"Quick, quick, let us go up into the bedrooms," I cried.
And I obliged Jacques to pass before me. I left the ground-floor the last.
Marguerite came down in terror from the loft where she happened to find herself. I made her sit down at the end of the room beside Babet, who remained silent, pale, and with beseeching eyes. We put little Marie into bed; she had insisted on keeping her doll, and went quietly to sleep pressing it in her arms. This child's sleep relieved me; when I turned round and saw Babet, listening to the little girl's regular breathing, I forgot the danger, all I heard was the water beating against the walls.
But Jacques and I could not help looking the peril in the face. Anxiety made us endeavour to discover the progress of the inundation. We had thrown the window wide open, we leant out at the risk of falling, searching into the darkness. The fog, which was thicker, hung above the flood, throwing out fine rain which gave us the shivers. Vague steel-like flashes were all that showed the moving sheet of water, amidst the profound obscurity. Below, it was splashing in the courtyard, rising along the walls in gentle undulations. And we still heard naught but the anger of the Durance, and the affrighted cattle and horses.
The neighing and lowing of these poor beasts pierced me to the heart. Jacques questioned me with his eyes; he would have liked to try and deliver them. Their agonising moans soon became lamentable, and a great cracking sound was heard. The oxen had just broken down the stable doors. We saw them pass before us, borne away by the flood, rolled over and over in the current. And they disappeared amid the roar of the river.
Then I felt choking with anger. I became as one possessed, I shook my fist at the Durance. Erect, facing the window, I insulted it.
"Wicked thing!" I shouted amidst the tumult of the waters, "I loved you fondly, you were my first sweetheart, and now you are plundering me. You come and disturb my farm, and carry off my cattle. Ah! cursed, cursed thing.——Then you gave me Babet, you ran gently at the edge of my meadows. I took you for a good mother. I remembered uncle Lazare felt affection for your limpid stream, and I thought I owed you gratitude. You are a barbarous mother, I only owe you my hatred——"
But the Durance stifled my cries with its thundering voice; and, broad and indifferent, expanded and drove its flood onward with tranquil obstinacy.
I turned back to the room and went and kissed Babet, who was weeping. Little Marie was smiling in her sleep.
"Don't be afraid," I said to my wife. "The water cannot always rise. It will certainly go down. There is no danger."
"No, there is no danger," Jacques repeated feverishly. "The house is solid."
At that moment Marguerite, who had approached the window, tormented by that feeling of curiosity which is the outcome of fear, leant forward like a mad thing and fell, uttering a cry. I threw myself before the window, but could not prevent Jacques plunging into the water. Marguerite had nursed him, and he felt the tenderness of a son for the poor old woman. Babet had risen in terror, with joined hands, at the sound of the two splashes. She remained there, erect, with open mouth and distended eyes, watching the window.
I had seated myself on the wooden handrail, and my ears were ringing with the roar of the flood. I do not know how long it was that Babet and I were in this painful state of stupor, when a voice called to me. It was Jacques who was holding on to the wall beneath the window. I stretched out my hand to him, and he clambered up.
Babet clasped him in her arms. She could sob now; and she relieved herself.
No reference was made to Marguerite. Jacques did not dare say he had been unable to find her, and we did not dare question him anent his search.
He took me apart and brought me back to the window.
"Father," he said to me in an undertone, "there are more than seven feet of water in the courtyard, and the river is still rising. We cannot remain here any longer."
Jacques was right. The house was falling to pieces, the planks of the outbuildings were going away one by one. Then this death of Marguerite weighed upon us. Babet, bewildered, was beseeching us. Marie alone remained peaceful in the big bed? with her doll between her arms, and slumbering with the happy smile of an angel.
The peril increased at every minute. The water was on the point of reaching the handrail of the window and pouring into the room. Any one would have said that it was an engine of war making the farmhouse totter with regular, dull, hard blows. The current must be running right against the facade, and we could not hope for any human assistance.
"Every minute is precious," said Jacques in agony. "We shall be crushed beneath the ruins. Let us look for boards, let us make a raft."
He said that in his excitement. I would naturally have preferred a thousand times to be in the middle of the river, on a few beams lashed together, than beneath the roof of this house which was about to fall in. But where could we lay hands on the beams we required? In a rage I tore the planks from the cupboards, Jacques broke the furniture, we took away the shutters, every piece of wood we could reach. And feeling it was impossible to utilise these fragments, we cast them into the middle of the room in a fury, and continued searching.
Our last hope was departing, we understood our misery and want of power. The water was rising; the harsh voice of the Durance was calling to us in anger. Then, I burst out sobbing, I took Babet in my trembling arms, I begged Jacques to come near us. I wished us all to die in the same embrace.
Jacques had returned to the window. And, suddenly, he exclaimed:
"Father, we are saved!—Come and see."
The sky was clear. The roof of a shed, torn away by the current, had come to a standstill beneath our window. This roof, which was several yards broad, was formed of light beams and thatch; it floated, and would make a capital raft, I joined my hands together and would have worshipped this wood and straw.
Jacques jumped on the roof, after having firmly secured it. He walked on the thatch, making sure it was everywhere strong. The thatch resisted; therefore we could adventure on it without fear.
"Oh! it will carry us all very well," said Jacques joyfully. "See how little it sinks into the water! The difficulty will be to steer it."
He looked around him and seized two poles drifting along in the current, as they passed by.
"Ah! here are oars," he continued. "You will go to the stern, father, and I forward, and we will manoeuvre the raft easily. There are not twelve feet of water. Quick, quick! get on board, we must not lose a minute."
My poor Babet tried to smile. She wrapped little Marie carefully up in her shawl; the child had just woke up, and, quite alarmed, maintained a silence which was broken by deep sobs. I placed a chair before the window and made Babet get on the raft. As I held her in my arms I kissed her with poignant emotion, feeling this kiss was the last.
The water was beginning to pour into the room. Our feet were soaking. I was the last to embark; then I undid the cord. The current hurled us against the wall; it required precautions and many efforts to quit the farmhouse.
The fog had little by little dispersed. It was about midnight when we left. The stars were still buried in mist; the moon which was almost at the edge of the horizon, lit up the night with a sort of wan daylight.
The inundation then appeared to us in all its grandiose horror. The valley had become a river. The Durance, swollen to enormous proportions and washing the two hillsides, passed between dark masses of cultivated land, and was the sole thing displaying life in the inanimate space bounded by the horizon. It thundered with a sovereign voice, maintaining in its anger the majesty of its colossal wave. Clumps of trees emerged in places, staining the sheet of pale water with black streaks. Opposite us I recognised the tops of the oaks along the walk; the current carried us towards these branches, which for us were so many reefs. Around the raft floated various kinds of remains, pieces of wood, empty barrels, bundles of grass; the river was bearing along the ruins it had made in its anger.
To the left we perceived the lights of Dourgues—flashes of lanterns moving about in the darkness. The water could not have risen as high as the village; only the low land had been submerged. No doubt assistance would come. We searched the patches of light hanging over the water; it seemed to us at every instant that we heard the sound of oars.
We had started at random. As soon as the raft was in the middle of the current, lost amidst the whirlpools of the river, anguish of mind overtook us again; we almost regretted having left the farm. I sometimes turned round and gazed at the house, which still remained standing, presenting a grey aspect on the white water. Babet, crouching down in the centre of the raft, in the thatch of the roof, was holding little Marie on her knees, the child's head against her breast, to hide the horror of the river from her. Both were bent double, leaning forward in an embrace, as if reduced in stature by fear. Jacques, standing upright in the front, was leaning on his pole with all his weight; from time to time he cast a rapid glance towards us, and then silently resumed his task. I seconded him as well as I could, but our efforts to reach the bank remained fruitless. Little by little, notwithstanding our poles, which we buried into the mud until we nearly broke them, we drifted into the open; a force that seemed to come from the depths of the water drove us away. The Durance was slowly taking possession of us.
Struggling, bathed in perspiration, we had worked ourselves into a passion; we were fighting with the river as with a living being, seeking to vanquish, wound, kill it. It strained us in its giant-like arms, and our poles in our hands became weapons which we thrust into its breast. It roared, flung its slaver into our faces, wriggled beneath our strokes. We resisted its victory with clenched teeth. We would not be conquered. And we had mad impulses to fell the monster, to calm it with blows from our fists.
