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A Dog of Flanders, and Other Stories. Ouida, 1839–1908.
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page: 131

IV.

WE were to stay in the town whilst its season lasted. This had scarcely begun when we entered it. There were very few persons arrived then, and I had plenty of leisure time, in which I took her to spend the hours in the shady alleys of the hills and under the deep foliage of the winding woodland roads, taking our noonday meal most often under the trees of Géronstère.

There were two or three of the artists of my company who used generally to go with us: one of them sang well—he was of the south. There were two young painters, brothers, poor but full of talent, and full of mirth and hope: these would accompany us also. We were a gay, light‐hearted, merry little group enough, and raised the echoes of the rocks many a time with our part‐singing, and many a time brought some great, white, mild‐eyed bull from out the woods to gaze at us with grave eyes in amazement at our laughter.

They were happy times, full of harmless gaiety and blissful belief in the fortunes of the future, in that page: 132 pleasantest season of the earliest summer, when the first dog‐roses were budding on the briers, and the abundant dews of the morning silvered every blade of grass, and were shaken off in a million drops from every stem of cowslip or bough of hawthorn that one gathered. This was yet in earliest summer, whilst the visitors were still few in numbers, and all the green alleys and pretty promenades and shadowy bridle‐paths seemed almost all our own, and the fresh mountain air blew through the place cool and strong, untainted by the perfumes and the powders and the bouquets and the wine‐odours of fashion.

But very soon this changed. Very soon the avenue grew gay with equipages and riding‐parties. Very soon the nobles and the idlers flocked into the little valley‐town, and all was movement and colour and change from noon to midnight. Of course for the theatre I was glad: the house filled nightly; our bright little comic pieces charmed an idle audience of fainéants. I was well received and became popular, and disputed with the Redoute in power of attraction. Of course I was glad of this.

My impressario was well pleased with me, and offered me an increase of salary from midsummer. I even came to be noted enough for people to point me out when I passed into the paths or lingered to page: 133 hear the music in the pretty Promenade des Sept Heures.

“There!” they would say to one another, “do you see him, that quaint, misshapen, ugly fellow? That is Piccinino, the French player. Have you seen him in Le Chevreuil? Myself, I like him better than Ravel.”

Then would the other answer.

“Yes, he is clever, no doubt; but what an ugly beast! And that pretty creature—she is his wife they say.”

And then they would laugh, and the music would seem all discord to me.

Not that I heeded the taunt about my ill looks: I had become long used to that. I knew so well that I was ugly: that could not wound me. It was the way in which they spoke of her, as if, because I was not handsome, I had no title to her. And indeed it seemed so to myself sometimes.

When I moved in the crowded alleys amidst those beaux messieurs dorés, it seemed to me that such a homely, ill‐favoured brown bird as I was had no right to mate with that beautiful young golden oriole.

I knew they thought so: I wondered often if she did likewise.

So, though I had success and fair promise of the future from my present popularity, I was ill at ease page: 134 now that the world had come about us, and that we could no more go and laugh and sing and drink our little cheap wine in the green woods by ourselves without meeting scores of brilliant, languid, graceful people, who stared at us coldly, and then turned aside and laughed.

Amongst these—we met him often—was a young noble of the southern provinces, the Marquis de Carolyié, a cavalry soldier and a man of wealth. He was as beautiful as a woman: he was beautiful living—and dead. I see his face now, there where the lilac flowers are.

What? I am alone in my cell, you say, and it is late in the autumn, and the lilac trees are all torn with shot and ploughed up with cannon‐bails all over France, and will blossom no more this year, nor any other year, but are all killed—for ever, for ever!

You think that my brain wanders? It is not so. You cannot see the dead man’s face, you cannot smell the lilac flowers, but I can. No, I am not mad. I am quite calm. I will tell you how it all happened. Let me go on in my own way.

This young Marquis de Carolyié came into the Ardennes with the midsummer. We saw him very often, a dozen times a day. Every one is always seeing every one else in Spa.

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I held aloof as much as I could from the gay world. I had nothing in common with it, and no means to shine amidst it. Besides, every evening I was playing at the theatre; and as I knew no woman with whom to leave my wife, I took her with me to the playhouse, and whilst I was upon the stage she stayed in my dressing‐chamber.

It was dull, I knew, very dull for her: she wanted to be at the Kursaal and at the balls, I knew, but none of the women there of any fair repute would have associated with her, a girl of the populace, the wife of a comic actor; and with those of light fame I would never let her exchange a word. So we went hardly at all into any of the resorts of the idle people, yet we saw them and they saw us in the promenades, by the bands of music and in the woods; and so we came a dozen times a day by chance across Carolyié’s path, or he, by design, across ours.

He lodged at the D’Orange, and could have had no call to pass and repass, as he did, down our avenue; but this he would do, either riding or on foot, continually.

