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Title: The Blacksmith's Hammer, or The Peasant Code - A Tale of the Grand Monarch
Author: Sue, Eugène, 1804-1857
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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THE BLACKSMITH'S HAMMER

THE FULL SERIES OF

The Mysteries of the People

:: OR ::

History of a Proletarian Family Across the Ages

By EUGENE SUE

_Consisting of the Following Works:_


    THE GOLD SICKLE; or, _Hena the Virgin of the Isle of Sen_.
    THE BRASS BELL; or, _The Chariot of Death_.
    THE IRON COLLAR; or, _Faustina and Syomara_.
    THE SILVER CROSS; or, _The Carpenter of Nazareth_.
    THE CASQUE'S LARK; or, _Victoria, the Mother of the Camps_.
    THE PONIARD'S HILT; or, _Karadeucq and Ronan_.
    THE BRANDING NEEDLE; or, _The Monastery of Charolles_.
    THE ABBATIAL CROSIER; or, _Bonaik and Septimine_.
    THE CARLOVINGIAN COINS; or, _The Daughters of Charlemagne._
    THE IRON ARROW-HEAD; or, _The Buckler Maiden_.
    THE INFANT'S SKULL; or, _The End of the World_.
    THE PILGRIM'S SHELL; or, _Fergan the Quarryman_.
    THE IRON PINCERS; or, _Mylio and Karvel_.
    THE IRON TREVET; or, _Jocelyn the Champion_.
    THE EXECUTIONER'S KNIFE; or, _Joan of Arc_.
    THE POCKET BIBLE; or, _Christian the Printer_.
    THE BLACKSMITH'S HAMMER; or, _The Peasant Code_.
    THE SWORD OF HONOR; or, _The Foundation of the French Republic_.
    THE GALLEY SLAVE'S RING; or, _The Family Lebrenn_.


    Published Uniform With This Volume By
    THE NEW YORK LABOR NEWS CO.
    28 CITY HALL PLACE
    NEW YORK CITY



THE BLACKSMITH'S
HAMMER

: : OR : :

THE PEASANT CODE

A Tale of the Grand Monarch

By EUGENE SUE

TRANSLATED FROM THE ORIGINAL FRENCH
By DANIEL DE LEON
NEW YORK LABOR NEWS COMPANY. 1910



INDEX


TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE                   v

INTRODUCTION                           1


PART I. HOLLAND.

CHAPTER

   I. THE ST. ELOI                     5

  II. BERTHA OF PLOUERNEL             11

 III. THE HUGUENOT COLONEL            25

  IV. THE LOST LETTER                 33

   V. JOHN DE WITT                    54

  VI. CORNELIUS DE WITT               79

 VII. MOB-VERDICT                     91

VIII. THE FLIGHT                     103


PART II. BRITTANY.

   I. NOMINOE                        113

  II. A BRETON WEDDING               122

 III. THE RED-COATS                  140

  IV. DESERTED!                      155

   V. THE MYSTERY AT PLOUERNEL       164

  VI. BERTHA AND NOMINOE             190

 VII. EZ-LIBR                        229

VIII. THE MANOR OF PLOUERNEL         251

  IX. THE PEASANTS' DEFEAT           258

   X. UNITED                         265

EPILOGUE                             282

FOOTNOTES



TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE.


Bulwer Lytton observes of fiction that, when aspiring at something
higher than mere romance, it does not pervert, but elucidates the facts
of the times in which the scene is placed; hence, that fiction serves to
illustrate those truths which history is too often compelled to leave to
the tale-teller, the dramatist and the poet. In this story, _The
Blacksmith's Hammer; or, The Peasant Code_--the seventeenth of the
charming series of Eugene Sue's historic novels, _The Mysteries of the
People; or, History of a Proletarian Family Across the Ages_--the author
reaches a height in which are combined all the elements that Bulwer
Lytton distributes among history, tale, drama and poetry.

The history is clean cut; the tale fascinates; its dramatic presentation
is matchless; last, not least, the poetic note is lyric. As historian,
as tale-teller, as dramatist and as a poet the author excels himself in
this narrative, that serves at once as a sequel of the age described in
the previous story, _The Pocket Bible; or, Christian the Printer_, and
as prelude to the great epopee of the next story that deals with the
French Revolution.

DANIEL DE LEON.

New York, March, 1910.



INTRODUCTION.


I, Salaun Lebrenn, the son of Stephan, who was the son of Antonicq, who
finished the legend of The Pocket Bible, begun by his grandfather
Christian the printer--I, Salaun Lebrenn, am the writer of the following
narrative.

To you, my last-born, Alain Lebrenn, the child of my old age, I bequeath
this legend, a continuation of our plebeian annals. I shall join to
these pages the head of a blacksmith's hammer. It will increase the
number of our family relics. You are to transmit it, jointly with our
annals, to your own descendants.

My grandfather Antonicq Lebrenn died in his sixty-eighth year, on
November 11, 1616. Stephan, Antonicq's son, was twenty-three years of
age at the time of his father's decease. He continued to be a farmer on
the Karnak farm, a dependency of the fief of Mezlean, held under the
suzerainty of the seigniory of Plouernel. Obedient to the _law of
usage_, after a certain number of years Stephan became a vassal of the
seigniory. At the age of twenty-six, in 1619, he married, and had two
sons--myself, Salaun, born in 1625, and my brother Gildas, born in 1628.
Our father Stephan, a good man, but timid and resigned, submitted
without a murmur to all the impositions, all the affronts, and all the
sufferings of vassalage. He died in his fifty-ninth year on February
13, 1651. My brother Gildas, a man of as good, patient and submissive a
disposition as my father, succeeded him in the holding of the Karnak
farm, located on the coast of Armorican Brittany. Myself, being of a
less submissive disposition than Gildas, and having chosen a sailor's
life for my vocation, engaged as ship's boy on board one of the vessels
in the port of Vannes. I was then fifteen years old. I made many
voyages, and attained the office of supercargo, and later of captain of
a merchant vessel. Thanks to my earnings, I was later enabled to
purchase a ship, and sail it on my own account. In 1646--during the
reign of Louis XIV who succeeded his father Louis XIII--I married for
the first time. My first wife was Janik Tankeru, the sister of a
blacksmith of Vannes. My dear and lamented wife made my life as happy as
circumstances allowed, and I returned to her the happiness I owed her.
In 1651 she bore me a son whom I named Nominoë. Alas! I was to survive
him. You will now read his history in this narrative that I leave to
you, son of Joel--a lamentable narrative which I have written, often
moistening it with my tears.



PART I.

HOLLAND.



CHAPTER I.

THE ST. ELOI.


Early in the month of August of the year 1672, a violent tempest raged
on the coast of Holland. Driven by the storm, and already deprived of
one of its masts, the French brigantine St. Eloi "fled before the gale,"
as mariners put it. With only a little triangular bit of sail spread
forward, she strove to run into the port of Delft, which lies not far
from The Hague. The enormous waves, furiously dashing against the jetty
of the port, completely hid it behind a mist of foam. Aware of his close
proximity to land, the captain gave at frequent intervals the signal of
distress with two pieces of artillery that were placed upon the
forecastle. He sought thereby to attract some daring pilot of the port
to take charge of the partly dismantled craft, the plight of which
became all the more distressful when a dash of the sea carried away a
portion of the rudder, and rendered control of the vessel almost
impossible. The St. Eloi had left Calais that morning for Dover; the
weather was beautiful, the wind favorable. In the middle of the Channel,
however, the wind shifted suddenly to west-northwest, and blew with such
fury that, compelled to flee before the tempest, and unable either to
keep its course for Dover or return to Calais, the brigantine sought to
reach a haven of refuge in one of the ports on the Dutch coast.

The distinguished passengers who chartered the St. Eloi for a passage
across the Channel to England were three in number: the Marchioness of
Tremblay; her niece, Mademoiselle Bertha of Plouernel; and Abbot
Boujaron. They were accompanied by a lackey and a maid. The Marchioness
of Tremblay was on the way to join in London her nephew, Bertha's
brother, Baron Raoul of Plouernel, who was charged by Louis XIV with a
special commission to Charles II, King of England. Although, since the
beginning of the year, both the latter power and France were at war with
the Dutch Republic, or rather the seven United Provinces, strangers
occasionally received "letters of safeguard" from the admiralty at
Amsterdam, thanks to which they could cross the Channel without fear of
the cruisers of Admiral Ruyter's squadron. Equipped with one of these
letters, the St. Eloi was under sail for Dover when the storm overtook
her. In order not to stand in the way of the pumps, that were kept busy
by as many of the men as the vessel's small crew could afford, bailing
the water from a leak in the hold, the passengers were soon obliged to
go upon the bridge. Their different attitudes at that critical moment
presented striking contrasts. The Marchioness of Tremblay, a woman of
ripe age, once reputed a belle but now of haughty demeanor, lay
shuddering with fear upon a mattress, stretched out on the vessel's
poop; she was supported by her maid, and, in order to prevent her being
tossed about by the heavy roll of the ship, she was steadied by a scarf
that passed under her arm and was fastened to the taffrail. Beside her,
and no less pale than herself, Abbot Boujaron, a man of fifty, short,
thick-set and puffy, held himself fast to a shroud with a convulsively
clenched hand, while with the other he clung to the arm of his lackey,
and emitted plaintive moans, interspersed with bits of expostulatory
prayers. Mademoiselle Bertha of Plouernel on the contrary, seemed to
take no thought of the danger of the hour, but gave herself over to the
imposing poetry of the storm, after having vainly endeavored to reassure
her aunt the Marchioness, and induce her to share the serenity that
never leaves brave spirits in the lurch. The young girl, barely twenty
years of age, was tall, supple, well rounded, with a brunette complexion
of radiant beauty. It was emotion and not fear that animated her
otherwise pale face, while the spark that shone in her large black eyes,
surmounted with well-marked eyebrows, sufficiently denoted the feverish
admiration that the sight of the elements in fury inspired her with.
With dilating nostrils, a heaving bosom, her forehead lashed by the gale
that raised and blew backward the floating ringlets of her hair, she
steadied herself with a firm hand against the rigging of the ship, and
yielded to the motion of the rolling and pitching craft with a
suppleness that unveiled the elegance of her waist while enabling her to
preserve her equilibrium. Mademoiselle Plouernel contemplated in wrapt
enthusiasm the spectacle presented to her eyes, all the more indifferent
to the danger that threatened her, seeing she did not believe in death.
Yes, son of Joel, in keeping with the ancient faith of the Gauls, our
fathers, the young girl was upheld by the conviction that, as a
consequence of the phenomenon called "death," the soul freed itself of
its material wrappage, the body, in order to assume a new form
appropriate to its entrance upon other spheres. She firmly believed
that, body and soul, spirit and matter, life was renewed, or rather
continued, in the starry worlds that spangle the firmament.

A second dash of the sea finished and carried off the brigantine's
rudder. The vessel's position became desperate. The captain fired a last
signal of distress, still hoping to be heard by the pilots of Delft and
to bring them to his aid. The signal was heard. A caravel, a sort of
solid yet light ship, that, thanks to its special build, is better able
than any other to beat its way against violent winds and over heavy
seas, was seen to emerge from the harbor. Tacking with as much skill as
daring, at times disappearing in the troughs of the towering waves that
seemed to swallow her up, the caravel would again reappear riding their
crests and almost lying upon her white sails that grazed the foam of the
billows as the wings of a sea bird graze the water. At the risk of
foundering, the caravel steadily approached the disabled brigantine.

"Ah," cried the captain of the St. Eloi, "to dare come out to our help
in such a storm, the commander of that caravel must be as generous a man
as skilful and intrepid a sailor!"

Struck by these words Mademoiselle Plouernel followed with increased
interest the manoeuvres of the caravel, that steadily tacked its way
towards the distressed brigantine. The sturdy craft went upon a new leg,
in order to pass within hailing distance of the brigantine, that now,
wholly dismantled and deprived of its rudder, had become the toy of wave
and wind, the combined violence of which was driving her towards the
shore, where she would inevitably have been dashed to pieces.

Suddenly--a common phenomenon near land--the storm was almost completely
hushed; the sea, however, would long continue heavy, and its action,
combined with that of the tide, carried the St. Eloi, which was unable
to steer herself into port, straight upon the rocks that littered the
shore. The caravel had made good use of the last gusts of wind and drawn
steadily nearer. She had only a few sailors on board. At the stern and,
despite his youth, managing the rudder with a vigorous and experienced
hand, stood a mariner of about twenty years. The youth presented a
virile and charming picture. His head and neck were bare, his hair and
forehead streamed with the spray of the dashing waves. He wore a jacket
of red wool and wide breeches of white cloth that were half hidden in
his large fisherman's boots. The resolute attitude of the young mariner,
who, at the risk of his own life, strove to save the lives of strangers
to him; his calm, intelligent and bold face--in short the youth's
attitude, appearance and conduct, imparted to the heroism of his action
a character of such grandeur and touching generosity that both the
courage and personality of the approaching savior of the brigantine
made a lively impression upon Mademoiselle Plouernel. As soon as he hove
within hailing distance, the young master of the caravel shouted in
French to the captain of the St. Eloi that, although the swell of the
sea still continued heavy and rendered approach dangerous, he would
manoeuvre in such manner as to tow the brigantine into port. Laborious,
delicate and difficult was the operation requisite to keep the disabled
ship from certain wreck by being cast upon the rocks by the rising tide.
The skilful manoeuvre was successfully executed by the master of the
caravel. His sailors threw a cable to the brigantine; out came their
long oars in order to supplement the dying wind; at the expiration of an
hour the St. Eloi, finally out of danger, cast anchor in the harbor of
Delft.



CHAPTER II.

BERTHA OF PLOUERNEL.


Once disembarked at the port of Delft, the Marchioness of Tremblay
regained her spirits, that the fright of the tempest had upset, and she
remembered often to have met in Paris a certain Monsieur Tilly at the
house of Monsieur Van Orbek, a rich Dutchman, who, emulating in
sumptuous display the famous contractor Samuel Bernard, gave the
handsomest feasts in the world, whither both court and town crowded. On
such occasions, Monsieur Tilly more than once gallantly offered the
Marchioness the hospitality of his house in The Hague, if she should
ever happen to visit that city; his residence, he said, was at her
disposal. The Marchioness now remembered the offer, and finding it
unpleasant to have to wait in a wretched hostlery of the seaport of
Delft for some neutral vessel bound to England--a rare occurrence since
the breaking out of the war--the lady despatched an express to Monsieur
Tilly, certain that he would deem himself highly honored at extending
hospitality to her. Indeed, Monsieur Tilly gallantly hastened in person
from The Hague to Delft, whence he himself took the Marchioness, her
niece and Abbot Boujaron to The Hague, being at the time all the better
able to tender his hospitality to the distinguished guests, seeing that,
as he explained, his wife was then at Amsterdam at the sick-bed of her
mother.

The Marchioness of Tremblay was speedily installed at The Hague in the
residence of Monsieur Tilly, where she occupied on the first floor a
vast apartment furnished with the luxury peculiar to those republican
navigators, who, trafficking with the whole world, gathered in their
homes most precious fabrics, porcelains and furnitures from China and
the East Indies, vases from Japan, lacquer cabinets and folding-screens
from Coromandel, carpets from Smyrna, glasswork from Venice. All these
rare curiosities were found in profusion at Monsieur Tilly's residence.
Still suffering from the fatigue of her rough passage, the Marchioness
was partly stretched upon a reclining chair, placed near a glass door
that opened upon a balcony, sheltered from the rays of the sun and the
public gaze by a sort of netting striped red and white. Mademoiselle
Plouernel sat not far from her aunt, who, continuing the conversation
that the two had been carrying on, proceeded to say:

"You will have to admit, my dear, that the lot of Mademoiselle
Kerouaille is worthy of envy. The King--"

But noticing that her niece was not listening, the Marchioness broke
off, remarking:

"Bertha, your absentmindedness is singular. What is it that you are
thinking about? Tell me!"

"I was thinking of my brother Raoul. I hope his illness will not grow
worse during the delay that our journey to London is unfortunately
undergoing," answered Mademoiselle Plouernel in accents of deep emotion.

And after a moment's silence she continued:

"But there is in all this something that seems unexplainable to me.
Monsieur Noirmont left London two or three days after the date of the
letter that informed you of my brother's illness, and still Monsieur
Noirmont stated to us only a short time ago, at Versailles, that at the
time of his departure from England he left Raoul in perfect health."

"Monsieur Noirmont must have wished to conceal the truth from us,"
replied the Marchioness, slightly embarrassed; "people always dislike to
be the bearers of bad news."

"And yet nothing seemed more sincere than the extreme astonishment with
which Monsieur Noirmont was struck when he learned from us of my
brother's illness, and--"

"Good God, my dear, I wish I had your facility for doubting facts," said
the Marchioness, impatiently interrupting her niece; "but I am not
allowed to entertain any such doubts. I only console myself in advance
with the thought of the excellent influence that will be exercised upon
Raoul's health by my presence, and yours especially--"

"Mine?" answered Bertha sadly; "I hope it will be so."

"That should be, to you, not a hope, but a certainty."

"My elder brother has until now shown so much coolness towards me--"

"My niece, such a reproach!"

"It is not a reproach--it is the expression of a sorrow. For the rest,
Raoul and I have spent our childhood and the first years of our youth
almost as strangers to each other. He lived near my father, I near my
mother. I can not be surprised at Raoul's indifference towards me."

"You greatly err, my dear, with regard to what you wrongly, very
wrongly, term his indifference. Do you forget that by virtue of his
right of primogeniture, with the death of my brother, he has become the
head of our family? The quality of head of our family confers upon Raoul
the full authority that your father and mother were vested with during
their lives over their children. As a matter of course, such authority
imposes upon Raoul, in his relations towards you and Guy, your second
brother, a certain degree of reserve, of gravity, I might say of
severity that must in no wise be confounded with indifference. He, on
the contrary, is exceptionally attached to you. But I must say--and I
beg you not to see in my words even the shadow of a reproach," the
Marchioness added, insinuatingly, "I must admit that a certain turn to
freedom in your disposition, a certain stubborn way of looking at some
things from a viewpoint that is wholly opposed to Raoul's, may have
occasionally, I shall not say made him take umbrage at you, but may have
given some uneasiness to the warm solicitude that he entertains for
you--seeing that it is his duty to fill towards you the strict functions
of a father."

"I might answer you, aunt, that Raoul showed himself cold and severe
towards me before the loss of my father and my poor mother--a loss that
would be irreparable to me but for the certainty of some day re-rising
into new life with that idolized mother, in the spirit world where we
shall all meet again."

"Your father's loss must, accordingly, be less irreparable to you than
your mother's," observed the Marchioness with some bitterness; "to say
the least, the difference that you establish in your grief for the
departed ones, is strange."

"Aunt," replied Bertha with a firm voice, "I respected my father and
adored my mother. She nursed me, brought me up, educated me. I never
left her. My happiest days were spent at her side in Brittany, in the
retirement of our Castle of Plouernel, where I spent my first eighteen
years, while all that time my father lived at court. I barely saw him
once every year for a short time during his transient visits to the
castle when the hunting season would bring him to his domains. So you
see, my mother has left me numerous tokens of remembrance. They were
continuous and loving, profoundly loving. They render, they will ever
render her loss--or rather, her absence--irreparable to me, at least in
this world. But let us return to Raoul. As I told you a moment ago, he
always showed himself, even when still young, cold and even haughty
towards me, whenever he accompanied my father into Brittany, and he felt
offended at my having my own way of looking at things, a way that
frequently was different from his own."

"The reason is, my dear, that for people of our class there is but one
way of looking upon a number of things--such as religion, morals,
politics--"

"In that case I must be an exception to the general rule; but that is of
no consequence. Believe me, aunt, I have the liveliest desire to find
myself mistaken with regard to Raoul's sentiments towards me; and, I
must admit it, I have been profoundly touched by his request to see me
at a time when, as I hear, he is seized with a grave disease, the
reality of which I still wish I could doubt. I did not expect such a
proof of tenderness on his part. And so, as I said before, I hope
Raoul's illness has not grown worse, seeing that, alas! like so many
others, he has preserved the prejudice of death, a thing that adds such
cruel agonies to all illness."

"The prejudice of death!" repeated the Marchioness, shrugging her
shoulders and hardly able to control herself. "That is one of your
extravagances! You set yourself up in rebellion against our holy
religion!"

"A sublime extravagance!" replied Bertha with a radiant smile. "It
suppresses superstitions; it frees us from the terror of decease; it
imparts to us the certainty of living anew near those whom we have
loved."

"My dear niece, I would take you to be out of your mind, were it not
that I know you really derive pleasure from such eccentricities. But
however that may be, I have the infirmity of sharing with your brother
and with so many other weak minds the vulgar prejudice of death. I hope,
and I have every reason to hope, that the state of Raoul's health,
although grave, is by no means alarming. Far away from his own country,
his family, his friends, but still considering it to be a sacred duty on
his part to remain in London in the service of the King our master, he
has fallen into a sort of listless languor, a black melancholy, and he
relies upon our presence, and yours especially, to dissipate his
distemper."

"A distemper of languor?" replied Mademoiselle Plouernel pensively. "It
seems to me such a disease is generally preceded by symptoms of
dejection and sadness; but Monsieur Noirmont said to us that when he
left Raoul, my brother's spirits, good looks and genuinely French
mirthfulness eclipsed the most brilliant seigneurs of the court of King
Charles II."

"Oh, I doubt not that! Poor Raoul is capable of the greatest sacrifices
in order worthily to represent his master, our great King; he would even
suppress his physical pains and moral sufferings."

"Excuse me, aunt, but I am unable to understand you. I was not aware
that my brother had a political mission to fill."

"And yet there is nothing more simple! Does not your brother, charged
with a mission to King Charles II during the absence of the French
ambassador Monsieur Croissy, represent his Majesty Louis XIV at London?
Consequently, however deep his melancholia may be, is not my nephew
bound to conceal it from the eyes of the English court, so as not to be
outdone in gracefulness, wit and mirth by the English courtiers, and to
continue to eclipse them all in honor of his master? Thus it is that
Raoul is fulfilling the duties imposed upon him by his mission to King
Charles. But," added the Marchioness, after this plausible answer to her
niece's objections, and wishing, moreover, to change the subject of a
conversation that embarrassed her, "but by the way of the good King
Charles--the name of that gallant and joyful prince leads me back to the
subject that we wandered from with this long digression upon my nephew.
I must repeat to you what I was saying and which your absentmindedness
at the moment prevented you from hearing. I was speaking of the
beautiful young Breton lady."

"What did you say about her, aunt?"

"I was saying: Admit that the lot of the beautiful Mademoiselle
Kerouaille, who is to-day the Duchess of Portsmouth, and one of the
greatest ladies of England, by reason of the favor that she has
received, is a lot worthy of envy."

Bertha of Plouernel shuddered; her beautiful and usually pale visage was
suffused by a blush; her black eyebrows contracted; and, gazing at the
Marchioness with undisguised amazement, she said:

"Is it to me that you put such a question?"

"What astonishes you, my dear?"

"You ask me whether the lot of Mademoiselle Kerouaille seems to me
worthy of being envied?"

"Why, yes, my dear child; the question is quite natural."

"You, then, despise me!" cried Mademoiselle Plouernel with an outburst
of indignation. "You, my father's sister! Oh, madam--madam!"

"Truly, niece, I drop from the clouds!" answered the Marchioness with
profound sincerity. "What! Do I despise you because I mention to you the
enviable lot of a noble young girl who has had the signal honor of
serving the interests of the great King, our neighbor--and of meriting
the affection and favors of such a powerful monarch!"

"Madam," replied Bertha, interrupting the Marchioness with a trembling
voice, "during the nearly eighteen months since I had the misfortune of
losing my mother, I have lived with you in Paris or Versailles; I
thought you knew me somewhat; I find that I am mistaken, since you look
surprised to see me revolt at infamy, and since you dare to ask me such
a question."

"Infamy! In truth, you are losing your mind, my dear niece."

"Not one, but many infamies," Bertha of Plouernel proceeded, with biting
satire. "Madam, I have no choice but to say so plainly to you. Thanks to
the licence in morals that reigns in your salon, at court and everywhere
else, I have despite myself learned things that a young girl should
never as much as suspect--the principles that guide the conduct of the
great world."

"And what did you learn, niece?"

"Among a thousand other indignities, I learned this, madam: King Charles
was still hesitating whether or not to declare war upon the Dutch
Republic, where we now are meeting with generous hospitality; Louis XIV
thereupon charged the Duchess of Orleans to overcome the indecision of
her brother Charles II by whatever means she could. She agreed; departed
for London equipped with a considerable sum of money and intentionally
leading in her train one of her ladies of honor, a young girl of
extraordinary beauty--Mademoiselle Kerouaille. And what was the purpose
that caused the Duchess of Orleans to take the handsome girl in her
company? It was for the purpose of delivering her to the King in return
for his declaration of war upon the Dutch. Lewdness matched with
treachery--infamy! Such is the statecraft of these monarchs!"