We went slowly towards the offing. We were already at the entrance to the oak-tree walk. The dark branches pierced through the water, which they tore with a lamentable sound. Death, perhaps, awaited us there in a collision. I cried out to Jacques to follow the walk by clinging close to the branches. And it was thus that I passed for the last time in the middle of this oak-tree alley, where I had walked in my youth and ripe age. In the terrible darkness, above the howling depth, I thought of uncle Lazare, and saw the happy days of my youth smiling at me sadly.
The Durance triumphed at the end of the alley. Our poles no longer touched the bottom. The water bore us along in its impetuous bound of victory. And now it could do what it pleased with us. We gave ourselves up. We went downstream with frightful rapidity. Great clouds, dirty tattered rags hung about the sky; when the moon was hidden there came lugubrious obscurity. Then we rolled in chaos. Enormous billows as black as ink, resembling the backs of fish, bore us along, spinning us round. I could no longer see either Babet or the children. I already felt myself dying.
I know not how long this last run lasted. The moon was suddenly unveiled, and the horizon became clear. And in that light I perceived an immense black mass in front of us which blocked the way, and towards which we were being carried with all the violence of the current. We were lost, we would be broken there.
Babet had stood upright. She held out little Marie to me:
"Take the child," she exclaimed. "Leave me alone, leave me alone!"
Jacques had already caught Babet in his arms. In a loud voice he said:
"Father, save the little one—I will save mother."
We had come close to the black mass. I thought I recognised a tree. The shock was terrible, and the raft, split in two, scattered its straw and beams in the whirlpool of water.
I fell, clasping little Marie tightly to me. The icy cold water brought back all my courage. On rising to the surface of the river, I supported the child, I half laid her on my neck and began to swim laboriously. If the little creature had not lost consciousness but had struggled, we should both have remained at the bottom of the deep.
And, whilst I swam, I felt choking with anxiety. I called Jacques, I tried to see in the distance; but I heard nothing save the roar of the waters, I saw naught but the pale sheet of the Durance. Jacques and Babet were at the bottom. She must have clung to him, dragged him down in a deadly strain of her arms. What frightful agony! I wanted to die; I sunk slowly, I was going to find them beneath the black water. And as soon as the flood touched little Marie's face, I struggled again with impetuous anguish to get near the waterside.
It was thus that I abandoned Babet and Jacques, in despair at having been unable to die with them, still calling out to them in a husky voice. The river cast me on the stones, like one of those bundles of grass it leaves on its way. When I came to myself again, I took my daughter, who was opening her eyes, in my arms. Day was breaking. My winter night was at an end, that terrible night which had been an accomplice in the murder of my wife and son.
At this moment, after years of regret, one last consolation remains to me. I am the icy winter, but I feel the approaching spring stirring within me. As my uncle Lazare said, we never die. I have had four seasons, and here I am returning to the spring, there is my dear Marie commencing the everlasting joys and sorrows over again.
BARON DE TRENCK
BY CLEMENCE ROBERT
Baron de Trenck already had endured a year of arbitrary imprisonment in the fortress of Glatz, ignorant alike of the cause of his detention or the length of time which he was destined to spend in captivity.
During the early part of the month of September, Major Doo, aide to the governor of the prison of Glatz, entered the prisoner's apartment for a domiciliary visit, accompanied by an adjutant and the officer of the guard.
It was noon. The excessive heat of the dying summer had grown almost unsupportable in the tower chamber where Baron de Trenck was confined. Half empty flagons were scattered among the books which littered his table, but the repeated draughts in which the prisoner had sought refreshment had only served to add to his ever-increasing exasperation.
The major ransacked every nook and corner of the prisoner's chamber and the interior of such pieces of furniture as might afford a possible hiding-place. Remarking the annoyance which this investigation caused the baron, Doo said arrogantly:
"The general has issued his orders, and it is a matter of little consequence to him whether or not they displease you. Your attempts to escape have greatly incensed him against you."
"And I," retorted Trenck, with like hauteur, "am equally indifferent to your general's displeasure. I shall continue to dispose of my time as may best please me."
"Good!" replied the major, "but in your own interests you would be wiser to philosophize with your books, and seek the key to the sciences, rather than that of the fortress."
"I do not need your advice, major," the baron observed, with sovereign disdain.
"You may perhaps repent later that you did not heed it. Your attempts to escape have angered even the king, and it is impossible to say just how far his severity toward you may go."
"But, great heavens! when I am deprived of my liberty without cause, have I not the right to endeavor to regain it?"
"They do not see the matter in that light in Berlin. As a matter of fact this spirit of revolt against your sovereign only serves to greatly aggravate your crime."
"My crime!" Trenck exclaimed, trembling with anger.
His glance fell upon the major's sword and the thought came to him to tear it from his side and pierce his throat with it. But in the same instant it occurred to him that he might rather profit by the situation. Pale and trembling as he was, he retained sufficient self-control to modify the expression of his countenance and the tone of his voice, though his glance remained fixed upon the sword.
"Major," he said, "no one can be called a criminal until he has been so adjudged by the courts. Happily a man's honor does not depend upon the inconsequent, malicious opinion of others. On the contrary blame should attach to him who condemns the accused without a hearing. No constituted power, whether that of king or judge, has yet convicted me of any culpable action. Apart from the courtesy which should be observed between officers of the same rank, you, out of simple justice, should refrain front such an accusation."
"Every one knows," retorted Boo, "that you entered into relations with the enemy."
"I? Great God!"
"Do you not consider the Pandours, then, as such?"
"I visited their chief solely as a relative. A glass of wine shared with him in his tent can hardly be construed into a dangerous alliance!"
"But you hoped to inherit great riches from this relative. That hope might well impel you to cross the frontier of Bohemia for all time."
"Why, what egregious folly! What more could I hope for than that which I already possessed in Berlin? Was I a poor adventurer seeking his fortune by his sword? Rich in my own right; enjoying to the full the king's favor; attached to the court by all that satisfied pride could demand, as well as by ties of the tenderest sentiments. What more was there for me to covet or to seek elsewhere?"
The major turned his head aside with an air of indifference.
"One single fact suffices to discount everything you have said, Baron," he replied dryly. "You have twice attempted to escape from the fortress. An innocent man awaits his trial with confidence, knowing that it cannot be other than favorable. The culprit alone flees."
Trenck, though quivering with blind rage, continued to maintain his former attitude, his features composed, his eyes fixed upon the major's sword.
"Sir," he said, "in three weeks, on the twenty-fifth of September, I shall have been a prisoner for one year. You in your position may not have found the time long, but to me it has dragged interminably. And it has been still harder for me to bear because I have not been able to count the days or hours which still separate me from justice and liberty. If I knew the limit set to my captivity—no matter what it may be—I could surely find resignation and patience to await it."
"It is most unfortunate, then," said the major, "that no one could give you that information."
"Say rather, would not," replied Trenck. "Surely, something of the matter must be known here. You, for instance, major, might tell me frankly what you think to be the case."
"Ah!" said Doo, assuming the self-satisfied manner of a jailer; "it would not be proper for me to answer that."
"You would save me from despair and revolt," replied Trenck warmly. "For I give you my word of honor that from the moment I know when my captivity is to terminate—no matter when that may be, or what my subsequent fate—I will make no further attempts to evade it by flight."
"And you want me to tell you——"
"Yes," interrupted Trenck, with a shudder; "yes, once again I ask you."
Doo smiled maliciously as he answered:
"The end of your captivity? Why, a traitor can scarcely hope for release!"
The heat of the day, the wine he had drunk, overwhelming anger and his fiery blood, all mounted to Trenck's head. Incapable of further self-restraint, he flung himself upon the major, tore the coveted sword from his side, dashed out of the chamber, flung the two sentinels at the door down the stairs, took their entire length himself at a single bound and sprang into the midst of the assembled guards.
Trenck fell upon them with his sword, showering blows right and left. The blade flashed snakelike in his powerful grasp, the soldiers falling back before the fierce onslaught. Having disabled four of the men, the prisoner succeeded in forcing his way past the remainder and raced for the first rampart.
There he mounted the rampart and, never stopping to gauge its height, sprang down into the moat, landing upon his feet in the bottom of the dry ditch. Faster still, he flew to the second rampart and scaled it as he had done the first, clambering up by means of projecting stones and interstices.