I noticed him at first for his great beauty: people as ugly as I am are sure to note any singular physical perfection. He rode in the steeple‐chases too, and page: 136 won; he played recklessly at the tables, and won there also, because he could so well afford to lose; he was sought and adored by many of the elegant and weary women there; he was very rich and very attractive: he was a man, in a word, of whom the world always talked.

I ought to have said ere now that she had her first anger against me—or at least the first she showed—on the score of the gaming‐tables. She had urged me with the prettiest and most passionate insistence to try and make my fortune in a night at the roulette‐ball. And I had refused always.

I was no better than other men; I did not condemn what they did; but gaming had no charm for me, and it seemed to me that in one who had so little as I it would be utter madness to court ruin by staking that little on the chance of an ivory ball. And my resolve on this point was very bitter to her.

It seemed to her so cruel in me, when by one lucky hazard I might make in an hour as much as it took me years to earn. She wanted dresses, cachemires, laces, jewels, like those of the great ladies that she saw; she wanted to sweep along the grassy roads with carriage‐horses in gilded harness and with chiming bells, like the aristocratic teams that trotted by; she wanted to go to the Redoute of an evening in page: 137 trailing trains of velvet and of satin: she wanted, in a word, to be entirely other than she was. It is a disease, very common, no doubt, but it is mortal always.

She was a soft, dainty, mignonne thing, full of natural grace, though she had been but a little Loirais peasant girl making lace in a garret: she would have taken kindly to affluence and luxury, and would have looked at home in them, no doubt. But how could I give her them? It was impossible.

I could not run the chance of fortune at the roulette‐wheel when, if I had lost my little all, she would have been cast a beggar on the world.

So this was a difference and a barrier between us.

She would not pardon me, and I could not alter my resolve against my reason and my conscience.

But I think her thoughts were first drawn to Carolyié because she heard from some of our people how recklessly he played at nights, and how continually he won.

Well, one evening he came behind the scenes at our theatre. He knew our chief, it seemed, and was made welcome. He paid me many courteous compliments. He was so frank, so easy, so kindly in his ways, I could not choose but like him. Still, I shut the door of my dressing‐room in his face.

She was there, making lace for herself, as her habit page: 138 was, but whilst her hands moved with their old skill, the tears dropped on the network.

“It is so dull!” she murmured piteously. “It is so dull! You do not think of that, you! You are on the stage there, in the light, with all the people before you applauding you, and calling you on; but here! It is miserable, miserable! I can hear them laugh and shout and clap their hands, while I am all alone!”

I could not bear to see her so. I took blame to myself for my cruel carelessness. The next night I asked for a stage‐box for her, and she passed the hours that I played in front. Whilst I was acting I saw Carolyié with her. It seemed that he had requested my chief to take him thither, which had been done. I joined them between the acts.

He told us that he was very weary of the daily round of gaieties, as they were called. He begged us to let him join us in our little breakfast parties in the woods. He had heard us singing often, he had said, and had longed to get away from his friends and join us and laugh with us. I assented willingly.

I liked the young man, and his gallant, gracious ways and candid eyes, that were blue as the cornflowers. I had no thought of any evil, and I had a perfect faith in her.

So the next day he went with us. But our break‐ page: 139 fast parties were not the same—never quite the same.

He brought his carriage, with its four black horses with their Flemish collars and silver bells, and he would have us drive with him; and when the others came on foot, heated and dusty, and joined us at Géronstère, it was not quite the same. My comrades were never quite so merrily absurd in their vagaries, nor did the buffo songs sound ever quite so joyously as they had done when we had all walked up the hilly road together, shouting and rallying one another, and gathering ferns and foxgloves for our caps, like children out of school.

It was no fault of the Marquis de Carolyié; he was cordial and gay and familiar, as though he were a Bohemian like ourselves; but yet, with those horses champing in the background in their silver harness, with the champagne that he had brought superseding our cheap little thin wine, with the bearskins and tigerskins that his servants spread for our seats over the green hill‐mosses;—with all this some subtle charm of mirth had fled, some sense of inequality, of difference, had arisen.

I think he must have found us nearly as dull as he said that his own great world was.

He took greatly to our company, however; he would page: 140 forsake his own people for us always, whenever he could. He would fain have had us go in return to brilliant suppers and the like that he gave in his rooms at the D’Orange, and at which they said that he was accustomed to spare no extravagance. My fellow‐artists went to them, but not I: I had no means to return such costly courtesies, and it had always been my habit to refuse what I could not repay.

They thought, no doubt, that I kept her away from jealous fear, but I had no feeling of the kind: that I swear. I liked the young man, and I had no suspicion of evil. It was only that I had always been in a manner proud amongst those whom birth and wealth made my superiors in station, and I could not become a debtor.

It seemed to me that it would have a very ill look if I, a man ugly and poor, and struggling in my first efforts after fame, should accept the gifts and banquets of this rich young aristocrat. I knew well how my companions would all laugh and sneer and shrug their shoulders, and mutter, “They ask Peccinino because his wife has a fair face; and the fool goes. Oh ho! he knows how his bread is buttered!”

I knew the sort of scoffs that they would surely cast; and I thought it worthy neither of her innocence nor of my honesty to incur them; so that I never broke page: 141 bread with Carolyié once. But it was not because I ever had an evil thought of him.

Here again there arose matter of difference betwixt her and myself. She thought me harsh and cruel and tyrannous that I would not accept for myself or her the many brilliant offers of the young Marquis; and I—I could not tell her the real reasons which influenced me; I could not soil her ear with the things that mean, vile tongues would say; and so my motives doubtless seemed to her but poor ones, and perhaps she fancied that I crossed her will and denied her pleasure from sheer caprice or hardness.

For a while she reproached me bitterly; for many days she would upbraid me in her pretty and impetuous manner, with her petulant, childlike anger continually; she would take no enjoyment in any scheme that I proposed nor any toy I bought for her; she would tell me always that I hated to see her happy.

It was a cruel saying, for she knew, as God knew, that I would have laid down my life any day to give her joy. But she was disappointed, and blind to justice, and angered like a spoilt child that is denied a plaything; the glitter of the young man’s gay and gracious life had dazzled her.

After a week or two had lapsed, however, she ceased to reproach me aloud.

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She grew very silent, and seemed strangely softened into obedience to my desires on all subjects. She did not care to go out nearly so much as she used to do. It was with some trouble that I prevailed on her to go forth at the hours when the bands played.

She would sit all day long by the window of our little chalet in the Marteau Road, working at her lace, with a cluster of flowers on the table before her. She talked little; she did everything I asked her; she was often in reverie, musing, with a smile upon her lips, and when I spoke to her after some minutes’ silence, she would start up as if awaking suddenly from a dream.

I thought she was not well, and grew anxious, but she assured me that she ailed nothing; and indeed I had never seen her sweet eyes clearer or the rose bloom brighter on her cheeks. I thought it was the mountain air perhaps which was too strong, and made her listless.

Of course I had to leave her very often. I could not anyway avoid it. We were the only company at Spa: and to amuse the fastidious audience for which we played, we were obliged to change our little pieces almost every night.

This entailed on us great fatigue, and most of all on me, because the kind of pieces that we now performed page: 143 were not such as I had acted in when I had gone about with my little wooden theatre; which, indeed, I had written chiefly myself. The studying so many new characters, and the rehearsal of them, occupied much of my day‐time, and left me but little leisure as the season advanced.

Of an evening she would always go with me to the theatre, and sit in the little baignoir which they assigned her: occasionally, when I joined her in the entr’actes, I found Carolyié there, but not very often. He somewhat avoided me. I supposed that I might have given him some cause for offence in my persistent refusal of the many invitations which he had pressed upon me in the beginning of the summer.

Once, too, in quite the earliest days of his appearance there, he had sent her a magnificent bouquet of rare flowers; and I had taken him aside, and spoken to him frankly.

“You mean well and in all kindness, I know,” I said to him, “but do nothing of this sort with us. Remember that what is a mere pretty grace of courtesy amongst your equals is to people poor and obscure as we are a debt that we can ill carry without losing the only honour that we have—our title to respect ourselves.”

He had seemed moved, and had coloured a little, page: 144 and had shaken my hand with cordiality. And from that time he had sent no gifts to her. But I fancied that to me he, on afterthought, resented the words I had spoken.

One night, when the summer was well advanced, I was to play in a quite new piece, in which it was thought that I should achieve a signal success.

There were some very great people at that time in Spa; for want of something to do they came to our little entertainments. The favour with which they received and spoke of me was something very promising, and made me more and more valued by my chief. On the whole, life was very good and pleasant to me at that time, and many whose words were of weight said that I should become with time and practice one of the best comedians of the country.

That night she pleaded that she was not quite well—she had a headache from the heat of the past day, and feared the suffocating atmosphere of the theatre.

She smiled and sang a little to herself, and told me she would sit by the open window in the little alcove which she had made peculiarly her own, and wait for me and hear the tidings of the night’s triumphs when I returned.

I knew the theatre was oppressive at this season of page: 145 the year, crowded nightly as it was, and I did not attempt to press her to accompany me.

I took her an immense knot of white roses which I had bought in the town. She set them in a large blue jar, and said their fragrance and freshness had already done her good. She kissed me, and threw her arms about my neck, and murmured, with a little tender laugh, “Au revoir, au revoir!” and then bade me go or I should be late.

I left her sitting in the window, the unlit lamp, with a small crucifix against it, on the table by her, with the jar of roses.

She had her frame and bobbins, and was working at her lace. She looked at me from the open lattice, and waved me a second adieu.

I had no thought, no suspicion. I only said to myself, “Surely she has learned to love me a little now.”

It is an old old story, you will say. Yes, very old.

I left her, and went to the theatre. I remember walking down the avenue in the brilliant sunlight. It had rained at noonday. It was a red and golden evening, very beautiful. The band was playing in the Place Royale. Every one was out. From the little gardens there were all sorts of sweet scents from roses page: 146 and mignonettes and carnations, and all fragrant midsummer things that were growing in the warmth and the moisture. Clouds in all manner of lovely shapes swept above the green hills, and seemed to rest on them.

I saw the people go in and out of the gaming‐rooms. I pitied them for wasting this divine weather, which they were all free to enjoy as they would, in that feverish atmosphere. Amongst them there came out Carolyié. He appeared to avoid or not to see me; he passed by on the other side, and went on to dine at Baas‐Cogez.

Some one near me said,

“What good‐fortune that young man has! He wins every day. If he goes on like that one week more, he will break the bank.”

Another added,

“Because he wants nothing, he gets everything.”

I heard, but I did not envy him: I envied no one. I would not have changed places with a king, though I was but a poor actor going to his work, to be shut up in a steaming theatre to amuse others with the tricks of gesture and of language. I would not have exchanged my lot for that of an emperor.

I was so happy that night, as I went on through the town, away from the smell of the gardens and woods, page: 147 and the sounds of the music and the falling waters, and the singing of many little birds, into the dusky den where I dressed for my part in the playhouse!

The new piece was called Le Pot de Vin de Thibautin. It was very absurd and humourous, and yet graceful. I have never played in it since, and yet every line of it is burnt into my mind.

I had a fresh and genuine success in the part of Thibautin.

I was recalled five times, and the house, which was a full one, applauded me to the echo. A great duke who was there, a foreigner, came behind the scenes and gave me a gold snuff‐box of his own, and spoke very high words of praise. I knew my future was sure: I had a reputation which would grow with every year in France. I went from the theatre a happy man.

It was still very warm—a beautiful dark, starless night. The clouds were heavy: there was a sort of hush in the air. There was only just light enough in the little town to make deeper by contrast the circle of the hills. The flowers scented the air more strongly still than at sunset: they were heavy with great dews.

All was so quiet. Everyone was in the ballroom or the card‐room. The casements stood wide open in page: 148 the deserted houses. Here and there the little coloured lamps glimmered. Here and there a woman leaned from a balcony.

I went on down the avenue of Marteau.

In the stillness I could hear the brook running over the stones, and the rustle of the leaves in the water as the wind stirred them.

I looked up at the windows of my little rooms. The light shone through their green shutters. The vine that climbed around them was dark against the reflection. I looked up, and, though I had known little of God in the life that I had led, I blessed Him.

Yes, I blessed God that night.

I opened the door, and went up the stairs, and entered my own chamber. I looked for her in her accustomed place, near the lamp, in the alcove, where the great jar of white roses stood. She was not there.

I need not tell you any more, the story is so old, so old.

For many weeks after that night I knew nothing. I was mad, I believe. They say so. I cannot tell; I remember nothing; only that blank deserted room, and the great mass of white roses, and the lamp with the little crucifix under it, and the empty chair with page: 149 the lace‐work that had fallen beside it, all unfinished and untangled. I can see that always, always.

She had gone without any word or any sign; and yet it was all so plain. Everyone had foreseen it, so they said—everyone except myself.

From that night nothing more was ever seen or heard in that place of him or of her: the people of the house knew nothing; so at least they said. But on the floor, under the mirror, there was a torn letter, which had been forgotten or mislaid.

Not many words were in it, but they were words enough to tell me that when she had kissed me on the mouth, and smiled, and sent me on my way to play in my new part that evening at sunset, she had known that when the night fell she would betray me.

It is a woman’s way, they say.

I might be really mad: they told me that I was; it may be so. I think it was quite late in autumn when I had any sense or consciousness of what I did or what I spoke. The place was all deserted, the woods were brown, the music was silent, the flowers were dead.

I awoke stupidly, as it were, but yet I was quite calm, and I knew what had chanced to me. It seemed to me that I had lived many years since that horrible night. My hair was gray. I felt feeble and grown old.

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Life was ended for me, you know. I wondered why I was not dead as others were, and quiet in my grave.

When they let me go I walked out into the forsaken streets: they looked so strange—there was scarcely a soul in them, and the shutters of the houses were closed. I had only one idea—to follow them, to find them. And I had lost so much time: it was now nearly winter.

My chief and his troop had all gone, of course. What little money I had had people had taken whilst I was unconscious. They told me I owed my life to charity. My life! I laughed aloud in their faces.

They were afraid of me: they thought I was mad still. But I was not. I knew what I did, and I had one fixed purpose left, which was quite clear to me, and for which alone I endured to live an hour.

I was a fool—oh yes!—and she was worthless. No doubt, no doubt. But then—I loved her.

Not that I ever dreamed of winning her back. Nay, do not think so base a thought of me. My life had been upright and without shame in the sight of men: I would not have stained it with any weakness so unmanly and so foul. But I had a purpose, and that one purpose gave me nerve and strength.

In the gray of the morning I left the town. I had not a coin in the world. My one little talent was page: 151 killed in me. My career was gone. My dawning repute was already a thing of the past, forgotten by all men. You see she had destroyed all for me—utterly.

But no doubt she never counted the cost. They do not think, those fair, soft, smiling things.

When I had come into that valley I had had an honest past, a precious present, a hopeful future. When I left it—

Well, it matters not now. I died then. The bullets to‐morrow for me can have no pain.

It signifies little to tell you how I have subsisted betwixt the time that I quitted the little town in the mountains, and this day when I lie under sentence of death.

My old career had become to me abhorrent, impossible. Such skill as I had been master of had perished out of me. If I had gone upon the stage, I could not have said a word nor moved a limb. The old pursuit, the old pleasure, familiar and dear to me from my childhood, was all withered up for ever.

Men have played—and women too, I know—a thousand times with hearts broken and bleeding, and the world has applauded them. But with me any talent I had ever possessed was gone for ever: to have passed within a playhouse would have made me mad, I think. That last night I had been so happy— page: 152 that last night, in the fulness of my joy, I had blessed God!

I lived—no matter how. The life of a very wretched creature, but still not the life of a beggar. The manner of my existence from my birth up had taught me to live almost upon nothing, and had taught me also many ways of providing for myself such scanty daily bread as I was forced to eat.

All the winter long I sought for tidings of her—and him. But the land was wide, and months had gone by, and I had no knowledge of where he dwelt, and I gleaned nothing that was of any service to me.

When I reached Paris I abode there for a while. I reasoned that soon or late—being of fair fortune and of lofty rank—he would of a surety come thither. So I waited.

I waited all through the winter, but he did not come. I worked my way into his own south‐country, and tried to find traces of him. I saw his great palace amongst pine forests, the palace as of a prince, but I learned that he had not been there for several seasons. He had deserted it almost utterly for the world of cities.

They said that he was in Italy.

I travelled thither, but there I was always too late: he had left each city before I entered it. It is no use page: 153 to tell of all these wanderings, none of which bore any fruit.

Once, in Venice, I only missed him by a day: a gondolier told me that he had a woman with him fair as a rose.

Ah, God! that was in the sweet time of spring. Everywhere the lilacs were in flower.

I lived to hear that and to see the trees blossom. How can the bullets hurt me to‐morrow?

Let me make an end quickly. I lived, wretchedly, indeed, but still I lived on: I would not lie down and die without my vengeance.

The summer came, and with summer war. When it was declared I was on the frontier. I hastened into my own country as well as I could, being on foot always, and having to work my way from village to village, day by day.

I had lost everything. I had become feeble, stupid, dull: I was what they call a monomaniac, I think. I thought always I saw her face looking toward me amidst the lilac clusters. I never spoke to anyone of her, but that was what I saw, always.

I had lost all the mind I had ever had, and when I met any of my old comrades I shunned them.

Some of them wanted to pity me, to assist me. They meant well, no doubt, but I would sooner that page: 154 they should have stabbed me. I avoided everyone and everything which could remind me of what I had been, and I was morose, and perhaps in a manner mad; I do not know.

But when I heard of war I seemed to myself to awake. It seemed to call to me like a living creature. I was good for nothing else, but I could still strike, I thought. Besides, I knew he was a soldier. It would go hard if I found him not somewhere in the mêlée.

And indeed I loved France: still, in the misery of my life, I loved her for all that I had had from her.

I loved her for her sunny roads, for her cheery laughter, for her vine‐hung hamlets, for her contented poverty, for her gay sweet mirth, for her pleasant days, for her starry nights, for her little bright groups at the village fountain, for her old brown, humble peasants at her wayside crosses, for her wide, wind‐swept plains all red with her radiant sunsets. She had given me beautiful hours; she is the mother of the poor, who sings to them so that they forget their hunger and their nakedness; she had made me happy in my youth. I was not ungrateful.

It was in the heats of September that I reached my country. It was just after the day of Sedan. I page: 155 heard all along the roads, as I went, sad, sullen murmurs of our bitter disasters. It was not the truth exactly that was ever told at the poor wine‐shops and about the harvest‐fields, but it was near enough to the truth to be horrible.

The blood‐thirst which had been upon me ever since that night when I found her chair empty seemed to burn and seethe, till I saw nothing but blood—in the air, in the sun, in the water.

I had always been of a peaceful temper enough. I had always abhorred contention. I had lived quietly, in amity and agreement at all times with my fellow‐creatures. It had used even to be a jest against me that if any man were to rob me I should only think of how best I could shield him from justice. But all that was changed.

I had become, as it were, a beast of prey. I wanted to kill, to appease the sickly hot thirst always in me. You do not know? Well, pray to God, if you have one, that you may never know.

No man, I think, is ever safe from coming to know it, if Fate so wills. A day can change us so that the very mother who bore us would not recognise her sons.

I hated myself, and yet I could not alter what I had become. If we are held accountable hereafter for page: 156 such changes in us, it will be very unjust. We cannot escape from them.

By the time I reached the centre of France, they were everywhere forming new corps and bands of francs‐tireurs. In one of these latter I enrolled myself. I was strong of body and of good height, though somewhat misshapen: they were glad of me. For me, I had only one idea—to strike for the country, and, soon or late, to reach him.

I fought several times, they said—well, I do not know. Probably I did, for I flew on them like a tiger—that I can remember—and of personal pain or peril I had never any consciousness.

We lived in the woods. We hid by day: by night we scoured the country. We made fierce raids, we stopped convoys, we cut telegraph wires, we intercepted orderlies, we attacked and often routed the invaders’ cavalry. We knew that if taken we should be hanged like common murderers for the guilt of patriotism, but I do not think any one of us ever paused for that: we only attacked them with the greater desperation.

Sometimes, in the forests or on the highway we would find the body of some of our comrades hung by the neck to a straight tree, though he had been taken fighting fairly for his country’s sake: such a sight did not make us gentler. We poured out blood like water, page: 157 and much of it was the proud blue blood of the old nobility. We should have saved France, I am sure, if there had been any one who had known how to consolidate and lead us. No one did; so it was all of no use.

Guerillas like us can do much, very much, but to do so much that it is victory we must have a genius amidst us. And we had none. If the First Bonaparte had been alive and with us, we should have chased the foe as Marius the Cimbri.

I think other nations will say so in the future: at the present they are all dazzled, they do not see clearly—they are all worshipping the rising sun. It is blood‐red, and it blinds them.

In time it became known that I fought, they said, like ten men in one. They gave me an officer’s grade in the real army. It was the doing of Gambetta, I believe.

For me it made no difference. Place, name, repute,—what could these be to me? I was dead—dead with my old life: it was a devil, I thought, that inhabited my body, and drank himself with blood into a likeness of humanity—as humanity is in war.

I was drafted from the free corps into the battalions of Bourbaki. I saw more service, hard service, and the Republic said that I did well. By my side there often fought, and often fell, old comrades of my own. page: 158 The comedians and the artists did their full duty by France: the derided kingdom of Bohemia sent hundreds of its brightest leaders in loyal answer to the call of Death.

Well, all this while I never saw his face, though continually I searched for it, and for it alone, in the tempest of a charge and in the slaughter‐heaps after battle.

“Is it a brother you seek always?” men asked me often, seeing how I would lift up face after face from amongst the dead upon a battle‐field, and let each one drop, and go on again upon my quest. And I answered them always, “One closer than a brother.”

For was he not?

But all this while I never saw his face.

France was a great sea in storm, on which the lives of all men were as frail boats tossing to their graves: some were blown east, some west: they passed each other in the endless night, and never knew, the tempest blew so strong.

One day there was a bitter strife. It was in the time of our last struggle. We were trying to cut our way through the iron wall that had raised itself round Paris.

We failed, as the world knows, but we strove hard that day. At least all those around me did, and for a page: 159 little space we saw the granite mass roll back from us, and we thought that we had won.

In that moment, in the white thick shroud of smoke where I pressed forward on foot with my comrades of the line, there came on with us, in a beautiful fierce sweep, like lightning, a troop of horse half cut to pieces, with many of its chargers riderless, and with its thinned ranks hidden in clouds of blinding dust.

But shattered though it was, it charged for us: it was one of the southern nobles’ free corps of cavalry, the Cuirassiers of Corrèze.

Close against me a grey horse, shot through the body, reeled and fell: the rider of it sank an instant, then shook himself free and rose.

It was he—at last!

He knew me, and I him, even in that mad moment.

I sprang upon him like a beast; my sword was at his throat; the smoke was all around us; no one saw; he was disarmed and in my power.

My men shouted together, “En avant! en avant!” They thought they were victorious.

I heard, I remembered: he too fought for France. I dared not slay him. I let him go.

“Afterwards! afterwards!” I said in his ear. He knew well what I meant.

He caught a loose charger that galloped snorting page: 160 by; he seized his fallen sabre; he swept onward with his troops; I charged in line with my own men. With the roar of the firing in my ear, and the shouts of our fancied triumph, I pressed onward and downward into the ranks of the enemy: then I dropped senseless.

When the surgeon found me at dawn the next day, I had no wound on me.

For the victory—it had lived only in vanquished soldiers’ dreams, as all the victories of France have lived in this bitter season.

I woke to consciousness and to remembrance, saying again and again in my heart, “Afterwards! afterwards!”

The time soon came.

I saw him no more then. The Cuirassiers of Corrèze passed eastward. Those whom I served sent me into the capital. It was now the beginning of the new year.

There soon came to us that deadliest hour when all we had done and endured received as recompense the shame of the capitulation.

How long is it ago?—a day, a year?

