Eveline's Visitant by Mary E. Braddon
It was at a masked ball at the Palais Royal that my fatal quarrel
with my first cousin André de Brissac began. The quarrel was
about a woman. The women who followed the footsteps of Philip of
Orleans were the causes of many such disputes; and there was scarcely
one fair head in all that glittering throng which, to a man versed in
social histories and mysteries, might not have seemed bedabbled with
I shall not record the name of her for love of whom André de
Brissac and I crossed one of the bridges, in the dim August dawn on our
way to the waste ground beyond the church of Saint-Germain des
There were many beautiful vipers in those days, and she was one of
them. I can feel the chill breath of that August morning blowing in my
face, as I sit in my dismal chamber at my château of Puy Verdun
to-night, alone in the stillness, writing the strange story of my life.
I can see the white mist rising from the river, the grim outline of the
Châtelet, and the square towers of Notre Dame black against the
pale-grey sky. Even more vividly can I recall André's fair young
face, as he stood opposite to me with his two friends--scoundrels both,
and alike eager for that unnatural fray. We were a strange group to be
seen in a summer sunrise, all of us fresh from the heat and clamour of
the Regent's saloons--André in a quaint hunting-dress copied
from a family portrait at Puy Verdun, I costumed as one of Law's
Mississippi Indians; the other men in like garish frippery, adorned
with broideries and jewels that looked wan in the pale light of
Our quarrel had been a fierce one--a quarrel which could have but
one result, and that the direst. I had struck him; and the welt raised
by my open hand was crimson upon his fair womanish face as he stood
opposite to me. The eastern sun shone on the face presently, and dyed
the cruel mark with a deeper red; but the sting of my own wrongs was
fresh, and I had not yet learned to despise myself for that brutal
To Andre de Brissac such an insult was most terrible. He was the
favourite of Fortune, the favourite of women; and I was nothing,--a
rough soldier who had done my country good service, but in the boudoir
of a Parabère a mannerless boor.
We fought, and I wounded him mortally. Life had been very sweet for
him; and I think that a frenzy of despair took possession of him when
he felt the life-blood ebbing away. He beckoned me to him as he lay on
the ground. I went, and knelt at his side.
"Forgive me, André!" I murmured.
He took no more heed of my words than if that piteous entreaty had
been the idle ripple of the river near at hand.
"Listen to me, Hector de Brissac," he said. "I am not one who
believes that a man has done with earth because his eyes glaze and his
jaw stiffens. They will bury me in the old vault at Puy Verdun; and you
will be master of the château. Ah, I know how lightly they take
things in these days, and how Dubois will laugh when he hears that Ca
has been killed in a duel. They will bury me, and sing masses for my
soul; but you and I have not finished our affair yet, my cousin. I will
be with you when you least look to see me,--I, with this ugly scar upon
the face that women have praised and loved. I will come to you when
your life seems brightest. I will come between you and all that you
hold fairest and dearest. My ghostly hand shall drop a poison in your
cup of joy. My shadowy form shall shut the sunlight from your life. Men
with such iron will as mine can do what they please, Hector de Brissac.
It is my will to haunt you when I am dead."
All this in short broken sentences he whispered into my ear. I had
need to bend my ear close to his dying lips; but the iron will of
André de Brissac was strong enough to do battle with Death, and
I believe he said all he wished to say before his head fell back upon
the velvet cloak they had spread beneath him, never to be lifted
As he lay there, you would have fancied him a fragile stripling, too
fair and frail for the struggle called life; but there are those who
remember the brief manhood of André de Brissac, and who can bear
witness to the terrible force of that proud nature.
I stood looking down at the young face with that foul mark upon it,
and God knows I was sorry for what I had done.
Of those blasphemous threats which he had whispered in my ear I took
no heed. I was a soldier, and a believer. There was nothing absolutely
dreadful to me in the thought that I had killed this man. I had killed
many men on the battlefield; and this one had done me cruel wrong.
My friends would have had me cross the frontier to escape the
consequences of my act; but I was ready to face those consequences, and
I remained in France. I kept aloof from the court, and received a hint
that I had best confine myself to my own province. Many masses were
chanted in the little chapel of Puy Verdun, for the soul of my dead
cousin, and his coffin filled a niche in the vault of our
His death had made me a rich man; and the thought that it was so
made my newly-acquired wealth very hateful to me. I lived a lonely
existence in the old château, where I rarely held converse with
any but the servants of the household, all of whom had served my
cousin, and none of whom liked me.
