Part 1 out of 6
This etext was produced by David Widger
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the
file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an
entire meal of them. D.W.]
By CHARLES DE BERNARD
With a Preface by JULES CLARETIE, of the French Academy
CHARLES DE BERNARD
PIERRE-MARIE-CHARLES DE BERNARD DU GRAIL DE LA VILLETTE, better known by
the name of Charles de Bernard, was born in Besancon, February 24, 1804.
He came from a very ancient family of the Vivarais, was educated at the
college of his native city, and studied for the law in Dijon and at
Paris. He was awarded a prize by the 'Jeux floraux' for his
dithyrambics, 'Une fete de Neron' in 1829. This first success in
literature did not prevent him aspiring to the Magistrature, when the
Revolution of 1830 broke out and induced him to enter politics. He
became one of the founders of the 'Gazette de Franche-Comte' and an
article in the pages of this journal about 'Peau de chagrin' earned him
the thanks and the friendship of Balzac.
The latter induced him to take up his domicile in Paris and initiated him
into the art of novel-writing. Bernard had published a volume of odes:
'Plus Deuil que Joie' (1838), which was not much noticed, but a series of
stories in the same year gained him the reputation of a genial 'conteur'.
They were collected under the title 'Le Noeud Gordien', and one of the
tales, 'Une Aventure du Magistrat, was adapted by Sardou for his comedy
'Pommes du voisin'. 'Gerfaut', his greatest work, crowned by the
Academy, appeared also in 1838, then followed 'Le Paravent', another
collection of novels (1839); 'Les Ailes d'Icare (1840); La Peau du Lion
and La Chasse aux Amants (1841); L'Ecueil (1842); Un Beau-pere (1845);
and finally Le Gentilhomme campagnard,' in 1847. Bernard died, only
forty-eight years old, March 6, 1850.
Charles de Bernard was a realist, a pupil of Balzac. He surpasses his
master, nevertheless, in energy and limpidity of composition. His style
is elegant and cultured. His genius is most fully represented in a score
or so of delightful tales rarely exceeding some sixty or seventy pages in
length, but perfect in proportion, full of invention and originality, and
saturated with the purest and pleasantest essence of the spirit which for
six centuries in tableaux, farces, tales in prose and verse, comedies and
correspondence, made French literature the delight and recreation of
Europe. 'Gerfaut' is considered De Bernard's greatest work. The plot
turns on an attachment between a married woman and the hero of the story.
The book has nothing that can justly offend, the incomparable sketches of
Marillac and Mademoiselle de Corandeuil are admirable; Gerfaut and
Bergenheim possess pronounced originality, and the author is, so to
speak, incarnated with the hero of his romance.
The most uncritical reader can not fail to notice the success with which
Charles de Bernard introduces people of rank and breeding into his
stories. Whether or not he drew from nature, his portraits of this kind
are exquisitely natural and easy. It is sufficient to say that he is the
literary Sir Joshua Reynolds of the post-revolution vicomtes and
marquises. We can see that his portraits are faithful; we must feel that
they are at the same time charming. Bernard is an amiable and spirited
'conteur' who excels in producing an animated spectacle for a refined and
selected public, whether he paints the ridiculousness or the misery of
The works of Charles de Bernard in wit and urbanity, and in the peculiar
charm that wit and urbanity give, are of the best French type. To any
elevation save a lofty place in fiction they have no claim; but in that
phase of literature their worth is undisputed, and from many testimonies
it would seem that those whom they most amuse are those who are best
These novels, well enough as they are known to professed students of
French literature, have, by the mere fact of their age, rather slipped
out of the list of books known to the general reader. The general reader
who reads for amusement can not possibly do better than proceed to
transform his ignorance of them into knowledge.
de l'Academie Francaise.
During the first days of the month of September, 1832, a young man about
thirty years of age was walking through one of the valleys in Lorraine
originating in the Vosges mountains. A little river which, after a few
leagues of its course, flows into the Moselle, watered this wild basin
shut in between two parallel lines of mountains. The hills in the south
became gradually lower and finally dwindled away into the plain.
Alongside the plateau, arranged in amphitheatres, large square fields
stripped of their harvest lay here and there in the primitive forest; in
other places, innumerable oaks and elms had been dethroned to give place
to plantations of cherry-trees, whose symmetrical rows promised an
This contest of nature with industry is everywhere, but is more
pronounced in hilly countries. The scene changed, however, as one
penetrated farther, and little by little the influence of the soil gained
ascendancy. As the hills grew nearer together, enclosing the valley in a
closer embrace, the clearings gave way to the natural obduracy of the
soil. A little farther on they disappeared entirely. At the foot of one
of the bluffs which bordered with its granite bands the highest plateau
of the mountain, the forest rolled victoriously down to the banks of the
Now came patches of forest, like solid battalions of infantry; sometimes
solitary trees appeared, as if distributed by chance upon the grassy
slopes, or scaling the summit of the steepest rocks like a body of bold
sharpshooters. A little, unfrequented road, if one can judge from the
scarcity of tracks, ran alongside the banks of the stream, climbing up
and down hills; overcoming every obstacle, it stretched out in almost a
straight line. One might compare it to those strong characters who mark
out a course in life and imperturbably follow it. The river, on the
contrary, like those docile and compliant minds that bend to agreeable
emergencies, described graceful curves, obeying thus the caprices of the
soil which served as its bed.
At a first glance, the young man who was walking alone in the midst of
this picturesque country seemed to have nothing remarkable in his dress;
a straw hat, a blue blouse and linen trousers composed his costume.
It would have been very natural to take him for an Alsatian peasant
returning to his village through the Vosges's rough pathways; but a more
attentive glance quickly dispelled this conjecture. There is something
in the way in which a person wears the plainest costume which betrays the
real man, no matter how he may be clothed. Thus, nothing could be more
modest than this traveller's blouse, but the absence on collar and
sleeves of the arabesques in white or red thread, the pride of all
village dandies, was sufficient for one to realize that this was not a
His expressive, but not handsome face was dark, it is true, but it did
not look as if wind or sun had contributed to its complexion; it seemed
rather to have lost by a sedentary life something of the southern
carnation, which had ended by blending these warmer tints into a dead
uniform pallor. Finally, if, as one may suppose after different
diagnoses, this person had the slightest desire to play the role of
Tyrcis or Amintas, his white hand, as carefully cared for as a pretty
woman's, would have been sufficient to betray him. It was evident that
the man was above his costume; a rare thing! The lion's ears pierced the
ass's skin this time.
It was three o'clock in the afternoon; the sky, which had been overcast
all the morning, had assumed, within a few moments, a more sombre aspect;
large clouds were rapidly moving from south to north, rolled one over
another by an ominous wind. So the traveller, who had just entered the
wildest part of the valley, seemed very little disposed to admire its
fine vegetation and romantic sites. Impatient to reach the end of his
journey, or fearing the approaching storm, he quickened his steps; but
this pace was not kept long. At the end of a few moments, having crossed
a small clearing, he found himself at the entrance of a lawn where the
road divided in two directions, one continuing to skirt the river banks,
the other, broader and better built, turning to the left into a winding
Which of these two roads should he follow? He did not know. The
profound solitude of the place made him fear that he might not meet any
one who could direct him, when the sound of a psalm vigorously chanted
reached his ears from the distance. Soon it became more distinct, and he
recognized the words, 'In exitu Israel de Egypto', sung at the top of the
lungs by a voice so shrill that it would have irritated the larynx of any
of the sopranos at the Opera. Its vibrating but sharp tones resounded so
clearly in the dead silence of the forest that a number of stanzas were
finished before the pious musician came in sight. At last a drove of
cattle appeared through the trees which bordered the road on the left,
walking with a slow, grave step; they were driven by a little shepherd
about nine or ten years of age, who interrupted his song from time to
time to reassemble the members of his flock with heavy blows from his
whip, thus uniting temporal cares with those of a spiritual nature with a
coolness which the most important personages might have envied him.
"Which of these roads leads to Bergenheim?" called out the traveller
when they were near enough to speak to each other.
"Bergenheim!" repeated the child, taking off his cotton cap, which was
striped like a rainbow, and adding a few words in an unintelligible
"You are not French, then?" asked the stranger, in a disappointed tone.
The shepherd raised his head proudly and replied:
"I am Alsatian, not French!"
The young man smiled at this trait of local patriotism so common then in
the beautiful province by the Rhine; then he thought that pantomime might
be necessary, so he pointed with his finger first at one road, then at
"There or there, Bergenheim?" asked he.
The child, in his turn, pointed silently with the tip of his whip to the
banks of the river, designating, at some distance on the other side, a
thicket of woods behind which a slight column of smoke was rising.
"The deuce!" murmured the stranger, "it seems that I have gone astray;
if the chateau is on the other side, where can I establish my ambuscade?"
The shepherd seemed to understand the traveller's embarrassment. Gazing
at him with his intelligent blue eyes, he traced, with the tip of his toe
in the middle of the road, a furrow across which he rounded his whip like
the arch of a bridge; then he pointed a second time up the river.
"You are an honor to your country, young fellow," exclaimed the stranger;
"there is the material in you to make one of Cooper's redskins." As he
said these words he threw a piece of money into the child's cap and
walked rapidly away in the direction indicated.
The Alsatian stood motionless for a few moments with one hand in his
blond hair and his eyes fastened upon the piece of silver which shone
like a star in the bottom of his cap; when the one whom he considered as
a model of extraordinary generosity had disappeared behind the trees, he
gave vent to his joy by heavy blows from his whip upon the backs of the
cattle, then he resumed his way, singing in a still more triumphant tone:
'Mantes exultaverunt ut arites', and jumping higher himself than all the
hills and rams in the Bible.
The young man had not walked more than five minutes before he recognized
the correctness of the directions he had received. The ground which he
had passed over was a field covered with clumps of low trees; it was easy
to see by its disc-like shape that it had been formed by successive
alluvia, at the expense of the other shore, which had been incessantly
worn away by the stream. This sort of flat, level peninsula was crossed
in a straight line by the road, which deviated from the river at the
point where the two roads came together again, like the cross and string
of a bow at its extremity. The trees, becoming thinner, revealed a
perspective all the more wonderful as it was unexpected. While the eye
followed the widening stream, which disappeared in the depths of a
mountainous gorge, a new prospect suddenly presented itself on the right
upon the other shore.
A second valley, smaller than the first and in measure its vassal, formed
an amphitheatre the crest of which was bordered by a fringe of
perpendicular rocks as white as dried bones. Under this crown, which
rendered it almost inaccessible, the little valley was resplendent in its
wealth of evergreen trees, oaks with their knotty branches, and its fresh
Taken as a whole, it was a foundation worthy of the picturesque edifice
which met one's eye in the foreground, and at which the traveller gazed
with extreme interest.
