by Honore de Balzac
Translated By Ellen Marriage
To Prince Friedrich von Schwarzenberg
"Come, Deputy of the Centre, come along! We shall have to mend our
pace if we mean to sit down to dinner when every one else does, and
that's a fact! Hurry up! Jump, Marquis! That's it! Well done! You are
bounding over the furrows just like a stag!"
These words were uttered by a sportsman seated much at his ease on
the outskirts of the Foret de l'Isle-Adam; he had just finished a
Havana cigar, which he had smoked while he waited for his companion,
who had evidently been straying about for some time among the forest
undergrowth. Four panting dogs by the speaker's side likewise watched
the progress of the personage for whose benefit the remarks were made.
To make their sarcastic import fully clear, it should be added that
the second sportsman was both short and stout; his ample girth
indicated a truly magisterial corpulence, and in consequence his
progress across the furrows was by no means easy. He was striding over
a vast field of stubble; the dried corn-stalks underfoot added not a
little to the difficulties of his passage, and to add to his
discomforts, the genial influence of the sun that slanted into his
eyes brought great drops of perspiration into his face. The uppermost
thought in his mind being a strong desire to keep his balance, he
lurched to and fro like a coach jolted over an atrocious road.
It was one of those September days of almost tropical heat that
finishes the work of summer and ripens the grapes. Such heat forebodes
a coming storm; and though as yet there were wide patches of blue
between the dark rain-clouds low down on the horizon, pale golden
masses were rising and scattering with ominous swiftness from west to
east, and drawing a shadowy veil across the sky. The wind was still,
save in the upper regions of the air, so that the weight of the
atmosphere seemed to compress the steamy heat of the earth into the
forest glades. The tall forest trees shut out every breath of air so
completely that the little valley across which the sportsman was
making his way was as hot as a furnace; the silent forest seemed
parched with the fiery heat. Birds and insects were mute; the topmost
twigs of the trees swayed with scarcely perceptible motion. Any one
who retains some recollection of the summer of 1819 must surely
compassionate the plight of the hapless supporter of the ministry who
toiled and sweated over the stubble to rejoin his satirical comrade.
That gentleman, as he smoked his cigar, had arrived, by a process of
calculation based on the altitude of the sun, to the conclusion that
it must be about five o'clock.
"Where the devil are we?" asked the stout sportsman. He wiped his
brow as he spoke, and propped himself against a tree in the field
opposite his companion, feeling quite unequal to clearing the broad
ditch that lay between them.
"And you ask that question of me!" retorted the other,
laughing from his bed of tall brown grasses on the top of the bank. He
flung the end of his cigar into the ditch, exclaiming, "I swear by
Saint Hubert that no one shall catch me risking myself again in a
country that I don't know with a magistrate, even if, like you, my
dear d'Albon, he happens to be an old schoolfellow."
"Why, Philip, have you really forgotten your own language? You
surely must have left your wits behind you in Siberia," said the
stouter of the two, with a glance half-comic, half-pathetic at the
guide-post distant about a hundred paces from them.
"I understand," replied the one addressed as Philip. He snatched up
his rifle, suddenly sprang to his feet, made but one jump of it into
the field, and rushed off to the guide-post. "This way, d'Albon, here
you are! left about!" he shouted, gesticulating in the direction of
the highroad. "To Baillet and l'Isle-Adam!" he went on; "so if
we go along here, we shall be sure to come upon the cross-road to
"Quite right, Colonel," said M. d'Albon, putting the cap with which
he had been fanning himself back on his head.
"Then forward! highly respected Councillor," returned
Colonel Philip, whistling to the dogs, that seemed already to obey him
rather than the magistrate their owner.
"Are you aware, my lord Marquis, that two leagues yet remain before
us?" inquired the malicious soldier. "That village down yonder must be
"Great heavens!" cried the Marquis d'Albon. "Go on to Cassan by all
means, if you like; but if you do, you will go alone. I prefer to wait
here, storm or no storm; you can send a horse for me from the chateau.
You have been making game of me, Sucy. We were to have a nice day's
sport by ourselves; we were not to go very far from Cassan, and go
over ground that I knew. Pooh! instead of a day's fun, you have kept
me running like a greyhound since four o'clock this morning, and
nothing but a cup or two of milk by way of breakfast. Oh! if ever you
find yourself in a court of law, I will take care that the day goes
against you if you were in the right a hundred times over."
The dejected sportsman sat himself down on one of the stumps at the
foot of the guide-post, disencumbered himself of his rifle and empty
game-bag, and heaved a prolonged sigh.
"Oh, France, behold thy Deputies!" laughed Colonel de Sucy. "Poor
old d'Albon; if you had spent six months at the other end of Siberia
as I did . . ."
He broke off, and his eyes sought the sky, as if the story of his
troubles was a secret between himself and God.
"Come, march!" he added. "If you once sit down, it is all over with
"I can't help it, Philip! It is such an old habit in a magistrate!
I am dead beat, upon my honor. If I had only bagged one hare though!"
Two men more different are seldom seen together. The civilian, a
man of forty-two, seemed scarcely more than thirty; while the soldier,
at thirty years of age, looked to be forty at the least. Both wore the
red rosette that proclaimed them to be officers of the Legion of
Honor. A few locks of hair, mingled white and black, like a magpie's
wing, had strayed from beneath the Colonel's cap; while thick, fair
curls clustered about the magistrate's temples. The Colonel was tall,
spare, dried up, but muscular; the lines in his pale face told a tale
of vehement passions or of terrible sorrows; but his comrade's jolly
countenance beamed with health, and would have done credit to an
Epicurean. Both men were deeply sunburnt. Their high gaiters of brown
leather carried souvenirs of every ditch and swamp that they crossed
"Come, come," cried M. de Sucy, "forward! One short hour's march,
and we shall be at Cassan with a good dinner before us."
"You never were in love, that is positive," returned the
Councillor, with a comically piteous expression. "You are as
inexorable as Article 304 of the Penal Code!"
Philip de Sucy shuddered violently. Deep lines appeared in his
broad forehead, his face was overcast like the sky above them; but
though his features seemed to contract with the pain of an intolerably
bitter memory, no tears came to his eyes. Like all men of strong
character, he possessed the power of forcing his emotions down into
some inner depth, and, perhaps, like many reserved natures, he shrank
from laying bare a wound too deep for any words of human speech, and
winced at the thought of ridicule from those who do not care to
understand. M. d'Albon was one of those who are keenly sensitive by
nature to the distress of others, who feel at once the pain they have
unwillingly given by some blunder. He respected his friend's mood,
rose to his feet, forgot his weariness, and followed in silence,
thoroughly annoyed with himself for having touched on a wound that
seemed not yet healed.
"Some day I will tell you my story," Philip said at last, wringing
his friend's hand, while he acknowledged his dumb repentance with a
heart- rending glance. "To-day I cannot."
They walked on in silence. As the Colonel's distress passed off the
Councillor's fatigue returned. Instinctively, or rather urged by
weariness, his eyes explored the depths of the forest around them; he
looked high and low among the trees, and gazed along the avenues,
hoping to discover some dwelling where he might ask for hospitality.
They reached a place where several roads met; and the Councillor,
fancying that he saw a thin film of smoke rising through the trees,
made a stand and looked sharply about him. He caught a glimpse of the
dark green branches of some firs among the other forest trees, and
finally, "A house! a house!" he shouted. No sailor could have raised a
cry of "Land ahead!" more joyfully than he.
He plunged at once into undergrowth, somewhat of the thickest; and
the Colonel, who had fallen into deep musings, followed him
"I would rather have an omelette here and home-made bread, and a
chair to sit down in, than go further for a sofa, truffles, and
Bordeaux wine at Cassan."
This outburst of enthusiasm on the Councillor's part was caused by
the sight of the whitened wall of a house in the distance, standing
out in strong contrast against the brown masses of knotted tree-trunks
in the forest.
"Aha! This used to be a priory, I should say," the Marquis d'Albon
cried once more, as they stood before a grim old gateway. Through the
grating they could see the house itself standing in the midst of some
considerable extent of park land; from the style of the architecture
it appeared to have been a monastery once upon a time.
"Those knowing rascals of monks knew how to choose a site!"
This last exclamation was caused by the magistrate's amazement at
the romantic hermitage before his eyes. The house had been built on a
spot half-way up the hillside on the slope below the village of
Nerville, which crowned the summit. A huge circle of great oak-trees,
hundreds of years old, guarded the solitary place from intrusion.
There appeared to be about forty acres of the park. The main building
of the monastery faced the south, and stood in a space of green
meadow, picturesquely intersected by several tiny clear streams, and
by larger sheets of water so disposed as to have a natural effect.
Shapely trees with contrasting foliage grew here and there. Grottos
had been ingeniously contrived; and broad terraced walks, now in ruin,
though the steps were broken and the balustrades eaten through with
rust, gave to this sylvan Thebaid a certain character of its own. The
art of man and the picturesqueness of nature had wrought together to
produce a charming effect. Human passions surely could not cross that
boundary of tall oak-trees which shut out the sounds of the outer
world, and screened the fierce heat of the sun from this forest
"What neglect!" said M. d'Albon to himself, after the first sense
of delight in the melancholy aspect of the ruins in the landscape,
which seemed blighted by a curse.
It was like some haunted spot, shunned of men. The twisted ivy
stems clambered everywhere, hiding everything away beneath a luxuriant
green mantle. Moss and lichens, brown and gray, yellow and red,
covered the trees with fantastic patches of color, grew upon the
benches in the garden, overran the roof and the walls of the house.
The window-sashes were weather-worn and warped with age, the balconies
were dropping to pieces, the terraces in ruins. Here and there the
folding shutters hung by a single hinge. The crazy doors would have
given way at the first attempt to force an entrance.