It was just past noon; the sun blazed full upon the scene and every one within the prison stood astounded at the miraculous flight in which Trenck seemed to fairly soar through the air. Those of the soldiers whom Trenck had not overthrown pursued, but with little hope of overtaking him. Their guns were unloaded so that they were unable to shoot after him. Not a soldier dared to risk trying to follow him by the road he had taken, over the ramparts and moats; for, without that passion for liberty which lent wings to the prisoner there was no hope of any of them scaling the walls without killing himself a dozen times over.
They were, therefore, compelled to make use of the regular passages to the outer posterns and these latter being located at a considerable distance from the prisoner's avenue of escape, he was certain, at the pace he was maintaining, to gain at least a half-hour's start over his pursuers.
Once beyond the walls of the prison, with the woods close by, it seemed as if Trenck's escape was assured beyond doubt.
He had now come to a narrow passageway leading to the last of the inner posterns which pierced the walls. Here he found a sentinel on guard and the soldier sprang up to confront him. But a soldier to overcome was not an obstacle to stop the desperate flight of the baron. He struck the man heavily in the face with his sword, stunning him and sending him rolling in the dust.
Once through the postern there now remained only a single palisade or stockade—a great fence constructed of iron bars and iron trellis-work, which constituted the outermost barrier between the fleeing prisoner and liberty. Once over that iron palisade he had only to dash into the woods and disappear.
But it was ordained that Trenck was not to overcome this last obstacle, simple as it appeared. At a fatal moment, his foot was caught between two bars of the palisade and he was unable to free himself.
While he was engaged in superhuman but futile efforts to release his foot, the sentinel of the passage, who had picked himself up, ran through the postern toward the palisade, followed by another soldier from the garrison. Together they fell upon Trenck, overwhelming him with blows with the butts of their muskets and secured him.
Bruised and bleeding he was borne back to his cell.
Major Doo informed Trenck, after this abortive attempt to escape, that he had been condemned to one year's imprisonment only. That year was within three weeks of expiring when the infamous major, who was an Italian, goaded the unfortunate young man into open defiance of his sovereign's mandate. His pardon was at once annulled and his confinement now became most rigorous.
Another plot, headed by three officers and several soldiers of the guard, who were friendly to Trenck, was discovered at the last moment—in time for the conspirators themselves to escape to Bohemia, but under circumstances which prevented Baron de Trenck from accompanying them.
This also served to increase the hardships of the prisoner's lot, and he now found himself deprived of the former companionship of his friends and surrounded by strangers, the one familiar face remaining being that of Lieutenant Bach, a Danish officer, a braggart swordsman and ruffler, who had always been hostile to him.
But, despite his isolation, the energy and strength of Trenck's character were only augmented by his misfortunes, and he never ceased to plot for his deliverance. Weeks passed without any fruitful event occurring in the life of the prisoner, yet help was to come to him from a source from which he could never have expected it. But before that fortuitous result was destined to take place—in fact, as preliminary to its achievement—he was destined to be an actor in the most remarkable scene that ever has been recorded in the annals of prison life, and in one of the strangest duels of modern times.
One day Trenck had cast himself fully clothed upon his bed, in order to obtain a change of position in his cramped place of confinement. Lieutenant Bach was on duty as his guard.
The young baron had retained in prison the proud and haughty demeanor which had formerly brought upon him so much censure at court. Lieutenant Bach's countenance also bore the imprint of incarnate pride.
The two exchanged from time to time glances of insolence; for the rest, they remained silently smoking, side by side.
Trenck was the first to break the silence, for prisoners grasp every opportunity for conversation, and at any price.
"It appears to me your hand is wounded, lieutenant," Trenck said. "Have you found another opportunity to cross swords?"
"Lieutenant Schell, it seemed to me, looked somewhat obliquely at me," replied the Dane. "Therefore, I indulged him in a pass or two directed against his right arm."
"Such a delicate youth, and so mild-mannered! Are you not ashamed?"
"What could I do? There was no one else at hand."
"Nevertheless he seems to have wounded you?"
"Yes, accidentally though, without knowing what he did."
"The fact, then, of having been expelled from two regiments for your highhanded acts, and finally transferred to the garrison of the fortress of Glatz as punishment, has not cured you of your fire-eating propensities?"
"When a man has the reputation of being the best swordsman in Prussia he values that title somewhat more than your military rank, which any clumsy fool can obtain."
"You, the best swordsman!" exclaimed Trenck, concluding his remark with an ironical puff of smoke.
"I flatter myself that such is the case," retorted Bach, emitting in turn a great cloud of tobacco-smoke.
"If I were free," said Trenck, "I might, perhaps, prove to you in short order that such is not the case."
"Do you claim to be my master at that art?"
"I flatter myself that such is the case."
"That we shall soon see," cried Bach, flushing with rage.
"How can we? I am disarmed and a prisoner."
"Ah, yes, you make your claim out of sheer boastfulness, because you think we cannot put it to the test!"
"Truly, lieutenant, set me at liberty and I swear to you that on the other side of the frontier we will put our skill to the test as freely as you like!"
"Well, I am unwilling to wait for that. We will fight here, Baron Trenck."
"In this room?"
"After your assertion, I must either humble your arrogance or lose my reputation."
"I shall be glad to know how you propose to do so?"
"Ah, you talk of Bohemia because that country is far away. As for me, I prefer this one, because it affords an immediate opportunity to put the matter to the test."
"I should ask nothing better if it were not impossible."
"Impossible! You shall see if it be."
Bach sprang up. An old door, supported by a couple of benches, had been placed in the chamber for a table. He hammered at the worm-eaten wood and knocked off a strip which he split in half. One of these substitutes for rapiers he gave to Trenck, retaining the other himself, and both placed themselves on guard.
After the first few passes, Trenck sent his adversary's make-shift sword flying through space, and with his own he met the lieutenant full in the chest.
"Touche!" he cried.
"Heavens! It is true!" growled Bach. "But I'll have my revenge!"
He went out hastily. Trenck watched him in utter amazement and he was even more astounded when, an instant later, he saw Bach return with a couple of swords, which he drew out from beneath his uniform.
"Now," he said to Trenck, "it is for you to show what you can do with good steel!"
"You risk," returned the baron, smiling calmly, "you risk, over and above the danger of being wounded, losing that absolute superiority in matters of the sword of which you are so proud."
"Defend yourself, braggart!" shouted Bach. "Show your skill instead of talking about it."
He flung himself furiously upon Trenck. The latter, seeming only to trifle lightly with his weapon at first, parried his thrusts, and then pressed the attack in turn, wounding Bach severely in the arm.
The lieutenant's weapon clattered upon the floor. For an instant he paused, immovable, overcome by amazement; then an irresistible admiration—a supreme tenderness, invaded his soul. He flung himself, weeping, in Trenck's arms, exclaiming:
"You are my master!"
Then, drawing away from the prisoner, he contemplated him with the same enthusiasm, but more reflectively, and observed:
"Yes, baron, you far exceed me in the use of the sword; you are the greatest duelist of the day, and a man of your caliber must not remain longer in prison."
The baron was somewhat taken by surprise at this, but, with his usual presence of mind, he immediately set himself to derive such profit as he might from his guardian's extravagant access of affection.
"Yes, my dear Bach," he replied, "yes, I should be free for the reason you mention, and by every right, but where is the man who will assist me to escape from these walls?"
"Here, baron!" said the lieutenant. "You shall regain your freedom as surely as my name is Bach."
"Oh, I believe in you, my worthy friend," cried Trenck; "you will keep your word."
"Wait," resumed Bach reflectively. "You cannot leave the citadel without the assistance of an officer. I should compromise you at every step. You have just seen what a hot-tempered scatterbrain I am. But I have in mind one who admires you profoundly. You shall know who he is tonight, and together we will set you at liberty."
Bach did, in fact, redeem his promise. He introduced Lieutenant Schell, who was to be Trenck's companion during their arduous flight into Bohemia, into the prisoner's cell, and himself obtained leave of absence for the purpose of securing funds for his fellow conspirators. The plot was discovered before his return and Schell, warned of this by one of the governor's adjutants, hastened the day of their flight.
In scaling the first rampart, Schell fell and sprained his ankle so severely that he could not use it. But Trenck was equal to all emergencies. He would not abandon his companion. He placed him across his shoulders, and, thus burdened, climbed the outer barriers and wandered all night in the bitter cold, fleeing through the snow to escape his pursuers. In the morning, by a clever ruse, he secured two horses and, thus mounted, he and his companion succeeded in reaching Bohemia.