At the junction of the two valleys stood an enormous building, half
manorial, half monastic in appearance. The shore formed, at this point,
for an extent of several hundred feet, a bluff whose edge plunged
vertically into the river. The chateau and its outbuildings rested upon
this solid base. The principal house was a large parallelogram of very
old construction, but which had evidently been almost entirely rebuilt at
the beginning of the sixteenth century. The stones, of grayish granite
which abounds in the Vosges, were streaked with blue and violet veins,
and gave the facade a sombre aspect, increased by the scarcity of
windows, some of which were 'a la Palladio', others almost as narrow as
loop-holes. An immense roof of red tile, darkened by rain, projected
several feet over the whole front, as is still to be seen in old cities
in the North. Thanks to this projecting weather-board, the apartments
upon the upper floor were shaded from the sun's rays, like those persons
who have weak eyes and who protect them from a strong light by wearing a
The view which this melancholy dwelling presented from the place where
the traveller had first seen it, was one which made it appear to the best
advantage; it seemed, from this point, to come immediately out of the
river, built as it was upon the very curb of the bluffs, at this place at
least thirty feet high. This elevation, added to that of the building,
effaced the lack of proportion of the roof and gave to the whole a most
imposing appearance; it seemed as if the rocks were a part of the
building to which it served as foundation, for the stones had ended by
assuming the same color, and it would have been difficult to discover the
junction of man's work and that of nature, had it not been outlined by a
massive iron balcony running across the entire length of the first story,
whence one could enjoy the pleasure of line-fishing. Two round towers
with pointed roofs stood at each corner of the facade and seemed to gaze
with proud satisfaction at their own reflection in the water.
A long line of sycamore-trees skirted the banks of the river, beginning
from the foot of the chateau, and forming the edge of a park which
extended to the back of the double valley. A little wooden bridge
connected this sort of avenue with the road the traveller had just passed
over; but the latter did not seem disposed to profit by this silent
invitation to which large raindrops gave more emphasis. He was so
absorbed in his meditation that, to arouse him, it needed the sound of a
gruff voice behind him uttering these words:
"That is what I call an ugly castle! It is hardly as good as our common
country houses around Marseilles."
The stranger turned quickly around and found himself face to face with a
man wearing a gray cap and carrying his coat upon his shoulder, as
workmen do in the South. He held in his hand a knotty stick which had
been recently cut. The newcomer had a swarthy complexion, harsh
features, and deep-set eyes which gave his face an ugly, false
"I said an ugly castle," continued he. "However, the cage is made for
"It seems, then, that you do not like its master?" said the traveller.
"The master!" repeated the workman, seizing hold of his stick with a
threatening air, "Monsieur le Baron de Bergenheim, as they say! He is
rich and a nobleman, and I am only a poor carpenter. Well, then, if you
stay here a few days, you will witness a comical ceremony; I shall make
this brigand repent."
"Brigand!" exclaimed the stranger, in a surprised tone. "What has he
done to you?"
"Yes, brigand! you may tell him so from me. But, by the way," continued
the workman, surveying his companion from head to foot with a searching,
defiant air, "do you happen to be the carpenter who is coming from
Strasbourg? In that case, I have a few words to say to you. Lambernier
does not allow any one to take the bread out of his mouth in that way; do
The young man seemed very little moved by this declaration.
"I am not a carpenter," said he, smiling, "and I have no wish for your
"Truly, you do not look as if you had pushed a plane very often. It
seems that in your business one does not spoil one's hands. You are a
workman about as much as I am pope."
This remark made the one to whom it was addressed feel in as bad a humor
as an author does when he finds a grammatical error in one of his books.
"So you work at the chateau, then," said he, finally, to change the
"For six months I have worked in that shanty," replied the workman;
"I am the one who carved the new woodwork, and I will say it is well
done. Well, this great wild boar of a Bergenheim turned me out of the
house yesterday as if I had been one of his dogs."
"He doubtless had his reasons."
"I tell you, I will crush him--reasons! Damn it! They told him I talked
too often with his wife's maid and quarrelled with the servants, a pack
of idlers! Did he not forbid my putting my foot upon his land? I am
upon his land now; let him come and chase me off; let him come, he will
see how I shall receive him. Do you see this stick? I have just cut it
in his own woods to use it on himself!"
The young man no longer listened to the workman; his eyes were turned
toward the castle, whose slightest details he studied, as if he hoped
that in the end the stone would turn into glass and let him see the
interior. If this curiosity had any other object than the architecture
and form of the building it was not gratified. No human figure came to
enliven this sad, lonely dwelling. All the windows were closed, as if
the house were uninhabited. The baying of dogs, probably imprisoned in
their kennel, was the only sound which came to break the strange silence,
and the distant thunder, with its dull rumbling, repeated by the echoes,
responded plaintively, and gave a lugubrious character to the scene.
"When one speaks of the devil he appears," said the workman, suddenly,
with an emotion which gave the lie to his recent bravado; "if you wish to
see this devil incarnate of a Bergenheim, just turn your head. Good-by."
At these words he leaped a ditch at the left of the road and disappeared
in the bushes. The stranger also seemed to feel an impression very like
that of Lambernier's as he saw a man on horseback advancing on a gallop.
Instead of waiting for him, he darted into the field which descended to
the river, and hid behind a group of trees.
The Baron, who was not more than thirty-three years of age, had one of
those energetic, handsome faces whose type seems to belong particularly
to old military families. His bright, blond hair and clear, blue eyes
contrasted strongly with his ruddy complexion; his aspect was severe, but
noble and imposing, in spite of his negligent dress, which showed that
indifference to matters of personal attire which becomes habitual with
country lords. His tall figure was beginning to grow stout, and that
increased his athletic appearance. He sat very erect in his saddle, and
from the way in which he straightened out his long legs against the sides
of his beast, one suspected that he could, if necessary, repeat the
Marshal de Saxe's feats of skill. He stopped his horse suddenly at the
very spot which the two men had just vacated and called out in a voice
which would startle a regiment of cuirassiers:
The carpenter hesitated a moment, at this imperative call, between the
fear which he could not overcome and shame at fleeing from a single man
in the presence of a witness; finally this last feeling triumphed.
He returned to the edge of the road without saying a word, and stationed
himself in an insolent way face to face with the Baron, with his hat
drawn down over his ears, and grasped through precaution the knotty stick
which served him as a weapon.
"Lambernier," said the master of the castle, in a severe tone, "your
account was settled yesterday; was it not paid in full? Is anything due
"I ask nothing of you," replied the workman, brusquely.
"In that case, why are you wandering about my place when I forbade you?"
"I am upon the highway, nobody can prevent me from passing there."
"You are upon my land, and you came out of my woods," replied the Baron,
emphasizing his words with the firmness of a man who would permit no
violation of his rights as a landowner.
"The ground upon which I walk is mine," said the workman, in his turn, as
he struck the end of his stick upon the ground as if to take possession.
This gesture attracted Bergenheim's attention, and his eyes flashed with
a sudden light at the sight of the stick which Lambernier held.
"You scoundrel!" he exclaimed, "you probably regard my trees also as
your own. Where did you cut that stick?"
"Go and find out," said the workman, accompanying his reply with a
flourish of the stick.
The Baron coolly dismounted, threw the bridle over his horse's neck,
walked up to the workman, who had taken the position of a practised
pugilist to receive him, and, without giving him time to strike, he
disarmed him with one hand by a blow which would have been sufficient to
uproot the beech rod before it was metamorphosed into a club; with the
other hand he seized the man by the collar and gave him a shaking that it
was as impossible to struggle against as if it had been caused by a
steam-engine. Obeying this irresistible force, in spite of his kicking,
Lambernier described a dozen circles around his adversary, while the
latter set these off with some of the hardest blows from green wood that
ever chastised an insolent fellow. This gymnastic exercise ended by a
sleight-of-hand trick, which, after making the carpenter pirouette for
the last time, sent him rolling head-first into a ditch, the bottom of
which, fortunately for him, was provided with a bed of soft mud. When
the punishment was over, Bergenheim remounted his horse as tranquilly as
he had dismounted it, and continued his way toward the chateau.
The young man, in the midst of the thicket where he was concealed, had
lost no detail of this rural scene. He could not help having a feeling
of admiration for this energetic representative of the feudal ages who,
with no fear of any court of justice or other bourgeois inventions, had
thus exerted over his own domains the summary justice in force in Eastern
"France has thrashed Gaul," said he, smiling to himself; "if all our men
had this Bergenheim's iron fist many things determined upon to-day might
be called in question. If I ever have the slightest difficulty with this
Milo de Crotona, he may be sure I shall not choose pugilism as my mode of
The storm now burst forth in all its fury. A dark curtain covered the
whole valley, and the rain fell in torrents. The Baron put spurs to his
horse, crossed the bridge and, entering the sycamore avenue, was soon out
of sight. Without paying any attention to Lambernier, who was uttering
imprecations at the bottom of the ditch, into which he was sinking deeper
and deeper, the stranger went to seek a less illusive shelter than the
trees under which he had taken his position; but at this moment his
attention was attracted to one side of the castle. A window, or rather
a glass door, just then opened upon the balcony, and a young woman in a
rose-colored negligee appeared upon the dark facade. It would be
impossible to imagine anything more fresh or charming than this
apparition at such a moment. Leaning upon the balustrade, the young
woman rested her face upon a hand which was as white as a lily, and her
finger smoothed with a mechanical caress the ringlets of chestnut hair
that lay upon her forehead, while her large brown eyes gazed into the
depths of the clouds from which the lightning was flashing, and with
which they vied in brilliancy. A poet would have said it was Miranda
evoked by the tempest.
The stranger parted the branches before him to get a better view; at the
same instant he was blinded by a terrible flash which lighted the whole
valley and was immediately followed by a terrific crash. When he opened
his eyes the chateau which he believed to be at the bottom of the river
stood still upright, solemn, and firm as before; but the lady in the
rose-colored gown had disappeared.
THE CASTLE OF BERGENHEIM
The appearance of the room into which the lady had precipitately entered,
when startled by the thunder, corresponded with the edifice to which it
belonged. It was a very large room, longer than it was wide, and lighted
by three windows, the middle one of which opened from top to bottom like
a door and led out upon the balcony. The woodwork and ceiling were in
chestnut, which time had polished and a skilful hand had ornamented with
a profusion of allegorical figures. The beauty of this work of art was
almost entirely concealed by a very remarkable decoration which covered
every side of the room, consisting of one of the most glorious
collections of family portraits which a country chateau of the nineteenth
century could offer.
The first of these portraits hung opposite the windows at the right of
the entrance door and was that of a chevalier in full armor, whose teeth
gleamed from under his long moustache like those of an untamed tiger.
Beginning with this formidable figure, which bore the date 1247, forty
others of about the same dimensions were placed in order according to
their dates. It seemed as if each period had left its mark upon those of
the personages it had seen live and die, and had left something of its
own character there.
There were more gallant cavaliers cut after the same pattern as the
first. Their stern, harsh faces, red beards, and broad, square military
shoulders told that by swordthrusts and broken lances they had founded
the nobility of their race. An heroic preface to this family biography!