Out in the orchard the neglected fruit-trees were running to wood,
the rambling branches bore no fruit save the glistening mistletoe
berries, and tall plants were growing in the garden walks. All this
forlornness shed a charm across the picture that wrought on the
spectator's mind with an influence like that of some enchanting poem,
filling his soul with dreamy fancies. A poet must have lingered there
in deep and melancholy musings, marveling at the harmony of this
wilderness, where decay had a certain grace of its own.
In a moment a few gleams of sunlight struggled through a rift in
the clouds, and a shower of colored light fell over the wild garden.
The brown tiles of the roof glowed in the light, the mosses took
bright hues, strange shadows played over the grass beneath the trees;
the dead autumn tints grew vivid, bright unexpected contrasts were
evoked by the light, every leaf stood out sharply in the clear, thin
air. Then all at once the sunlight died away, and the landscape that
seemed to have spoken grew silent and gloomy again, or rather, it took
gray soft tones like the tenderest hues of autumn dusk.
"It is the palace of the Sleeping Beauty," the Councillor said to
himself (he had already begun to look at the place from the point of
view of an owner of property). "Whom can the place belong to, I
wonder. He must be a great fool not to live on such a charming little
Just at that moment, a woman sprang out from under a walnut tree on
the right-hand side of the gateway, and passed before the Councillor
as noiselessly and swiftly as the shadow of a cloud. This apparition
struck him dumb with amazement.
"Hallo, d'Albon, what is the matter?" asked the Colonel.
"I am rubbing my eyes to find out whether I am awake or asleep,"
answered the magistrate, whose countenance was pressed against the
grating in the hope of catching a second glimpse of the ghost.
"In all probability she is under that fig-tree," he went on,
indicating, for Philip's benefit, some branches that over-topped the
wall on the left-hand side of the gateway.
"Eh! how should I know?" answered M. d'Albon. "A strange-looking
woman sprang up there under my very eyes just now," he added, in a low
voice; "she looked to me more like a ghost than a living being. She
was so slender, light and shadowy that she might be transparent. Her
face was as white as milk, her hair, her eyes, and her dress were
black. She gave me a glance as she flitted by. I am not easily
frightened, but that cold stony stare of hers froze the blood in my
"Was she pretty?" inquired Philip.
"I don't know. I saw nothing but those eyes in her head."
"The devil take dinner at Cassan!" exclaimed the Colonel; "let us
stay here. I am as eager as a boy to see the inside of this queer
place. The window-sashes are painted red, do you see? There is a red
line round the panels of the doors and the edges of the shutters. It
might be the devil's own dwelling; perhaps he took it over when the
monks went out. Now, then, let us give chase to the black and white
lady; come along!" cried Philip, with forced gaiety.
He had scarcely finished speaking when the two sportsmen heard a
cry as if some bird had been taken in a snare. They listened. There
was a sound like the murmur of rippling water, as something forced its
way through the bushes; but diligently as they lent their ears, there
was no footfall on the path, the earth kept the secret of the
mysterious woman's passage, if indeed she had moved from her
"This is very strange!" cried Philip.
Following the wall of the path, the two friends reached before long
a forest road leading to the village of Chauvry; they went along this
track in the direction of the highway to Paris, and reached another
large gateway. Through the railings they had a complete view of the
facade of the mysterious house. From this point of view, the
dilapidation was still more apparent. Huge cracks had riven the walls
of the main body of the house built round three sides of a square.
Evidently the place was allowed to fall to ruin; there were holes in
the roof, broken slates and tiles lay about below. Fallen fruit from
the orchard trees was left to rot on the ground; a cow was grazing
over the bowling-green and trampling the flowers in the garden beds; a
goat browsed on the green grapes and young vine-shoots on the trellis.
"It is all of a piece," remarked the Colonel. "The neglect is in a
fashion systematic." He laid his hand on the chain of the bell-pull,
but the bell had lost its clapper. The two friends heard no sound save
the peculiar grating creak of the rusty spring. A little door in the
wall beside the gateway, though ruinous, held good against all their
efforts to force it open.
"Oho! all this is growing very interesting," Philip said to his
"If I were not a magistrate," returned M. d'Albon, "I should think
that the woman in black is a witch."
The words were scarcely out of his mouth when the cow came up to
the railings and held out her warm damp nose, as if she were glad of
human society. Then a woman, if so indescribable a being could be
called a woman, sprang up from the bushes, and pulled at the cord
about the cow's neck. From beneath the crimson handkerchief about the
woman's head, fair matted hair escaped, something as tow hangs about a
spindle. She wore no kerchief at the throat. A coarse black-and-gray
striped woolen petticoat, too short by several inches, left her legs
bare. She might have belonged to some tribe of Redskins in Fenimore
Cooper's novels; for her neck, arms, and ankles looked as if they had
been painted brick-red. There was no spark of intelligence in her
featureless face; her pale, bluish eyes looked out dull and
expressionless from beneath the eyebrows with one or two straggling
white hairs on them. Her teeth were prominent and uneven, but white as
"Hallo, good woman," called M. de Sucy.
She came slowly up to the railing, and stared at the two sportsmen
with a contorted smile painful to see.
"Where are we? What is the name of the house yonder? Whom does it
belong to? Who are you? Do you come from hereabouts?"
To these questions, and to a host of others poured out in
succession upon her by the two friends, she made no answer save
gurgling sounds in the throat, more like animal sounds than anything
uttered by a human voice.
"Don't you see that she is deaf and dumb?" said M. d'Albon.
"Minorites!" the peasant woman said at last.
"Ah! she is right. The house looks as though it might once have
been a Minorite convent," he went on.
Again they plied the peasant woman with questions, but, like a
wayward child, she colored up, fidgeted with her sabot, twisted the
rope by which she held the cow that had fallen to grazing again,
stared at the sportsmen, and scrutinized every article of clothing
upon them; she gibbered, grunted, and clucked, but no articulate word
did she utter.
"Your name?" asked Philip, fixing her with his eyes as if he were
trying to bewitch the woman.
"Genevieve," she answered, with an empty laugh.
"The cow is the most intelligent creature we have seen so far,"
exclaimed the magistrate. "I shall fire a shot, that ought to bring
D'Albon had just taken up his rifle when the Colonel put out a hand
to stop him, and pointed out the mysterious woman who had aroused such
lively curiosity in them. She seemed to be absorbed in deep thought,
as she went along a green alley some little distance away, so slowly
that the friends had time to take a good look at her. She wore a
threadbare black satin gown, her long hair curled thickly over her
forehead, and fell like a shawl about her shoulders below her waist.
Doubtless she was accustomed to the dishevelment of her locks, for she
seldom put back the hair on either side of her brows; but when she did
so, she shook her head with a sudden jerk that had not to be repeated
to shake away the thick veil from her eyes or forehead. In everything
that she did, moreover, there was a wonderful certainty in the working
of the mechanism, an unerring swiftness and precision, like that of an
animal, well-nigh marvelous in a woman.
The two sportsmen were amazed to see her spring up into an
apple-tree and cling to a bough lightly as a bird. She snatched at the
fruit, ate it, and dropped to the ground with the same supple grace
that charms us in a squirrel. The elasticity of her limbs took all
appearance of awkwardness or effort from her movements. She played
about upon the grass, rolling in it as a young child might have done;
then, on a sudden, she lay still and stretched out her feet and hands,
with the languid natural grace of a kitten dozing in the sun.
There was a threatening growl of thunder far away, and at this she
started up on all fours and listened, like a dog who hears a strange
footstep. One result of this strange attitude was to separate her
thick black hair into two masses, that fell away on either side of her
face and left her shoulders bare; the two witnesses of this singular
scene wondered at the whiteness of the skin that shone like a meadow
daisy, and at the neck that indicated the perfection of the rest of
A wailing cry broke from her; she rose to her feet, and stood
upright. Every successive movement was made so lightly, so gracefully,
so easily, that she seemed to be no human being, but one of Ossian's
maids of the mist. She went across the grass to one of the pools of
water, deftly shook off her shoe, and seemed to enjoy dipping her
foot, white as marble, in the spring; doubtless it pleased her to make
the circling ripples, and watch them glitter like gems. She knelt down
by the brink, and played there like a child, dabbling her long tresses
in the water, and flinging them loose again to see the water drip from
the ends, like a string of pearls in the sunless light.
"She is mad!" cried the Councillor.
A hoarse cry rang through the air; it came from Genevieve, and
seemed to be meant for the mysterious woman. She rose to her feet in a
moment, flinging back the hair from her face, and then the Colonel and
d'Albon could see her features distinctly. As soon as she saw the two
friends she bounded to the railings with the swiftness of a fawn.
"Farewell!" she said in low, musical tones, but they could
not discover the least trace of feeling, the least idea in the sweet
sounds that they had awaited impatiently.
M. d'Albon admired the long lashes, the thick, dark eyebrows, the
dazzling fairness of skin untinged by any trace of red. Only the
delicate blue veins contrasted with that uniform whiteness.
But when the Marquis turned to communicate his surprise at the
sight of so strange an apparition, he saw the Colonel stretched on the
grass like one dead. M. d'Albon fired his gun into the air, shouted
for help, and tried to raise his friend. At the sound of the shot, the
strange lady, who had stood motionless by the gate, fled away, crying
out like a wounded wild creature, circling round and round in the
meadow, with every sign of unspeakable terror.
M. d'Albon heard a carriage rolling along the road to l'Isle-Adam,
and waved his handkerchief to implore help. The carriage immediately
came towards the Minorite convent, and M. d'Albon recognized
neighbors, M. and Mme. de Grandville, who hastened to alight and put
their carriage at his disposal. Colonel de Sucy inhaled the salts
which Mme. de Grandville happened to have with her; he opened his
eyes, looked towards the mysterious figure that still fled wailing
through the meadow, and a faint cry of horror broke from him; he
closed his eyes again, with a dumb gesture of entreaty to his friends
to take him away from this scene. M. and Mme. de Grandville begged the
Councillor to make use of their carriage, adding very obligingly that
they themselves would walk.
