It was Rose (who, as Dagobert said, was doing duty as eldest) that spoke for herself and for her sister.
CHAPTER VI. THE SECRET.
"First of all, good Dagobert," said Rose, in a gracefully caressing manner, "as we are going to tell our secret—you must promise not to scold us."
"You will not scold your darlings, will you?" added Blanche, in a no less coaxing voice.
"Granted!" replied Dagobert gravely; "particularly as I should not well know how to set about it—but why should I scold you."
"Because we ought perhaps to have told you sooner what we are going to tell you."
"Listen, my children," said Dagobert sententiously, after reflecting a moment on this case of conscience; "one of two things must be. Either you were right, or else you were wrong, to hide this from me. If you were right, very well; if you were wrong, it is done: so let's say no more about it. Go on—I am all attention."
Completely reassured by this luminous decision, Rose resumed, while she exchanged a smile with her sister.
"Only think, Dagobert; for two successive nights we have had a visitor."
"A visitor!" cried the soldier, drawing himself up suddenly in his chair.
"Yes, a charming visitor—he is so very fair."
"Fair—the devil!" cried Dagobert, with a start.
"Yes, fair—and with blue eyes," added Blanche.
"Blue eyes—blue devils!" and Dagobert again bounded on his seat.
"Yes, blue eyes—as long as that," resumed Rose, placing the tip of one forefinger about the middle of the other.
"Zounds! they might be as long as that," said the veteran, indicating the whole length of his term from the elbow, "they might be as long as that, and it would have nothing to do with it. Fair, and with blue eyes. Pray what may this mean, young ladies?" and Dagobert rose from his seat with a severe and painfully unquiet look.
"There now, Dagobert, you have begun to scold us already."
"Just at the very commencement," added Blanche.
"Commencement!—what, is there to be a sequel? a finish?"
"A finish? we hope not," said Rose, laughing like mad.
"All we ask is, that it should last forever," added Blanche, sharing in the hilarity of her sister.
Dagobert looked gravely from one to the other of the two maidens, as if trying to guess this enigma; but when he saw their sweet, innocent faces gracefully animated by a frank, ingenuous laugh, he reflected that they would not be so gay if they had any serious matter for self-reproach, and he felt pleased at seeing them so merry in the midst of their precarious position.
"Laugh on, my children!" he said. "I like so much to see you laugh."
Then, thinking that was not precisely the way in which he ought to treat the singular confession of the young girls, he added in a gruff voice: "Yes, I like to see you laugh—but not when you receive fair visitors with blue eyes, young ladies!—Come, acknowledge that I'm an old fool to listen to such nonsense—you are only making game of me."
"Nay, what we tell you is quite true."
"You know we never tell stories," added Rose.
"They are right—they never fib," said the soldier, in renewed perplexity.
"But how the devil is such a visit possible? I sleep before your door—Spoil-sport sleeps under your window—and all the blue eyes and fair locks in the world must come in by one of those two ways—and, if they had tried it, the dog and I, who have both of us quick ears, would have received their visits after our fashion. But come, children! pray, speak to the purpose. Explain yourselves!"
The two sisters, who saw, by the expression of Dagobert's countenance, that he felt really uneasy, determined no longer to trifle with his kindness. They exchanged a glance, and Rose, taking in her little hand the coarse, broad palm of the veteran, said to him: "Come, do not plague yourself! We will tell you all about the visits of our friend, Gabriel."
"There you are again!—He has a name, then?"
"Certainly, he has a name. It is Gabriel."
"Is it not a pretty name, Dagobert? Oh, you will see and love, as we do, our beautiful Gabriel!"
"I'll love your beautiful Gabriel, will I?" said the veteran, shaking his head—"Love your beautiful Gabriel?—that's as it may be. I must first know—" Then, interrupting himself, he added: "It is queer. That reminds me of something."
"Of what, Dagobert?"
"Fifteen years ago, in the last letter that your father, on his return from France, brought me from my wife: she told me that, poor as she was, and with our little growing Agricola on her hands, she had taken in a poor deserted child, with the face of a cherub, and the name of Gabriel—and only a short time since I heard of him again."
"And from whom, then?"
"You shall know that by and by."
"Well, then—since you have a Gabriel of your own—there is the more reason that you should love ours."
"Yours! but who is yours? I am on thorns till you tell me."
"You know, Dagobert," resumed Rose, "that Blanche and I are accustomed to fall asleep, holding each other by the hand."
"Yes, yes, I have often seen you in your cradle. I was never tired of looking at you; it was so pretty."
"Well, then—two nights ago, we had just fallen asleep, when we beheld—"
"Oh, it was in a dream!" cried Dagobert. "Since you were asleep, it was in a dream!"
"Certainly, in a dream—how else would you have it?"
"Pray let my sister go on with her tale!"
"All, well and good!" said the soldier with a sigh of satisfaction; "well and good! To be sure, I was tranquil enough in any case—because—but still—I like it better to be a dream. Continue, my little Rose."
"Once asleep, we both dreamt the same thing."
"What! both the same?"
"Yes, Dagobert; for the next morning when we awoke we related our two dreams to each other."
"And they were exactly alike."
"That's odd enough, my children; and what was this dream all about?"
"In our dream, Blanche and I were seated together, when we saw enter a beautiful angel, with a long white robe, fair locks, blue eyes, and so handsome and benign a countenance, that we elapsed our hands as if to pray to him. Then he told us, in a soft voice, that he was called Gabriel; that our mother had sent him to be our guardian angel, and that he would never abandon us."
"And, then," added Blanche, "he took us each by the hand, and, bending his fair face over us, looked at us for a long time in silence, with so much goodness—with so much goodness, that we could not withdraw our eyes from his."
"Yes," resumed Rose, "and his look seemed, by turns, to attract us, or to go to our hearts. At length, to our great sorrow, Gabriel quitted us, having told us that we should see him again the following night."
"And did he make his appearance?"
"Certainly. Judge with what impatience we waited the moment of sleep, to see if our friend would return, and visit us in our slumbers."
"Humph!" said Dagobert, scratching his forehead; "this reminds me, young ladies, that you kept on rubbing your eyes last evening, and pretending to be half asleep. I wager, it was all to send me away the sooner, and to get to your dream as fast as possible."
"The reason being, you could not say to me, as you would to Spoil-sport: Lie down, Dagobert! Well—so your friend Gabriel came back?"
"Yes, and this time he talked to us a great deal, and gave us, in the name of our mother, such touching, such noble counsels, that the next day, Rose and I spent our whole time in recalling every word of our guardian angel—and his face, and his look—"
"This reminds me again, young ladies, that you were whispering all along the road this morning; and that when I spoke of white, you answered black."
"Yes, Dagobert, we were thinking of Gabriel."
"And, ever since, we love him as well as he loves us."
"But he is only one between both of you!"
"Was not our mother one between us?"
"And you, Dagobert—are you not also one for us both?"
"True, true! And yet, do you know, I shall finish by being jealous of that Gabriel?"
"You are our friend by day—he is our friend by night."
"Let's understand it clearly. If you talk of him all day, and dream of him all night, what will there remain for me?"
"There will remain for you your two orphans, whom you love so much," said Rose.
"And who have only you left upon earth," added Blanche, in a caressing tongue.
"Humph! humph! that's right, coax the old man over, Nay, believe me, my children," added the soldier, tenderly, "I am quite satisfied with my lot. I can afford to let you have your Gabriel. I felt sure that Spoil sport and myself could take our rest in quiet. After all, there is nothing so astonishing in what you tell me; your first dream struck your fancy, and you talked so much about it that you had a second; nor should I be surprised if you were to see this fine fellow a third time."
"Oh, Dagobert! do not make a jest of it! They are only dreams, but we think our mother sends them to us. Did she not tell us that orphan children were watched over by guardian angels? Well, Gabriel is our guardian angel; he will protect us, and he will protect you also."
"Very kind of him to think of me; but you see, my dear children, for the matter of defence, I prefer the dog; he is less fair than your angel, but he has better teeth, and that is more to be depended on."
"How provoking you are, Dagobert—always jesting!"
"It is true; you can laugh at everything."
"Yes, I am astonishingly gay; I laugh with my teeth shut, in the style of old Jovial. Come, children, don't scold me: I know I am wrong. The remembrance of your dear mother is mixed with this dream, and you do well to speak of it seriously. Besides," added he, with a grave air, "dreams will sometimes come true. In Spain, two of the Empress's dragoons, comrades of mine, dreamt, the night before their death, that they would be poisoned by the monks—and so it happened. If you continue to dream of this fair angel Gabriel, it is—it is—why, it is, because you are amused by it; and, as you have none too many pleasures in the daytime, you may as well get an agreeable sleep at night. But, now, my children, I have also much to tell you; it will concern your mother; promise me not to be sad."
"Be satisfied! when we think of her we are not sad, though serious."
"That is well. For fear of grieving you, I have always delayed the moment of telling what your poor mother would have confided to you as soon as you were no longer children. But she died before she had time to do so, and that which I have to tell broke her heart—as it nearly did mine. I put off this communication as long as I could, taking for pretext that I would say nothing till we came to the field of battle where your father was made prisoner. That gave me time; but the moment is now come; I can shuffle it off no longer."
"We listen, Dagobert," responded the two maidens, with an attentive and melancholy air.