A rough and warlike page of the Middle Ages! After these proud men-of-
arms came several figures of a less ferocious aspect, but not so
imposing. In these portraits of the fifteenth century beards had
disappeared with the sword. In those wearing caps and velvet toques,
silk robes and heavy gold chains supporting a badge of the same metal,
one recognized lords in full and tranquil possession of the fiefs won by
their fathers, landowners who had degenerated a little and preferred
mountain life in a manor to the chances of a more hazardous existence.
These pacific gentlemen were, for the most part, painted with the left
hand gloved and resting upon the hip; the right one was bare, a sort of
token of disarmament which one might take for a painter's epigram.
Some of them had allowed their favorite dogs to share the honors of the
picture. All in this group indicated that this branch of the family had
many points of resemblance with the more illustrious faces. It was the
period of idle kings.
A half dozen solemn personages with gold-braided hats and long red robes
bordered with ermine, and wearing starched ruffles, occupied one corner
of the parlor near the windows. These worthy advisers of the Dukes of
Lorraine explained the way in which the masters of the chateau had
awakened from the torpor in which they had been plunged for several
generations, in order to participate in the affairs of their country and
enter a more active sphere.
Here the portraits assumed the proportions of history. Did not this
branch, descended from warlike stock, seem like a fragment taken from the
European annals? Was it not a symbolical image of the progress of
civilization, of regular legislation struggling against barbaric customs?
Thanks to these respectable counsellors and judges, one might reverse the
motto: 'Non solum toga', in favor of their race. But it did not seem as
if these bearded ancestors looked with much gratitude upon this
parliamentary flower added to their feudal crest. They appeared to look
down from the height of their worm-eaten frames upon their enrobed
descendants with that disdainful smile with which the peers of France
used to greet men of law the first time they were called to sit by their
side, after being for so long a time at their feet.
In the space between the windows and upon the remaining woodwork was a
crowd of military men, with here and there an Abbe with cross and mitre,
a Commander of Malta, and a solemn Canon, sterile branches of this
genealogical tree. Several among the military ones wore sashes and
plumes of the colors of Lorraine; others, even before the union of this
province to France, had served the latter country; there were lieutenant-
colonels of infantry and cavalry; some dressed in blue coats lined with
buff serge and little round patches of black plush, which served as the
uniform for the dragoons of the Lorraine legion.
Last of all was a young man with an agreeable face, who smiled
superciliously from under a vast wig of powdered hair; a rose was in the
buttonhole of his green cloth pelisse with orange facings, a red
sabrecache hung against his boots a little lower than the hilt of his
sabre. The costume represented a sprightly officer of the Royal Nassau
hussars. The portrait was hung on the left of the entrance door and only
separated by it from his great-grandfather of 1247, whom he might have
assisted, had these venerable portraits taken some night a fancy to
descend from their frames to execute a dance such as Hoffmann dreamed.
These two persons were the alpha and the omega of this genealogical tree,
the two extreme links of the chain-one, the root buried in the sands of
time; the other, the branch which had blossomed at the top. Fate had
created a tragical resemblance between these two lives, separated by more
than five centuries. The chevalier in coat-of-mail had been killed in
the battle of the Mansourah during the first crusade of St. Louis. The
young man with the supercilious smile had mounted the scaffold during the
Reign of Terror, holding between his lips a rose, his usual decoration
for his coat. The history of the French nobility was embodied in these
two men, born in blood, who had died in blood.
Large gilded frames of Gothic style surrounded all these portraits. At
the right, on the bottom of each picture was painted a little escutcheon
having for its crest a baronial coronet and for supports two wild men
armed with clubs. The field was red; with its three bulls' heads in
silver, it announced to people well versed in heraldic art that they had
before them the lineaments of noble and powerful lords, squires of
Reisnach-Bergenheim, lords of Reisnach in Suabia, barons of the Holy
Empire, lords of Sapois, Labresse, Gerbamont, etc., counts of Bergenheim,
the latter title granted them by Louis XV, chevaliers of Lorraine, etc.,
This ostentatious enumeration was not needed in order to recognize the
kindred of all these noble personages. Had they been mingled with other
portraits, a careful observer would have promptly distinguished and
reunited them, so pronounced were the family features common to them all.
The furniture of the room was not unworthy of these proud defunct ones.
High-backed chairs and enormous armchairs, dating from the time of Louis
XIII; more modern sofas, which had been made to harmonize with the older
furniture, filled the room. They were covered with flowered tapestry in
thousands of shades, which must have busied the white hands of the ladies
of the house for two or three generations past.
The row of portraits was interrupted on one side by a large fireplace of
grayish granite, which was too high for one to hang a mirror above or to
place ornaments upon its mantel. Opposite was an ebony console inlaid
with ivory, upon which was placed one of those elegant clocks whose
delicate and original chased work has not been eclipsed by any modern
workmanship. Two large Japanese vases accompanied it; the whole was
reflected in an antique mirror which hung above the console; its edges
were bevelled, doubtless in order to cause one to admire the thickness of
It would be impossible to imagine a stronger contrast than that of this
Gothic room with the lady in the rose-colored gown who had just entered
it so precipitately. The fire upon the hearth threw a warm light over
the old portraits, and it was heightened by the heavy, red damask
curtains which hung by the windows. The light sometimes softened,
sometimes revivified by some sudden flash of the flames, glanced over the
scowling faces and red beards, enlivening the eyes and giving a
supernatural animation to those lifeless canvases. One would have said
that the cold, grave faces looked with curiosity at the young woman with
graceful movements and cool garments, whom Aladdin's genii seemed to have
transported from the most elegant boudoir on the Chaussee d'Antin, and
thrown, still frightened, into the midst of this strange assembly.
"You are crazy, Clemence, to leave that window open!" said at this
moment an old voice issuing from an armchair placed in a corner near the
The person who broke the charm of this silent scene was a woman of sixty
or seventy years of age, according to the gallantry of the calculator.
It was easy to judge that she was tall and thin as she lay, rather than
sat, in her chair with its back lowered down. She was dressed in a
yellowish-brown gown. A false front as black as jet, surmounted by a cap
with poppy-colored ribbons, framed her face. She had sharp, withered
features, and the brilliancy of her primitive freshness had been
converted into a blotched and pimpled complexion which affected above all
her nose and cheek-bones, but whose ardor had been dimmed only a trifle
by age. There was something about the whole face as crabbed, sour, and
unkind as if she had daily bathed it in vinegar. One could read old maid
in every feature! Besides, a slight observation of her ways would have
destroyed all lingering doubt in this respect.
A large, coffee-colored pug-dog was lying before the fire. This
interesting animal served as a footstool for his mistress, stretched in
her easy-chair, and recalled to mind the lions which sleep at the foot of
chevaliers in their Gothic tombs. As a pug-dog and an old maid pertain
to each other, it was only necessary, in order to divine this venerable
lady's state, to read the name upon the golden circlet which served as a
collar for the dog: "Constance belongs to Mademoiselle de Corandeuil."
Before the younger lady, who was leaning upon the back of a chair,
seeming to breathe with difficulty, had time to reply, she received a
"But, aunt," said she, at last, "it was a horrible crash! Did you not
"I am not so deaf as that yet," replied the old maid. "Shut that window;
do you not know that currents of air attract lightning?"
Clemence obeyed, dropping the curtain to shut out the flashes of
lightning which continued to dart through the heavens; she then
approached the fireplace.
"Since you are so afraid of lightning," said her aunt; "which, by the
way, is perfectly ridiculous in a Corandeuil, what induced you to go out
upon the balcony? The sleeve of your gown is wet. That is the way one
gets cold; afterward, there is nothing but an endless array of syrups and
drugs. You ought to change your gown and put on something warmer. Who
would ever think of dressing like that in such weather as this?"
"I assure you, aunt, it is not cold. It is because you have a habit of
always being near the fire--"
"Ah! habit! when you are my age you will not hint at such a thing. Now,
everything goes wonderfully well; you never listen to my advice--you go
out in the wind and rain with that flighty Aline and your husband, who
has no more sense than his sister; you will pay for it later. Open the
curtains, I pray; the storm is over, and I wish to read the Gazette."
The young woman obeyed a second time and stood with her forehead pressed
against the glass. The distant rumbling of the thunder announced the end
of the storm; but a few flashes still traversed the horizon.
"Aunt," said she, after a moment's silence, "come and look at the
Montigny rocks; when the lightning strikes them they look like a file of
silver columns or a procession of ghosts."
"What a romantic speech," growled the old lady, never taking her eyes
from her paper.
"I assure you I am not romantic the least in the world," replied
Clemence. "I simply find the storm a distraction, and here, you know,
there is no great choice of pleasures."
"Then you find it dull?"
"Oh, aunt, horribly so!" At these words, pronounced with a heartfelt
accent, the young woman dropped into an armchair.
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil took off her eye-glasses, put the paper upon
the table and gazed for several moments at her pretty niece's face, which
was tinged with a look of deep melancholy. She then straightened herself
up in her chair, and, leaning forward, asked in a low tone:
"Have you had any trouble with your husband?"
"If so, I should not be so bored," replied Clemence, in a gay tone, which
she repented immediately, for she continued more calmly:
"No, aunt; Christian is kind, very kind; he is very much attached to me,
and full of good-humor and attentions. You have seen how he has allowed
me to arrange my apartments to suit myself, even taking down the
partition and enlarging the windows; and yet, you know how much he clings
to everything that is old about the house. He tries to do everything for
my pleasure. Did he not go to Strasbourg the other day to buy a pony for
me, because I thought Titania was too skittish? It would be impossible
to show greater kindness."
"Your husband," suddenly interrupted Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, for she
held the praise of others in sovereign displeasure, "is a Bergenheim like
all the Bergenheims present, past, and future, including your little
sister-in-law, who appears more as if she had been brought up with boys
than at the 'Sacred Heart.' He is a worthy son of his father there,"
said she, pointing to one of the portraits near the young Royal-Nassau
officer; "and he was the most brutal, unbearable, and detestable of all
the dragoons in Lorraine; so much so that he got into three quarrels at
Nancy in one month, and at Metz, over a game of checkers, he killed the
poor Vicomte de Megrigny, who was worth a hundred of him and danced so
well! Some one described Bergenheim as being 'proud as a peacock, as
stubborn as a mule, and as furious as a lion!' Ugly race! ugly race!
What I say to you now, Clemence, is to excuse your husband's faults, for
it would be time lost to try to correct them. However, all men are
alike; and since you are Madame de Bergenheim, you must accept your fate
and bear it as well as possible. And then, if you have your troubles,
you still have your good aunt to whom you can confide them and who will
not allow you to be tyrannized over. I will speak to your husband."
Clemence saw, from the first words of this tirade, that she must arm
herself with resignation; for anything which concerned the Bergenheims
aroused one of the hobbies which the old maid rode with a most complacent
spite; so she settled herself back in her chair like a person who would
at least be comfortable while she listened to a tiresome discourse, and
busied herself during this lecture caressing with the tip of a very
shapely foot the top of one of the andirons.