"Who can the lady be?" inquired the magistrate, looking towards the
"People think that she comes from Moulins," answered M. de
Grandville. "She is a Comtesse de Vandieres; she is said to be mad;
but as she has only been here for two months, I cannot vouch for the
truth of all this hearsay talk."
M. d'Albon thanked M. and Mme. de Grandville, and they set out for
"It is she!" cried Philip, coming to himself.
"She? who?" asked d'Albon.
"Stephanie. . . . Ah! dead and yet living still; still alive, but
her mind is gone! I thought the sight would kill me."
The prudent magistrate, recognizing the gravity of the crisis
through which his friend was passing, refrained from asking questions
or exciting him further, and grew impatient of the length of the way
to the chateau, for the change wrought in the Colonel's face alarmed
him. He feared lest the Countess' terrible disease had communicated
itself to Philip's brain. When they reached the avenue at l'Isle-Adam,
d'Albon sent the servant for the local doctor, so that the Colonel had
scarcely been laid in bed before the surgeon was beside him.
"If Monsieur le Colonel had not been fasting, the shock must have
killed him," pronounced the leech. "He was over-tired, and that saved
him," and with a few directions as to the patient's treatment, he went
to prepare a composing draught himself. M. de Sucy was better the next
morning, but the doctor had insisted on sitting up all night with him.
"I confess, Monsieur le Marquis," the surgeon said, "that I feared
for the brain. M. de Sucy has had some very violent shock; he is a man
of strong passions, but, with his temperament, the first shock decides
everything. He will very likely be out of danger to-morrow."
The doctor was perfectly right. The next day the patient was
allowed to see his friend.
"I want you to do something for me, dear d'Albon," Philip said,
grasping his friend's hand. "Hasten at once to the Minorite convent,
find out everything about the lady whom we saw there, and come back as
soon as you can; I shall count the minutes till I see you again."
M. d'Albon called for his horse, and galloped over to the old
monastery. When he reached the gateway he found some one standing
there, a tall, spare man with a kindly face, who answered in the
affirmative when he was asked if he lived in the ruined house. M.
d'Albon explained his errand.
"Why, then, it must have been you, sir, who fired that unlucky
shot! You all but killed my poor invalid."
"Eh! I fired into the air!"
"If you had actually hit Madame la Comtesse, you would have done
less harm to her."
"Well, well, then, we can neither of us complain, for the sight of
the Countess all but killed my friend, M. de Sucy."
"The Baron de Sucy, is it possible?" cried the doctor, clasping his
hands. "Has he been in Russia? was he in the Beresina?"
"Yes," answered d'Albon. "He was taken prisoner by the Cossacks and
sent to Siberia. He has not been back in this country a twelvemonth."
"Come in, monsieur," said the other, and he led the way to a
drawing- room on the ground-floor. Everything in the room showed signs
of capricious destruction.
Valuable china jars lay in fragments on either side of a clock
beneath a glass shade, which had escaped. The silk hangings about the
windows were torn to rags, while the muslin curtains were untouched.
"You see about you the havoc wrought by a charming being to whom I
have dedicated my life. She is my niece; and though medical science is
powerless in her case, I hope to restore her to reason, though the
method which I am trying is, unluckily, only possible to the wealthy."
Then, like all who live much alone and daily bear the burden of a
heavy trouble, he fell to talk with the magistrate. This is the story
that he told, set in order, and with the many digressions made by both
teller and hearer omitted.
When, at nine o'clock at night, on the 28th of November 1812,
Marshal Victor abandoned the heights of Studzianka, which he had held
through the day, he left a thousand men behind with instructions to
protect, till the last possible moment, the two pontoon bridges over
the Beresina that still held good. This rear guard was to save if
possible an appalling number of stragglers, so numbed with the cold,
that they obstinately refused to leave the baggage-wagons. The heroism
of the generous band was doomed to fail; for, unluckily, the men who
poured down to the eastern bank of the Beresina found carriages,
caissons, and all kinds of property which the Army had been forced to
abandon during its passage on the 27th and 28th days of November. The
poor, half-frozen wretches, sunk almost to the level of brutes,
finding such unhoped-for riches, bivouacked in the deserted space,
laid hands on the military stores, improvised huts out of the
material, lighted fires with anything that would burn, cut up the
carcasses of the horses for food, tore out the linings of the
carriages, wrapped themselves in them, and lay down to sleep instead
of crossing the Beresina in peace under cover of night—the Beresina
that even then had proved, by incredible fatality, so disastrous to
the Army. Such apathy on the part of the poor fellows can only be
understood by those who remember tramping across those vast deserts of
snow, with nothing to quench their thirst but snow, snow for their
bed, snow as far as the horizon on every side, and no food but snow, a
little frozen beetroot, horseflesh, or a handful of meal.
The miserable creatures were dropping down, overcome by hunger,
thirst, weariness, and sleep, when they reached the shores of the
Beresina and found fuel and fire and victuals, countless wagons and
tents, a whole improvised town, in short. The whole village of
Studzianka had been removed piecemeal from the heights of the plain,
and the very perils and miseries of this dangerous and doleful
habitation smiled invitingly to the wayfarers, who beheld no prospect
beyond it but the awful Russian deserts. A huge hospice, in short, was
erected for twenty hours of existence. Only one thought—the thought
of rest—appealed to men weary of life or rejoicing in unlooked-for
They lay right in the line of fire from the cannon of the Russian
left; but to that vast mass of human creatures, a patch upon the snow,
sometimes dark, sometimes breaking into flame, the indefatigable
grapeshot was but one discomfort the more. For them it was only a
storm, and they paid the less attention to the bolts that fell among
them because there were none to strike down there save dying men, the
wounded, or perhaps the dead. Stragglers came up in little bands at
every moment. These walking corpses instantly separated, and wandered
begging from fire to fire; and meeting, for the most part, with
refusals, banded themselves together again, and took by force what
they could not otherwise obtain. They were deaf to the voices of their
officers prophesying death on the morrow, and spent the energy
required to cross the swamp in building shelters for the night and
preparing a meal that often proved fatal. The coming death no longer
seemed an evil, for it gave them an hour of slumber before it came.
Hunger and thirst and cold—these were evils, but not death.
At last wood and fuel and canvas and shelters failed, and hideous
brawls began between destitute late comers and the rich already in
possession of a lodging. The weaker were driven away, until a few last
fugitives before the Russian advance were obliged to make their bed in
the snow, and lay down to rise no more.
Little by little the mass of half-dead humanity became so dense, so
deaf, so torpid,—or perhaps it should be said so happy—that Marshal
Victor, their heroic defender against twenty thousand Russians under
Wittgenstein, was actually compelled to cut his way by force through
this forest of men, so as to cross the Beresina with the five thousand
heroes whom he was leading to the Emperor. The miserable creatures
preferred to be trampled and crushed to death rather than stir from
their places, and died without a sound, smiling at the dead ashes of
their fires, forgetful of France.
Not before ten o'clock that night did the Duc de Belluno reach the
other side of the river. Before committing his men to the pontoon
bridges that led to Zembin, he left the fate of the rearguard at
Studzianka in Eble's hands, and to Eble the survivors of the
calamities of the Beresina owed their lives.
About midnight, the great General, followed by a courageous
officer, came out of his little hut by the bridge, and gazed at the
spectacle of this camp between the bank of the Beresina and the
Borizof road to Studzianka. The thunder of the Russian cannonade had
ceased. Here and there faces that had nothing human about them were
lighted up by countless fires that seemed to grow pale in the glare of
the snowfields, and to give no light. Nearly thirty thousand wretches,
belonging to every nation that Napoleon had hurled upon Russia, lay
there hazarding their lives with the indifference of brute beasts.
"We have all these to save," the General said to his subordinate.
"To-morrow morning the Russians will be in Studzianka. The moment they
come up we shall have to set fire to the bridge; so pluck up heart, my
boy! Make your way out and up yonder through them, and tell General
Fournier that he has barely time to evacuate his post and cut his way
through to the bridge. As soon as you have seen him set out, follow
him down, take some able-bodied men, and set fire to the tents,
wagons, caissons, carriages, anything and everything, without pity,
and drive these fellows on to the bridge. Compel everything that walks
on two legs to take refuge on the other bank. We must set fire to the
camp; it is our last resource. If Berthier had let me burn those
d——d wagons sooner, no lives need have been lost in the river except
my poor pontooners, my fifty heroes, who saved the Army, and will be
The General passed his hand over his forehead and said no more. He
felt that Poland would be his tomb, and foresaw that afterwards no
voice would be raised to speak for the noble fellows who had plunged
into the stream—into the waters of the Beresina!—to drive in the
piles for the bridges. And, indeed, only one of them is living now,
or, to be more accurate, starving, utterly forgotten in a country
village![*] The brave officer had scarcely gone a hundred paces
towards Studzianka, when General Eble roused some of his patient
pontooners, and began his work of mercy by setting fire to the camp on
the side nearest the bridge, so compelling the sleepers to rise and
cross the Beresina. Meanwhile the young aide-de-camp, not without
difficulty, reached the one wooden house yet left standing in
[*] This story can be found in The Country Parson.—eBook
"So the box is pretty full, is it, messmate?" he said to a man whom
he found outside.
"You will be a knowing fellow if you manage to get inside," the
officer returned, without turning round or stopping his occupation of
hacking at the woodwork of the house with his sabre.
"Philip, is that you?" cried the aide-de-camp, recognizing the
voice of one of his friends.
