The Conscript





On a November evening in the year 1793 the principal citizens of

Carentan were assembled in Mme. de Dey's drawing-room. Mme. de Dey

held this _reception_ every night of the week, but an unwonted interest

attached to this evening's gathering, owing to certain circumstances

which would have passed altogether unnoticed in a great city, though in

a small country town they excited the greatest curiosity. For two days

before Mme. de Dey had not been at home to her visitors, and on the

previous evening her door had been shut, on the ground of indisposition.

Two such events at any ordinary time would have produced in Carentan

the same sensation that Paris knows on nights when there is no

performance at the theaters--existence is in some sort incomplete; but

in those times when the least indiscretion on the part of an aristocrat

might be a matter of life and death, this conduct of Mme. de Dey's was

likely to bring about the most disastrous consequences for her. Her

position in Carentan ought to be made clear, if the reader is to

appreciate the expression of keen curiosity and cunning fanaticism on

the countenances of these Norman citizens, and, what is of most

importance, the part that the lady played among them. Many a one during

the days of the Revolution has doubtless passed through a crisis as

difficult as hers at that moment, and the sympathies of more than one

reader will fill in all the coloring of the picture.



Mme. de Dey was the widow of a Lieutenant-General, a Knight of the

Orders of Saint Michael and of the Holy Ghost. She had left the Court

when the Emigration began, and taken refuge in the neighborhood of

Carentan, where she had large estates, hoping that the influence of the

Reign of Terror would be but little felt there. Her calculations, based

on a thorough knowledge of the district, proved correct. The Revolution

made little disturbance in Lower Normandy. Formerly, when Mme. de Dey

had spent any time in the country, her circle of acquaintance had been

confined to the noble families of the district; but now, from politic

motives, she opened her house to the principal citizens and to the

Revolutionary authorities of the town, endeavoring to touch and gratify

their social pride without arousing either hatred or jealousy. Gracious

and kindly, possessed of the indescribable charm that wins good will

without loss of dignity or effort to pay court to any, she had

succeeded in gaining universal esteem; the discreet warnings of

exquisite tact enabled her to steer a difficult course among the

exacting claims of this mixed society, without wounding the overweening

self-love of parvenus on the one hand, or the susceptibilities of her

old friends on the other.



She was about thirty-eight years of age, and still preserved, not the

fresh, high-colored beauty of the Basse-Normandes, but a fragile

loveliness of what may be called an aristocratic type. Her figure was

lissome and slender, her features delicate and clearly cut; the pale

face seemed to light up and live when she spoke; but there was a quiet

and devout look in the great dark eyes, for all their graciousness of

expression--a look that seemed to say that the springs of her life lay

without her own existence.



In her early girlhood she had been married to an elderly and jealous

soldier. Her false position in the midst of a gay Court had doubtless

done something to bring a veil of sadness over a face that must once

have been bright with the charms of quick-pulsed life and love. She had

been compelled to set constant restraint upon her frank impulses and

emotions at an age when a woman feels rather than thinks, and the

depths of passion in her heart had never been stirred. In this lay the

secret of her greatest charm, a youthfulness of the inmost soul,

betrayed at times by her face, and a certain tinge of innocent

wistfulness in her ideas. She was reserved in her demeanor, but in her

bearing and in the tones of her voice there was still something that

told of girlish longings directed toward a vague future. Before very

long the least susceptible fell in love with her, and yet stood

somewhat in awe of her dignity and high-bred manner. Her great soul,

strengthened by the cruel ordeals through which she had passed, seemed

to set her too far above the ordinary level, and these men weighed

themselves, and instinctively felt that they were found wanting. Such a

nature demanded an exalted passion.



Moreover, Mme. de Dey's affections were concentrated in one sentiment--a

mother's love for her son. All the happiness and joy that she had not

known as a wife, she had found later in her boundless love for him. The

coquetry of a mistress, the jealousy of a wife mingled with the pure

and deep affection of a mother. She was miserable when they were apart,

and nervous about him while he was away; she could never see enough of

him, and lived through and for him alone. Some idea of the strength of

this tie may be conveyed to the masculine understanding by adding that

this was not only Mme. de Dey's only son, but all she had of kith or

kin in the world, the one human being on earth bound to her by all the

fears and hopes and joys of her life.