"One moment, niece. You are mistaken in your appreciations."

"Madam, I said there was not one but several infamies. Did I exaggerate?
Let us number them: speculating upon the dissoluteness of the King of
England, Louis XIV sends his sister-in-law, the Duchess of Orleans, to
fill the role of a coupler--is not that enough of an infamy? And when we
see that princess lowering herself to such an ignoble commerce, towards
whom? towards her own brother--is there not in that a double infamy?"

"Once more, my niece, what do you know about the negotiations between
princes?"

"Finally, Mademoiselle Kerouaille, an accomplice in the ignominious
transaction, sells herself to the King of England and accepts the duchy
of Portsmouth as the price of her public shame--a further infamy! Shame
upon these execrable beings!"

"You seem to forget that you speak of crowned heads!"

"It is true, madam! I forgot that a Prince of the Catholic Church,
Bossuet, the Bishop of Meaux, dared to say, in the very house of God, in
the presence of the court, assembled on that occasion to hear the
funeral oration on the Duchess of Orleans: 'She went on a mission to
unite two kingdoms by _pleasing methods_, and her own _virtue_ was the
sole mediator between the two Kings.' Is such language not infamous
enough on the lips of a man invested with an august character?
Hypocrisy, servility, cowardice--what apanages to a priest who, rather
than corrupt, should purify the human race!"

After having first betrayed her sincere astonishment at the vehement
indignation of Mademoiselle Plouernel, and after a sense of suppressed
anger and even rage succeeded her astonishment, the Marchioness of
Tremblay collected herself, reflected for a moment, and promptly
imparting to her features the sweetest expression that they could
assume, and to her voice the most affectionate accents into which she
was capable of modulating it, she rose from her reclining chair and said
to her niece, who was still trembling with contempt and disgust:

"Dear child--come to my arms. Let me embrace you--you are an angel."

Not a little astonished at this outburst of tenderness, the young lady
hesitated to respond to the invitation of her aunt, who repeated:

"Yes, come and let me embrace you; you are a noble being, worthy of the
name that you carry; you are an angel, an archangel; you have issued
triumphant from a trial to which I wished to put you."

"A trial?" queried Mademoiselle Plouernel without any effort at
concealing her incredulity; but immediately after, and yielding to the
impulse of all pure and straightforward characters, who are ever more
disposed to believe good than evil, Bertha approached the Marchioness,
who, taking her niece in her arms, pressed the noble girl to her heart
and kissed her effusively.

"Blessed be God! It was only a trial!" repeated the young girl, smiling
with gratification and feeling her chest relieved of a heavy weight.
"But aunt, dear aunt, I mean not to reprove you--only those are tried
who are doubted. Did you doubt me?"

"No; of course not! But in our days one sees a King's love turn so many
young heads, even the most solid, that--"

"And you mistrusted the solidity of mine?"

"However certain I was, I wished, dear niece, to see you prove it in all
the luster of good judgment and purity. Only, and neither do I now mean
to convey a reproach, I do deplore that a young person of your birth
should, as it sometimes happens with you, forget herself to the point of
speaking irreverently of the priests, the bishops, the Princes of the
Church, and above all of the great King, our master, of whom your
brother has the honor of being one of the most faithful, the most
devoted servants."

"Aunt, let us not discuss the worthiness of Bossuet and his fellows, any
more than the worthiness of him whom you style your master; he never
will be mine. I have but one Master: He thrones in heaven."

"Do doubt; but after God, come the priests, the ministers, the Pope, the
bishops, and then comes the King, to whom we owe blind submission,
boundless devotion, pious respect."

"Pious respect! When at Versailles I saw that King promenading in public
in one carriage with the Queen his wife and his two mistresses--the old
and the new--Mademoiselle La Valiere and Madam Montespan! Is such
audacity in bad morals to be respected? No! I shall not respect that
infamous King who surrounds himself with high-born courtesans!"

"In truth, my dear, you are losing your reason. The violence of your
language! Where can you have drawn such principles from?"

"Excuse my Breton frankness, but I could not respect a person who
inspires me with aversion, disgust and contempt. What! That prince knows
how his scandalous amours afflict the Queen. He is aware of the
bitterness of the rivalry between La Valiere and Montespan! And yet,
without pity for the laceration of the hearts of those three women, he
forces them to gulp down the affront put upon them, to silently swallow
their mutual jealousy and resentment, to smother their shame. He forces
them to appear in public face to face; he drags them triumphantly after
him as if anxious to glory openly in his double adultery! Ah, I repeat
it, that ridiculous self-infatuation, that disregard of all sense of
chastity, that brutal disdain for all human feelings, that insolent
cynicism towards women--no, that never could inspire me with aught but
aversion, contempt and disgust!"

"Oh, my niece, in their fervent adoration of their much beloved
sovereign, La Valiere, Montespan and the Queen do as people do who make
to God a sacrifice of their pains--they offer their torn hearts to their
idol, the handsomest, the greatest King in the whole world!"

"Well, aunt, that theory becomes excessively hyperbolic. Have I not seen
him, that 'great King,' an undersized man in reality, seeking to add
inches to his stature with the aid of immoderately high heels and
enormous wigs! Tell me, deprived of his heels, his wigs and, above all,
his royal mantle, what, I pray you, is left of the 'idol'? Why, a little
stuffed and groomed crow! For the rest, a good carpet dancer, a still
better knight of the carrousel; always in red paint, severe, buttressed
in the majesty of his trappings, never laughing out of fear to expose
his villainous teeth, otherwise negligent of his appearance and never
shaving but every three days, passionately fond of perfumery in order to
conceal his bad breath, finally having, under the category of truly
'great' nothing to show except his appetite, to judge from his voracity,
which I once witnessed at Versailles on a gala day! But raillery carries
me away, and I blush, myself," added Mademoiselle Plouernel, whose
features quickly assumed an expression of deep sadness. "Am I ever to
forget that my mother's brother finished his days in a dungeon, the
victim of the iniquity of Louis XIV!"



CHAPTER III.

THE HUGUENOT COLONEL.


The Marchioness of Tremblay had her secret reasons to suppress her own
sentiments, and not to fulminate against what she termed the "enormities
of her niece," who, however, on this occasion, had given stronger vent
than ever before to her hostility for the "idol" who was desolating
Gaul. Accordingly, Bertha's aunt contented herself with a few forced
smiles, and seeking to give a different turn to the conversation that,
besides being generally distasteful to her, threw doubts into her mind
concerning the secret plans that she was pursuing, she observed in a
mild tone:

"After all, my dear, the unwonted vehemence of your language has its
excuse in this, that the contagion of the country on whose shores we
suffered shipwreck has smitten you. This wicked little heretical
republic, once so severely chastised by Louis XIV, has always held our
great King in particular aversion. The heretical and republican
pestilence must have mounted to your head; who knows," she added with an
affectation of archness, "but you may come out of the country a
full-fledged Huguenot."

"I should then have, at least, the consolation of knowing that I shall
not be the first or only Huguenot in our family," answered Mademoiselle
Plouernel, whose features the line of thought into which her aunt's
words threw her seemed suddenly to overcast with pensiveness; "I would
be but following the example of one of our ancestors who was not much of
a partisan of royalty. Was not my father's grandfather a Huguenot? Did
not Colonel Plouernel, as he was then called, take part in the religious
wars of the last century under the great Coligny, one of whose bravest
officers he proved himself? Did he not fight valiantly against the royal
and Catholic armies?"

"Alas, it is but too true. The apostasy of that Plouernel is a blot upon
our family. He was the youngest son of the family. After his eldest
brother, the Count, and the latter's son, the Viscount, were both killed
in the front ranks of the royal and Catholic army, at the battle of
Roche-la-Belle, fighting against the rebellious heretics, the Huguenot
colonel became by that catastrophe the head of our house, and came into
possession of its vast domains. Unfortunately, his son shared the
paternal vice of heresy, but at last his grandson, who was my father,
re-entered, thanks to God, the bosom of the Catholic Church, and resumed
the observance of our old traditions of love, respect and loyalty to our
Kings. Let us leave the two Plouernels, the only two unworthy members of
our family, buried in their double felony. We should endeavor to forget
that the two ever lived."

"It goes against my grain, aunt, to contradict you, but I can assure you
that Colonel Plouernel, by reason of his courage, his virtues and the
nobility of his character, is perhaps the only male member of whom our
family may be justly proud."

As Mademoiselle Plouernel was saying these last words she happened to
cast her eyes in the direction of the net awning that sheltered from the
rays of the sun the wide balcony near which she was seated. She remained
silent for a moment, while her eyes, looking intently into the space
that stretched before Monsieur Tilly's house, seemed to follow with so
much interest someone who was passing on the street, that, half rising
from her easy-chair, the Marchioness inquisitively asked her niece:

"What is it you see out there? You seem to be absorbed in deep
contemplation."

"I am looking at the young mariner whom you know," answered Bertha
without evincing the slightest embarrassment; "he was just passing with
a grey-haired man, I doubt not his father; there is a marked resemblance
between the two. Both have very sympathetic ways and faces."

"Of what mariner are you speaking, if you please? I know nobody of that
class."

"Why, aunt, can you have so soon forgotten the services rendered us when
we were in mortal danger--you who believe in death? Would not the
brigantine on which we embarked from Calais have foundered with every
living soul on board, had it not been for the heroic action of that
young mariner, French like ourselves, who braved the tempest in order to
come to our aid, and snatch us from the imminent danger that we ran?"

"Well! And did not Abbot Boujaron give the mariner ten louis in my name,
in payment for the service that he rendered us? We are quits with him."

"It is true--and immediately upon receiving the remuneration, which went
unaccompanied by a single courteous word, or a single expression that
came from the heart, the young mariner turned, threw the ten louis into
the cap of an invalid sailor who was begging on the wharf, and our
generous rescuer said with a smile to the poor man: 'Take this, my
friend, here are ten louis that Monsieur the Abbot gives you--for you to
pray for the absolution of his sins; we all need being prayed for,
abbots as much as anybody else.' And with a respectful salute he walked
away."

"And that was what I call a piece of extreme impertinence!" interjected
the Marchioness, interrupting her niece. "The idea of giving the ten
louis to the beggar to pray for the absolution of the Abbot's sins! Was
not that to insinuate that the holy man had a heavily loaded conscience?
I was not aware of the fellow's effrontery and ingratitude; I was still
too sea-sick and under the effect of the fright we went through. Well,
then, to return to the salt water rat, the fellow's disdain for the
remuneration offered him, cancels even more completely whatever debt we
may have owed him."

"That is not my opinion, aunt. Accordingly I requested our host,
Monsieur Tilly, to be kind enough to ascertain the name and address of
our brave countryman, who can only be a temporary resident of Delft--to
judge by what has been reported to me."

"And for what purpose did you make the _kind_ inquiry, dear niece?"

"I wish to commission Monsieur Tilly to assure our generous rescuer of
our gratitude, and to ask him to excuse the strange conduct of Monsieur
the Abbot towards him--excuses that, I must admit, I had not the courage
to offer on the spot; I felt so confused at the humiliation that he was
put to, and, besides, I felt too indignant at the conduct of the Abbot
to trust myself to speak to him. Just now, as I saw him crossing the
square--"

"You probably had a wish to call him from the window?" asked the
Marchioness suffocating with repressed anger. "Truly, dear niece, you
are losing your head more and more. Such a disregard for propriety on
the part of a person of your quality!"

"I never thought of calling our countryman out of the window; I was only
sorry that Monsieur Tilly did not happen to be with us at the time. He
might have gone out after him and asked him to step in."

"My dear, what you say upon this subject is so absurd, that I even
prefer to hear your praises of Colonel Plouernel--although that topic is
not of the most edifying."

"Nothing easier than to accommodate you, aunt," answered Bertha with a
smile that seemed to foreshadow numerous subjects for the suffocation of
the Marchioness. "In a manuscript left by Colonel Plouernel under the
title of 'Instructions to His Son' a most extraordinary fact was
recorded. In reminding his son of the antiquity of his family, which
goes back to the time of the conquest of Gaul by the Franks, the
colonel added the natural observation that there are no conquerors
without conquered, and that the Franks, from whom we of the noble race
claim to descend, despoiled and then enslaved the Gauls. He then
proceeded to say that a family of the Gallic race, a descendant of whom
the colonel became acquainted with at the siege of La Rochelle, handed
down to its own members from age to age, first, from the time of the
conquest of Gaul by the Romans, and then, from the conquest of the
country by the Franks, a series of legends that chronicled the trials
and misfortunes undergone by the several and succeeding members of that
family, which, strange coincidence! on the occasion of the frequent
uprisings of the enslaved Gauls, more than once fought arms in hand and
victoriously against the seigneurs of our own Frankish house! Our
ancestor, the colonel, approves and extols the right of conquered
peoples to rise in insurrection.

"Towards the end of the last century," Mademoiselle Plouernel proceeded
as in a revery, "during the siege of La Rochelle, Colonel Plouernel
became strongly attached by bonds of friendship to one of the
descendants of that Gallic family, an armorer by occupation, and one of
the bravest soldiers of Admiral Coligny. The armorer being, at the close
of the religious war, ardently desirous of returning to Brittany and
establishing himself there, in the ancient cradle of his family, which,
according to the chronicles of his kin, owned their fields not far from
Karnak, and Colonel Plouernel, on his part, wishing to do a kindness to
his friend, the armorer of La Rochelle, our ancestor offered the brave
Huguenot a long lease of the farm of Karnak, which he owned and which he
transmitted to his descendants together with the domain of Mezlean. But,
according to the feudal custom, 'use' and 'habitance' change after a
certain number of years into 'vassalage,' and so it has come about that
the descendants of the armorer, they never having left the domain of
Mezlean, are to-day vassals of my brother. My mother obtained the
certainty of this fact by ordering the bailiff of Plouernel to
communicate with the bailiff of Mezlean and inquire whether a family
named Lebrenn, that is the family's name, lived on the farm of Karnak.
The bailiff answered that in the year 1573 a man of that name had taken
the farm in lease and that the farm was still cultivated by the
descendants of the same family. I doubt not that, owing to the proximity
of the port of Vannes, the elder brother of the present farmer of Karnak
took to the sea, a calling that carries with it enfranchisement from
vassalage. Struck by the circumstances mentioned in the manuscript of
Colonel Plouernel, my mother arranged an excursion to Mezlean in order
to make the acquaintance of a family in so many ways interesting to
know. We were to make the journey only shortly before the fatal illness
that separated me from my mother--until the day when I shall live again
at her side in the world that she now inhabits," added Bertha with a
sigh, and she relapsed into pensive silence.

"But, in short, what conclusion did that Huguenot colonel, and do you,
draw from the, I must admit, extraordinary facts registered in that
manuscript? I find myself unable to follow your reasoning."

"The conclusion is simple and touching, it serves as the moral to the
manuscript left by Colonel Plouernel; he closes it with these words to
his son: 'My child, the death of my dear brother has made me master of
the immense domains of our house in Auvergne, in Beauvoisis and in
Brittany; thousands of vassals inhabit those domains. But never forget
this--our vast acres and large wealth as well as our nobility have for
their origin an iniquitous and bloody conquest; these lands that to-day
are ours and over which we lord it, once belonged to the Gauls who, from
being free, were dispossessed, subjugated and reduced to a frightful
condition of slavery by the Franks, our ancestors. Our present vassals
are the descendants of that disinherited race which has been
successively the slaves, serfs and vassals of our ancestors. Show
yourself, accordingly, charitable, compassionate, equitable, fraternal,
benevolent, obedient to the humane law of the Christian faith. Alas!
however generous your conduct may be towards them, never could it
expiate the wrongs to which our conquering race has subjected the Gallic
generations for now more than ten centuries. To the end that you may
know and entertain a just horror for so much iniquity and all the
sufferings that it entailed, I shall subjoin to these pages several
fragments of the history of a family of Gallic origin, the family of
Lebrenn of Karnak--'"

"Niece!" cried the Marchioness indignantly, "I can no longer listen to
such enormities!"

The Marchioness of Tremblay was interrupted in the flow of her
indignation by the entrance of Abbot Boujaron, her confessor, intimate
friend, and, in short, her paramour.



CHAPTER IV.

THE LOST LETTER.


Abbot Boujaron's worried looks, the disorder into which his wig, his
neckerchief and his cloak were thrown, threw the Marchioness of Tremblay
into such alarm that, wholly forgetting the subject of her conversation
with Mademoiselle Plouernel, she cried: "My God, Abbot, what has
happened? You are all upset; you seem to be in great excitement; you
look as if you had just come out of a scuffle."

"I have good reason to be uneasy, dear Marchioness. I have mislaid the
letter that we wrote this morning to your nephew--the confidential
letter that you know of."

"What!" replied the Marchioness visibly terrified. "Was not the letter
put carefully folded in the pocket of your coat? I put it there myself.
It can not have been mislaid."

"I was on my way to the house of the person whom, as we decided, I was
to call upon in order to obtain some further information from him and
add it to the letter, on which account it was left unsealed, when,
crossing a large square, I was overtaken and soon found myself
surrounded by a big crowd clamoring for the death of the De Witt
brothers and the French."

"What De Witt brothers?" asked the Marchioness. "Are they the two
intractable republicans whom Monsieur Estrade spoke to us about when he
returned from his embassy to this country?"

"They are both of them men cast in the mold of Plutarch, to judge by
what Monsieur Tilly, our host, was telling us of them yesterday,"
observed Mademoiselle Plouernel, emerging from the revery in which she
was steeped since the arrival of the Abbot; "I could not tire of hearing
him speak of the domestic virtues of the two brothers, whom he considers
to be the greatest living citizens of Holland, and men of distinguished
probity."

"My dear daughter," answered the Abbot, "our host belongs to the same
political party as those De Witts; as such he has his reasons to give
them a high place--in your estimation."

"But the letter," put in the Marchioness with increasing anxiety, "how
comes it to be mislaid, perhaps lost?"

"Swallowed up, as I found myself, by that loudly vociferating mob that
was rushing towards the prison where one of the two De Witt brothers is
confined; pushed, hustled, shoved about, and almost suffocated by that
plebeian flood, the current of which was carrying me away despite all
that I could do, I made frantic efforts to extricate myself from the
surging crowd; in my struggle my frock was unfastened, and I suppose the
letter dropped out as I was being whirled about--unless I inadvertently
pulled it out myself when I took my handkerchief to wipe the
perspiration that streamed down my forehead, after I had finally
succeeded in getting clear of the bawling, threatening and swearing
mob."

"I am distracted at the loss of that letter. It may fall into the hands
of and be read by some indiscreet fellow--you understand me,
Abbot?--that would be most disagreeable and compromising."

"I understand you but too well, Marchioness! Only too well! I therefore
went twice over the road that I traveled, but all in vain; I could not
find the letter! Most unfortunately it was unsealed. The most scrupulous
man would have been justified to cast his eyes over it--and thus inform
himself upon its contents."

"Truly, aunt," put in Mademoiselle Plouernel, "I fail to understand the
deep anxiety that the loss of a letter, that seems to have been written
to my brother in order to inform him of the delay in our arrival in
England, can cause you and Monsieur the Abbot. The matter is a trifle;
it can have no serious results; cease to fret about it."

"There are things, my niece, the wide bearings of which you can not
understand," answered the Marchioness of Tremblay sententiously; "it is
enough that you know that the loss of this letter is most regrettable."

At this moment the Marchioness's lackey entered the room after
announcing himself with a rap at the door, and said to his mistress:

"Madam, there is a man who asks to see Monsieur the Abbot without delay
on an important matter."

"Who is he?"

"He is a Frenchman, madam."

"Does he seem to be noble?"

"Yes, madam, he carries a sword."

"Marchioness," said the Abbot excitedly as if struck by a sudden
thought, "it may be this individual found the letter, and is bringing it
back to me. God be praised! our alarm will be at end! Oh, I hope it may
be so!"

"But how could the stranger know your address?"

"Did I not write to Raoul that we were stopping with Monsieur Tilly?"

"In that case, Abbot," replied the Marchioness with an accent of extreme
apprehension, "the stranger must have read the letter! We would have a
stranger informed upon our plans! We must have light upon this, and
quickly."

And addressing the lackey:

"Introduce the stranger immediately, and then withdraw."

"The more I think upon it," said Mademoiselle Plouernel to herself,
astonished and pensive, "all the more unexplainable does my aunt's and
the Abbot's uneasiness seem to me."

The personage whom the lackey introduced into the salon was a man of
about forty-five years of age; he was simply dressed, without lace or
embroidery; for all sign of rank he wore on his shoulders a scarlet knot
of the color of the feather in his grey felt hat, and the ribbon of his
sword that hung from a leather baldric. The tawny complexion of the
stranger, his quick, penetrating eye, black as his moustache, seemed to
indicate a southern extraction. Of middle size, robust and sinewy,
resolute in his port and endowed with a physiognomy in which
intelligence and wit vied with boldness, everything about him revealed
a man of energy and decision, but so completely master of himself that
nothing, except what he had no interest in concealing, would be allowed
to rise to the surface. The new personage presented himself in the salon
with complete ease, bowed respectfully to the Marchioness and her niece,
and looked from the one to the other in silence with so marked, so fixed
a gaze, that the Marchioness of Tremblay felt embarrassed and said to
her niece:

"Come, Bertha, let us withdraw to my chamber, and leave Monsieur the
Abbot with monsieur."

Bertha of Plouernel was preparing to follow her aunt when, after having
again contemplated the young maid, the stranger bowed once more to the
Marchioness, and said:

"If Madam the Marchioness will allow, the interview that I desire to
hold with her and with monsieur, Abbot Boujaron, will take place in the
presence of Mademoiselle Plouernel. It is proper, it is even necessary
that this should be."

"You know us, monsieur?" said the Marchioness, not a little astonished.
"You know our names?"

"I have the honor, madam; and my little knowledge extends further than
that," answered the stranger with a singular smile, again casting a
penetrating glance at Mademoiselle Plouernel, as if he sought to judge
her mind by the expression on her face. On his face, in turn, the
evidence of a heightening interest in the girl could be detected. But as
these manifestations passed unperceived by Bertha, she felt hurt by the
persistence of the stranger's gaze, she blushed, and taking a step
towards the door of her aunt's chamber said to the Marchioness:

"Excuse me, aunt, if I go and leave you with the gentlemen."

"Mademoiselle," said the stranger warmly, as he divined the maid's
thoughts, "I conjure you, do not impute the obstinacy of my gaze to a
disregard of the respect due you, and with which I am profoundly
penetrated; I sought to read and I did read on your features the
uprightness and nobility of your heart; I doubly congratulate myself on
being able to render you a service, a great service."

"Me, monsieur?" answered Mademoiselle Plouernel in great astonishment,
yet struck by the accent of unquestionable sincerity in the stranger's
words. "What service can you render to me, me whom you do not know, and
whom you now see for the first time? Be kind enough to explain yourself
more clearly."

"Monsieur," said the Marchioness haughtily to the stranger, as he was
about to answer Bertha, "you introduced yourself into this house under
pretext of soliciting an interview, which Monsieur Abbot Boujaron has
condescended to grant you. That notwithstanding, you have hitherto
addressed mademoiselle only--a violation of propriety towards me and
Monsieur the Abbot."

"Moreover, monsieur," added the Abbot, "we are wholly in the dark as to
who you are. Your language is as strange as your visit."

"I am your obedient servant, Monsieur Abbot," answered the stranger,
bowing with sardonic courtesy, "and I shall, if you please, answer
Mademoiselle Plouernel, who has done me the honor of asking me what the
service is that I am happy enough to be able to render her. The service
is summed up in this simple advice: Mademoiselle, go not to England;
refuse to undertake the voyage."

A tremor ran over Bertha's frame; for an instant she remained dumb with
stupefaction, while, scarlet with confusion and apprehension, both her
aunt and the Abbot exchanged significant looks that betrayed their
embarrassment. Struck speechless for an instant, Mademoiselle Plouernel
turned to the stranger and asked:

"And why, monsieur, do you warn me against the journey to England?"

"For two reasons, mademoiselle, two important reasons--"

"Monsieur," the Abbot interrupted the stranger with, in an icy tone, "I
wish to call your attention, first, to the fact that you have committed
a breach of confidence; secondly, that you have not understood a word of
the letter that you found and that you took the freedom of reading--an
indiscretion that a man of good breeding would have carefully guarded
against."

"And I, in turn, will call your attention, Monsieur Abbot," retorted the
stranger, "first, to the fact that to read an unsealed letter, found on
the pavement of a public thoroughfare, is no breach of confidence;
secondly, that, without priding myself on being gifted with
extraordinary intellectual power, yet am I intelligent enough to
understand the value of words. For that reason I have advised
mademoiselle not to go to England, and resolutely to refuse to
undertake the journey."

"Monsieur," broke in Bertha with profound feeling, as she yielded to a
sudden and painful sense of danger that flashed through her mind. "I ask
it as a favor of you, explain yourself clearly. Be good enough to give
me your reasons for the advice."