"Yes. Aha! is it you, old fellow?" returned M. de Sucy, looking
round at the aide-de-camp, who like himself was not more than
twenty-three years old. "I fancied you were on the other side of this
confounded river. Do you come to bring us sweetmeats for dessert? You
will get a warm welcome," he added, as he tore away a strip of bark
from the wood and gave it to his horse by way of fodder.
"I am looking for your commandant. General Eble has sent me to tell
him to file off to Zembin. You have only just time to cut your way
through that mass of dead men; as soon as you get through, I am going
to set fire to the place to make them move —"
"You almost make me feel warm! Your news has put me in a fever; I
have two friends to bring through. Ah! but for those marmots, I should
have been dead before now, old fellow. On their account I am taking
care of my horse instead of eating him. But have you a crust about
you, for pity's sake? It is thirty hours since I have stowed any
victuals. I have been fighting like a madman to keep up a little
warmth in my body and what courage I have left."
"Poor Philip! I have nothing—not a scrap!— But is your General in
"Don't attempt to go in. The barn is full of our wounded. Go up a
bit higher, and you will see a sort of pig-sty to the right—that is
where the General is. Good-bye, my dear fellow. If ever we meet again
in a quadrille in a ballroom in Paris—"
He did not finish the sentence, for the treachery of the northeast
wind that whistled about them froze Major Philip's lips, and the
aide-de-camp kept moving for fear of being frost-bitten. Silence soon
prevailed, scarcely broken by the groans of the wounded in the barn,
or the stifled sounds made by M. de Sucy's horse crunching on the
frozen bark with famished eagerness. Philip thrust his sabre into the
sheath, caught at the bridle of the precious animal that he had
managed to keep for so long, and drew her away from the miserable
fodder that she was bolting with apparent relish.
"Come along, Bichette! come along! It lies with you now, my beauty,
to save Stephanie's life. There, wait a little longer, and they will
let us lie down and die, no doubt;" and Philip, wrapped in a pelisse,
to which doubtless he owed his life and energies, began to run,
stamping his feet on the frozen snow to keep them warm. He was scarce
five hundred paces away before he saw a great fire blazing on the spot
where he had left his carriage that morning with an old soldier to
guard it. A dreadful misgiving seized upon him. Many a man under the
influence of a powerful feeling during the Retreat summoned up energy
for his friend's sake when he would not have exerted himself to save
his own life; so it was with Philip. He soon neared a hollow, where he
had left a carriage sheltered from the cannonade, a carriage that held
a young woman, his playmate in childhood, dearer to him than any one
else on earth.
Some thirty stragglers were sitting round a tremendous blaze, which
they kept up with logs of wood, planks wrenched from the floors of the
caissons, and wheels, and panels from carriage bodies. These had been,
doubtless, among the last to join the sea of fires, huts, and human
faces that filled the great furrow in the land between Studzianka and
the fatal river, a restless living sea of almost imperceptibly moving
figures, that sent up a smothered hum of sound blended with frightful
shrieks. It seemed that hunger and despair had driven these forlorn
creatures to take forcible possession of the carriage, for the old
General and his young wife, whom they had found warmly wrapped in
pelisses and traveling cloaks, were now crouching on the earth beside
the fire, and one of the carriage doors was broken.
As soon as the group of stragglers round the fire heard the
footfall of the Major's horse, a frenzied yell of hunger went up from
them. "A horse!" they cried. "A horse!"
All the voices went up as one voice.
"Back! back! Look out!" shouted two or three of them, leveling
their muskets at the animal.
"I will pitch you neck and crop into your fire, you blackguards!"
cried Philip, springing in front of the mare. "There are dead horses
lying up yonder; go and look for them!"
"What a rum customer the officer is!— Once, twice, will you get
out of the way?" returned a giant grenadier. "You won't? All right
then, just as you please."
A woman's shriek rang out above the report. Luckily, none of the
bullets hit Philip; but poor Bichette lay in the agony of death. Three
of the men came up and put an end to her with thrusts of the bayonet.
"Cannibals! leave me the rug and my pistols," cried Philip in
"Oh! the pistols if you like; but as for the rug, there is a fellow
yonder who has had nothing to wet his whistle these two days, and is
shivering in his coat of cobwebs, and that's our General."
Philips looked up and saw a man with worn-out shoes and a dozen
rents in his trousers; the only covering for his head was a ragged
foraging cap, white with rime. He said no more after that, but
snatched up his pistols.
Five of the men dragged the mare to the fire, and began to cut up
the carcass as dexterously as any journeymen butchers in Paris. The
scraps of meat were distributed and flung upon the coals, and the
whole process was magically swift. Philip went over to the woman who
had given the cry of terror when she recognized his danger, and sat
down by her side. She sat motionless upon a cushion taken from the
carriage, warming herself at the blaze; she said no word, and gazed at
him without a smile. He saw beside her the soldier whom he had left
mounting guard over the carriage; the poor fellow had been wounded; he
had been overpowered by numbers, and forced to surrender to the
stragglers who had set upon him, and, like a dog who defends his
master's dinner till the last moment, he had taken his share of the
spoil, and had made a sort of cloak for himself out of a sheet. At
that particular moment he was busy toasting a piece of horseflesh, and
in his face the major saw a gleeful anticipation of the coming feast.
The Comte de Vandieres, who seemed to have grown quite childish in
the last few days, sat on a cushion close to his wife, and stared into
the fire. He was only just beginning to shake off his torpor under the
influence of the warmth. He had been no more affected by Philip's
arrival and danger than by the fight and subsequent pillaging of his
At first Sucy caught the young Countess' hand in his, trying to
express his affection for her, and the pain that it gave him to see
her reduced like this to the last extremity of misery; but he said
nothing as he sat by her side on the thawing heap of snow, he gave
himself up to the pleasure of the sensation of warmth, forgetful of
danger, forgetful of all things else in the world. In spite of himself
his face expanded with an almost fatuous expression of satisfaction,
and he waited impatiently till the scrap of horseflesh that had fallen
to his soldier's share should be cooked. The smell of charred flesh
stimulated his hunger. Hunger clamored within and silenced his heart,
his courage, and his love. He coolly looked round on the results of
the spoliation of his carriage. Not a man seated round the fire but
had shared the booty, the rugs, cushions, pelisses, dresses,—articles
of clothing that belonged to the Count and Countess or to himself.
Philip turned to see if anything worth taking was left in the berline.
He saw by the light of the flames, gold, and diamonds, and silver
lying scattered about; no one had cared to appropriate the least
particle. There was something hideous in the silence among those human
creatures round the fire; none of them spoke, none of them stirred,
save to do such things as each considered necessary for his own
It was a grotesque misery. The men's faces were wrapped and
disfigured with the cold, and plastered over with a layer of mud; you
could see the thickness of the mask by the channel traced down their
cheeks by the tears that ran from their eyes, and their long
slovenly-kept beards added to the hideousness of their appearance.
Some were wrapped round in women's shawls, others in horse-cloths,
dirty blankets, rags stiffened with melting hoar-frost; here and there
a man wore a boot on one foot and a shoe on the other, in fact, there
was not one of them but wore some ludicrously odd costume. But the men
themselves with such matter for jest about them were gloomy and
The silence was unbroken save by the crackling of the wood, the
roaring of the flames, the far-off hum of the camp, and the sound of
sabres hacking at the carcass of the mare. Some of the hungriest of
the men were still cutting tidbits for themselves. A few miserable
creatures, more weary than the others, slept outright; and if they
happened to roll into the fire, no one pulled them back. With
cut-and-dried logic their fellows argued that if they were not dead, a
scorching ought to be sufficient warning to quit and seek out more
comfortable quarters. If the poor wretch woke to find himself on fire,
he was burned to death, and nobody pitied him. Here and there the men
exchanged glances, as if to excuse their indifference by the
carelessness of the rest; the thing happened twice under the Countess'
eyes, and she uttered no sound. When all the scraps of horseflesh had
been broiled upon the coals, they were devoured with a ravenous
greediness that would have been disgusting in wild beasts.
"And now we have seen thirty infantrymen on one horse for the first
time in our lives!" cried the grenadier who had shot the mare, the one
solitary joke that sustained the Frenchmen's reputation for wit.
Before long the poor fellows huddled themselves up in their
clothes, and lay down on planks of timber, on anything but the bare
snow, and slept—heedless of the morrow. Major de Sucy having warmed
himself and satisfied his hunger, fought in vain against the
drowsiness that weighed upon his eyes. During this brief struggle he
gazed at the sleeping girl who had turned her face to the fire, so
that he could see her closed eyelids and part of her forehead. She was
wrapped round in a furred pelisse and a coarse horseman's cloak, her
head lay on a blood-stained cushion; a tall astrakhan cap tied over
her head by a handkerchief knotted under the chin protected her face
as much as possible from the cold, and she had tucked up her feet in
the cloak. As she lay curled up in this fashion, she bore no likeness
to any creature.
Was this the lowest of camp-followers? Was this the charming woman,
the pride of her lover's heart, the queen of many a Parisian ballroom?
Alas! even for the eyes of this most devoted friend, there was no
discernible trace of womanhood in that bundle of rags and linen, and
the cold was mightier than the love in a woman's heart.
Then for the major the husband and wife came to be like two distant
dots seen through the thick veil that the most irresistible kind of
slumber spread over his eyes. It all seemed to be part of a dream—the
leaping flames, the recumbent figures, the awful cold that lay in wait
for them three paces away from the warmth of the fire that glowed for
a little while. One thought that could not be stifled haunted Philip—
"If I go to sleep, we shall all die; I will not sleep," he said to
He slept. After an hour's slumber M. de Sucy was awakened by a
hideous uproar and the sound of an explosion. The remembrance of his
duty, of the danger of his beloved, rushed upon his mind with a sudden
shock. He uttered a cry like the growl of a wild beast. He and his
servant stood upright above the rest. They saw a sea of fire in the
darkness, and against it moving masses of human figures. Flames were
devouring the huts and tents. Despairing shrieks and yelling cries
reached their ears; they saw thousands upon thousands of wild and
desperate faces; and through this inferno a column of soldiers was
cutting its way to the bridge, between the two hedges of dead bodies.
"Our rearguard is in full retreat," cried the major. "There is no
"I have spared your traveling carriage, Philip," said a friendly
Sucy turned and saw the young aide-de-camp by the light of the
"Oh, it is all over with us," he answered. "They have eaten my
horse. And how am I to make this sleepy general and his wife stir a
"Take a brand, Philip, and threaten them."
"Threaten the Countess? . . ."
"Good-bye," cried the aide-de-camp; "I have only just time to get
across that unlucky river, and go I must, there is my mother in
France! . . . What a night! This herd of wretches would rather lie
here in the snow, and most of them would sooner be burned alive than
get up. . . . It is four o'clock, Philip! In two hours the Russians
will begin to move, and you will see the Beresina covered with corpses
a second time, I can tell you. You haven't a horse, and you cannot
carry the Countess, so come along with me," he went on, taking his
friend by the arm.
"My dear fellow, how am I to leave Stephanie?"
Major de Sucy grasped the Countess, set her on her feet, and shook
her roughly; he was in despair. He compelled her to wake, and she
stared at him with dull fixed eyes.
"Stephanie, we must go, or we shall die here!"
For all answer, the Countess tried to sink down again and sleep on
the earth. The aide-de-camp snatched a brand from the fire and shook
it in her face.
"We must save her in spite of herself," cried Philip, and he
carried her in his arms to the carriage. He came back to entreat his
friend to help him, and the two young men took the old general and put
him beside his wife, without knowing whether he were alive or dead.
The major rolled the men over as they crouched on the earth, took away
the plundered clothing, and heaped it upon the husband and wife, then
he flung some of the broiled fragments of horseflesh into a corner of
"Now, what do you mean to do?" asked the aide-de-camp.
"Drag them along!" answered Sucy.
"You are mad!"
"You are right!" exclaimed Philip, folding his arms on his breast.
Suddenly a desperate plan occurred to him.
"Look you here!" he said, grasping his sentinel by the unwounded
arm. "I leave her in your care for one hour. Bear in mind that you
must die sooner than let any one, no matter whom, come near the
The major seized a handful of the lady's diamonds, drew his sabre,
and violently battered those who seemed to him to be the bravest among
the sleepers. By this means he succeeded in rousing the gigantic
grenadier and a couple of men whose rank and regiment were
"It is all up with us!" he cried.
"Of course it is," returned the grenadier; "but that is all one to
"Very well then, if die you must, isn't it better to sell your life
for a pretty woman, and stand a chance of going back to France again?"
"I would rather go to sleep," said one of the men, dropping down
into the snow; "and if you worry me again, major, I shall stick my
toasting-iron into your body."
"What is it all about, sir?" asked the grenadier. "The man's drunk.
He is a Parisian, and likes to lie in the lap of luxury."
"You shall have these, good fellow," said the major, holding out a
riviere of diamonds, "if you will follow me and fight like a madman.
The Russians are not ten minutes away; they have horses; we will march
up to the nearest battery and carry off two stout ones."
"How about the sentinels, major?"
"One of us three—" he began; then he turned from the soldier and
looked at the aide-de-camp.—"You are coming, aren't you, Hippolyte?"
Hippolyte nodded assent.
"One of us," the major went on, "will look after the sentry.
Besides, perhaps those blessed Russians are also fast asleep."
"All right, major; you are a good sort! But will you take me in
your carriage?" asked the grenadier.
"Yes, if you don't leave your bones up yonder.— If I come to
grief, promise me, you two, that you will do everything in your power
to save the Countess."
"All right," said the grenadier.
They set out for the Russian lines, taking the direction of the
batteries that had so cruelly raked the mass of miserable creatures
huddled together by the river bank. A few minutes later the hoofs of
two galloping horses rang on the frozen snow, and the awakened battery
fired a volley that passed over the heads of the sleepers; the
hoof-beats rattled so fast on the iron ground that they sounded like
the hammering in a smithy. The generous aide-de-camp had fallen; the
stalwart grenadier had come off safe and sound; and Philip himself
received a bayonet thrust in the shoulder while defending his friend.
Notwithstanding his wound, he clung to his horse's mane, and gripped
him with his knees so tightly that the animal was held as in a vise.
"God be praised!" cried the major, when he saw his soldier still on
the spot, and the carriage standing where he had left it.
"If you do the right thing by me, sir, you will get me the cross
for this. We have treated them to a sword dance to a pretty tune from
the rifle, eh?"
"We have done nothing yet! Let us put the horses in. Take hold of
"They are not long enough."
"All right, grenadier, just go and overhaul those fellows sleeping
there; take their shawls, sheets, anything—"
"I say! the rascal is dead," cried the grenadier, as he plundered
the first man who came to hand. "Why, they are all dead! how queer!"
"All of them?"
"Yes, every one. It looks as though the horseflesh a la neige
Philip shuddered at the words. The night had grown twice as cold as
"Great heaven! to lose her when I have saved her life a score of
He shook the Countess, "Stephanie! Stephanie!" he cried.
She opened her eyes.
"We are saved, madame!"
"Saved!" she echoed, and fell back again.
The horses were harnessed after a fashion at last. The major held
his sabre in his unwounded hand, took the reins in the other, saw to
his pistols, and sprang on one of the horses, while the grenadier
mounted the other. The old sentinel had been pushed into the carriage,
and lay across the knees of the general and the Countess; his feet
were frozen. Urged on by blows from the flat of the sabre, the horses
dragged the carriage at a mad gallop down to the plain, where endless
difficulties awaited them. Before long it became almost impossible to
advance without crushing sleeping men, women, and even children at
every step, all of whom declined to stir when the grenadier awakened
them. In vain M. de Sucy looked for the track that the rearguard had
cut through this dense crowd of human beings; there was no more sign
of their passage than the wake of a ship in the sea. The horses could
only move at a foot-pace, and were stopped most frequently by
soldiers, who threatened to kill them.
"Do you mean to get there?" asked the grenadier.
"Yes, if it costs every drop of blood in my body! if it costs the
whole world!" the major answered.
"Forward, then! . . . You can't have the omelette without breaking
eggs." And the grenadier of the Garde urged on the horses over the
prostrate bodies, and upset the bivouacs; the blood-stained wheels
ploughing that field of faces left a double furrow of dead. But in
justice it should be said that he never ceased to thunder out his
warning cry, "Carrion! look out!"
"Poor wretches!" exclaimed the major.
"Bah! That way, or the cold, or the cannon!" said the grenadier,
goading on the horses with the point of his sword.
Then came the catastrophe, which must have happened sooner but for
miraculous good fortune; the carriage was overturned, and all further
progress was stopped at once.
"I expected as much!" exclaimed the imperturbable grenadier. "Oho!
he is dead!" he added, looking at his comrade.
"Poor Laurent!" said the major.
"Laurent! Wasn't he in the Fifth Chasseurs?"
"My own cousin.— Pshaw! this beastly life is not so pleasant that
one need be sorry for him as things go."
But all this time the carriage lay overturned, and the horses were
only released after great and irreparable loss of time. The shock had
been so violent that the Countess had been awakened by it, and the
subsequent commotion aroused her from her stupor. She shook off the
rugs and rose.
"Where are we, Philip?" she asked in musical tones, as she looked
"About five hundred paces from the bridge. We are just about to
cross the Beresina. When we are on the other side, Stephanie, I will
not tease you any more; I will let you go to sleep; we shall be in
safety, we can go on to Wilna in peace. God grant that you may never
know what your life has cost!"
"You are wounded!"
"A mere trifle."
The hour of doom had come. The Russian cannon announced the day.
The Russians were in possession of Studzianka, and thence were raking
the plain with grapeshot; and by the first dim light of the dawn the
major saw two columns moving and forming above the heights. Then a cry
of horror went up from the crowd, and in a moment every one sprang to
his feet. Each instinctively felt his danger, and all made a rush for
the bridge, surging towards it like a wave.
Then the Russians came down upon them, swift as a conflagration.
Men, women, children, and horses all crowded towards the river.
Luckily for the major and the Countess, they were still at some
distance from the bank. General Eble had just set fire to the bridge
on the other side; but in spite of all the warnings given to those who
rushed towards the chance of salvation, not one among them could or
would draw back. The overladen bridge gave way, and not only so, the
impetus of the frantic living wave towards that fatal bank was such
that a dense crowd of human beings was thrust into the water as if by
an avalanche. The sound of a single human cry could not be
distinguished; there was a dull crash as if an enormous stone had
fallen into the water—and the Beresina was covered with corpses.
The violent recoil of those in front, striving to escape this
death, brought them into hideous collision with those behind then, who
were pressing towards the bank, and many were suffocated and crushed.
The Comte and Comtesse de Vandieres owed their lives to the carriage.
The horses that had trampled and crushed so many dying men were
crushed and trampled to death in their turn by the human maelstrom
which eddied from the bank. Sheer physical strength saved the major
and the grenadier. They killed others in self-defence. That wild sea
of human faces and living bodies, surging to and fro as by one
impulse, left the bank of the Beresina clear for a few moments. The
multitude had hurled themselves back on the plain. Some few men sprang
down from the banks of the river, not so much with any hope of
reaching the opposite shore, which for them meant France, as from
dread of the wastes of Siberia. For some bold spirits despair became a
panoply. An officer leaped from hummock to hummock of ice, and reached
the other shore; one of the soldiers scrambled over miraculously on
the piles of dead bodies and drift ice. But the immense multitude left
behind saw at last that the Russians would not slaughter twenty
thousand unarmed men, too numb with the cold to attempt to resist
them, and each awaited his fate with dreadful apathy. By this time the
major and his grenadier, the old general and his wife, were left to
themselves not very far from the place where the bridge had been. All
four stood dry- eyed and silent among the heaps of dead. A few
able-bodied men and one or two officers, who had recovered all their
energy at this crisis, gathered about them. The group was sufficiently
large; there were about fifty men all told. A couple of hundred paces
from them stood the wreck of the artillery bridge, which had broken
down the day before; the major saw this, and "Let us make a raft!" he
The words were scarcely out of his mouth before the whole group
hurried to the ruins of the bridge. A crowd of men began to pick up
iron clamps and to hunt for planks and ropes—for all the materials
for a raft, in short. A score of armed men and officers, under command
of the major, stood on guard to protect the workers from any desperate
attempt on the part of the multitude if they should guess their
design. The longing for freedom, which inspires prisoners to
accomplish impossibilities, cannot be compared with the hope which
lent energy at that moment to these forlorn Frenchmen.
"The Russians are upon us! Here are the Russians!" the guard
shouted to the workers.
The timbers creaked, the raft grew larger, stronger, and more
substantial. Generals, colonels, and common soldiers all alike bent
beneath the weight of wagon-wheels, chains, coils of rope, and planks
of timber; it was a modern realization of the building of Noah's ark.
The young Countess, sitting by her husband's side, looked on,
regretful that she could do nothing to aide the workers, though she
helped to knot the lengths of rope together.
At last the raft was finished. Forty men launched it out into the
river, while ten of the soldiers held the ropes that must keep it
moored to the shore. The moment that they saw their handiwork floating
on the Beresina, they sprang down onto it from the bank with callous
selfishness. The major, dreading the frenzy of the first rush, held
back Stephanie and the general; but a shudder ran through him when he
saw the landing place black with people, and men crowding down like
playgoers into the pit of a theatre.
"It was I who thought of the raft, you savages!" he cried. "I have
saved your lives, and you will not make room for me!"
A confused murmur was the only answer. The men at the edge took up
stout poles, trust them against the bank with all their might, so as
to shove the raft out and gain an impetus at its starting upon a
journey across a sea of floating ice and dead bodies towards the other
"Tonnerre de Dieu! I will knock some of you off into the
water if you don't make room for the major and his two companions,"
shouted the grenadier. He raised his sabre threateningly, delayed the
departure, and made the men stand closer together, in spite of
"I shall fall in! . . . I shall go overboard! . . ." his fellows
"Let us start! Put off!"
The major gazed with tearless eyes at the woman he loved; an
impulse of sublime resignation raised her eyes to heaven.
"To die with you!" she said.
In the situation of the folk upon the raft there was a certain
comic element. They might utter hideous yells, but not one of them
dared to oppose the grenadier, for they were packed together so
tightly that if one man were knocked down, the whole raft might
capsize. At this delicate crisis, a captain tried to rid himself of
one of his neighbors; the man saw the hostile intention of his
officer, collared him, and pitched him overboard. "Aha! The duck has a
mind to drink. . . . Over with you!— There is room for two now!" he
shouted. "Quick, major! throw your little woman over, and come! Never
mind that old dotard! he will drop off to-morrow!"
"Be quick!" cried a voice, made up of a hundred voices.
"Come, major! Those fellows are making a fuss, and well they may."
The Comte de Vandieres flung off his ragged blankets, and stood
before them in his general's uniform.
"Let us save the Count," said Philip.
Stephanie grasped his hand tightly in hers, flung her arms about,
and clasped him close in an agonized embrace.
"Farewell!" she said.
Then each knew the other's thoughts. The Comte de Vandieres
recovered his energies and presence of mind sufficiently to jump on to
the raft, whither Stephanie followed him after one last look at
"Major, won't you take my place? I do not care a straw for life; I
have neither a wife, nor child, nor mother belonging to me—"
"I give them into your charge," cried the major, indicating the
Count and his wife.
"Be easy; I will take as much care of them as of the apple of my
Philip stood stock-still on the bank. The raft sped so violently
towards the opposite shore that it ran aground with a violent shock to
all on board. The Count, standing on the very edge, was shaken into
the stream; and as he fell, a mass of ice swept by and struck off his
head, and sent it flying like a ball.
"Hey! major!" shouted the grenadier.
"Farewell!" a woman's voice called aloud.
An icy shiver ran through Philip de Sucy, and he dropped down where
he stood, overcome with cold and sorrow and weariness.
"My poor niece went out of her mind," the doctor added after a
brief pause. "Ah! monsieur," he went on, grasping M. d'Albon's hand,
"what a fearful life for a poor little thing, so young, so delicate!
An unheard-of misfortune separated her from that grenadier of the
Garde (Fleuriot by name), and for two years she was dragged on after
the army, the laughing-stock of a rabble of outcasts. She went
barefoot, I heard, ill-clad, neglected, and starved for months at a
time; sometimes confined to a hospital, sometimes living like a hunted
animal. God alone knows all the misery which she endured, and yet she
lives. She was shut up in a madhouse in a little German town, while
her relations, believing her to be dead, were dividing her property
here in France.
"In 1816 the grenadier Fleuriot recognized her in an inn in
Strasbourg. She had just managed to escape from captivity. Some
peasants told him that the Countess had lived for a whole month in a
forest, and how that they had tracked her and tried to catch her
"I was at that time not many leagues from Strasbourg; and hearing
the talk about the girl in the wood, I wished to verify the strange
facts that had given rise to absurd stories. What was my feeling when
I beheld the Countess? Fleuriot told me all that he knew of the
piteous story. I took the poor fellow with my niece into Auvergne, and
there I had the misfortune to lose him. He had some ascendancy over
Mme. de Vandieres. He alone succeeded in persuading her to wear
clothes; and in those days her one word of human speech—
Farewell/—she seldom uttered. Fleuriot set himself to the task of
awakening certain associations; but there he failed completely; he
drew that one sorrowful word from her a little more frequently, that
was all. But the old grenadier could amuse her, and devoted himself to
playing with her, and through him I hoped; but—" here Stephanie's
uncle broke off. After a moment he went on again.
"Here she has found another creature with whom she seems to have an
understanding—an idiot peasant girl, who once, in spite of her
plainness and imbecility, fell in love with a mason. The mason thought
of marrying her because she had a little bit of land, and for a whole
year poor Genevieve was the happiest of living creatures. She dressed
in her best, and danced on Sundays with Dallot; she understood love;
there was room for love in her heart and brain. But Dallot thought
better of it. He found another girl who had all her senses and rather
more land than Genevieve, and he forsook Genevieve for her. Then the
poor thing lost the little intelligence that love had developed in
her; she can do nothing now but cut grass and look after the cattle.
My niece and the poor girl are in some sort bound to each other by the
invisible chain of their common destiny, and by their madness due to
the same cause. Just come here a moment; look!" and Stephanie's uncle
led the Marquis d'Albon to the window.
There, in fact, the magistrate beheld the pretty Countess sitting
on the ground at Genevieve's knee, while the peasant girl was wholly
absorbed in combing out Stephanie's long, black hair with a huge comb.
The Countess submitted herself to this, uttering low smothered cries
that expressed her enjoyment of the sensation of physical comfort. A
shudder ran through M. d'Albon as he saw her attitude of languid
abandonment, the animal supineness that revealed an utter lack of
"Oh! Philip, Philip!" he cried, "past troubles are as nothing. Is
it quite hopeless?" he asked.
The doctor raised his eyes to heaven.
"Good-bye, monsieur," said M. d'Albon, pressing the old man's hand.
"My friend is expecting me; you will see him here before long."
"Then it is Stephanie herself?" cried Sucy when the Marquis had
spoken the first few words. "Ah! until now I did not feel sure!" he
added. Tears filled the dark eyes that were wont to wear a stern
"Yes; she is the Comtesse de Vandieres," his friend replied.
The colonel started up, and hurriedly began to dress.
"Why, Philip!" cried the horrified magistrate. "Are you going mad?"
"I am quite well now," said the colonel simply. "This news has
soothed all my bitterest grief; what pain could hurt me while I think
of Stephanie? I am going over to the Minorite convent, to see her and
speak to her, to restore her to health again. She is free; ah, surely,
surely, happiness will smile on us, or there is no Providence above.
How can you think she could hear my voice, poor Stephanie, and not
recover her reason?"
"She has seen you once already, and she did not recognize you," the
magistrate answered gently, trying to suggest some wholesome fears to
this friend, whose hopes were visibly too high.
The colonel shuddered, but he began to smile again, with a slight
involuntary gesture of incredulity. Nobody ventured to oppose his
plans, and a few hours later he had taken up his abode in the old
priory, to be near the doctor and the Comtesse de Vandieres.
"Where is she?" he cried at once.
"Hush!" answered M. Fanjat, Stephanie's uncle. "She is sleeping.
Stay; here she is."
Philip saw the poor distraught sleeper crouching on a stone bench
in the sun. Her thick hair, straggling over her face, screened it from
the glare and heat; her arms dropped languidly to the earth; she lay
at ease as gracefully as a fawn, her feet tucked up beneath her; her
bosom rose and fell with her even breathing; there was the same
transparent whiteness as of porcelain in her skin and complexion that
we so often admire in children's faces. Genevieve sat there
motionless, holding a spray that Stephanie doubtless had brought down
from the top of one of the tallest poplars; the idiot girl was waving
the green branch above her, driving away the flies from her sleeping
companion, and gently fanning her.
She stared at M. Fanjat and the colonel as they came up; then, like
a dumb animal that recognizes its master, she slowly turned her face
towards the countess, and watched over her as before, showing not the
slightest sign of intelligence or of astonishment. The air was
scorching. The glittering particles of the stone bench shone like
sparks of fire; the meadow sent up the quivering vapors that hover
above the grass and gleam like golden dust when they catch the light,
but Genevieve did not seem to feel the raging heat.
The colonel wrung M. Fanjat's hands; the tears that gathered in the
soldier's eyes stole down his cheeks, and fell on the grass at
"Sir," said her uncle, "for these two years my heart has been
broken daily. Before very long you will be as I am; if you do not
weep, you will not feel your anguish the less."
"You have taken care of her!" said the colonel, and jealousy no
less than gratitude could be read in his eyes.
The two men understood one another. They grasped each other by the
hand again, and stood motionless, gazing in admiration at the serenity
that slumber had brought into the lovely face before them. Stephanie
heaved a sigh from time to time, and this sigh, that had all the
appearance of sensibility, made the unhappy colonel tremble with
"Alas!" M. Fanjat said gently, "do not deceive yourself, monsieur;
as you see her now, she is in full possession of such reason as she
Those who have sat for whole hours absorbed in the delight of
watching over the slumber of some tenderly-beloved one, whose waking
eyes will smile for them, will doubtless understand the bliss and
anguish that shook the colonel. For him this slumber was an illusion,
the waking must be a kind of death, the most dreadful of all deaths.
Suddenly a kid frisked in two or three bounds towards the bench and
snuffed at Stephanie. The sound awakened her; she sprang lightly to
her feet without scaring away the capricious creature; but as soon as
she saw Philip she fled, followed by her four-footed playmate, to a
thicket of elder-trees; then she uttered a little cry like the note of
a startled wild bird, the same sound that the colonel had heard once
before near the grating, when the Countess appeared to M. d'Albon for
the first time. At length she climbed into a laburnum-tree, ensconced
herself in the feathery greenery, and peered out at the strange man
with as much interest as the most inquisitive nightingale in the
"Farewell, farewell, farewell," she said, but the soul sent no
trace of expression of feeling through the words, spoken with the
careless intonation of a bird's notes.
"She does not know me!" the colonel exclaimed in despair.
"Stephanie! Here is Philip, your Philip! . . . Philip!" and the poor
soldier went towards the laburnum-tree; but when he stood three paces
away, the Countess eyed him almost defiantly, though there was
timidity in her eyes; then at a bound she sprang from the laburnum to
an acacia, and thence to a spruce-fir, swinging from bough to bough
with marvelous dexterity.
"Do not follow her," said M. Fanjat, addressing the colonel. "You
would arouse a feeling of aversion in her which might become
insurmountable; I will help you to make her acquaintance and to tame
her. Sit down on the bench. If you pay no heed whatever to her, poor
child, it will not be long before you will see her come nearer by
degrees to look at you."
"That she should not know me; that she should fly from me!"
the colonel repeated, sitting down on a rustic bench and leaning his
back against a tree that overshadowed it.
He bowed his head. The doctor remained silent. Before very long the
Countess stole softly down from her high refuge in the spruce-fir,
flitting like a will-o'-the-wisp; for as the wind stirred the boughs,
she lent herself at times to the swaying movements of the trees. At
each branch she stopped and peered at the stranger; but as she saw him
sitting motionless, she at length jumped down to the grass, stood a
while, and came slowly across the meadow. When she took up her
position by a tree about ten paces from the bench, M. Fanjat spoke to
the colonel in a low voice.
"Feel in my pocket for some lumps of sugar," he said, "and let her
see them, she will come; I willingly give up to you the pleasure of
giving her sweetmeats. She is passionately fond of sugar, and by that
means you will accustom her to come to you and to know you."
"She never cared for sweet things when she was a woman," Philip
When he held out the lump of sugar between his thumb and finger,
and shook it, Stephanie uttered the wild note again, and sprang
quickly towards him; then she stopped short, there was a conflict
between longing for the sweet morsel and instinctive fear of him; she
looked at the sugar, turned her head away, and looked again like an
unfortunate dog forbidden to touch some scrap of food, while his
master slowly recites the greater part of the alphabet until he
reaches the letter that gives permission. At length the animal
appetite conquered fear; Stephanie rushed to Philip, held out a dainty
brown hand to pounce upon the coveted morsel, touched her lover's
fingers, snatched the piece of sugar, and vanished with it into a
thicket. This painful scene was too much for the colonel; he burst
into tears, and took refuge in the drawing-room.
"Then has love less courage than affection?" M. Fanjat asked him.
"I have hope, Monsieur le Baron. My poor niece was once in a far more
pitiable state than at present."
"Is it possible?" cried Philip.
"She would not wear clothes," answered the doctor.
The colonel shuddered, and his face grew pale. To the doctor's mind
this pallor was an unhealthy symptom; he went over to him and felt his
pulse. M. de Sucy was in a high fever; by dint of persuasion, he
succeeded in putting the patient in bed, and gave him a few drops of
laudanum to gain repose and sleep.
The Baron de Sucy spent nearly a week, in a constant struggle with
a deadly anguish, and before long he had no tears left to shed. He was
often well-nigh heartbroken; he could not grow accustomed to the sight
of the Countess' madness; but he made terms for himself, as it were,
in this cruel position, and sought alleviations in his pain. His
heroism was boundless. He found courage to overcome Stephanie's wild
shyness by choosing sweetmeats for her, and devoted all his thoughts
to this, bringing these dainties, and following up the little
victories that he set himself to gain over Stephanie's instincts (the
last gleam of intelligence in her), until he succeeded to some extent
—she grew tamer than ever before. Every morning the colonel
went into the park; and if, after a long search for the Countess, he
could not discover the tree in which she was rocking herself gently,
nor the nook where she lay crouching at play with some bird, nor the
roof where she had perched herself, he would whistle the well-known
air Partant pour la Syrie, which recalled old memories of their
love, and Stephanie would run towards him lightly as a fawn. She saw
the colonel so often that she was no longer afraid of him; before very
long she would sit on his knee with her thin, lithe arms about him.
And while thus they sat as lovers love to do, Philip doled out
sweetmeats one by one to the eager Countess. When they were all
finished, the fancy often took Stephanie to search through her lover's
pockets with a monkey's quick instinctive dexterity, till she had
assured herself that there was nothing left, and then she gazed at
Philip with vacant eyes; there was no thought, no gratitude in their
clear depths. Then she would play with him. She tried to take off his
boots to see his foot; she tore his gloves to shreds, and put on his
hat; and she would let him pass his hands through her hair, and take
her in his arms, and submit passively to his passionate kisses, and at
last, if he shed tears, she would gaze silently at him.
She quite understood the signal when he whistled Partant pour la
Syrie, but he could never succeed in inducing her to pronounce her
own name—Stephanie. Philip persevered in his heart-rending
task, sustained by a hope that never left him. If on some bright
autumn morning he saw her sitting quietly on a bench under a poplar
tree, grown brown now as the season wore, the unhappy lover would lie
at her feet and gaze into her eyes as long as she would let him gaze,
hoping that some spark of intelligence might gleam from them. At times
he lent himself to an illusion; he would imagine that he saw the hard,
changeless light in them falter, that there was a new life and
softness in them, and he would cry, "Stephanie! oh, Stephanie! you
hear me, you see me, do you not?"
But for her the sound of his voice was like any other sound, the
stirring of the wind in the trees, or the lowing of the cow on which
she scrambled; and the colonel wrung his hands in a despair that lost
none of its bitterness; nay, time and these vain efforts only added to
One evening, under the quiet sky, in the midst of the silence and
peace of the forest hermitage, M. Fanjat saw from a distance that the
Baron was busy loading a pistol, and knew that the lover had given up
all hope. The blood surged to the old doctor's heart; and if he
overcame the dizzy sensation that seized on him, it was because he
would rather see his niece live with a disordered brain than lose her
for ever. He hurried to the place.
"What are you doing?" he cried.
"That is for me," the colonel answered, pointing to a loaded pistol
on the bench, "and this is for her!" he added, as he rammed down the
wad into the pistol that he held in his hands.
The Countess lay stretched out on the ground, playing with the
"Then you do not know that last night, as she slept, she murmured
'Philip?'" said the doctor quietly, dissembling his alarm.
"She called my name?" cried the Baron, letting his weapon fall.
Stephanie picked it up, but he snatched it out of her hands, caught
the other pistol from the bench, and fled.
"Poor little one!" exclaimed the doctor, rejoicing that his
stratagem had succeeded so well. He held her tightly to his heart as
he went on. "He would have killed you, selfish that he is! He wants
you to die because he is unhappy. He cannot learn to love you for your
own sake, little one! We forgive him, do we not? He is senseless; you
are only mad. Never mind; God alone shall take you to Himself. We look
upon you as unhappy because you no longer share our miseries, fools
that we are! . . . Why, she is happy," he said, taking her on his
knee; "nothing troubles her; she lives like the birds, like the
Stephanie sprang upon a young blackbird that was hopping about,
caught it with a little shriek of glee, twisted its neck, looked at
the dead bird, and dropped it at the foot of a tree without giving it
The next morning at daybreak the colonel went out into the garden
to look for Stephanie; hope was very strong in him. He did not see
her, and whistled; and when she came, he took her arm, and for the
first time they walked together along an alley beneath the trees,
while the fresh morning wind shook down the dead leaves about them.
The colonel sat down, and Stephanie, of her own accord, lit upon his
knee. Philip trembled with gladness.
"Love!" he cried, covering her hands with passionate kisses, "I am
Philip . . ."
She looked curiously at him.
"Come close," he added, as he held her tightly. "Do you feel the
beating of my heart? It has beat for you, for you only. I love you
always. Philip is not dead. He is here. You are sitting on his knee.
You are my Stephanie, I am your Philip."
"Farewell!" she said, "farewell!"
The colonel shivered. He thought that some vibration of his highly
wrought feeling had surely reached his beloved; that the heart-rending
cry, drawn from him by hope, the utmost effort of a love that must
last for ever, of passion in its ecstasy, striving to reach the soul
of the woman he loved, must awaken her.
"Oh, Stephanie! we shall be happy yet!"
A cry of satisfaction broke from her, a dim light of intelligence
gleamed in her eyes.
"She knows me! . . . Stephanie! . . ."
The colonel felt his heart swell, and tears gathered under his
eyelids. But all at once the Countess held up a bit of sugar for him
to see; she had discovered it by searching diligently for it while he
spoke. What he had mistaken for a human thought was a degree of reason
required for a monkey's mischievous trick!
Philip fainted. M. Fanjat found the Countess sitting on his
prostrate body. She was nibbling her bit of sugar, giving expression
to her enjoyment by little grimaces and gestures that would have been
thought clever in a woman in full possession of her senses if she
tried to mimic her paroquet or her cat.
"Oh, my friend!" cried Philip, when he came to himself. "This is
like death every moment of the day! I love her too much! I could bear
anything if only through her madness she had kept some little trace of
womanhood. But, day after day, to see her like a wild animal, not even
a sense of modesty left, to see her—"
"So you must have a theatrical madness, must you!" said the doctor
sharply, "and your prejudices are stronger than your lover's devotion?
What, monsieur! I resign to you the sad pleasure of giving my niece
her food, and the enjoyment of her playtime; I have kept for myself
nothing but the most burdensome cares. I watch over her while you are
asleep, I— Go, monsieur, and give up the task. Leave this dreary
hermitage; I can live with my little darling; I understand her
disease; I study her movements; I know her secrets. Some day you shall
The colonel left the Minorite convent, that he was destined to see
only once again. The doctor was alarmed by the effect that his words
made upon his guest; his niece's lover became as dear to him as his
niece. If either of them deserved to be pitied, that one was certainly
Philip; did he not bear alone the burden of an appalling sorrow?
The doctor made inquiries, and learned that the hapless colonel had
retired to a country house of his near Saint-Germain. A dream had
suggested to him a plan for restoring the Countess to reason, and the
doctor did not know that he was spending the rest of the autumn in
carrying out a vast scheme. A small stream ran through his park, and
in winter time flooded a low-lying land, something like the plain on
the eastern side of the Beresina. The village of Satout, on the slope
of a ridge above it, bounded the horizon of a picture of desolation,
something as Studzianka lay on the heights that shut in the swamp of
the Beresina. The colonel set laborers to work to make a channel to
resemble the greedy river that had swallowed up the treasures of
France and Napoleon's army. By the help of his memories, Philip
reconstructed on his own lands the bank where General Eble had built
his bridges. He drove in piles, and then set fire to them, so as to
reproduce the charred and blackened balks of timber that on either
side of the river told the stragglers that their retreat to France had
been cut off. He had materials collected like the fragments out of
which his comrades in misfortune had made the raft; his park was laid
waste to complete the illusion on which his last hopes were founded.
He ordered ragged uniforms and clothing for several hundred peasants.
Huts and bivouacs and batteries were raised and burned down. In short,
he omitted no device that could reproduce that most hideous of all
scenes. He succeeded. When, in the earliest days of December, snow
covered the earth with a thick white mantle, it seemed to him that he
saw the Beresina itself. The mimic Russia was so startlingly real,
that several of his old comrades recognized the scene of their past
sufferings. M. de Sucy kept the secret of the drama to be enacted with
this tragical background, but it was looked upon as a mad freak in
several circles of society in Paris.
In the early days of the month of January 1820, the colonel drove
over to the Forest of l'Isle-Adam in a carriage like the one in which
M. and Mme. de Vandieres had driven from Moscow to Studzianka. The
horses closely resembled that other pair that he had risked his life
to bring from the Russian lines. He himself wore the grotesque and
soiled clothes, accoutrements, and cap that he had worn on the 29th of
November 1812. He had even allowed his hair and beard to grow, and
neglected his appearance, that no detail might be lacking to recall
the scene in all its horror.
"I guessed what you meant to do," cried M. Fanjat, when he saw the
colonel dismount. "If you mean your plan to succeed, do not let her
see you in that carriage. This evening I will give my niece a little
laudanum, and while she sleeps, we will dress her in such clothes as
she wore at Studzianka, and put her in your traveling-carriage. I will
follow you in a berline."
Soon after two o'clock in the morning, the young Countess was
lifted into the carriage, laid on the cushions, and wrapped in a
coarse blanket. A few peasants held torches while this strange
elopement was arranged.
A sudden cry rang through the silence of night, and Philip and the
doctor, turning, saw Genevieve. She had come out half-dressed from the
low room where she slept.
"Farewell, farewell; it is all over, farewell!" she called, crying
"Why, Genevieve, what is it?" asked M. Fanjat.
Genevieve shook her head despairingly, raised her arm to heaven,
looked at the carriage, uttered a long snarling sound, and with
evident signs of profound terror, slunk in again.
"'Tis a good omen," cried the colonel. "The girl is sorry to lose
her companion. Very likely she sees that Stephanie is about to recover
"God grant it may be so!" answered M. Fanjat, who seemed to be
affected by this incident. Since insanity had interested him, he had
known several cases in which a spirit of prophecy and the gift of
second sight had been accorded to a disordered brain—two faculties
which many travelers tell us are also found among savage tribes.
So it happened that, as the colonel had foreseen and arranged,
Stephanie traveled across the mimic Beresina about nine o'clock in the
morning, and was awakened by an explosion of rockets about a hundred
paces from the scene of action. It was a signal. Hundreds of peasants
raised a terrible clamor, like the despairing shouts that startled the
Russians when twenty thousand stragglers learned that by their own
fault they were delivered over to death or to slavery.
When the Countess heard the report and the cries that followed, she
sprang out of the carriage, and rushed in frenzied anguish over the
snow-covered plain; she saw the burned bivouacs and the fatal raft
about to be launched on a frozen Beresina. She saw Major Philip
brandishing his sabre among the crowd. The cry that broke from Mme. de
Vandieres made the blood run cold in the veins of all who heard it.
She stood face to face with the colonel, who watched her with a
beating heart. At first she stared blankly at the strange scene about
her, then she reflected. For an instant, brief as a lightning flash,
there was the same quick gaze and total lack of comprehension that we
see in the bright eyes of a bird; then she passed her hand across her
forehead with the intelligent expression of a thinking being; she
looked round on the memories that had taken substantial form, into the
past life that had been transported into her present; she turned her
face to Philip—and saw him! An awed silence fell upon the crowd. The
colonel breathed hard, but dared not speak; tears filled the doctor's
eyes. A faint color overspread Stephanie's beautiful face, deepening
slowly, till at last she glowed like a girl radiant with youth. Still
the bright flush grew. Life and joy, kindled within her at the blaze
of intelligence, swept through her like leaping flames. A convulsive
tremor ran from her feet to her heart. But all these tokens, which
flashed on the sight in a moment, gathered and gained consistence, as
it were, when Stephanie's eyes gleamed with heavenly radiance, the
light of a soul within. She lived, she thought! She shuddered—was it
with fear? God Himself unloosed a second time the tongue that had been
bound by death, and set His fire anew in the extinguished soul. The
electric torrent of the human will vivified the body whence it had so
long been absent.
"Stephanie!" the colonel cried.
"Oh! it is Philip!" said the poor Countess.
She fled to the trembling arms held out towards her, and the
embrace of the two lovers frightened those who beheld it. Stephanie
burst into tears.
Suddenly the tears ceased to flow; she lay in his arms a dead
weight, as if stricken by a thunderbolt, and said faintly:
"Farewell, Philip! . . . I love you. . . . farewell!"
"She is dead!" cried the colonel, unclasping his arms.
The old doctor received the lifeless body of his niece in his arms
as a young man might have done; he carried her to a stack of wood and
set her down. He looked at her face, and laid a feeble hand, tremulous
with agitation, upon her heart—it beat no longer.
"Can it really be so?" he said, looking from the colonel, who stood
there motionless, to Stephanie's face. Death had invested it with a
radiant beauty, a transient aureole, the pledge, it may be, of a
glorious life to come.
"Yes, she is dead."
"Oh, but that smile!" cried Philip; "only see that smile. Is it
"She has grown cold already," answered M. Fanjat.
M. de Sucy made a few strides to tear himself from the sight; then
he stopped, and whistled the air that the mad Stephanie had
understood; and when he saw that she did not rise and hasten to him,
he walked away, staggering like a drunken man, still whistling, but he
did not turn again.
In society General de Sucy is looked upon as very agreeable, and
above all things, as very lively and amusing. Not very long ago a lady
complimented him upon his good humor and equable temper.
"Ah! madame," he answered, "I pay very dearly for my merriment in
the evening if I am alone."
"Then, you are never alone, I suppose."
"No," he answered, smiling.
If a keen observer of human nature could have seen the look that
Sucy's face wore at that moment, he would, without doubt, have
"Why do you not marry?" the lady asked (she had several daughters
of her own at a boarding-school). "You are wealthy; you belong to an
old and noble house; you are clever; you have a future before you;
everything smiles upon you."
"Yes," he answered; "one smile is killing me—"
On the morrow the lady heard with amazement that M. de Sucy had
shot himself through the head that night.
The fashionable world discussed the extraordinary news in divers
ways, and each had a theory to account for it; play, love, ambition,
irregularities in private life, according to the taste of the speaker,
explained the last act of the tragedy begun in 1812. Two men alone, a
magistrate and an old doctor, knew that Monsieur le Comte de Sucy was
one of those souls unhappy in the strength God gives to them to enable
them to triumph daily in a ghastly struggle with a mysterious horror.
If for a minute God withdraws His sustaining hand, they succumb.
PARIS, March 1830.