duke's room, intending to give some excuse as
to the state of the duchess if the duke awoke and detected him.
Etienne's heart was horribly wrung by the same fears which filled the
minds of these faithful servants; but this emotion prepared him, in a
measure, for the sight that met his eyes in that signorial room, which
he had never re-entered since the fatal day when, as a child, the
paternal curse had driven him from it.
On the great bed, where happiness never came, he looked for his
beloved, and scarcely found her, so emaciated was she. White as her
own laces, with scarcely a breath left, she gathered up all her
strength to clasp Etienne's hand, and to give him her whole soul, as
heretofore, in a look. Chaverny had bequeathed to her all his life in
a last farewell. Beauvouloir and Bertrand, the mother and the sleeping
duke were all once more assembled. Same place, same scene, same
actors! but this was funereal grief in place of the joys of
motherhood; the night of death instead of the dawn of life. At that
moment the storm, threatened by the melancholy moaning of the sea
since sundown, suddenly burst forth.
"Dear flower of my life!" said the mother, kissing her son. "You were
taken from my bosom in the midst of a tempest, and in a tempest I am
taken from you. Between these storms all life has been stormy to me,
except the hours I have spent with you. This is my last joy, mingled
with my last pangs. Adieu, my only love! adieu, dear image of two
souls that will soon be reunited! Adieu, my only joy--pure joy! adieu,
my own beloved!"
"Let me follow thee!" cried Etienne.
"It would be your better fate!" she said, two tears rolling down her
livid cheeks; for, as in former days, her eyes seemed to read the
future. "Did any one see him?" she asked of the two men.
At this instant the duke turned in his bed; they all trembled.
"Even my last joy is mingled with pain," murmured the duchess. "Take
him away! take him away!"
"Mother, I would rather see you a moment longer and die!" said the
poor lad, as he fainted by her side.
At a sign from the duchess, Bertrand took Etienne in his arms, and,
showing him for the last time to his mother, who kissed him with a
last look, he turned to carry him away, awaiting the final order of
the dying mother.
"Love him well!" she said to the physician and Bertrand; "he has no
protectors but you and Heaven."
Prompted by an instinct which never misleads a mother, she had felt
the pity of the old retainer for the eldest son of a house, for which
his veneration was only comparable to that of the Jews for their Holy
City, Jerusalem. As for Beauvouloir, the compact between himself and
the duchess had long been signed. The two servitors, deeply moved to
see their mistress forced to bequeath her noble child to none but
themselves, promised by a solemn gesture to be the providence of their
young master, and the mother had faith in that gesture.
The duchess died towards morning, mourned by the servants of the
household, who, for all comment, were heard to say beside her grave,
"She was a comely woman, sent from Paradise."
Etienne's sorrow was the most intense, the most lasting of sorrows,
and wholly silent. He wandered no more among his rocks; he felt no
strength to read or sing. He spent whole days crouched in the crevice
of a rock, caring nought for the inclemency of the weather,
motionless, fastened to the granite like the lichen that grew upon it;
weeping seldom, lost in one sole thought, immense, infinite as the
ocean, and, like that ocean, taking a thousand forms,--terrible,
tempestuous, tender, calm. It was more than sorrow; it was a new
existence, an irrevocable destiny, dooming this innocent creature to
smile no more. There are pangs which, like a drop of blood cast into
flowing water, stain the whole current instantly. The stream, renewed
from its source, restores the purity of its surface; but with Etienne
the source itself was polluted, and each new current brought its own
Bertrand, in his old age, had retained the superintendence of the
stables, so as not to lose the habit of authority in the household.
His house was not far from that of Etienne, so that he was ever at
hand to watch over the youth with the persistent affection and simple
wiliness characteristic of old soldiers. He checked his roughness when
speaking to the poor lad; softly he walked in rainy weather to fetch
him from his reverie in his crevice to the house. He put his pride
into filling the mother's place, so that her child might find, if not
her love, at least the same attentions. This pity resembled
tenderness. Etienne bore, without complaint or resistance, these
attentions of the old retainer, but too many links were now broken
between the hated child and other creatures to admit of any keen
affection at present in his heart. Mechanically he allowed himself to
be protected; he became, as it were, an intermediary creature between
man and plant, or, perhaps one might say, between man and God. To what
shall we compare a being to whom all social laws, all the false
sentiments of the world were unknown, and who kept his ravishing
innocence by obeying nought but the instincts of his heart?
Nevertheless, in spite of his sombre melancholy, he came to feel the
need of loving, of finding another mother, another soul for his soul.
But, separated from civilization by an iron wall, it was well-nigh
impossible to meet with a being who had flowered like himself.