"One moment, my dear child," the Abbot hastened to interpose, in order
to parry off the stranger's answer; "I am the writer of that letter; it
is for me to speak intelligently upon it. I can tell monsieur that the
despatch which he read is addressed to an envoy of his Majesty Louis XIV
at the court of his Majesty Charles II, and that it deals with very
delicate affairs of state. Now, then, I must add, that unless one be the
most reckless of men, which I certainly am not, one does not conduct a
correspondence upon matters of such a nature, except in cipher, or by
means of enigmatic phrases, that bear a double sense, both of which seem
perfectly logical on their face, but the real purport of which remains
secret between the correspondents themselves, who are alone able to
interpret it. It will be well for monsieur to understand that."

"If that is the case, Monsieur Abbot, there will be nothing left to me
but to admit a mistake," replied the stranger with mock humility, "a
mistake, however, that was quite excusable, and of which I request
Mademoiselle Plouernel herself to be the judge," he added, taking the
letter out of his pocket, "from the terms in which this interesting
missive is couched."

"Monsieur, the reading of the letter is wholly superfluous, it being
established that the letter no wise concerns mademoiselle."

"No doubt," replied the stranger, "mademoiselle is not touched upon in
it except in an enigmatic and mysterious manner. Accordingly, when
Monsieur the Abbot writes to Monsieur the Count of Plouernel:

     "We have all reason to hope that your sister's matchless beauty
     will produce a lively impression upon the King of England when she
     is presented to him, and may induce him to decide--"

"But, monsieur, that is intolerable!" cried the Marchioness, "you are
outrageously abusing our patience--you compel me to request that you
leave our presence!"

"Monsieur, I listen to you," observed Mademoiselle Plouernel, "and
believe me, I shall never forget the service that you will have rendered
me. Be kind enough to continue the reading of the letter."

Recognizing the futility of any further objection to the reading of the
despatch, the Marchioness and the Abbot crossed their arms, raised their
eyes to heaven and assumed the appearance of resigned innocence.
Addressing himself to Bertha the stranger proceeded:

"I shall pass over the details of the incident at sea that obliged the
vessel on which you, mademoiselle, had embarked, to put in at the port
of Delft. I now come to the interesting portion of the letter:

     "You informed us, my dear Raoul, that the influence is on the wane
     of Mademoiselle Kerouaille, who is now the Duchess of Portsmouth
     and was taken to Charles II by his sister, Madam the Duchess of
     Orleans, at the beginning of this year in order to urge the
     libertine King more effectively, by means of the charms of the
     beautiful Krouaill and a present of a few millions, to sign the
     treaty of alliance between England and France against the Republic
     of the United Provinces; you add that, in even measure as the
     influence of the Duchess of Portsmouth wanes, waxes the ascendency
     of my Lord Arlington, a bitter partisan of the alliance between
     England, Spain and the United Provinces, over the vacillating and
     profligate Rowley, as the familiars of Charles II call his Majesty,
     and that the said my Lord Arlington has for his assistant and agent
     a certain Nell Gwynne, a low-lived creature, an incarnate
     she-devil, who swears, curses, drinks and gets drunk like a
     trooper, but whose sprightliness, noisy hilarity and brazenness
     seem greatly to delight his Majesty. From all of this it may hap,
     as you indicate, that, aided by the nymph and the doubloons of
     Spain and the Republic, King Charles, after having tired of
     Mademoiselle Kerouaille and dissipated the present of several
     millions bestowed upon him by our own master under the pretext of
     _catholicity_, may go so far as to break the alliance with France
     and return to the alliance with Spain and the Republic of the
     United Provinces. Meditation upon those grave possibilities
     suggested the thought to you, my dear pupil, that the magnificent
     eyes and challenging beauty of our own Bertha might operate a
     salutary change in the now unfavorable disposition of old Rowley,
     counterbalance the influence of Nell Gwynne, and confirm King
     Charles in his alliance with our master. Struck by the importance
     of your suggestion, over which madam your aunt and I have long
     reflected, the expedient seemed excellent to us and also so
     pressing, that, without answering you, and resorting to an innocent
     ruse, we have persuaded your sister that you were taken so
     seriously ill as to induce her to proceed with us to England. We
     prepared the agreeable surprise for you, but the violent storm of
     which I gave you a sketch compelled us to put in at Delft. I am now
     writing to you from The Hague, in order that you may not feel
     uneasy at the prolonged delay in our answer.

     "So then, my dear pupil, at our speedy arrival in England you are
     expected to have so completely recovered from your sickness, with
     the help of God, that there will be no trace of it left to be seen.
     You will then hasten to present at the court of London Madam the
     Marchioness of Tremblay and Mademoiselle Plouernel. So that, unless
     our justified expectations should unhappily be dashed, King
     Charles, dazzled by the matchless beauty of our Bertha, will be set
     aflame as usual. We have all reason to hope that your sister's
     matchless beauty will produce a lively impression upon the King of
     England when she is presented to him, and may induce him to decide
     to continue the alliance with France against the United Provinces.

     "I must admit, my dear boy, that I contemplate with no less delight
     than yourself the huge satisfaction that such a result must afford
     our master; and I can well understand how in your letter you
     judiciously passed in review the prodigious favors that were
     showered upon Monsieur Vivonne from the time that his sister, the
     Marchioness of Montespan, was honored with the attention of the
     King, and had the august honor of presenting him with progeny.
     Accordingly, if our project succeed as we wish, although the affair
     will have to happen in England, you will not therefore, my dear
     pupil, in what concerns the favor of our master, be any less the
     _Vivonne_ of our beautiful _Montespan_.

     "I wish to add that, having put my sojourn at The Hague to good
     use, I have come to the conclusion, arrived at upon my own
     observation and after certain conversations that I had with a
     member of our Society, who is not suspected of belonging to us, A.
     M. D. G. (conversations, the import of which I shall add at the
     post-script of this letter, which I shall seal at the house of the
     good father) I have come to the conclusion that a formidable blow
     can be dealt to this bedeviled Republic, this hot-bed of heresy,
     by--"

But the stranger broke off his reading of the letter, and addressing
Mademoiselle Plouernel:

"The rest of the missive only refers to some confidential communications
from a member of the Society of Jesus, to which Monsieur the Abbot has
the privilege of belonging, or, rather, with which he is affiliated.
These confidential communications, mademoiselle, are of no interest
whatever to you, since they only refer to the affairs of the Republic.
When I read this letter, which fell into my hands by the merest
accident, I revolted at the thought of the unworthy role prepared for a
young girl who was ignorant of such machinations, and was, perhaps,
worthy of profound respect. Accordingly, I decided to enlighten her upon
the dark plot that was being concocted against her. Such, mademoiselle,
was the only purpose of my visit to this house; and when I read in your
face the nobility of your heart, and the loftiness of your sentiments I
applauded myself doubly for having been able to inform and warn you
concerning the disgraceful projects of your aunt, and to enlighten you
upon an odious intrigue."

An interval of silence followed the communication of Abbot Boujaron's
diplomatic missive and the last words of the stranger. Although nailed
to the floor with consternation, both the Marchioness and the Abbot were
astonished at seeing Mademoiselle Plouernel listen to the reading of the
letter without the slightest interruption. Indeed, the young girl
remained speechless, overwhelmed; her eyes were fixed in space, her
bosom heaved, and her lips were contracted in a desolate smile.

"Monsieur," she finally said, addressing the stranger with an accent of
profound gratitude, "it goes beyond my power to express to you my
gratitude for having judged me favorably, and I shall, in your presence,
declare my thoughts in full upon this affair to my aunt, the Marchioness
of Tremblay." And addressing her aunt in a collected voice she proceeded
deliberately: "I now know, madam, how you and my brother proposed to
exercise towards me the guardianship with which you were entrusted; I
shall spare you my reproaches; they could not be understood of you; you
lack the moral sense; but this much I here declare to you--I shall not
go to England, and I am resolved no longer to live with you, madam,
neither at Paris nor at Versailles; I shall henceforth never leave
Brittany; I shall reside at Plouernel or at Mezlean, having the right to
live in my father's house."

"My God, mademoiselle," replied the Marchioness with sardonic
bitterness, "your virtue is strangely resentful and savage! Why such a
display of anger? Your brother considered that your presence at the
court in London might be of some service to the King our master. Where
is the harm in that, I ask you to tell me? Would you not remain free, at
full liberty to encourage or reject his Britannic Majesty's advances? If
not to you, then there will be others to whom King Charles may address
his homage."

"Monsieur, did you hear?" said Mademoiselle Plouernel, turning towards
the stranger and unable to conceal the disgust that her aunt's words
caused her. "Could the infamous thought be expressed more
discreetly--the thought that my dishonor should subserve the violence,
the cupidity, the ambition and the vainglory of princes bent upon
oppressing the people!"

"Mademoiselle," said the stranger, deeply affected and struck with the
admirable expression of the young girl's features as she uttered the
lofty words that he had just heard, "some day, perhaps, I may remind you
of your brave malediction of the oppressors."

Not a little surprised at these words, Mademoiselle Plouernel was about
to ask the stranger for an explanation, when Monsieur Tilly entered the
salon. The new arrival seemed a prey to overpowering emotion. His face
looked haggard, his gait was almost tottering. The moment, however, that
he noticed the presence of the stranger, he hastened to him, saying:

"Monsieur Serdan, do you know what is going on in the city?"

And taking him aside Monsieur Tilly spoke to Monsieur Serdan for several
minutes in a low voice, after having politely excused himself with the
Marchioness for holding in her presence a private conversation, the
gravity and urgency of the subject being his apology for such
discourteous conduct.

"That bad man's name is Serdan. Do not forget it, Marchioness,"
whispered the Abbot; "he must be one of our King's enemies--and also an
enemy of the holy Society of Jesus. Forget not his name--_Serdan_."

"I shall remember it well, my dear Abbot; and there will be others to
learn it also. Oh, if we only were in France! A _lettre de cachet_ would
throw the insolent fellow into the Bastille, he would sleep there this
very night, and he never would come out again."

Mademoiselle Plouernel relapsed into her own painful train of thoughts,
while her aunt and the Abbot exchanged a few words in a low voice, and
Monsieur Tilly continued to impart the news of the day to Monsieur
Serdan, who, after hearing him to the end, exclaimed: "But that would be
monstrous! No! No! Impossible!"

"After what I have just learned, there is hardly any room left to doubt
the execrable iniquity that is about to be perpetrated," put in Monsieur
Tilly. "For the rest, within an hour, I shall know all--we shall then
take council together."

"But what does John De Witt think of all this?"

"Relying upon his brother's innocence and upon the justice of the
tribunal, can he remotely suspect such barbarity? I shall proceed to his
house after issuing orders to the cavalry of The Hague, which I command
and with which I can count, to keep themselves ready to take horse. I
anticipate a serious riot."

"I shall meet you at John De Witt's house. There are two of my
countrymen from Brittany whom I wish to introduce to him. Until you deny
or confirm the horrible tidings that you have just imparted to me, and
which I must still doubt, I shall not say a word to John De Witt on the
subject," answered Monsieur Serdan.

And making a profound bow to Bertha of Plouernel: "Should I never again
have the honor of meeting you, mademoiselle, I shall ever preserve the
most touching remembrance of the loftiness of your sentiments. But
should I meet you again, I shall allow myself to remind you of the noble
words that you uttered in favor of the downtrodden."

As he was about to leave the room, Monsieur Serdan said to Monsieur
Tilly: "I shall await you at John De Witt's residence. Do not delay."

"I shall be there shortly, so soon as my dispositions are taken,"
answered Monsieur Tilly.

Upon Monsieur Serdan's departure, Madam Tremblay assumed her most
smiling expression and observed to Monsieur Tilly:

"What an amiable man this Monsieur Serdan is! Tell us, I pray you,
monsieur, where is he from? where does he belong? who is he? what is his
rank? We feel particularly interested in him. We should be pleased to be
edified on that subject."

"Please excuse me, Marchioness," answered Monsieur Tilly, "at this
moment I am pressed for time and have no leisure to post you fully upon
Monsieur Serdan. He is an honorable man and close friend of mine. I came
in haste to impart to you, madam, some rather disagreeable
news--terrible things that our city is just now the theater of."

"What is the matter, monsieur?" inquired the Marchioness. "This morning
the Abbot noticed considerable excitement among the populace. Are
matters assuming a grave aspect?"

"Yes, madam, there is an intense excitement in The Hague. It is the
result of two circumstances--one, the manoeuvres of the agents of the
Prince of Orange, the head of the party opposed to that of the De Witt
brothers; the other--pardon, madam, the frankness of my words--the other
circumstance is the report of the atrocities committed in our country by
the armies of Louis XIV. There are letters circulating in The Hague
to-day from several of our provinces which the royal troops have
invaded. The atrocities that those letters report the French army guilty
of have exasperated our people. Our party is charged with connivance in
these deeds, and even with complicity in the treachery of Louis XIV
towards the Republic; and we are referred to as the _French party_
because our party sustains the policy of the De Witts in the matter of a
French alliance. I enter into these details, madam, in order to inform
you that, such is the popular effervescence at this moment, you would
run grave risks if you were to be seen on the streets and recognized as
French. I therefore take the liberty to impress upon you, as well as
upon Mademoiselle Plouernel and the Abbot, the wisdom of remaining
indoors to-day. Finally, should there be any serious disorders on the
streets, do not show yourselves at the windows. Even so, I pray to God
that the house may be respected in case popular passion becomes
inflamed, as I much fear it will be. I need not add, madam, how painful
it is to me to find the hospitality, that it has been my honor to tender
to you, disturbed in such a way!"

Mademoiselle Plouernel listened in silence to this conversation, and
seeing both her aunt and the Abbot turn pale, even tremble and exchange
frightened looks, the young girl said to them with bitter irony: "What
else do you expect? We are not here at the court of Versailles! Here the
perjury, the iniquity, the deeds of violence of your master appear in
their true and horrible colors. Who knows but this very day the deserved
execration, inspired by 'Louis the Great' for himself, may cost us our
lives! Oh! Thank God, it is only with joy that I would at this hour
leave this world, to reunite myself with my mother!"

Mademoiselle Plouernel owed to her mother her virile hatred of wrong,
her independent spirit, her opinions so wholly at variance with those
that prevailed at court. To her mother also she owed her firm faith in
immortality, the faith of our own Gallic forefathers. Brought up in the
Reformed religion, Madam Plouernel was forced to embrace Catholicism
when still quite young, and yielding to the importunities of her father
and mother, she espoused the Count of Plouernel. At the bottom of her
heart, however, she preserved, her abjuration notwithstanding, that
"Huguenot leaven," the generous ferment of which imparts to the
character sooner or later a spirit of independence, and of free inquiry.
Madam Plouernel's marriage was far from being a happy one. After she
presented two sons to her husband, he, feeling certain of the
continuance of his stock, ceased to pay any regard to his wife. Intent
upon indulging his scandalous amours, he left her in Brittany in the
Castle of Plouernel, where she was thenceforth to live in absolute
seclusion, with no other care or happiness than the education of her
youngest child Bertha.

The Countess had a brother, who was tenderly devoted to her. Bold and of
an adventurous disposition, he devoted himself to the navy. When still a
young man he commanded a royal frigate. Having remained a Huguenot, like
his admiral, Duquesne, he detested the despotism of Louis XIV, and never
made his appearance at court. Dearly loving his sister, and well
acquainted with the immoral character of the Count of Plouernel, he
sought, though in vain, to dissuade his family from a marriage the sad
consequences of which he clearly foresaw, and he embarked upon a long
and distant cruise. Kept far away from France by a variety of events, he
learned, upon his return home, of the sort of exile that his sister was
doomed to, and of the excesses of her husband. Sorrow and indignation
carried away the impetuous mariner. He proceeded to Versailles, and
there, in a crowded gallery, in plain view of all the courtiers, he
stepped straight toward the Count of Plouernel, overwhelmed him with
bitter reproaches, and forgot himself to the point of exclaiming:
"Monsieur, the infamous cynicism of your conduct and your shameless acts
of adultery are an outrage to my sister and a flattery to your master!"
This allusion to the amours of Louis XIV was speedily carried to the
despot's ears. He flew into a violent rage, and that same day the Count
of Plouernel's brother-in-law was taken to the Bastille and thrown into
one of its unhealthiest dungeons, where he was left to languish for the
space of two years, at the end of which he died. Her brother's
imprisonment and death afflicted Madam Plouernel profoundly, and steeped
her heart in irreconcilable detestation for Louis XIV. This fresh sorrow
increased her domestic infelicity. She divided her time between Bertha's
education, study and reading. The library of the castle, established a
generation before by Colonel Plouernel, consisted in part of works
imbued with the spirit of the political and religious independence of
the Reformation. The Countess nourished her mind with the virile
substance of those writings. Her favorite books were those which
breathed the strictness of morals, the loftiness of thought, the
inflexible love of justice, the austerity of honesty that the avowed
enemies of the Huguenots themselves give them credit for. Among the
books collected by Colonel Plouernel she found an admirable treatise on
the druid creed and traditions, "thanks to which the Gauls were freed
from the evil of death," inasmuch as they looked upon death as the
signal for a complete re-birth towards which the soul winged its way
radiant and reclad in a fresh garb. This faith in the immortality of our
being, in spirit and matter, the passionate curiosity kindled by the
thought of incessant migrations through unknown and mysterious worlds,
in short, that creed, so consoling to hearts that are crushed under the
weight of present sorrows, soon became the faith of Madam Plouernel, and
imparted a powerful impulse to the development of her noble qualities.
Brought up in almost complete seclusion by a mother who adored her, and
in whom she, in turn, reposed absolute faith, Bertha of Plouernel could
not choose but imbibe the maternal convictions and opinions. In what
concerned the recent ignoble action of her own family, Bertha's
sentiments flowed also from the philosophy of her training. Her aunt and
Abbot Boujaron, thrown into consternation by the tidings brought to them
by Monsieur Tilly with regard to the popular indignation in The Hague
against Louis XIV and the French, remained a prey to distressing
apprehensions, while Monsieur Serdan hastened away to the residence of
John De Witt, the Grand Pensionary of Holland.



CHAPTER V.

JOHN DE WITT.


Cornelius and John De Witt were the sons of Jacob De Witt, a citizen
illustrious by his patriotism and his learning, and formerly one of the
principal leaders of the Lowenstein party. That party, representing as
it did the republican traditions of the Low Countries, as contrasted
with the military spirit, tended above all to promote the maritime
preponderance that the confederation of the United Provinces was
entitled to enjoy by reason of her geographic position and the
mercantile genius of her population. Accordingly, the Lowenstein party
had, for half a century, been opposing the influence of the Orangemen,
partisans of the military and hereditary principle of government
represented by the Princes of Orange. The hereditary Stadtholdership,
coupled with the functions of captain general of the military and naval
forces, was in reality a sort of royalty, qualified, it is true, yet
dangerous to the people's liberty. Accordingly, the Lowenstein party
caused the States General to enact a decree which disqualified the
Princes of the house of Orange from holding the Stadtholdership and at
the same time the supreme command of the military and naval forces, and
provided, furthermore, that the said offices were not to be hereditary.
Cornelius De Witt, the elder of the two brothers, was born at Dortrecht
in 1623, and, at the age of twenty-three was elected a deputy of his
city and _ruart_ (inspector general of the dikes) in the district of
Putten--an office of great importance in that country where the dikes
protect agriculture, and may, at a critical moment, become an important
means of defense by being broken down--a redoubtable piece of strategy
in the event of a foreign invasion. Cornelius De Witt, a man of antique
virtues, and, like his brother, endowed with wide attainments, did not
confine himself to affairs of state. Having since earliest boyhood
applied his mind to nautical science and become a skilled mariner, he
contributed powerfully with his advice during the present war to the
successful attack made by the fleet of Holland upon the English port of
Chatham, a victory that was at once disastrous and shameful to the
British navy. Finally, on the occasion of the naval battle delivered
this very year to the British and French fleets by Admiral Ruyter in the
roadstead of Solway, Cornelius De Witt, seated in his capacity of
commissioner of the admiralty of the Republic, in an ivory chair at the
most perilous post, the rear castle of the admiral's ship, faced with
heroic calmness the murderous fire poured upon him by the enemy, and
thus witnessed impassibly the glorious combat, the plan for which he
laid down in concert with Ruyter.

John De Witt, his brother's junior by over two years, excelled Cornelius
as a statesman, and equalled him in civic virtues and courage. Elected
about 1662 Pensionary of Holland, or the executive agent of the
Republic, and thus placed at the head of the government, John De Witt's
love for his country assumed a religious character. He looked upon his
office as a ministry. Inaccessible by the natural loftiness of his
nature to the intoxicating allurements of power, that great man's
simplicity and modesty never were belied by his acts; neither did ever
his respect for justice, for duty and for pledged faith falter before
the pretext of 'necessities of state.' Charged with the diplomatic
relations of the United Provinces, he balked the snares, the perfidies
and the underground manoeuvres of the foreign ambassadors by the mere
rectitude of his character and the penetration of his judgment. One
instance among many, in this great citizen's life, may suffice to depict
him. He inspired such confidence even in his adversaries, that the
Princess of Orange entrusted to him the direction of her son's
education, aware though she was of John De Witt's hostility to the
hereditary Stadtholdership in the house of Orange. The only descendant
of that family, destined to become the head of the Orangemen's party,
was thus entrusted by the most enlightened of mothers to the care of
John De Witt. He watched over the child with paternal solicitude,
endeavoring to attune the youthful soul to sentiments of generosity, to
inspire him with a love for the Republic that he was to serve as a
citizen, and disclosing to him the misfortunes he would conjure up upon
his country if he ever became the instrument of the party that used his
name for a flag. Alas! the efforts of John De Witt failed before the
consummate dissimulation of the morose, frail, sickly, nervous lad, who
seemed ever to be wrapped in himself, who concealed his ardent
aspirations under an impassive exterior, and who, when he arrived at
man's estate, was this year to repay John De Witt's paternal kindness
with the blackest ingratitude.

The following was the sequence of events: About six weeks before, John
De Witt spent a part of the night in considering affairs of state in his
cabinet at the palace of the States General. Towards two o'clock in the
morning he left for home, preceded by a valet bearing a torch.
Unexpectedly a band of men, armed with swords and knives, leaped from
ambush and fell upon him. He received a saber cut over the neck;
although unarmed he struggled bravely and received three more wounds,
the last of which was so serious that he fell down upon the pavement.
Believing him dead the assassins took to their heels. De Witt succeeded
in rising to his feet and reaching his residence. The assassins were
four in number--the two brothers Van der Graeff, Adolf Borrebugh, the
Post Office Commissioner of Maestricht, and Cornelius De Bruyn, an
officer in The Hague militia. Only one of the two Van der Graeff
brothers could be arrested. The other brother and his two accomplices
succeeded in fleeing to a place of safety--the camp of the young William
of Orange, who was appointed commandant of the land forces when the war
broke out against France and England. The Prince was summoned to deliver
the murderous assailants of John De Witt. He refused.

From that moment suspicions of William of Orange's complicity in the
crime gathered against him. Only he and his party had an interest in the
death of John De Witt, who, notwithstanding the disorder that the
government was thrown into by the misfortunes of the war, was striving
to avert the dangers with which the Prince of Orange threatened the
Republic from within, while Louis XIV was attacking it from without. But
it was not enough for the Orangemen to have armed assassins against John
De Witt; his brother--Cornelius De Witt, the _ruart_ of Putten--was also
to be disposed of. A horrible scheme was concocted.

Notwithstanding his high office of Grand Pensionary of Holland, John De
Witt, a modest man in his tastes, lived with the utmost simplicity,
seeking in the company of his wife and his two daughters Agnes and Mary
sweet distractions from the cares that weigh upon a statesman. At the
period of this narrative he was close to his forty-eighth year. His tall
stature, his kind yet grave face, his thoughtful mien, imparted to him
an imposing appearance. On this occasion he was writing, alone in his
cabinet, a spacious room the walls of which were concealed behind long
shelves loaded with books. Above the mantlepiece hung the picture of the
father of the two De Witts--an austere face, painted after the manner of
Rembrandt. A table, heaped up with papers, stood in the embrasure of a
tall window with little square panes of glass held in a lozenge-work of
lead, on either side of which were shelves with instruments of physics;
for the Grand Pensionary was, like his brother, a lover of the sciences.