After a moment's silence, during which he appeared to reflect, the veteran thus addressed the young girls:
"Your father, General Simon, was the son of a workman, who remained a workman; for, notwithstanding all that the general could say or do, the old man was obstinate in not quitting his trade. He had a heart of gold and a head of iron, just like his son. You may suppose, my children, that when your father, who had enlisted as a private soldier, became a general and a count of the empire, it was not without toil or without glory."
"A count of the Empire! what is that, Dagobert?"
"Flummery—a title, which the Emperor gave over and above the promotion, just for the sake of saying to the people, whom he loved because he was one of them: Here, children! You wish to play at nobility! You shall be nobles. You wish to play at royalty! You shall be kings. Take what you like—nothing is too good for you—enjoy yourselves!"
"Kings!" said the two girls, joining their hands in admiration.
"Kings of the first water. Oh, he was no niggard of his crowns, our Emperor! I had a bed-fellow of mine, a brave soldier, who was afterwards promoted to be king. This flattered us; for, if it was not one, it was the other. And so, at this game, your father became count; but, count or not, he was one of the best and bravest generals of the army."
"He was handsome, was he not, Dagobert?—mother always said so."
"Oh, yes! indeed he was—but quite another thing from your fair guardian angel. Picture to yourself a fine, dark man, who looked splendid in his full uniform, and could put fire into the soldiers' hearts. With him to lead, we would have charged up into Heaven itself—that is, if Heaven had, permitted it," added Dagobert, not wishing to wound in any way the religious beliefs of the orphans.
"And father was as good as he was brave, Dagobert."
"Good, my children? Yes, I should say so!—He could bend a horse-shoe in his hand as you would bend a card, and the day he was taken prisoner he had cut down the Prussian artillerymen on their very cannon. With strength and courage like that, how could he be otherwise than good? It is then about nineteen years ago, not far from this place—on the spot I showed you before we arrived at the village—that the general, dangerously wounded, fell from his horse. I was following him at the time, and ran to his assistance. Five minutes after we were made prisoners—and by whom think you?—by a Frenchman."
"Yes, an emigrant marquis, a colonel in the service of Russia," answered Dagobert, with bitterness. "And so, when this marquis advanced towards us, and said to the general: 'Surrender, sir, to a countryman!'—'A Frenchman, who fights against France,' replied the general, 'is no longer my countryman; he is a traitor, and I'd never surrender to a traitor!' And, wounded though he was, he dragged himself up to a Russian grenadier, and delivered him his sabre, saying: 'I surrender to you my brave fellow!' The marquis became pale with rage at it."
The orphans looked at each other with pride, and a rich crimson mantled their cheeks, as they exclaimed: "Oh, our brave father!"
"Ah, those children," said Dagobert, as he proudly twirled his moustache. "One sees they have soldier's blood in their veins! Well," he continued, "we were now prisoners. The general's last horse had been killed under him; and, to perform the journey, he mounted Jovial, who had not been wounded that day. We arrived at Warsaw, and there it was that the general first saw your mother. She was called the Pearl of Warsaw; that is saying everything. Now he, who admired all that is good and beautiful, fell in love with her almost immediately; and she loved him in return; but her parents had promised her to another—and that other was the same—"
Dagobert was unable to proceed. Rose uttered a piercing cry, and pointed in terror to the window.
CHAPTER VII. THE TRAVELER.
Upon the cry of the young girl, Dagobert rose abruptly.
"What is the matter, Rose?"
"There—there!" she said, pointing to the window. "I thought I saw a hand move the pelisse."
She had not concluded these words before Dagobert rushed to the window and opened it, tearing down the mantle, which had been suspended from the fastening.
It was still dark night, and the wind was blowing hard. The soldier listened, but could hear nothing.
Returning to fetch the lamp from the table, he shaded the flame with his hand, and strove to throw the light outside. Still he saw nothing. Persuaded that a gust of wind had disturbed and shaken the pelisse: and that Rose had been deceived by her own fears he again shut the window.
"Be satisfied, children! The wind is very high; it is that which lifted the corner of the pelisse."
"Yet methought I saw plainly the fingers which had hold of it," said Rose, still trembling.
"I was looking at Dagobert," said Blanche, "and I saw nothing."
"There was nothing to see, my children; the thing is clear enough. The window is at least eight feet above the ground; none but a giant could reach it without a ladder. Now, had any one used a ladder, there would not have been time to remove it; for, as soon as Rose cried out, I ran to the window, and, when I held out the light, I could see nothing."
"I must have been deceived," said Rose.
"You may be sure, sister, it was only the wind," added Blanche.
"Then I beg pardon for having disturbed you, my good Dagobert."
"Never mind!" replied the soldier musingly, "I am only sorry that Spoil sport is not come back. He would have watched the window, and that would have quite tranquillized you. But he no doubt scented the stable of his comrade, Jovial, and will have called in to bid him good-night on the road. I have half a mind to go and fetch him."
"Oh, no, Dagobert! do not leave us alone," cried the maidens; "we are too much afraid."
"Well, the dog is not likely to remain away much longer, and I am sure we shall soon hear him scratching at the door, so we will continue our story," said Dagobert, as he again seated himself near the head of the bed, but this time with his face towards the window.
"Now the general was prisoner at Warsaw," continued he, "and in love with your mother, whom they wished to marry to another. In 1814, we learned the finish of the war, the banishment of the Emperor to the Isle of Elba, and the return of the Bourbons. In concert with the Prussians and Russians, who had brought them back, they had exiled the Emperor. Learning all this, your mother said to the general: 'The war is finished; you are free, but your Emperor is in trouble. You owe everything to him; go and join him in his misfortunes. I know not when we shall meet again, but I shall never marry any one but you, I am yours till death!'—Before he set out the general called me to him, and said: 'Dagobert, remain here; Mademoiselle Eva may have need of you to fly from her family, if they should press too hard upon her; our correspondence will have to pass through your hands; at Paris, I shall see your wife and son; I will comfort them, and tell them you are my friend.'"
"Always the same," said Rose, with emotion, as she looked affectionately at Dagobert.
"As faithful to the father and mother as to their children," added Blanche.
"To love one was to love them all," replied the soldier. "Well, the general joined the Emperor at Elba; I remained at Warsaw, concealed in the neighborhood of your mother's house; I received the letters, and conveyed them to her clandestinely. In one of those letters—I feel proud to tell you of it my children—the general informed me that the Emperor himself had remembered me."
"What, did he know you?"
"A little, I flatter myself—'Oh! Dagobert!' said he to your father, who was talking to him about me; 'a horse-grenadier of my old guard—a soldier of Egypt and Italy, battered with wounds—an old dare-devil, whom I decorated with my own hand at Wagram—I have not forgotten him!'—I vow, children, when your mother read that to me, I cried like a fool."
"The Emperor—what a fine golden face he has on the silver cross with the red ribbon that you would sometimes show us when we behaved well."
"That cross—given by him—is my relic. It is there in my knapsack, with whatever we have of value—our little purse and papers. But, to return to your mother; it was a great consolation to her, when I took her letters from the general, or talked with her about him—for she suffered much—oh, so much! In vain her parents tormented and persecuted her; she always answered: 'I will never marry any one but General Simon.' A spirited woman, I can tell you—resigned, but wonderfully courageous. One day she received a letter from the general; he had left the Isle of Elba with the Emperor; the war had again broken out, a short campaign, but as fierce as ever, and heightened by soldiers' devotion. In that campaign of France; my children, especially at Montmirail, your father fought like a lion, and his division followed his example it was no longer valor—it was frenzy. He told me that, in Champagne, the peasants killed so many of those Prussians, that their fields were manured with them for years. Men, women, children, all rushed upon them. Pitchforks, stones, mattocks, all served for the slaughter. It was a true wolf hunt!"
The veins swelled on the soldier's forehead, and his cheeks flushed as he spoke, for this popular heroism recalled to his memory the sublime enthusiasm of the wars of the republic—those armed risings of a whole people, from which dated the first steps of his military career, as the triumphs of the Empire were the last days of his service.
The orphans, too, daughters of a soldier and a brave woman, did not shrink from the rough energy of these words, but felt their cheeks glow, and their hearts beat tumultuously.
"How happy we are to be the children of so brave a father!" cried Blanche.
"It is a happiness and an honor too, my children—for the evening of the battle of Montmirail, the Emperor, to the joy of the whole army, made your father Duke of Ligny and Marshal of France."
"Marshal of France!" said Rose in astonishment, without understanding the exact meaning of the words.
"Duke of Ligny!" added Blanche with equal surprise.
"Yes; Peter Simon, the son of a workman, became duke and marshal—there is nothing higher except a king!" resumed Dagobert, proudly. "That's how the Emperor treated the sons of the people, and, therefore, the people were devoted to him. It was all very fine to tell them 'Your Emperor makes you food for cannon.' 'Stuff!' replied the people, who are no fools, 'another would make us food for misery. We prefer the cannon, with the chance of becoming captain or colonel, marshal, king—or invalid; that's better than to perish with hunger, cold, and age, on straw in a garret, after toiling forty years for others.'"
"Even in France—even in Paris, that beautiful city—do you mean to say there are poor people who die of hunger and misery, Dagobert?"
"Even in Paris? Yes, my children; therefore, I come back to the point, the cannon is better. With it, one has the chance of becoming, like your father, duke and marshal: when I say duke and marshal, I am partly right and partly wrong, for the title and the rank were not recognized in the end; because, after Montmirail, came a day of gloom, a day of great mourning, when, as the general has told me, old soldiers like myself wept—yes, wept!—on the evening of a battle. That day, my children, was Waterloo!"
There was in these simple words of Dagobert an expression of such deep sorrow, that it thrilled the hearts of the orphans.
"Alas!" resumed the soldier, with a sigh, "there are days which seem to have a curse on them. That same day, at Waterloo, the general fell, covered with wounds, at the head of a division of the Guards. When he was nearly cured, which was not for a long time, he solicited permission to go to St. Helena—another island at the far end of the world, to which the English had carried the Emperor, to torture him at their leisure; for if he was very fortunate in the first instance, he had to go through a deal of hard rubs at last, my poor children."
"If you talk in that way, you will make us cry, Dagobert."
"There is cause enough for it—the Emperor suffered so much! He bled cruelly at the heart believe me. Unfortunately, the general was not with him at St. Helena; he would have been one more to console him; but they would not allow him to go. Then, exasperated, like so many others, against the Bourbons, the general engaged in a conspiracy to recall the son of the Emperor. He relied especially on one regiment, nearly all composed of his old soldiers, and he went down to a place in Picardy, where they were then in garrison; but the conspiracy had already been divulged. Arrested the moment of his arrival, the general was taken before the colonel of the regiment. And this colonel," said the soldier, after a brief pause, "who do you think it was again? Bah! it would be too long to tell you all, and would only make you more sad; but it was a man whom your father had many reasons to hate. When he found himself face to face with him, he said: 'if you are not a coward, you will give me one hour's liberty, and we will fight to the death; I hate you for this, I despise you for that'—and so on. The colonel accepted the challenge, and gave your father his liberty till the morrow. The duel was a desperate one; the colonel was left for dead on the spot."
"The general was yet wiping his sword, when a faithful friend came to him, and told him he had only just time to save himself. In fact, he happily succeeded in leaving France—yes, happily—for a fortnight after, he was condemned to death as a conspirator."
"What misfortunes, good heaven!"
"There was some luck, however, in the midst of his troubles. Your mother had kept her promise bravely, and was still waiting for him. She had written to him: 'The Emperor first, and me next!' both unable to do anything more for the Emperor, nor even for his son, the general, banished from France, set out for Warsaw. Your mother had lost her parents, and was now free; they were married—and I am one of the witnesses to the marriage."
"You are right, Dagobert; that was great happiness in the midst of great misfortunes!"
"Yes, they were very happy; but, as it happened with all good hearts, the happier they were themselves, the more they felt for the sorrows of others—and there was quite enough to grieve them at Warsaw. The Russians had again begun to treat the Poles as their slaves; your brave mother, though of French origin, was a Pole in heart and soul; she spoke out boldly what others did not dare speak in a whisper, and all the unfortunate called her their protecting angel. That was enough to excite the suspicions of the Russian governor. One day, a friend of the general's, formerly a colonel in the lancers, a brave and worthy man, was condemned to be exiled to Siberia for a military plot against the Russians. He took refuge in your father's house, and lay hid there; but his retreat was discovered. During the next night, a party of Cossacks, commanded by an officer, and followed by a travelling-carriage, arrive at our door; they rouse the general from his sleep and take him away with them."
"Oh, heaven! what did they mean to do with him?"
"Conduct him out of the Russian dominions, with a charge never to return, on pain of perpetual imprisonment. His last words were: 'Dagobert, I entrust to thee my wife and child!'—for it wanted yet some months of the time when you were to be born. Well, notwithstanding that, they exiled your mother to Siberia; it was an opportunity to get rid of her; she did too much good at Warsaw, and they feared her accordingly. Not content with banishing her, they confiscated all her property; the only favor she could obtain was, that I should accompany her, and, had it not been for Jovial, whom the general had given to me, she would have had to make the journey on foot. It was thus, with her on horseback, and I leading her as I lead you, my children, that we arrived at the poverty-stricken village, where, three months after, you poor little things were born!"
"And our father?"
"It was impossible for him to return to Russia; impossible for your mother to think of flight, with two children; impossible for the general to write to her, as he knew not where she was."
"So, since that time, you have had no news of him?"
"Yes, my children—once we had news."
"And by whom?"
After a moment's silence, Dagobert resumed with a singular expression of countenance: "By whom?—by one who is not like other men. Yes—that you may understand me better, I will relate to you an extraordinary adventure, which happened to your father during his last French campaign. He had been ordered by the Emperor to carry a battery, which was playing heavily on our army; after several unsuccessful efforts, the general put himself at the head of a regiment of cuirassiers, and charged the battery, intending, as was his custom, to cut down the men at their guns. He was on horseback, just before the mouth of a cannon, where all the artillerymen had been either killed or wounded, when one of them still found strength to raise himself upon one knee, and to apply the lighted match to the touchhole—and that when your father was about ten paces in front of the loaded piece."
"Oh! what a peril for our father!"
"Never, he told me, had he run such imminent danger for he saw the artilleryman apply the match, and the gun go off—but, at the very nick, a man of tall stature, dressed as a peasant, and whom he had not before remarked, threw himself in front of the cannon."
"Unfortunate creature! what a horrible death!"
"Yes," said Dagobert, thoughtfully; "it should have been so. He ought by rights to have been blown into a thousand pieces. But no—nothing of the kind!"
"What do you tell us?"
"What the general told me. 'At the moment when the gun went off,' as he often repeated to me, 'I shut my eyes by an involuntary movement, that I might not see the mutilated body of the poor wretch who had sacrificed himself in my place. When I again opened them, the first thing I saw in the midst of the smoke, was the tall figure of this man, standing erect and calm on the same spot, and casting a sad mild look on the artilleryman, who, with one knee on the ground, and his body thrown backward, gazed on him in as much terror as if he had been the devil. Afterwards, I lost sight of this man in the tumult,' added your father."
"Bless me Dagobert! how can this be possible?"
"That is just what I said to the general. He answered me that he had never been able to explain to himself this event, which seemed as incredible as it was true. Moreover, your father must have been greatly struck with the countenance of this man, who appeared, he said, about thirty years of age—for he remarked, that his extremely black eyebrows were joined together, and formed, as it were, one line from temple to temple, so that he seemed to have a black streak across his forehead. Remember this, my children; you will soon see why."
"Oh, Dagobert! we shall not forget it," said the orphans, growing more and more astonished as he proceeded.
"Is it not strange—this man with a black seam on his forehead?"
"Well, you shall hear. The general had, as I told you, been left for dead at Waterloo. During the night which he passed on the field of battle, in a sort of delirium brought on by the fever of his wounds, he saw, or fancied he saw, this same man bending over him, with a look of great mildness and deep melancholy, stanching his wounds, and using every effort to revive him. But as your father, whose senses were still wandering, repulsed his kindness saying, that after such a defeat, it only remained to die—it appeared as if this man replied to him; 'You must live for Eva!' meaning your mother, whom the general had left at Warsaw, to join the Emperor, and make this campaign of France."
"How strange, Dagobert!—And since then, did our father never see this man?"
"Yes, he saw him—for it was he who brought news of the general to your poor mother."
"When was that? We never heard of it."
"You remember that, on the day your mother died, you went to the pine forest with old Fedora?"
"Yes," answered Rose, mournfully; "to fetch some heath, of which our mother was so fond."
"Poor mother!" added Blanche; "she appeared so well that morning, that we could not dream of the calamity which awaited us before night."
"True, my children; I sang and worked that morning in the garden, expecting, no more than you did, what was to happen. Well, as I was singing at my work, on a sudden I heard a voice ask me in French: 'Is this the village of Milosk?'—I turned round, and saw before me a stranger; I looked at him attentively, and, instead of replying, fell back two steps, quite stupefied."
"He was of tall stature, very pale, with a high and open forehead; but his eyebrows met, and seemed to form one black streak across it."
"Then it was the same man who had twice been with our father in battle?"
"Yes—it was he."
"But, Dagobert," said Rose, thoughtfully, "is it not a long time since these battles?"
"About sixteen years."
"And of what age was this stranger?"
"Hardly more than thirty."
"Then how can it be the same man, who sixteen years before, had been with our father in the wars?"
"You are right," said Dagobert, after a moment's silence, and shrugging his shoulders: "I may have been deceived by a chance likeness—and yet—"
"Or, if it were the same, he could not have got older all that while."
"But did you ask him, if he had not formerly relieved our father?"
"At first I was so surprised that I did not think of it; and afterwards, he remained so short a time, that I had no opportunity. Well, he asked me for the village of Milosk. 'You are there, sir,' said I, 'but how do you know that I am a Frenchman?' 'I heard you singing as I passed,' replied he; 'could you tell me the house of Madame Simon, the general's wife?' 'She lives here, sir.' Then looking at me for some seconds in silence, he took me by the hand and said: 'You are the friend of General Simon—his best friend?' Judge of my astonishment, as I answered: 'But, sir, how do you know?' 'He has often spoken of you with gratitude.' 'You have seen the general then?' 'Yes, some time ago, in India. I am also his friend: I bring news of him to his wife, whom I knew to be exiled in Siberia. At Tobolsk, whence I come, I learned that she inhabits this village. Conduct me to her!'"
"The good traveller—I love him already," said Rose.
"Yes, being father's friend."
"I begged him to wait an instant, whilst I went to inform your mother, so that the surprise might not do her harm; five minutes after, he was beside her."
"And what kind of man was this traveller, Dagobert?"
"He was very tall; he wore a dark pelisse, and a fur cap, and had long black hair."
"Was he handsome?"
"Yes, my children—very handsome; but with so mild and melancholy an air, that it pained my heart to see him."
"Poor man! he had doubtless known some great sorrow."
"Your mother had been closeted with him for some minutes, when she called me to her and said that she had just received good news of the general. She was in tears, and had before her a large packet of papers; it was a kind of journal, which your father had written every evening to console himself; not being able to speak to her, he told the paper all that he would have told her."
"Oh! where are these papers, Dagobert?"
"There, in the knapsack, with my cross and our purse. One day I will give them to you: but I have picked out a few leaves here and there for you to read presently. You will see why."
"Had our father been long in India?"
"I gathered from the few words which your mother said, that the general had gone to that country, after fighting for the Greeks against the Turks—for he always liked to side with the weak against the strong. In India he made fierce war against the English, they had murdered our prisoners in pontoons, and tortured the Emperor at St. Helena, and the war was a doubly good one, for in harming them he served a just cause."
"What cause did he serve then?"
"That of one of the poor native princes, whose territories the English, lay waste, till the day when they can take possession of them against law and right. You see, my children, it was once more the weak against the strong, and your father did not miss this opportunity. In a few months he had so well-trained and disciplined the twelve or fifteen thousand men of the prince, that, in two encounters, they cut to pieces the English sent against them, and who, no doubt, had in their reckoning left out your brave father, my children. But come, you shall read some pages of his journal, which will tell you more and better than I can. Moreover, you will find in them a name which you ought always to remember; that's why I chose this passage."
"Oh, what happiness! To read the pages written by our father, is almost to hear him speak," said Rose.
"It is as if he were close beside us," added Blanche.
And the girls stretched out their hands with eagerness, to catch hold of the leaves that Dagobert had taken from his pocket. Then, by a simultaneous movement, full of touching grace, they pressed the writing of their father in silence to their lips.
"You will see also, my children, at the end of this letter, why I was surprised that your guardian angel, as you say, should be called Gabriel. Read, read," added the soldier, observing the puzzled air of the orphans. "Only I ought to tell you that, when he wrote this, the general had not yet fallen in with the traveller who brought the papers."
Rose, sitting up in her bed, took the leaves, and began to read in a soft and trembling voice, Blanche, with her head resting on her sister's shoulder, followed attentively every word. One could even see, by the slight motion of her lips, that she too was reading, but only to herself.
CHAPTER VIII. EXTRACTS FROM GENERAL SIMON'S DIARY.
Bivouac on the Mountains of Avers February the 20th, 1830.
"Each time I add some pages to this journal, written now in the heart of India, where the fortune of my wandering and proscribed existence has thrown me—a journal which, alas! my beloved Eva, you may never read—I experience a sweet, yet painful emotion; for, although to converse thus with you is a consolation, it brings back the bitter thought that I am unable to see or speak to you.
"Still, if these pages should ever meet your eyes, your generous heart will throb at the name of the intrepid being, to whom I am this day indebted for my life, and to whom I may thus perhaps owe the happiness of seeing you again—you and my child—for of course our child lives. Yes, it must be—for else, poor wife, what an existence would be yours amid the horrors of exile! Dear soul! he must now be fourteen. Whom does he resemble? Is he like you? Has he your large and beautiful blue eyes?—Madman that I am! how many times, in this long day-book, have I already asked the same idle question, to which you can return no answer!—How many times shall I continue to ask it?—But you will teach our child to speak and love the somewhat savage name of Djalma."
"Djalma!" said Rose, as with moist eyes she left off reading.
"Djalma!" repeated Blanche, who shared the emotion of her sister. "Oh, we shall never forget that name."
"And you will do well, my children; for it seems to be the name of a famous soldier, though a very young one. But go on, my little Rose!"
"I have told you in the preceding pages, my dear Eva, of the two glorious days we had this month. The troops of my old friend, the prince, which daily make fresh advances in European discipline, have performed wonders. We have beaten the English, and obliged them to abandon a portion of this unhappy country, which they had invaded in contempt of all the rights of justice, and which they continue to ravage without mercy, for, in these parts, warfare is another name for treachery, pillage, and massacre. This morning, after a toilsome march through a rocky and mountainous district, we received information from our scouts, that the enemy had been reinforced, and was preparing to act on the offensive; and, as we were separated from them by a distance of a few leagues only, an engagement became inevitable. My old friend the prince, the father of my deliverer, was impatient to march to the attack. The action began about three o'clock; it was very bloody and furious. Seeing that our men wavered for a moment, for they were inferior in number, and the English reinforcements consisted of fresh troops, I charged at the head of our weak reserve of cavalry. The old prince was in the centre, fighting, as he always fights, intrepidly; his son, Djalma, scarcely eighteen, as brave as his father, did not leave my side. In the hottest part of the engagement, my horse was killed under me, and rolling over into a ravine, along the edge of which I was riding, I found myself so awkwardly entangled beneath him, that for an instant I thought my thigh was broken."
"Poor father!" said Blanche.
"This time, happily, nothing more dangerous ensued thanks to Djalma! You see, Dagobert," added Rose, "that I remember the name." And she continued to read,
"The English thought—and a very flattering opinion it was—that, if they could kill me, they would make short work of the prince's army. So a Sepoy officer, with five or six irregulars—cowardly, ferocious plunderers—seeing me roll down the ravine, threw themselves into it to despatch me. Surrounded by fire and smoke, and carried away by their ardor, our mountaineers had not seen me fall; but Djalma never left me. He leaped into the ravine to my assistance, and his cool intrepidity saved my life. He had held the fire of his double-barrelled carbine; with one load, he killed the officer on the spot; with the other he broke the arm of an irregular, who had already pierced my left hand with his bayonet. But do not be alarmed, dear Eva; it is nothing—only a scratch."
"Wounded—again wounded—alas!" cried Blanche, clasping her hands together, and interrupting her sister.
"Take courage!" said Dagobert: "I dare say it was only a scratch, as the general calls it. Formerly, he used to call wounds, which did not disable a man from fighting, blank wounds. There was no one like him for such sayings."
"Djalma, seeing me wounded," resumed Rose, wiping her eyes, "made use of his heavy carbine as a club, and drove back the soldiers. At that instant, I perceived a new assailant, who, sheltered behind a clump of bamboos which commanded the ravine, slowly lowered his long gun, placed the barrel between two branches, and took deliberate aim at Djalma. Before my shouts could apprise him of his danger, the brave youth had received a ball in his breast. Feeling himself hit, he fell bark involuntarily two paces, and dropped upon one knee: but he still remained firm, endeavoring to cover me with his body. You may conceive my rage and despair, whilst all my efforts to disengage myself were paralyzed by the excruciating pain in my thigh. Powerless and disarmed, I witnessed for some moments this unequal struggle.
"Djalma was losing blood rapidly; his strength of arm began to fail him; already one of the irregulars, inciting his comrades with his voice, drew from his belt a huge, heavy kind of bill-hook, when a dozen of our mountaineers made their appearance, borne towards the spot by the irresistible current of the battle. Djalma was rescued in his turn, I was released, and, in a quarter of an hour, I was able to mount a horse. The fortune of the day is ours, though with severe loss; but the fires of the English camp are still visible, and to-morrow the conflict will be decisive. Thus, my beloved Eva, I owe my life to this youth. Happily, his wound occasions us no uneasiness; the ball only glanced along the ribs in a slanting direction."
"The brave boy might have said: 'A blank wound,' like the general," observed Dagobert.
"Now, my dear Eva," continued Rose, "you must become acquainted, by means of this narrative at least, with the intrepid Djalma. He is but just eighteen. With one word, I will paint for you his noble and valiant nature; it is a custom of this country to give surnames, and, when only fifteen, he was called 'The Generous'—by which was, of course, meant generous in heart and mind. By another custom, no less touching than whimsical, this name was reverted to his parent, who is called 'The Father of the Generous,' and who might, with equal propriety, be called 'The Just,' for this old Indian is a rare example of chivalrous honor and proud independence. He might, like so many other poor princes of this country, have humbled himself before the execrable despotism of the English, bargained for the relinquishment of sovereign power, and submitted to brute force—but it was not in his nature. 'My whole rights, or a grave in my native mountains!'—such is his motto. And this is no empty boast; it springs from the conviction of what is right and just. 'But you will be crushed in the struggle,' I have said to him—'My friend,' he answered, 'what if, to force you to a disgraceful act, you were told to yield or die?'—From that day I understood him, and have devoted myself, mind and body, to the ever sacred cause of the weak against the strong. You see, my Eva, that Djalma shows himself worthy of such a father. This young Indian is so proud, so heroic in his bravery, that, like a young Greek of Leonidas' age, he fights with his breast bare; while other warriors of his country (who, indeed, usually have arms, breast, and shoulders uncovered) wear, in time of battle, a thick, impenetrable vest. The rash daring of this youth reminds me of Murat, King of Naples, who, I have so often told you, I have seen a hundred times leading the most desperate charges with nothing but a riding-whip in his hand."
"That's another of those kings I was telling you of, whom the Emperor set up for his amusement," said Dagobert. "I once saw a Prussian officer prisoner, whose face had been cut across by that mad-cap King of Naples' riding-whip; the mark was there, a black and blue stripe. The Prussian swore he was dishonored, and that a sabre-cut would have been preferable. I should rather think so! That devil of a king; he only had one idea: 'Forward, on to the cannon!' As soon as they began to cannonade, one would have thought the guns were calling him with all their might, for he was soon up to them with his 'Here I am!' If I speak to you about him, my children, it's because he was fond of repeating,—'No one can break through a square of infantry, if General Simon or I can't do it.'"
"I have observed with pain, that, notwithstanding his youth, Djalma is often subject to fits of deep melancholy. At times, I have seen him exchange with his father looks of singular import. In spite of our mutual attachment, I believe that both conceal from me some sad family secret, in so far as I can judge from expressions which have dropped from them by chance.
"It relates to some strange event which their vivid imaginations have invested with a supernatural character.
"And yet, my love, you and I have no longer the right to smile at the credulity of others. I, since the French campaign, when I met with that extraordinary adventure, which, to this day, I am quite unable to understand—"
"This refers to the man who threw himself before the mouth of the cannon," said Dagobert.
"And you," continued the maiden, still reading, "you, my dear Eva, since the visits of that young and beautiful woman, whom, as your mother asserted, she had seen at her mother's house forty years before."
The orphans, in amazement, looked at the soldier.
"Your mother never spoke to me of that, nor the general either, my children; this is as strange to me as it is to you."
With increasing excitement and curiosity, Rose continued:
"After all, my dear Eva, things which appear very extraordinary, may often be explained by a chance resemblance or a freak of nature. Marvels being always the result of optical illusion or heated fancy, a time must come, when that which appeared to be superhuman or supernatural, will prove to be the most simple and natural event in the world. I doubt not, therefore, that the things, which we denominate our prodigies, will one day receive this commonplace solution."
"You see, my children—things appear marvelous, which at bottom are quite simple—though for a long time we understand nothing about them."
"As our father relates this, we must believe it, and not be astonished—eh, sister?"
"Yes, truly—since it will all be explained one day."
"For example," said Dagobert, after a moment's reflection, "you two are so much alike, that any one, who was not in the habit of seeing you daily, might easily take one for the other. Well! if they did not know that you are, so to speak,'doubles,' they might think an imp was at work instead of such good little angels as you are."
"You are right, Dagobert; in this way many things may be explained, even as our father says." And Rose continued to read:
"Not without pride, my gentle Eva, have I learned that Djalma has French blood in his veins. His father married, some years ago, a young girl, whose family, of French origin, had long been settled at Batavia in the island of Java. This similarity of circumstances between my old friend and myself—for your family also, my Eva, is of French origin, and long settled in a foreign land—has only served to augment my sympathy for him. Unfortunately, he has long had to mourn the loss of the wife whom he adored.
"See, my beloved Eva! my hand trembles as I write these words. I am weak—I am foolish—but, alas! my heart sinks within me. If such a misfortune were to happen to me—Oh, my God!—what would become of our child without thee—without his father—in that barbarous country? But no! the very fear is madness; and yet what a horrible torture is uncertainty! Where may you now be? What are you doing? What has become of you? Pardon these black thoughts, which are sometimes too much for me. They are the cause of my worst moments—for, when free from them, I can at least say to myself: I am proscribed, I am every way unfortunate—but, at the other end of the world, two hearts still beat for me with affection—yours, my Eva, and our child's!"
Rose could hardly finish this passage; for some seconds her voice was broken by sobs. There was indeed a fatal coincidence between the fears of General Simon and the sad reality; and what could be more touching than these outpourings of the heart, written by the light of a watch fire, on the eve of battle, by a soldier who thus sought to soothe the pangs of a separation, which he felt bitterly, but knew not would be eternal?
"Poor general! he is unaware of our misfortune," said Dagobert, after a moment's silence; "but neither has he heard that he has two children, instead of one. That will be at least some consolation. But come, Blanche; do go on reading: I fear that this dwelling on grief fatigues your sister, and she is too much affected by it. Besides, after all, it is only just, that you should take your share of its pleasure and its sorrow."
Blanche took the letter, and Rose, having dried her eyes, laid in her turn her sweet head on the shoulder of her sister, who thus continued:
"I am calmer now, my dear Eva; I left off writing for a moment, and strove to banish those black presentiments. Let us resume our conversation! After discoursing so long about India, I will talk to you a little of Europe. Yesterday evening, one of our people (a trusty fellow) rejoined our outposts. He brought me a letter, which had arrived from France at Calcutta; at length, I have news of my father, and am no longer anxious on his account. This letter is dated in August of last year. I see by its contents, that several other letters, to which he alludes, have either been delayed or lost; for I had not received any for two years before, and was extremely uneasy about him. But my excellent father is the same as ever! Age has not weakened him; his character is as energetic, his health as robust, as in times past—still a workman, still proud of his order, still faithful to his austere republican ideas, still hoping much.
"For he says to me, 'the time is at hand,' and he underlines those words. He gives me also, as you will see, good news of the family of old Dagobert, our friend—for in truth, my dear Eva, it soothes my grief to think, that this excellent man is with you, that he will have accompanied you in your exile—for I know him—a kernel of gold beneath the rude rind of a soldier! How he must love our child!"
Here Dagobert coughed two or three times, stooped down, and appeared to be seeking on the ground the little red and blue check-handkerchief spread over his knees. He remained thus bent for some seconds, and, when he raised himself, he drew his hand across his moustache.
"How well father knows you!"
"How rightly has he guessed that you would love us!"
"Well, well, children; pass over that!—Let's come to the part where the general speaks of my little Agricola, and of Gabriel, my wife's adopted child. Poor woman! when I think that in three months perhaps—but come, child, read, read," added the old soldier, wishing to conceal his emotion.
"I still hope against hope, my dear Eva, that these pages will one day reach you, and therefore I wish to insert in them all that can be interesting to Dagobert. It will be a consolation to him, to have some news of his family. My father, who is still foreman at Mr. Hardy's, tells me that worthy man has also taken into his house the son of old Dagobert. Agricola works under my father, who is enchanted with him. He is, he tells me, a tall and vigorous lad, who wields the heavy forge hammer as if it were a feather, and is light-spirited as he is intelligent and laborious. He is the best workman on the establishment; and this does not prevent him in the evening, after his hard day's work, when he returns home to his mother, whom he truly loves, from making songs and writing excellent patriotic verses. His poetry is full of fire and energy; his fellow-workmen sing nothing else, and his lays have the power to warm the coldest and the most timid hearts."
"How proud you must be of your son, Dagobert," said Rose, in admiration; "he writes songs."
"Certainly, it is all very fine—but what pleases me best is, that he is good to his mother, and that he handles the hammer with a will. As for the songs, before he makes a 'Rising of the People,' or a 'Marseillaise,' he will have had to beat a good deal of iron; but where can this rascally sweet Agricola have learned to make songs at all?—No doubt, it was at school, where he went, as you will see, with his adopted brother Gabriel."
At this name of Gabriel, which reminded them of the imaginary being whom they called their guardian angel, the curiosity of the young girls was greatly excited. With redoubled attention, Blanche continued in these words:
"The adopted brother of Agricola, the poor deserted child whom the wife of our good Dagobert so generously took in, forms, my father tells me, a great contrast with Agricola; not in heart, for they have both excellent hearts; but Gabriel is as thoughtful and melancholy as Agricola is lively, joyous, and active. Moreover, adds my father, each of them, so to speak, has the aspect, which belongs to his character. Agricola is dark, tall, and strong, with a gay and bold air; Gabriel, on the contrary, is weak, fair, timid as a girl, and his face wears an expression of angelic mildness."
The orphans looked at each other in surprise; then, as they turned towards the soldier their ingenuous countenances, Rose said to him; "Have you heard, Dagobert? Father says, that your Gabriel is fair, and has the face of an angel. Why, 'tis exactly like ours!"
"Yes, yes, I heard very well; it is that which surprised me, in your dream."
"I should like to know, if he has also blue eyes," said Rose.
"As for that, my children, though the general says nothing about it, I will answer for it: your fair boys have always blue eyes. But, blue or black, he will not use them to stare at young ladies; go on, and you will see why."
"His face wears an expression of angelic mildness. One of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, where he went with Agricola and other children of his quarter, struck with his intelligence and good disposition, spoke of him to a person of consequence, who, becoming interested in the lad, placed him in a seminary for the clergy, and, since the last two years, Gabriel is a priest. He intends devoting himself to foreign missions, and will soon set out for America."
"Your Gabriel is a priest, it appears?" said Rose, looking at Dagobert.
"While ours is an angel," added Blanche.
"Which only proves that yours is a step higher than mine. Well, every one to his taste; there are good people in all trades; but I prefer that it should be Gabriel who has chosen the black gown. I'd rather see my boy with arms bare, hammer in hand, and a leathern apron round him, neither more nor less than your old grandfather, my children—the father of Marshal Simon, Duke of Ligny—for, after all, marshal and duke he is by the grace of the Emperor. Now finish your letter."
"Soon, alas, yes!" said Blanche; "there are only a few lines left." And she proceeded:
"Thus, my dear, loving Eva, if this journal should ever reach its destination, you will be able to satisfy Dagobert as to the position of his wife and son, whom he left for our sakes. How can we ever repay such a sacrifice? But I feel sure, that your good and generous heart will have found some means of compensation.
"Adieu!—Again adieu, for to-day, my beloved Eva; I left off writing for a moment, to visit the tent of Djalma. He slept peacefully, and his father watched beside him; with a smile, he banished my fears. This intrepid young man is no longer in any danger. May he still be spared in the combat of to-morrow! Adieu, my gentle Eva! the night is silent and calm; the fires of the bivouac are slowly dying out, and our poor mountaineers repose after this bloody day; I can hear, from hour to hour, the distant all's well of our sentinels. Those foreign words bring back my grief; they remind me of what I sometimes forget in writing—that I am faraway, separated from you and from my child! Poor, beloved beings! what will be your destiny? Ah! if I could only send you, in time, that medal, which, by a fatal accident, I carried away with me from Warsaw, you might, perhaps, obtain leave to visit France, or at least to send our child there with Dagobert; for you know of what importance—But why add this sorrow to all the rest? Unfortunately, the years are passing away, the fatal day will arrive, and this last hope, in which I live for you, will also be taken from me: but I will not close the evening by so sad a thought. Adieu, my beloved Eva! Clasp our child to your bosom, and cover it with all the kisses which I send to both of you from the depths of exile!"
"Till to-morrow—after the battle!"
The reading of this touching letter was followed by long silence. The tears of Rose and Blanche flowed together. Dagobert, with his head resting on his hand, was absorbed in painful reflections.
Without doors, the wind had now augmented in violence; a heavy rain began to beat on the sounding panes; the most profound silence reigned in the interior of the inn. But, whilst the daughters of General Simon were reading with such deep emotion, these fragments of their father's journal, a strange and mysterious scene transpired in the menagerie of the brute-tamer.
CHAPTER IX. THE CAGES.
Morok had prepared himself. Over his deer-skin vest he had drawn the coat of mail—that steel tissue, as pliable as cloth, as hard as diamonds; next, clothing his arms and legs in their proper armor, and his feet in iron-bound buskins, and concealing all this defensive equipment under loose trousers and an ample pelisse carefully buttoned, he took in his hand a long bar of iron, white-hot, set in a wooden handle.
Though long ago daunted by the skill and energy of the Prophet, his tiger Cain, his lion Judas, and his black panther Death, had sometimes attempted, in a moment of rebellion, to try their fangs and claws on his person; but, thanks to the armor concealed beneath his pelisse, they blunted their claws upon a skin of steel, and notched their fangs upon arms or legs of iron, whilst a slight touch of their master's metallic wand left a deep furrow in their smoking, shrivelled flesh.
Finding the inutility of their efforts, and endowed with strong memory, the beasts soon learned that their teeth and claws were powerless when directed against this invulnerable being. Hence, their terrified submission reached to such a point that, in his public representations, their master could make them crouch and cower at his feet by the least movement of a little wand covered with flame-colored paper.
The Prophet, thus armed with care, and holding in his hand the iron made hot by Goliath, descended by the trapdoor of the loft into the large shed beneath, in which were deposited the cages of his animals. A mere wooden partition separated this shed from the stable that contained his horses.
A lantern, with a reflector, threw a vivid light on the cages. They were four in number. A wide iron grating formed their sides, turning at one end upon hinges like a door, so as to give ingress to the animal; the bottom of each den rested on two axle-trees and four small iron castors, so that they could easily be removed to the large covered wagon in which they were placed during a journey. One of them was empty; the other three contained, as already intimated, a panther, a tiger, and a lion.
The panther, originally from Java, seemed to merit the gloomy name of Death, by her grim, ferocious aspect. Completely black, she lay crouching and rolled up in the bottom of her cage, and her dark hues mingling with the obscurity which surrounded her, nothing was distinctly visible but fixed and glaring eyes—yellow balls of phosphoric light, which only kindled, as it were, in the night-time; for it is the nature of all the animals of the feline species to enjoy entire clearness of vision but in darkness.
The Prophet entered the stable in silence: the dark red of his long pelisse contrasted with the pale yellow of his straight hair and beard; the lantern, placed at some height above the ground, threw its rays full upon this man, and the strong light, opposed to the deep shadows around it, gave effect to the sharp proportions of his bony and savage looking figure.
He approached the cage slowly. The white rim, which encircled his eyeball, appeared to dilate, and his look rivaled in motionless brilliancy the steadily sparkling gaze of the panther. Still crouching in the shade, she felt already the fascination of that glance; two or three times she dropped her eyelids, with a low, angry howl; then, reopening her eyes, as if in spite of herself, she kept them fastened immovably on those of the Prophet. And now her rounded ears clung to her skull, which was flattened like a viper's; the skin of her forehead became convulsively wrinkled; she drew in her bristling, but silky muzzle, and twice silently opened her jaws, garnished with formidable fangs. From that moment a kind of magnetic connection seemed to be established between the man and the beast.
The Prophet extended his glowing bar towards the cage, and said, in a sharp, imperious tone: "Death! come here."
The panther rose, but so dragged herself along that her belly and the bend of her legs touched the ground. She was three feet high, and nearly five in length; her elastic and fleshy spine, the sinews of her thighs as well developed as those of a race-horse, her deep chest, her enormous jutting shoulders, the nerve and muscle in her short, thick paws—all announced that this terrible animal united vigor with suppleness, and strength with agility.
Morok, with his iron wand still extended in the direction of the cage, made a step towards the panther. The panther made a stride towards the Prophet. Morok stopped; Death stopped also.
At this moment the tiger, Judas, to whom Morok's back was turned, bounded violently in his cage, as if jealous of the attention, which his master paid to the panther. He growled hoarsely, and, raising his head, showed the under-part of his redoubtable triangular jaw, and his broad chest of a dirty white, with which blended the copper color, streaked with black, of his sides; his tail, like a huge red serpent, with rings of ebony, now clung to his flanks, now lashed them with a slow and continuous movement: his eyes, of a transparent, brilliant green, were fixed upon the Prophet.
Such was the influence of this man over his animals, that Judas almost immediately ceased growling, as if frightened at his own temerity; but his respiration continued loud and deep. Morok turned his face towards him, and examined him very attentively during some seconds. The panther, no longer subject to the influence of her master's look, slunk back to crouch in the shade.
A sharp cracking, in sudden breaks, like that which great animals make in gnawing hard substances, was now heard from the cage of the lion. It drew the attention of the Prophet, who, leaving the tiger, advanced towards the other den.
Nothing could be seen of the lion but his monstrous croup of a reddish yellow. His thighs were gathered under him, and his thick mane served entirely to conceal his head. But by the tension and movement of the muscles of his loins, and the curving of his backbone, it was easy to perceive that he was making violent efforts with his throat and his forepaws. The Prophet approached the cage with same uneasiness, fearing that, notwithstanding his orders, Goliath had given the lion some bones to gnaw. To assure himself of it, he said in a quick and firm voice: "Cain!"
The lion did not change his position.
"Cain! come here!" repeated Morok in a louder tone. The appeal was useless; the lion did not move, and the noise continued.
"Cain! come here!" said the Prophet a third time; but, as he pronounced these words, he applied the end of the glowing bar to the haunch of the lion.
Scarcely did the light track of smoke appear on the reddish hide of Cain, when, with a spring of incredible agility, he turned and threw himself against the grating, not crouching, but at a single bound—upright, superb, terrifying. The Prophet being at the angle of the cage, Cain, in his fury, had raised himself sideways to face his master, and, leaning his huge flank against the bars, thrust between them his enormous fore leg, which, with his swollen muscles, was as large as Goliath's thigh.
"Cain! down!" said the Prophet, approaching briskly.
The lion did not obey immediately. His lips, curling with rage, displayed fangs as long, as large, and as pointed as the tusks of a wild boar. But Morok touched those lips with the end of the burning metal; and, as he felt the smart, followed by an unexpected summons of his master, the lion, not daring to roar, uttered a hollow growl, and his great body sank down at once in an attitude of submission and fear.
The Prophet took down the lantern to see what Cain had been gnawing. It was one of the planks from the floor of his den, which he had succeeded in tearing up, and was crunching between his teeth in the extremity of his hunger. For a few moments the most profound silence reigned in the menagerie. The Prophet, with his hands behind his back, went from one cage to the other, observing the animals with a restless contemplative look, as if he hesitated to make between them an important and difficult choice.
From time to time he listened at the great door of the shed, which opened on the court-yard of the inn. At length this door turned on its hinges, and Goliath appeared, his clothes dripping with water.
"Well! is it done?" said the Prophet.
"Not without trouble. Luckily, the night is dark, it blows hard, and it pours with rain."
"Then there is no suspicion?"
"None, master. Your information was good. The door of the cellar opens on the fields, just under the window of the lasses. When you whistled to let me know it was time, I crept out with a stool I had provided; I put it up against the wall, and mounted upon it; with my six feet, that made nine, and I could lean my elbows on the window-ledge; I took the shutter in one hand, and the haft of my knife in the other, and, whilst I broke two of the panes, I pushed the shutter with all my might."
"And they thought it was the wind?"
"Yes, they thought it was the wind. You see, the 'brute' is not such a brute, after all. That done, I crept back into my cellar, carrying my stool with me. In a little time, I heard the voice of the old man; it was well I had made haste."
