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المشاركات : 2853
تاريخ التسجيل : 10/11/2009
نقاط : 5832
العمر : 30
|موضوع: english story الأربعاء ديسمبر 30, 2009 11:27 pm|
مصدر الموضوع الاصلي: english story
1: The Review as a Form of Welcome
ONE summer night a man stood on a low hill overlooking a wide expanse of forest and field. By the full moon hanging low in the west he knew what he might not have known otherwise: that it was near the hour of dawn. A light mist lay along the earth, partly veiling the lower features of the landscape, but above it the taller trees showed in well- defined masses against a clear sky. Two or three farmhouses were visible through the haze, but in none of them, naturally, was a light.
Nowhere, in- deed, was any sign or suggestion of life except the barking
of a distant dog, which, repeated with mechanical iteration, served
rather to accentuate than dispel the loneliness of the scene.
The man looked curiously about him on all sides, as one who among
familiar surroundings is unable to determine his exact place and part in
the scheme of things. It is so, perhaps, that we shall act when, risen
from the dead, we await the call to judgment.
A hundred yards away was a straight road, show- ing white in the
moonlight. Endeavouring to orient himself, as a surveyor or navigator
might say, the man moved his eyes slowly along its visible length and at
a distance of a quarter-mile to the south of his station saw, dim and
grey in the haze, a group of horsemen riding to the north. Behind them
were men afoot, marching in column, with dimly gleaming rifles aslant
above their shoulders. They moved slowly and in silence. Another group
of horsemen, another regiment of infantry, another and another --all in
unceasing motion toward the man's point of view, past it, and beyond. A
battery of artillery followed, the cannoneers riding with folded arms on
limber and caisson. And still the interminable procession came out of
the obscurity to south and passed into the obscurity to north, with
never a sound of voice, nor hoof, nor wheel.
The man could not rightly understand: he thought himself deaf; said
so, and heard his own voice, al- though it had an unfamiliar quality
that almost alarmed him; it disappointed his ear's expectancy in the
matter of timbre and resonance. But he was not deaf, and that for the
Then he remembered that there are natural phe- nomena to which some
one has given the name 'acoustic shadows.' If you stand in an acoustic
shadow there is one direction from which you will hear nothing. At the
battle of Gaines's Mill, one of the fiercest conflicts of the Civil War,
with a hundred guns in play, spectators a mile and a half away on the
opposite side of the Chickahominy Valley heard nothing of what they
clearly saw. The bombardment of Port Royal, heard and felt at St.
Augustine, a hundred and fifty miles to the south, was inaudible two
miles to the north in a still atmosphere. A few days before the
surrender at Ap- pomattox a thunderous engagement between the commands
of Sheridan and Pickett was unknown to the latter commander, a mile in
the rear of his own line.
These instances were not known to the man of whom we write, but less
striking ones of the same character had not escaped his observation. He
was profoundly disquieted, but for another reason than the uncanny
silence of that moonlight march.
'Good Lord! ' he said to himself--and again it was as if another had
spoken his thought--'if those people are what I take them to be we have
lost the battle and they are moving on Nashville!'
Then came a thought of self--an apprehension --a strong sense of
personal peril, such as in an- other we call fear. He stepped quickly
into the shadow of a tree. And still the silent battalions moved slowly
forward in the haze.
The chill of a sudden breeze upon the back of his neck drew his
attention to the quarter whence it came, and turning to the east he saw
a faint grey light along the horizon--the first sign of return- ing day.
This increased his apprehension.
'I must get away from here,' he thought, 'or I shall be discovered
He moved out of the shadow, walking rapidly toward the greying east.
From the safer seclusion of a clump of cedars he looked back. The entire
column had passed out of sight: the straight white road lay bare and
desolate in the moonlight!
Puzzled before, he was now inexpressibly astonished. So swift a
passing of so slow an army!--he could not comprehend it. Minute after
minute passed unnoted; he had lost his sense of time. He sought with a
terrible earnestness a solution of the mystery, but sought in vain. When
at last he roused himself from his abstraction the sun's rim was visi-
ble above the hills, but in the new conditions he found no other light
than that of day; his understanding was involved as darkly in doubt as
On every side lay cultivated fields showing no sign of war and war's
ravages. From the chimneys of the farmhouses thin ascensions of blue
smoke signalled preparations for a day's peaceful toil. Having stilled
its immemorial allocution to the moon, the watch-dog was assisting a
negro who, prefixing a team of mules to the plough, was flatting and
sharping contentedly at his task. The hero of this tale stared
stupidly at the pastoral picture as if he had never seen such a thing in
all his life; then he put his hand to his head, passed it through his
hair and, withdrawing it, attentively considered the palm--a singular
thing to do. Apparently reassured by the act, he walked confidently
toward the road.
2: When You have Lost Your Life Consult a Physician
Dr. Stilling Malson, of Murfreesboro, having visited a patient six
or seven miles away, on the Nash- ville road, had remained with him all
night. At daybreak he set out for home on horseback, as was the custom
of doctors of the time and region. He had passed into the neighbourhood
of Stone's River battlefield when a man approached him from the road-
side and saluted in the military fashion, with a movement of the right
hand to the hat-brim. But the hat was not a military hat, the man was
not in uniform and had not a martial bearing. The doctor nodded
civilly, half thinking that the stranger's uncommon greeting was
perhaps in deference to the historic surroundings. As the stranger
evidently desired speech with him he courteously reined in his horse
'Sir,' said the stranger, 'although a civilian, you are perhaps an
'I am a physician,' was the non-committal reply.
'Thank you,' said the other. 'I am a lieutenant, of the staff of
General Hazen.' He paused a moment and looked sharply at the person whom
he was addressing, then added, 'Of the Federal army.' The physician
'Kindly tell me,' continued the other, 'what has happened here.
Where are the armies? Which has won the battle?'
The physician regarded his questioner curiously with half-shut eyes.
After a professional scrutiny, prolonged to the limit of politeness,
'Pardon me,' he said; 'one asking information should be willing to
impart it. Are you wounded?' he added, smiling.
'Not seriously--it seems.'
The man removed the unmilitary hat, put his hand to his head, passed
it through his hair and, withdrawing it, attentively considered the
'I was struck by a bullet and have been unconscious. It must have
been a light, glancing blow: I find no blood and feel no pain. I will
not trouble you for treatment, but will you kindly direct me to my
command--to any part of the Federal army--if you know?'
Again the doctor did not immediately reply: he was recalling much
that is recorded in the books of his profession--something about lost
identity and the effect of familiar scenes in restoring it. At length he
looked the man in the face, smiled, and said:
'Lieutenant, you are not wearing the uniform of your rank and
At this the man glanced down at his civilian attire, lifted his
eyes, and said with hesitation:
'That is true. I--I don't quite understand.'
Still regarding him sharply but not unsympathetically, the man of
science bluntly inquired:
'How old are you?'
'Twenty-three--if that has anything to do with it.'
'You don't look it; I should hardly have guessed you to be just
The man was growing impatient. 'We need not discuss that,' he said:
'I want to know about the army. Not two hours ago I saw a column of
troops moving northward on this road. You must have met them. Be good
enough to tell me the colour of their clothing, which I was unable to
make out, and I'll trouble you no more.'
'You are quite sure that you saw them?'
'Sure? My God, sir, I could have counted them!'
'Why, really,' said the physician, with an amusing consciousness of
his own resemblance to the loquacious barber of the Arabian Nights,
'this is very in- teresting. I met no troops.'
The man looked at him coldly, as if he had himself observed the
likeness to the barber. 'It is plain,' he said, 'that you do not care to
assist me. Sir, you may go to the devil!'
He turned and strode away, very much at random, across the dewy
fields, his half-penitent tormentor quietly watching him from his
point of vantage in the saddle till he disappeared beyond an array of
3: The Danger of Looking into a Pool of Water
After leaving the road the man slackened his pace, and now went
forward, rather deviously, with a distinct feeling of fatigue. He
could not account for this, though truly the interminable loquacity of
that country doctor offered itself in explanation. Seating himself upon
a rock, he laid one hand upon his knee, back upward, and casually looked
at it. It was lean and withered. He lifted both hands to his face. It
was seamed and furrowed; he could trace the lines with the tips of his
fingers. How strange!--a mere bullet-stroke and a brief unconsciousness
should not make one a physical wreck.
'I must have been a long time in hospital,' he said aloud. 'Why,
what a fool I am! The battle was in December, and it is now summer!' He
laughed. 'No wonder that fellow thought me an escaped luna- tic. He was
wrong: I am only an escaped patient.'
At a little distance a small plot of ground enclosed by a stone wall
caught his attention. With no very definite intent he rose and went to
it. In the centre was a square, solid monument of hewn stone. It was
brown with age, weather-worn at the angles, spotted with moss and
lichen. Between the massive blocks were strips of grass the leverage of
whose roots had pushed them apart. In answer to the challenge of this
ambitious structure Time had laid his destroying hand upon it, and it
would soon be 'one with Nineveh and Tyre.' In an inscription on one side
his eye caught a familiar name. Shaking with excitement, he craned his
body across the wall and read:
The Memory of Its Soldiers
who fell at Stone River, Dec. 31, 1862.
The man fell back from the wall, faint and sick. Almost within an
arm's length was a little depression in the earth; it had been filled by
a recent rain--a pool of clear water. He crept to it to revive himself,
lifted the upper part of his body on his trembling arms, thrust forward
his head and saw the reflection of his face, as in a mirror. He uttered
a terrible cry. His arms gave way; he fell, face downward, into the pool
and yielded up the life that had spanned another life.
Shortly after my education at college was finished, I happened to be
staying at Paris with an English friend. We were both young men then, and lived,
I am afraid, rather a wild life, in the delightful city of our sojourn. One
night we were idling about the neighborhood of the Palais Royal, doubtful to
what amusement we should next betake ourselves. My friend proposed a visit to
Frascati's; but his suggestion was not to my taste. I knew Frascati's, as the
French saying is, by heart; had lost and won plenty of five-franc pieces there,
merely for amusement's sake, until it was amusement no longer, and was
thoroughly tired, in fact, of all the ghastly respectabilities of such a social
anomaly as a respectable gambling-house. "For Heaven's sake," said I to my
friend, "let us go somewhere where we can see a little genuine, blackguard,
poverty-stricken gaming with no false gingerbread glitter thrown over it all.