The late Comte de Dey was the last of his race, and she, his wife, was

the sole heiress and descendant of her house. So worldly ambitions and

family considerations, as well as the noblest cravings of the soul,

combined to heighten in the Countess a sentiment that is strong in

every woman's heart. The child was all the dearer, because only with

infinite care had she succeeded in rearing him to man's estate; medical

science had predicted his death a score of times, but she had held fast

to her presentiments and her hopes, and had known the inexpressible joy

of watching him pass safely through the perils of infancy, of seeing

his constitution strengthen in spite of the decrees of the Faculty.



Thanks to her constant care, the boy had grown up and developed so

favorably, that at twenty years of age he was regarded as one of the

most accomplished gentlemen at the Court of Versailles. One final

happiness that does not always crown a mother's efforts was hers--her

son worshiped her; and between these two there was the deep sympathy of

kindred souls. If they had not been bound to each other already by a

natural and sacred tie, they would instinctively have felt for each

other a friendship that is rarely met with between two men.



At the age of eighteen, the young Count had received an appointment as

sub-lieutenant in a regiment of dragoons, and had made it a point of

honor to follow the emigrant Princes into exile.



Then Mme. de Dey faced the dangers of her cruel position. She was rich,

noble, and the mother of an Emigrant. With the one desire to look after

her son's great fortune, she had denied herself the happiness of being

with him; and when she read the rigorous laws in virtue of which the

Republic was daily confiscating the property of Emigrants at Carentan,

she congratulated herself on the courageous course that she had taken.

Was she not keeping watch over the wealth of her son at the risk of her

life? Later, when news came of the horrible executions ordered by the

Convention, she slept, happy in the knowledge that her own treasure was

in safety, out of reach of peril, far from the scaffolds of the

Revolution. She loved to think that she had followed the best course,

that she had saved her darling and her darling's fortunes; and to this

secret thought she made such concessions as the misfortunes of the

times demanded, without compromising her dignity or her aristocratic

tenets, and enveloped her sorrows in reserve and mystery. She had

foreseen the difficulties that would beset her at Carentan. Did she not

tempt the scaffold by the very fact of going thither to take a

prominent place? Yet, sustained by a mother's courage, she succeeded in

winning the affection of the poor, ministering without distinction to

everyone in trouble; and made herself necessary to the well-to-do, by

providing amusements for them.



The procureur of the commune might be seen at her house, the mayor, the

president of the "district," and the public prosecutor, and even the

judges of the Revolutionary tribunals went there. The four first-named

gentlemen were none of them married, and each paid court to her, in the

hope that Mme. de Dey would take him for her husband, either from fear

of making an enemy or from a desire to find a protector.



The public prosecutor, once an attorney at Caen, and the Countess's man

of business, did what he could to inspire love by a system of devotion

and generosity, a dangerous game of cunning! He was the most formidable

of all her suitors. He alone knew the amount of the large fortune of

his sometime client, and his fervor was inevitably increased by the

cupidity of greed, and by the consciousness that he wielded an enormous

power, the power of life and death in the district. He was still a

young man, and, owing to the generosity of his behavior, Mme. de Dey

was unable as yet to estimate him truly. But, in despite of the danger

of matching herself against Norman cunning, she used all the craft and

inventiveness that Nature has bestowed on women to play off the rival

suitors one against another. She hoped, by gaining time, to emerge safe

and sound from her difficulties at last; for at that time Royalists in

the provinces flattered themselves with a hope, daily renewed, that the

morrow would see the end of the Revolution--a conviction that proved

fatal to many of them.



In spite of difficulties, the Countess had maintained her independence

with considerable skill until the day when, by an inexplicable want of

prudence, she took occasion to close her salon. So deep and sincere was

the interest that she inspired, that those who usually filled her

drawing-room felt a lively anxiety when the news was spread; then, with

the frank curiosity characteristic of provincial manners, they went to

inquire into the misfortune, grief, or illness that had befallen Mme.

de Dey.