Trenck directed his course toward Brandenburg where his sister dwelt, near the Prussian and Bohemian frontiers, in the Castle of Waldau, for he counted upon her assistance to enable him to settle in a foreign land where he would be safe.
The two friends, reduced shortly to the direst poverty, parted with their horses and all but the most necessary wearing apparel. Even now, though in Bohemia, they were not free from pursuit. Impelled one night, through hunger and cold, to throw themselves upon the bounty of an inn-keeper, they found in him a loyal and true friend. The worthy host revealed to them the true identity of four supposed traveling merchants, who had that day accosted them on the road and followed them to the inn. These men were, in fact, emissaries from the fortress of Glatz who had attempted to bribe him to betray the fugitives into their hands, for they were sworn to capture Trenck and his companion and return them dead or alive to the enraged governor of the fortress.
In the morning the four Prussians, the carriage, the driver, and the horses set forth and soon disappeared in the distance.
Two hours later the fugitives, fortified by a good breakfast, took their departure from the Ezenstochow inn, leaving behind them a man whom they, at least, esteemed as the greatest honor to mankind.
The travelers hastened toward Dankow. They chose the most direct route and tramped along in the open without a thought of the infamous spies who might already be on their track.
They arrived at nightfall at their destination, however, without further hindrance.
The next day they set out for Parsemachi, in Bohemia.
They started early, and a day in the open, together with a night's sleep, had almost obliterated the memory of their adventure at the inn.
The cold was intense. The day was gray with heavy clouds that no longer promised rain, but which shrouded the country with a pall of gloom. The wind swirled and howled, and though the two friends struggled to keep their few thin garments drawn closely about them, they still searched the horizon hopefully, thinking of the journey's end and the peaceful existence which awaited them. To their right, the aspect of the countryside had altered somewhat. Great wooded stretches spread away into the distance, while to the left all was yet free and open.
They had gone about half a mile past the first clump of trees when they noticed, through the swaying branches by the roadside, a motionless object around which several men busied themselves. With every step they gained a clearer impression of the nature of this obstacle until, at last, an expression of half-mockery, half-anger overspread their features.
"Now God forgive me!" exclaimed Schell finally, "but that is the infernal brown traveling carriage from the inn!"
"May the devil take me!" rejoined Trenck, "if I delay or flee a step from those miserable rascals."
And they strode sturdily onward.
As soon as they were within speaking distance, one of the Prussians, a big man in a furred cap, believing them to be wholly unsuspicious, called to them:
"My dear sirs, in heaven's name come help us! Our carriage has been overturned and it is impossible to get it out of this rut."
The friends had reached an angle of the road where a few withered tree branches alone separated them from the others. They perceived the brown body of the carriage, half open like a huge rat-trap, and beside it the forbidding faces of their would-be captors. Trenck launched these words through the intervening screen of branches:
"Go to the devil, miserable scoundrels that you are, and may you remain there!"
Then, swift as an arrow, he sped toward the open fields to the left of the highroad, feigning flight. The carriage, which had been overturned solely for the purpose of misleading them, was soon righted and the driver lashed his horses forward in pursuit of the fugitives, the four Prussians accompanying him with drawn pistols.
When they were almost within reaching distance of their prey they raised their pistols and shouted:
"Surrender, rascals, or you are dead men!"
This was what Trenck desired. He wheeled about and discharged his pistol, sending a bullet through the first Prussian's breast, stretching him dead upon the spot.
At the same moment Schell fired, but his assailants returned the shot and wounded him.
Trenck again discharged his pistol twice in succession. Then, as one of the Prussians, who was apparently still uninjured, took to flight across the plain he sped furiously after him. The pursuit continued some two or three hundred paces. The Prussian, as if impelled by some irresistible force, whirled around and Trenck caught sight of his blanched countenance and blood-stained linen. One of the shots had struck him!
Instantly Trenck put an end to the half-finished task with a sword thrust. But the time wasted on the Prussian had cost him dear. Returning hastily to the field of action, he perceived Schell struggling in the grasp of the two remaining Prussians. Wounded as he was, he had been unable to cope single-handed with them, and was rapidly being borne toward the carriage.
"Courage, Schell!" Trenck shouted. "I am coming!"
At the sound of his friend's voice Schell felt himself saved. By a supreme effort he succeeded in releasing himself from his captors.
Frantic with rage and disappointment, the Prussians again advanced to the attack upon the two wretched fugitives, but Trenck's blood was up. He made a furious onslaught upon them with his sword, driving them back step by step to their carriage, into which they finally tumbled, shouting to the driver in frantic haste to whip up his horses.
As the carriage dashed away the friends drew long breaths of relief and wiped away the blood and powder stains from their heated brows. Careless of their sufferings, these iron-hearted men merely congratulated each other upon their victory.
"Ah, it's well ended, Schell," exclaimed Trenck, "and I rejoice that we have had this opportunity to chastise the miserable traitors. But you are wounded, my poor Schell!"
"It is nothing," the lieutenant replied carelessly; "merely a wound in the throat, and, I think, another in the head."
This was the last attempt for a considerable time to regain possession of Trenck's person. But the two friends suffered greatly from hardships and were made to feel more than once the cruelty of Prussian oppression. Even Trenck's sister, instigated thereto by her husband, who feared to incur the displeasure of Frederick the Great, refused the poor fugitives shelter, money, or as much as a crust of bread, and this after Trenck had jeopardized his liberty by returning to Prussian soil in order to meet her.
It was at this period, when starvation stared the exiles in the face, that Trenck met the Russian General Liewen, a relative of Trenck's mother, who offered the baron a captaincy in the Tobolsk Dragoons, and furnished him with the money necessary for his equipment. Trenck and Schell were now compelled to part, the latter journeying to Italy to rejoin relatives there, the baron to go to Russia, where he was to attain the highest eminence of grandeur.
Baron de Trenck, on his journey to Russia, passed through Danzig, which was at that time neutral territory, bordering upon the confines of Prussia. Here he delayed for a time in the hope of meeting with his cousin the Pandour. During the interim he formed an intimacy with a young Prussian officer named Henry, whom he assisted lavishly with money. Almost daily they indulged in excursions in the environs, the Prussian acting as guide.
One morning, while at his toilet, Trenck's servant, Karl, who was devoted to him body and soul, observed:
"Lieutenant Henry will enjoy himself thoroughly on your excursion to-morrow."
"Why do you say that, Karl?" asked the baron.
"Because he has planned to take your honor to Langfuehr at ten o'clock."
"At ten or eleven—the hour is not of importance."
"No! You must be there on the stroke of ten by the village clock. Langfuehr is on the Prussian border and under Prussian rule."
"Prussia!" exclaimed Trenck, shaking his head, which Karl had not finished powdering. "Are you quite sure?"
"Perfectly. Eight Prussians—non-commissioned officers and soldiers—will be in the courtyard of the charming little inn that Lieutenant Henry described so well. As soon as your honor crosses the threshold they will fall upon you and bear you off to a carriage which will be in waiting."
"Finish dressing my hair, Karl," said Trenck, recovering his wonted impassibility.
"Oh, for that matter," continued the valet, "they will have neither muskets nor pistols. They will be armed with swords only. That will leave them free to fall bodily upon your honor and to prevent you using your weapon."
"Is that all, Karl?"
"No. There will be two soldiers detailed especially for my benefit, so that I can't get away to give the alarm."
"Well, is that all!"
"No. The carriage is to convey your honor to Lavenburg, in Pomerania, and you must cross a portion of the province of Danzig to get there. Besides the under officers at the inn who will travel with your honor, two others will accompany the carriage on horseback to prevent any outcry while you are on neutral ground."
"M. Reimer, the Prussian resident here, outlined the plot, and appointed Lieutenant Henry to carry it out."
"That's all—this time—and it's enough!"
"Yes, but I regret that it should end thus, for your account has greatly interested me."
"Your honor may take it that all I have said is absolutely correct."
"But when did you obtain this information?"
"Oh, just now!"
"And from whom?"
"Franz, Lieutenant Henry's valet, when we were watching the horses beneath the big pines, while your honors waited in that roadside pavilion for the shower to pass over."
"Is his information reliable?"
"Of course! As no one suspected him, the whole matter was discussed freely before him."