Let us get away from fashionable Frascati's, to a house where they don't mind
letting in a man with a ragged coat, or a man with no coat, ragged or
otherwise." "Very well," said my friend, "we needn't go out of the Palais Royal
to find the sort of company you want. Here's the place just before us; as
blackguard a place, by all report, as you could possibly wish to see." In
another minute we arrived at the door, and entered the house, the back of which
you have drawn in your sketch.
When we got upstairs, and had left our hats and sticks with the doorkeeper,
we were admitted into the chief gambling-room. We did not find many people
assembled there. But, few as the men were who looked up at us on our entrance,
they were all types--lamentably true types--of their respective classes.
We had come to see blackguards; but these men were something worse. There is
a comic side, more or less appreciable, in all blackguardism--here there was
nothing but tragedy--mute, weird tragedy. The quiet in the room was horrible.
The thin, haggard, long-haired young man, whose sunken eyes fiercely watched the
turning up of the cards, never spoke; the flabby, fat-faced, pimply player, who
pricked his piece of pasteboard perseveringly, to register how often black won,
and how often red--never spoke; the dirty, wrinkled old man, with the vulture
eyes and the darned great-coat, who had lost his last sou, and still looked on
desperately, after he could play no longer--never spoke. Even the voice of the
croupier sounded as if it were strangely dulled and thickened in the atmosphere
of the room. I had entered the place to laugh, but the spectacle before me was
something to weep over. I soon found it necessary to take refuge in excitement
from the depression of spirits which was fast stealing on me. Unfortunately I
sought the nearest excitement, by going to the table and beginning to play.
Still more unfortunately, as the event will show, I won--won prodigiously; won
incredibly; won at such a rate that the regular players at the table crowded
round me; and staring at my stakes with hungry, superstitious eyes, whispered to
one another that the English stranger was going to break the bank.
The game was Rouge et Noir. I had played at it in every city in Europe,
without, however, the care or the wish to study the Theory of Chances--that
philosopher's stone of all gamblers! And a gambler, in the strict sense of the
word, I had never been. I was heart-whole from the corroding passion for play.
My gaming was a mere idle amusement. I never resorted to it by necessity,
because I never knew what it was to want money. I never practiced it so
incessantly as to lose more than I could afford, or to gain more than I could
coolly pocket without being thrown off my balance by my good luck. In short, I
had hitherto frequented gambling-tables--just as I frequented ball-rooms and
opera-houses--because they amused me, and because I had nothing better to do
with my leisure hours.
But on this occasion it was very different--now, for the first time in my
life, I felt what the passion for play really was. My success first bewildered,
and then, in the most literal meaning of the word, intoxicated me. Incredible as
it may appear, it is nevertheless true, that I only lost when I attempted to
estimate chances, and played according to previous calculation. If I left
everything to luck, and staked without any care or consideration, I was sure to
win--to win in the face of every recognized probability in favor of the bank. At
first some of the men present ventured their money safely enough on my color;
but I speedily increased my stakes to sums which they dared not risk. One after
another they left off playing, and breathlessly looked on at my game.
Still, time after time, I staked higher and higher, and still won. The
excitement in the room rose to fever pitch. The silence was interrupted by a
deep-muttered chorus of oaths and exclamations in different languages, every
time the gold was shoveled across to my side of the table--even the
imperturbable croupier dashed his rake on the floor in a (French) fury of
astonishment at my success. But one man present preserved his self-possession,
and that man was my friend. He came to my side, and whispering in English,
begged me to leave the place, satisfied with what I had already gained. I must
do him the justice to say that he repeated his warnings and entreaties several
times, and only left me and went away after I had rejected his advice (I was to
all intents and purposes gambling drunk) in terms which rendered it impossible
for him to address me again that night.
Shortly after he had gone, a hoarse voice behind me cried: "Permit me, my
dear sir--permit me to restore to their proper place two napoleons which you
have dropped. Wonderful luck, sir! I pledge you my word of honor, as an old
soldier, in the course of my long experience in this sort of thing, I never saw
such luck as yours--never! Go on, sir--SacrŽ mille bombes! Go on boldly, and
break the bank!"
I turned round and saw, nodding and smiling at me with inveterate civility,
a tall man, dressed in a frogged and braided surtout.
If I had been in my senses, I should have considered him, personally, as
being rather a suspicious specimen of an old soldier. He had goggling, bloodshot
eyes, mangy mustaches, and a broken nose. His voice betrayed a barrack-room
intonation of the worst order, and he had the dirtiest pair of hands I ever
saw--even in France. These little personal peculiarities exercised, however, no
repelling influence on me. In the mad excitement, the reckless triumph of that
moment, I was ready to "fraternize" with anybody who encouraged me in my game. I
accepted the old soldier's offered pinch of snuff; clapped him on the back, and
swore he was the honestest fellow in the world--the most glorious relic of the
Grand Army that I had ever met with. "Go on!" cried my military friend, snapping
his fingers in ecstasy--"Go on, and win! Break the bank--Mille tonnerres! my
gallant English comrade, break the bank!"
And I did go on--went on at such a rate, that in another quarter of an hour
the croupier called out, "Gentlemen, the bank has discontinued for to-night."
All the notes, and all the gold in that "bank," now lay in a heap under my
hands; the whole floating capital of the gambling-house was waiting to pour into
"Tie up the money in your pocket-handkerchief, my worthy sir," said the old
soldier, as I wildly plunged my hands into my heap of gold. "Tie it up, as we
used to tie up a bit of dinner in the Grand Army; your winnings are too heavy
for any breeches-pockets that ever were sewed. There! that's it--shovel them in,
notes and all! CrediŽ! what luck! Stop! another napoleon on the floor! Ah! sacrŽ
petit polisson de Napoleon! have I found thee at last? Now then, sir--two tight
double knots each way with your honorable permission, and the money's safe. Feel
it! feel it, fortunate sir! hard and round as a cannon-ball--Ah, bah! if they
had only fired such cannon-balls at us at Austerlitz--nom d'une pipe! if they
only had! And now, as an ancient grenadier, as an ex-brave of the French army,
what remains for me to do? I ask what? Simply this: to entreat my valued English
friend to drink a bottle of Champagne with me, and toast the goddess Fortune in
foaming goblets before we part!"
Excellent ex-brave! Convivial ancient grenadier! Champagne by all means! An
English cheer for an old soldier! Hurrah! hurrah! Another English cheer for the
goddess Fortune! Hurrah! hurrah! hurrah!
"Bravo! the Englishman; the amiable, gracious Englishman, in whose veins
circulates the vivacious blood of France! Another glass? Ah, bah!--the bottle is
empty! Never mind! Vive le vin! I, the old soldier, order another bottle, and
half a pound of bonbons with it!"
"No, no, ex-brave; never--ancient grenadier! Your bottle last time; my
bottle this. Behold it! Toast away! The French Army! the great Napoleon! the
present company! the croupier! the honest croupier's wife and daughters--if he
has any! the Ladies generally! everybody in the world!"
By the time the second bottle of Champagne was emptied, I felt as if I had
been drinking liquid fire--my brain seemed all aflame. No excess in wine had
ever had this effect on me before in my life. Was it the result of a stimulant
acting upon my system when I was in a highly excited state? Was my stomach in a
particularly disordered condition? Or was the Champagne amazingly strong?
"Ex-brave of the French Army!" cried I, in a mad state of exhilaration, "I
am on fire! how are you? You have set me on fire! Do you hear, my hero of
Austerlitz? Let us have a third bottle of Champagne to put the flame out!"
The old soldier wagged his head, rolled his goggle-eyes, until I expected to
see them slip out of their sockets; placed his dirty forefinger by the side of
his broken nose; solemnly ejaculated "Coffee!" and immediately ran off into an
The word pronounced by the eccentric veteran seemed to have a magical effect
on the rest of the company present. With one accord they all rose to depart.
Probably they had expected to profit by my intoxication; but finding that my new
friend was benevolently bent on preventing me from getting dead drunk, had now
abandoned all hope of thriving pleasantly on my winnings. Whatever their motive
might be, at any rate they went away in a body. When the old soldier returned,
and sat down again opposite to me at the table, we had the room to ourselves. I
could see the croupier, in a sort of vestibule which opened out of it, eating
his supper in solitude. The silence was now deeper than ever.
A sudden change, too, had come over the "ex-brave." He assumed a
portentously solemn look; and when he spoke to me again, his speech was
ornamented by no oaths, enforced by no finger-snapping, enlivened by no
apostrophes or exclamations.
"Listen, my dear sir," said he, in mysteriously confidential tones--"listen
to an old soldier's advice. I have been to the mistress of the house (a very
charming woman, with a genius for cookery!) to impress on her the necessity of
making us some particularly strong and good coffee. You must drink this coffee
in order to get rid of your little amiable exaltation of spirits before you
think of going home--you must, my good and gracious friend! With all that money
to take home to-night, it is a sacred duty to yourself to have your wits about
you. You are known to be a winner to an enormous extent by several gentlemen
present to-night, who, in a certain point of view, are very worthy and excellent
fellows; but they are mortal men, my dear sir, and they have their amiable
weaknesses. Need I say more? Ah, no, no! you understand me! Now, this is what
you must do--send for a cabriolet when you feel quite well again--draw up all
the windows when you get into it--and tell the driver to take you home only
through the large and well-lighted thoroughfares. Do this; and you and your
money will be safe. Do this; and to-morrow you will thank an old soldier for
giving you a word of honest advice."
Just as the ex-brave ended his oration in very lachrymose tones, the coffee
came in, ready poured out in two cups. My attentive friend handed me one of the
cups with a bow. I was parched with thirst, and drank it off at a draught.
Almost instantly afterwards, I was seized with a fit of giddiness, and felt more
completely intoxicated than ever. The room whirled round and round furiously;
the old soldier seemed to be regularly bobbing up and down before me like the
piston of a steam-engine. I was half deafened by a violent singing in my ears; a
feeling of utter bewilderment, helplessness, idiocy, overcame me. I rose from my
chair, holding on by the table to keep my balance; and stammered out that I felt
dreadfully unwell--so unwell that I did not know how I was to get home.