"But, aunt," said she at last, when the tirade was over, and she gave a
rather drawling expression to her voice, "I can not understand why you
have taken this idea into your head that Christian renders me unhappy.
I repeat it, it is impossible that one should be kinder to me than he,
and, on my side, I have the greatest respect and friendship for him."
"Very well, if he is such a pearl of husbands, if you live so much like
turtle-doves-and, to tell the truth, I do not believe a word of it--what
causes this ennui of which you complain and which has been perfectly
noticeable for some time? When I say ennui, it is more than that; it is
sadness, it is grief? You grow thinner every day; you are as pale as a
ghost; just at this moment, your complexion is gone; you will end by
being a regular fright. They say that it is the fashion to be pale
nowadays; a silly notion, indeed, but it will not last, for complexion
makes the woman."
The old lady said this like a person who had her reasons for not liking
pale complexions, and who gladly took pimples for roses.
Madame de Bergenheim bowed her head as if to acquiesce in this decision,
and then resumed in her drawling voice:
"I know that I am very unreasonable, and I am often vexed with myself for
having so little control over my feelings, but it is beyond my strength.
I have a tired sensation, a disgust for everything, something which I can
not overcome. It is an inexplicable physical and moral languor,
for which, for this reason, I see no remedy. I am weary and I suffer;
I am sure it will end in my being ill. Sometimes I wish I were dead.
However, I have really no reason to be unhappy. I suppose I am happy--
I ought to be happy."
"Truly, I can not understand in the least the women of today. Formerly,
upon exciting occasions, we had a good nervous attack and all was over;
the crisis passed, we became amiable again, put on rouge and went to a
ball. Now it is languor, ennui, stomach troubles--all imagination and
humbug! The men are just as bad, and they call it spleen! Spleen!
a new discovery, an English importation! Fine things come to us from
England; to begin with, the constitutional government! All this is
perfectly ridiculous. As for you, Clemence, you ought to put an end to
such childishness. Two months ago, in Paris, you did not have any of the
rest that you enjoy here. I had serious reasons for wishing to delay my
departure; my apartment to refurnish, my neuralgia which still troubles
me--and Constance, who had just been in the hands of the doctor, was
hardly in a condition to travel, poor creature! You would listen to
nothing; we had to submit to your caprices, and now--"
"But, aunt, you admitted yourself that it was the proper thing for me to
do, to join my husband. Was it not enough, and too much, to have left
him to pass the entire winter alone here while I was dancing in Paris?"
"It was very proper, of course, and I do not blame you. But why does the
very thing you so much desired two months ago bore you so terribly now?
In Paris you talked all the time of Bergenheim, longed only for
Bergenheim, you had duties to fulfil, you wished to be with your husband;
you bothered and wore me out with your conjugal love. When back at
Bergenheim, you dream and sigh for Paris. Do not shake your head; I am
an old aunt to whom you pay no heed, but who sees clearly yet. Will you
do me the favor to tell me what it is that you regret in Paris at this
time of the year, when there are no balls or parties, and not one human
being worth visiting, for all the people you know are in the country? Is
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil did not finish her sentence, but she put a
severity into these three words which seemed to condense all the
quintessence of prudery that a celibacy of sixty years could coagulate in
an old maid's heart.
Clemence raised her eyes to her aunt's face as if to demand an
It was such a calm, steady glance that the latter could not help being
impressed by it.
"Well," said she, softening her voice, "there is no necessity for putting
on such queenly airs; we are here alone, and you know that I am a kind
aunt to you. Now, then, speak freely--have you left anything or any
person in Paris, the remembrance of which makes your sojourn here more
tiresome than it really is? Any of your adorers of the winter?"
"What an idea, aunt! Did I have any adorers?" exclaimed Madame de
Bergenheim, quickly, as if trying to conceal by a smile the rosy flush
that mounted to her cheeks.
"And what if you should have some, child?" continued the old maid, to
whom curiosity lent an unaccustomed coaxing accent to her voice, "where
would be the harm? Is it forbidden to please? When one is of good
birth, must one not live in society and hold one's position there? One
need not bury one's self in a desert at twenty-three years of age, and
you really are charming enough to inspire love; you understand, I do not
say, to experience it; but when one is young and pretty conquests are
made almost unwittingly. You are not the first of the family to whom
that has happened; you are a Corandeuil. Now, then, my good Clemence,
what troubled heart is pining for you in Paris? Is it Monsieur de
"Monsieur de Mauleon!" exclaimed the young woman, bursting into
laughter; "he, a heart! and a troubled one, too! Oh, aunt, you do him
honor! Monsieur de Mauleon, who is past forty-five years old and wears
stays! an audacious man who squeezes his partners' hands in the dance and
looks at them with passionate glances! Oh! Monsieur de Mauleon!"
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil sanctioned by a slight grimace of her thin
lips her niece's burst of gayety, when, with one hand upon her heart, she
rolled her sparkling eyes in imitation of the languishing air of her
"Perhaps it is Monsieur d'Arzenac?"
"Monsieur d'Arzenac is certainly very nice; he has perfect manners; it
may be that he did not disdain to chat with me; on my side, I found his
conversation very entertaining; but you may rest assured that he did not
think of me nor I of him. Besides, you know that he is engaged to marry
Mademoiselle de la Neuville."
"Monsieur de Gerfaut?" continued Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, with the
persistency with which aged people follow an idea, and as if determined
to pass in review all the young men of their acquaintance until she had
discovered her niece's secret.
The latter was silent a moment before replying.
"How can you think of such a thing, aunt?" said she at last, "a man with
such a bad reputation, who writes books that one hardly dares read, and
plays that it's almost a sin to witness! Did you not hear Madame de
Pontivers say that a young woman who cared for her reputation would
permit his visits very rarely?"
"Madame de Pontivers is a prude, whom I can not endure, with her show of
little, grimaces and her pretentious, outrageous mock-modesty. Did she
not take it into her head this winter to constitute me her chaperon?
I gave her to understand that a widow forty years old was quite old
enough to go about alone! She has a mania for fearing that she may be
compromised. The idea of turning up her nose at Monsieur de Gerfaut!
What presumption! He certainly is too clever ever to solicit the honor
of being bored to death in her house; for he is clever, very clever. I
never could understand your dislike for him, nor your haughty manner of
treating him; especially, during the latter part of our stay in Paris."
"One is not mistress of one's dislikes or affections, aunt. But to reply
to your questions, I will say that you may rest assured that none of
these gentlemen, nor any of those whom you might name, has the slightest
effect upon my state of mind. I am bored because it probably is my
nature to need distractions, and there are none in this deserted place.
It is an involuntary disagreeableness, for which I reproach myself and
which I hope will pass away. Rest assured, that the root of the evil
does not lie in my heart."
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil understood by the cold and rather dry tone in
which these words were spoken that her niece wished to keep her secret,
if she had one; she could not prevent a gesture of anger as she saw her
advances thus repelled, but felt that she was no wiser than when she
began the conversation. She manifested her disappointment by pushing the
dog aside with her foot--the poor thing was perfectly innocent!--and in a
cross tone, which was much more familiar than her former coaxing one, she
"Very well, since I am wrong, since your husband adores you and you him,
since, to sum it all up, your heart is perfectly tranquil and free, your
conduct is devoid of common-sense, and I advise you to change it. I warn
you that all this hypochondria, paleness, and languor are caprices which
are very disagreeable to others. There is a Provence proverb which says:
Vaillance de Blacas, prudence de Pontevez, caprice de Corandeuil. If
there was not such a saying, it should be created for you, for you have
something incomprehensible enough in your character to make a saint
swear. If anybody should know you, it is I, who brought you up. I do
not wish to reproach you, but you gave me trouble enough; you were a most
wayward, capricious, and fantastic creature, a spoiled child--"
"Aunt," interrupted Clemence, with heightened color in her pale cheeks,
"you have told me of my faults often enough for me to know them, and, if
they were not corrected, it was not your fault, for you never spared me
scoldings. If I had not been so unfortunate as to lose my mother when I
was a baby, I should not have given you so much trouble."
Tears came into the young woman's eyes, but she had enough control over
herself to keep them from streaming down her burning cheeks. Taking a
journal from the table, she opened it, in order to conceal her emotion
and to put an end to this conversation, which had become painful to her.
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, on her side, carefully replaced her eye-
glasses upon her nose, and, solemnly stretching herself upon her chair,
she turned over the leaves of the 'Gazette de France,' which she had
neglected so long.
Silence reigned for some moments in the room. The aunt apparently read
the paper very attentively. Her niece sat motionless, with her eyes
fastened upon the yellow cover of the last number of 'La Mode,' which had
chanced to fall into her hands. She aroused herself at last from her
revery and carelessly turned over the leaves of the review in a manner
which showed how little interest she felt in it. As she turned the first
page a surprised cry escaped her, and her eyes were fastened upon the
pamphlet with eager curiosity. Upon the frontispiece, where the Duchesse
de Berry's coat-of-arms is engraved, and in the middle of the shield,
which was left empty at this time by the absence of the usual fleurs de
lys, was sketched with a pencil a bird whose head was surmounted by a
Curious to know what could have caused her niece so much surprise,
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil stretched out her neck and gazed for an
instant upon the page without seeing, at first, anything extraordinary,
but finally her glance rested upon the armorial bearings, and she
discovered the new feature added to the royal Bourbon coat-of-arms.
"A cock!" exclaimed she, after a moment's reflection; "a cock upon
Madame's shield! What can that mean, 'bon Dieu'! and it is not engraved
nor lithographed; it is drawn with a pencil."
"It is not a cock, it is a crowned gerfaut," said Madame de Bergenheim.
"A gerfaut! How do you know what a gerfaut is? At Corandeuil, in your
grandfather's time, there was a falconry, and I have seen gerfauts there,
but you--I tell you it is a cock, an old French cock; ugly thing! What
you take for a coronet--and it really does resemble one--is a badly drawn
cock's comb. How did this horrid creature come to be there? I should
like to know if such pretty tricks are permitted at the postoffice.
People protest against the 'cabinet noir', but it is a hundred times
worse if one is permitted to outrage with impunity peaceable families in
their own homes. I mean to find out who has played this trick. Will you
be so kind as to ring the bell?"
"It really is very strange!" said Madame de Bergenheim, pulling the
bell-rope with a vivacity which showed that she shared, if not the
indignation, at least the curiosity of her aunt.
A servant in green livery appeared.
"Who went to Remiremont yesterday for the newspapers?" asked
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil.
"It was Pere Rousselet, Mademoiselle," replied the servant.
"Where is Monsieur de Bergenheim?"
"Monsieur le Baron is playing billiards with Mademoiselle Aline."
"Send Leonard Rousselet here."
And Mademoiselle de Corandeuil settled herself back in her chair with the
dignity of a chancellor about to hold court.