"And he betrayed the secret?"
"Yes, because he greatly admires your honor and wasn't willing to see you treated so."
"Karl, give him ten ducats from my purse and tell him I will take him in my own service, for he has afforded me great pleasure. The outing to-morrow will be a hundred times more amusing than I had hoped—indeed more amusing than any I have ever undertaken in my life."
"Your honor will go to Langfuehr, then!"
"Certainly, Karl. We will go together, and you shall see if I misled you when I promised you a delightful morning."
As soon as Baron de Trenck had completed his toilet, he visited M. Scherer, the Russian resident, spent a few moments in private with him and then returned to his apartments for dinner.
Lieutenant Henry arrived soon afterward. Trenck found delight in the course of dissimulation to which he stood committed. He overwhelmed his guest with courteous attentions, pressing upon him the finest wines and his favorite fruits, meanwhile beaming upon him with an affection that overspread his whole countenance, and expatiating freely upon the delights of the morrow's ride.
Henry accepted his attentions with his accustomed dreamy manner.
The next morning, at half past nine, when the lieutenant arrived, he found Trenck awaiting him.
The two officers rode off, followed by their servants, and took the road to Langfuehr. Trenck's audacity was terrifying. Even Karl, who was well aware of his master's great ability and cleverness, was nevertheless uneasy, and Franz, who was less familiar with the baron's character, was in a state of the greatest alarm.
The country, beautiful with its verdant grasslands, its budding bushes and flowers, its rich fields of wheat, dotted with spring blossoms, revealed itself to their delighted eyes. In the distance glistened the tavern of Langfuehr, with its broad red and blue stripes and its tempting signboard that displayed a well-appointed festive table.
The low door in the wall that enclosed the tavern courtyard was still closed. Inside, to the right of that door, was a little terrace, and against the wall was an arbor formed of running vines and ivy.
Lieutenant Henry, pausing near a clump of trees some two hundred paces from the tavern, said:
"Baron, our horses will be in the way in that little courtyard. I think it would be well to leave them here in the care of our servants until our return."
Trenck assented readily. He sprang from his horse and tossed his bridle to his valet and Henry did the same.
The path leading to the tavern was enchanting, with its carpet of flowers and moss, and the two young men advanced arm in arm in the most affectionate manner. Karl and Franz watched them, overwhelmed with anxiety.
The door in the wall had been partly opened as they approached and the young men saw, within the arbor on the terrace, the resident, Herr Reimer—his three-cornered hat on his powdered wig, his arms crossed on the top of the adjacent wall, as he awaited their coming.
As soon as the officers were within ear-shot, he called out:
"Come on, Baron de Trenck, breakfast is ready."
The two officers were almost at the threshold. Trenck slackened his pace somewhat; then he felt Henry grip his arm more closely and forcibly drag him toward the doorway.
Trenck energetically freed his arm, upon observing this movement that spoke so eloquently of betrayal, and twice struck the lieutenant, with such violence that Henry was thrown to the ground.
Reimer, the resident, realizing that Trenck knew of the plot, saw that the time had come to resort to armed intervention.
"Soldiers, in the name of Prussia, I command you to arrest Baron de Trenck!" he shouted to the men who were posted in the courtyard.
"Soldiers, in the name of Russia!" Trenck shouted, brandishing his sword, "kill these brigands who are violating the rights of the country."
At these words, six Russian dragoons emerged suddenly from a field of wheat and, running up, fell upon the Prussians who had rushed from the courtyard at the resident's command.
This unexpected attack took the Prussians by surprise. They defended themselves only half-heartedly and finally they fled in disorder, throwing away their weapons, and followed by the shots of the Russians.
Lieutenant Henry and four soldiers remained in the custody of the victors. Trenck dashed into the arbor to seize Resident Reimer, but the only evidence of that personage was his wig, which remained caught in the foliage at an opening in the rear of the arbor through which the resident had made his escape. Trenck then returned to the prisoners.
As a fitting punishment for the Prussian soldiers, he commanded his dragoons to give each of them fifty blows, to turn their uniforms wrongside out, to decorate their helmets with straw cockades, and to drive them thus attired across the frontier.
While his men proceeded to execute his orders, Trenck drew his sword and turned to Lieutenant Henry.
"And now, for our affair, lieutenant!" he exclaimed.
The unfortunate Henry, under the disgrace of his position, lost his presence of mind. Hardly knowing what he did, he drew his sword, but dropped it almost immediately, begging for mercy.
Trenck endeavored to force him to fight, without avail, then, disgusted with the lieutenant's cowardice, he caught up a stick and belabored him heartily, crying:
"Rogue, go tell your fellows how Trenck deals with traitors!"
The people of the inn, attracted by the noise of the conflict, had gathered around the spot, and, as the baron administered the punishment, they added to the shame of the disgraced lieutenant by applauding the baron heartily.
The punishment over and the sentence of the Prussians having been carried out, Trenck returned to the city with his six dragoons and the two servants.
In this affair, as throughout his entire career, Trenck was simply faithful to the rule which he had adopted to guide him through life:
"Always face danger rather than avoid it."
THE PASSAGE OF THE RED SEA
BY HENRY MURGER
For five or six years Marcel had been engaged upon the famous painting which he said was meant to represent the Passage of the Red Sea; and for five or six years this masterpiece in color had been obstinately refused by the jury. Indeed, from its constant journeying back and forth, from the artist's studio to the Musee, and from the Musee to the studio, the painting knew the road so well that one needed only to set it on rollers and it would have been quite capable of reaching the Louvre alone. Marcel, who had repainted the picture ten times, and minutely gone over it from top to bottom, vowed that only a personal hostility on the part of the members of the jury could account for the ostracism which annually turned him away from the Salon, and in his idle moments he had composed, in honor of those watch-dogs of the Institute, a little dictionary of insults, with illustrations of a savage irony. This collection gained celebrity and enjoyed, among the studios and in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the same sort of popular success as that achieved by the immortal complaint of Giovanni Bellini, painter by appointment to the Grand Sultan of the Turks; every dauber in Paris had a copy stored away in his memory.
For a long time Marcel had not allowed himself to be discouraged by the emphatic refusal which greeted him at each exposition. He was comfortably settled in his opinion that his picture was, in a modest way, the companion piece long awaited by the "Wedding of Cana," that gigantic masterpiece whose dazzling splendor the dust of three centuries has not dimmed. Accordingly, each year, at the time of the Salon, Marcel sent his picture to be examined by the jury. Only, in order to throw the examiners off the track and if possible to make them abandon the policy of exclusion which they seemed to have adopted toward the "Passage of the Red Sea," Marcel, without in any way disturbing the general scheme of his picture, modified certain details and changed its title.
For instance, on one occasion it arrived before the jury under the name of the "Passage of the Rubicon!" but Pharaoh, poorly disguised under Caesar's mantle, was recognized and repulsed with all the honors that were his due.
The following year, Marcel spread over the level plane of his picture a layer of white representing snow, planted a pine-tree in one corner, and clothing an Egyptian as a grenadier of the Imperial Guard, rechristened the painting the "Passage of the Beresina."
The jury, which on that very day had polished its spectacles on the lining of its illustrious coat, was not in any way taken in by this new ruse. It recognized perfectly well the persistent painting, above all by a big brute of a horse of many colors, which was rearing out of one of the waves of the Red Sea. The coat of that horse had served Marcel for all his experiments in color, and in private conversation he called it his synoptic table of fine tones, because he had reproduced, in their play of light and shade, all possible combinations of color. But once again, insensible to this detail, the jury seemed scarcely able to find blackballs enough to emphasize their refusal of the "Passage of the Beresina."
"Very well," said Marcel; "no more than I expected. Next year I shall send it back under the title of 'Passage des Panoramas.'"
"That will be one on them—on them—on them, them, them," sang the musician, Schaunard, fitting the words to a new air he had been composing—a terrible air, noisy as a gamut of thunderclaps, and the accompaniment to which was a terror to every piano in the neighborhood.
"How could they refuse that picture without having every drop of the vermilion in my Red Sea rise up in their faces and cover them with shame?" murmured Marcel, as he gazed at the painting. "When one thinks that it contains a good hundred crowns' worth of paint, and a million of genius, not to speak of the fair days of my youth, fast growing bald as my hat! But they shall never have the last word; until my dying breath I shall keep on sending them my painting. I want to have it engraved upon their memory."