Instinctively seeking another self to whom to confide his thoughts and
whose life might blend with his life, he ended in sympathizing with
his Ocean. The sea became to him a living, thinking being. Always in
presence of that vast creation, the hidden marvels of which contrast
so grandly with those of earth, he discovered the meaning of many
mysteries. Familiar from his cradle with the infinitude of those
liquid fields, the sea and the sky taught him many poems. To him, all
was variety in that vast picture so monotonous to some. Like other men
whose souls dominate their bodies, he had a piercing sight which could
reach to enormous distances and seize, with admirable ease and without
fatigue, the fleeting tints of the clouds, the passing shimmer of the
waters. On days of perfect stillness his eyes could see the manifold
tints of the ocean, which to him, like the face of a woman, had its
physiognomy, its smiles, ideas, caprices; there green and sombre; here
smiling and azure; sometimes uniting its brilliant lines with the hazy
gleams of the horizon, or again, softly swaying beneath the orange-
tinted heavens. For him all-glorious fetes were celebrated at sundown
when the star of day poured its red colors on the waves in a crimson
flood. For him the sea was gay and sparkling and spirited when it
quivered in repeating the noonday light from a thousand dazzling
facets; to him it revealed its wondrous melancholy; it made him weep
whenever, calm or sad, it reflected the dun-gray sky surcharged with
clouds. He had learned the mute language of that vast creation. The
flux and reflux of its waters were to him a melodious breathing which
uttered in his ear a sentiment; he felt and comprehended its inward
meaning. No mariner, no man of science, could have predicted better
than he the slightest wrath of the ocean, the faintest change on that
vast face. By the manner of the waves as they rose and died away upon
the shore, he could foresee tempests, surges, squalls, the height of
tides, or calms. When night had spread its veil upon the sky, he still
could see the sea in its twilight mystery, and talk with it. At all
times he shared its fecund life, feeling in his soul the tempest when
it was angry; breathing its rage in its hissing breath; running with
its waves as they broke in a thousand liquid fringes upon the rocks.
He felt himself intrepid, free, and terrible as the sea itself; like
it, he bounded and fell back; he kept its solemn silence; he copied
its sudden pause. In short, he had wedded the sea; it was now his
confidant, his friend. In the morning when he crossed the glowing
sands of the beach and came upon his rocks, he divined the temper of
the ocean from a single glance; he could see landscapes on its
surface; he hovered above the face of the waters, like an angel coming
down from heaven. When the joyous, mischievous white mists cast their
gossamer before him, like a veil before the face of a bride, he
followed their undulations and caprices with the joy of a lover. His
thought, married with that grand expression of the divine thought,
consoled him in his solitude, and the thousand outlooks of his soul
peopled its desert with glorious fantasies. He ended at last by
divining in the motions of the sea its close communion with the
celestial system; he perceived nature in its harmonious whole, from
the blade of grass to the wandering stars which seek, like seeds
driven by the wind, to plant themselves in ether.
Pure as an angel, virgin of those ideas which degrade mankind, naive
as a child, he lived like a sea-bird, a gull, or a flower, prodigal of
the treasures of poetic imagination, and possessed of a divine
knowledge, the fruitful extent of which he contemplated in solitude.
Incredible mingling of two creations! sometimes he rose to God in
prayer; sometimes he descended, humble and resigned, to the quiet
happiness of animals. To him the stars were the flowers of night, the
birds his friends, the sun was a father. Everywhere he found the soul
of his mother; often he saw her in the clouds; he spoke to her; they
communicated, veritably, by celestial visions; on certain days he
could hear her voice and see her smile; in short, there were days when
he had not lost her. God seemed to have given him the power of the
hermits of old, to have endowed him with some perfected inner senses
which penetrated to the spirit of all things. Unknown moral forces
enabled him to go farther than other men into the secrets of the
Immortal labor. His yearnings, his sorrows were the links that united
him to the unseen world; he went there, armed with his love, to seek
his mother; realizing thus, with the sublime harmonies of ecstasy, the
symbolic enterprise of Orpheus.
Often, when crouching in the crevice of some rock, capriciously curled
up in his granite grotto, the entrance to which was as narrow as that
of a charcoal kiln, he would sink into involuntary sleep, his figure
softly lighted by the warm rays of the sun which crept through the
fissures and fell upon the dainty seaweeds that adorned his retreat,
the veritable nest of a sea-bird. The sun, his sovereign lord, alone
told him that he had slept, by measuring the time he had been absent
from his watery landscapes, his golden sands, his shells and pebbles.
Across a light as brilliant as that from heaven he saw the cities of
which he read; he looked with amazement, but without envy, at courts
and kings, battles, men, and buildings. These daylight dreams made
dearer to him his precious flowers, his clouds, his sun, his granite
rocks. To attach him the more to his solitary existence, an angel
seemed to reveal to him the abysses of the moral world and the
terrible shocks of civilization. He felt that his soul, if torn by the
throng of men, would perish like a pearl dropped from the crown of a
princess into mud.
HOW THE SON DIED
In 1617, twenty and some years after the horrible night during which
Etienne came into the world, the Duc d'Herouville, then seventy-six
years old, broken, decrepit, almost dead, was sitting at sunset in an
immense arm-chair, before the gothic window of his bedroom, at the
place where his wife had so vainly implored, by the sounds of the horn
wasted on the air, the help of men and heaven. You might have thought
him a body resurrected from the grave. His once energetic face,
stripped of its sinister aspect by old age and suffering, was ghastly
in color, matching the long meshes of white hair which fell around his
bald head, the yellow skull of which seemed softening. The warrior and
the fanatic still shone in those yellow eyes, tempered now by
religious sentiment. Devotion had cast a monastic tone upon the face,
formerly so hard, but now marked with tints which softened its
expression. The reflections of the setting sun colored with a faintly
ruddy tinge the head, which, in spite of all infirmities, was still
vigorous. The feeble body, wrapped in brown garments, gave, by its
heavy attitude and the absence of all movement, a vivid impression of
the monotonous existence, the terrible repose of this man once so
active, so enterprising, so vindictive.