"My dear friend," answered the old soldier--and even his voice seemed to be
bobbing up and down as he spoke--"my dear friend, it would be madness to go home
in your state; you would be sure to lose your money; you might be robbed and
murdered with the greatest ease. I am going to sleep here; do you sleep here,
too--they make up capital beds in this house--take one; sleep off the effects of
the wine, and go home safely with your winnings to-morrow--to-morrow, in broad
I had but two ideas left: one, that I must never let go hold of my
handkerchief full of money; the other, that I must lie down somewhere
immediately, and fall off into a comfortable sleep. So I agreed to the proposal
about the bed, and took the offered arm of the old soldier, carrying my money
with my disengaged hand. Preceded by the croupier, we passed along some passages
and up a flight of stairs into the bedroom which I was to occupy. The ex-brave
shook me warmly by the hand, proposed that we should breakfast together, and
then, followed by the croupier, left me for the night.
I ran to the wash-hand stand; drank some of the water in my jug; poured the
rest out, and plunged my face into it; then sat down in a chair and tried to
compose myself. I soon felt better. The change for my lungs, from the fetid
atmosphere of the gambling-room to the cool air of the apartment I now occupied,
the almost equally refreshing change for my eyes, from the glaring gaslights of
the "salon" to the dim, quiet flicker of one bedroom-candle, aided wonderfully
the restorative effects of cold water. The giddiness left me, and I began to
feel a little like a reasonable being again. My first thought was of the risk of
sleeping all night in a gambling-house; my second, of the still greater risk of
trying to get out after the house was closed, and of going home alone at night
through the streets of Paris with a large sum of money about me. I had slept in
worse places than this on my travels; so I determined to lock, bolt, and
barricade my door, and take my chance till the next morning.
Accordingly, I secured myself against all intrusion; looked under the bed,
and into the cupboard; tried the fastening of the window; and then, satisfied
that I had taken every proper precaution, pulled off my upper clothing, put my
light, which was a dim one, on the hearth among a feathery litter of wood-ashes,
and got into bed, with the handkerchief full of money under my pillow.
I soon felt not only that I could not go to sleep, but that I could not even
close my eyes. I was wide awake, and in a high fever. Every nerve in my body
trembled--every one of my senses seemed to be preternaturally sharpened. I
tossed and rolled, and tried every kind of position, and perseveringly sought
out the cold corners of the bed, and all to no purpose. Now I thrust my arms
over the clothes; now I poked them under the clothes; now I violently shot my
legs straight out down to the bottom of the bed; now I convulsively coiled them
up as near my chin as they would go; now I shook out my crumpled pillow, changed
it to the cool side, patted it flat, and lay down quietly on my back; now I
fiercely doubled it in two, set it up on end, thrust it against the board of the
bed, and tried a sitting posture. Every effort was in vain; I groaned with
vexation as I felt that I was in for a sleepless night.
What could I do? I had no book to read. And yet, unless I found out some
method of diverting my mind, I felt certain that I was in the condition to
imagine all sorts of horrors; to rack my brain with forebodings of every
possible and impossible danger; in short, to pass the night in suffering all
conceivable varieties of nervous terror.
I raised myself on my elbow, and looked about the room--which was brightened
by a lovely moonlight pouring straight through the window--to see if it
contained any pictures or ornaments that I could at all clearly distinguish.
While my eyes wandered from wall to wall, a remembrance of Le Maistre's
delightful little book, "Voyage autour de ma Chambre," occurred to me. I
resolved to imitate the French author, and find occupation and amusement enough
to relieve the tedium of my wakefulness, by making a mental inventory of every
article of furniture I could see, and by following up to their sources the
multitude of associations which even a chair, a table, or a wash-hand stand may
be made to call forth.
In the nervous unsettled state of my mind at that moment, I found it much
easier to make my inventory than to make my reflections, and thereupon soon gave
up all hope of thinking in Le Maistre's fanciful track--or, indeed, of thinking
at all. I looked about the room at the different articles of furniture, and did
There was, first, the bed I was lying in; a four-post bed, of all things in
the world to meet with in Paris--yes, a thorough clumsy British four-poster,
with the regular top lined with chintz--the regular fringed valance all
round--the regular stifling, unwholesome curtains, which I remembered having
mechanically drawn back against the posts without particularly noticing the bed
when I first got into the room. Then there was the marble-topped wash-hand
stand, from which the water I had spilled, in my hurry to pour it out, was still
dripping, slowly and more slowly, on to the brick floor. Then two small chairs,
with my coat, waistcoat, and trousers flung on them. Then a large elbow-chair
covered with dirty-white dimity, with my cravat and shirt collar thrown over the
back. Then a chest of drawers with two of the brass handles off, and a tawdry,
broken china inkstand placed on it by way of ornament for the top. Then the
dressing-table, adorned by a very small looking-glass, and a very large
pincushion. Then the window--an unusually large window. Then a dark old picture,
which the feeble candle dimly showed me. It was a picture of a fellow in a high
Spanish hat, crowned with a plume of towering feathers. A swarthy, sinister
ruffian, looking upward, shading his eyes with his hand, and looking intently
upward--it might be at some tall gallows at which he was going to be hanged. At
any rate, he had the appearance of thoroughly deserving it.
This picture put a kind of constraint upon me to look upward too--at the top
of the bed. It was a gloomy and not an interesting object, and I looked back at
the picture. I counted the feathers in the man's hat--they stood out in
relief--three white, two green. I observed the crown of his hat, which was of
conical shape, according to the fashion supposed to have been favored by Guido
Fawkes. I wondered what he was looking up at. It couldn't be at the stars; such
a desperado was neither astrologer nor astronomer. It must be at the high
gallows, and he was going to be hanged presently. Would the executioner come
into possession of his conical crowned hat and plume of feathers? I counted the
feathers again--three white, two green.
While I still lingered over this very improving and intellectual employment,
my thoughts insensibly began to wander. The moonlight shining into the room
reminded me of a certain moonlight night in England--the night after a picnic
party in a Welsh valley. Every incident of the drive homeward, through lovely
scenery, which the moonlight made lovelier than ever, came back to my
remembrance, though I had never given the picnic a thought for years; though, if
I had tried to recollect it, I could certainly have recalled little or nothing
of that scene long past. Of all the wonderful faculties that help to tell us we
are immortal, which speaks the sublime truth more eloquently than memory? Here
was I, in a strange house of the most suspicious character, in a situation of
uncertainty, and even of peril, which might seem to make the cool exercise of my
recollection almost out of the question; nevertheless, remembering, quite
involuntarily, places, people, conversations, minute circumstances of every
kind, which I had thought forgotten forever; which I could not possibly have
recalled at will, even under the most favorable auspices. And what cause had
produced in a moment the whole of this strange, complicated, mysterious effect?
Nothing but some rays of moonlight shining in at my bedroom window.
I was still thinking of the picnic--of our merriment on the drive home--of
the sentimental young lady who would quote "Childe Harold" because it was
moonlight. I was absorbed by these past scenes and past amusements, when, in an
instant, the thread on which my memories hung snapped asunder; my attention
immediately came back to present things more vividly than ever, and I found
myself, I neither knew why nor wherefore, looking hard at the picture again.
Looking for what?
Good God! the man had pulled his hat down on his brows! No! the hat itself
was gone! Where was the conical crown? Where the feathers--three white, two
green? Not there! In place of the hat and feathers, what dusky object was it
that now hid his forehead, his eyes, his shading hand?
Was the bed moving?
I turned on my back and looked up. Was I mad? drunk? dreaming? giddy again?
or was the top of the bed really moving down--sinking slowly, regularly,
silently, horribly, right down throughout the whole of its length and
breadth--right down upon me, as I lay underneath?
My blood seemed to stand still. A deadly paralysing coldness stole all over
me as I turned my head round on the pillow and determined to test whether the
bed-top was really moving or not, by keeping my eye on the man in the picture.
The next look in that direction was enough. The dull, black, frowzy outline
of the valance above me was within an inch of being parallel with his waist. I
still looked breathlessly. And steadily and slowly--very slowly--I saw the
figure, and the line of frame below the figure, vanish, as the valance moved
down before it.
I am, constitutionally, anything but timid. I have been on more than one
occasion in peril of my life, and have not lost my self-possession for an
instant; but when the conviction first settled on my mind that the bed-top was
really moving, was steadily and continuously sinking down upon me, I looked up
shuddering, helpless, panic-stricken, beneath the hideous machinery for murder,
which was advancing closer and closer to suffocate me where I lay.
I looked up, motionless, speechless, breathless. The candle, fully spent,
went out; but the moonlight still brightened the room. Down and down, without
pausing and without sounding, came the bed-top, and still my panic-terror seemed
to bind me faster and faster to the mattress on which I lay--down and down it
sank, till the dusty odor from the lining of the canopy came stealing into my
At that final moment the instinct of self-preservation startled me out of my
trance, and I moved at last. There was just room for me to roll myself sidewise
off the bed. As I dropped noiselessly to the floor, the edge of the murderous
canopy touched me on the shoulder.
Without stopping to draw my breath, without wiping the cold sweat from my
face, I rose instantly on my knees to watch the bed-top. I was literally
spellbound by it. If I had heard footsteps behind me, I could not have turned
round; if a means of escape had been miraculously provided for me, I could not
have moved to take advantage of it. The whole life in me was, at that moment,
concentrated in my eyes.
It descended--the whole canopy, with the fringe round it, came
down--down--close down; so close that there was not room now to squeeze my
finger between the bed-top and the bed. I felt at the sides, and discovered that
what had appeared to me from beneath to be the ordinary light canopy of a
four-post bed was in reality a thick, broad mattress, the substance of which was
concealed by the valance and its fringe. I looked up and saw the four posts
rising hideously bare. In the middle of the bed-top was a huge wooden screw that
had evidently worked it down through a hole in the ceiling, just as ordinary
presses are worked down on the substance selected for compression. The frightful
apparatus moved without making the faintest noise. There had been no creaking as
it came down; there was now not the faintest sound from the room above. Amid a
dead and awful silence I beheld before me--in the nineteenth century, and in the
civilized capital of France--such a machine for secret murder by suffocation as
might have existed in the worst days of the Inquisition, in the lonely inns
among the Hartz Mountains, in the mysterious tribunals of Westphalia! Still, as
I looked on it, I could not move, I could hardly breathe, but I began to recover
the power of thinking, and in a moment I discovered the murderous conspiracy
framed against me in all its horror.