"That is certainly the surest way of ever getting it engraved," said Gustave Colline, in a plaintive voice, adding to himself: "That was a good one, that was—really a good one; I must get that off the next time I am asked out."
Marcel continued his imprecations, which Schaunard continued to set to music.
"Oh, they won't accept me," said Marcel. "Ah! the government pays them, boards them, gives them the Cross, solely for the one purpose of refusing me once a year, on the 1st of March. I see their idea clearly now—I see it perfectly clearly; they are trying to drive me to break my brushes. They hope, perhaps, by refusing my Red Sea, to make me throw myself out of the window in despair. But they know very little of the human heart if they expect to catch me with such a clumsy trick. I shall no longer wait for the time of the annual Salon. Beginning with to-day, my work becomes the canvas of Damocles, eternally suspended over their existence. From now on, I am going to send it once a week to each one of them, at their homes, in the bosom of their families, in the full heart of their private life. It shall trouble their domestic joy, it shall make them think that their wine is sour, their dinner burned, their wives bad-tempered. They will very soon become insane, and will have to be put in strait-jackets when they go to the Institute, on the days when there are meetings. That idea pleases me."
A few days later, when Marcel had already forgotten his terrible plans for vengeance upon his persecutors, he received a visit from Father Medicis. For that was the name by which the brotherhood called a certain Jew, whose real name was Soloman, and who at that time was well known throughout the bohemia of art and literature, with which he constantly had dealings. Father Medicis dealt in all sorts of bric-a-brac. He sold complete house-furnishings for from twelve francs up to a thousand crowns. He would buy anything, and knew how to sell it again at a profit. His shop, situated in the Place du Carrousel, was a fairy spot where one could find everything that one might wish. All the products of nature, all the creations of art, all that comes forth from the bowels of the earth or from the genius of man, Medicis found it profitable to trade in. His dealings included everything, absolutely everything that exists; he even put a price upon the Ideal. Medicis would even buy ideas, to use himself or to sell again. Known to all writers and artists, intimate friend of the palette, familiar spirit of the writing-desk, he was the Asmodeus of the arts. He would sell you cigars in exchange for the plot of a dime novel, slippers for a sonnet, a fresh catch of fish for a paradox; he would talk at so much an hour with newspaper reporters whose duty was to record the lively capers of the smart set. He would get you passes to the parliament buildings, or invitations to private parties; he gave lodgings by the night, the week, or the month to homeless artists, who paid him by making copies of old masters in the Louvre. The greenroom had no secrets for him; he could place your plays for you with some manager; he could obtain for you all sorts of favors. He carried in his head a copy of the almanac of twenty-five thousand addresses, and knew the residence, the name, and the secrets of all the celebrities, even the obscure ones.
In entering the abode of the bohemians, with that knowing air which characterized him, the Jew divined that he had arrived at a propitious moment. As a matter of fact, the four friends were at that moment gathered in council, and under the domination of a ferocious appetite were discussing the grave question of bread and meat. It was Sunday, the last day of the month. Fatal day, sinister of date!
The entrance of Medicis was accordingly greeted with a joyous chorus, for they knew that the Jew was too avaricious of his time to waste it in mere visits of civility; accordingly his presence always announced that he was open to a bargain.
"Good evening, gentlemen," said the Jew; "how are you?"
"Colline," said Rodolphe from where he lay upon the bed, sunk in the delights of maintaining a horizontal line, "practise the duties of hospitality and offer our guest a chair; a guest is sacred. I salute you, Abraham," added the poet.
Colline drew forward a chair which had about as much elasticity as a piece of bronze and offered it to the Jew, Medicis let himself fall into the chair, and started to complain of its hardness, when he remembered that he himself had once traded it off to Colline in exchange for a profession of faith which he afterward sold to a deputy. As he sat down the pockets of the Jew gave forth a silvery sound, and this melodious symphony threw the four bohemians into a reverie that was full of sweetness.
"Now," said Rodolphe, in a low tone, to Marcel, "let us hear the song. The accompaniment sounds all right."
"Monsieur Marcel," said Medicis. "I have simply come to make your fortune. That is to say, I have come to offer you a superb opportunity to enter into the world of art. Art, as you very well know, Monsieur Marcel, is an arid road, in which glory is the oasis."
"Father Medicis," said Marcel, who was on coals of impatience, "in the name of fifty per cent, your revered patron saint, be brief."
"Here is the offer," rejoined Medicis. "A wealthy amateur, who is collecting a picture-gallery destined to make the tour of Europe, has commissioned me to procure for him a series of remarkable works. I have come to give you a chance to be included in this collection. In one word, I have come to purchase your 'Passage of the Red Sea.'"
"Money down?" asked Marcel.
"Money down," answered the Jew, sounding forth the full orchestra of his pockets.
"Go on, Medicis," said Marcel, pointing to his painting. "I wish to leave to you the honor of fixing for yourself the price of that work of art which is priceless."
The Jew laid Upon the table fifty crowns in bright new silver.
"Keep them going," said Marcel; "that is a good beginning."
"Monsieur Marcel," said Medicis, "you know very well that my first word is always my last word. I shall add nothing more. But think; fifty crowns; that makes one hundred and fifty francs. That is quite a sum."
"A paltry sum," answered the artist; "just in the robe of my Pharaoh there is fifty crowns' worth of cobalt. Pay me at least something for my work."
"Hear my last word," replied Medicis. "I will not add a penny more; but, I offer dinner for the crowd, wines included, and after dessert I will pay in gold."
"Do I hear any one object?" howled Colline, striking three blows of his fist upon the table. "It is a bargain."
"Come on," said Marcel. "I agree."
"I will send for the picture to-morrow," said the Jew. "Come, gentlemen, let us start. Your places are all set."
The four friends descended the stairs, singing the chorus from "The Huguenots," "to the table, to the table."
Medicis treated the bohemians in a fashion altogether sumptuous. He offered them a lot of things which up to now had remained for them a mystery. Dating from this dinner, lobster ceased to be a myth to Schaunard, and he acquired a passion for that amphibian which was destined to increase to the verge of delirium.
The four friends went forth from this splendid feast as intoxicated as on a day of vintage. Their inebriety came near bearing deplorable fruits for Marcel, because as he passed the shop of his tailor, at two o'clock in the morning, he absolutely insisted upon awakening his creditor in order to give him, on account, the one hundred and fifty francs that he had just received. But a gleam of reason still awake in the brain of Colline held back the artist from the brink of this precipice.
A week after this festivity Marcel learned in what gallery his picture had found a place. Passing along the Faubourg Saint-Honore, he stopped in the midst of a crowd that seemed to be staring at a sign newly placed above a shop. This sign was none other than Marcel's painting, which had been sold by Medicis to a dealer in provisions. Only the "Passage of the Red Sea" had once again undergone a modification and bore a new title. A steamboat had been added to it, and it was now called "In the Port of Marseilles." A flattering ovation arose among the crowd when they discovered the picture. And Marcel turned away delighted with this triumph, and murmured softly: "The voice of the people is the voice of God!"
THE WOMAN AND THE CAT
BY MARCEL PREVOST
"Yes," said our old friend Tribourdeaux, a man of culture and a philosopher, which is a combination rarely found among army surgeons; "yes, the supernatural is everywhere; it surrounds us and hems us in and permeates us. If science pursues it, it takes flight and cannot be grasped. Our intellect resembles those ancestors of ours who cleared a few acres of forest; whenever they approached the limits of their clearing they heard low growls and saw gleaming eyes everywhere circling them about. I myself have had the sensation of having approached the limits of the unknown several times in my life, and on one occasion in particular."
A young lady present interrupted him:
"Doctor, you are evidently dying to tell us a story. Come now, begin!"
The doctor bowed.
"No, I am not in the least anxious, I assure you. I tell this story as seldom as possible, for it disturbs those who hear it, and it disturbs me also. However, if you wish it, here it is:
"In 1863 I was a young physician stationed at Orleans. In that patrician city, full of aristocratic old residences, it is difficult to find bachelor apartments; and, as I like both plenty of air and plenty of room, I took up my lodging on the first floor of a large building situated just outside the city, near Saint-Euverte. It had been originally constructed to serve as the warehouse and also as the dwelling of a manufacturer of rugs. In course of time the manufacturer had failed, and this big barrack that he had built, falling out of repair through lack of tenants, had been sold for a song with all its furnishings. The purchaser hoped to make a future profit out of his purchase, for the city was growing in that direction; and, as a matter of fact, I believe that at the present time the house is included within the city limits. When I took up my quarters there, however, the mansion stood alone on the verge of the open country, at the end of a straggling street on which a few stray houses produced at dusk the impression of a jaw from which most of the teeth have fallen out.