Seated at the table, pensive and sad, John De Witt was writing to his
friend, Admiral Ruyter, the following remarkable letter that bore the
stamp of antique simplicity, and in which the plot, concocted by the
Orangemen against Cornelius De Witt, was unveiled:


TO ADMIRAL RUYTER:

     My dear Sir and good friend:--I have received the letter that you
     did me the honor of writing on the 25th of last month to express to
     me your deep sorrow at the wounds that I received. Thanks to God, I
     am now almost completely healed: Three of the wounds are closed;
     the fourth, and most painful of all, is on the way to be likewise
     closed. The envy with which certain malignant people pursue our
     family has reached such extremes in these unhappy days, that, after
     attempting to rid themselves of me by assassination, they are now
     seeking to rid themselves of my brother, the _ruart_ of Putten,
     through legal process. You will surely have learned that the fiscal
     attorney has caused him to be arrested by order of the States of
     Holland, and had him brought here, where he is at present under
     arrest at the castle. We could not at first surmise the cause, or
     at least the pretext, for his imprisonment. To-day we know the plot
     that has been concocted against my brother. It is this: A surgeon
     named William Tichelaar accused my brother with unheard of
     brazenness and impudence of having endeavored to corrupt him with a
     large sum of money to assassinate the Prince of Orange! My brother,
     being incapable of conceiving so execrable a scheme, and less still
     of executing it, I am firmly convinced that, seeing it pleased God
     to deliver me, as if by a miracle, from the murderous hands that
     sought to assassinate me, He will not allow innocence to fall a
     victim to slander and calumny. My brother will doubtlessly escape
     the snares that are spread against him, as I escaped the daggers of
     my implacable enemies.

     Tichelaar, the informer against my brother, was a short time ago
     summoned by him, in his capacity of _ruart_ of Putten, before the
     court of that district to answer the charge of attempted rape.
     Tichelaar was convicted and a sentence was pronounced fastening
     upon him the stain of moral turpitude. That man, now branded with
     infamy, sought to revenge himself against my brother by a horrible
     calumny. Furthermore, we know from reliable sources the following
     details: Three weeks ago Tichelaar went to my brother's house at
     Dortrecht, and requested a private interview with him. My
     sister-in-law, his wife, having opened the door to the man and
     admitted him to the house, but fearing (after what had happened to
     me) that he might have evil designs against the _ruart_, ordered
     one of the servants to keep near the door of the room, and to be on
     the alert, should Tichelaar attempt violence against my brother.
     The servant testified under oath before the court commissioner that
     having been posted near the door, he heard Tichelaar offer to
     reveal certain secrets to the _ruart_, to which my brother, knowing
     Tichelaar for a dishonorable character, answered:

     "If what you have to say is something proper, I shall be ready to
     hear you and give you help; if, however, it is something improper,
     do not mention it to me; it would be better for you, because I
     would immediately notify the regency or the court."

     The servant further testified that thereupon several words were
     exchanged, and Tichelaar closed the interview saying:

     "Seeing that monsieur does not wish me to reveal my secret to him,
     I shall keep it for the present, and shall later disclose it to
     others."

     My brother has confirmed the deposition, and Tichelaar's testimony
     being the only one against my brother, I can not see that there is
     room to apprehend aught in this affair. I do not doubt that he will
     be soon set free. There is nothing left to regret but the disturbed
     condition of the times and the wickedness of our enemies.

     For the rest, the capture of the cities situated along the Rhine;
     the swiftness of the motions of the armies of Louis XIV; their
     invasion of our territory up the Yssel--all this without hardly
     meeting any resistance, in fact encouraged by unheard of cowardice,
     or even infamous treason, have more and more brought home to me the
     truth of what used to be said of old of the Roman
     Republic--_Prospera omnes sibi vindicant, adversa uni
     imputantur_.[1] That is what I am now experiencing. The people of
     Holland blame me for the disasters and calamities of our Republic,
     notwithstanding I have never been otherwise than a faithful servant
     of the country. For these reasons I decided to resign my office of
     Grand Pensionary. The States had the kindness to grant my request,
     as you will see from the extract which I forward to you. I have
     thought it my duty to inform you of my resignation, in order that
     you may not continue to address me on matters that concern the
     state, and that you forward all such matters to the Pensionary of
     Holland and West Friesland, or to his present substitute.

John De Witt was about finishing this letter to Admiral Ruyter when a
maid servant entered the room and announced to the ex-Grand Pensionary
of Holland that Monsieur Serdan, together with two other persons, asked
to speak with him.

"Let him in!" answered John De Witt. "Never more so than at this moment
was the company of a friend welcome to me."

Monsieur Serdan and his two companions were brought in. One of the
latter was a man of mature age and grey of hair; the other, his son, was
the young and bold mariner who saved the brigantine St. Eloi, on board
of which was Mademoiselle Bertha of Plouernel, and, a singular accident
that she was still ignorant of, both men belonged to that old Gallic
family of Breton extraction of whom Colonel Plouernel made mention in
his manuscript, that Lebrenn family which, successively slave, serf and
vassal since the conquest of Clovis, transmitted its own plebeian annals
to its descendants from generation to generation.

Salaun Lebrenn and his son Nominoë, who followed close upon the heels of
Monsieur Serdan, could neither restrain nor conceal their emotion at the
sight of John De Witt, the great citizen whom they admired and venerated
even more than before, after they learned from Monsieur Serdan a
thousand intimate details concerning the illustrious man.

"My friend," said John De Witt to Serdan after affably responding to the
respectful greetings of the two Frenchmen, "these are, I suppose, your
two countrymen in behalf of whom you asked me to communicate with the
college of the admiralty, in order to obtain a secret order and safe
conduct, in the event of their vessel's being boarded by one of our
cruisers?"

"Yes, my dear John. As French sailors they have nothing to fear from the
royal squadrons. The pass is only to protect them from the cruisers of
Holland. When day before yesterday I handed you the notes concerning
Brittany, confided to me by Monsieur Salaun Lebrenn, the captain of a
French merchant vessel and resident of the port of Vannes, I informed
you under what circumstances I became acquainted with Monsieur Lebrenn
at Nantes, three years ago. Identity of views, religion and hopes bound
us together since then. A frequent exchange of letters drew us still
closer together. Monsieur Lebrenn, better than anyone else, is qualified
to speak upon conditions in Brittany. Both his family and his mercantile
connections enable him to be aware of and to apprise me of the evidences
of discontent in his province, analogous to those that my friend and I
observed when we crossed Languedoc, Dauphiny, the Vivarais, Guyenne and
Normandy. Struck with the significance of the tide of popular discontent
invading the larger part of France, I induced Monsieur Lebrenn to come
to The Hague in order to confer with you, and I placed in your hands his
report of the grave events of which Brittany is just now the theater. I
need not add that you may place perfect reliance upon all he says."

"I doubt not. It agrees at all points with other reports that have
reached me concerning the political situation in France," answered John
De Witt.

And addressing himself to Salaun Lebrenn:

"Yes, monsieur, I have read your report with close and scrupulous
attention. The distressing and often horrible facts in which it abounds
are, I am sure, in no way exaggerated. The acts of pillage, of rapine
and numerous other unheard-of atrocities which the troops of Louis XIV
are at this hour committing in our own provinces, attest but too clearly
the violent and disorderly habits that your armed forces have
contracted at home. In short, monsieur, your report proves to me
incontestably that the popular discontent, the progress of which is so
glaring in Brittany, is to be attributed to the following causes: to the
taxes, the imposts and the levies raised upon their vassals by the
seigneurs and the clergy; to the ill-treatment, the imprisonment and
even the executions mercilessly inflicted upon the vassals, and against
which these have no redress, seeing that a large number of seigneurs are
vested with supreme powers in their own domains;--to the exactions, the
unbridled licence of the seigniorial soldiery, to which the people of
the cities and the country are alike exposed;--to the profound
irritation of the bourgeoisie of such large cities as Rennes and Nantes,
who, whelmed every day with new imposts, find themselves threatened with
imminent ruin;--finally, to the no less profound irritation of the
Breton parliament, which feels itself outraged by the promulgation,
without its sanction, of fiscal edicts which it refuses to register, and
which are so burdensome that poverty, distress and misery weigh down
upon all classes in the province. Such, monsieur, is the succinct
summary of your report, which is supported with facts that are painfully
real. You add--do you not?--that, according to your own observations,
the discontent brought on by the despotism of Louis XIV has reached such
a point that a general uprising is imminent, and may break out at any
moment?"

"Yes, monsieur," answered Salaun Lebrenn; "that is my conviction, which
rests upon a careful study of the people and of affairs."

"Your conclusion seems to me well founded. And yet," observed John De
Witt, "allow me to remind you that at such serious junctures one must
always be on his guard against illusions--illusions that are all the
more excusable, and therefore all the more liable to mislead us, seeing
they are born of generous hopes, of the legitimate desire to put an end
to crying abuses."

"You may be certain, monsieur, my wishes do not carry away my judgment,"
answered Salaun Lebrenn. "The present state of public opinion in
Brittany does offer to our common cause and that of humanity strong
chances of success. But I am far from being blind to many an unfavorable
possibility in the event of the impending uprising. Nevertheless, it has
seemed to me opportune to profit by the state of general discontent,
and, even if we may not succeed in overthrowing, at any rate seek to
check the tyranny which is exhausting the energies of France, is
degrading and oppressing the land, and reaches beyond our own borders,
inflicting painful blows upon your own Republic, our natural ally. The
times are once more proving that, seeing Kings, without consulting their
peoples, declare war upon whoever interferes with their ambition, or
wounds their pride, the people, in their turn, have the right to ally
themselves with those who will aid them to break the yoke. Is not that
your opinion also, monsieur?"

"Yes, indeed," replied John De Witt; "all oppressed peoples have the
right, in the name of eternal justice, to ask for help and support from
a friendly people against tyranny. To revolt against Kings and to look
for foreign support is a legitimate act, provided that the support do
not hide either on the part of those who accord, or those who receive
it, any project hostile to the integrity of the territory, or the
independence, or the honor of the country. It must be in the interest of
the freedom of all."

"Yes; and for that reason eternal shame fastens upon the League!"
exclaimed Serdan. "The Catholic League in France sought for Spanish
support in order to exterminate the Protestants, and dethrone Henry IV,
who, his vices and deplorable defects notwithstanding, at least
represented the French nationality."

"While the League, the Catholic Union, on the contrary, represented the
foreigner, the party of Rome, of Spain and of the Inquisition," added
Salaun Lebrenn. "In its hatred of the Protestants and of the spirit of
liberty, the League aimed at a crushing despotism that was to be
exercised in the interest of its own members. Did they not nurse the
parricidal thought of dismembering France? Did they not scheme to offer
the throne to Philip II, that bigoted monarch whose bloody tyranny
stupefied the world? All honor to your ancestors, Monsieur De Witt! By
dint of their sacred revolt they dealt the first blow to the Spanish
monarchy, and they raised, heavily paying therefor with their own blood,
this Republic whose existence is now threatened by Louis XIV."

"Your observations are just, monsieur," answered John De Witt. "Yes, to
the eternal glory of Protestantism, which is my faith, the Protestants,
having been placed outside the pale of common rights and kept in
constant dread of death, were driven, in the course of the last century
and of this very century also, to ask for help from their coreligionists
of other countries, in order to defend their families, their hearths,
their faith and their threatened lives. But never was their action
stained with any project of aggrandizement at the cost of France! Their
request for help always had for its purpose only the triumph of the
Reformation and the freedom of all! In short, when, oppressed in mind,
when physically trampled upon, when plundered of its property, when
deprived of its rights, when persecuted in its faith, a people invokes
against its tyrant the help of a friendly and disinterested nation, it
is not, then, upon the foreigner that it calls but upon its own brothers
in the human family."

"My son," said Salaun Lebrenn to Nominoë, "you are still young; we live
in evil days; you will no doubt take a part in struggles that are as
grievous as any that our ancestors experienced in past ages, during
which they were alternately vanquishers and vanquished. Never forget the
noble sentiments you have just heard uttered by one of the greatest
citizens who can do honor to a republican people. Kings are outside of
the pale of the law, outside of common rights!"

"Father," answered Nominoë in a moved and serious voice, "the sentiments
I have just heard will forever remain graven in my memory, and likewise
will the memory of the illustrious man that I to-day have the honor of
seeing. I pledge undying hatred to tyranny and royalty."

And, in response to what appeared to him a movement of embarrassment on
the part of John De Witt at the crudity of a praise that seemed
exaggerated, the young mariner added:

"Oh, monsieur! Your mind is too lofty, your knowledge of men too sound
to mistake for base flattery the sincere enthusiasm that one feels at my
age for genius and virtue. If you only knew with what avidity I have
listened to our friend, Monsieur Serdan, when he told us of the
simplicity of your life, which, for so many years, has been consecrated
to the service of the Republic, to the defense of its rights, to the
promotion of its power, and to the solidification of its conquered
freedom! If you only knew how sweet, how wholesome to the soul is the
religious adoration one entertains for great and upright men! how
fruitful such admiration is of generous aspirations and brave
resolutions! how it redoubles in one the love of justice and the horror
for iniquity! Oh, Monsieur De Witt, if my admiration wounds your
modesty, allow me at least to express to you my gratitude for the noble
thoughts that your words and your presence inspire me with, for the good
that you have done to me!" Nominoë uttered these words in a voice
tremulous with emotion, and eyes glistening with tears.

"God forfend, young man, that I should question your sincerity,"
answered John De Witt touched by the language of Nominoë. "Yes," he
proceeded, extending his hand to the young sailor, "yes, you are
right--admiration, if not for men, then at least for the principles that
they represent, is wholesome and fruitful of good! You have expressed
that noble sentiment in such terms that I can not but congratulate your
father in having such a son. Preserve your vigorous hatred for all
tyrants."

Yielding to an involuntary impulse of enthusiasm, instead of clasping
the hand that John De Witt offered him, Nominoë bowed down and, with a
motion of almost filial veneration, approached De Witt's hand to his
lips. The act was so natural and so touching that his father, Monsieur
Serdan and John De Witt felt solemnly impressed.

His eyes moist with tears and filled with ineffable happiness, Salaun
Lebrenn said to the ex-Pensionary of Holland: "Yes, monsieur, I am a
happy father."

"And now, my friend," resumed Monsieur Serdan addressing John De Witt,
"if you entertained any doubt upon the reliableness of the information
transmitted to you by Monsieur Lebrenn concerning the popular sentiment
in Brittany, the lofty sentiments of my worthy friend and his son should
cause you, I hope, to place full confidence in them."

"Their straightforwardness and nobility of character do, indeed, deserve
my full confidence," answered John De Witt. "I shall listen with
interest to any further information that your friends may have
concerning the political affairs of your country."

"Well, monsieur, this is the actual state of things in Brittany: A
strong portion of the bourgeoisie of Rennes and Nantes, belonging to
the Reformed religion, favors a federative Republic, agreeable to the
Protestant traditions of the last century. The majority of the members
of the provincial parliament, of the officeholders, and even a portion
of the bourgeoisie, although they execrate Louis XIV, do nevertheless
hold to the monarchic form of government, but desire to subordinate the
same to the States General, the sovereignty of which was proclaimed in
the Fourteenth Century by Etienne Marcel. This element desires to reduce
the throne to the functions of an executive agent of the national
assemblies. The nobility and seigneurs are royalists, but they are not
numerous. As to the urban population, you know, monsieur, in what a
state of subjection and of calculated ignorance they are held. Weighed
down with taxes, they would rebel against misery and tax collectors
sooner than against the King, or the monarchy. The rustic population,
which consists mainly of vassals and is exploited and oppressed by the
clergy, the seigneurs, the tax collectors and the armed forces quartered
upon them, would also, driven to extremities by misery, revolt against
their sufferings, against the seigneurs, against the priests, against
the tax collectors and against the soldiers, but would remain no less
indifferent to the form of government than the city folks. You see,
accordingly, Monsieur De Witt, that I yield to no illusions. As certain
as I am of an imminent uprising in Brittany, am I also of its
consequences. No doubt, the republican form of government, to which your
provinces owe so much of their power, their prosperity, and greatness,
is, in my opinion, the ideal government; but I entertain no hopes of
seeing the same prevail in my country for the present. In fine, I shall
go so far as to say, it is possible, it is even probable that, in case
the insurrection triumph, and that Brittany reconquer, arms in hand, her
freedom and ancient franchises, the victory will be thwarted the very
next day, and she will lose again almost all the fruits of her triumph,
owing to the lack of organization and of oneness of view, of abnegation,
or of intelligence on the part of the victors themselves. This
notwithstanding, the insurrection in Brittany will have favorable
consequences to progress. The King, the nobility and the clergy,
frightened by the violence of the popular movement, will feel
constrained, out of fear of new reprisals, to lighten the yoke that
to-day they cause to bear heavily upon our people in general. Such
relief would be a modest conquest, but it will be sure. Experience will
justify my words. My conviction upon this head is so firm, that neither
I nor my son will hesitate to take part in a struggle in which he and I
will probably be the first victims, as were so many of our ancestors,
who embarked in similar undertakings. But what does that matter? A step
will have been taken towards the day of ultimate deliverance. This is
the reason, Monsieur De Witt, that I have come to you, in the name of
the discontented elements of Brittany, to request the moral and
financial support of the Republic of the United Provinces, in order to
combat the execrable Louis XIV, who is both your enemy and ours."

"My friend," replied John De Witt after listening attentively to Salaun
Lebrenn's presentation, "last year, at about this time, our friend
Serdan returned from a journey through France. Before him, Monsieur Roux
Marcilly, a Huguenot captain, an active and observing man, who has many
friends among the independent members of the British House of Commons
opposed to the French alliance, noticed, just as our friend did, the
sprouting germs of the uprising that is to-day imminent. Both asked me
at the time whether, in case of an outbreak, it would receive the
support of the Republic."

"You answered me in the negative," interrupted Monsieur Serdan, "on the
ground, as you expressed it, that the Republic was bound to Louis XIV by
a treaty concluded at a time when there was nothing to indicate that
that prince would become an oppressor. I foretold you that the alliance
would be observed by you only, but would be trampled under foot by Louis
XIV. Have not events confirmed my foresight?"

"It is true--but I would have considered it criminal to forestall one
act of treason by another. The face of things is changed to-day. In
violation of his oath of renunciation, taken at the time of his marriage
with the Infanta of Spain, Louis XIV has invaded Flanders without cause,
broken the alliance by declaring war upon us without the shadow of even
a pretext, and suborned England to his aid. The Republic finds itself
now legitimately entitled to take up arms, and it thereby does an act
that is at once generous and politic, by affording help to the oppressed
people of France. By these means dangerous complications can be
conjured up against Louis XIV within his own kingdom, and furthermore,
we would be aiding the French people in their effort to break his yoke,
at least to render it less galling. I therefore give you my formal
promise to induce my friends in the Assembly of the States to lend the
moral and material aid of the Republic to the people of France. If they
rise against Louis XIV, I promise you arms and funds."

"Oh! father," cried Nominoë with the enthusiastic ardor and presumptuous
confidence of his age; "we shall deal the death blow to despotism! The
Republic is with us! Commune and Federation!"

Without sharing his son's confidence of success Salaun Lebrenn said to
John De Witt solemnly: "In the name of so many oppressed people, who
will see, if not the finish, at least a relief of their sufferings, a
blessing upon you, monsieur! Once more you show yourself faithful to the
principle that has guided your whole life. Perhaps our success may turn
out greater than I expect, if the Republic gives us a helping hand. Its
moral and material support, at this season, may now be considered
certain. Your powerful influence as Grand Pensionary of Holland will be
determining and decisive in the Assembly of the States."

"Pardon me, monsieur, if I interrupt you. I am no longer the Grand
Pensionary of Holland."

Serdan, Salaun Lebrenn and Nominoë looked at one another in
astonishment. For a moment they stood dumbfounded. Serdan was the first
to recover his speech: "What, my friend! Is what you say possible? Did
you resign your high functions?"

"Just as you came in with your two friends I was finishing this letter
to Admiral Ruyter," said John De Witt pointing to the letter on the
table. "I informed the admiral of my resignation from the office of
Grand Pensionary of Holland. Nevertheless, the interview I was to have
with you and your friends was of such importance that, although I no
longer filled my former office, I thought it well to hear you in order
that, should it seem wise to me, I could assure you of my co-operation
as a member of the Assembly, where I have numerous friends. You may rely
upon my support."

"Oh! monsieur," said Salaun Lebrenn sadly; "sad presentiments assail me;
your withdrawal will prove fatal to the cause of freedom. Your
resignation is a public disaster."

"But what is the reason for your resignation?" asked Serdan. "What,
John! The state is in danger!--and at such a moment you resign the high
office with which you were clad?"

"My friend, so far from serving the Republic, my activity at the present
juncture would be fatal to it. Be frank," John De Witt proceeded after a
pause; "you have been back in The Hague only a few days; nevertheless,
the change in the public mind regarding myself can not have escaped your
quick eye. Answer me frankly. What is the opinion entertained about me
to-day by the people?"

"Well--I must admit it! Your popularity, once unbounded, has been
somewhat impaired--but it is still strong."

"You deceive yourself, my friend; my popularity is completely destroyed.
A month ago, when divine providence snatched me from almost certain
death, those who a short time before would have cursed my assassins, saw
in the crime nothing but a providential punishment. They called me
traitor--and said the hand of God smote me! These charges of treason
unchained public hatred against my brother and myself. A short while ago
my father's house was torn down by a furious mob at Dortrecht; and my
brother--my brother!--one of the most virtuous citizens of the Republic,
is at this hour held in confinement, imprisoned as an assassin, upon the
mere word of a wretch who is smarting under the brand of infamy. I
nevertheless hope that, despite the inveterate hatred of our enemies, my
brother's innocence will baffle the infamous calumny."

John De Witt's confidence in the happy issue of the process instituted
against his brother saddened Serdan's heart. It reminded him of the
alarm Monsieur Tilly expressed for the life of Cornelius De Witt. Serdan
was still hopeful, and preferred not to disturb the peace of mind of the
ex-Grand Pensionary of Holland with the latest tidings. The painful
state of agitation into which the mind of Nominoë was thrown increased
by the second. He suddenly turned his moist eyes to his father and said:

"The De Witt brothers accused of treason to the Republic! Good God, it
is enough to make one despair of humanity! Oh, blind people! Or are you
stupid and cruel? Are you ever to be a foe to your most generous
defenders? Will you ever allow them to be dragged to the scaffold?"

"My son, we must never despair of humanity. The people must never be
flattered. To do so is to debase it, and to debase oneself. Its errors
must be condemned but excused--when they are excusable," put in John De
Witt addressing Nominoë with affectionate reproach. "The people believes
me a traitor. I deplore, I pity its blindness more than I condemn it. It
is to be excused--on account of its ignorance."

Nominoë, his father and Serdan contemplated John De Witt in
astonishment. The young mariner resumed:

"What, monsieur!--is the people to be excused when it charges you with
treason? Should it not judge you by your acts?"

"And if my acts seem to-day to turn against me overwhelmingly, would not
that explain the people's error with regard to me?"

And John De Witt, responding to a questioning look from Nominoë, added:
"Listen, my son, the lesson is grave and instructive--listen. My
friends, my brother and myself (we are given the name of the 'French
party') now about ten years ago, in 1662, used all our influence with
the Assembly of the States to bind the Republic in a close alliance with
France, our natural ally, as we considered her. Louis XIV was then quite
young; if he exhibited certain foibles of youth, I considered him gifted
with their reciprocal virtues--honesty, generosity, faithfulness to his
pledged word. The King pledged himself to assist the Republic in the
event of a war with England, and to respect the territory of Spanish
Flanders, in accord with the act of renunciation of the treaty of the
Pyrenees. But what happened? The increasing prosperity of our commerce,
which extends from one end of the world to the other, our maritime
preponderance and our wealth awakened the jealousy and cupidity of our
neighbors; besides, the very existence of our Republic, ever more and
more flourishing, seemed to Louis XIV a dangerous example to his own
people. Accordingly, winning England to his side with bribes, he drove
her to declare war against us, and, so far from keeping faith with us,
and assisting us with his fleets, he not only did not furnish us a
single ship--no, I err, he did send us one, a fire ship--but he left us
isolated to struggle with England single-handed, and capped the climax
by finally dropping his mask, and also declaring war upon us, in concert
with England."

Perceiving the indignation marked upon Nominoë's face, John De Witt
added:

"I told you a minute ago, the people was wrong to believe me guilty of
treachery, but the error is pardonable. My acts seem to bear witness
against me. When the Republic saw me, my brother and my friends exert
all our power to induce it to ally itself with Louis XIV, offering
ourselves as a guarantee of the prince's good faith in his promises, the
Republic placed confidence in us, and the alliance was concluded.
To-day, we but suffer the consequences of the treason of Louis XIV."
John De Witt paused for a moment and then proceeded:

"But however great the iniquity of which I am a victim, do not pity me.
My conscience is clear; I know I have lived the life of an honorable man
and a good citizen. Should God call me to Him to-morrow, I shall go,
serenely, and await his judgment. That, my son, is the moral of the
lesson."

As John De Witt was uttering these last words, listened to devoutly by
Nominoë, Monsieur Tilly entered precipitately into the apartment.



CHAPTER VI.

CORNELIUS DE WITT.


Monsieur Tilly, dressed in full uniform, wore the distinctive signs of
his rank--a high collar and a scarf. He was pale, and so visibly
disturbed that, struck by his appearance, John De Witt asked with alarm:

"My friend--you must be the bearer of tidings that portend some public
calamity?"

"A great calamity!" answered Monsieur Tilly with a faltering voice. "An
irreparable calamity!"