My cup of coffee had been drugged, and drugged too strongly. I had been
saved from being smothered by having taken an overdose of some narcotic. How I
had chafed and fretted at the fever fit which had preserved my life by keeping
me awake! How recklessly I had confided myself to the two wretches who had led
me into this room, determined, for the sake of my winnings, to kill me in my
sleep by the surest and most horrible contrivance for secretly accomplishing my
destruction! How many men, winners like me, had slept, as I had proposed to
sleep, in that bed, and had never been seen or heard of more! I shuddered at the
bare idea of it.
But, ere long, all thought was again suspended by the sight of the murderous
canopy moving once more. After it had remained on the bed--as nearly as I could
guess--about ten minutes, it began to move up again. The villains who worked it
from above evidently believed that their purpose was now accomplished. Slowly
and silently, as it had descended, that horrible bed-top rose towards its former
place. When it reached the upper extremities of the four posts, it reached the
ceiling, too. Neither hole nor screw could be seen; the bed became in appearance
an ordinary bed again--the canopy an ordinary canopy--even to the most
Now, for the first time, I was able to move--to rise from my knees--to dress
myself in my upper clothing--and to consider of how I should escape. If I
betrayed by the smallest noise that the attempt to suffocate me had failed, I
was certain to be murdered. Had I made any noise already? I listened intently,
looking towards the door.
No! no footsteps in the passage outside--no sound of a tread, light or
heavy, in the room above--absolute silence everywhere. Besides locking and
bolting my door, I had moved an old wooden chest against it, which I had found
under the bed. To remove this chest (my blood ran cold as I thought of what its
contents might be!) without making some disturbance was impossible; and,
moreover, to think of escaping through the house, now barred up for the night,
was sheer insanity. Only one chance was left me--the window. I stole to it on
My bedroom was on the first floor, above an entresol, and looked into a back
street, which you have sketched in your view. I raised my hand to open the
window, knowing that on that action hung, by the merest hair-breadth, my chance
of safety. They keep vigilant watch in a House of Murder. If any part of the
frame cracked, if the hinge creaked, I was a lost man! It must have occupied me
at least five minutes, reckoning by time--five hours, reckoning by suspense--to
open that window. I succeeded in doing it silently--in doing it with all the
dexterity of a house-breaker--and then looked down into the street. To leap the
distance beneath me would be almost certain destruction! Next, I looked round at
the sides of the house. Down the left side ran a thick water-pipe which you have
drawn--it passed close by the outer edge of the window. The moment I saw the
pipe I knew I was saved. My breath came and went freely for the first time since
I had seen the canopy of the bed moving down upon me!
To some men the means of escape which I had discovered might have seemed
difficult and dangerous enough--to me the prospect of slipping down the pipe
into the street did not suggest even a thought of peril. I had always been
accustomed, by the practice of gymnastics, to keep up my school-boy powers as a
daring and expert climber; and knew that my head, hands, and feet would serve me
faithfully in any hazards of ascent or descent. I had already got one leg over
the window-sill, when I remembered the handkerchief filled with money under my
pillow. I could well have afforded to leave it behind me, but I was revengefully
determined that the miscreants of the gambling-house should miss their plunder
as well as their victim. So I went back to the bed and tied the heavy
handkerchief at my back by my cravat.
Just as I had made it tight and fixed it in a comfortable place, I thought I
heard a sound of breathing outside the door. The chill feeling of horror ran
through me again as I listened. No! dead silence still in the passage--I had
only heard the night air blowing softly into the room. The next moment I was on
the window-sill--and the next I had a firm grip on the water-pipe with my hands
I slid down into the street easily and quietly, as I thought I should, and
immediately set off at the top of my speed to a branch "Prefecture" of Police,
which I knew was situated in the immediate neighbourhood. A "Sub-prefect," and
several picked men among his subordinates, happened to be up, maturing, I
believe, some scheme for discovering the perpetrator of a mysterious murder
which all Paris was talking of just then. When I began my story, in a breathless
hurry and in very bad French, I could see that the Sub-prefect suspected me of
being a drunken Englishman who had robbed somebody; but he soon altered his
opinion as I went on, and before I had anything like concluded, he shoved all
the papers before him into a drawer, put on his hat, supplied me with another
(for I was bareheaded), ordered a file of soldiers, desired his expert followers
to get ready all sorts of tools for breaking open doors and ripping up brick
flooring, and took my arm, in the most friendly and familiar manner possible, to
lead me with him out of the house. I will venture to say that when the
Sub-prefect was a little boy, and was taken for the first time to the play, he
was not half as much pleased as he was now at the job in prospect for him at the
Away we went through the streets, the Sub-prefect cross-examining and
congratulating me in the same breath as we marched at the head of our formidable
posse comitatus. Sentinels were placed at the back and front of the house the
moment we got to it; a tremendous battery of knocks was directed against the
door; a light appeared at a window; I was told to conceal myself behind the
police--then came more knocks and a cry of "Open in the name of the law!" At
that terrible summons bolts and locks gave way before an invisible hand, and the
moment after the Sub-prefect was in the passage, confronting a waiter
half-dressed and ghastly pale. This was the short dialogue which immediately
"We want to see the Englishman who is sleeping in this house?"
"He went away hours ago."
"He did no such thing. His friend went away; he remained. Show us to his
"I swear to you, Monsieur le Sous-prefect, he is not here! he--"
"I swear to you, Monsieur le Garon, he is. He slept here--he didn't find
your bed comfortable--he came to us to complain of it--here he is among my
men--and here am I ready to look for a flea or two in his bedstead. Renaudin!
(calling to one of the subordinates, and pointing to the waiter) collar that man
and tie his hands behind him. Now, then, gentlemen, let us walk upstairs!"
Every man and woman in the house was secured--the "Old Soldier" the first.
Then I identified the bed in which I had slept, and then we went into the room
No object that was at all extraordinary appeared in any part of it. The
Sub-prefect looked round the place, commanded everybody to be silent, stamped
twice on the floor, called for a candle, looked attentively at the spot he had
stamped on, and ordered the flooring there to be carefully taken up. This was
done in no time. Lights were produced, and we saw a deep raftered cavity between
the floor of this room and the ceiling of the room beneath. Through this cavity
there ran perpendicularly a sort of case of iron thickly greased; and inside the
case appeared the screw, which communicated with the bed-top below. Extra
lengths of screw, freshly oiled; levers covered with felt; all the complete
upper works of a heavy press--constructed with infernal ingenuity so as to join
the fixtures below, and when taken to pieces again, to go into the smallest
possible compass--were next discovered and pulled out on the floor. After some
little difficulty the Sub-prefect succeeded in putting the machinery together,
and, leaving his men to work it, descended with me to the bedroom. The
smothering canopy was then lowered, but not so noiselessly as I had seen it
lowered. When I mentioned this to the Sub-prefect, his answer, simple as it was,
had a terrible significance. "My men," said he, "are working down the bed-top
for the first time--the men whose money you won were in better practice."
We left the house in the sole possession of two police agents--every one of
the inmates being removed to prison on the spot. The Sub-prefect, after taking
down my "procŽs verbal" in his office, returned with me to my hotel to get my
passport. "Do you think," I asked, as I gave it to him, "that any men have
really been smothered in that bed, as they tried to smother me?"
"I have seen dozens of drowned men laid out at the Morgue," answered the
Sub-prefect, "in whose pocketbooks were found letters stating that they had
committed suicide in the Seine, because they had lost everything at the gaming
table. Do I know how many of those men entered the same gambling-house that you
entered? won as you won? took that bed as you took it? slept in it? were
smothered in it? and were privately thrown into the river, with a letter of
explanation written by the murderers and placed in their pocket-books? No man
can say how many or how few have suffered the fate from which you have escaped.
The people of the gambling-house kept their bedstead machinery a secret from
us--even from the police! The dead kept the rest of the secret for them.
Good-night, or rather good-morning, Monsieur Faulkner! Be at my office again at
nine o'clock--in the meantime, au revoir!"
The rest of my story is soon told. I was examined and re-examined; the
gambling-house was strictly searched all through from top to bottom; the
prisoners were separately interrogated; and two of the less guilty among them
made a confession. I discovered that the Old Soldier was the master of the
gambling-house--justice discovered that he had been drummed out of the army as a
vagabond years ago; that he had been guilty of all sorts of villainies since;
that he was in possession of stolen property, which the owners identified; and
that he, the croupier, another accomplice, and the woman who had made my cup of
coffee, were all in the secret of the bedstead. There appeared some reason to
doubt whether the inferior persons attached to the house knew anything of the
suffocating machinery; and they received the benefit of that doubt, by being
treated simply as thieves and vagabonds. As for the Old Soldier and his two head
myrmidons, they went to the galleys; the woman who had drugged my coffee was
imprisoned for I forget how many years; the regular attendants at the
gambling-house were considered "suspicious" and placed under "surveillance"; and
I became, for one whole week (which is a long time) the head "lion" in Parisian
society. My adventure was dramatized by three illustrious play-makers, but never
saw theatrical daylight; for the censorship forbade the introduction on the
stage of a correct copy of the gambling-house bedstead.
One good result was produced by my adventure, which any censorship must have
approved: it cured me of ever again trying "Rouge et Noir" as an amusement. The
sight of a green cloth, with packs of cards and heaps of money on it, will
henceforth be forever associated in my mind with the sight of a bed canopy
descending to suffocate me in the silence and darkness of the night.
المشاركات : 2853
تاريخ التسجيل : 10/11/2009
نقاط : 5832
العمر : 30
|موضوع: رد: english story الأربعاء ديسمبر 30, 2009 11:28 pm|
مصدر الموضوع الاصلي: english story
We were driving along the road from Treguier to Kervanda. We passed at a smart trot between the hedges topping an earth wall on each side of the road; then at the foot of the steep ascent before Ploumar the horse dropped into a walk, and the driver jumped down heavily from the box. He flicked his whip and climbed the incline, stepping clumsily uphill by the side of the carriage, one hand on the footboard, his eyes on the ground. After a while he lifted his head, pointed up the road with the end of the whip, and said--
The sun was shining violently upon the undulating surface of the land. The rises were topped by clumps of meagre trees, with their branches showing high on the sky as if they had been perched upon stilts. The small fields, cut up by hedges and stone walls that zig-zagged over the slopes, lay in rectangular patches of vivid greens and yellows, resembling the unskilful daubs of a naive picture. And the landscape was divided in two by the white streak of a road stretching in long loops far away, like a river of dust crawling out of the hills on its way to the sea.