"I leased one-half of the first floor, an apartment of four rooms. For my bedroom and my study I took the two that fronted on the street; in the third room I set up some shelves for my wardrobe, and the other room I left empty. This made a very comfortable lodging for me, and I had, for a sort of promenade, a broad balcony that ran along the entire front of the building, or rather one-half of the balcony, since it was divided into two parts (please note this carefully) by a fan of ironwork, over which, however, one could easily climb.
"I had been living there for about two months when, one night in July on returning to my rooms, I saw with a good deal of surprise a light shining through the windows of the other apartment on the same floor, which I had supposed to be uninhabited. The effect of this light was extraordinary. It lit up with a pale, yet perfectly distinct, reflection, parts of the balcony, the street below, and a bit of the neighboring fields.
"I thought to myself, 'Aha! I have a neighbor."
"The idea indeed was not altogether agreeable, for I had been rather proud of my exclusive proprietorship. On reaching my bedroom I passed noiselessly out upon the balcony, but already the light had been extinguished. So I went back into my room, and sat down to read for an hour or two. From time to time I seemed to hear about me, as though within the walls, light footsteps; but after finishing my book I went to bed, and speedily fell asleep.
"About midnight I suddenly awoke with a curious feeling that something was standing beside me. I raised myself in bed, lit a candle, and this is what I saw. In the middle of the room stood an immense cat gazing upon me with phosphorescent eyes, and with its back slightly arched. It was a magnificent Angora, with long fur and a fluffy tail, and of a remarkable color—exactly like that of the yellow silk that one sees in cocoons—so that, as the light gleamed upon its coat, the animal seemed to be made of gold.
"It slowly moved toward me on its velvety paws, softly rubbing its sinuous body against my legs. I leaned over to stroke it, and it permitted my caress, purring, and finally leaping upon my knees. I noticed then that it was a female cat, quite young, and that she seemed disposed to permit me to pet her as long as ever I would. Finally, however, I put her down upon the floor, and tried to induce her to leave the room; but she leaped away from me and hid herself somewhere among the furniture, though as soon as I had blown out my candle, she jumped upon my bed. Being sleepy, however, I didn't molest her, but dropped off into a doze, and the next morning when I awoke in broad daylight I could find no sign of the animal at all.
"Truly, the human brain is a very delicate instrument, and one that is easily thrown out of gear. Before I proceed, just sum up for yourselves the facts that I have mentioned: a light seen and presently extinguished in an apartment supposed to be uninhabited; and a cat of a remarkable color, which appeared and disappeared in a way that was slightly mysterious. Now there isn't anything very strange about that, is there? Very well. Imagine, now, that these unimportant facts are repeated day after day and under the same conditions throughout a whole week, and then, believe me, they become of importance enough to impress the mind of a man who is living all alone, and to produce in him a slight disquietude such as I spoke of in commencing my story, and such as is always caused when one approaches the sphere of the unknown. The human mind is so formed that it always unconsciously applies the principle of the causa sufficiens. For every series of facts that are identical, it demands a cause, a law; and a vague dismay seizes upon it when it is unable to guess this cause and to trace out this law.
"I am no coward, but I have often studied the manifestation of fear in others, from its most puerile form in children up to its most tragic phase in madmen. I know that it is fed and nourished by uncertainties, although when one actually sets himself to investigate the cause, this fear is often transformed into simple curiosity.
"I made up my mind, therefore, to ferret out the truth. I questioned my caretaker, and found that he knew nothing about my neighbors. Every morning an old woman came to look after the neighboring apartment; my caretaker had tried to question her, but either she was completely deaf or else she was unwilling to give him any information, for she had refused to answer a single word. Nevertheless, I was able to explain satisfactorily the first thing that I had noted—that is to say, the sudden extinction of the light at the moment when I entered the house. I had observed that the windows next to mine were covered only by long lace curtains; and as the two balconies were connected, my neighbor, whether man or woman, had no doubt a wish to prevent any indiscreet inquisitiveness on my part, and therefore had always put out the light on hearing me come in. To verify this supposition, I tried a very simple experiment, which succeeded perfectly. I had a cold supper brought in one day about noon by my servant, and that evening I did not go out. When darkness came on, I took my station near the window. Presently I saw the balcony shining with the light that streamed through the windows of the neighboring apartment. At once I slipped quietly out upon my balcony, and stepped softly over the ironwork that separated the two parts. Although I knew that I was exposing myself to a positive danger, either of falling and breaking my neck, or of finding myself face to face with a man, I experienced no perturbation. Reaching the lighted window without having made the slightest noise, I found it partly open; its curtains, which for me were quite transparent since I was on the dark side of the window, made me wholly invisible to any one who should look toward the window from the interior of the room.
"I saw a vast chamber furnished quite elegantly, though it was obviously out of repair, and lighted by a lamp suspended from the ceiling. At the end of the room was a low sofa upon which was reclining a woman who seemed to me to be both young and pretty. Her loosened hair fell over her shoulders in a rain of gold. She was looking at herself in a hand mirror, patting herself, passing her arms over her lips, and twisting about her supple body with a curiously feline grace. Every movement that she made caused her long hair to ripple in glistening undulations.
"As I gazed upon her I confess that I felt a little troubled, especially when all of a sudden the young girl's eyes were fixed upon me—strange eyes, eyes of a phosphorescent green that gleamed like the flame of a lamp. I was sure that I was invisible, being on the dark side of a curtained window. That was simple enough, yet nevertheless I felt that I was seen. The girl, in fact, uttered a cry, and then turned and buried her face in the sofa-pillows.
"I raised the window, rushed into the room toward the sofa, and leaned over the face that she was hiding. As I did so, being really very remorseful, I began to excuse and to accuse myself, calling myself all sorts of names, and begging pardon for my indiscretion. I said that I deserved to be driven from her presence, but begged not to be sent away without at least a word of pardon. For a long time I pleaded thus without success, but at last she slowly turned, and I saw that her fair young face was stirred with just the faintest suggestion of a smile. When she caught a glimpse of me she murmured something of which I did not then quite get the meaning.
"'It is you,' she cried out; 'it is you!'
"As she said this, and as I looked at her, not knowing yet exactly what to answer, I was harassed by the thought: Where on earth have I already seen this face, this look, this very gesture? Little by little, however, I found my tongue, and after saying a few more words in apology for my unpardonable curiosity, and getting brief but not offended answers, I took leave of her, and, retiring through the window by which I had come, went back to my own room. Arriving there, I sat a long time by the window in the darkness, charmed by the face that I had seen, and yet singularly disquieted. This woman so beautiful, so amiable, living so near to me, who said to me, 'It is you,' exactly as though she had already known me, who spoke so little, who answered all my questions with evasion, excited in me a feeling of fear. She had, indeed, told me her name—Linda—and that was all. I tried in vain to drive away the remembrance of her greenish eyes, which in the darkness seemed still to gleam upon me, and of those glints which, like electric sparks, shone in her long hair whenever she stroked it with her hand. Finally, however, I retired for the night; but scarcely was my head upon the pillow when I felt some moving body descend upon my feet. The cat had appeared again. I tried to chase her away, but she kept returning again and again, until I ended by resigning myself to her presence; and, just as before, I went to sleep with this strange companion near me. Yet my rest was this time a troubled one, and broken by strange and fitful dreams.
"Have you ever experienced the sort of mental obsession which gradually causes the brain to be mastered by some single absurd idea—an idea almost insane, and one which your reason and your will alike repel, but which nevertheless gradually blends itself with your thought, fastens itself upon your mind, and grows and grows? I suffered cruelly in this way on the days that followed my strange adventure. Nothing new occurred, but in the evening, going out upon the balcony, I found Linda standing upon her side of the iron fan. We chatted together for a while in the half darkness, and, as before, I returned to my room to find that in a few moments the golden cat appeared, leaped upon my bed, made a nest for herself there, and remained until the morning. I knew now to whom the cat belonged, for Linda had answered that very same evening, on my speaking of it, 'Oh, yes, my cat; doesn't she look exactly as though she were made of gold?' As I said, nothing new had occurred, yet nevertheless a vague sort of terror began little by little to master me and to develop itself in my mind, at first merely as a bit of foolish fancy, and then as a haunting belief that dominated my entire thought, so that I perpetually seemed to see a thing which it was in reality quite impossible to see."