It was a hard and bitter life. It galled me, when I rode through the
village, to see the peasant-children shrink away from me. I have seen
old women cross themselves stealthily as I passed them by. Strange
reports had gone forth about me; and there were those who whispered
that I had given my soul to the Evil One as the price of my cousin's
heritage. From my boyhood I had been dark of visage and stern of
manner; and hence, perhaps, no woman's love had ever been mine. I
remembered my mother's face in all its changes of expression; but I can
remember no look of affection that ever shone on me. That other woman,
beneath whose feet I laid my heart, was pleased to accept my homage,
but she never loved me; and the end was treachery.
I had grown hateful to myself, and had well-nigh begun to hate my
fellow-creatures, when a feverish desire seized upon me, and I pined to
be back in the press and throng of the busy world once again. I went
back to Paris, where I kept myself aloof from the court, and where an
angel took compassion upon me.
She was the daughter of an old comrade, a man whose merits had been
neglected, whose achievements had been ignored, and who sulked in his
shabby lodging like a rat in a hole, while all Paris went mad with the
Scotch Financier, and gentlemen and lacqueys were trampling one another
to death in the Rue Quin-campoix. The only child of this little
cross-grained old captain of dragoons was an incarnate sunbeam, whose
mortal name was Eveline Duchalet.
She loved me. The richest blessings of our lives are often those
which cost us least. I wasted the best years of my youth in the worship
of a wicked woman, who jilted and cheated me at last.
I gave this meek angel but a few courteous words--a little fraternal
tenderness--and lo, she loved me. The life which had been so dark and
desolate grew bright beneath her influence; and I went back to Puy
Verdun with a fair young bride for my companion.
Ah, how sweet a change there was in my life and in my home! The
village children no longer shrank appalled as the dark horseman rode
by, the village crones no longer crossed themselves; for a woman rode
by his side--a woman whose charities had won the love of all those
ignorant creatures, and whose companionship had transformed the gloomy
lord of the chateau into a loving husband and a gentle master. The old
retainers forgot the untimely fate of my cousin, and served me with
cordial willingness, for love of their young mistress.
There are no words which can tell the pure and perfect happiness of
that time. I felt like a traveller who had traversed the frozen seas of
an arctic region, remote from human love or human companionship, to
find himself on a sudden in the bosom of a verdant valley, in the sweet
atmosphere of home. The change seemed too bright to be real; and I
strove in vain to put away from my mind the vague suspicion that my new
life was but some fantastic dream.
So brief were those halcyon hours, that, looking back on them now,
it is scarcely strange if I am still half inclined to fancy the first
days of my married life could have been no more than a dream.
Neither in my days of gloom nor in my days of happiness had I been
troubled by the recollection of André's blasphemous oath.
The words which with his last breath he had whispered in my ear were
vain and meaningless to me. He had vented his rage in those idle
threats, as he might have vented it in idle execrations.
That he will haunt the footsteps of his enemy after death is the one
revenge which a dying man can promise himself; and if men had power
thus to avenge themselves, the earth would be peopled with
I had lived for three years at Puy Verdun; sitting alone in the
solemn midnight by the hearth where he had sat, pacing the corridors
that had echoed his footfall; and in all that time my fancy had never
so played me false as to shape the shadow of the dead. Is it strange,
then, if I had forgotten Andre's horrible promise? There was no
portrait of my cousin at Puy Verdun. It was the age of boudoir art, and
a miniature set in the lid of a gold bonbonnière, or hidden
artfully in a massivc bracelet, was more fashionable than a clumsy
life-size image, fit only to hang on the gloomy walls of a provincial
chateau rarely visited by its owner. My cousin's fair face had adorned
more than one bonbonnière, and had been concealed in more than
one bracelet; but it was not among the faces that looked down from the
panelled walls of Puy Verdun.
In the library I found a picture which awoke painful associations.
It was the portrait of a De Brissac, who had flourished in the time of
Francis the First; and it was from this picture that my cousin Andre
had copied the quaint hunting-dress he wore at the Regent's ball. The
library was a room in which I spent a good deal of my life; and I
ordered a curtain to be hung before this picture.
We had been married three months, when Eveline one day asked, "Who
is the lord of the château nearest to this?"
I looked with her in astonishment.
"My dearest," I answered, "do you not know that there is no other
chateau within forty miles of Puy Verdun?"
"Indeed!" she said; "that is strange."
I asked her why the fact seemed strange to her; and after much
entreaty I obtained from her the reason of her surprise.
In her walks about the park and woods during the last month, she had
met a man who, by his dress and bearing, was obviously of noble rank.