To all these questions, Brigitte, the housekeeper, answered with the

same formula: her mistress was keeping her room, and would see no one,

not even her own servants. The almost claustral lives of dwellers in

small towns fosters a habit of analysis and conjectural explanation of

the business of everybody else; so strong is it, that when everyone had

exclaimed over poor Mme. de Dey (without knowing whether the lady was

overcome by joy or sorrow), each one began to inquire into the causes

of her sudden seclusion.



"If she were ill, she would have sent for the doctor," said gossip

number one; "now the doctor has been playing chess in my house all day.

He said to me, laughing, that in these days there is only one disease,

and that, unluckily, it is incurable."



The joke was hazarded discreetly. Women and men, elderly folk and young

girls, forthwith betook themselves to the vast fields of conjecture.

Everyone imagined that there was some secret in it, and every head was

busy with the secret. Next day the suspicions became malignant.

Everyone lives in public in a small town, and the women-kind were the

first to find out that Brigitte had laid in an extra stock of

provisions. The thing could not be disputed. Brigitte had been seen in

the market-place betimes that morning, and, wonderful to relate, she

had bought the one hare to be had. The whole town knew that Mme. de Dey

did not care for game. The hare became a starting point for endless

conjectures.



Elderly gentlemen, taking their constitutional, noticed a sort of

suppressed bustle in the Countess's house; the symptoms were the more

apparent because the servants were at evident pains to conceal them.

The man-servant was beating a carpet in the garden. Only yesterday no

one would have remarked the fact, but to-day everybody began to build

romances upon that harmless piece of household stuff. Everyone had a

version.



On the following day, that on which Mme. de Dey gave out that she was

not well, the magnates of Carentan went to spend the evening at the

mayor's brother's house. He was a retired merchant, a married man, a

strictly honorable soul; everyone respected him, and the Countess held

him in high regard. There all the rich widows' suitors were fain to

invent more or less probable fictions, each one thinking the while how

to turn to his own advantage the secret that compelled her to

compromise herself in such a manner.



The public prosecutor spun out a whole drama to bring Mme. de Dey's son

to her house of a night. The mayor had a belief in a priest who had

refused the oath, a refugee from La Vendee; but this left him not a

little embarrassed how to account for the purchase of a hare on a

Friday. The president of the district had strong leanings toward a

Chouan chief, or a Vendean leader hotly pursued. Others voted for a

noble escaped from the prisons of Paris. In short, one and all

suspected that the Countess had been guilty of some piece of generosity

that the law of those days defined as a crime, an offense that was like

to bring her to the scaffold. The public prosecutor, moreover, said, in

a low voice, that they must hush the matter up, and try to save the

unfortunate lady from the abyss toward which she was hastening.



"If you spread reports about," he added, "I shall be obliged to take

cognizance of the matter, and to search the house, and then!..."



He said no more, but everyone understood what was left unsaid.



The Countess's real friends were so much alarmed for her, that on the

morning of the third day the _Procureur Syndic_ of the commune made his

wife write a few lines to persuade Mme. de Dey to hold her reception as

usual that evening. The old merchant took a bolder step. He called that

morning upon the lady. Strong in the thought of the service he meant to

do her, he insisted that he must see Mme. de Dey, and was amazed beyond

expression to find her out in the garden, busy gathering the last

autumn flowers in her borders to fill the vases.



"She has given refuge to her lover, no doubt," thought the old man,

struck with pity for the charming woman before him.



The Countess's face wore a strange look, that confirmed his suspicions.

Deeply moved by the devotion so natural to women, but that always

touches us, because all men are flattered by the sacrifices that any

woman makes for any one of them, the merchant told the Countess of the

gossip that was circulating in the town, and showed her the danger that

she was running. He wound up at last with saying that "if there are

some of our public functionaries who are sufficiently ready to pardon a

piece of heroism on your part so long as it is a priest that you wish

to save, no one will show you any mercy if it is discovered that you

are sacrificing yourself to the dictates of your heart."



At these words Mme. de Dey gazed at her visitor with a wild excitement

in her manner that made him tremble, old though he was.



"Come in," she said, taking him by the hand to bring him to her room,

and as soon as she had assured herself that they were alone, she drew a

soiled, torn letter from her bodice.--"Read it!" she cried, with a

violent effort to pronounce the words.



She dropped as if exhausted into her armchair. While the old merchant

looked for his spectacles and wiped them, she raised her eyes, and for

the first time looked at him with curiosity; then, in an uncertain

voice, "I trust in you," she said softly.



"Why did I come but to share in your crime?" the old merchant said

simply.



She trembled. For the first time since she had come to the little town

her soul found sympathy in another soul. A sudden light dawned meantime

on the old merchant; he understood the Countess's joy and her

prostration.



Her son had taken part in the Granville expedition; he wrote to his

mother from his prison, and the letter brought her a sad, sweet hope.

Feeling no doubts as to his means of escape, he wrote that within three

days he was sure to reach her, disguised. The same letter that brought

these weighty tidings was full of heartrending farewells in case the

writer should not be in Carentan by the evening of the third day, and

he implored his mother to send a considerable sum of money by the

bearer, who had gone through dangers innumerable to deliver it. The

paper shook in the old man's hands.



"And to-day is the third day!" cried Mme. de Dey. She sprang to her

feet, took back the letter, and walked up and down.



"You have set to work imprudently," the merchant remarked, addressing

her. "Why did you buy provisions?"



"Why, he may come in dying of hunger, worn out with fatigue, and--" She

broke off.



"I am sure of my brother," the old merchant went on; "I will engage him

in your interests."



The merchant in this crisis recovered his old business shrewdness, and

the advice that he gave Mme. de Dey was full of prudence and wisdom.

After the two had agreed together as to what they were to do and say,

the old merchant went on various ingenious pretexts to pay visits to

the principal houses of Carentan, announcing wherever he went that he

had just been to see Mme. de Dey, and that, in spite of her

indisposition, she would receive that evening. Matching his shrewdness

against Norman wits in the cross-examination he underwent in every

family as to the Countess's complaint, he succeeded in putting almost

everyone who took an interest in the mysterious affair upon the wrong

scent.



His very first call worked wonders. He told, in the hearing of a gouty

old lady, how that Mme. de Dey had all but died of an attack of gout in

the stomach; how that the illustrious Tronchin had recommended her in

such a case to put the skin from a live hare on her chest, to stop in

bed, and keep perfectly still. The Countess, he said, had lain in

danger of her life for the past two days; but after carefully following

out Tronchin's singular prescription, she was now sufficiently

recovered to receive visitors that evening.



This tale had an immense success in Carentan. The local doctor, a

Royalist _in petto_, added to its effect by gravely discussing the

specific. Suspicion, nevertheless, had taken too deep root in a few

perverse or philosophical minds to be entirely dissipated; so it fell

out that those who had the right of entry into Mme. de Dey's

drawing-room hurried thither at an early hour, some to watch her face,

some out of friendship, but the more part attracted by the fame of the

marvelous cure.



They found the Countess seated in a corner of the great chimney-piece

in her room, which was almost as modestly furnished as similar

apartments in Carentan; for she had given up the enjoyment of luxuries

to which she had formerly been accustomed, for fear of offending the

narrow prejudices of her guests, and she had made no changes in her

house. The floor was not even polished. She had left the old somber

hangings on the walls, had kept the old-fashioned country furniture,

burned tallow candles, had fallen in with the ways of the place and

adopted provincial life without flinching before its cast-iron

narrowness, its most disagreeable hardships; but knowing that her

guests would forgive her for any prodigality that conduced to their

comfort, she left nothing undone where their personal enjoyment was

concerned; her dinners, for instance, were excellent. She even went so

far as to affect avarice to recommend herself to these sordid natures;

and had the ingenuity to make it appear that certain concessions to

luxury had been made at the instance of others, to whom she had

graciously yielded.



Toward seven o'clock that evening, therefore, the nearest approach to

polite society that Carentan could boast was assembled in Mme. de Dey's

drawing-room, in a wide circle, about the fire. The old merchant's

sympathetic glances sustained the mistress of the house through this

ordeal; with wonderful strength of mind, she underwent the curious

scrutiny of her guests, and bore with their trivial prosings. Every

time there was a knock at the door, at every sound of footsteps in the

street, she hid her agitation by raising questions of absorbing

interest to the countryside. She led the conversation on to the burning

topic of the quality of various ciders, and was so well seconded by her

friend who shared her secret, that her guests almost forgot to watch

her, and her face wore its wonted look; her self-possession was

unshaken. The public prosecutor and one of the judges of the

Revolutionary Tribunal kept silence, however; noting the slightest

change that flickered over her features, listening through the noisy

talk to every sound in the house. Several times they put awkward

questions, which the Countess answered with wonderful presence of mind.

So brave is a mother's heart!



Mme. de Dey had drawn her visitors into little groups, had made parties

of whist, boston, or reversis, and sat talking with some of the young

people; she seemed to be living completely in the present moment, and

played her part like a consummate actress. She elicited a suggestion of

loto, and saying that no one else knew where to find the game, she left

the room.



"My good Brigitte, I cannot breathe down there!" she cried, brushing

away the tears that sprang to her eyes that glittered with fever,

sorrow, and impatience.--She had gone up to her son's room, and was

looking round it. "He does not come," she said. "Here I can breathe and

live. A few minutes more, and he will be here, for he is alive, I am

sure that he is alive! my heart tells me so. Do you hear nothing,

Brigitte? Oh! I would give the rest of my life to know whether he is

still in prison or tramping across the country. I would rather not

think."



Once more she looked to see that everything was in order. A bright fire

blazed on the hearth, the shutters were carefully closed, the furniture

shone with cleanliness, the bed had been made after a fashion that

showed that Brigitte and the Countess had given their minds to every

trifling detail. It was impossible not to read her hopes in the dainty

and thoughtful preparations about the room; love and a mother's

tenderest caresses seemed to pervade the air in the scent of flowers.

None but a mother could have foreseen the requirements of a soldier and

arranged so completely for their satisfaction. A dainty meal, the best

of wine, clean linen, slippers--no necessary, no comfort, was lacking

for the weary traveler, and all the delights of home heaped upon him

should reveal his mother's love.



"Oh, Brigitte!..." cried the Countess, with a heart-rending inflection

in her voice. She drew a chair to the table as if to strengthen her

illusions and realize her longings.



"Ah! madame, he is coming. He is not far off.... I haven't a doubt that

he is living and on his way," Brigitte answered. "I put a key in the

Bible and held it on my fingers while Cottin read the Gospel of St.

John, and the key did not turn, madame."



"Is that a certain sign?" the Countess asked.



"Why, yes, madame! everybody knows that. He is still alive; I would

stake my salvation on it; God cannot be mistaken."



"If only I could see him here in the house, in spite of the danger."



"Poor Monsieur Auguste!" cried Brigitte; "I expect he is tramping along

the lanes!"



"And that is eight o'clock striking now!" cried the Countess in terror.



She was afraid that she had been too long in the room where she felt

sure that her son was alive; all those preparations made for him meant

that he was alive. She went down, but she lingered a moment in the

peristyle for any sound that might waken the sleeping echoes of the

town. She smiled at Brigitte's husband, who was standing there on

guard; the man's eyes looked stupid with the strain of listening to the

faint sounds of the night. She stared into the darkness, seeing her son

in every shadow everywhere; but it was only for a moment. Then she went

back to the drawing-room with an assumption of high spirits, and began

to play at loto with the little girls. But from time to time she

complained of feeling unwell, and went to sit in her great chair by the

fireside. So things went in Mme. de Dey's house and in the minds of

those beneath her roof.



Meanwhile, on the road from Paris to Cherbourg, a young man, dressed in

the inevitable brown _carmagnole_ of those days, was plodding his way

toward Carentan. When the first levies were made, there was little or

no discipline kept up. The exigencies of the moment scarcely admitted

of soldiers being equipped at once, and it was no uncommon thing to see

the roads thronged with conscripts in their ordinary clothes. The young

fellows went ahead of their company to the next halting place, or

lagged behind it; it depended upon their fitness to bear the fatigues

of a long march. This particular wayfarer was some considerable way in

advance of a company of conscripts on the way to Cherbourg, whom the

mayor was expecting to arrive every hour, for it was his duty to

distribute their billets. The young man's footsteps were still firm as

he trudged along, and his bearing seemed to indicate that he was no

stranger to the rough life of a soldier. The moon shone on the pasture

land about Carentan, but he had noticed great masses of white cloud

that were about to scatter showers of snow over the country, and

doubtless the fear of being overtaken by a storm had quickened his pace

in spite of his weariness.



The wallet on his back was almost empty, and he carried a stick in his

hand, cut from one of the high, thick box hedges that surround most of

the farms in Lower Normandy. As the solitary wayfarer came into

Carentan, the gleaming moonlit outlines of its towers stood out for a

moment with ghostly effect against the sky. He met no one in the silent

streets that rang with the echoes of his own footsteps, and was obliged

to ask the way to the mayor's house of a weaver who was working late.

The magistrate was not far to seek, and in a few minutes the conscript

was sitting on a stone bench in the mayor's porch waiting for his

billet. He was sent for, however, and confronted with that functionary,

who scrutinized him closely. The foot soldier was a good-looking young

man, who appeared to be of gentle birth. There was something

aristocratic in his bearing, and signs in his face of intelligence

developed by a good education.



"What is your name?" asked the mayor, eying him shrewdly.



"Julien Jussieu," answered the conscript.



"From--?" queried the official, and an incredulous smile stole over his

features.



"From Paris."



"Your comrades must be a good way behind?" remarked the Norman in

sarcastic tones.



"I am three leagues ahead of the battalion."



"Some sentiment attracts you to Carentan, of course,

citizen-conscript," said the mayor astutely. "All right, all right!" he

added, with a wave of the hand, seeing that the young man was about to

speak. "We know where to send you. There, off with you, _Citizen

Jussieu_," and he handed over the billet.



There was a tinge of irony in the stress the magistrate laid on the two

last words while he held out a billet on Mme. de Dey. The conscript

read the direction curiously.



"He knows quite well that he has not far to go, and when he gets

outside he will very soon cross the marketplace," said the mayor to

himself, as the other went out. "He is uncommonly bold! God guide

him!... He has an answer ready for everything. Yes, but if somebody

else had asked to see his papers it would have been all up with him!"



The clocks in Carentan struck half-past nine as he spoke. Lanterns were

being lit in Mme. de Dey's antechamber, servants were helping their

masters and mistresses into sabots, greatcoats, and calashes. The card

players settled their accounts, and everybody went out together, after

the fashion of all little country towns.



"It looks as if the prosecutor meant to stop," said a lady, who noticed

that that important personage was not in the group in the market-place,

where they all took leave of one another before going their separate

ways home. And, as a matter of fact, that redoubtable functionary was

alone with the Countess, who waited trembling till he should go. There

was something appalling in their long silence.



"Citoyenne," said he at last, "I am here to see that the laws of the

Republic are carried out--"



Mme. de Dey shuddered.



"Have you nothing to tell me?"



"Nothing!" she answered, in amazement.



"Ah! madame," cried the prosecutor, sitting down beside her and

changing his tone. "At this moment, for lack of a word, one of us--you

or I--may carry our heads to the scaffold. I have watched your

character, your soul, your manner, too closely to share the error into

which you have managed to lead your visitors to-night. You are

expecting your son, I could not doubt it."



The Countess made an involuntary sign of denial, but her face had grown

white and drawn with the struggle to maintain the composure that she

did not feel, and no tremor was lost on the merciless prosecutor.



"Very well," the Revolutionary official went on, "receive him; but do

not let him stay under your roof after seven o'clock to-morrow morning;

for to-morrow, as soon as it is light, I shall come with a denunciation

that I will have made out, and--"



She looked at him, and the dull misery in her eyes would have softened

a tiger.



"I will make it clear that the denunciation was false by making a

thorough search," he went on in a gentle voice; "my report shall be

such that you will be safe from any subsequent suspicion. I shall make

mention of your patriotic gifts, your civism, and _all_ of us will be

safe."



Mme. de Dey, fearful of a trap, sat motionless, her face afire, her

tongue frozen. A knock at the door rang through the house.



"Oh!..." cried the terrified mother, falling upon her knees; "save him!

save him!"



"Yes, let us save him!" returned the public prosecutor, and his eyes

grew bright as he looked at her, "if it costs _us_ our lives!"



"Lost!" she wailed. The prosecutor raised her politely.



"Madame," said he with a flourish of eloquence, "to your own free will

alone would I owe--"



"Madame, he is--" cried Brigitte, thinking that her mistress was alone.

At the sight of the public prosecutor, the old servant's joy-flushed

countenance became haggard and impassive.



"Who is it, Brigitte?" the prosecutor asked kindly, as if he too were

in the secret of the household.



"A conscript that the mayor has sent here for a night's lodging," the

woman replied, holding out the billet.



"So it is," said the prosecutor, when he had read the slip of paper. "A

battalion is coming here to-night."



And he went.



The Countess's need to believe in the faith of her sometime attorney

was so great, that she dared not entertain any suspicion of him. She

fled upstairs; she felt scarcely strength enough to stand; she opened

the door, and sprang, half dead with fear, into her son's arms.



"Oh! my child! my child!" she sobbed, covering him with almost frenzied

kisses.



"Madame!..." said a stranger's voice.



"Oh! it is not he!" she cried, shrinking away in terror, and she stood

face to face with the conscript, gazing at him with haggard eyes.



"_O saint bon Dieu!_ how like he is!" cried Brigitte.



There was silence for a moment; even the stranger trembled at the sight

of Mme. de Dey's face.



"Ah! monsieur," she said, leaning on the arm of Brigitte's husband,

feeling for the first time the full extent of a sorrow that had all but

killed her at its first threatening; "ah! monsieur, I cannot stay to

see you any longer ... permit my servants to supply my place, and to

see that you have all that you want."



She went down to her own room, Brigitte and the old serving-man half

carrying her between them. The housekeeper set her mistress in a chair,

and broke out:



"What, madame! is that man to sleep in Monsieur Auguste's bed, and wear

Monsieur Auguste's slippers, and eat the pasty that I made for Monsieur

Auguste? Why, if they were to guillotine me for it, I--"



"Brigitte!" cried Mme. de Dey.



Brigitte said no more.



"Hold your tongue, chatterbox," said her husband, in a low voice; "do

you want to kill madame?"



A sound came from the conscript's room as he drew his chair to the

table.



"I shall not stay here," cried Mme. de Dey; "I shall go into the

conservatory; I shall hear better there if anyone passes in the night."



She still wavered between the fear that she had lost her son and the

hope of seeing him once more. That night was hideously silent. Once,

for the Countess, there was an awful interval, when the battalion of

conscripts entered the town, and the men went by, one by one, to their

lodgings. Every footfall, every sound in the street, raised hopes to be

disappointed; but it was not for long, the dreadful quiet succeeded

again. Toward morning the Countess was forced to return to her room.

Brigitte, ever keeping watch over her mistress's movements, did not see

her come out again; and when she went, she found the Countess lying

there dead.



"I expect she heard that conscript," cried Brigitte, "walking about

Monsieur Auguste's room, whistling that accursed _Marseillaise_ of

theirs while he dressed, as if he had been in a stable! That must have

killed her."



But it was a deeper and a more solemn emotion, and doubtless some

dreadful vision, that had caused Mme. de Dey's death; for at the very

hour when she died at Carentan, her son was shot in le Morbihan.



* * * * *



This tragical story may be added to all the instances on record of the

workings of sympathies uncontrolled by the laws of time and space.

These observations, collected with scientific curiosity by a few

isolated individuals, will one day serve as documents on which to base

the foundations of a new science which hitherto has lacked its man of

genius.





The Confession The Corpus Delicti facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Feedback