"Why, it's easy enough to guess," interrupted the young lady who had spoken at the beginning of his story.
"Linda and the cat were the same thing."
"I should not have been quite so positive as that," he said, "even then; but I cannot deny that this ridiculous fancy haunted me for many hours when I was endeavoring to snatch a little sleep amid the insomnia that a too active brain produced. Yes, there were moments when these two beings with greenish eyes, sinuous movements, golden hair, and mysterious ways, seemed to me to be blended into one, and to be merely the double manifestation of a single entity. As I said, I saw Linda again and again, but in spite of all my efforts to come upon her unexpectedly, I never was able to see them both at the same time. I tried to reason with myself, to convince myself that there was nothing really inexplicable in all of this, and I ridiculed myself for being afraid both of a woman and of a harmless cat. In truth, at the end of all my reasoning, I found that I was not so much afraid of the animal alone or of the woman alone, but rather of a sort of quality which existed in my fancy and inspired me with a fear of something that was incorporeal—fear of a manifestation of my own spirit, fear of a vague thought, which is, indeed, the very worst of fears.
"I began to be mentally disturbed. After long evenings spent in confidential and very unconventional chats with Linda, in which little by little my feelings took on the color of love, I passed long days of secret torment, such as incipient maniacs must experience. Gradually a resolve began to grow up in my mind, a desire that became more and more importunate in demanding a solution of this unceasing and tormenting doubt; and the more I cared for Linda, the more it seemed absolutely necessary to push this resolve to its fulfilment. I decided to kill the cat.
"One evening before meeting Linda on the balcony, I took out of my medical cabinet a jar of glycerin and a small bottle of hydrocyanic acid, together with one of those little pencils of glass which chemists use in mixing certain corrosive substances. That evening for the first time Linda allowed me to caress her. I held her in my arms and passed my hand over her long hair, which snapped and cracked under my touch in a succession of tiny sparks. As soon as I regained my room the golden cat, as usual, appeared before me. I called her to me; she rubbed herself against me with arched back and extended tail, purring the while with the greatest amiability. I took the glass pencil in my hand, moistened the point in the glycerin, and held it out to the animal, which licked it with her long red tongue. I did this three or four times, but the next time I dipped the pencil in the acid. The cat unhesitatingly touched it with her tongue. In an instant she became rigid, and a moment after, a frightful tetanic convulsion caused her to leap thrice into the air, and then to fall upon the floor with a dreadful cry—a cry that was truly human. She was dead!
"With the perspiration starting from my forehead and with trembling hands I threw myself upon the floor beside the body that was not yet cold. The starting eyes had a look that froze me with horror. The blackened tongue was thrust out between the teeth; the limbs exhibited the most remarkable contortions. I mustered all my courage with a violent effort of will, took the animal by the paws, and left the house. Hurrying down the silent street, I proceeded to the quays along the banks of the Loire, and, on reaching them, threw my burden into the river. Until daylight I roamed around the city, just where I know not; and not until the sky began to grow pale and then to be flushed with light did I at last have the courage to return home. As I laid my hand upon the door, I shivered. I had a dread of finding there still living, as in the celebrated tale of Poe, the animal that I had so lately put to death. But no, my room was empty. I fell half-fainting upon my bed, and for the first time I slept, with a perfect sense of being all alone, a sleep like that of a beast or of an assassin, until evening came."
Some one here interrupted, breaking in upon the profound silence in which we had been listening.
"I can guess the end. Linda disappeared at the same time as the cat."
"You see perfectly well," replied Tribourdeaux, "that there exists between the facts of this story a curious coincidence, since you are able to guess so exactly their relation. Yes, Linda disappeared. They found in her apartment her dresses, her linen, all even to the night-robe that she was to have worn that night, but there was nothing that could give the slightest clue to her identity. The owner of the house had let the apartment to 'Mademoiselle Linda, concert-singer,' He knew nothing more. I was summoned before the police magistrate. I had been seen on the night of her disappearance roaming about with a distracted air in the vicinity of the river. Luckily the judge knew me; luckily also, he was a man of no ordinary intelligence. I related to him privately the entire story, just as I have been telling it to you. He dismissed the inquiry; yet I may say that very few have ever had so narrow, an escape as mine from a criminal trial."
For several moments the silence of the company was unbroken. Finally a gentleman, wishing to relieve the tension, cried out:
"Come now, doctor, confess that this is really all fiction; that you merely want to prevent these ladies from getting any sleep to-night."
Tribourdeaux bowed stiffly, his face unsmiling and a little pale.
"You may take it as you will," he said.
GIL BLAS AND DR. SANGRADO
BY ALAIN RENE LE SAGE
As I was on my way, who should come across me but Dr. Sangrado, whom I had not seen since the day of my master's death. I took the liberty of touching my hat. He knew me in a twinkling.
"Heyday!" said he, with as much warmth as his temperament would allow him, "the very lad I wanted to see; you have never been out of my thought. I have occasion for a clever fellow about me, and pitched upon you as the very thing, if you can read and write."
"Sir," replied I, "if that is all you require, I am your man."
"In that case," rejoined he, "we need look no further. Come home with me; you will be very comfortable; I shall behave to you like a brother. You will have no wages, but everything will be found you. You shall eat and drink according to the true scientific system, and be taught to cure all diseases. In a word, you shall rather be my young Sangrado than my footman."
I closed in with the doctor's proposal, in the hope of becoming an Esculapius under so inspired a master. He carried me home forthwith, to install me in my honorable employment; which honorable employment consisted in writing down the name and residence of the patients who sent for him in his absence. There had indeed been a register for this purpose, kept by an old domestic; but she had not the gift of spelling accurately, and wrote a most perplexing hand. This account I was to keep. It might truly be called a bill of mortality; for my members all went from bad to worse during the short time they continued in this system. I was a sort of bookkeeper for the other world, to take places in the stage, and to see that the first come were the first served. My pen was always in my hand, for Dr. Sangrado had more practise than any physician of his time in Valladolid. He had got into reputation with the public by a certain professional slang, humored by a medical face, and some extraordinary cures more honored by implicit faith than scrupulous investigation.
He was in no want of patients, nor consequently of property. He did not keep the best house in the world; we lived with some little attention to economy. The usual bill of fare consisted of peas, beans, boiled apples, or cheese. He considered this food as best suited to the human stomach; that is to say, as most amenable to the grinders, whence it was to encounter the process of digestion. Nevertheless, easy as was their passage, he was not for stopping the way with too much of them; and, to be sure, he was in the right. But though he cautioned the maid and me against repletion in respect of solids, it was made up by free permission to drink as much water as we liked. Far from prescribing us any limits in that direction, he would tell us sometimes:
"Drink, my children; health consists in the pliability and moisture of the parts. Drink water by pailfuls; it is a universal dissolvent; water liquefies all the salts. Is the course of the blood a little sluggish? This grand principle sets it forward. Too rapid? Its career is checked."
Our doctor was so orthodox on this head that, though advanced in years, he drank nothing himself but water. He defined old age to be a natural consumption which dries us up and wastes us away; on this principle he deplored the ignorance of those who call wine "old men's milk." He maintained that wine wears them out and corrodes them; and pleaded with all the force of his eloquence against that liquor, fatal in common both to the young and old—that friend with a serpent in its bosom—that pleasure with a dagger under its girdle.
In spite of these fine arguments, at the end of a week I felt an ailment which I was blasphemous enough to saddle on the universal dissolvent and the new-fangled diet. I stated my symptoms to my master, in the hope that he would relax the rigor of his regimen and qualify my meals with a little wine; but his hostility to that liquor was inflexible.
"If you have not philosophy enough," said he, "for pure water, there are innocent infusions to strengthen the stomach against the nausea of aqueous quaffings. Sage, for example, has a very pretty flavor; and if you wish to heighten it into a debauch, it is only mixing rosemary, wild poppy, and other simples with it—but no compounds!"
In vain did he sing the praise of water, and teach me the secret of composing delicious messes. I was so abstemious that, remarking my moderation, he said: