Page images

find him. Our sentries already patrolled the streets, and our bugles were calling on the heights, with answering calls from the fleet in the basin. Night came down quickly, the stars shone out in the perfect blue, and, as I walked, broken walls, shattered houses, solitary pillars, looked mystically strange. It was so quiet; as if a beaten people had crawled away into the holes our shot and shell had made, to hide their misery. Now and again a gaunt face looked out from a hidingplace, and drew back again in fear at sight of me. Once a drunken woman spat at me and cursed me; once I was fired at; and many times from dark corners I heard voices crying, "Sauvez-moi -ah, sauvez-moi, bon Dieu!" Once I stood for many minutes and watched our soldiers giving biscuits and their own share of rum to homeless French peasants hovering round the smouldering ruins of a house which carcasses had destroyed.

[ocr errors]

And now my wits came back to me, my purposes, the power to act, which for a couple of hours had seemed to be in abeyance. I hurried through narrow streets to the cathedral. There it stood, a shattered mass, its sides all broken, its roof gone, its tall octagonal tower alone substantial and unchanged. Coming to its rear, I found Babette's little house, with open door, and I went in. There sat the old grandfather in his corner, with a lighted candle on the table near him, across his knees Jean's coat that I had worn. He only babbled nonsense to my questioning, and, after calling alond to Babette and getting no reply, I started for the Intendance.

I had scarcely left the house when I saw some French peasants coming towards me with a litter. A woman, walking behind the litter, carried a lantern, and one of our soldiers of artillery at tended and directed. I ran forward, and discovered Voban, mortally hurt. The woman gave a cry, and spoke my name in a kind of surprise and relief;

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

[ocr errors]

"In the Valdoche Hills," he answered, "where the Gray Monk lives — by the Tall Calvary." He gasped with pain; I let him rest awhile, and eased the bandages on him, and soon he said, "I am to be gone soon. For two years I have wait for the good time to kill him Bigot to send him and his Palace to hell. I cannot tell you how I work to do it. It is no matter -no. From an old cellar I mine, and at last I get the powder lay beneath him — his Palace. So. But he does not come to the Palace much this many months, and Madame Cournal is always with him, and it is hard to do the thing in other ways. But I laugh when the English come in the town, and when I see Bigot fly to his Palace alone to get his trea

sure- chest I think it is my time. So I ask the valet, and he say he is in the private room that lead to the treasureplace. Then I come back quick to the secret place and fire my mine. In ten minutes all will be done. I go at once to his room again, alone. I pass through the one room, and come to the other. It is a room with one small barred window. If he is there, I will say a word to him that I have wait long to say, then shut the door on us both, for I am sick of life, and watch him and laugh at him till the end comes. If he is in the other room, then I have another way as


He paused, exhausted, and I waited till he could again go on. At last he made a great effort, and continued: "I go back to the first room, and he is not there. I pass soft to the treasure-room, and I see him kneel beside a chest, looking in. His back is to me. I hear him laugh to himself. I shut the door, turn the key, go to the window and throw it out, and look at him again. But now he stand and turn to me, and then I see I see it is not Bigot, but-M'sieu' Doltaire !


"I am sick when I see that, and at first I cannot speak, my tongue stick in my mouth so dry. 'Has Voban turn robber?' he say. I put out my hand and try to speak again, but no. What did you throw from the window?' he speak. 'And what's the matter, my Voban?' 'My God,' I say at him now, 'I thought you are Bigot!' I point to the floor. Powder!' I whisper. His eyes go like fire so terrible; he look to the window, take a quick angry step to me, but stand still. Then he point to the window. The key, Voban?' he say; and I answer, 'Yes.' He get pale; then he go and try the door, look close at the walls, try them quick, quick, stop, for a panel, then try again, stand still, and lean against the table. It is no use to call; no one can hear, for it is all roar outside, and these walls are solid

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

and very thick. How long?' he say, and take out his watch. 'Five minutes -perhaps,' I answer. He put his watch on the table, and sit down on a bench by it, and for a little minute he do not speak, but look at me close, and not angry, as you would think. Voban,' he say in a low voice, Bigot was a thief.' He point to the chest. He stole from the King-my father. He stole your Mathilde from you! He should have died. We have both been blunderers, Voban, blunderers,' he say; things have gone wrong with us. We have lost all.' There is little time. Tell me one thing,' he go on. 'Is Mademoiselle Duvarney safe-do you know?' I tell him yes, and he smile, and take from his pocket something, and lay it against his lips, and then put it back in his breast. 'You are not afraid to die, Voban?' he ask. I answer no. 'Shake hands with me, my friend,' he speak, and I do so that. Ah, pardon, pardon, Monsieur,' I say. 'No, no, Voban; it was to be,' he answer. 'We shall meet again, comrade,' he say also, and he turn away from me and look to the sky through the window, and nod his head. Then he look at his watch, and get to his feet, and stand there still. I kiss my crucifix. He reach out and touch it, and bring his fingers to his lips. • Who can tell?' he say. Perhaps.' minute - ah, it seem like it is so still, so still - he stand there, and then he put his hand over the watch, lift it up, and shut his eyes, as if time is all done. While you can count ten it is so, and then the great crash come."


[ocr errors]

For a little a year, and

For a long time he lay silent again. I gave him more cordial, and he revived, and ended his tale. "I am a blunderer, as M'sieu' say," he went on, "for he is killed, not Bigot and me, and only a little part of the Palace go to pieces. And so they fetch me here, and I wish — my God, I wish I go with M'sieu' Doltaire."

Two hours after I went to the Intendance, and there I found that the

[ocr errors]

body of my enemy had been placed in the room where I had last seen him with Alixe. He lay on the same couch where she had lain. The flag of France covered his broken body, but his face was untouched - as it had been in life, haunting, fascinating, though the shifting lights were gone, the fine eyes closed. A noble peace hid all that was sardonic; not even Gabord would now have called him “Master Devil." I covered up his face and left him there, - peasant and prince, candles burning at his head and feet, and the star of Louis on his shattered breast; and I saw him no


All that night I walked the ramparts, thinking, remembering, hoping, waiting for the morning; and when I saw the light break over those far eastern parishes, wasted by fire and sword, I set out on a journey to the Valdoche Hills.

It was in the saffron light of early morning that I saw it, the Tall Calvary of the Valdoche Hills. The night before I had come up through a long valley, overhung with pines on one side and crimsoning maples on the other, and, traveling till nearly midnight, had lain down in the hollow of a bank, and listened to a little river leap over cascades, and, far below, go prattling on to the great river in the south. My eyes closed, but for long I did not sleep. I heard a night-hawk go by on a lonely mission, a beaver slide from a log into the water, and the delicate humming of the pine needles was a drowsy music, through which broke by and by the strange, sad crying of a loon from the water below. I was neither asleep nor awake, but steeped in this wide awe of night, the sweet smell of earth and running water in my nostrils. Once, too, in a slight breeze, the scent of some wild animal's nest near by came past, and I found it good. I lifted up a handful of loose earth and powdered leaves, and held it to my nose, -a good, brave smell,

- all in a sort of sleep; for I was resting, too, one part of me all still and happy. How good this rich earth was; how sweet a thing to lie close to Mother Nature, the true or careless or good-for-nothing head against her knee, even with the foolishness of the child who buries his hot face in the nest of cool sand that he has made!

As I mused, Doltaire's face passed before me as it was in life, and I heard him say again of the peasants, "These shall save the earth some day, for they are of it, and live close to it, and are kin to it."

Then, all at once, there rushed before me that scene in the convent, when all the devil in him broke loose upon the woman I loved. But, turning on my homely bed, I looked up and saw the deep quiet of the skies, the stable peace of the stars, and I was a son of the good earth again, a sojourner in the tents of Home. I did not doubt that Alixe was alive or that I should find her. There was assurance in this benignant night. In that thought, dreaming that her cheek lay close to mine, her arm around my neck, I fell asleep. I waked to hear the squirrels stirring in the trees, the whir of the partridge, and the first unvarying note of the oriole. Turning on my dry, leafy bed, I looked down, and saw in the dark haze of dawn the beavers at their house-building.

I was at the beginning of a deep gorge or valley, on one side of which was a steep sloping hill of grass and trees, and on the other a huge escarpment of mossed and jagged rocks. Then, farther up, the valley seemed to end in a huge promontory. On this great wedge grim shapes loomed in the mist, uncouth and shadowy and unnatural a lonely, mysterious Brocken, impossible to human tenantry. Yet as I watched the mist slowly rise, there grew in me the feeling that there lay the end of my quest. I came down to the brook, bathed my face and hands, ate my frugal breakfast of

[blocks in formation]

It was near noon before I knew that my pilgrimage was over. Then, coming round a point of rock, I saw the Gray Monk, of whom strange legends had lately traveled to the city. I took off my hat to him reverently; but all at once he threw back his cowl, and I saw, no monk, but, much altered, the good chaplain who had married me to Alixe in the Château St. Louis. He had been hurt when he was fired upon in the water; had escaped, however, got to shore, and made his way into the woods. There he had met Mathilde, who led him to her lonely home in this hill. Seeing the Tall Calvary, he had conceived the idea of this disguise, and Mathilde had brought him the robe for the purpose.

In a secluded cave I found Alixe with her father, caring for him, for he was not yet wholly recovered from his hurt. There was no waiting now. The ban of Church did not hold her back, nor did her father do aught but smile when she came laughing and crying into my arms. The good Seigneur put out his hand to me beseechingly. I took it, clasped it. "The city?" he asked. "Is ours," I answered. "And my son - my son I told him how, the night that the city was taken, the Chevalier la Darante and I had gone a sad journey in a boat to the Island of Orleans, and there, in the chapel yard, near to his father's château, we had laid a brave and honest gentleman who died fighting for his country.


By and by, when their grief had a little abated, I took them out into the sunshine, a pleasant green valley lying to the north, and to the south, far off, the wall of rosy hills that hid the captured town. As we stood there, a scar

let figure came winding in and out among the giant stones, crosses hanging at her girdle. She approached us, and, seeing me, she said, "Hush! I know a place where all the lovers can hide." And she put a little wooden cross into my hand. Gilbert Parker.


WHOEVER loves the music of English sparrows should live in Chattanooga; there is no place on the planet, it is to be hoped, where they are more numerous and pervasive. Mocking-birds are scarce. To the best of my recollection, I saw none in the city itself, and less than half a dozen in the surrounding country. A young gentleman whom I questioned upon the subject told me that they used to be common, and attributed

their present increasing rarity to the persecutions of boys, who find a profit in selling the young into captivity. Their place, in the city especially, is taken by catbirds; interesting, imitative, and in their own measure tuneful, but poor substitutes for mocking-birds. In fact, it is impossible to think of any bird as really filling that rôle. The brown thrush, it is true, sings quite in the mocking-bird's manner, and, to my ear, almost or quite

as well; but he possesses no gift as a mimic, and furthermore, without being exactly a bird of the forest or the wilderness, is instinctively and irreclaimably a recluse. It would be hard, even among human beings, to find a nature less touched with urbanity. In the mocking-bird the elements are more happily mixed. Not gregarious, intolerant of rivalry, and, as far as creatures of his own kind are concerned, a stickler for elbow-room, sharing with his brown sharing with his brown relative in this respect, he is at the same time a born citizen and neighbor; as fond of gardens and dooryard trees. as the thrasher is of scrublands and barberry bushes. "Man delights me," he might say," and woman also." He likes to be listened to, it is pretty certain; and possibly he is dimly aware of the artistic value of appreciation, without which no artist ever did his best. Add to this endearing social quality the splendor and freedom of the mocker's vocal performances, multifarious, sensational, incomparable, by turns entrancing and amusing, and it is easy to understand how he has come to hold a place by himself in Southern sentiment and literature. A city without mocking-birds is only half Southern, though black faces be never so thick upon the sidewalks and mules never so common in the streets. If the boys have driven the great mimic away from Chattanooga, it is time the fathers took the boys in hand. Civic pride alone ought to bring this about, to say nothing of the possible effect upon real estate values of the abundant and familiar presence of this world-renowned, town-loving, town-charming songster.

From my window, on the side of Cameron Hill, I heard daily the singing of an orchard oriole — another fine and neighborly bird and a golden warbler, with sometimes the fidgety, fidgety of a Maryland yellow-throat. What could he be fussing about in so unlikely a quarter? An adjoining yard presented the unnatural spectacle- unnatural, but, I am

sorry to say, not unprecedented — of a bird-house occupied in partnership by purple martins and English sparrows. They had finished their quarrels, if they had ever had any, - which can hardly be open to doubt, both native and foreigner being constitutionally belligerent, — and frequently sat side by side upon the ridge-pole, like the best of friends. The oftener I saw them there, the more indignant I became at the martins' unAmerican behavior. Such a disgraceful surrender of the Monroe Doctrine was too much even for a man of peace. I have never called myself a Jingo, but for once it would have done me good to see the lion's tail twisted.

With the exception of a few pairs of rough-wings on Missionary Ridge, the martins seemed to be the only swallows in the country at that time of the year; and though Progne subis, in spite of an occasional excess of good nature, is a most noble bird, it was impossible not to feel that by itself it constituted but a meagre representation of an entire family. Swallows are none too numerous in Massachusetts, in these days, and are pretty certainly growing fewer and fewer, what with the prevalence of the box-monopolizing European sparrow, and the passing of the big, old-fashioned, widely ventilated barn; for there is no member of the family, not even the sand martin, whose distribution does not depend in great degree upon great degree upon human agency. Even yet, however, if a Massachusetts man will make a circuit of a few miles, he will usually meet with tree swallows, barn swallows, cliff swallows, sand martins, and purple martins. In other words, he need not go far to find all the species of eastern North America, with the single exception of the least attractive of the six; that is to say, the rough-wing. As compared with the people of eastern Tennessee, then, we are still pretty well favored. It is worth while to travel now and then, if only to find ourselves better off at home.

« PreviousContinue »