She had imagined that he occupied some château near at hand, and
that his estate adjoined ours. I was at a loss to imagine who this
stranger could be; for my estate of Puy Verdun lay in the heart of a
desolate region, and unless when some traveller's coach went lumbering
and jingling through the village, one had little more chance of
encountering a gentleman than of meeting a demigod.
"Have you seen this man often, Eveline?" I asked.
She answered, in a tone which had a touch of sadness, "I see him
"Sometimes in the park, sometimes in the wood. You know the little
cascade, Hector, where there is some old neglected rock-work that forms
a kind of cavern. I have taken a fancy to that spot, and have spent
many mornings there reading. Of late I have seen the stranger there
"He has never dared to address you?"
"Never. I have looked up from my book, and have seen him standing at
a little distance, watching me silently. I have continued reading; and
when I have raised my eyes again I have found him gone. He must
approach and depart with a stealthy tread, for I never hear his
footfall. Sometimes I have almost wished that he would speak to me. It
is so terrible to see him standing silently there."
"He is some insolent peasant who seeks to frighten you."
My wife shook her head.
"He is no peasant," she answered. "It is not by his dress alone I
judge, for that is strange to me. He has an air of nobility which it is
impossible to mistake."
"Is he young or old?"
"He is young and handsome."
I was much disturbed by the idea of this stranger's intrusion on my
wife's solitude; and I went straight to the village to inquire if any
stranger had been seen there. I could hear of no one. I questioned the
servants closely, but without result. Then I determined to accompany my
wife in her walks, and to judge for myself of the rank of the
For a week I devoted all my mornings to rustic rambles with Eveline
in the park and woods; and in all that week we saw no one but an
occasional peasant in sabots, or one of our own house-hold returning
from a neighbouring farm.
I was a man of studious habits, and those summer rambles disturbed
the even current of my life. My wife perceived this, and entreated me
to trouble myself no further.
"I will spend my mornings in the pleasaunce, Hector," she said; "the
stranger cannot intrude upon me there."
"I begin to think the stranger is only a phantasm of your own
romantic brain," I replied, smiling at the earnest face lifted to mine.
"A châtelaine who is always reading romances may well meet
handsome cavaliers in the woodlands. I daresay I have Mdlle. Scuderi to
thank for this noble stranger, and that he is only the great Cyrus in
"Ah, that is the point which mystifies me, Hector," she said. "The
stranger's costume is not modern. He looks as an old picture might look
if it could descend from its frame."
Her words pained me, for they reminded me of that hidden picture in
the library, and the quaint hunting costume of orange and purple, which
André de Brissac wore at the Regent's ball.
After this my wife confined her walks to the pleasaunce; and for
many weeks I heard no more of the nameless stranger. I dismissed all
thought of him from my mind, for a graver and heavier care had come
upon me. My wife's health began to droop. The change in her was so
gradual as to be almost imperceptible to those who watched her day by
day. It was only when she put on a rich gala dress which she had not
worn for months that I saw how wasted the form must be on which the
embroidered bodice hung so loosely, and how wan and dim were the eyes
which had once been brilliant as the jewels she wore in her hair.
I sent a messenger to Paris to summon one of the court physicians;
but I knew that many days must needs elapse before he could arrive at
In the interval I watched my wife with unutterable fear.
It was not her health only that had declined. The change was more
painful to behold than any physical alteration. The bright and sunny
spirit had vanished, and in the place of my joyous young bride I beheld
a woman weighed down by rooted melancholy. In vain I sought to fathom
the cause of my darling's sadness. She assured me that she had no
reason for sorrow or discontent, and that if she seemed sad without a
motive, I must forgive her sadness, and consider it as a misfortune
rather than a fault.
I told her that the court physician would speedily find some cure
for her despondency, which must needs arise from physical causes, since
she had no real ground for sorrow. But although she said nothing, I
could see she had no hope or belief in the healing powers of
One day, when I wished to beguile her from that pensive silence in
which she was wont to sit an hour at a time, I told her, laughing, that
she appeared to have forgotten her mysterious cavalier of the wood, and
it seemed also as if he had forgotten her.
To my wonderment, her pale face became of a sudden crimson; and from
crimson changed to pale again in a breath.
"You have never seen him since you deserted your woodland grotto?" I
She turned to me with a heart-rending look.