"What has happened?" inquired John De Witt. "What are the frightful
tidings that you bring me?" And looking towards Salaun Lebrenn and his
son he added: "These friends are countrymen of Monsieur Serdan's. You
may speak freely before them."

"My friend," said Monsieur Tilly, hardly able to control his emotions,
"you must leave The Hague this very day--you must depart within an hour,
if possible. You must flee!"

"Flee!" cried John De Witt astounded. "Flee like a criminal! And why
should I leave The Hague?"

"You must leave! Go quickly, I implore you, in the name of your wife and
daughters. Depart!"

"Tilly," replied John De Witt. "I am not devoid of courage. I should at
least know the cause of your alarm!"

"Yes; you have a strong soul; yes, you sustain the blows of adversity
with the serenity of an upright man--but however strong your soul, it is
at the same time susceptible of great tenderness for the objects of your
affection--you feel the smart of the blows that strike them--and--"

"My brother!" cried John De Witt turning pale and breaking in upon
Monsieur Tilly. "It is about my brother!"

"Ask me no more questions--embrace your wife and daughters--and leave
The Hague on the spot--you must not delay an instant!"

"But my brother--my dear and good brother--what has befallen him?"

"In God's name, spend no time with questions--depart--a few minutes more
and it will be too late."

A tremor ran over John De Witt's frame. He wiped the perspiration from
his forehead, and overpowering his emotion, bowed to Salaun Lebrenn and
his son, saying to them in a firm voice: "You will have to excuse me, my
friends, if I leave you. I can not remain any longer in this painful
uncertainty regarding my brother's fate. I shall hurry to the castle,
where he is confined."

"John!" broke in Monsieur Tilly, throwing himself in the way of the
Grand Pensionary of Holland. "You shall not go there! By God! You shall
not go to the castle--I shall tell you all--"

"They have killed him!" cried John De Witt in heartrending accents.
"Unhappy me, they have killed him!"

"No," replied Monsieur Tilly in despair; "no, I assure you, Cornelius is
not dead!"

This assurance allayed the poignancy of John De Witt's anxiety. But
still staggering under the blow of his terrible apprehension, he felt
his knees give way under him, and he leaned on the edge of the table,
unable to articulate a word. Salaun Lebrenn and his son stood in
consternation, dreading some great misfortune, and looked at Monsieur
Tilly with uneasy curiosity, while Serdan said to him in a low voice:
"Alas! A moment ago John De Witt felt perfectly at ease on the score of
the charge against his brother. I dared not mention to him the fears
that you expressed to me this morning."

Serdan broke off as he heard John De Witt say to Tilly in a calm voice:
"Pardon my weakness, my friend. There are unexpected blows that take one
by surprise, and floor him. Thanks to God, my brother still lives.
Speak, I listen."

"As late as this morning I was as certain as yourself of the
worthlessness of the charges preferred against Cornelius. I was in that
frame of mind until I met an officer of the bourgeois militia that
guards the prison, and who is of our party. From him I learned of the
wild popular exasperation against yourself, your brother and the French
party, who are considered accomplices in the ferocities committed by the
troops of Louis XIV, and that this exasperation was assuming such a
violent aspect that the tribunal, before which Cornelius was to be tried
and which consists of bitter Orangemen, decided, with a view of
satisfying the blind popular rage,--decided," repeated Monsieur Tilly
with a shudder, "to submit your brother to the torture, and compel him
to confess his crime. The atrocious project has been carried out!"

"Good God!" cried John De Witt, raising his hands and eyes heavenward.
"What frightful tidings!"

Serdan, Salaun Lebrenn and his son could not restrain a cry of
indignation and horror.

"But perhaps my brother is expiring from the consequences of the
torture!" exclaimed John De Witt in despair.

"Notwithstanding the sufferings he has undergone, your brother's life is
safe," answered Tilly. "I pledge you my word."

"The infamous wretches! To believe that the torture could wrest from a
De Witt the admission of a crime which he is guiltless of!" exclaimed
John De Witt in a smothered voice. "I am certain my brother underwent
the ordeal of the torture with heroic serenity. Proceed, my friend, I
feel strong enough to listen."

"I have my information direct from the court registrar who witnessed the
horrible scene," continued Tilly. "Cornelius was tied down upon a table.
His hands were placed by the executioner between two iron plates, held
together by screws, the slightest turn downward of which would break the
patient's bones."

"Oh!" cried Serdan, horrified. "These are shocking details!"

"Tilly," said John De Witt in a firm voice, "conceal nothing from me. I
want to know everything. Oh, my brother! Poor, dear victim!"

"During the preparation for the torture, the face of Cornelius was pale
and impassive. One of the judges approached him: 'Are you ready to make
a confession?' he asked your brother. 'I have nothing to confess,' was
his answer. 'Then you persist in denying that you plotted to assassinate
the Prince of Orange?' 'Monsieur,' replied Cornelius, 'had I desired to
assassinate the Prince of Orange, I would not have employed another's
arm.' 'Prisoner,' rejoined the judge, 'torture may compel you to confess
what you now refuse to admit.' 'Monsieur, you will cut me to pieces
before you can make me confess an act that I never even thought of.'
'Then you deny?' 'I deny.' Upon a sign from the judge, the executioner
gave the screws a turn; the plates drew closer together, and crushed
Cornelius's hands. His suffering was cruel, yet he remained silent,
impassive. Suddenly a wild clamor from the mob that was gathered at the
foot of the tower, reached your brother's ears. 'Death to the French
party!' 'Death to the accomplices of Louis XIV!' 'Death to De Witt!'
Upon hearing these cries, the registrar informed me, your brother raised
his head and turned his inspired eyes to the ceiling of the prison; his
features were transfigured; they were serenely resplendent; a divine
smile flitted over his lips; his moral courage dominated the agonies of
the body; and, as the mob without redoubled its cries for his death,
Cornelius recited in a powerful ringing voice this strophe from Horace:

"'_Neither the unjust clamor of the people, nor the angry frown of a
tyrant, is able to dethrone the mind of a man upright and true to his
cause._'"[2]

"Oh! my noble brother!" cried John De Witt breaking the silence of
admiration that followed the narrative of Monsieur Tilly. "Often did you
make the remark--_the dark iniquity of the guilty but causes the virtue
of the just to shine forth with all the greater luster!_"

"Yes!" continued Monsieur Tilly. "And at this very moment that beautiful
sentiment is approved true. The executioners and judges were seized with
respect and admiration for the grandeur of soul of Cornelius De Witt,
and they gazed upon one another in a sort of stupor, as if the absurdity
of the hateful process had broken its way into their vision. The judges
conferred. The ignominy of submitting one of the greatest citizens of
the Republic, one of the victors of Chatham and Solway, to the torture,
and upon no stronger grounds than the word of a noted wretch, smote
their consciences. Even paler than the patient himself, the registrar
informed me, the judges ordered the torture to cease, and, addressing
Cornelius in a faltering voice said to him: 'So, then, monsieur, you
insist upon making no confession?' 'Save me and yourselves the trouble
of such questions,' was Cornelius's answer; 'you have the power to
proceed with the torture; my body belongs to you.' Recoiling before the
thought of repeating the barbarous act, the judges ordered the
executioners to untie their victim. Your brother was taken back to his
prison, where the registrar of the States announced to him a few minutes
later the decree that was pronounced upon him. It is as follows:

"'The court of Holland, having considered and examined the documents,
submitted to it by the attorney general of the court, against and in
accusation of Master Cornelius De Witt, former burgomaster of Dortrecht
and ruart of the district of Putten, at present a prisoner of the said
court, as well as examined him, his confrontations, and all that was
said by himself, declares the prisoner forfeit of all his offices and
dignities, banishes him from the provinces of Holland, never to return
again under pain of still severer punishment, and sentences him to pay
the costs of the trial.'"

"But this very decree proves the innocence of Cornelius De Witt," cried
Salaun Lebrenn. "Devoted Orangemen though the judges are, they have
recoiled before their own iniquity. They did not even dare to mention
the alleged crime of the prisoner. If the crime were mentioned, the
death penalty would be the necessary punishment. Oh, the miserable, the
infamous fellows!"

"You are correct," replied Monsieur Tilly. "After hearing his sentence
read, Cornelius De Witt said to the registrar: 'Monsieur, if I am an
assassin I deserve death; if I am innocent I should be set free, and my
accuser punished. I appeal from this sentence to the Supreme Council.'
'If so, monsieur,' said the registrar, 'be kind enough to formulate
your objection at the foot of the decree and to sign the same.'
Cornelius De Witt cast a bitter smile upon the registrar, and raising
his two hands mutilated by the torture and bandaged in blood-stained
wrappages: 'I can not write, monsieur, I shall dictate to you my
objections to the sentence.' So saying, Cornelius formulated his
objection in the following terms: 'In the face of God and of man, I must
be pronounced an assassin or innocent: death or freedom.'"

"Oh!" cried John De Witt. "I shall devote all the power left to me, all
my life, to seek and obtain the rehabilitation of my brother! I shall
not falter in the task."

"Do you now understand," asked Tilly, "why I consider that you would be
lost, without profit to your brother, if you were now to be seen at the
prison? The agents of the Prince of Orange quickly spread among the mob
the news of Cornelius's banishment, and stirred up the popular rage at
his not having been put to death. These moves have raised the popular
exasperation to a still higher pitch, and incited the mob's cravings for
vengeance. The crowd has threatened to tear down the gates of the prison
in order to take your brother and do him to death. The registrar having
hastened to notify me of these events, I ordered The Hague cavalry to
the spot. It is now drawn up before the castle. Our horsemen are not
Orangemen, as you know; the prison will not be broken in so long as they
are allowed to remain on guard. You see, you may feel at ease, for the
present, on the fate of Cornelius. I conjure you, my friend, renounce
the purpose of proceeding to the prison. You are known by the whole
city. To cross its streets at this moment of ferment, is uselessly to
challenge the greatest risk. Think of your own dear family."

"John," added Serdan, "we join Tilly in urging you to flee as soon as
possible. Who knows but that your own house may be invaded at one moment
or another by that senselessly furious mob, as your father's house was
invaded in Dortrecht!"

"Preserve yourself for your brother's sake, Monsieur De Witt," put in
Salaun Lebrenn. "Leave The Hague."

"Live for this people which is more blind than it is ungrateful. Maybe
the day will come when it will implore you to save the Republic!" said
Nominoë with tears in his eyes, as he saw John De Witt receive the
urgings of his friends with a silent impatience that betrayed his inner
resolution to go to his brother.

Monsieur Tilly made a last effort, crying: "Is it your purpose to risk
your own life, as well as that of Cornelius, by proceeding to the
prison?" And answering an impatient wafture of John De Witt's hand, he
added: "It is horrible, but it is a fact--the first blood that a mob
sheds throws it into a savage intoxication. So far from being allayed by
your death, the hatred of those furious men will then become so
unbridled that it will be impossible any longer to restrain them. They
will then force the prison gates and slaughter your brother!"

"Enough! Enough, my friend!" said John De Witt with a shudder, and
almost overcome by the insistence of his friends. He seemed to hesitate
in his first determination, when he saw Madam De Witt step into the
apartment.

"My friend," said she to her husband handing him a note that she held in
her hand, "one of the grenadiers of the prison has just brought you this
letter from our brother Cornelius. It is urgent, says the man. He is
waiting for your answer. He says there is considerable commotion in The
Hague, and that, should you wish to proceed to the castle, he offers to
lead you through the closed Borlek Alley, and thence to Vivier Alley, of
which he has the key. But he says you must not delay."

John De Witt hastened to take the note, ran his eyes over it, and cried:
"My brother writes to me that he wishes to see me immediately."

"It is a trap!" exclaimed Serdan. "You seem to forget that Cornelius is
not in a condition to write! Crime and treachery!"

"Why should he not be in a condition to write?" asked Madam De Witt,
ignorant of the circumstance that her brother-in-law's hands were
crushed.

An embarrassing silence followed upon Madam De Witt's question, a
silence which Monsieur Tilly broke:

"Madam, your brother is suffering with an abscess on his thumb. It would
be difficult for him to hold a pen."

"Mary, my cloak, my sword, my gloves; quick, I pray you," said John De
Witt to his wife.

Madam De Witt left in quest of the articles demanded by her husband. No
sooner had she withdrawn than Tilly, Serdan, Salaun Lebrenn and his son
cried in alarm: "Give up the thought! Do not go to the castle! You will
be marching to your death!"

"The letter is a forgery!" added Serdan. "They are laying a snare for
you, and the jailer is in the plot!"

"First of all, hear what Cornelius writes to me," said John De Witt to
his friends, and he read:

     "Dear brother, I am obliged to help myself with a stranger's hand
     to write to you. I urge you earnestly, come to me to the castle
     without delay. Your presence is indispensable. One of the jailers
     is devoted to me. He will lead you by a circuitous route, where you
     are not likely to meet anyone. Come, come."

"Treachery!" repeated Serdan. "I tell you once more, their purpose is to
lead you into a trap, an ambush!"

"Cornelius has heard from his prison the clamor of the people for his
life, and for yours," added Monsieur Tilly. "There is even fear that the
maddened mob may succeed in breaking into the prison, and do you suppose
that your brother would call you to his side at such a moment? No, no!
There is treachery in all this!"

"But suppose this letter was truly dictated by my brother!" cried John
De Witt, interrupting Tilly. "Suppose that, finding himself about to die
as the result of his torture, he wishes to die in my arms! Suppose he
awaits my presence as a supreme consolation! Should I hesitate before a
sacred duty? No, never!"

As John De Witt was uttering these last words Madam De Witt re-entered
accompanied by her two daughters, Agnes and Mary, one thirteen, the
other fifteen years of age. They brought their father's cloak and sword.
Their candid and smiling faces presented so painful a contrast to the
dangers that threatened their father, that the witnesses of the scene
felt their hearts wrung.

"Father," said Mary, handing John De Witt his cloak, and helping him to
put it on, "since you are going to see our dear uncle in that horrid
prison, that I am sure he will soon be free to leave, tell him for me
that, although he was away from us, we always had him in mind."

"But, better still, father," added Agnes gaily, giving her father his
sword, "bring us our dear uncle back soon. And while we wait for his
return give him this kiss for me--"

"And this one from me," said Mary, embracing and kissing her father.

With a superhuman effort John De Witt controlled and concealed his
afflicted thoughts, tenderly answered the caresses of his daughters by
covering their young foreheads with kisses, and addressing his wife,
said: "Adieu, my faithful friend; brave companion in evil days, adieu! I
hope shortly to bring you better tidings of my brother," and he left
abruptly, followed by Monsieur Tilly, Salaun Lebrenn, his son and
Monsieur Serdan.

"The die is cast!" said Tilly to his friends in a low voice while John
De Witt descended the stairs of his house. "Follow him! Guard him! My
horse is waiting for me near by; I shall rejoin my company. We shall
defend the prison with all our might."

"Rely upon us," answered Serdan; "all that three resolute men can do
shall be done by us. May we be able to save John De Witt, and, with him,
the Republic."



CHAPTER VII.

MOB-VERDICT.


In the near vicinity of the palace, where the States General of the
Republic of the Seven Provinces held their sessions, rose a vast edifice
blackened by years and pierced with narrow, iron-barred windows. This
ancient castle now did the services of a place of detention. Its
principal façade, pierced with an ogive gate that was led up to by a few
stairs, was separated from Buytenhoff Square by a closed iron-barred
gate, before which, on this particular day, stood drawn up the cavalry
troop of Monsieur Tilly. Up to that moment the troopers had, thanks to
their coolness and the closeness of their ranks, prevented the mob that
crowded the square from forcing the iron gate of the prison in which
Cornelius De Witt lay. The tumultuous gathering that at first had been
emitting furious howls and threats of death against the French party,
now crowded in silence around several citizens of The Hague who, mounted
upon posts, or standing upon the stairs, or upon carts, read aloud and
commented on to the gaping mob letters recently received from the
provinces that the armies of Louis XIV had invaded. Among the more fiery
of the orators a rich goldsmith of The Hague was prominent. His name
was Henry Weroeff, who until recently was one of the most active members
of the French party. Accordingly, when he jumped upon an unhitched wagon
and announced that he wanted to speak, his voice was drowned under a
volley of hoots. Weroeff held a letter in his hand, and motioned for
silence while he shouted:

"My friends, deceived and misled like so many others, I belonged up to
now to the French party--but I have come to apologize for my error, and
to declare in the face of heaven and of man that the brothers De Witt,
the heads of the party, deserve public execration. Either as
accomplices, or the dupes of Louis XIV, they are responsible for the
horrible deeds that the armies of that King are now committing in our
provinces. Listen to this letter, which I received this morning from a
relative who lives in Bodegrave:

     "My dear friend, I write to you in haste. I owe my life to a
     miraculous accident. Our two burgs of Swamerdam and Bodegrave, each
     consisting of over six hundred houses, have just been reduced to
     ashes by the army of the King of France. Only one house is left
     standing--by the merest accident. The soldiers were especially bent
     upon destroying the Protestant churches. Not one escaped. The
     school houses and the City Hall, where the court met, were set on
     fire. In order to carry out their detestable work, the soldiers
     furnished themselves in Utrecht with torches of readily combustible
     material. This is a sight that I saw--a father, mother and children
     were locked up in their house, and then the place was forthwith set
     on fire. Those who sought to escape the flames were massacred by
     the soldiers and transfixed with pikes--"[3]

An explosion of furious yells, born of the indignation aroused by
Weroeff's letter, interrupted him at this point. A butcher of herculean
stature, with red hair and beard, blood-shot eyes, and livid with rage,
rushed forward, and jumping upon the cart from which the goldsmith was
speaking, cried out in a stentorian voice that rang above the din: "The
letter tells the truth! My sister lived in Swamerdam. Her two children
were burnt to death in her house. She herself was violated--and then
murdered by the royal soldiers!"

The infuriate man then drew a long knife from his belt, and brandishing
it, cried:

"Massacre and death! In default of the King of France himself, I shall
cut the throats of his good friends in Holland!"

"Death to the De Witts!" "Death to the accomplices of Louis XIV!" echoed
the mob, whose exasperation rose to fever heat. "Death to the traitors!"
"Upon them the blood that has flowed!"

Silence being restored by degrees, the goldsmith proceeded to read:

     "Yesterday, when, upon the departure of the enemy, we returned to
     our burgs, and removed the ashes of our homes, we found everywhere
     charred bodies of men, women and children, the women often holding
     the lifeless and partially burnt corpses of their infants in their
     own charred stumps. Acts of unheard-of ferocity were committed in
     cold blood by the soldiery of Louis XIV. A blind and crippled old
     woman, the object of our people's compassion, was killed before the
     eyes of her four children, and then thrown, together with them,
     into the flames. A number of little children were found horribly
     mutilated. The soldiers took a cruel delight in cutting off their
     limbs; others would throw them up in the air and receive them on
     the points of their bayonets!"

"Little children! Poor little children! Massacre and death! These
atrocities must be revenged!" cried the butcher, whose voice broke the
first silence caused by the stupor and consternation produced by
Weroeff's reading. The butcher's cries were immediately followed by a
volley of imprecations that it is impossible to reproduce. "Death and
extermination!"

"Listen!" said Weroeff. "There is worse yet:

     "Girls were violated before the eyes of their mothers, wives before
     the eyes of their husbands. The only act of charity on the part of
     the soldiers was to spare the victims of their brutalities the
     shame of surviving their dishonor--they drowned them in the canal,
     or murdered them on the spot--"

At these words, which reminded him of his sister's fate, the butcher,
instead of breaking forth anew with violent imprecations, covered his
face in both his hands and began to weep. The sight of this rough and
rude man's tender sorrow produced a deep impression upon the crowd. The
frightful ferment of a revengeful, inexorable and blind hatred caused
even the coldest hearts to boil with indignation. The goldsmith finished
his letter amid a mass of humanity that was panting for revenge, and
impatient to slake its ire upon the partisans of the French:

     "Greed, besides cruelty, animated both the French captain and his
     soldiers. They hanged men by the feet in the chimneys of their own
     houses, and lighted a fire under them in order that, suffocated and
     singed by the clouds of smoke that rose upward and the flames that
     licked their faces, they be driven to disclose where they had
     hidden their money and valuables. Often the victims possessed none
     of these, and they perished, the prey to barbarous greed. Other
     soldiers stripped the last shred of clothing from the women and
     girls whom they outraged, and drove them naked into the fields
     where they were left to die of hunger and cold. One officer (in
     justice to him be it said) finding two young ladies of the upper
     class in this condition, took pity upon them, gave them his cloak
     and some linen that he had with him, and, before returning to his
     post, recommended the unfortunate girls to the care of another
     officer. The latter, however, violated both the girls, and
     thereupon turned them over to his soldiers, who, after subjecting
     them to further and extreme outrage, mutilated them frightfully.[4]
     Their shapeless corpses were found day before yesterday near the
     dike that leads from Bodegrave to Woerden.

     "From Nymwegen I learn that one of those butchers, who do not
     deserve the name of soldiers, and who was wicked enough to cut off
     the breasts of a lying-in mother and to sprinkle gunpowder upon her
     wounds, died yesterday in the agonies of a frightful delirium,
     caused by remorse for his crime. He believed he saw the distracted
     woman pursuing him, and heard her cries of pain. A boatman, the
     brother of my father's tenant farmer, was nailed by both his hands
     to the mainmast of his barge, while, under the very eyes of the
     poor fellow, the soldiers indulged their depravity upon his
     daughter. Not even the dead are respected. Two funerals were
     stopped on the way to the graveyard, the corpses were stripped of
     their shrouds by the soldiers of Louis XIV, and then thrown into
     the canal."

The recital of such sacrilegious profanation--doubly abominable in the
eyes of a Protestant people, who religiously guard their dead--caused
the popular fury to boil over. It wanted instant victims to slake its
thirst for revenge and for reprisals. Such victims were at hand--the
brothers De Witt and the other chiefs of the French party, considered
either the dupes or the accomplices of Louis XIV, as the mob declared
with pitiless logic. The popular rage reached its highest pitch. An
ear-rending cry went up from all throats--"Death to De Witt! To the
prison! To the prison!"

By a spontaneous movement the whole mass of enraged humanity rolled
against the prison, the approaches to which Tilly and his troopers had
up to that moment managed to keep clear. So spontaneous was the rush
against the prison, and so resolutely was it executed, that Tilly's
horsemen, finding themselves assailed by a shower of stones, were
constrained in self-defense to draw their sabers. They were on the point
of falling upon their assailants when, with drums beating and amid the
glad acclaims of the multitude, an infantry company of The Hague
militia, known by the name of the "Blue Flag," and consisting
exclusively of Orangemen, debouched upon the square. The captain of
this militia corps informed Monsieur Tilly that, in order to avoid an
effusion of blood in a conflict with the populace, the Council of State
had ordered the company of the Blue Flag to mount guard at the castle,
and relieve the cavalry posted there. Monsieur Tilly had no choice but
to obey and yield the place to his substitutes, although he had no doubt
that the prison would now be speedily invaded by the delirious mob. The
cavalry, its retreat covered by the infantry corps, withdrew from the
square amidst the hootings, the vociferations and even the threats of
the mob which now had reached a pitch of delirious paroxysm.

"After De Witt, to the others, and Tilly shall have his turn. We know
where he lives!" yelled a bitter Orangeman. "He has taken a lot of
French people into his house. Some of them are grand dames! I saw them
yesterday on the balcony."

"Massacre and death! May lightning strike me if I do not take revenge
for my sister upon those French women!" bellowed the butcher. "But
forward, now! First bleed the De Witts. The prison is ours!"

The butcher's threats, directly alluding to Mademoiselle Plouernel and
her aunt, were heard by Serdan, Salaun Lebrenn and his son, who, having
returned to the square, and being driven by the current of the mass,
found themselves pushed in the direction of the prison. Vainly had they
sought to keep their promise to Monsieur Tilly of protecting the life of
John De Witt. When the venerable man left his house under the guidance
of the jail grenadier, Serdan and his friends requested him to allow
them to escort him. He consented. Together they crossed several narrow
and quiet streets and presently an almost deserted lane. When, at the
end of the same, they arrived before a gate that barred further passage
and opened upon a corridor leading into the castle, the grenadier
declared to the companions of John De Witt that they could go no
further, his orders being to allow admission only to the Grand
Pensionary of Holland. John De Witt urged his friends to withdraw,
clasped their hands, and entered alone, the door being unlocked, then
closed and re-locked after him by the grenadier who was furnished with a
key. John De Witt was taken without delay to his brother, and there
discovered the trap that was laid for him. His brother had not sent for
him, and was greatly alarmed at what he considered a most inopportune
visit, in view of the general popular excitement, and the riot at the
prison gate. A heartrending scene took place between the two brothers.
John sought to induce his brother to leave the prison, the doors of
which, he argued, had to be opened to him, seeing he was sentenced to
banishment. Cornelius declined, on the ground that he had appealed from
the decree of proscription. He insisted that the judges pronounce him
either innocent or guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. To quit the
prison would be to accept the sentence which put a blot upon his name,
and against which he protested. Unable to induce his brother to flee,
John De Witt declared he would not leave him, and would share his fate.
While this debate, a struggle of fraternal generosity, was proceeding
in the prison of Cornelius, two officers and four militiamen of the Blue
Flag company forced themselves into the chamber in which the two
brothers were conversing, and assailed them with violent threats.

Alas! son of Joel; I shall let an eye-witness of that lamentable event
narrate it in his own words, and let us transmit the report to our
descendants:

"The officers and the militiamen found Cornelius De Witt lying on his
couch in a morning gown, and his brother seated near the head of the bed
reading to him out of the Bible. The Grand Pensionary sought to awaken
some sense of humanity in the maddened men who entered the room. They
only redoubled their threats, and compelled the two brothers to rise and
leave the room, saying they were to be taken to the place where
criminals are executed. The De Witts embraced each other tenderly at the
head of the stairs which led out of the castle, and bade each other
their last adieus. Cornelius De Witt, who, in consequence of the
torture, was very weak, descended leaning upon his brother's arm. The
latter, preserving a most heroic calmness in sight of so imminent a
danger, exhorted in kind language those who led him and his brother not
to commit so great an iniquity as they threatened to be guilty of. 'My
friends,' he said to them as he continued to descend the stairs,
sustaining his brother, 'we are innocent, we are not traitors to the
Republic; take us wherever you please, but take us to judges.' 'March!
March!' the officers answered, brutally pushing him forward and causing
him to trip and stumble over the lowest steps of the staircase; 'You
will soon know where you are taken to, traitors!'"

The iron gate that served as a defense to the castle had been forced
open. A portion of the mob penetrated into the outer yard which
separated the square from the façade of the castle, and where a low
stoop led up to an ogive door. The shadow, into which the vault of the
door threw the inside, allowed but an indistinct view of the lowest
steps of the staircase by which John and Cornelius De Witt descended.
The instant the two brothers appeared at the top of the stoop, whither
they were pushed by the militiamen of the Blue Flag, yells of hate and
vengeance broke forth from all sides.

"There they are!" "We got them both!" "Death to the De Witts!" "Death to
the traitors!" "Death to the French party!"

Separated from the two victims, and hemmed in by a compact mass of
people, Serdan, Salaun Lebrenn and Nominoë were as impotent to bring the
slightest help to Cornelius and John as to flee from the spectacle that
they were about to witness. In that situation, and justly fearing to be
recognized as Frenchmen and massacred on the spot, they controlled their
grief and indignation, and only exchanged looks of despair as the
tragedy was enacted before their eyes.

The moment the two De Witts, John sustaining his brother, stepped out
upon the stoop, one of the militiamen raised his musket, holding it by
the barrel, and dealt Cornelius De Witt a furious blow upon the head,
shouting at the same time:

"Die, traitor! The blood, shed by the soldiers of Louis XIV, shall fall
upon your head! Death to all the accomplices of the French King!"

Stunned by the blow, Cornelius staggered and reeled. Instantly the
butcher seized him by the hair, and dragged him down to the bottom of
the stoop, brandishing his knife. John De Witt rushed forward to his
brother's help, but before he could descend two steps, a notary, Van
Soenen by name, barred his way, and, exclaiming: "Die, traitor! Your
friends the French murdered our prisoners at Swamerdam! Die, traitor,
renegade!" hurled his pike into the face of the Grand Pensionary,
transfixing it.

Blinded by the blood that spurted from his wound, John De Witt dropped
on one knee. He immediately endeavored to rise, crying: "My brother! My
brother!" But at that moment a man named Van Valen gripped him by the
throat, threw him to the ground, and planting his foot upon De Witt's
chest, discharged his pistol into the head of the prostrate man, loudly
vociferating: "Die, wretch! You betrayed your country! So shall all the
accomplices of Louis XIV die! Death to all papists!"

The corpse of John De Witt was dragged under the Buytenhoff Arcade
beside his brother's, whom the butcher killed. The mob pounced like
tigers upon the two bodies, riddled them with shots, stripped them
naked, mutilated them beyond recognition--and, Oh, frightful reprisals
that the two martyrs were the innocent victims of! each act of
sacrilegious profanation was accompanied with a thousand imprecations
intended to recall the atrocities committed by the soldiers of Louis
XIV, who crowned their acts of pillage, of incendiarism, of iniquities
perpetrated upon women, and of murder, by outraging even the corpses
which they stripped of their funeral robes, and deprived of burial!

Finally, the shapeless remains of the two great citizens were hung from
the gibbet where common malefactors were executed.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE FLIGHT.


Salaun Lebrenn, his son, and their friend, the witnesses to the
massacre, stood shuddering with terror, when they were suddenly aroused
by the cries of several voices: "And now for Tilly!" "Death to Tilly!"
"To the sack of his house!" "Death to the traitors!" "Death to the
friends of the French!"

"Vengeance and reprisals!" howled the most infuriated of the mob. "To
Tilly's house! to Tilly's house! Sack the house of Tilly!"

The three Frenchmen, who were, until then, wedged in the compact mass of
the mob, and compelled, despite themselves, to witness the sight of the
popular fury, succeeded by dint of vigorous efforts in cleaving their
way in a diagonal line across the press, and finally freed themselves
entirely, while the mass of people took the direction of the house of
Monsieur Tilly.

Madam Tremblay and Abbot Boujaron, faithful to the recommendations of
Monsieur Tilly, kept the curtains of the windows closed, and abstained
from showing their faces. Standing near one of the embrasures, and
slightly parting the curtain, the Abbot sought to obtain a glimpse of
what went on upon the street, and cast furtive looks upon the square.

"Abbot!--no imprudence!" cried the Marchioness.

Mademoiselle Plouernel sat steeped in revery at the opposite end of the
parlor. Her mind dwelt indignantly upon the odious designs that her own
family had dared to plot, and in which so ignoble a role was assigned to
her. She remained an utter and indifferent stranger to all that was
happening within and without the house.

"Well, Abbot," inquired Madam Tremblay, "do you see anything on the
square?"

"Marchioness!" cried the Abbot, turning pale and stepping back from the
window, "we are lost! A mob of men armed with pikes and axes is just
turning into the square. They yell: 'Death to the French!' Listen!
Listen! Do you hear them? The mob is running this way, howling and
vociferating!"

Indeed, at that moment, a formidable clamor that drew ever nearer was
heard on the square, and distinctly could be made out the furious cries:

"Death to Tilly!" "Death to the French!" "Sack the house!"

"They are coming to murder Tilly!" stammered the Abbot, livid with
terror. "It is done for us! We are lost!"

"Abbot, you are losing your senses," replied the Marchioness endeavoring
to allay her own alarm. "Matters are not at such an extremity."

"Madam, do you not hear those furious cries: 'Vengeance and reprisals!'"
asked Mademoiselle Plouernel. "These people are coming to take
vengeance upon us for the atrocities committed by the troops of your
master, at the instigation of your infamous Catholic clergy!"

The danger grew ever more threatening. Hurried steps were heard in the
house, where the frightened servants were running about crying out to
one another and precipitately and noisily closing and bolting the main
door on the ground floor. The door, though thick and strong, and studded
with iron nails, could not long resist the assailants. Already it shook
under the repeated blows of axes and the butts of muskets, while a
volley of stones, thrown from the street, broke with a crash the
window-panes in the parlor. The shattered windows allowed the clamor
from without to reach the parlor with distinctness. "My sister was
violated and disemboweled by the soldiers of Louis XIV," cried the
butcher in his stentorian voice; "Vengeance and reprisals! French women
are housed in Tilly's residence! Fire upon the door and windows! We will
get in! Massacre and fury!"

The sound of a discharge of musketry fire followed almost instantly upon
the butcher's words. The house seemed to rock to its very foundations.
The fusilade continued uninterrupted. At the same time the main door,
already half broken down, was attacked with renewed blows of axes, and a
lever was applied to its hinges.

Suddenly the ceiling of the parlor shook with the vibrations of heavy
blows given with iron maces and by dint of which the main street door
finally fell in with a great crash. The vociferations of the assailants,
who irrupted into the house, reached the ears of the Abbot, the
Marchioness and Mademoiselle Plouernel. They stood petrified with
terror. At that instant a little door, that communicated with, and was
concealed by the drapery of the parlor flew open.

"The assassins are here!" stammered the Marchioness, almost dead with
fright. "We are lost! Mercy! Mercy!"

"We are saved!" cried Bertha of Plouernel, as she recognized in the new
arrivals Serdan and his two friends. "These are our liberators!"

The uproar and the distinct rush of hurrying and tumultuous steps
announced that the assailants were mounting the staircase. Serdan ran to
the principal door of the parlor, closed and double barred it.
"Mademoiselle," he said hurrying back to the young lady and pointing to
her the issue through which he had just entered, "flee by that door--the
corridor leads to a concealed staircase."

Already the parlor door cracked under the repeated blows from without.
Bertha, seized with a sort of vertigo, followed Serdan mechanically; the
Abbot pushed the Marchioness before him, and disappeared after the two
women in the corridor. The hall was left empty.

The parlor door, attacked with heavy axes, was rent and dashed into
splinters, giving a passage to the butcher, who rushed in followed by
his band. The Frenchwomen had vanished, but he saw the little door
through which they escaped hurriedly closed. He ran forward to open it,
or break it down with his fists. It resisted his efforts. Not having had
time to bolt the little door from the inside, Nominoë had placed his
back against it, and held it closed with his feet firmly planted against
the side-walls. Finding himself unable to force his passage, the butcher
called out for a hatchet in order to break down the obstacle that now
barred his progress.

"We can do better!" exclaimed one of the assailants. "Let us discharge
our muskets against the door. The balls will pierce the wood and kill
the man. Death to the traitors! Death to the French!"

Three muskets were lowered and fired.

While these incidents were following one another with the rapidity of
thought, the fugitives had crossed the corridor and descended the steps
of a masked staircase that led to a little inside yard, which opened
upon a narrow lane, into which a number of dark and vaulted passages,
common in The Hague, ran out. Serdan, being long familiar with the
entrances to Monsieur Tilly's residence, and bent upon endeavoring to
snatch Mademoiselle Plouernel from the frightful peril that threatened
her, the means of escape offered by these devious passages, of which the
assailants knew nothing, occurred to him. Through the same secret
passages the servants of Monsieur Tilly's household now took flight.

"Monsieur," said Bertha to Salaun in a fainting voice, "I implore you,
acquaint me with the name of the man to whom I owe my life and honor!
Give me the name of my generous deliverer!"

"Nominoë Lebrenn, my son, a mariner of the port of Vannes as is his
father, mademoiselle."

At that moment the detonations of the shots, fired upon the door which
Nominoë defended, resounded through the narrow corridor which the
fugitives had just left. The reverberations were immediately followed by
the distant and expiring cry of the young mariner: "Adieu, father! Flee!
Flee!"

"Unhappy boy! They have killed him!" cried Salaun Lebrenn in a
heartrending voice. "They have killed my dear Nominoë!"

Leaving Mademoiselle Plouernel to the care of Serdan, who just returned
after exploring the lane, Salaun Lebrenn re-ascended the flight of
stairs and ran to his son's aid.

"Come! Come, mademoiselle," said Serdan. "The lane is deserted. Night is
upon us. I answer for your safety the moment we have entered the first
vaulted passage."

Mademoiselle Plouernel did not seem to hear the words of her guide. She
stood motionless; her eyes roamed about bewildered; she murmured to
herself: "I am the cause of his death. They killed him! They killed my
liberator! Woe is me!"

"Make haste, madam; cross the yard, then the alley and enter into the
first passage to your right; then wait for me there," said Serdan to the
Marchioness and the Abbot, whose terror inspired them with the strength
to follow Serdan's instructions.

Serdan himself speedily joined them, sustaining, in fact carrying
Mademoiselle Plouernel, who had lost consciousness.

As Salaun Lebrenn was rushing to the assistance of his son, he ran in
the corridor against the butcher. "Wretch! You killed my son!" he cried;
and seizing the tall fellow by the throat threw him down. The two men
struggled on the floor. The obstruction of the narrow passage by the two
combatants impeded the advance of the butcher's companions. That instant
a ruddy glow projected itself into the corridor. It was the first
flickering flames of the conflagration that the men who remained in the
parlor had started. Salaun Lebrenn leaped up; the butcher, finding
himself free, fled back through the parlor, before escape from the fire
were too late. The Breton discovered his son lying prone and bathed in
his own blood. He took him on his shoulder, hastened to the masked
staircase, to the yard, to the alley, and, only then considering himself
safe, laid down his precious burden, ignorant as yet whether his son
lived or was dead. God be praised! Salaun Lebrenn felt the heart of
Nominoë beat.

Mademoiselle Plouernel having returned to consciousness, she could be
supported by Serdan to a carriage, and conveyed, together with the
Marchioness and the Abbot, to the port of Delft. Before leaving The
Hague the young girl had at least the consolation to know that, although
serious, the wounds received by Nominoë were not mortal. The guide to
whom Serdan entrusted the three fugitives inquired, upon his arrival in
Delft, after any outgoing vessel. A captain of Hamburg, a neutral city
whose merchant vessels had, consequently, nothing to fear from the
French, the English or the Dutch squadrons, agreed to convey the three
passengers to Havre-de-Grace. That same day the vessel set sail for
France, where it calculated to arrive safely after a short passage.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the same day of the double murder of the De Witts the Assembly of the
States of Holland despatched a courier to the young Prince of Orange,
then encamped with his army at Alpen on the banks of the Rhine, between
Leyden and Woerden. The courier arrived as the Prince was about to sit
down to table. He opened one of the two despatches brought to him, read
it and said: "Gentlemen, I have good news to announce to the friends of
Fagel, who is greatly endeared to me. He was appointed yesterday Grand
Pensionary of Holland in consequence of the resignation of John De Witt.
Let us drink to the health of Grand Pensionary Fagel."

The Prince thereupon opened the second despatch and read it. His face
remained impassive; not the least emotion did his features betray. He
refolded the despatch, and sitting down where the cover was laid for
him, remarked: "I learn that both De Witts were yesterday massacred at
The Hague by the populace. May God pardon them, if it is true that they
betrayed the fatherland!" And turning to his chaplain, the Prince added
with unction: "You will order prayers to be read for the repose of the
souls of the two De Witts. May God be merciful unto them!"

       *       *       *       *       *

These were the only words that the young Prince vouchsafed to the memory
of Cornelius and John De Witt.



PART II.

BRITTANY.



CHAPTER I.

NOMINOE.


The burg of Mezlean, situated on the coast of Brittany and at about
equal distances from the port of Vannes and from the druid stones of
Karnak, was inhabited mainly by Protestant families. Their ancestors, at
the time when the Reformation invaded and spread over Brittany, and
subsequently during the religious wars of the Sixteenth Century, had
quitted Vannes and founded, so to speak, this burg, in which they raised
a temple. This temple, destroyed in the reactionary days of the League,
of which lower Brittany was the last hot-bed, was replaced by a Catholic
church, and was later again rebuilt after the promulgation of the Edict
of Nantes by Henry IV. Upon that event, and for a long time after, the
reformers of Mezlean were not disturbed in the exercise of their faith.
The revival of the spirit of intolerance, however, which later caused
the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV, speedily manifested
itself in Brittany also, and the Bishop of Vannes claimed the right of
restoring the temple of Mezlean to the Catholic cult. In pursuit of the
Bishop's designs, a thousand difficulties were thrown in the path of,
and a thousand vexations inflicted upon, the Protestants of the burg.
The rectors and curates of the neighboring Catholic parishes took the
hint, and rekindled religious animosities among their flocks by pointing
at their neighbors of Mezlean as stiff-necked heretics.

One day, towards the end of the month of May, in the year 1673, the burg
of Mezlean was, since early dawn, in great bustle over the preparations
for a wedding. The curious blocked the neighborhood of the shop of
Paskou the Long, so nicknamed for his thinness and tall stature. Paskou
the Long was a tailor by trade, besides being renowned for miles around
as a poet. His songs and plaintive love ditties caused him always to be
chosen for the function of "Baz-valan," or messenger of love, to the
girls of the place. Thanks to his good-heartedness, his witty sallies
and his irresistible humor, Paskou the Long was greatly beloved by the
people of Mezlean. The man's personal qualities, coupled with his poetic
talents, rendered him a matchless "Baz-valan." When, mounted upon a
white horse with braided mane gaily decked in ribbons, Paskou the Long
departed to negotiate some marriage, holding in his hands the symbolic
twig of broom in bloom, the emblem of love and unity, the lover was
almost certain to see the "Baz-valan" return the bearer of happy
tidings, unless, on his outward trip, he encountered a magpie, or saw a
crow perched upon a tree--sinister auguries that would cause Paskou the
Long to turn back his horse's head. If, on the contrary, a turtle dove,
nestled among the leaves, cooed on the passage of the messenger of love,
the Baz-valan felt certain of the success of his mission. It was a
treat to hear him sing the praises of his client, set into relief the
good points of the swain's personal appearance, laud his character,
enumerate the cattle in his stables, the bushels of garnered wheat in
his granary, readily and gaily meet the objections of the parents of the
_demanded girl_, in short, exhibit his matchless skill at cheering the
most morose, or at proving to the most incredulous that his client would
be the Phoenix of all husbands.

On that particular day, the curious of the burg of Mezlean thronged
around the door of Paskou the Long's house, which was contiguous to an
inn, the yard and outlying stables of which were crowded with wagons
hitched to the oxen or horses of the peasants who were to join the
nuptial procession charged with fetching the bride from her paternal
house, about a league away. The bridegroom, Nominoë Lebrenn, and his
father, Salaun Lebrenn, were in an upper chamber of Paskou the Long's
house. Nominoë seemed to be a prey to some secret anxiety. His pale and
haggard face bore the stamp of concentrated grief. Seated near a table
with his elbow resting upon it, he reclined his care-worn forehead upon
his hand. Standing beside his son, Salaun contemplated him with
amazement, and said to him considerately: "Verily, my son, I can hardly
believe that I heard you rightly. What! our relatives, our friends, all
assembled in the neighboring house, are waiting to join you in the
procession to your cousin Tina's house, and to bring her to Mezlean
where your wedding is to be celebrated in the temple--and all of a
sudden, without any reason therefor, you appear to waver before this
marriage that has been decided and agreed upon for so long a time!"

"Father," answered Nominoë with an effort, "I am not irrevocably engaged
until the Baz-valan has gone and taken my betrothed from her house--not
until after that last ceremony has been performed, is it forbidden to me
unless I am ready to be taken for a faithless man, heartless and without
honor, to retract my word."

Salaun listened to his son with increased amazement and replied: "Am I
awake, or am I dreaming? Is not this union, so much desired by your
mother's brother and me, and planned, I may say, since your and Tina's
birth--is it not also the constant aspiration of you two? Did you not
exchange rings shortly after our voyage to The Hague? Finally, was it
not in concert with your uncle, his daughter and yourself, that
recently, upon our return from our cruise along the coasts of Saintonge
and Guyenne, the day for your marriage was fixed? And, now, you mean to
pretend that, in the absence of an insignificant formality, you would
still be free to break an engagement that you voluntarily accepted and
remained true to for so many years! I seek in vain for the cause of this
change, an inconceivable change, a change that is so unexpected!"

Nominoë answered without raising his eyes to his father: "I was weak; I
failed in sincerity; but, I still can draw back before a fatal final
step. Brought up with Tina, habituated to see in her the future
companion of my life, I believed I loved her. I mistook for that
sentiment the fraternal affection that I entertained for her since
childhood. But little by little the truth dawned upon my heart, and I
discovered that Tina was not and never could be aught to me but a
sister. Unfortunately I did not have the courage to destroy the poor
girl's illusion. I recoiled before the thought of the grief that the
rupture of this alliance between our two families would cause you and my
uncle. I admit it--I recoiled before the declaration that, however
tardily, I now feel forced to make, at last. Now, when the hour is
approached in which I was to unite my fate with Tina's, I interrogate
myself with the inexorable severity of a judge, and I declare to you,
father, that I fear, were I to marry Tina, I could not render her as
happy as she deserves to be. Finally, there is another grave reason for
my decision not to contract this union: At any moment now, the
insurrection, that has so long been brewing in Brittany, may break out
with fury. I hold it would be an act of imprudence on my part to wed
Tina on the eve of a civil war, in which I may be killed. Looked at from
any side we choose, it is preferable that the wedding do not take
place."

The face of Salaun Lebrenn grew sadder and more serious. His son's
embarrassment, and the weakness of the reasons that he adduced to
justify his sudden change, clearly betrayed the fact that the young man
was but beating about for pretexts for a rupture, the real reason for
which he sought to conceal.

"My son," replied Salaun in a firm and grave tone, "this is the first
time in your life, I think, that you have lowered yourself before me by
resorting to a ruse, to equivocation, and even to untruth! You dare not
look me in the face, and you stammer out your pretended reasons for a
rupture that you feel ashamed of!"

And the father, taking pity upon his son's prostration, softened the
severity of his tone by adding: "Nominoë, I shall now address myself to
your loyalty of heart. I wish to believe, I do believe that your
scruples, so tardily expressed, are sincere. You fear you may not render
Tina as happy as the good girl deserves. You fear to plunge her into
mortal anxiety for your life, perhaps into the mourning of widowhood,
should the insurrection of Brittany break out to-morrow. To all that my
answer is: You would have to be a man of selfish heart before I could
believe you capable of rendering unhappy a creature who loves you with
all her heart and soul. But you are what you are. Now, then, I swear to
God, whatever the nature may be of your affection for your wife, she
will have nothing for which to envy the happiest of wives. My conviction
on that head is complete, absolute. Do you imagine that, if I believed
otherwise, I would fail to be the first to wish, in fact, to order you,
however late the hour, to break off the match? No, no, my son, I have
more confidence in you than you seem to have in yourself. There, then,
remains this one objection--the imminence of an uprising in which we
would take part, and, consequently, Tina's anxiety for your safety. As
to that, you are right, my son; your apprehensions are well founded; but
the sorrows that you foresee for your bride are not pressing, while, on
the other hand, I see a certain sentence of death for the poor girl in
your refusal to marry her."

"Great God!" exclaimed Nominoë with a shudder, unable to prevent himself
from sharing his father's fears.

"Listen to me. At this very hour that I am speaking to you, Tina,
surrounded by her girl companions, her head decked with the bridal
ribbons, is awaiting you from minute to minute, with her eyes upon the
Mezlean road, her heart beating with joy and tender impatience. Instead
of the nuptial procession, preceded by the radiant Baz-valan holding in
his hand the twig of broom in bloom, she is to see him from a distance
on the road, coming to her sad, alone and with the twig broken. The poor
girl will understand the symbol, the ruin of her hopes. She will feel
herself deserted, considered by you unworthy of being your wife. She
will not complain. Not a single reproach will escape her lips. She will
even endeavor to appease her father's indignation. She will say to him:
'Nominoë is master of his own heart; he has loved me; he loves me no
more; I was his promised wife, but am not to be his wedded wife. What
did I do to be deserted? I know not, and am resigned. May he be happy.
As children we were put to sleep in the same cradle. He always was the
friend of my youth. My only wish is that he may be happy. It is my last
wish!' And as she utters these words," Salaun proceeded to say in a
shaken voice, "tears will wet the pale and sweet countenance of Tina. In
silence the poor girl will untie her bridal ribbons, will put off her
wedding robes, and returning to her household work, will resume her
distaff--all without expressing one bitter word. She will suffer
without complaining. The period of her sufferings will be more or less
prolonged, and then," added Salaun, tears beginning to interfere with
his speech, "and then, at the end of this month, perhaps before the end
of this week, the people of the burg of Mezlean will say: 'You know
little Tina, the daughter of Tankeru the blacksmith? Well, she died!'"

At these last words, pronounced by Salaun with poignant simplicity,
Nominoë could no longer hold back his tears. The natural kindness of his
heart triumphed over his indecision, and he cried:

"Oh, father! You are right. My desertion of her would cause Tina's
death! I shall not be guilty of the murder. You shall live, dear child!
You shall live! Hap what hap may, I shall make you happy. Let my destiny
be fulfilled!"

"And you also will be happy!" replied Salaun with joy, as he took his
son in his arms. "Come, dear boy! My insistence is the presentiment of
the bliss that awaits you two. You are worthy the one of the other. You
will both be happy, dear children!"

Saying this, Salaun ran to the door that opened upon the staircase of
the tailor's shop, opened it and called down from the banister: "To
horse, Paskou the Long! To horse, joyful Baz-valan! Call our relatives
and friends! Worthy herald of nuptial ceremonies, take your gay sprig of
broom in bloom, and to horse!"

"It is done!" said Nominoë to himself while his father was calling to
the Baz-valan. "Adieu, insane hopes! Adieu, deceitful, senseless
visions, yet so dear to my heart! Adieu, gilded dream, a dream as
distant from reality as heaven is from the pit! This morning, when I
learned of the arrival of Mademoiselle Plouernel at Mezlean, I intended
to break off this match. Poor fool! Return to your senses, to earth!
Your marriage will put an end to the visions that led your mind astray!"

"Let us depart, my son! Make haste! Poor Tina must have begun to feel
uneasy," observed Salaun to his son. "All our relatives and friends are
waiting for us. Quick, to horse!"

A moment later the nuptial procession, headed by the Baz-valan and
Nominoë, left the burg of Mezlean and took the road to the house of
Tankeru the blacksmith, the father of Tina, the bride.



CHAPTER II.

A BRETON WEDDING.


Tankeru was both blacksmith and wheelwright. After having long resided
at Vannes with his mother and daughter, he moved with them and settled
down in an isolated house situated about a league outside of Mezlean in
a hollow, at the crossing of two roads one of which skirted the forest
of Mezlean. Several reasons had combined to determine Tankeru's choice
of the lonesome locality. The first was that the house stood at the foot
of two bluffs which rose over a granite soil, rough, rocky and uneven,
where the horses and oxen that drew the heavy wagons over the road could
not choose but lose some nails of their shoes as they climbed the steep
ascent; the blacksmith would be on the spot ready to repair the damage.
In the second place, Tankeru counted upon indulging in the hunt in the
forest of Mezlean, a sport to which he was passionately addicted. In the
teeth of all the punishments decreed against illegal hunting--the
prison, the whipping post, the galley, even the gallows--Tankeru gave a
loose to his controlling passion in full security of conscience,
claiming that the wandering beasts of the forests belonged to the best
marksman, and that, moreover, it was a good office to keep down the
number of wild beasts. Game belongs to all--to the villein as to the
nobleman.

On this day there was great animation in Tankeru's home. His smithy and
wheelwright shop were full of relatives, friends and vassals of the
neighborhood--a pale and haggard crowd, pinched by privation, all
dressed in their best rags, and, for a moment, oblivious of their misery
as they came to rejoice over the wedding of Tina and Nominoë. They
emptied the pots of cider, ate the bacon from the salt-tub, and the
cakes of black bread. The daughters and wives of the invited guests,
congregated in the upstairs room of the house, were lending a hand in
the last touches of the bride's toilet. Tankeru was a man of about forty
years of age, of an open and resolute face, tall of stature, and endowed
with an athletic strength that often won for him the prize in the
wrestling matches at the rustic festivals. The host was fulfilling at
his best the duties of hospitality.

"Friends," said the blacksmith, "let us empty the barrel, the salt-tub
and the bread-bin. Whatever is eaten and drunk escapes the clutches of
the King's men, the seigneurs and the clergy!" And Tankeru added
sardonically: "Fire and flames! The devil take the armed troopers and
the tonsured gentry! Comrades, we are honest folks, may Satan take the
Pope!"

"If we are honest folks, Tankeru, we are also poor folks!" replied a
white-haired peasant. "Very poor folks! The royal taxes, the seigniorial
imposts, the tithes of the church are ever on the increase--and still I
hear rumors of fresh taxes. Why, they took almost everything away from
us. If they take still more, what will be left to us?"

"Why, our skin will be left to us--and who knows but they may want that
also to turn it into hose for themselves!" put in Tankeru. "Listen, by
force of forging, shoeing, mending wagons and saving from my daily bread
for twenty years and more, I laid by a little sum for my daughter's
dower. In less than twenty months three-fourths of the sum has passed
into the bag of the tax collectors. Fire and flames! We are honest
folks! Let us empty the barrel, the salt-tub and the bread-bin! What has
been drunk and eaten is not seized! The devil take the tonsured
fraternity and the troopers!"

"Tankeru, you are always saying--'We are honest folks,'" again put in
the old peasant. "You mean by that, I suppose, that we are a lot of
fools to allow ourselves to be plucked to the quick. But what would you
have us do, otherwise than repeat with you--'The devil take the troopers
and the tonsured fraternity!'"

Tankeru's eyes fell upon a yoke used for oxen. Its nails had fallen out,
and it stood against the wall. He took it up, showed it to the vassals,
broke it over his knees, and throwing the pieces at his feet said: "The
devil take the tonsured fraternity and the troopers! That's what's to be
done!"

These short words, together with the energetic expression of the
blacksmith's countenance, produced upon the vassals an instantaneous
effect. They all rose simultaneously, clenched their fists
threateningly, and some of them stamped angrily with their heels upon
the fragments of the yoke that Tankeru had broken. Desirous that his
guests remain under the sway of the thoughts that the incident had
awakened in their minds, Tankeru said to them:

"I am going upstairs to see whether my daughter is ready with her
toilet. It will not be long before her bridegroom will be here."

Tina, the betrothed of Nominoë, surrounded with her friends and
relatives who joined her grandmother in prinking up the girl, was seated
in their midst in the old dame's bedroom. It would be hard to depict to
oneself a more charming and dainty girl than "Little Tina," as she was
commonly called by her companions. Her blonde hair shone like gold in
the sun; her eyes, bluer than the cornflower, reflected the sweetness of
her angelic disposition. Everything breathed gladness around her, and
yet her delicate features, full of candor and grace, were expressive of
profound sadness. Alas! Her moist eyes, piercing the glass in the leaden
frame of the narrow window in the room, wandered far away, vainly
expecting for a long time to see the nuptial procession at the head of
which her betrothed was to appear. Tina's friends exchanged a few words
in a low voice, while the grandmother held in her hands the nuptial
ribbons--white, signifying the innocence of the bride; red, her beauty;
and black, her sorrow at leaving her family. As the grandmother was
about to tie the symbolic bunting on Tina's head, the girl emerged from
her revery, took the knot of ribbons in her hand, gazed upon it in
silence, and pointing with her finger to the black, said with a
heartrending sigh:

"Grandma, this should be the only color of my nuptial ribbons--black,
like the wings of a crow."

"Still harping on the memory of that presage of evil!" said the
grandmother in a voice of affectionate reproach. "To entertain such sad
thoughts on such a beautiful day is to offend God."

"It is to listen to God, grandma! In His goodness He sends us omens in
order to prepare us for misfortune," answered Tina pensively. "Early
this morning I stood at the window. The sun had hardly risen, but
already my eyes wandered in the direction of Mezlean. From that quarter
I saw flying towards me, with wings outstretched--a crow. He flew over
my head and circled over our house emitting his lugubrious screech. A
little turtle dove, nestled among the leaves of the large apple tree
that shades our well, was at the time cooing its song of love and
tenderness. The moment she heard the cawing of the crow she hid herself
from sight among the foliage. The crow detected and pounced down upon
her. In her attempt to escape she fluttered about, and happening to
stumble near the edge of the well, fell in and was drowned," Tina mused
aloud to herself. "God sends us omens to prepare us for misfortune!
Black should be the only color of my nuptial ribbons, grandma! Only
black! Nominoë does not come. The hour has passed--he will not come."

The belief in omens was so general in Brittany that, however singular or
unreasonable in appearance, Tina's persistency in her presentiments
impressed her companions. Nevertheless, Janik, the dearest of her
friends, sought to reassure the bride and said, forcing a smile upon her
own lips:

"That you should take the sweet little turtle dove to personify
yourself, I agree to, little Tina; but to see your betrothed, Nominoë,
so handsome, so good and so enamoured a youth--aye, to see him in that
ugly and wicked crow--fie, little Tina, fie! How can such a thought
occur to you!"

"Janik is right," put in the grandmother. "Your cousin has loved you
since your childhood. You have been long betrothed. As late as yesterday
he was here. Did he not say, as he was taking leave: 'Till to-morrow, my
sweet Tina. Fools are they who are often seen to look for happiness at a
distance when they can have it near at hand. Happiness to me consists in
joining my fate to yours. Till to-morrow, my sweet Tina!' And after such
words, you foolish child, and simply on account of a delay of perhaps an
hour in the arrival of the nuptial procession, you begin to have evil
dreams and to talk to us of black ribbons, crows and birds of death!
Come, cast off such mournful thoughts!"

"In the crow I see bad luck, grandma," persisted Tina, more and more
absorbed in her sad presentiments, and her eyes ever resting on the
desert road of Mezlean. "I see in the crow the bad luck that threatens,
and perhaps is to punish me."

"Punish you!" replied the grandmother no less surprised than the
bride's companions. "What harm have you ever done to anybody, dear,
innocent creature, as pure and innocent as a dove?"

"I had the vanity and pride of imagining myself beloved of Nominoë.
Alas! I know it; I am his own cousin; often did we sleep together, as
children, in the same cradle; but I am only a poor, ignorant girl, while
Nominoë is clever and cultured like a clerk. He has traveled and seen
distant countries. He and my uncle Salaun Lebrenn are the best mariners
of Vannes. They own their own vessel. They are rich, compared to my
father, who only has his forge and a few gold coins that he deprived
himself of for my sake." Tina paused and then proceeded in a tone of
bitter self-reproach: "Oh, what I have just said is not right--it is a
wrong to Nominoë. He desert me out of avarice! No! no! His heart is too
generous for that. Seeing how much I loved him, he took pity upon me. He
feared to grieve me if he did not love me. He is so good! Yes, last
night, as he thought of his coming here to-day to take me for his wife,
he must have realized that he loved me only out of compassion. That is
the reason of his absence!"

"Nominoë to put such an affront upon you! upon your father! upon your
family!" cried the grandmother interrupting Tina. "My child, you are
losing your senses! What nonsense, to imagine such cruel things simply
because your bridegroom is a little late in coming! Return to your
senses!"

"Why," remarked Janik, "I can easily guess the reason of his delay. It
must be the fault of the Baz-valan. That Paskou the Long, the longest
and most talkative of all tailors that I have ever seen, must have had
the notion of composing a new song in honor of your wedding, and he is
trying to commit it to memory. That is the reason of the delay. But they
must now be on the way."

Suddenly Tina, who, unmindful of the consoling words with which her
grandmother and friends strove to allay her fears, did not remove her
fixed and moist eyes from the deserted Mezlean road--suddenly Tina
seemed electrified; she rose, uttered a slight cry of joy, and,
transfigured and radiant, stretched out both her arms towards an object
in the distance. The shock of joy, the sudden revulsion from despair,
caused her to turn pale and stagger. She leaned upon her grandmother,
embraced her effusively, and muttered in a voice that gladness seemed to
choke: "Nominoë is coming! There he is now! There he comes!"

The bride's friends crowded to the window. At a distance they saw the
front ranks of the nuptial procession descending the slope of the
highway, preceded by the Baz-valan, who bestrode his little white horse
and held aloft the sprig of broom in blossom. Tankeru entered at that
moment, announcing gaily:

"Attention! There comes the procession! Are you ready, my little
daughter? What! Your nuptial ribbons are not yet tied in your hair!"

Only at that moment did the blacksmith notice the pallor of Tina's face,
and the traces of recent tears in her eyes. Turning to the grandmother,
uneasy and even alarmed, he inquired: "Mother! What has happened? The
girl has been weeping. She weeps--and on such a day as this! What is the
cause of her grief?"

"Good father!" answered Tina to whose plump and chaste cheeks the roses
were rapidly returning, "I was crazy! A sad presage oppressed me this
morning, despite myself. The procession was delayed so long in coming--I
thought Nominoë had deserted me!"

"Fire and flames!" cried the blacksmith, his face assuming an ominous
appearance. "Such an outrage!" But immediately interrupting himself he
addressed his daughter in a tone of affectionate reproof: "It is you,
dear child, who, surely without intending it, wronged Nominoë and his
father, the husband of your mother's sister, in believing them capable
of breaking faith."

"Friend Tankeru, they are waiting for you!" said one of the peasants,
stepping into the room. "The Baz-valan has alighted. He has knocked
twice at the house door. Cousin Madok, in his capacity of 'Brotaer,' is
going to answer the summons of Paskou the Long. The one is as pert as
the other. The answer will match the demand."

"Quick, quick, little Tina!" said the grandmother. "Let me adjust the
ribbons in your hair. The Brotaer will call for you in a minute. Come!
Make haste! We must be ready when called!"

"Oh! Grandma," said Tina, bending to her grandmother her virginal
forehead, "the Brotaer will not have to call me twice!" And radiant with
joy and pink with agitation, she raised to heaven her limpid eyes, that
a moment before were veiled in sadness, but now shone sweetly, like a
cornflower glistening in the morning dew.

When the nuptial procession was near the house of the bride it stopped.
The guests alighted from their rustic wagons and formed a circle. Paskou
the Long leaped to the ground, entrusted his mount to one of his
apprentices who officiated as a page, and holding in his hand his fresh
sprig of broom, and swaying his long body with the conscious importance
of a personage upon whom all eyes are centered, the Baz-valan stepped
alone to the house door, which was kept closed, and knocked. The door
opened; a relative of Tankeru, a miller named Madok, a pert and jolly
fellow, appeared at the threshold. He was to fill the office of
"Brotaer," or god-father to the bride, and meet and answer the
Baz-valan, the bridegroom's messenger. Paskou the Long began his
oration, modulating his voice to a slow rythm, that imparted to his
sentences the sound of a measured recitative:

"In the name of the Lord God--peace to this house, and blessings upon
its roof-tree--and greater bliss than I enjoy on earth."

"What is the matter with you, friend?" mischievously interrupted Madok
the Brotaer. "Why should not your heart be glad--the heart of one who
causes others to laugh so much--to laugh at your long neck and your long
legs, and your long arms! Paskou the Long, my friend, what is the grief
that you nurse at your heart?"

"Tut! Tut! Tut! my friend Madok," the Baz-valan replied, "very long are
my legs; still, they do not prevent the King's men from catching me,
from grabbing me by the neck and saying: 'Pay! pay! pay!--pay over
again! pay all the time!' Very long are my arms, but the arms of the
bailiff of our seigneur, and of the tithes-collector of the curate are
longer still! They are so long that they can reach down to the very
bottom of my pockets, even if they were as bottomless as the wells of
Melusine! Quite long is my neck--and yet, Monseigneur the Governor of
Brittany could stretch it out still longer--aye, my poor long neck! That
is the reason, my friend, why I am not among the most gladsome of
earth."

"Oh! how true is the proverb--how squarely the proverb hits the nail
upon the head when it says: It takes nine tailors to make one man. The
proverb is applicable to you," replied Madok.

"It takes just as many asses to make one miller, friend Brotaer--or, I
should rather say, Seigneur Windmill!" returned Paskou the Long. "Go to,
and grind your grain!"

"Well answered, Seigneur of the Needle and Thread!" said Madok. "And
yet, I repeat it--what a poor, inconsequential one-ninth of a man you
are! There you are, whimpering and all in a fright as you speak of
monseigneur, of monseigneur our Governor. Aye, your long face frowns and
becomes still longer. And yet, just tell me, when you start to speak of
a good fat pig, good and fat, a pig with such a belly that he can hardly
move his body, so club-cheeked that one can no longer see his little
peepers, hidden under three folds of fat--tell me, is it not true that
then your long face grows longer still--so much do you rejoice, so
brimful of admiration are you when you speak of such a fat and
incomparable pig? How comes it, then, my friend, that you do not
likewise rejoice when you speak of monseigneur--of monseigneur our
Governor? Answer my question."

The wedding guests received with loud outbursts of laughter the allusion
of Madok the miller to the enormous obesity of Monseigneur the Duke of
Chaulnes, the Governor of Brittany, whom the people nicknamed the Fat
Pig, and whom all classes execrated on account of his severity, his
haughtiness and his merciless exactions. Paskou the Long waited until
the hilarity of the audience subsided, and then proceeded:

"Certes, friend Brotaer, I rejoice greatly at the thought of a big and
honest pig--provided his profitable body is intended for the salt-tub.
But, Lord, when I think of a huge boar, wicked and unprofitable, who
fattens, pastures and wallows upon and in my own meager pittance, in
return for which the gormandizer grunts, steps upon my feet, turns me
black and blue butting against me, and bites me--is it at all
astonishing if then my long face should grow still longer and look sad?
But that is not the cause of my grief."

"What may be the cause of your grief? Speak! Let me know it, friend
Baz-valan," demanded the Brotaer.

Instead of answering the Brotaer's question, Paskou the Long replied: "I
had in my dovecote a beautiful pigeon--its plumage turned to all
imaginable colors. I also had a little white dove, the constant love of
my handsome pigeon. But, alas! my dove flew away--she flew away from my
dovecote. Did you, perhaps, see her around here?"

"No, my friend; I have not seen your dove. I do not care for such small
birds. A fine hen suits me better."

"But some neighbors informed me that she alighted in your yard. I
entreat you, friend, go in and inquire after my little dove. If I do not
find her, I assure you my poor pigeon will die of sadness in my
dovecote."

"In order to satisfy you, friend, I shall inquire after your dove."

Saying these words, the Brotaer went back into the bride's house, closed
the door after him, and reopened it after a short interval holding in
his hand and leading out a little girl of about five years. He presented
her to the Baz-valan and said:

"I went into my yard. I did not see your dove there, but I saw a large
number of fresh buds of eglantine. Here," pointing to the child, "is one
of them. She will gladden the eyes of your pigeon, and he will feel
consoled for his loss. I make you a present of the little bud, in the
place of your dove."

The Baz-valan embraced the child and answered: "Fresh and charming is
the little bud--but my pigeon is too sad--too sad is he over the loss of
his dove--too sad to forget her at the sight of a little flower, however
pretty it be. Go in again, my friend, and look and see if perhaps my
dove did not fly into your garret."

"Be satisfied--but as true as every time that he sets out--the good old
mother of the ferocious Marquis of Guerrand--rings, with tears and
shudderings--the alarm bell of the castle--to warn the vassals of the
Marquis to be on their guard against her merciless son--just so stubborn
are you in the search of your dove--as stubborn as the taxcollectors in
pursuit of the poor folks."

With these words Madok the Brotaer re-entered the house of the bride,
and speedily reappeared, leading by the hand a buxom matron of about
thirty years of age, saying: "I climbed into my garret. The tithes, the
taxes and the imposts extorted from us by the King, the castle and the
curate, leave nothing for us to glean but wisps after the harvest.
Nevertheless, in my garret did I find, escaped by accident from the
rapacity of the tax-gatherers, this beautiful ripe ear of tasteful and
golden wheat," and he pointed to the matron. "This beautiful ear of
wheat will console your pigeon, and he will cease to pine for his dove.
I give you my ripe ear of wheat to replace your dove. Take it with you."

"However tasteful, however golden they be, the grains of that beautiful
ripe ear will never tempt my pigeon. Alas, with the loss of his little
white dove he lost the taste for both eating and drinking. Friend,
friend, I entreat you, go down into your cellar. See if, perchance, my
white dove did not seek refuge there. Search in all the corners of your
cellar, you may find my white dove there."

"Be at your ease, but, by heaven! the men of the royal fisc, when they
pounce upon our poor houses, in pursuit of taxes and imposts, even they
are not skilful as you in rummaging a dwelling from the cellar to the
garret. I shall go look again, and see whether, by accident, your dove
has fled into my cellar."

For a third time Madok the Brotaer re-entered the bride's house, whence
he soon again emerged holding by the hand a very old and venerable
looking woman, and said: "Into my cellar I went; I did not see your dove
there. But I did find a good old fruit," pointing to the old
grandmother, "that was gathered long, very long ago. Despite its
wrinkles, however, it has preserved its taste and flavor. Good fruit
gains with time. I offer it to you for your pigeon."

"Certes, my friend, the wrinkles of good fruit do far from hurt its
quality. Always nourishing and wholesome, such fruit ever seems more
precious, and sweeter, when, winter having come, the summer fruits are
gone. But, alas! my pigeon cares not either for your good fruit, or for
your beautiful ear of ripe wheat, or for your fresh bud of eglantine.
Go, if you please, and sow your pearls before monseigneur our Governor.
What my pigeon wants is his own white dove. She is here; I know she is.
You only refuse to return her to me. I shall go in and look for her
myself. I must have my dear white dove, and I shall have her."

"Friend, I shall save you the trouble. Come with me, Baz-valan, come.
Your little dove is not lost. I kept her safe myself, for you. I kept
her in an ivory cage, a cage with bars of gold and silver. Yes, your
dove is here. She is here, gentle, beautiful, and decked quite gaily.
Your handsome pigeon need not die."

Saying this, the Brotaer opened the house door to the Baz-valan. The
latter beckoned to Nominoë to alight from his mount, took him by the
hand, and led him into the house of his bride, followed by his relatives
and friends. Tina soon appeared, led by the Brotaer and accompanied by
her father and grandmother. The first looks of the young girl were for
Nominoë; and he, seeing her so charming, above all so radiant with
happiness, no longer regretted having overpowered his reluctance to
contract the marriage. He thought to himself: "My father was right--my
refusal would have been death to her!" Beside Nominoë stood Salaun and
his brother Gildas Lebrenn, a vassal of the Count of Plouernel on the
farm of Karnak. The more distant relatives and friends ranked themselves
along the wall of the blacksmith's shop, leaving an empty space in the
middle in which the bride and bridegroom were placed by the Baz-valan
and the Brotaer. The faces of these two officials looked no less roguish
than jovial, yet serious and solemn. The touching expression on the face
of Paskou the Long caused his ridiculous thinness to be for a moment
lost sight of. Tankeru and Salaun each delivered a silver ring to the
Baz-valan, which he put upon the fingers of Nominoë and Tina. After this
ceremony the Brotaer said to them:

"On your knees, my children!"

The couple knelt down upon the bare floor, and the Brotaer proceeded:

"Exchange the rings given to you by the Baz-valan, in token of your
indissoluble alliance."

The bride and bridegroom exchanged rings, and the Brotaer added in a
grave voice:

"Nominoë Lebrenn, Tina Tankeru, do you swear to be joined on earth, the
one to the other as your finger to your ring?"

"Oh, I swear!" answered Tina with an expression of celestial bliss, and
she approached to her lips the ring which her bridegroom had temporarily
carried on his finger.

"I swear!" responded Nominoë.

At the moment of binding his life to his cousin's, Nominoë was
constrained to wrestle for a last time with his irresolution. Before
pronouncing the irrevocable oath he was silent for an instant. The
interval was imperceptible to all except Salaun Lebrenn. The father of
the bridegroom realized that, at that solemn moment, his son underwent a
supreme struggle with himself. His heart was gripped with pain.

"Tina Tankeru, Nominoë Lebrenn," resumed the Brotaer, "be you two for
evermore united, as the ring is to the finger. We live in evil days,
oppressed and harassed as we are by the men of the King, the seigneurs
and the clergy. Lean upon each other in your journey through these sad
times. May your children see better days. And now, let us proceed to the
temple. The Lord will bless those whom man has united. Let us all
proceed."

The ceremony being over, Paskou the Long took Nominoë's horse by the
bridle and led the animal to the door of the house. A lighter saddle,
provided behind the principal one, enabled the husband to take his wife
on the crupper of his mount. The two were considered married with the
exchange of rings. Nominoë leaped upon his horse. The Brotaer, in the
exercise of his office, raised Tina, light and supple as a child, in his
arms, and placed her behind her husband. The nuptial procession again
put itself in motion, now back to Mezlean, whither it was preceded by a
band of Armorican bag-pipers, playing lustily. Behind them came Paskou
the Long, cantering on his little white horse, and Madok the miller
astride of his ass. They were followed by Nominoë with little Tina
behind him--happy--Oh, as happy as one may think, at having her arms
around the waist of her well-beloved husband. Salaun Lebrenn and Tankeru
rode behind the married couple upon hired horses, while Gildas Lebrenn,
his wife, and all the other relatives and friends were seated in wagons
drawn by heavy Breton oxen. A large crowd of men, women and children on
foot brought up the rear.



CHAPTER III.

THE RED-COATS.


The nuptial procession wended its way slowly. All thought to themselves,
and freely expressed the view to their friends, that a better matched
couple could not be. She was sweet and charming, and he of a virile
bearing which was enhanced by his Breton costume--round hat with wide
brim; long black waistcoat and upper vest; wide, white, floating hose
that descended to the knees and were held around the waist by a broad
belt of scarlet serge; and grey cloth stockings, displaying Nominoë's
well-shaped calves, which were glued to the sides of his strong grey
horse. Tina, whose fresh and rosy countenance was framed in her coif
surmounted with her nuptial ribbons, wore a corsage of green cloth
embroidered with white thread and cut square over her linen gorgerette
which betrayed the coy pulsations of her virginal bosom, seeing that, in
order to keep her balance, one of her arms encircled Nominoë. The sweet
child had been silent since her departure from the paternal roof. Now
she spoke, and, blushing, said timidly to Nominoë:

"Nominoë--I have a confession to make to you--"

"A confession of what, dear Tina?" answered the young man
affectionately, turning his head to his wife in order to see her over
his shoulder.

But Tina, foreseeing the move, put in: "I beg you, do not look at me! If
you do I would not dare to say a word!"

"It shall be as you desire, sweet girl;" and smiling, he added: "What
can be that redoubtable secret that you fear to confess to my face?
Speak, my dear Tina; reveal your secret to me."

"A sad secret--that I am ashamed of, very much ashamed. I pray to God
you may pardon me for it. I have been very guilty."