"Yes, when I whistled to you, he had just entered the supper-room. I thought he would have been longer."
"That man's not built to remain long at supper," said the giant, contemptuously. "Some moments after the panes had been broken, the old man opened the window, and called his dog, saying: 'Jump out!'—I went and hid myself at the further end of the cellar, or that infernal dog would have scented me through the door."
"The dog is now shut up in the stable with the old man's horse."
"When I heard them close shutter and window, I came out of my cellar, replaced my stool, and again mounted upon it. Unfastening the shutter, I opened it without noise, but the two broken panes were stopped up with the skirts of a pelisse. I heard talking, but I could see nothing; so I moved the pelisse a little, and then I could see the two lasses in bed opposite to me, and the old man sitting down with his back to where I stood."
"But the knapsack—the knapsack?—That is the most important."
"The knapsack was near the window, on a table, by the side of a lamp; I could have reached it by stretching out my arm."
"What did you hear said?"
"As you told me to think only of the knapsack, I can only remember what concerns the knapsack. The old man said he had some papers in it—the letter of a general—his money—his cross."
"As it was difficult for me to keep the pelisse away from the hole, it slipped through my fingers. In trying to get hold of it again, I put my hand too much forward. One of the lasses saw it, and screamed out, pointing to the window."
"Dolt!" exclaimed the Prophet, becoming pale with rage, "you have ruined all."
"Stop a bit! there is nothing broken yet. When I heard the scream, I jumped down from my stool, and got back into the cellar; as the dog was no longer about, I left the door ajar, so that I could hear them open the window, and see, by the light, that the old man was looking out with the lamp; but he could find no ladder, and the window was too high for any man of common size to reach it!"
"He will have thought, like the first time, that it was the wind. You are less awkward than I imagined."
"The wolf has become a fox, as you said. Knowing where the knapsack was to be found with the money and the papers, and not being able to do more for the moment, I came away—and here I am."
"Go upstairs and fetch me the longest pike."
"And the red blanket."
Goliath began to mount the ladder; half-way up he stopped. "Master," said he, "may I not bring down a bit of meat for Death?—you will see that she'll bear me malice; she puts it all down to my account; she never forgets, and on the first occasion—"
"The pike and the cloth!" repeated the Prophet, in an imperious tone. And whilst Goliath, swearing to himself, proceeded to execute his instructions, Morok opened the great door of the shed, looked out into the yard, and listened.
"Here's the pike and the cloth," said the giant, as he descended the ladder with the articles. "Now what must I do next?"
"Return to the cellar, mount once more by the window, and when the old man leaves the room—"
"Who will make him leave the room?"
"Never mind! he will leave it."
"You say the lamp is near the window?"
"Quite near—on the table next to the knapsack."
"Well, then, as soon as the old man leaves the room, push open the window, throw down the lamp, and if you accomplish cleverly what remains to do—the ten florins are yours—you remember it all?"
"The girls will be so frightened by the noise and darkness, that they will remain dumb with terror."
"Make yourself easy! The wolf turned into a fox; why not a serpent?"
"There is yet something."
"Well, what now?"
"The roof of this shed is not very high, the window of the loft is easy of access, the night is dark—instead of returning by the door—"
"I will come in at the window."
"Ay, and without noise."
"Like a regular snake!" and the giant departed.
"Yes!" said the Prophet to himself, after a long silence, "these means are sure. It was not for me to hesitate. A blind and obscure instrument, I know not the motives of the orders I have received: but from the recommendations which accompany them—but from the position of him who sends them—immense interests must be involved—interests connected with all that is highest and greatest upon earth!—And yet how can these two girls, almost beggars, how can this wretched soldier represent such interests?—No matter," added he, with humility; "I am the arm which acts—it is for the head, which thinks and orders, to answer for its work."
Soon after the Prophet left the shed, carrying with him the red cloth, and directed his steps towards the little stable that contained Jovial. The crazy door, imperfectly secured by a latch, was easily opened. At sight of a stranger Spoil-sport threw himself upon him; but his teeth encountered the iron leggings of the Prophet, who, in spite of the efforts of the dog took Jovial by his halter, threw the blanket over his head to prevent his either seeing or smelling, and led him from the stable into the interior of the menagerie, of which he closed the door.
CHAPTER X. THE SURPRISE.
The orphans, after reading the journal of their father, remained for some moments silent, sad, and pensive, contemplating the leaves yellowed by time. Dagobert, also plunged in a reverie, thought of his wife and son, from whom he had been so long separated, and hoped soon to see again.
The soldier was the first to break the silence, which had lasted for several minutes. Taking the leaves from the hand of Blanche, he folded them carefully, put them into his pocket, and thus addressed the orphans:
"Courage, my children! you see what a brave father you have. Think only of the pleasure of greeting him, and remember always the name of the gallant youth, to whom you will owe that pleasure—for without him your father would have been killed in India."
"Djalma! we shall never forget him," said Rose.
"And if our guardian angel Gabriel should return," added Blanche, "we will ask him to watch over Djalma as over ourselves."
"Very well, my children; I am sure that you will forget nothing that concerns good feeling. But to return to the traveller, who came to visit your poor mother in Siberia, he had seen the general a month after the events of which you have read, and at a moment when he was about to enter on a new campaign against the English. It was then that your father entrusted him with the papers and medal."
"But of what use will this medal be to us, Dagobert?"
"And what is the meaning of these words engraved upon it?" added Rose, as she drew it from her bosom.
"Why it means, my children, that on the 13th of February, 1832, we must be at No. 3, Rue Saint Francois, Paris."
"But what are we to do there?"
"Your poor mother was seized so quickly with her last illness, that she was unable to tell me. All I know is, that this medal came to her from her parents, and that it had been a relic preserved in her family for more than a century."
"And how did our father get it?"
"Among the articles which had been hastily thrown into the coach, when he was removed by force from Warsaw, was a dressing-case of your mother's, in which was contained this medal. Since that time the general had been unable to send it back, having no means of communicating with us, and not even knowing where we were."
"This medal is, then, of great importance to us?"
"Unquestionably; for never, during fifteen years, had I seen your mother so happy, as on the day the traveller brought it back to her. 'Now,' said she to me, in the presence of the stranger, and with tears of joy in her eyes, 'now may my children's future be brilliant as their life has hitherto been miserable. I will entreat of the governor of Siberia permission to go to France with my daughters; it will perhaps be thought I have been sufficiently punished, by fifteen years of exile, and the confiscation of my property. Should they refuse, I will remain here; but they will at least allow me to send my children to France, and you must accompany them, Dagobert. You shall set out immediately, for much time has been already lost; and, if you were not to arrive before the 13th of next February, this cruel separation and toilsome journey would have been all in vain.'"
"Suppose we were one day after?"
"Your mother told me that if we arrived the 14th instead of the 13th, it would be too late. She also gave me a thick letter, to put into the post for France, in the first town we should pass through—which I have done."
"And do you think we shall be at Paris in time?"
"I hope so; still, if you are strong enough, we must sometimes make forced marches—for, if we only travel our five leagues a day, and that without accident, we shall scarcely reach Paris until the beginning of February, and it is better to be a little beforehand."
"But as father is in—India, and condemned to death if he return to France, when shall we see him?"
"And where shall we see him?"
"Poor children! there are so many things you have yet to learn. When the traveller quitted him, the general could not return to France, but now he can do so."
"And why is that?"
"Because the Bourbons, who had banished him, were themselves turned out last year. The news must reach India, and your father will certainly come to meet you at Paris, because he expects that you and your mother will be there on the 13th of next February."
"Ah! now I understand how we may hope to see him," said Rose with a sigh.
"Do you know the name of this traveller, Dagobert?"
"No, my children; but whether called Jack or John, he is a good sort. When he left your mother, she thanked him with tears for all his kindness and devotion to the general, herself, and the children; but he pressed her hands in his, and said to her, in so gentle a voice that I could not help being touched by it: 'Why do you thank me? Did He not Say—LOVE YE ONE ANOTHER!'"
"Who is that, Dagobert?"
"Yes, of whom did the traveller speak?"
"I know nothing about it; only the manner in which he pronounced those words struck me, and they were the last he spoke."
"Love one another!" repeated Rose, thoughtfully.
"How beautiful are those words!" added Blanche.
"And whither was the traveller going?"
"Far, very far into the North, as he told your mother. When she saw him depart, she said to me: 'His mild, sad talk has affected me even to tears; whilst I listened to him, I seemed to be growing better—I seemed to love my husband and my children more—and yet, to judge by the expression of his countenance, one would think that this stranger had never either smiled or wept!' She and I watched him from the door as long as we could follow him with our eyes; he carried his head down, and his walk was slow, calm, and firm; one might fancy that he counted his steps. And, talking of steps, I remarked yet another thing."
"What was it, Dagobert?"
"You know that the road which led to our house way, always damp, because of the overflowing of the little spring."
"Well, then, the mark of the traveller's footsteps remained in the clay, and I saw that he had nails under his shoe in the form of a cross."
"How in the form of a cross?"
"Look!" said Dagobert, placing the tip of his finger seven times on the coverlet of the bed; "they were arrange: thus beneath his heel:"
* * * * * * *
"You see it forms a cross."
"What could it mean, Dagobert?"
"Chance, perhaps—yes, chance—and yet, in spite of myself, this confounded cross left behind him struck me as a bad omen, for hardly was he gone when misfortune after misfortune fell upon us."