I cannot tell. I was amongst those who held it a crime, an outrage, a betrayal. I did not pretend to have any knowledge, any statecraft, but I knew that, page: 161 had I been a man in power there, sooner than sign the surrender I would have burned Paris as the Russians did Moscow.

There were many who thought as I did, but we were not asked, were not counted. We had but to hold our tongues, and stand quiet and see the Germans enter Paris.

Then you know this other war came, the civil war. I was in the capital still. It seemed to me that the people were in the right. I cannot argue, but I think so still. They might go ill to work unwisely perhaps, but they asked nothing unreasonable, and they were not at fault—in the commencement, at least.

When the strife and carnage had ceased, I felt very strange. I felt as men do who have been long in the great roar of a cataract, and who come suddenly again where all is quiet. The calm seems to daze them. So the stillness bewildered me.

I began to think that it had all been a dream, a nightmare; only I remembered so well the look of his eyes into mine when my steel was at his throat, and if I dropped asleep a while I always awoke muttering, “Afterwards! afterwards!”

At this time I often went and looked at the house where I had dwelt with her in Paris.

A shell had laid open the little rose‐and‐white room page: 162 under the roof; the front and back walls had been torn away; I saw the day through them; some of the gilding of the mirror still clung there.

Another shell had struck the little gay theatre where I had played for the first and last time in Paris: it was now a blank and smoking ruin. And it had been such a little while ago!—Great Heaven!

At such times I asked myself why I had spared him.

I was dull and silent, and lived wholly to myself: all the people I had known were slain or had perished of want.

I made no new friends, I dwelt aloof. Nevertheless, the day came when I had to choose sides: whilst one lives at all on earth one cannot be a coward.

I chose the side of the people; I cast in my lot with them; I remained in Paris. They might be right, they might be wrong—I do not say; I knew they were my class, my kind, my brethren. I abided by their election.

The world will always say they were wrong because they failed: of course; but I think they were only wrong in this—that they tried a mighty experiment before the earth was ripe for it. It is fatal to be before your time—always.

But it was not because I thought them very right page: 163 that I joined with them. I was no politician: I hardly asked them what they meant. I cast in my lot with theirs because I was of them, and because it would have seemed to me a cowardice to desert them.

All that horrible season went by slowly, slowly. It was but yesterday, you say: it seems a thousand years ago.

I was cooped up in the city: it was much worse than the first siege. I went out in many sorties. I made no doubt he was at Versailles, and every day that I arose and went into the air I said in my soul, “There will be no need to spare him—now.”

On the bastions where the red flag was set, through the smoke of guns, I used to stand hour after hour, and look across at the woods of Versailles, and think to myself,—

“If only we might meet once more—only once more!”

For I was free now: his brethren fought against mine. It was the thought that nerved my arm for the Commune.

I think it was with many as with me; or something like it.

I remember in that ghastly time seeing a woman put the match to a piece whose gunner had just dropped dead. She fired with sure aim: her shot swept straight page: 164 into a knot of horsemen on the Neuilly road, and emptied more than one saddle.

“You have a good sight,” I said to her.

She smiled.

“This winter,” she said slowly, “my children have all died for want of food—one by one, the youngest first. Ever since then I want to hurt something—always. Do you understand?”

I did understand: I do not know if you do. It is just these things that make revolutions.

This is only away from us by a day or so, you say? It is strange: it seems to me half a lifetime.

It was a horrible season. The streets ran wine and blood. The populace was drunk, and savage in its drunkenness. The palaces were pillaged, the churches reeked with filth. I fought without the gates when I could: when I could not, I shut myself in my garret, so that I should not see or hear. So far as I had sense to feel, my heart was sick for France.

One day, when I was going from the fortifications through the by‐streets to the place that sheltered me, I passed through a street which had been almost utterly destroyed by shell and fire.

The buildings were mere skeletons, the hearths and homes mere heaps of calcined dust. The rafters, the bricks, the iron girders, the rubble and the rubbish page: 165 had fallen pell‐mell amidst the broken mirrors, the shattered gilding, the scorched pictures: perhaps under the mountains of cinders and of ruin the charred bodies of the dwellers and the owners might be lying: no one knew.

It was all desolate, dark, unutterably miserable.

Yet amidst it all there was one lovely living thing, surrounded everywhere by devastation, but uncrushed, unharmed, untouched. In what had once been a green and cherished little garden there sprang upward a young lilac‐tree in full flower, fragrant, erect, wet with sweet dews, covered with blossoms—alone amidst the wreck.

For the first time since she had left me I fell on my knees and hid my face in my hands, and wept—as women weep.

Soon after that the end came.

Paris was on fire in a thousand places. They slew the hostages: they did strange and fearful things. You have seen them more clearly than I. I was in the midst of the smoke, of the violence, of the flames, of the bloodshed, of the ignorance, of the ferocity: I was too close to it all to judge any of it aright.

Evil had become their good; and yet in the beginning of the time the people had not been to blame.

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From the day they put the old priests to death I would fight no more for the Commune.

But I knew that the Commune would fall, and so I would not forsake them. I think many felt as I did—detested the acts into which the people had plunged, but would not forsake them on the edge of ruin.

I would not fight again for them, but neither would I fight against them: I went forth into the streets and stood and looked.

It seemed hell itself. The sky was black: everything else was illumined by the fires.

The Versaillais were pouring in: I do not know how many hours or days had gone. It seemed to me all night—all one endless night that the endless flames illumined.

Little children ran past me with lighted brands in their hands, which they flung into houses or cellars, laughing all the while. Women, black with powder, with their hair loose and their breasts bare, streamed by me like furies, shrieking curses till the shot struck them and they dropped upon the stones.

From the windows, from the roofs, from the trees, the people fired upon the soldiery: the soldiery raked the streets with their fire in return, and stormed the dwellings, and threw the dead bodies out of the casements. The roads were wet everywhere with a tide page: 167 of blood, always rising higher and higher: the corpses were strewn in all directions. Some lay in the aisles of the churches, some on the steps of the high altars. You know, you know: I need not tell it.

It will seem strange to you, but in all that horror I thought of the lilac tree: I went and looked for it.

The street behind, the street before, were both burning. In the little garden there had been a bitter strife: the dead lay there in pools of blood by scores.

But the little lilac was still erect, its green boughs and its sweet blossoms blowing in the wind.

There were some little birds that had their young in a nest in the lilac boughs. They were uneasy; they twittered and fluttered about amongst the leaves. It was so dark they thought that it was night. But the church chimes were tolling noon.

I sat down on a pile of timber that had crushed the grasses at the roots of the tree. I sat still there and waited. I could do nothing. I could not fight for them: I would not fight against them.

Down the ruined, smoking street, as I sat thus, there came a soldier hastily, with his sword drawn, glancing hither and thither rapidly, as one who had lost his way or missed his men. His dress was splashed, torn, covered with dust, and here and there page: 168 with blood, but it was the dress of a soldier of rank. As he came the glare of the fires in front shone full on his face—his beautiful face: I knew it in an instant.

God had delivered him into my hands. So I said in my soul, exultant. We always charge our crimes upon God.

I sprang up and stood in his way.

“At last! at last!” I cried to him.

He wavered, paused, and looked at me bewildered: no doubt I was greatly changed, and in the horrid scorching gloom he did not recognise my features.

I gave him no breathing‐space, but drew my sword and rushed on him.

“Defend yourself!” I said in his ear ere I touched him. We would fight until death—that I swore in my heart—but we would fight fairly, man to man.

When I spoke he knew me. He was a brave man and loyal. He raised no shout to rally his comrades. He took my challenge as I gave it. He threw himself in a second into position.

“I am ready,” he said, simply.

We were all alone. The fire was around us on all sides. The dead alone were our spectators. The little lilac tree waved in the wind.

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Our swords crossed a score of times swift as the lightning: then, in a moment as it seemed, he fell forward on my blade: his body drooped and doubled like a broken bough.

The steel had passed through his breast‐bone. I had my vengeance.

It was a fair fight, man to man.

He looked up at me as he sank down dying on the stones.

A strange shadowy smile flickered over his mouth.

“You were revenged—before,” he said slowly, each word drawn feebly with his breath. “Did you not know? She betrayed me last autumn to the Prussians; she had a lover amongst them greater than I.”

A rush of blood choked his voice: he lay silent, leaning upon one hand. The flames shone upon his face, the smoke drove over us, the little lilac tree blew in the breeze, the birds murmured to their young ones.

Then all at once the street grew full of men. They were his own soldiery. They rushed on me to avenge his death. With the last effort of life in him he raised himself, and signed them back.

“Do not touch him,” he cried aloud to them. “It was I who injured him: I fall in fair fight.”

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Even as he spoke a shudder shook him, and he died.

His head was on the stones; his hair was soaked with the blood that had already been shed there; a grey pallor stole over his face; and yet even then he was still beautiful.

The lilac blossoms, loosened by the driving wind and by the fire’s heat, fell softly on him, one by one, like tears.

I did not stir; I stood there looking down at him. My hate of him had died away with his young life: I only pitied him with an intense passion of pity.

We both perished for a thing so vile.

His comrades and men heeded nothing of his words; they arrested me as they would have done a common felon. I did not attempt to resist them. I had broken my sword and cast it down by his body: its end was accomplished, its fate was fulfilled: I had no further use for it.

They have brought me hither; they have given me a full trial, so they say, and to‐morrow they will kill me.

What is the charge against me? That I, a soldier of the Commune, slew a soldier of Versailles. It is enough, more than enough, in these days. I say nothing. I am glad there should be an end.

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If you ask any grace for me, ask only this—;that the men who fire on me shall not be the same men by whose side I fought so long for France.

And when they throw my body in the ditch—see here!—let them bury this branch of lilac with me.

It is of no value—it is dead.

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