"Here he is," said the driver, again.
In the long grass bordering the road a face glided past the carriage at the level of the wheels as we drove slowly by. The imbecile face was red, and the bullet head with close-cropped hair seemed to lie alone, its chin in the dust. The body was lost in the bushes growing thick along the bottom of the deep ditch.
It was a boy's face. He might have been sixteen, judging from the size--perhaps less, perhaps more. Such creatures are forgotten by time, and live untouched by years till death gathers them up into its compassionate bosom; the faithful death that never forgets in the press of work the most insignificant of its children.
"Ah! there's another," said the man, with a certain satisfaction in his tone, as if he had caught sight of something expected.
There was another. That one stood nearly in the middle of the road in the blaze of sunshine at the end of his own short shadow. And he stood with hands pushed into the opposite sleeves of his long coat, his head sunk between the shoulders, all hunched up in the flood of heat. From a distance he had the aspect of one suffering from intense cold.
"Those are twins," explained the driver.
The idiot shuffled two paces out of the way and looked at us over his shoulder when we brushed past him. The glance was unseeing and staring, a fascinated glance; but he did not turn to look after us. Probably the image passed before the eyes without leaving any trace on the misshapen brain of the creature. When we had topped the ascent I looked over the hood. He stood in the road just where we had left him.
The driver clambered into his seat, clicked his tongue, and we went downhill. The brake squeaked horribly from time to time. At the foot he eased off the noisy mechanism and said, turning half round on his box--
"We shall see some more of them by-and-by."
"More idiots? How many of them are there, then?" I asked.
"There's four of them--children of a farmer near Ploumar here. . . . The parents are dead now," he added, after a while. "The grandmother lives on the farm. In the daytime they knock about on this road, and they come home at dusk along with the cattle. . . . It's a good farm."
We saw the other two: a boy and a girl, as the driver said. They were dressed exactly alike, in shapeless garments with petticoat-like skirts. The imperfect thing that lived within them moved those beings to howl at us from the top of the bank, where they sprawled amongst the tough stalks of furze. Their cropped black heads stuck out from the bright yellow wall of countless small blossoms. The faces were purple with the strain of yelling; the voices sounded blank and cracked like a mechanical imitation of old people's voices; and suddenly ceased when we turned into a lane.
I saw them many times in my wandering about the country. They lived on that road, drifting along its length here and there, according to the inexplicable impulses of their monstrous darkness. They were an offence to the sunshine, a reproach to empty heaven, a blight on the concentrated and purposeful vigour of the wild landscape. In time the story of their parents shaped itself before me out of the listless answers to my questions, out of the indifferent words heard in wayside inns or on the very road those idiots haunted. Some of it was told by an emaciated and sceptical old fellow with a tremendous whip, while we trudged together over the sands by the side of a two-wheeled cart loaded with dripping seaweed. Then at other times other people confirmed and completed the story: till it stood at last before me, a tale formidable and simple, as they always are, those disclosures of obscure trials endured by ignorant hearts.
When he returned from his military service Jean-Pierre Bacadou found the old people very much aged. He remarked with pain that the work of the farm was not satisfactorily done. The father had not the energy of old days. The hands did not feel over them the eye of the master. Jean-Pierre noted with sorrow that the heap of manure in the courtyard before the only entrance to the house was not so large as it should have been. The fences were out of repair, and the cattle suffered from neglect. At home the mother was practically bedridden, and the girls chattered loudly in the big kitchen, unrebuked, from morning to night. He said to himself: "We must change all this." He talked the matter over with his father one evening when the rays of the setting sun entering the yard between the outhouses ruled the heavy shadows with luminous streaks. Over the manure heap floated a mist, opal-tinted and odorous, and the marauding hens would stop in their scratching to examine with a sudden glance of their round eye the two men, both lean and tall, talking in hoarse tones. The old man, all twisted with rheumatism and bowed with years of work, the younger bony and straight, spoke without gestures in the indifferent manner of peasants, grave and slow. But before the sun had set the father had submitted to the sensible arguments of the son. "It is not for me that I am speaking," insisted Jean-Pierre. "It is for the land. It's a pity to see it badly used. I am not impatient for myself." The old fellow nodded over his stick. "I dare say; I dare say," he muttered. "You may be right. Do what you like. It's the mother that will be pleased."
The mother was pleased with her daughter-in-law. Jean-Pierre brought the two-wheeled spring-cart with a rush into the yard. The gray horse galloped clumsily, and the bride and bridegroom, sitting side by side, were jerked backwards and forwards by the up and down motion of the shafts, in a manner regular and brusque. On the road the distanced wedding guests straggled in pairs and groups. The men advanced with heavy steps, swinging their idle arms. They were clad in town clothes; jackets cut with clumsy smartness, hard black hats, immense boots, polished highly. Their women all in simple black, with white caps and shawls of faded tints folded triangularly on the back, strolled lightly by their side. In front the violin sang a strident tune, and the biniou snored and hummed, while the player capered solemnly, lifting high his heavy clogs. The sombre procession drifted in and out of the narrow lanes, through sunshine and through shade, between fields and hedgerows, scaring the little birds that darted away in troops right and left. In the yard of Bacadou's farm the dark ribbon wound itself up into a mass of men and women pushing at the door with cries and greetings. The wedding dinner was remembered for months. It was a splendid feast in the orchard. Farmers of considerable means and excellent repute were to be found sleeping in ditches, all along the road to Treguier, even as late as the afternoon of the next day. All the countryside participated in the happiness of Jean-Pierre. He remained sober, and, together with his quiet wife, kept out of the way, letting father and mother reap their due of honour and thanks. But the next day he took hold strongly, and the old folks felt a shadow--precursor of the grave--fall upon them finally. The world is to the young.
When the twins were born there was plenty of room in the house, for the mother of Jean-Pierre had gone away to dwell under a heavy stone in the cemetery of Ploumar. On that day, for the first time since his son's marriage, the elder Bacadou, neglected by the cackling lot of strange women who thronged the kitchen, left in the morning his seat under the mantel of the fireplace, and went into the empty cow-house, shaking his white locks dismally. Grandsons were all very well, but he wanted his soup at midday. When shown the babies, he stared at them with a fixed gaze, and muttered something like: "It's too much." Whether he meant too much happiness, or simply commented upon the number of his descendants, it is impossible to say. He looked offended --as far as his old wooden face could express anything; and for days afterwards could be seen, almost any time of the day, sitting at the gate, with his nose over his knees, a pipe between his gums, and gathered up into a kind of raging concentrated sulkiness. Once he spoke to his son, alluding to the newcomers with a groan: "They will quarrel over the land." "Don't bother about that, father," answered Jean-Pierre, stolidly, and passed, bent double, towing a recalcitrant cow over his shoulder.
He was happy, and so was Susan, his wife. It was not an ethereal joy welcoming new souls to struggle, perchance to victory. In fourteen years both boys would be a help; and, later on, Jean-Pierre pictured two big sons striding over the land from patch to patch, wringing tribute from the earth beloved and fruitful. Susan was happy too, for she did not want to be spoken of as the unfortunate woman, and now she had children no one could call her that. Both herself and her husband had seen something of the larger world--he during the time of his service; while she had spent a year or so in Paris with a Breton family; but had been too home-sick to remain longer away from the hilly and green country, set in a barren circle of rocks and sands, where she had been born. She thought that one of the boys ought perhaps to be a priest, but said nothing to her husband, who was a republican, and hated the "crows," as he called the ministers of religion. The christening was a splendid affair. All the commune came to it, for the Bacadous were rich and influential, and, now and then, did not mind the expense. The grandfather had a new coat.
Some months afterwards, one evening when the kitchen had been swept, and the door locked, Jean-Pierre, looking at the cot, asked his wife: "What's the matter with those children?" And, as if these words, spoken calmly, had been the portent of misfortune, she answered with a loud wail that must have been heard across the yard in the pig-sty; for the pigs (the Bacadous had the finest pigs in the country) stirred and grunted complainingly in the night. The husband went on grinding his bread and butter slowly, gazing at the wall, the soup-plate smoking under his chin. He had returned late from the market, where he had overheard (not for the first time) whispers behind his back. He revolved the words in his mind as he drove back. "Simple! Both of them. . . . Never any use! . . . Well! May be, may be. One must see. Would ask his wife." This was her answer. He felt like a blow on his chest, but said only: "Go, draw me some cider. I am thirsty!"
She went out moaning, an empty jug in her hand. Then he arose, took up the light, and moved slowly towards the cradle. They slept. He looked at them sideways, finished his mouthful there, went back heavily, and sat down before his plate. When his wife returned he never looked up, but swallowed a couple of spoonfuls noisily, and remarked, in a dull manner--
"When they sleep they are like other people's children."
She sat down suddenly on a stool near by, and shook with a silent tempest of sobs, unable to speak. He finished his meal, and remained idly thrown back in his chair, his eyes lost amongst the black rafters of the ceiling. Before him the tallow candle flared red and straight, sending up a slender thread of smoke. The light lay on the rough, sunburnt skin of his throat; the sunk cheeks were like patches of darkness, and his aspect was mournfully stolid, as if he had ruminated with difficulty endless ideas. Then he said, deliberately--
"We must see . . . consult people. Don't cry. . . . They won't all be like that . . . surely! We must sleep now."
After the third child, also a boy, was born, Jean-Pierre went about his work with tense hopefulness. His lips seemed more narrow, more tightly compressed than before; as if for fear of letting the earth he tilled hear the voice of hope that murmured within his breast. He watched the child, stepping up to the cot with a heavy clang of sabots on the stone floor, and glanced in, along his shoulder, with that indifference which is like a deformity of peasant humanity. Like the earth they master and serve, those men, slow of eye and speech, do not show the inner fire; so that, at last, it becomes a question with them as with the earth, what there is in the core: heat, violence, a force mysterious and terrible--or nothing but a clod, a mass fertile and inert, cold and unfeeling, ready to bear a crop of plants that sustain life or give death.