"Alas! the death of our mother!"
"Yes—but, before that, another piece of ill-luck. You had not yet returned, and she was writing her petition to ask leave to go to France or to send you there, when I heard the gallop of a horse. It was a courier from the governor general of Siberia. He brought us orders to change our residence; within three days we were to join other condemned persons, and be removed with them four hundred leagues further north. Thus, after fifteen years of exile, they redoubled in cruelty towards your mother."
"Why did they thus torment her?"
"One would think that some evil genius was at work against her. A few days later, the traveller would no longer have found us at Milosk; and if he had joined us further on, it would have been too far for the medal and papers to be of use—since, having set out almost immediately, we shall hardly arrive in time at Paris. 'If they had some interest to prevent me and my children from going to France,' said your mother, 'they would act just as they have done. To banish us four hundred leagues further, is to render impossible this journey, of which the term is fixed.' And the idea overwhelmed her with grief."
"Perhaps it was this unexpected sorrow that was the cause of her sudden illness."
"Alas! no, my children; it was that infernal cholera, who arrives without giving you notice—for he too is a great traveller—and strikes you down like a thunderbolt. Three hours after the traveller had left us, when you returned quite pleased and gay from the forest, with your large bunches of wild-flowers for your mother, she was already in the last agony, and hardly to be recognized. The cholera had broken out in the village, and that evening five persons died of it. Your mother had only time to hang the medal about your neck, my dear little Rose, to recommend you both to my care, and to beg that we should set out immediately. When she was gone, the new order of exile could not apply to you; and I obtained permission from the governor to take my departure with you for France, according to the last wishes—"
The soldier could not finish the sentence; he covered his eyes with his hand, whilst the orphans embraced him sobbing.
"Oh! but," resumed Dagobert, with pride, after a moment of painful silence, "it was then that you showed yourselves the brave daughters of the general. Notwithstanding the danger, it was impossible to tear you from your mother's bedside; you remained with her to the last, you closed her eyes, you watched there all night, and you would not leave the village till you had seen me plant the little wooden cross over the grave I had dug for her."
Dagobert paused abruptly. A strange, wild neighing, mingled with ferocious roarings, made the soldier start from his seat. He grew pale, and cried: "It is Jovial! my horse! What are they doing to my horse?" With that, opening the door he rushed down the stairs precipitately.
The two sisters clung together, so terrified at the sudden departure of the soldier, that they saw not an enormous hand pass through the broken panes, unfasten the catch of the window, push it violently open, and throw down the lamp placed on the little table, on which was the soldiers's knapsack. The orphans thus found themselves plunged into complete darkness.
CHAPTER XI. JOVIAL and DEATH.
Morok had led Jovial into the middle of the menagerie, and then removed the cloth which prevented him from seeing and smelling. Scarcely had the tiger, lion, and panther caught a glimpse of him than they threw themselves, half famished, against the bars of their dens.
The horse struck with stupor, his neck stretched out, his eye fixed, and trembling through all his limbs, appeared as if nailed to the ground; an abundant icy sweat rolled suddenly down his flanks. The lion and the tiger uttered fearful roarings, and struggled violently in their dens. The panther did not roar, but her mute rage was terrific.
With a tremendous bound, at the risk of breaking her skull, she sprang from the back of the cage against the bars; then, still mute, still furious, she crawled back to the extreme corner of the den, and with a new spring, as impetuous as it was blind, she again strove to force out the iron grating. Three times had she thus bounded—silent, appalling—when the horse, passing from the immobility of stupor to the wild agony of fear, neighed long and loud, and rushed in desperation at the door by which he had entered. Finding it closed he hung his head, bent his knees a little, and rubbed his nostrils against the opening left between the ground and the bottom of the door, as if he wished to inhale the air from the outside; then, more and more affrighted, he began to neigh with redoubled force, and struck out violently with his fore-feet.
At the moment when Death was about once more to make her spring, the Prophet approached her cage. The heavy bolt which secured the grating was pushed from its staple by the pike of the brute-tamer, and, in another second, Morok was half way up the ladder that communicated with the loft.
The roaring of the lion and tiger, mingled with the neighing of Jovial, now resounded through all parts of the inn. The panther had again thrown herself furiously on the grating, and this time yielding with one spring, she was in the middle of the shed.
The light of the lantern was reflected from the glossy ebon of her hide, spotted with stains of a duller black. For an instant she remained motionless, crouching upon her thick-set limbs, with her head close to the floor, as if calculating the distance of the leap by which she was to reach the horse; then suddenly she darted upon him.
On seeing her break from her cage Jovial had thrown himself violently against the door, which was made to open inwards, and leaned against it with all his might, as though he would force it down. Then, at the moment when Death took her leap, he reared up in almost an erect position; but she, rapid as lightning, had fastened upon his throat and hung there, whilst at the same time she buried the sharp claws of her fore-feet in his chest. The jugular vein of the horse opened; a torrent of bright red blood spouted forth beneath the tooth of the panther, who, now supporting herself on her hind legs, squeezed her victim up against the door, whilst she dug into his flank with her claws, and laid bare the palpitating flesh. Then his half-strangled neighing became awful.
Suddenly these words resounded: "Courage, Jovial!—I am at hand! Courage!"
It was the voice of Dagobert, who was exhausting himself in desperate exertions to force open the door that concealed this sanguinary struggle. "Jovial!" cried the soldier, "I am here. Help! Help!"
At the sound of that friendly and well-known voice, the poor animal, almost at its last gasp, strove to turn its head in the direction whence came the accents of his master, answered him with a plaintive neigh, and, sinking beneath the efforts of the panther, fell prostrate, first on its knees, then upon its flank, so that its backbone lay right across the door, and still prevented its being opened. And now all was finished. The panther, squatting down upon the horse, crushed him with all her paws, and, in spite of some last faint kicks, buried her bloody snout in his body.
"Help! help! my horse!" cried Dagobert, as he vainly shook the door. "And no arms!" he added with rage; "no arms!"
"Take care!" exclaimed the brute-tamer, who appeared at the window of the loft; "do not attempt to enter it might cost you your life. My panther is furious."
"But my horse! my horse!" cried Dagobert, in a voice of agony.
"He must have strayed from his stable during the night, and pushed open the door of the shed. At sight of him the panther must have broken out of her cage and seized him. You are answerable for all the mischief that may ensue," added the brute-tamer, with a menacing air; "for I shall have to run the greatest danger, to make Death return to her den."
"But my horse! only save my horse!" cried Dagobert, in a tone of hopeless supplication.
The Prophet disappeared from the window.
The roaring of the animals and the shouts of Dagobert, had roused from sleep every one in the White Falcon. Here and there lights were seen moving and windows were thrown open hurriedly. The servants of the inn soon appeared in the yard with lanterns, and surrounding Dagobert, inquired of him what had happened.
"My horse is there," cried the soldier, continuing to shake the door, "and one of that scoundrel's animals has escaped from its cage."
At these words the people of the inn, already terrified by the frightful roaring, fled from the spot and ran to inform the host. The soldier's anguish may be conceived, as pale, breathless, with his ear close to the chink of the door, he stood listening. By degrees the roaring had ceased, and nothing was heard but low growls, accompanied by the stern voice of the Prophet, repeating in harsh, abrupt accents: "Death! come here! Death!"
The night was profoundly dark, and Dagobert did not perceive Goliath, who, crawling carefully along the tiled roof entered the loft by the attic window.
And now the gate of the court-yard was again opened, and the landlord of the inn appeared, followed by a number of men. Armed with a carbine, he advanced with precaution; his people carried staves and pitchforks.
"What is the row here?" said he, as he approached Dagobert. "What a hubbub in my house! The devil take wild beast showmen, and negligent fellows who don't know how to tie a horse to the manger! If your beast is hurt, so much the worse for you; you should have taken more care of it."
Instead of replying to these reproaches, the soldier, who still listened attentively to what was going on in the shed, made a sign to entreat silence. Suddenly a ferocious roar was heard, followed by a loud scream from the Prophet; and, almost immediately after, the panther howled piteously.
"You are no doubt the cause of some great accident," said the frightened host to the soldier; "did you not hear that cry? Morok is, perhaps, dangerously wounded."
Dagobert was about to answer, when the door opened, and Goliath appeared on the threshold.
"You may enter now," said he; "the danger is over."
The interior of the menagerie presented a singular spectacle. The Prophet, pale, and scarcely able to conceal his agitation beneath an apparent air of calmness, was kneeling some paces from the cage of the panther, in the attitude of one absorbed in himself; the motion of his lips indicating that he was praying. At sight of the host and the people of the inn, he rose, and said in a solemn voice: "I thank thee, my Preserver, that I have been able to conquer, by the strength which Thou hast given me."
Then folding his arms, with haughty brow and imperious glance, he seemed to enjoy the triumph he had achieved over Death, who, stretched on the bottom of her den, continued to utter plaintive howlings. The spectators of this scene, ignorant that the pelisse of the brute-tamer covered a complete suit of armor, and attributing the cries of the panther solely to fear, were struck with astonishment and admiration at the intrepidity and almost supernatural power of this man. A few steps behind him stood Goliath, leaning upon the ashen pikestaff. Finally, not far from the cage, in the midst of a pool of blood, lay the dead body of Jovial.