"Enough!" he said to his chaplain.
That venerable old man was reading aloud the Gospel, standing before
the master in a respectful attitude. The duke, like an old menagerie
lion which has reached a decrepitude that is still full of majesty,
turned to another white-haired man and said, holding out a fleshless
arm covered with sparse hairs, still sinewy, but without vigor:--
"Your turn now, bonesetter. How am I to-day?"
"Doing well, monseigneur; the fever has ceased. You will live many
"I wish I could see Maximilien here," continued the duke, with a smile
of satisfaction. "My fine boy! He commands a company in the King's
Guard. The Marechal d'Ancre takes care of my lad, and our gracious
Queen Marie thinks of allying him nobly, now that he is created Duc de
Nivron. My race will be worthily continued. The lad performed
prodigies of valor in the attack on--"
At this moment Bertrand entered, holding a letter in his hand.
"What is this?" said the old lord, eagerly.
"A despatch brought by a courier sent to you by the king," replied
"The king, and not the queen-mother!" exclaimed the duke. "What is
happening? Have the Huguenots taken arms again? Tete-Dieu!" cried the
old man, rising to his feet and casting a flaming glance at his three
companions, "I'll arm my soldiers once more, and, with Maximilien at
my side, Normandy shall--"
"Sit down, my good seigneur," said Beauvouloir, uneasy at seeing the
duke give way to an excitement that was dangerous to a convalescent.
"Read it, Maitre Corbineau," said the old man, holding out the missive
to his confessor.
These four personages formed a tableau full of instruction upon human
life. The man-at-arms, the priest, and the physician, all three
standing before their master, who was seated in his arm-chair, were
casting pallid glances about them, each presenting one of those ideas
which end by possessing the whole man on the verge of the tomb.
Strongly illumined by a last ray of the setting sun, these silent men
composed a picture of aged melancholy fertile in contrasts. The sombre
and solemn chamber, where nothing had been changed in twenty-five
years, made a frame for this poetic canvas, full of extinguished
passions, saddened by death, tinctured by religion.
"The Marechal d'Ancre has been killed on the Pont du Louvre by order
of the king, and--O God!"
"Go on!" cried the duke.
"Monsieur le Duc de Nivron--"
The duke dropped his head upon his breast with a great sigh, but was
silent. At those words, at that sigh, the three old men looked at each
other. It seemed to them as though the illustrious and opulent house
of Herouville was disappearing before their eyes like a sinking ship.
"The Master above," said the duke, casting a terrible glance at the
heavens, "is ungrateful to me. He forgets the great deeds I have
performed for his holy cause."
"God has avenged himself!" said the priest, in a solemn voice.
"Put that man in the dungeon!" cried the duke.
"You can silence me far more easily than you can your conscience."
The duke sank back in thought.
"My house to perish! My name to be extinct! I will marry! I will have
a son!" he said, after a long pause.
Though the expression of despair on the duke's face was truly awful,
the bonesetter could not repress a smile. At that instant a song,
fresh as the evening breeze, pure as the sky, equable as the color of
the ocean, rose above the murmur of the waves, to cast its charm over
Nature herself. The melancholy of that voice, the melody of its tones
shed, as it were, a perfume rising to the soul; its harmony rose like
a vapor filling the air; it poured a balm on sorrows, or rather it
consoled them by expressing them. The voice mingled with the gurgle of
the waves so perfectly that it seemed to rise from the bosom of the
waters. That song was sweeter to the ears of those old men than the
tenderest word of love on the lips of a young girl; it brought
religious hope into their souls like a voice from heaven.
"What is that?" asked the duke.
"The little nightingale is singing," said Bertrand; "all is not lost,
either for him or for us."
"What do you call a nightingale?"
"That is the name we have given to monseigneur's eldest son," replied
"My son!" cried the old man; "have I a son?--a son to bear my name and
to perpetuate it!"
He rose to his feet and began to walk about the room with steps in
turn precipitate and slow. Then he made an imperious gesture, sending
every one away from him except the priest.
The next morning the duke, leaning on the arm of his old retainer
Bertrand, walked along the shore and among the rocks looking for the
son he had so long hated. He saw him from afar in a recess of the
granite rocks, lying carelessly extended in the sun, his head on a
tuft of mossy grass, his feet gracefully drawn up beneath him. So
lying, Etienne was like a swallow at rest. As soon as the tall old man
appeared upon the beach, the sound of his steps mingling faintly with
the voice of the waves, the young man turned his head, gave the cry of
a startled bird, and disappeared as if into the rock itself, like a
mouse darting so quickly into its hole that we doubt if we have even