The mother watched with other eyes; listened with otherwise expectant ears. Under the high hanging shelves supporting great sides of bacon overhead, her body was busy by the great fireplace, attentive to the pot swinging on iron gallows, scrubbing the long table where the field hands would sit down directly to their evening meal. Her mind remained by the cradle, night and day on the watch, to hope and suffer. That child, like the other two, never smiled, never stretched its hands to her, never spoke; never had a glance of recognition for her in its big black eyes, which could only stare fixedly at any glitter, but failed hopelessly to follow the brilliance of a sun-ray slipping slowly along the floor. When the men were at work she spent long days between her three idiot children and the childish grandfather, who sat grim, angular, and immovable, with his feet near the warm ashes of the fire. The feeble old fellow seemed to suspect that there was something wrong with his grandsons. Only once, moved either by affection or by the sense of proprieties, he attempted to nurse the youngest. He took the boy up from the floor, clicked his tongue at him, and essayed a shaky gallop of his bony knees. Then he looked closely with his misty eyes at the child's face and deposited him down gently on the floor again. And he sat, his lean shanks crossed, nodding at the steam escaping from the cooking-pot with a gaze senile and worried.
Then mute affliction dwelt in Bacadou's farmhouse, sharing the breath and the bread of its inhabitants; and the priest of the Ploumar parish had great cause for congratulation. He called upon the rich landowner, the Marquis de Chavanes, on purpose to deliver himself with joyful unction of solemn platitudes about the inscrutable ways of Providence. In the vast dimness of the curtained drawing-room, the little man, resembling a black bolster, leaned towards a couch, his hat on his knees, and gesticulated with a fat hand at the elongated, gracefully-flowing lines of the clear Parisian toilette from which the half-amused, half-bored marquise listened with gracious languor. He was exulting and humble, proud and awed. The impossible had come to pass. Jean-Pierre Bacadou, the enraged republican farmer, had been to mass last Sunday--had proposed to entertain the visiting priests at the next festival of Ploumar! It was a triumph for the Church and for the good cause. "I thought I would come at once to tell Monsieur le Marquis. I know how anxious he is for the welfare of our country," declared the priest, wiping his face. He was asked to stay to dinner.
The Chavanes returning that evening, after seeing their guest to the main gate of the park, discussed the matter while they strolled in the moonlight, trailing their long shadows up the straight avenue of chestnuts. The marquise, a royalist of course, had been mayor of the commune which includes Ploumar, the scattered hamlets of the coast, and the stony islands that fringe the yellow flatness of the sands. He had felt his position insecure, for there was a strong republican element in that part of the country; but now the conversion of Jean-Pierre made him safe. He was very pleased. "You have no idea how influential those people are," he explained to his wife. "Now, I am sure, the next communal election will go all right. I shall be re- elected." "Your ambition is perfectly insatiable, Charles," exclaimed the marquise, gaily. "But, ma chere amie," argued the husband, seriously, "it's most important that the right man should be mayor this year, because of the elections to the Chamber. If you think it amuses me . . ."
Jean-Pierre had surrendered to his wife's mother. Madame Levaille was a woman of business, known and respected within a radius of at least fifteen miles. Thick-set and stout, she was seen about the country, on foot or in an acquaintance's cart, perpetually moving, in spite of her fifty-eight years, in steady pursuit of business. She had houses in all the hamlets, she worked quarries of granite, she freighted coasters with stone--even traded with the Channel Islands. She was broad-cheeked, wide-eyed, persuasive in speech: carrying her point with the placid and invincible obstinacy of an old woman who knows her own mind. She very seldom slept for two nights together in the same house; and the wayside inns were the best places to inquire in as to her whereabouts. She had either passed, or was expected to pass there at six; or somebody, coming in, had seen her in the morning, or expected to meet her that evening. After the inns that command the roads, the churches were the buildings she frequented most. Men of liberal opinions would induce small children to run into sacred edifices to see whether Madame Levaille was there, and to tell her that so-and-so was in the road waiting to speak to her about potatoes, or flour, or stones, or houses; and she would curtail her devotions, come out blinking and crossing herself into the sunshine; ready to discuss business matters in a calm, sensible way across a table in the kitchen of the inn opposite. Latterly she had stayed for a few days several times with her son-in-law, arguing against sorrow and misfortune with composed face and gentle tones. Jean-Pierre felt the convictions imbibed in the regiment torn out of his breast--not by arguments but by facts. Striding over his fields he thought it over. There were three of them. Three! All alike! Why? Such things did not happen to everybody--to nobody he ever heard of. One--might pass. But three! All three. Forever useless, to be fed while he lived and . . . What would become of the land when he died? This must be seen to. He would sacrifice his convictions. One day he told his wife--
"See what your God will do for us. Pay for some masses."
Susan embraced her man. He stood unbending, then turned on his heels and went out. But afterwards, when a black soutane darkened his doorway, he did not object; even offered some cider himself to the priest. He listened to the talk meekly; went to mass between the two women; accomplished what the priest called "his religious duties" at Easter. That morning he felt like a man who had sold his soul. In the afternoon he fought ferociously with an old friend and neighbour who had remarked that the priests had the best of it and were now going to eat the priest-eater. He came home dishevelled and bleeding, and happening to catch sight of his children (they were kept generally out of the way), cursed and swore incoherently, banging the table. Susan wept. Madame Levaille sat serenely unmoved. She assured her daughter that "It will pass;" and taking up her thick umbrella, departed in haste to see after a schooner she was going to load with granite from her quarry.
A year or so afterwards the girl was born. A girl. Jean-Pierre heard of it in the fields, and was so upset by the news that he sat down on the boundary wall and remained there till the evening, instead of going home as he was urged to do. A girl! He felt half cheated. However, when he got home he was partly reconciled to his fate. One could marry her to a good fellow--not to a good for nothing, but to a fellow with some understanding and a good pair of arms. Besides, the next may be a boy, he thought. Of course they would be all right. His new credulity knew of no doubt. The ill luck was broken. He spoke cheerily to his wife. She was also hopeful. Three priests came to that christening, and Madame Levaille was godmother. The child turned out an idiot too.
Then on market days Jean-Pierre was seen bargaining bitterly, quarrelsome and greedy; then getting drunk with taciturn earnestness; then driving home in the dusk at a rate fit for a wedding, but with a face gloomy enough for a funeral. Sometimes he would insist on his wife coming with him; and they would drive in the early morning, shaking side by side on the narrow seat above the helpless pig, that, with tied legs, grunted a melancholy sigh at every rut. The morning drives were silent; but in the evening, coming home, Jean-Pierre, tipsy, was viciously muttering, and growled at the confounded woman who could not rear children that were like anybody else's. Susan, holding on against the erratic swayings of the cart, pretended not to hear. Once, as they were driving through Ploumar, some obscure and drunken impulse caused him to pull up sharply opposite the church. The moon swam amongst light white clouds. The tombstones gleamed pale under the fretted shadows of the trees in the churchyard. Even the village dogs slept. Only the nightingales, awake, spun out the thrill of their song above the silence of graves. Jean-Pierre said thickly to his wife--
"What do you think is there?"
He pointed his whip at the tower--in which the big dial of the clock appeared high in the moonlight like a pallid face without eyes--and getting out carefully, fell down at once by the wheel. He picked himself up and climbed one by one the few steps to the iron gate of the churchyard. He put his face to the bars and called out indistinctly--
"Hey there! Come out!"
"Jean! Return! Return!" entreated his wife in low tones.
He took no notice, and seemed to wait there. The song of nightingales beat on all sides against the high walls of the church, and flowed back between stone crosses and flat gray slabs, engraved with words of hope and sorrow.
"Hey! Come out!" shouted Jean-Pierre, loudly.
The nightingales ceased to sing.
"Nobody?" went on Jean-Pierre. "Nobody there. A swindle of the crows. That's what this is. Nobody anywhere. I despise it. Allez! Houp!"
He shook the gate with all his strength, and the iron bars rattled with a frightful clanging, like a chain dragged over stone steps. A dog near by barked hurriedly. Jean-Pierre staggered back, and after three successive dashes got into his cart. Susan sat very quiet and still. He said to her with drunken severity--
"See? Nobody. I've been made a fool! Malheur! Somebody will pay for it. The next one I see near the house I will lay my whip on . . . on the black spine . . . I will. I don't want him in there . . . he only helps the carrion crows to rob poor folk. I am a man. . . . We will see if I can't have children like anybody else . . . now you mind. . . . They won't be all . . . all . . . we see. . . ."
She burst out through the fingers that hid her face--
"Don't say that, Jean; don't say that, my man!"
He struck her a swinging blow on the head with the back of his hand and knocked her into the bottom of the cart, where she crouched, thrown about lamentably by every jolt. He drove furiously, standing up, brandishing his whip, shaking the reins over the gray horse that galloped ponderously, making the heavy harness leap upon his broad quarters. The country rang clamorous in the night with the irritated barking of farm dogs, that followed the rattle of wheels all along the road. A couple of belated wayfarers had only just time to step into the ditch. At his own gate he caught the post and was shot out of the cart head first. The horse went on slowly to the door. At Susan's piercing cries the farm hands rushed out. She thought him dead, but he was only sleeping where he fell, and cursed his men, who hastened to him, for disturbing his slumbers.
Autumn came. The clouded sky descended low upon the black contours of the hills; and the dead leaves danced in spiral whirls under naked trees, till the wind, sighing profoundly, laid them to rest in the hollows of bare valleys. And from morning till night one could see all over the land black denuded boughs, the boughs gnarled and twisted, as if contorted with pain, swaying sadly between the wet clouds and the soaked earth. The clear and gentle streams of summer days rushed discoloured and raging at the stones that barred the way to the sea, with the fury of madness bent upon suicide. From horizon to horizon the great road to the sands lay between the hills in a dull glitter of empty curves, resembling an unnavigable river of mud.
Jean-Pierre went from field to field, moving blurred and tall in the drizzle, or striding on the crests of rises, lonely and high upon the gray curtain of drifting clouds, as if he had been pacing along the very edge of the universe. He looked at the black earth, at the earth mute and promising, at the mysterious earth doing its work of life in death-like stillness under the veiled sorrow of the sky. And it seemed to him that to a man worse than childless there was no promise in the fertility of fields, that from him the earth escaped, defied him, frowned at him like the clouds, sombre and hurried above his head. Having to face alone his own fields, he felt the inferiority of man who passes away before the clod that remains. Must he give up the hope of having by his side a son who would look at the turned-up sods with a master's eye? A man that would think as he thought, that would feel as he felt; a man who would be part of himself, and yet remain to trample masterfully on that earth when he was gone? He thought of some distant relations, and felt savage enough to curse them aloud. They! Never! He turned homewards, going straight at the roof of his dwelling, visible between the enlaced skeletons of trees. As he swung his legs over the stile a cawing flock of birds settled slowly on the field; dropped down behind his back, noiseless and fluttering, like flakes of soot.
That day Madame Levaille had gone early in the afternoon to the house she had near Kervanion. She had to pay some of the men who worked in her granite quarry there, and she went in good time because her little house contained a shop where the workmen could spend their wages without the trouble of going to town. The house stood alone amongst rocks. A lane of mud and stones ended at the door. The sea-winds coming ashore on Stonecutter's point, fresh from the fierce turmoil of the waves, howled violently at the unmoved heaps of black boulders holding up steadily short-armed, high crosses against the tremendous rush of the invisible. In the sweep of gales the sheltered dwelling stood in a calm resonant and disquieting, like the calm in the centre of a hurricane. On stormy nights, when the tide was out, the bay of Fougere, fifty feet below the house, resembled an immense black pit, from which ascended mutterings and sighs as if the sands down there had been alive and complaining. At high tide the returning water assaulted the ledges of rock in short rushes, ending in bursts of livid light and columns of spray, that flew inland, stinging to death the grass of pastures.
The darkness came from the hills, flowed over the coast, put out the red fires of sunset, and went on to seaward pursuing the retiring tide. The wind dropped with the sun, leaving a maddened sea and a devastated sky. The heavens above the house seemed to be draped in black rags, held up here and there by pins of fire. Madame Levaille, for this evening the servant of her own workmen, tried to induce them to depart. "An old woman like me ought to be in bed at this late hour," she good-humouredly repeated. The quarrymen drank, asked for more. They shouted over the table as if they had been talking across a field. At one end four of them played cards, banging the wood with their hard knuckles, and swearing at every lead. One sat with a lost gaze, humming a bar of some song, which he repeated endlessly. Two others, in a corner, were quarrelling confidentially and fiercely over some woman, looking close into one another's eyes as if they had wanted to tear them out, but speaking in whispers that promised violence and murder discreetly, in a venomous sibillation of subdued words. The atmosphere in there was thick enough to slice with a knife. Three candles burning about the long room glowed red and dull like sparks expiring in ashes.
The slight click of the iron latch was at that late hour as unexpected and startling as a thunder-clap. Madame Levaille put down a bottle she held above a liqueur glass; the players turned their heads; the whispered quarrel ceased; only the singer, after darting a glance at the door, went on humming with a stolid face. Susan appeared in the doorway, stepped in, flung the door to, and put her back against it, saying, half aloud--
Madame Levaille, taking up the bottle again, said calmly: "Here you are, my girl. What a state you are in!" The neck of the bottle rang on the rim of the glass, for the old woman was startled, and the idea that the farm had caught fire had entered her head. She could think of no other cause for her daughter's appearance.
Susan, soaked and muddy, stared the whole length of the room towards the men at the far end. Her mother asked--
"What has happened? God guard us from misfortune!"
Susan moved her lips. No sound came. Madame Levaille stepped up to her daughter, took her by the arm, looked into her face.
"In God's name," she said, shakily, "what's the matter? You have been rolling in mud. . . . Why did you come? . . . Where's Jean?"
The men had all got up and approached slowly, staring with dull surprise. Madame Levaille jerked her daughter away from the door, swung her round upon a seat close to the wall. Then she turned fiercely to the men--
"Enough of this! Out you go--you others! I close."
One of them observed, looking down at Susan collapsed on the seat: "She is--one may say--half dead."
Madame Levaille flung the door open.
"Get out! March!" she cried, shaking nervously.
They dropped out into the night, laughing stupidly. Outside, the two Lotharios broke out into loud shouts. The others tried to soothe them, all talking at once. The noise went away up the lane with the men, who staggered together in a tight knot, remonstrating with one another foolishly.
"Speak, Susan. What is it? Speak!" entreated Madame Levaille, as soon as the door was shut.
Susan pronounced some incomprehensible words, glaring at the table. The old woman clapped her hands above her head, let them drop, and stood looking at her daughter with disconsolate eyes. Her husband had been "deranged in his head" for a few years before he died, and now she began to suspect her daughter was going mad. She asked, pressingly--
"Does Jean know where you are? Where is Jean?"
"He knows . . . he is dead."
"What!" cried the old woman. She came up near, and peering at her daughter, repeated three times: "What do you say? What do you say? What do you say?"
Susan sat dry-eyed and stony before Madame Levaille, who contemplated her, feeling a strange sense of inexplicable horror creep into the silence of the house. She had hardly realised the news, further than to understand that she had been brought in one short moment face to face with something unexpected and final. It did not even occur to her to ask for any explanation. She thought: accident--terrible accident--blood to the head--fell down a trap door in the loft. . . . She remained there, distracted and mute, blinking her old eyes.
Suddenly, Susan said--
"I have killed him."
For a moment the mother stood still, almost unbreathing, but with composed face. The next second she burst out into a shout--
"You miserable madwoman . . . they will cut your neck. . . ."
She fancied the gendarmes entering the house, saying to her: "We want your daughter; give her up:" the gendarmes with the severe, hard faces of men on duty. She knew the brigadier well--an old friend, familiar and respectful, saying heartily, "To your good health, Madame!" before lifting to his lips the small glass of cognac--out of the special bottle she kept for friends. And now! . . . She was losing her head. She rushed here and there, as if looking for something urgently needed--gave that up, stood stock still in the middle of the room, and screamed at her daughter--
"Why? Say! Say! Why?"
The other seemed to leap out of her strange apathy.
"Do you think I am made of stone?" she shouted back, striding towards her mother.
"No! It's impossible. . . ." said Madame Levaille, in a convinced tone.
"You go and see, mother," retorted Susan, looking at her with blazing eyes. "There's no money in heaven--no justice. No! . . . I did not know. . . . Do you think I have no heart? Do you think I have never heard people jeering at me, pitying me, wondering at me? Do you know how some of them were calling me? The mother of idiots--that was my nickname! And my children never would know me, never speak to me. They would know nothing; neither men--nor God. Haven't I prayed! But the Mother of God herself would not hear me. A mother! . . . Who is accursed--I, or the man who is dead? Eh? Tell me. I took care of myself. Do you think I would defy the anger of God and have my house full of those things--that are worse than animals who know the hand that feeds them? Who blasphemed in the night at the very church door? Was it I? . . . I only wept and prayed for mercy . . . and I feel the curse at every moment of the day--I see it round me from morning to night . . . I've got to keep them alive--to take care of my misfortune and shame. And he would come. I begged him and Heaven for mercy. . . . No! . . . Then we shall see. . . . He came this evening. I thought to myself: 'Ah! again!' . . . I had my long scissors. I heard him shouting . . . I saw him near. . . . I must--must I? . . . Then take! . . . And I struck him in the throat above the breastbone. . . . I never heard him even sigh. . . . I left him standing. . . . It was a minute ago. How did I come here?"
Madame Levaille shivered. A wave of cold ran down her back, down her fat arms under her tight sleeves, made her stamp gently where she stood. Quivers ran over the broad cheeks, across the thin lips, ran amongst the wrinkles at the corners of her steady old eyes. She stammered--
"You wicked woman--you disgrace me. But there! You always resembled your father. What do you think will become of you . . . in the other world? In this . . . Oh misery!"
She was very hot now. She felt burning inside. She wrung her perspiring hands--and suddenly, starting in great haste, began to look for her big shawl and umbrella, feverishly, never once glancing at her daughter, who stood in the middle of the room following her with a gaze distracted and cold.
"Nothing worse than in this," said Susan.
Her mother, umbrella in hand and trailing the shawl over the floor, groaned profoundly.
"I must go to the priest," she burst out passionately. "I do not know whether you even speak the truth! You are a horrible woman. They will find you anywhere. You may stay here--or go. There is no room for you in this world."
Ready now to depart, she yet wandered aimlessly about the room, putting the bottles on the shelf, trying to fit with trembling hands the covers on cardboard boxes. Whenever the real sense of what she had heard emerged for a second from the haze of her thoughts she would fancy that something had exploded in her brain without, unfortunately, bursting her head to pieces--which would have been a relief. She blew the candles out one by one without knowing it, and was horribly startled by the darkness. She fell on a bench and began to whimper. After a while she ceased, and sat listening to the breathing of her daughter, whom she could hardly see, still and upright, giving no other sign of life. She was becoming old rapidly at last, during those minutes. She spoke in tones unsteady, cut about by the rattle of teeth, like one shaken by a deadly cold fit of ague.
"I wish you had died little. I will never dare to show my old head in the sunshine again. There are worse misfortunes than idiot children. I wish you had been born to me simple--like your own. . . ."
She saw the figure of her daughter pass before the faint and livid clearness of a window. Then it appeared in the doorway for a second, and the door swung to with a clang. Madame Levaille, as if awakened by the noise from a long nightmare, rushed out.
"Susan!" she shouted from the doorstep.
She heard a stone roll a long time down the declivity of the rocky beach above the sands. She stepped forward cautiously, one hand on the wall of the house, and peered down into the smooth darkness of the empty bay. Once again she cried--
"Susan! You will kill yourself there."
The stone had taken its last leap in the dark, and she heard nothing now. A sudden thought seemed to strangle her, and she called no more. She turned her back upon the black silence of the pit and went up the lane towards Ploumar, stumbling along with sombre determination, as if she had started on a desperate journey that would last, perhaps, to the end of her life. A sullen and periodic clamour of waves rolling over reefs followed her far inland between the high hedges sheltering the gloomy solitude of the fields.
Susan had run out, swerving sharp to the left at the door, and on the edge of the slope crouched down behind a boulder. A dislodged stone went on downwards, rattling as it leaped. When Madame Levaille called out, Susan could have, by stretching her hand, touched her mother's skirt, had she had the courage to move a limb. She saw the old woman go away, and she remained still, closing her eyes and pressing her side to the hard and rugged surface of the rock. After a while a familiar face with fixed eyes and an open mouth became visible in the intense obscurity amongst the boulders. She uttered a low cry and stood up. The face vanished, leaving her to gasp and shiver alone in the wilderness of stone heaps. But as soon as she had crouched down again to rest, with her head against the rock, the face returned, came very near, appeared eager to finish the speech that had been cut short by death, only a moment ago. She scrambled quickly to her feet and said: "Go away, or I will do it again." The thing wavered, swung to the right, to the left. She moved this way and that, stepped back, fancied herself screaming at it, and was appalled by the unbroken stillness of the night. She tottered on the brink, felt the steep declivity under her feet, and rushed down blindly to save herself from a headlong fall. The shingle seemed to wake up; the pebbles began to roll before her, pursued her from above, raced down with her on both sides, rolling past with an increasing clatter. In the peace of the night the noise grew, deepening to a rumour, continuous and violent, as if the whole semicircle of the stony beach had started to tumble down into the bay. Susan's feet hardly touched the slope that seemed to run down with her. At the bottom she stumbled, shot forward, throwing her arms out, and fell heavily. She jumped up at once and turned swiftly to look back, her clenched hands full of sand she had clutched in her fall. The face was there, keeping its distance, visible in its own sheen that made a pale stain in the night. She shouted, "Go away!"--she shouted at it with pain, with fear, with all the rage of that useless stab that could not keep him quiet, keep him out of her sight. What did he want now? He was dead. Dead men have no children. Would he never leave her alone? She shrieked at it--waved her outstretched hands. She seemed to feel the breath of parted lips, and, with a long cry of discouragement, fled across the level bottom of the bay.
She ran lightly, unaware of any effort of her body. High sharp rocks that, when the bay is full, show above the glittering plain of blue water like pointed towers of submerged churches, glided past her, rushing to the land at a tremendous pace. To the left, in the distance, she could see something shining: a broad disc of light in which narrow shadows pivoted round the centre like the spokes of a wheel. She heard a voice calling, "Hey! There!" and answered with a wild scream. So, he could call yet! He was calling after her to stop. Never! . . . She tore through the night, past the startled group of seaweed-gatherers who stood round their lantern paralysed with fear at the unearthly screech coming from that fleeing shadow. The men leaned on their pitchforks staring fearfully. A woman fell on her knees, and, crossing herself, began to pray aloud. A little girl with her ragged skirt full of slimy seaweed began to sob despairingly, lugging her soaked burden close to the man who carried the light. Somebody said: "The thing ran out towards the sea." Another voice exclaimed: "And the sea is coming back! Look at the spreading puddles. Do you hear--you woman--there! Get up!" Several voices cried together. "Yes, let us be off! Let the accursed thing go to the sea!" They moved on, keeping close round the light. Suddenly a man swore loudly. He would go and see what was the matter. It had been a woman's voice. He would go. There were shrill protests from women--but his high form detached itself from the group and went off running. They sent an unanimous call of scared voices after him. A word, insulting and mocking, came back, thrown at them through the darkness. A woman moaned. An old man said gravely: "Such things ought to be left alone." They went on slower, shuffling in the yielding sand and whispering to one another that Millot feared nothing, having no religion, but that it would end badly some day.
Susan met the incoming tide by the Raven islet and stopped, panting, with her feet in the water. She heard the murmur and felt the cold caress of the sea, and, calmer now, could see the sombre and confused mass of the Raven on one side and on the other the long white streak of Molene sands that are left high above the dry bottom of Fougere Bay at every ebb. She turned round and saw far away, along the starred background of the sky, the ragged outline of the coast. Above it, nearly facing her, appeared the tower of Ploumar Church; a slender and tall pyramid shooting up dark and pointed into the clustered glitter of the stars. She felt strangely calm. She knew where she was, and began to remember how she came there--and why. She peered into the smooth obscurity near her. She was alone. There was nothing there; nothing near her, either living or dead.
The tide was creeping in quietly, putting out long impatient arms of strange rivulets that ran towards the land between ridges of sand. Under the night the pools grew bigger with mysterious rapidity, while the great sea, yet far off, thundered in a regular rhythm along the indistinct line of the horizon. Susan splashed her way back for a few yards without being able to get clear of the water that murmured tenderly all around and, suddenly, with a spiteful gurgle, nearly took her off her feet. Her heart thumped with fear. This place was too big and too empty to die in. To-morrow they would do with her what they liked. But before she died she must tell them--tell the gentlemen in black clothes that there are things no woman can bear. She must explain how it happened. . . . She splashed through a pool, getting wet to the waist, too preoccupied to care. . . . She must explain. "He came in the same way as ever and said, just so: 'Do you think I am going to leave the land to those people from Morbihan that I do not know? Do you? We shall see! Come along, you creature of mischance!' And he put his arms out. Then, Messieurs, I said: 'Before God--never!' And he said, striding at me with open palms: 'There is no God to hold me! Do you understand, you useless carcase. I will do what I like.' And he took me by the shoulders. Then I, Messieurs, called to God for help, and next minute, while he was shaking me, I felt my long scissors in my hand. His shirt was unbuttoned, and, by the candle- light, I saw the hollow of his throat. I cried: 'Let go!' He was crushing my shoulders. He was strong, my man was! Then I thought: No! . . . Must I? . . . Then take!--and I struck in the hollow place. I never saw him fall. . . . The old father never turned his head. He is deaf and childish, gentlemen. . . . Nobody saw him fall. I ran out . . . Nobody saw. . . ."
She had been scrambling amongst the boulders of the Raven and now found herself, all out of breath, standing amongst the heavy shadows of the rocky islet. The Raven is connected with the main land by a natural pier of immense and slippery stones. She intended to return home that way. Was he still standing there? At home. Home! Four idiots and a corpse. She must go back and explain. Anybody would understand. . . .
Below her the night or the sea seemed to pronounce distinctly--
"Aha! I see you at last!"
She started, slipped, fell; and without attempting to rise, listened, terrified. She heard heavy breathing, a clatter of wooden clogs. It stopped.
"Where the devil did you pass?" said an invisible man, hoarsely.
She held her breath. She recognized the voice. She had not seen him fall. Was he pursuing her there dead, or perhaps . . . alive?
She lost her head. She cried from the crevice where she lay huddled, "Never, never!"
"Ah! You are still there. You led me a fine dance. Wait, my beauty, I must see how you look after all this. You wait. . . ."
Millot was stumbling, laughing, swearing meaninglessly out of pure satisfaction, pleased with himself for having run down that fly-by-night. "As if there were such things as ghosts! Bah! It took an old African soldier to show those clodhoppers. . . . But it was curious. Who the devil was she?"
Susan listened, crouching. He was coming for her, this dead man. There was no escape. What a noise he made amongst the stones. . . . She saw his head rise up, then the shoulders. He was tall--her own man! His long arms waved about, and it was his own voice sounding a little strange . . . because of the scissors. She scrambled out quickly, rushed to the edge of the causeway, and turned round. The man stood still on a high stone, detaching himself in dead black on the glitter of the sky.
"Where are you going to?" he called, roughly.
She answered, "Home!" and watched him intensely. He made a striding, clumsy leap on to another boulder, and stopped again, balancing himself, then said--
"Ha! ha! Well, I am going with you. It's the least I can do. Ha! ha! ha!"
She stared at him till her eyes seemed to become glowing coals that burned deep into her brain, and yet she was in mortal fear of making out the well-known features. Below her the sea lapped softly against the rock with a splash continuous and gentle.
The man said, advancing another step--
"I am coming for you. What do you think?"
She trembled. Coming for her! There was no escape, no peace, no hope. She looked round despairingly. Suddenly the whole shadowy coast, the blurred islets, the heaven itself, swayed about twice, then came to a rest. She closed her eyes and shouted--
"Can't you wait till I am dead!"
She was shaken by a furious hate for that shade that pursued her in this world, unappeased even by death in its longing for an heir that would be like other people's children.
"Hey! What?" said Millot, keeping his distance prudently. He was saying to himself: "Look out! Some lunatic. An accident happens soon."
She went on, wildly--
"I want to live. To live alone--for a week--for a day. I must explain to them. . . . I would tear you to pieces, I would kill you twenty times over rather than let you touch me while I live. How many times must I kill you--you blasphemer! Satan sends you here. I am damned too!"
"Come," said Millot, alarmed and conciliating. "I am perfectly alive! . . . Oh, my God!"
She had screamed, "Alive!" and at once vanished before his eyes, as if the islet itself had swerved aside from under her feet. Millot rushed forward, and fell flat with his chin over the edge. Far below he saw the water whitened by her struggles, and heard one shrill cry for help that seemed to dart upwards along the perpendicular face of the rock, and soar past, straight into the high and impassive heaven.
Madame Levaille sat, dry-eyed, on the short grass of the hill side, with her thick legs stretched out, and her old feet turned up in their black cloth shoes. Her clogs stood near by, and further off the umbrella lay on the withered sward like a weapon dropped from the grasp of a vanquished warrior. The Marquis of Chavanes, on horseback, one gloved hand on thigh, looked down at her as she got up laboriously, with groans. On the narrow track of the seaweed-carts four men were carrying inland Susan's body on a hand-barrow, while several others straggled listlessly behind. Madame Levaille looked after the procession. "Yes, Monsieur le Marquis," she said dispassionately, in her usual calm tone of a reasonable old woman. "There are unfortunate people on this earth. I had only one child. Only one! And they won't bury her in consecrated ground!"
Her eyes filled suddenly, and a short shower of tears rolled down the broad cheeks. She pulled the shawl close about her. The Marquis leaned slightly over in his saddle, and said--
"It is very sad. You have all my sympathy. I shall speak to the Cure. She was unquestionably insane, and the fall was accidental. Millot says so distinctly. Good-day, Madame."
And he trotted off, thinking to himself: "I must get this old woman appointed guardian of those idiots, and administrator of the farm. It would be much better than having here one of those other Bacadous, probably a red republican, corrupting my commune."
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