"Hector," she cried, "I see him every day; and it is that which is
She burst into a passion of tears when she had said this. I took her
in my arms as if she had been a frightened child, and tried to comfort
"My darling, this is madness," I said. "You know that no stranger
can come to you in the pleasaunce. The moat is ten feet wide and always
full of water, and the gates are kept locked day and night by old
Massou. The châtelaine of a mediæval fortress need fear no
intruder in her antique garden."
My wife shook her head sadly.
"I see him every day," she said.
On this I believed that my wife was mad. I shrank from questioning
her more closely concerning her mysterious visitant. It would be ill, I
thought, to give a form and substance to the shadow that tormented her
by too close inquiry about its look and manner, its coming and
I took care to assure myself that no stranger to the household could
by any possibility penetrate to the pleasaunce. Having done this, I was
fain to await the coming of the physician.
He came at last. I revealed to him the conviction which was my
misery. I told him that I believed my wife to be mad. He saw her--spent
an hour alone with her, and then came to me. To my un-speakable relief
he assured me of her sanity.
"It is just possible that she may be affected by one delusion," he
said; "but she is so reasonable upon all other points, that I can
scarcely bring myself to believe her the subject of a monomania. I am
rather inclined to think that she really sees the person of whom she
speaks. She described him to me with a perfect minuteness. The
descriptions of scenes or individuals given by patients afflicted with
monomania are always more or less disjointed; but your wife spoke to me
as clearly and calmly as I am now speaking to you. Are you sure there
is no one who can approach her in that garden where she walks?"
"I am quite sure."
"Is there any kinsman of your steward, or hanger-on of your
household,--a young man with a fair womanish face, very pale and
rendered remarkable by a crimson scar, which looks like the mark of a
"My God!" I cried, as the light broke in upon me all at once. "And
the dress--the strange old-fashioned dress?"
"The man wears a hunting costume of purple and orange," answered the
I knew then that André de Brissac had kept his word, and that
in the hour when my life was brightest his shadow had come between me
I showed my wife the picture in the library, for I would fain assure
myself that there was some error in my fancy about my cousin. She shook
like a leaf when she beheld it, and clung to me convulsively.
"This is witchcraft, Hector," she said. "The dress in that picture
is the dress of the man I see in the pleasaunce; but the face is not
Then she described to me the face of the stranger; and it was my
cousin's face line for line---André de Brissac, whom she had
never seen in the flesh. Most vividly of all did she describe the cruel
mark upon his face, the trace of a fierce blow from an open hand.
After this I carried my wife away from Puy Verdun. We wandered
far--through the southern provinces, and into the very heart of
Switzerland. I thought to distance the ghastly phantom, and I fondly
hoped that change of scene would bring peace to my wife.
It was not so. Go where we would, the ghost of Andre de Brissac
followed us. To my eyes that fatal shadow never revealed itself. That
would have been too poor a vengeance. It was my wife's innocent heart
which Andre made the instrument of his revenge. The unholy presence
destroyed her life. My constant companionship could not shield her from
the horrible intruder. In vain did I watch her; in vain did I strive to
"He will not let me be at peace," she said; "he comes between us,
Hector. He is standing between us now. I can see his face with the red
mark upon it plainer that I see yours."
One fair moonlight night, when we were together in a mountain
village in the Tyrol, my wife cast herself at my feet, and told me she
was the worst and vilest of women. "I have confessed all to my
director," she said; "from the first I have not hidden my sin from
Heaven. But I feel that death is near me; and before I die I would fain
reveal my sin to you."
"What sin, my sweet one?"
"When first the stranger came to me in the forest, his presence
bewildered and distressed me, and I shrank from him as from something
strange and terrible. He came again and again; by and by I found myself
thinking of him, and watching for his coming. His image haunted me
perpetually; I strove in vain to shut his face out of my mind. Then
followed an interval in which I did not see him; and, to my shame and
anguish, I found that life seemed dreary and desolate without him.
After that came the time in which he haunted the pleasaunce; and--O,
Hector, kill me if you will, for I deserve no mercy at your hands!--I
grew in those days to count the hours that must elapse before his
coming, to take no pleasure save in the sight of that pale face with
the red brand upon it. He plucked all old familiar joys out of my
heart, and left in it but one weird unholy pleasure--the delight of his
presence. For a year I have lived but to see him. And now curse me,
Hector; for this is my sin. Whether it comes of the baseness of my own
heart, or is the work of witchcraft, I know not; but I know that I have
striven against this wickedness in vain."
I took my wife to my breast, and forgave her. In sooth, what had I
to forgive? Was the fatality that overshadowed us any work of hers? On
the next night she died, with her hand in mine; and at the very last
she told me, sobbing and affrighted, that he was by her side.