A DIVIDED HOUSEHOLD
The servants in the castle of Bergenheim formed a family whose members
were far from living in harmony. The Baron managed his household
himself, and employed a large number of day-laborers, farm servants, and
kitchen-girls, whom the liveried servants treated with great disdain.
The rustics, on their side, resisted these privileged lackeys and called
them "coxcombs" and "Parisians," sometimes accompanying these remarks
with the most expressive blows. Between these tribes of sworn enemies
a third class, much less numerous, found them selves in a critical
position; these were the two servants brought by Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil. It was fortunate for them that their mistress liked large,
vigorous men, and had chosen them for their broad, military shoulders;
but for that it would have been impossible for them to come out of their
daily quarrels safe and sound.
The question of superiority between the two households had been the first
apple of discord; a number of personal quarrels followed to inflame them.
They fought for their colors the whole time; the Bergenheim livery was
red, the Corandeuil green. There were two flags; each exalted his own
while throwing that of his adversaries in the mud. Greenhorn and crab
were jokes; cucumber and lobster were insults.
Such were the gracious terms exchanged every day between the two parties.
In the midst of this civil war, which was carefully concealed from their
masters' eyes, whose severity they feared, lived one rather singular
personage. Leonard Rousselet, Pere Rousselet, as he was generally
called, was an old peasant who, disheartened with life, had made various
efforts to get out of his sphere, but had never succeeded in doing so.
Having been successively hairdresser, sexton, school-teacher, nurse, and
gardener, he had ended, when sixty years old, by falling back to the very
point whence he started. He had no particular employment in M. de
Bergenheim's house; he went on errands, cared for the gardens, and
doctored the mules and horses; he was a tall man, about as much at ease
in his clothing as a dry almond in its shell. A long, dark, yellow coat
usually hung about the calves of his legs, which were covered with long,
blue woollen stockings, and looked more like vine-poles than human legs;
a conformation which furnished daily jokes for the other servants, to
which the old man deigned no response save a disdainful smile, grumbling
through his teeth, "Menials, peasants without education." This latter
speech expressed the late gardener's scorn, for it had been his greatest
grief to pass for an uneducated man; and he had gathered from his various
conditions a singularly dignified and pretentious way of speaking.
In spite of his self-confidence, it was not without some emotion that
Leonard Rousselet responded to this call to appear in the drawing-room
before the person he most feared in the chateau. His bearing showed this
feeling when he presented himself at the drawing-room door, where he
stood as grave and silent as Banquo's ghost. Constance arose at sight of
this fantastic figure, barked furiously and darted toward a pair of legs
for which she seemed to share the irreverence of the liveried servants;
but the texture of the blue stocking and the flesh which covered the
tibia were rather too hard morsels for the dowager's teeth; she was
obliged to give up the attack and content herself with impotent barks,
while the old man, who would gladly have given a month's wages to break
her jaw with the tip of his, boot, caressed her with his hand, saying,
"Softly, pretty dear! softly, pretty little creature!" in a
This courtier-like conduct touched the old lady's heart and softened the
severe look upon her face.
"Stop your noise, Constance," said she, "lie down beside your mistress.
Rousselet, come nearer."
The old man obeyed, walking across the floor with reverential bows, and
taking a position like a soldier presenting arms.
"You were the one," said Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, "who was sent to
Remiremont yesterday? Did you perform all the commissions that were
"It is not among the impossibilities, Mademoiselle, that I may have
neglected some of them," replied the old man, fearing to compromise
himself by a positive affirmative.
"Tell us, then, what you did."
Leonard wiped his nose behind his hat, like a well-bred orator, and,
balancing himself upon his legs in a way not at all Bourbonic, he said:
"I went to the city that morning myself because Monsieur le Baron had
said the night before that he should hunt to-day, and that the groom was
to help Monsieur le Baron drive a wild boar out of the Corne woods.
I reached Remiremont; I went to the butcher's; I purchased five
kilogrammes of dressed goods--"
"Of dressed goods at the butcher's!" exclaimed Madame de Bergenheim.
"I would say ten pounds of what uneducated people call pork," said
Rousselet, pronouncing this last word in a strangled voice.
"Pass over these details," said Mademoiselle de Corandeuil. "You went to
"I went to the post-office, where I put in letters for Mademoiselle,
Madame, Monsieur le Baron, and one from Mademoiselle Aline for Monsieur
"Aline writing to her cousin! Did you know that?" said the old aunt,
turning quickly toward her niece.
"Certainly; they correspond regularly," replied Clemence with a smile
which seemed to say that she saw no harm in it.
The old maid shook her head and protruded her under lip, as much as to
say: We will attend to this another time.
Madame de Bergenheim, who was out of patience at this questioning, began
to speak in a quick tone which was a contrast to her aunt's solemn
"Rousselet," said she, "when you took the newspapers out of the office,
did you notice whether the wrappers were intact, or whether they had been
The good man half concealed his face in his cravat at this precise
questioning, and it was with embarrassment that he replied, after a
"Certainly, Madame--as to the wrappers--I do not accuse the postmaster--"
"If the journals were sealed when you received them, you are the only one
who could have opened them."
Rousselet straightened himself up to his full height, and, giving to his
nut-cracker face the most dignified look possible, he said in a solemn
"With due deference to you, Madame, Leonard Rousselet is well known.
Fifty-seven years old on Saint-Hubert's day, I am incapable of opening
newspapers. When they have been read at the chateau and they send me
with them to the cure, I do not say--perhaps on my way--it is a
recreation--and then the cure is Jean Bartou, son of Joseph Bartou, the
tilemaker. But to read the newspaper before my masters have done so!
Never! Leonard Rousselet is an old man incapable of such baseness.
Baptized when a child; fifty-seven years on Saint-Hubert's day."
"When you speak of your pastor, do so in a more becoming manner,"
interrupted Mademoiselle de Colrandeuil, although she herself in private
did not speak of the plebeian priest in very respectful terms. But if
Joseph Bartou's son was always the son of Joseph Bartou to her, she meant
that he should be Monsieur le Cure to the peasants.
Madame de Bergenheim had not been much affected by Pere Rousselet's
harangue, and shook her head impatiently, saying in an imperative tone:
"I am certain that the newspapers have been opened by you, or by some
person to whom you have given them, and I wish to know at once by whom."
Rousselet dropped his pose of a Roman senator; passing his hand behind
his ears, a familiar gesture with people when in embarrassing positions,
he continued less emphatically:
"I stopped on my way back at La Fauconnerie, at the 'Femme-sans-Tete
"And what were you doing in a tavern?" interrupted Mademoiselle de
Corandeuil severely. "You know it is not intended that the servants in
this house should frequent taverns and such low places, which are not
respectable and corrupt the morals of the lower classes."
"Servants! lower classes! Old aristocrat!" growled Rousselet secretly;
but, not daring to show his ill humor, he replied in a bland voice:
"If Mademoiselle had gone the same road that I did, with the same
conveyance, she would know that it is a rather thirsty stretch. I
stopped at the 'Femme-sans-Tete' to wash the dust down my parched throat.
Whereupon Mademoiselle Reine--the daughter of Madame Gobillot, the
landlady of the inn--Mademoiselle Reine asked me to allow her to look at
the yellow-journal in which there are fashions for ladies; I asked her
why; she said it was so that she might see how they made their bonnets,
gowns, and other finery in Paris. The frivolity of women!"
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil threw herself back in her chair and gave way
to an access of hilarity in which she rarely indulged.
"Mademoiselle Gobillot reading La Mode! Mademoiselle Gobillot talking of
gowns, shawls, and cashmeres! Clemence, what do you say to that? You
will see, she will be ordering her bonnets from Herbault! Ha! ha! This
is what is called the progress of civilization, the age of light!"
"Mademoiselle Gobillot," said Clemence, fixing a penetrating glance upon
the old man, "was not the only one who looked at La Mode. Was there no
other person in the tavern who saw it?"
"Madame," replied Rousselet, forced from his last refuge, "there were two
young men taking their refection, and one of them wore a beard no longer
than a goat's. Madame will pardon me if I allow myself to use this
vulgar expression, but Madame wished to know all."
"And the other young man?"
"The other had his facial epidermis shaved as close as a lady's or mine.
He was the one who held the journal while his comrade was smoking outside
Madame de Bergenheim made no further inquiries, but fell into a profound
revery. With eyes fixed upon the last number of La Mode, she seemed to
study the slightest lines of the sketch that had been made thereon, as if
she hoped to find a solution to the mystery. Her irregular breathing,
and the bright flush which tinged her usually pale cheeks, would have
denoted to an eye-witness one of those tempests of the heart, the
physical manifestations of which are like those of a fever. The pale
winter flower dying under the snow had suddenly raised its drooping head
and recovered its color; the melancholy against which the young woman had
so vainly struggled had disappeared as if by enchantment. A little bird
surmounted by a coronet, the whole rather badly sketched, was the strange
talisman that had produced this change.
"They were commercial travellers," said the old aunt; "they always
pretend to know everything. One of them, doubtless, when reading the
well-known name of Monsieur de Bergenheim upon the wrapper, sketched the
animal in question. These gentlemen of industry usually have a rather
good education! But this is giving the affair more importance than it
merits. Leonard Rousselet," said she, raising her voice as a judge does
in court when pronouncing his charge, "you were wrong to let anything
addressed to your master leave your hands. We will excuse you this time,
but I warn you to be more careful in future; when you go to Madame
Gobillot's, you may say to Mademoiselle Reine, from me, that if she
wishes to read La Mode I shall be delighted to procure a subscriber to
one of our journals. You may retire now."
Without waiting for this invitation to be repeated, Rousselet backed out
of the room like an ambassador leaving the royal presence, escorted by
Constance acting as master of ceremonies. Not having calculated the
distance, he had just bumped against the door, when it suddenly opened
and a person of extreme vivacity bounded into the middle of the room.
It was a very young and petite lady, whose perfectly developed form
predicted an inclination to stoutness in the future. She belonged to
the Bergenheim family, if one could credit the resemblance between her
characteristic features and several of the old portraits in the room;
she wore a dark-brown riding-habit, a gray hat perched on one side,
showing on the left a mass of very curly, bright blond hair. This
coiffure and the long green veil, floating at each movement like the
plume in a helmet, gave a singularly easy air to the fresh face of this
pretty amazon, who brandished, in guise of a lance, a billiard cue.
"Clemence," she exclaimed, "I have just beaten Christian; I made the red
ball, I made the white, and then the double stroke; I made all!
Mademoiselle, I have just beaten Christian two games; is it not glorious?
He made only eighteen points in a single game. Pere Rousselet, I have
just beaten Christian! Do you know how to play billiards?"
"Mademoiselle Aline, I am absolutely ignorant of the game," replied the
old man, with as gracious a smile as was possible, while he tried to
recover his equilibrium.
"You are needed no longer, Rousselet," said Mademoiselle de Corandeuil;
"close the door as you go out."
When she had been obeyed, the old maid turned gravely toward Aline, who
was still dancing about the room, having seized her sister-in-law's hands
in order to force her to share her childish joy.
"Mademoiselle," said she in a severe tone, "is it the custom at the
'Sacred Heart' to enter a room without greeting the persons who are in
it, and to jump about like a crazy person? a thing that is never
permitted even in a peasant's house."
Aline stopped short in the midst of her dance and blushed a trifle; she
caressed the pug dog, instead of replying, for she knew as well as
Rousselet that it was the surest way of softening the old maid's heart.
The cajolery was lost this time.
"Do not touch Constance, I beg of you," exclaimed the aunt, as if a
dagger had been raised against the object of her love, "do not soil this
poor beast with your hands. What dreadful thing have you on your
fingers? Have you just come out of an indigo bag?"
The young girl blushed still deeper and gazed at her pretty hands, which
were really a little daubed, and began to wipe them with an embroidered
handkerchief which she took from her pocket.
"It was the billiards," she said, in a low voice, "it is the blue chalk
they rub the cue with in order to make good shots and caroms."
"Make good shots! Caroms! Will you be so good as to spare us your slang
speeches," continued Mademoiselle de Corandeuil, who seemed to become
more crabbed as the young girl's confusion increased. "What a fine
education for a young lady! and one who has just come from the 'Sacred
Heart'! One that has taken five prizes not fifteen days ago! I really
do not know what to think of those ladies, your teachers! And now I
suppose you are going to ride. Billiards and horses, horses and
billiards! It is fine! It is admirable!"
"But, Mademoiselle," said Aline, raising her large blue eyes, which were
on the verge of tears, "it is vacation now, and there is no wrong in my
playing a game of billiards with my brother; we have no billiards at the
'Sacred Heart,' and it is such fun! It is like riding; the doctor said
that it would be very healthful for me, and Christian hoped that it might
make me grow a little."
As she said these words, the young girl glanced into the mirror in order
to see whether her brother's hopes had been realized; for her small
stature was her sole anxiety. But this glance was as quick as a flash,
for she feared that the severe old maid would make this act of coquetry
serve as the text for another sermon.
"You are not my niece, and I am thankful for it," continued the old lady.
"I am too old to begin another education; thank goodness, one is quite
enough! I have no authority over you, and your conduct is your brother's
concern. The advice which I give you is entirely disinterested; your
amusements are not such as seem to me proper for a young girl of good
birth. It may be possible that it is the fashion today, so I will say no
more about it; but there is one thing more serious, upon which I should
advise you to reflect. In my youth, a young lady never was allowed to
write letters except to her father and mother. Your letters to your
cousin d'Artigues are inconsiderate--do not interrupt me--they are
inconsiderate, and I should advise you to mend your ways."
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil arose, and, as she had found an opportunity to
read three sermons in one forenoon, she could not say, like Titus, "I
have wasted my morning." She left the room with a majestic step,
escorted by her dog and satisfied with herself, bestowing an ironical
curtsey on the young girl, which the latter did not think it necessary to
"How hateful your aunt is!" exclaimed Mademoiselle de Bergenheim to her
sister-in-law, when they were alone. "Christian says that I must pay no
attention to her, because all women become like her if they never marry.
As for myself, I know very well that if I am an old maid I shall try not
to hurt others' feelings--I, inconsiderate! When she can think of
nothing more to say, she scolds me about my cousin. It is hardly worth
while, for what we write about! Alphonse wrote of nothing, in his last
letter, but of the partridge he had shot and his hunting costume; he is
such a boy! But why do you not say something? You sit there speechless;
are you angry with me, too?"
She approached Clemence and was about to seat herself in her lap, when
the latter arose to avoid this loving familiarity.
"So you really have beaten Christian," said she, in a listless tone;
"are you going for a ride now? Your habit is very becoming."
"Truly? oh! I am so glad!" replied the young girl, planting herself
before the glass to look at her pretty figure. She pulled down her
waist, adjusted the folds of the skirt of her dress and arranged her
veil, placed her hat on her head with a little more jaunty air, turned
three quarters around to get a better view of her costume; in one word,
she went through the coquettish movements that all pretty women learn
upon entering society. On the whole, she seemed very well pleased with
her examination, for she smiled and showed a row of small teeth which
were as white as milk.
"I am sorry now," said she, "that I did not send for a black hat; my hair
is so light that gray makes me look ugly. Do you not think so? Why do
you not reply, Clemence? One can not get a word out of you to-day; is it
because you have your neuralgia?"
"I have a trifle of it," said Madame de Bergenheim, in order to give some
pretext for her preoccupation.
"Now, then, you ought to come with us for a ride; the fresh air will do
you good. Look how fine the weather is now; we will have a good gallop.
Will you? I will help you put on your habit, and in five minutes you
will be ready. Listen, I hear them in the yard now. I am going to tell
Christian to have your horse saddled; come."
Aline took her sister-in-law by the hand, led her into the next room and
opened the window to see what was going on outside, where the cracking of
whips and several voices were to be heard. A servant was walking up and
down the yard leading a large horse which he had just brought from the
stable; the Baron was holding a smaller one, which bore a lady's saddle,
while he carefully examined all the buckles. As he heard the window open
above his head, he turned and bowed to Clemence with much chivalrous
"You still refuse to go with us?" he asked.
"Is Aline going to ride Titania," replied Madame de Bergenheim, making an
effort to speak; "I am sure the mare will end by playing her some trick."
The young girl, who had a fancy for Titania because the skittish creature
had the attraction of forbidden fruit, nudged her sister with her elbow,
and made a little grimace.
"Aline is afraid of nothing," said the Baron; "we will enlist her with
the hussars as soon as she leaves the 'Sacred Heart.' Come, Aline."
The young girl kissed the Baroness, gathered up her skirt, and in a few
moments was in the yard patting the neck of her dear brown mare.
"Up with you!" said Christian, taking his sister's foot in one hand
while he raised her with the other, placing her in the saddle as easily
as he would a six-year-old child. Then he mounted his large horse,
saluted his wife, and the couple, starting at a trot, soon disappeared
down the avenue, which began at the gate of the courtyard.
As soon as they were out of sight, Clemence went to her room, took a
shawl from her bed, and went rapidly down a secret stairway which led
into the gardens.
THE GALLANT IN THE GARDEN
Madame de Bergenheim's apartments occupied the first floor of the wing on
the left side of the house. On the ground floor were the library, a
bathroom, and several guest-chambers. The large windows had a modern
look, but they were made to harmonize with the rest of the house by means
of grayish paint. At the foot of this facade was a lawn surrounded by a
wall and orange-trees planted in tubs, forming a sort of English garden,
a sanctuary reserved for the mistress of the castle, and which brought
her, as a morning tribute, the perfume of its flowers and the coolness of
Through the tops of the fir-trees and the tuliptrees, which rose above
the group of smaller shrubs, the eye could follow the winding river until
it finally disappeared at the extremity of the valley. It was this
picturesque view and a more extensive horizon which had induced the
Baroness to choose this part of the Gothic manor for her own private
After crossing the lawn, the young woman opened a gate concealed by
shrubs and entered the avenue by the banks of the river. This avenue
described a curve around the garden, and led to the principal entrance
of the chateau. Night was approaching, the countryside, which had been
momentarily disturbed by the storm, had resumed its customary serenity.
The leaves of the trees, as often happens after a rain, looked as fresh
as a newly varnished picture. The setting sun cast long shadows through
the trees, and their interlaced branches looked like a forest of boa-
Clemence advanced slowly under this leafy dome, which became darker and
more mysterious every moment, with head bent and enveloped in a large
cashmere shawl which fell in irregular folds to the ground. Madame de
Bergenheim had one of those faces which other women would call not at all
remarkable, but which intelligent men ardently admire. At the first
glance she seemed hardly pretty; at the second, she attracted involuntary
admiration; afterward, it was difficult to keep her out of one's
thoughts. Her features, which taken separately might seem irregular,
were singularly harmonious, and, like a thin veil which tempers a too
dazzling light, softened the whole expression. Her light chestnut hair
was arranged about the temples in ingenious waves; while her still darker
eyebrows gave, at times, an imposing gravity to her face. The same
contrast was to be found in the mouth; the short distance which separated
it from the nose would indicate, according to Lavater, unusual energy;
but the prominent underlip impregnated her smile with enchanting
voluptuousness. Her rather clearcut features, the exceeding brilliancy
of her brown eyes, which seemed like diamonds set in jet, would, perhaps,
have given to the whole rather too strong a character had not these eyes
when veiled given to their dazzling rays a glamour of indescribable
The effect produced by this face might be compared to that of a prism,
every facet of which reflects a different color. The ardor burning under
this changeable surface, which, through some sudden cause, betrayed its
presence, was so deeply hidden, however, that it seemed impossible to
fathom it completely. Was she a coquette, or simply a fashionable lady,
or a devotee? In one word, was she imbued with the most egotistical
pride or the most exalted love? One might suppose anything, but know
nothing; one remained undecided and thoughtful, but fascinated, the mind
plunged into ecstatic contemplation such as the portrait of Monna Lisa
inspires. An observer might have perceived that she had one of those
hearts, so finely strung, from which a clever hand might make
incomparable harmonies of passion gush; but perhaps he would be mistaken.
So many women have their souls only in their eyes!
Madame de Bergenheim's revery rendered the mysterious and impenetrable
veil which usually enveloped her countenance more unfathomable yet. What
sentiment made her bend her head and walk slowly as she meditated? Was
it the ennui of which she had just complained to her aunt? Was it pure
melancholy? The monotonous ripple of the stream, the singing of the
birds in the woods, the long golden reflections under the trees, all
seemed to unite in filling the soul with sadness; but neither the
murmuring water, the singing birds, nor the sun's splendor was paid any
attention to by Madame de Bergenheim; she gave them neither a glance nor
a sigh. Her meditation was not revery, but thought; not thoughts of the
past, but of the present. There was something precise and positive in
the rapid, intelligent glance which flashed from her eyes when she raised
them; it was as if she had a lucid foresight of an approaching drama.
A moment after she had passed over the wooden bridge which led from the
avenue, a man wearing a blouse crossed it and followed her. Hearing the
sound of hurried steps behind her, she turned and saw, not two steps from
her, the stranger who, during the storm, had vainly tried to attract her
attention. There was a moment's silence. The young man stood
motionless, trying to catch his breath, which had been hurried, either by
emotion or rapid walking. Madame de Bergenheim, with head thrown back
and widely opened eyes, looked at him with a more agitated than surprised
"It is you," exclaimed he, impulsively, "you whom I had lost and now find
"What madness, Monsieur!" she replied, in a low voice, putting out her
hand as if to stop him.
"I beg of you, do not look at me so! Let me gaze at you and assure
myself that it is really you--I have dreamed of this moment for so long!
Have I not paid dear enough for it? Two months passed away from you--
from heaven! Two months of sadness, grief, and unhappiness! But you are
pale! Do you suffer, too?"
"Much, at this moment."
"Call me Madame, Monsieur de Gerfaut," she interrupted, severely.
"Why should I disobey you? Are you not my lady, my queen?"
He bent his knee as a sign of bondage, and tried to seize her hand, which
she immediately withdrew. Madame de Bergenheim seemed to pay very little
attention to the words addressed her; her uneasy glances wandered in
every direction, into the depths of the bushes and the slightest
undulations of the ground. Gerfaut understood this pantomime.
He glanced, in his turn, over the place, and soon discovered at some
distance a more propitious place for such a conversation as theirs.
It was a semicircular recess in one of the thickets in the park.
A rustic seat under a large oak seemed to have been placed there
expressly for those who came to seek solitude and speak of love.
From there, one could see the approach of danger, and, in case of alarm,
the wood offered a secure retreat. The young man had had enough
experience in gallant strategies to seize the advantage of this position,
and wended his steps in that direction while continuing to converse.
It may be that instinct which, in a critical situation, makes us follow
mechanically an unknown impulse; it may be that the same idea of prudence
had also struck her, for Madame de Bergenheim walked beside him.
"If you could understand what I suffered," said he, "when I found that
you had left Paris! I could not discover at first where you had gone;
some spoke of Corandeuil, others of Italy. I thought, from this hasty
departure and the care you took to conceal your abiding-place, that you
were fleeing from me. Oh! tell me that I was mistaken; or, if it is true
that you wished to separate yourself from me, say that this cruel resolve
had left your mind, and that you will pardon me for following you! You
will pardon me, will you not? If I trouble or annoy you, lay the blame
entirely upon my love, which I can not restrain, and which drives me at
times to do the most extravagant things; call it reckless, insane love,
if you will; but believe it to be true and devoted!"
Clemence replied to this passionate tirade by simply shaking her head as
a child does who hears the buzzing of a wasp and fears its sting; then,
as they reached the bench, she said with affected surprise:
"You have made a mistake, this is not your road; you should have gone
over the bridge."
There was a little palpable insincerity in these words; for if the road
which they had taken did not lead to the bridge, neither did it lead to
the chateau, and the mistake, if there was one, was mutual.
"Listen to me, I beg of you," replied the lover, with 'a supplicating
glance, "I have so many things to say to you! I beg of you, grant me one
"Afterward, will you obey me?"
"Only a few words, and I will then do all that you wish."
She hesitated a moment; then, her conscience doubtless lulled by this
promise, she seated herself and made a gesture for M. de Gerfaut to do
likewise. The young man did not make her repeat this invitation, but
hypocritically seated himself on the farther end of the seat.
"Now, talk reasonably," she said, in a calm tone. "I suppose that you
are on your way to Germany or Switzerland, and as you passed near me you
wished to favor me with a call. I ought to be proud of this mark of
respect from a man so celebrated as you are, although you are rather
hiding your light under this garb. We are not very strict as to dress in
the country, but, really, yours is quite unceremonious. Tell me, where
did you find that headdress?"
These last words were spoken with the careless, mocking gayety of a young
Gerfaut smiled, but he took off his cap. Knowing the importance that
women attach to little things, and what an irreparable impression an ugly
cravat or unblacked boots might produce in the most affecting moments, he
did not wish to compromise himself by a ridiculous head-gear. He passed
his hand through his hair, pushing it back from his large, broad
forehead, and said softly:
"You know very well that I am not going to Germany or Switzerland, and
that Bergenheim is the end of my journey, as it has been its aim."
"Then will you be so good as to tell me what your intention was in taking
such a step, and whether you have realized how strange, inconsiderate,
and in every way extravagant your conduct is?"
"I have realized it; I know it. You were here, I came because there is
a loadstone within you, that is my heart's sole attraction, and I must
follow my heart. I came because I wanted to see your beautiful eyes
again, to be intoxicated by your sweet voice, because to live away from
you is impossible for me; because your presence is as necessary to my
happiness as air to my life; because I love you. That is why I came.
Is it possible that you do not understand me, that you will not pardon
"I do not wish to believe that you are speaking seriously," said
Clemence, with increased severity. "What sort of an idea can you have of
me, if you think I will allow such conduct? And then, even if I were
foolish enough for that-which I never shall be--to what would it lead?
You know perfectly well that it is impossible for you to come to the
castle, as you are not acquainted with Monsieur de Bergenheim, and I
certainly shall not introduce you to him. My aunt is here, and she would
persecute me the whole day long with questions! Mon Dieu! how you
disturb me! how unhappy you make me!"
"Your aunt never goes out, so she will not see me, unless I am officially
received at the chateau, and then there could be no danger."
"But the servants she brought with her, and mine, who have seen you in
her house! I tell you, the whole thing is as perilous as it is crazy,
and you will make me die of fright and chagrin."
"If one of those servants should chance to meet me, how could he ever
recognize me in this costume? Do not fear, I shall be prudent! I would
live in a log cabin, if necessary, for the joy of seeing you
Madame de Bergenheim smiled disdainfully.
"That would be quite pastoral," she replied; "but I believe that such
disguises are seldom seen now except upon the stage. If this is a scene
out of a play, which you wish to rehearse in order to judge its effect,
I warn you that it is entirely lost upon me, and that I consider the play
itself very ill-timed, improper, and ridiculous. Besides, for a man of
talent and a romantic poet you have not exhibited any very great
imagination. It is a classical imitation, nothing better. There is
something like it in mythology, I believe. Did not Apollo disguise
himself as a shepherd?"
Nothing more is to be feared by a lover than a witty woman who does not
love or loves but half; he is obliged to wear velvet gloves in all such
sentimental controversies; he owes it to himself out of propriety first,
out of prudence afterward. For it is not a question of taking part in a
conversation for the simple pleasure of brilliant repartee; and while he
applies himself carefully to play his part well, he feels that he has
been dexterously cut to pieces with a well-sharpened knife.
Gerfaut indulged in these unpleasant reflections while gazing at Madame
de Bergenheim. Seated up on the bench as proudly as a queen upon her
throne, with shining eyes, scornful lips, and arms tightly folded under
her cashmere shawl, with that haughty gesture familiar to her, the young
woman looked as invulnerable under this light wrap as if she had been
covered with Ajax's shield, formed, if we can credit Homer, of seven
bulls' hides and a sheet of brass.
After gazing at this scornful face for a moment, Gerfaut glanced at his
coarse blouse, his leggings, and muddy boots. His usual dainty ways made
the details of this costume yet more shocking to him, and he exaggerated
this little disaster. He felt degraded and almost ridiculous. The
thought took away for a moment his presence of mind; he began
mechanically to twirl his hat in his hands, exactly as if he had been
Pere Rousselet himself. But instead of being hurtful to him, this
awkwardness served him better than the eloquence of Rousseau or the
coolness of Richelieu. Was it not a genuine triumph for Clemence to
reduce a man of his recognized talent, who was usually anything but
timid, to this state of embarrassment? What witty response, what
passionate speech could equal the flattery of this poet with bent head
and this expression of deep sadness upon his face?
Madame de Bergenheim continued her raillery, but in a softer tone.
"This time, instead of staying in a cabin, the god of poetry has
descended to a tavern. Have you not established your general
headquarters at La Fauconnerie?"
"How did you know that?"
"By the singular visiting-card that you drew in La Mode. Do I not know
your coat-of-arms? An expressive one, as my aunt would say."
At these words, which probably referred to some letters, doubtless read
without very much anger, since they were thus recalled, Gerfaut took
"Yes," said he, "I am staying at La Fauconnerie; but I can not stay there
any longer, for I think your servants make the tavern their pleasure-
ground. I must come to some decision. I have two propositions to submit
to you: the first is, that you will allow me to see you occasionally;
there are numerous promenades about here; you go out alone, so it would
be very easy."
"Let us hear the second," said Clemence, with a shrug of the shoulders.
"If you will not grant my first, I beg of you to persuade your aunt that
she is ill and to take her with you to Plombieres or Baden. The season
is not very far advanced; there, at least, I should be able to see you."
"Let us end this folly," said the Baroness; "I have listened patiently to
you; now, in your turn, listen to me. You will be sensible, will you
not? You will leave me and go. You will go to Switzerland, and return
to the Montanvert, where you met me for the first time, which I shall
always remember, if you, yourself, do not make it painful for me to do
so. You will obey me, Octave, will you not? Give me this proof of your
esteem and friendship. You know very well that it is impossible for me
to grant what you ask; believe me, it is painful to me to be forced to
refuse you. So, say farewell to me; you shall see me again next winter
in Paris. Adieu!"
She arose and extended her hand; he took it, but, thinking to profit by
the emotion betrayed by Madame de Bergenheim's voice, he exclaimed in a
sort of transport:
"No! I will not wait until next winter to see you. I was about to
submit to your will; if you repulse me I will consult only myself; if you
repulse me, Clemence, I warn you that tomorrow I shall be in your house,
seated at your table and admitted to your drawing-room."
"And how will you do it, pray?" said she, defiantly.
"That is my secret, Madame," he replied, coldly.
Although her curiosity was greatly aroused, Clemence felt that it would
be beneath her to ask any more questions. She replied with an
affectation of mocking indifference:
"Since I am to have the pleasure of seeing you tomorrow, I hope you will
permit me to leave you today. You know that I am not well, and it is
showing me very little attention to allow me to stand here in this wet
She raised her skirt a trifle and extended her foot, showing her slipper,
which was really covered with pearly drops of rain. Octave threw himself
quickly upon his knees, and, taking a silk handkerchief from his pocket,
began to wipe away all traces of the storm. His action was so rapid that
Madame de Bergenheim stood for a moment motionless and speechless, but
when she felt her foot imprisoned in the hand of the man who had just
declared war against her, her surprise gave place to a mingled feeling of
impatience and anger. She drew her foot back with a sudden movement, but
unfortunately the foot went one way and the slipper another. A fencing-
master, who sees his foil carried ten steps away from him by a back
stroke, could not feel more astonishment than that felt by Madame de
Bergenheim. Her first movement was to place her foot, so singularly
undressed, upon the ground; an instinctive horror of the damp, muddy walk
made her draw it quickly back. She stood thus with one foot lifted; the
movement which she had started to make threw her off her balance and as
she was about to fall she extended her hand to find some support. This
support proved to be Octave's head, for he still remained upon his knees.
With the usual presumption of lovers, he believed that he had the right
to give her the assistance which she seemed to ask for, and passed his
arm about the slender waist which was bent toward him.
Clemence drew herself up at once, and with frowning brow regained her
coolness, standing upright upon one foot, like Cupid in the painting by
Gerard; like him, also, she seemed about to fly away, there was so much
airy lightness in her improvised attitude.
Many puerile incidents and ridiculous events occur in life, which it
would render impossible for the most imperturbable of mandarins to
struggle against in order to preserve his gravity. When Louis XIV, this
king so expert in courtly ways, dressed his hair alone behind his
curtains before presenting himself to the eyes of his courtiers, he
feared that this disarray of costume might compromise even his royal
majesty. So, upon such authority, if one looks upon a complete head of
hair as indispensable to the dignity of manhood, the same reasoning
should exist for the covering of one's feet. In less than a second,
Madame de Bergenheim comprehended that in such circumstances prudish airs
would fail of their effect. Meanwhile, the agreeable side of her
position operated within her; she felt unable to keep up the show of
anger that she had wished to assume. The involuntary smile upon her lips
smoothed her forehead as a ray of sun dissipates a cloud. Thus, disposed
to clemency by reflection or fascination, it was in a very sweet and
coaxing voice that she said: "Octave, give me my slipper." Gerfaut gazed
at the lovely face bent toward him with an expression of childish
entreaty, then he glanced with an irresolute air at the trophy which he
held in his hand. This slipper, which was as small as Cinderella's, was
not green, but gray, the lining was of rose-colored silk, and the whole
was so pretty, coquettish, and dainty that it seemed impossible its owner
could be vexed with him if he examined it closely. "I will give it back
to you," said he, at last, "on condition that you will allow me to put it
on for you."
"As to that, certainly not," said she, in a sharp tone; "I should much
prefer to leave it with you and return home as I am."
Gerfaut shook his head and smiled incredulously.
"Think of your delicate lungs and of this terrible mud?"
Clemence drew her foot suddenly back under her skirt, concealing it
entirely from the sight of the young man, who gazed at it more than she
thought proper. Then she exclaimed, with the obstinacy of a spoiled
"Very well! I will return hopping on one foot; I could hop very well
when I was young, I should be able to do so now."
To give more weight to this observation, she took two little jumps with a
grace and sprightliness worthy of Mademoiselle Taglioni.
"I have had the pleasure of seeing you waltz," said he; "but I admit that
I shall be pleased to witness a new dance, and one executed for me
As he said these words, he pretended to conceal the innocent object of
this dispute in his blouse. The pretty dancer saw by this that a
compromise would be necessary. Recourse to concessions is often as fatal
to women as to kings; but what can one do when every other exit is
closed? Obliged by absolute necessity to accept the conditions imposed
upon her, Clemence wished at least to cover this defeat with sufficient
dignity, and escape from an awkward position with the honors of war.
"Get down upon your knees, then," she said, haughtily, "and put on my
slipper, since you exact it, and let this end this ridiculous scene.
I think you should be too proud to regard a maid's privilege as a favor."
"As a favor which a king would envy," replied Gerfaut, in a voice as
tender as hers had been disdainful. He put one knee on the ground,
placed the little slipper upon the other and seemed to await his enemy's
pleasure. But the latter found a new subject for complaint in the
pedestal offered her, for she said with increased severity:
"On the ground, Monsieur; and let that end it."
He obeyed, without a reply, after giving her a reproachful glance by
which she was as much moved as by his silent obedience. She put out her
foot with a more gracious air, and thrust it into the slipper. To be a
correct historian, we must admit that this time she left it in the hands
which softly pressed it longer than was strictly necessary. When Octave
had fastened it with skill but with no haste, he bent his head and
pressed his lips to the openwork stocking, through which he could catch a
glimpse of white, satiny skin.
"My husband!" exclaimed Madame de Bergenheim, as she heard the clatter
of horses' hoofs at the end of the avenue; and without adding a word she
fled rapidly toward the chateau. Gerfaut arose from his position no less
rapidly and darted into the woods. A rustling of branches which he heard
a few steps from him made him uneasy at first, for he feared that an
invisible witness had been present at this imprudent interview; but he
was soon reassured by the silence which reigned about him.
After the Baron and his sister had passed, he crossed the avenue and soon
disappeared over the winding road on the other side of the bridge.
ART AND MUSIC
A league below the castle of Bergenheim, the village of La Fauconnerie
was situated, at the junction of several valleys the principal of which,
by means of an unfrequented road, opened communications between Lorraine
and upper Alsatia. This position had been one of some importance in the
Middle Ages, at the time when the Vosges were beset with partisans from
the two countries, always ready to renew border hostilities, the
everlasting plague of all frontiers. Upon a cliff overlooking the
village were situated the ruins which had given the village its name;
it owed it to the birds of prey [falcons, in French: 'faucons'], the
habitual guests of the perpendicular rocks. To render proper justice to
whom it belongs, we should add that the proprietors of La Fauconnerie had
made it a point at all times to justify this appellation by customs more
warlike than hospitable; but for some time the souvenirs of their feudal
prowess had slept with their race under the ruins of the manor; the
chateau had fallen without the hamlet extending over its ruins; from a
bourg of some importance La Fauconnerie had come down to a small village,
and had nothing remarkable about it but the melancholy ruins of the
It would be impossible to imagine anything more miserably prosaic than
the houses that bordered the road, in regular order; their one story with
its thatched roof blackened by rain; the sorry garden surrounded by a
little low wall and presenting as vegetables patches of cabbage and a few
rows of beans, gave an idea of the poverty of its inhabitants. Save the
church, which the Bishop of St.-Die had caused to be built, and the manse
that had naturally shared this fortunate privilege, only one house rose
above the condition of a thatched cottage; this was the tavern called 'La
Femme-sans-Tete', and kept by Madame Gobillot, an energetic woman, who
did not suggest in the least the name of her establishment, "The Headless
A large sign shared with the inevitable bunch of juniper, the honor of
decorating the entrance and justified an appellation one might have
regarded as disrespectful to the fair sex. The original design had been
repainted in dazzling colors by the artist charged with restoring the
church. This alliance of the profane with the sacred had, it is true,
scandalized the parish priest, but he did not dare say a word too much,
as Madame Gobillot was one of his most important parishioners. A woman
in a rose-colored dress and large panniers, standing upon very high-
heeled shoes, displayed upon this sign the rejuvenated costume of 1750;
an enormous green fan, which she held in her hand, entirely concealed her
face, and it was through this caprice of the painter that the tavern came
to have the name it bore.
At the right of this original figure was painted, in a very appetizing
manner, a pie out of whose crust peeped a trio of woodcocks' heads. A
little farther, upon a bed of watercresses, floated a sort of marine
monster, carp or sturgeon, trout or crocodile. The left of the sign was
none the less tempting; it represented a roast chicken lying upon its
back with its head under its wing, and raising its mutilated legs in the
air with a piteous look; it had for its companion a cluster of crabs, of
a little too fine a red to have been freshly caught. The whole was
interspersed with bottles and glasses brimful of wine. There were stone
jugs at each extremity, the sergeants of the rear-rank of this
gastronomic platoon, whose corks had blown out and were still flying in
space, while a bubbling white foam issued from their necks and fell
majestically over their sides after describing a long parabola. A
misleading sign, indeed!
A remorseful conscience, or a desire to protect herself from all reproach
of mendacity on the part of the customers, had made the owner of the inn
place a wire cupboard upon the sill of one of the windows near the door;
in which receptacle were some eggs on a plate, a bit of bread with which
David might have loaded his sling, a white glass bottle filled with a
liquid of some color intended to represent kirsch, but which was in
reality only water. This array gave a much more correct idea of the
resources of the establishment and formed a menu like an anchorite's
repast, and even this it was difficult for the kitchen's resources to
A carriage-gate led into the yard and to the stables, cart-drivers being
the principal habitues of the place; another entrance, the one which was
crowned with the fantastic sign, was flanked by two stone seats and
opened directly into the kitchen, which also served as parlor for the
guests. A fireplace with an enormous mantel, under which a whole family
might warm themselves, occupied the middle of one side of the room.
There was a large oven in one corner which opened its huge mouth, the
door partly hiding the shovels and tongs employed in its service. Two or
three thoroughly smoked hams, suspended from the beams, announced that
there was no fear of a famine before the gastronomic massacres of
Middlemas. Opposite the window, a large, polished oak dresser displayed
an array of large flowered plates and little octagon-shaped glasses. A
huge kitchen kettle and some wooden chairs completed the furniture of the
From the kitchen one passed into another room, where a permanent table
surrounded by benches occupied its entire length. The wall paper, once
green, was now a dirty gray; it was embellished by half a dozen black
frames representing the story of Prince Poniatowski, who shares the honor
of decorating village inns with Paul and Virginia and Wilhelm Tell.
On the upper floor-for this aristocratic dwelling had a second story--
several sleeping-rooms opened upon a long corridor, at the end of which
was a room with two beds in it. This room was very neat and clean, and
was destined for any distinguished guests whose unlucky star led them
into this deserted country.
That evening the inn presented an unaccustomed lively appearance; the
long seats, each side of the door, were occupied by rustics stripping
hemp, by some village lads, and three or four cart-drivers smoking short
pipes as black as coal. They were listening to two girls who were
singing in a most mournful way a song well known to all in this country:
"Au chateau de Belfort
Sont trois jolies filles, etc."
The light from the hearth, shining through the open door, left this group
in the shadow and concentrated its rays upon a few faces in the interior
of the kitchen. First, there was Madame Gobillot in person, wearing a
long white apron, her head covered with an immense cap. She went from
oven to dresser, and from dresser to fireplace with a very important air.
A fat little servant disappeared frequently through the dining-room door,
where she seemed to be laying the cover for a feast. With that
particular dexterity of country girls, she made three trips to carry two
plates, and puffed like a porpoise at her work, while the look of
frightened amazement showed upon her face that every fibre of her
intelligence was under unaccustomed tension. Before the fire, and upon
the range, three or four stew-pans were bubbling. A plump chicken was
turning on the spit, or, rather, the spit and its victim were turned by a
bright-looking boy of about a dozen years, who with one hand turned the
handle and with the other, armed with a large cooking-ladle, basted the
But the two principal persons in this picture were a young country girl
and a young man seated opposite her, who seemed busily engaged in making
her portrait. One would easily recognize, from the airs and elegance of
the young woman, that she was the daughter of the house, Mademoiselle
Reine Gobillot, the one whose passion for fashion-plates had excited
Mademoiselle de Corandeuil's anger. She sat as straight and rigid upon
her stool as a Prussian corporal carrying arms, and maintained an
excessively gracious smile upon her lips, while she made her bust more
prominent by drawing back her shoulders as far as she could.
The young painter, on the contrary, was seated with artistic abandon,
balancing himself upon a two-legged chair with his heels resting against
the mantel; he was dressed in a black velvet coat, and a very small Tam
O'Shanter cap of the same material covered the right side of his head,
allowing a luxuriant crop of brown hair to be seen upon the other side.
This head-dress, accompanied by long moustaches and a pointed beard
covering only his chin, gave the stranger's face the mediaeval look he
probably desired. This travelling artist was sketching in an album
placed upon his knees, with a freedom which indicated perfect confidence
in his own talents. A cigar, skilfully held in one corner of his mouth,
did not prevent him from warbling between each puff some snatches of
Italian airs of which he seemed to possess a complete repertoire. In