Tina's voice was so moved as she spoke these words, that Nominoë was
surprised, and involuntarily moved in his saddle in order to turn around
to his wife. But once more she stopped him, saying:

"I entreat you, do not look at me," and she proceeded after a short
pause: "I am your wife--you must not be ignorant of any of my thoughts,
be they good or bad. No! nothing must remain hidden from my husband."

"A bad thought in your mind, you angelic creature! That is impossible.
You surely exaggerate some trifle, my dear Tina."

"And yet it is so, Nominoë. I doubted you--I doubted your love."

"And why? And when was that?"

"This morning, seeing you delayed in arriving, I said to myself:
'Nominoë does not want me for his wife'--'Nominoë does not love me'--"

And noticing that an involuntary shudder ran over the young man's frame,
Tina interjected, almost alarmed:

"Do you feel hurt at my mistrust? I knew you would! I deserve your
reproof. That is the very reason that I accuse myself. I prefer to be
blamed by you, rather than to conceal aught from my husband. May the
sincerity of my confession earn your pardon for me."

The young man remained silent, surprised and struck by the correctness
of Tina's presentiment. To himself he thought: "What a fatality hovers
over this marriage! My union is consecrated before man, it will shortly
be before God. Let me at least reassure the poor child."

Nominoë was about to answer his young wife when an unexpected incident
suddenly changed the course of his thoughts. His attention being at
first turned to Tina's words, and being immediately afterwards absorbed
in his own meditations, Nominoë had not noticed the approach of a
detachment of soldiers that seemed to be hastening to meet the nuptial
procession. Suddenly the captain of the troop waved to the peasants to
stop.

"Fire and flames! Let us face these red-coats!" said Tankeru to Salaun.

"We are unarmed, and we have women and children with us," answered
Salaun. "No imprudence--let us wait till the hour shall have come. I
shall ride forward and ascertain what these soldiers want."

"Father," said Nominoë overhearing Salaun's words, "I shall accompany
you. You must not go alone."

"You forget that you have your wife on your crupper. Both of you remain
near Tankeru," answered Salaun, and making his horse jump forward, he
rode towards the soldiers.

Paskou the Long and Madok the miller, the one in his capacity of
Baz-valan, the other of Brotaer, both official representatives of the
wedding, joined Salaun Lebrenn. The three trotted briskly towards the
armed force in order to ascertain the reason for the hold-up.

The King's soldiers, fifteen in number and commanded by a sergeant,
belonged to the Crown Regiment, and wore the red uniform. The sergeant
in command of the detachment had an assumed military name. He called
himself La Montagne. He was an athletic man, tall of stature and in the
prime of life. His uniform consisted of a scarlet coat embroidered with
alternate blue and silver threads. His hose, his stockings and the
lining of his cloak were blue and of the color of his shoulder knot. His
sword hung from a white baldric that matched the cockade in his
three-cornered hat, which was surmounted by red and blue feathers,
gallooned in silver, and challengingly tipped on his hair which,
agreeable to the new military regulation, was dressed in the fashion
called _cadenette_. His hair was curled on his temples, and was twisted
behind his neck in a thick queue, tied with a leather thong. The face of
the weather-beaten soldier--clean shaven, except for his moustache, and
furrowed by a deep scar--bore the stamp of hardihood, daring and
insolence. In his hand he carried a long cane with an ivory head. His
soldiers, clad in a uniform like his own, except that a simple galloon
of white wool ornamented their coats and hats, were armed with a new
pattern of guns that replaced the old muskets. A triangular and pointed
blade of steel, resembling the long poniards used by the people of
Bayonne, and therefore called a _bayonet_, was attached to the muzzle of
these guns.

A drummer and a man clad in a blouse, who carried on his back a ball of
rope and in his hand a bell which he rang when the drum beat, preceded
the troop. The sergeant marched at its head; behind him came two men
clad in black. One was the bailiff of the Seigneur of Plouernel and
Mezlean, the other the usher of the fisc. Salaun Lebrenn, the Baz-valan
and the Brotaer, the last mounted on his ass, and his two companions on
their horses, reined in a few paces from the detachment. Obedient to the
suggestion of Salaun, and anxious to avoid a collision, all three
alighted, and approached the sergeant, holding their mounts by the
bridle. The soldiers had halted upon the command of their chief, and,
drawn up in a semi-circle, they leaned upon the barrels of their guns.

"Messieurs," said Salaun courteously, "we are peaceful people; we are
celebrating a wedding; I am the father of the bride; our company
consists of our relatives and friends."

"And I," put in Paskou the Long with an air of importance, "I am the
Baz-valan of the wedding, the master of ceremonies."

"And I," added Madok the miller without lowering his eyes before the
piercing looks of the sergeant, "I am the Brotaer. You ordered our
procession to stop--it obeyed--what do you want? Speak. We shall be
pleased to accommodate you."

"By God's death! Here is a pack of inquisitive rustics!" observed
Sergeant La Montagne to the bailiff and the usher, after measuring
Salaun, Paskou the Long and Madok the miller with his eyes.

And addressing his two acolytes over his shoulder, La Montagne added,
pointing with the tip of his cane at those whom he was referring to:
"Are not these the ragamuffins whom you are looking for?"

"No," answered the bailiff and the usher. "The delinquents, whom we are
after, are among the other people of the wedding."

"Soldiers, load your guns--and fire upon the woolen caps if they but
budge!" ordered the sergeant. "Drummer, beat the march, and forward!
Soldiers, fire upon these peasants at the slightest resistance!"

"And you, ring the bell--and forward!" said the usher to his subaltern.
"The bell is to the civilian what the drum is to the military. Forward,
and ring loud, so that those ragamuffins may hear you, and be notified
of our approach."

Grieved and alarmed at seeing their pacific intervention so rudely
brushed aside, the three Bretons exchanged a few words in a low voice,
and when the troop was about to resume its march, Salaun Lebrenn
addressed the sergeant, the bailiff and the usher in carefully measured
words: "Messieurs, I do not know the purpose of your coming here. But
be your purpose whatever it may, I entreat you to postpone until after
the marriage ceremony the measures that you intend to take. Do not alarm
and throw our relatives, friends, wives and children into a fright. Are
you in quest of any one? I give you my word of honor that no one will
attempt to escape. I invite you to escort us back to the burg of
Mezlean--"

Salaun Lebrenn broke off. He noticed that he and his two companions had
fallen into a sort of ambush. While simulating great attention to what
was being said to him, the sergeant had whispered a few words to his
corporal, and the latter, obeying the orders given him, had disposed his
soldiers in such manner that the three Bretons found themselves
surrounded from all sides, and unable to rejoin their friends.
Addressing himself thereupon to Salaun Lebrenn, who, no less surprised
than his two friends at finding himself obviously treated as a prisoner,
looked at his companions in amazement, the sergeant said sneeringly:

"Your promise notwithstanding, that none of those woolen bonnets will be
allowed to run off, I prefer something more substantial than a promise,
rather than to have to chase all over this devilish country that is so
cut up with moats and hedges. I shall hold you as hostages, you and your
two companions. You are the chiefs of the band. You will be a guarantee
for the rest. If any one of them escapes, you will go to prison, and
stay there until each of you will have paid me two gold louis--besides
six pistoles for my men. That's the end of it. I want no answer or
further remarks from you. Forward!"

"So, then, you arrest us?" observed Salaun calmly. "Besides, you place
us under ransom. But what do you charge us with? What crime are we
guilty of, sergeant?"

"You double rustic! I charge you with speaking when I order you to hold
your tongue! Head and bowels! Forward, or I shall knock you down!" cried
the petty officer brutally, raising his cane; and stroking his moustache
he proceeded:

"Oh, there is the wedding! The bride may, perhaps, be worth rumpling!
Bah! She probably is but one of their big flat-footed wenches! And yet,
who knows! We shall see! Drummers, beat the march!"

When Paskou the Long heard the sergeant's allusions to the bride, he
raised his two long arms to heaven; Madok the miller, a resolute man,
clenched his fists, and casting a defiant look at the soldier, was about
to explode, when he was restrained by a sign from Salaun. Madok yielded
to his friend, realizing that it would be an act of madness to attempt,
under the circumstances, a struggle against the armed men. Surrounded by
these, the three Bretons resigned themselves to move forward, leading
their mounts by the bridle. The detachment resumed its march, drums
beating and bell ringing, towards the nuptial procession. The sergeant
walked ahead.

Such was the terror with which the soldiers of Louis XIV inspired the
poor folks of our country districts, that at the first sight of the
red-coats the children threw themselves weeping into their mothers'
arms; the young girls drew timidly close to their parents; and a good
number of the vassals began to tremble, while the blacksmith and other
determined men of his stamp could hardly control their anger. At this
place the road was narrowed between two bluffs topped with brush. The
detachment divided in two. One-half halted at the head of the procession
in order to bar its passage, should it attempt to proceed; the other
half marched on to the rear in order to cut off the retreat.

Kept as hostages in the midst of the rear guard platoon, Salaun Lebrenn,
Paskou the Long and Madok the miller were unable to approach their
friends. Nominoë, with his wife on the crupper of his horse, saw with as
much surprise as anxiety his father a prisoner of the soldiers.

"Let none of you budge or breathe, ye rustics! If you do, by God's
death! my men will open fire, and will rip you open with their
bayonets!" cried Sergeant La Montagne, stepping with his cane raised
towards the peasants, who crowded back upon one another in order to make
room for him.

Turning thereupon to the bailiff and the usher:

"Do your work! I shall in the meantime step over to the bride and
inspect her," added the swash-buckler, looking to the right and to the
left.

It did not take the sergeant long to discover the charming face of the
bride, who, moreover, was recognizable by the nuptial ribbons, and was
all the more in evidence being on horseback behind Nominoë.

"God's blood! The handsome girl! The lassie is too dainty a morsel for
that clod-hopping husband!" exclaimed the sergeant, and he took several
steps to draw nearer to Tina.

A heavy roll of the drum, accompanied by the repeated ringing of the
bell, drowned the last words of the impudent soldier. After that signal
for silence, the bailiff of the very high, very powerful, very honorable
and very redoubtable Seigneur Justin-Dominic-Raoul Neroweg, Count of
Issoire in Auvergne; Baron of Nointel, Valdeuil and other places in
Beauvoisis; Seigneur of Plouernel and Mezlean in Brittany, etc., etc.,
announced:

"That the said Gildas Lebrenn, vassal and lease-holder of the fief of
Mezlean, having, with evil intent and for other reasons, put off, beyond
the only and last term, the payment of the taxes, imposts and duties,
which it had pleased the very high and very powerful and very redoubted
seigneur, etc., etc., to assess upon his vassals of Mezlean, therefore,
the furniture, crops, cattle, domestic and field animals, household
utensils, etc., etc., of the said Gildas Lebrenn are hereby ordered to
be seized and sold by virtue of _military constraint_. And if the said
goods and chattels of the said Gildas shall not suffice to meet his
obligations, then action shall be instituted against a house, to him
belonging as the property of his wife, and the said house, in default of
a purchaser in block, shall be demolished, and its doors, windows,
beams, rafters and other debris shall be sold to the highest bidder at
the option of the said bailiff, who, having presented himself at the
said farm, called Karnak, in order to execute the orders herein
contained and to effect the seizure, found the house closed and the
stable empty, the latter of which should have contained especially two
yokes of white and orange oxen, the which, being exposed by the
malignity of the said Gildas to being kept out of the farm in the
evening and to being surreptitiously sold during the day, the said usher
now came to seize them bodily, _hic et nunc_, without prejudice to the
other seizures which he reserves the right of operating on the said
farm, including the materials that may proceed from the demolition of
the house above referred to.[5]

"The bailiff, being also vested with the powers of the very respectable,
discreet, pious and venerable curate of the parish, shall collect by
force of the same seizures, an arrear of tithes due to the said
venerable person by the said Gildas Lebrenn and other vassals herein
below named, etc., etc.

"The said bailiff also comes to proceed against one Tankeru, a
blacksmith, charged with and convicted of having poached in the confines
of the forest of Mezlean, in order, wickedly and of deliberate purpose,
to interfere with the pleasures of the very high, very redoubted and
very powerful seigneur, etc., etc., by killing his game, notably a
ten-pronged deer, in the course of the night of the 5th day of the
present month, as appears from the deposition of one of the
forester-watchers of the said seigneur, etc., etc. By reason of the said
crime, the said Tankeru, a blacksmith, is ordered to be apprehended in
body, and taken to the seigniorial jail, in order there to undergo the
preliminary punishment of the whip, without prejudice to further
imprisonment and fines to be paid, etc., etc."

The complaints of the bailiff having been made known amid the mournful
silence of the nuptial party, the drum was once more beaten, the bell
was once more rung, and then the usher of the fisc spoke in turn:

"A requisition against the same Gildas Lebrenn and five other leasehold
peasants, hereinbelow named, etc., etc., who, with evil intent, or for
other wrongful cause, having paid neither the taxes, nor the tithes, nor
the capitation, etc., etc., furtively left their houses before the said
usher could present himself there this morning, taking with them their
spans of oxen, their wagons and their horses, the same being the most
important part of the havings of the said peasants; and, fearing lest
they may profit by the market day of Bezenek, which is to begin early
to-morrow morning, and surreptitiously make away with their said oxen,
wagons and horses, the said usher now comes to operate _illico_ the
seizure of the said animals and wagons, without prejudice of other
recuperations, etc., etc."

The peasants listened to the reading of the preceding jargon with
increasing consternation and rage, but without astonishment, similar
seizures being matters of daily recurrence in Brittany and in all the
other provinces of France. But what, on that day, drove the indignation
of the peasants to the point of rage was the insolence of Sergeant La
Montagne. While the bailiff and the usher reeled off their legal jargon,
the insolent swash-buckler approached Tina, and, with his plumage
dangling over his ear, stretching out his legs, arching himself in his
gallooned coat, and stroking his moustache with one hand, while with the
other he caressed the hilt of his sword, he pursued the young bride with
his brazen looks. Tina turned her head away, and took shelter behind the
back of Nominoë, who, outraged by the soldier's audacity, was livid with
anger. Nevertheless, he restrained himself; in order to preserve his
self-control all the more fully, he sought to move a little further to
the rear; but the moment he made his horse take a few steps backward,
the sergeant seized the bridle rudely and kept the animal motionless.
The peasants who saw the sergeant's conduct, began to grumble. But he,
casting a disdainful look at them and brandishing his cane, shouted:

"Head and bowels! Meseems these rustics are raising objections! By God's
death, I'll know how to bring you to your senses!"

"Think of your wives--your daughters--your children! Patience!
patience!" cried Salaun Lebrenn in a loud voice from among the platoon
of soldiers who held him, Paskou the Long and the miller at a distance.
"All keep cool, and have patience, my friends!"

The wise warning of Salaun Lebrenn was hearkened to. The grumbling
ceased. La Montagne, attributing the resignation of the peasants to the
fear that he inspired, redoubled in audacity. Brutally placing one hand
upon Tina's knees, who sat upon the crupper of Nominoë's horse, he said
to her:

"God's blood! Look at me, my pretty lassie! Fear not, my pretty maid--my
moustache causes only men to tremble," he added, fastening a look of
contempt upon Nominoë.

Thereupon, carrying outrage to its climax, the sergeant raised himself
on tip-toe, passed his arm around Tina's waist, and drawing her to him,
said: "Give me a sweet kiss! God's death! it is the meed of the brave!"

Nominoë was without arms; but with a movement that was swifter than
thought, he drew his foot from the stirrup, and with a kick of his heel,
vigorously planted in the sergeant's chest, he hurled him reeling upon
Tankeru, who was rushing to the defense of his daughter. The blacksmith
gripped the swash-buckler by the neck and threw him flat upon the
ground.

"Help, soldiers!" bellowed the sergeant as Tankeru threw him down. "To
the rescue!"

Those of the soldiers who happened to be near their chief sought to rush
to his aid, but finding themselves quickly surrounded and closely hemmed
in by the more resolute of the peasants, they were unable to ply their
bayonets.

The blacksmith cried:

"Let us disarm the red-coats!"

The cry, being repeated by the other peasants, reached the ears of the
platoon of soldiers that blocked the head of the procession. These
rushed back to the aid of their comrades, driving aside the women and
children with the butts of their guns. The mass of people, thus pushed
back and crowded closely in the middle of the road, emitted shrieks of
fright. All was confusion.

At the thickest of the turmoil a lackey on horseback rode up from the
direction the procession was headed in, preceding by about twenty paces
two other personages, also on horseback. The lackey reined in his mount,
cracked his whip and cried:

"Room! Room for Mademoiselle Plouernel! Room for the sister of
Monseigneur Neroweg of Plouernel! Make room! Make room, there!"



CHAPTER IV.

DESERTED!


It was, in fact, Mademoiselle Plouernel, who, coming from the manor of
Mezlean, was approaching the spot of the tumult. She wore an elegant
riding habit--a long skirt and closely fitting jacket of a pearl-grey
material, trimmed with knots of ribbon of the same azure-blue color as
her shoulder knot and the feathers in her broad-brimmed black felt hat.
She rode with ease a palfrey white as snow, and richly caparisoned with
a saddle-cloth of blue velvet trimmed in silver. An old equerry with
grey hair and dressed, like the lackey, in the Plouernel livery--green,
orange and silver--accompanied Bertha. Her beautiful, yet pale and
delicate face, revealed the ravages of a protracted illness from which
she was only recently recovered. The thinness of her cheeks imparted the
appearance of abnormal size to her black and feverishly brilliant eyes.
The melancholy of her physiognomy, coupled with a slight suggestion of
despondency in her bearing, gave an irresistible charm to her person.
Surprised at the cries and the clamor which she heard proceeding from
the concourse ahead of her, from which she was still some hundred paces
distant, she sent her equerry forward to ascertain the cause of the
disturbance. He obeyed, and, arriving near a group of weeping women, was
acquainted by them with the events that preceded. The equerry returned
to his mistress and informed her that the bailiff of the Count of
Plouernel had come to seize the teams and wagons of several peasants who
were on their way to the temple in order to celebrate a wedding; that
the bride's father was to be arrested for poaching; and that a quarrel
had broken out between the peasants and the soldiers of the Crown
Regiment who came to support the demands made by the Count's bailiff and
the usher of the fisc. Seized with pity, Mademoiselle Plouernel whipped
up her palfrey, and rode at a gallop towards the very center of the
crowd, despite the humbly expressed apprehensions of her equerry.

Succumbing to the influence of the terror which they felt for the
soldiers, most of the peasants had responded but hesitantly to Tankeru's
call of "Let us disarm the red-coats!" The consequence of their
irresolution was that the three or four soldiers, who were at first
disarmed, were able to recover their weapons, to charge upon the
Bretons, several of whom they wounded with their bayonets, and
immediately to disengage their sergeant. Seeing the turn affairs were
taking, Tankeru yielded to the entreaties of his daughter and friends,
clambered up the bluff that bordered the road, glided through the
hedges, and took flight across-field. He was out of danger.

The bailiff and the usher, on their part, had, since the start of the
melee, endeavored to escape. They were in full flight when they
encountered Mademoiselle Plouernel as she arrived at a gallop on her
palfrey, which she immediately reined in upon recognizing them by their
black habit and short cloak.

"Bailiff!" cried Bertha, warmly, "I order you, in the name of the Count
of Plouernel, my brother, to renounce the seizure which you have
effected. I order you to set at liberty the poacher whom you arrested!"

Aware of the recent arrival of Mademoiselle Plouernel at the manor of
Mezlean, and seeing her accompanied by an equerry in the Count's livery,
the bailiff did not question the young lady's identity. Respectfully
bowing before her he answered:

"Mademoiselle's orders shall be executed."

"And you are the usher?" added Mademoiselle Plouernel, addressing the
man of the fisc. "You also are to make a seizure against a poor family
of peasants?"

"Yes, mademoiselle--"

"You shall relinquish your pursuit. How much is due you?"

"_Item_, three francs; _item_, sixty-seven francs; _item_, seven francs,
eight sous and six deniers; _item_, two hundred--I can state each item
with costs and accessories."

"Enough! Du Buisson, pay this man," said Bertha to her equerry, passing
to him a purse which she took from her pocket.

And turning again to the usher:

"Having received the money, you shall discontinue your pursuit of these
people."

"Certainly, mademoiselle, and I shall immediately notify the sergeant
who is charged to exercise the military constraint that I no longer need
his services, and that he can return to his quarters with his soldiers."

Judging Mademoiselle Plouernel's generous nature by these first
evidences, and anxious to ingratiate himself with his master's sister by
seeming also to take an interest in the peasants, the bailiff put in:

"I feel bound to inform mademoiselle, in all justice, the vassals of
monseigneur are not wholly to blame in the matter of the scuffle with
the soldiers of the Crown Regiment. The reason of the trouble was a
joviality of the sergeant's, who wished forcibly to embrace the bride.
His joviality was altogether foreign to his office."

"Oh! These men of war--they always take themselves to be in a conquered
country," observed Mademoiselle Plouernel bitterly.

And addressing the bailiff:

"Go and fetch me the sergeant--I wish to speak to him;--instantly!"

The bailiff departed to execute the order. A group of women and
children, witnesses of the scene, and as touched as they were surprised
by the generosity of Mademoiselle Plouernel--alas! the seigneurs and
their families usually showed themselves harsh and contemptful towards
the poor--showered blessings upon the young lady; they surrounded her
horse; and, in the effusiveness of their gratitude, asked her the favor
of allowing them to kiss her hands. Moved to tears by the attitude of
the good people, Bertha answered them by pointing to the little girl
who had performed the role of the "eglantine bud" at the nuptial
ceremonies, and saying:

"Bring yonder little girl to me."

And leaning forward on her saddle and stretching out her arms to receive
the child, she added:

"In embracing this child, I am embracing you all, my dear women."

The radiant mother raised her little girl up in her hands. Bertha took
her, placed her on her pommel, and tenderly kissed the child's rosy
cheeks. Charmed by these caresses, the child threw her arms around the
neck of Mademoiselle Plouernel, who responded to the affectionate
familiarity by embracing the child again, and again.

Bertha then turned to her equerry:

"Is there any money left in my purse?"

"Yes, mademoiselle, there are seven louis left."

Bertha took the purse, and putting it in the hands of the little girl,
said: "Take this, dear child; the gift will alleviate the misery of your
parents. Give them this purse."

Giving the child a parting kiss, Mademoiselle Plouernel returned her to
her mother, who, breaking into tears, knelt down upon the ground, and
clasping her hands, cried:

"Oh, our demoiselle! Blessings upon you! We shall ever love you!"

"Yes, yes; blessings upon you, our demoiselle! We shall ever love you!
Blessings upon you!" repeated and re-echoed a large number of women,
their voices tremulous with admiration at the scene they had just
witnessed.

Little by little, and from mouth to mouth, the report of Mademoiselle
Plouernel's magnanimity, and the charitable orders that she issued to
the bailiff, spread among the peasants. Many of these, having joined
their wives and children, stood in a circle around the young lady as the
bailiff returned, followed by Sergeant La Montagne, who was pale with
rage. The man's insolent brutality did not seem to be ready to bend
before the rank of Mademoiselle Plouernel. No sooner had he arrived in
her presence than he ejaculated:

"By God's death, mademoiselle, I am neither a bailiff nor an usher! I am
a sergeant in the Crown Regiment. I receive orders from my colonel only.
Several of the rustics have dared to lay hands upon me, and to disarm
me! They are now in the hands of my soldiers, who will take them to
Vannes. If you love pretty sights, mademoiselle, I shall afford you the
pleasure of seeing the brigands hang by the neck. It is the will of
Sergeant La Montagne that those rustics be hanged!"

Among the "brigands" whom the sergeant destined for the gallows, and
whom his soldiers held prisoner a little distance from where
Mademoiselle Plouernel was looking down from her horse upon La Montagne,
but too far away to be seen by her, were Nominoë, Salaun and Madok the
miller. Shocked at the swash-buckler's words, the young lady sat up
erect in her saddle, haughty, angry, threatening, and her eyes sparkling
with so much indignation that, despite his brazenness, the sergeant
lowered his gaze.

"Listen well to me," said Mademoiselle Plouernel incisively. "Your
colonel, the Marquis of Chateauvieux, is now stopping at the Castle of
Plouernel, with my brother. Your colonel is a man of honor. He will not
tolerate the insulting of women by his soldiers, as you had the
impudence to do a short time ago."

"Mademoiselle," stammered the sergeant upon learning that his colonel
was the guest of Mademoiselle Plouernel's brother, "I was only joking
with the peasant girl."

"You lie!" replied Mademoiselle Plouernel with severity. "You profited
by the fear that your soldiers inspire in these good people to outrage
the bride of this wedding. Remember this well--I shall send this very
day one of my men to the Castle of Plouernel with a letter to your
colonel; I shall inform him of your unworthy conduct, and shall request
him to punish the same as it deserves to be. He will not deny me that
satisfaction."

"Oh! Mademoiselle will surely not seek to bring misfortune upon the head
of an old soldier!" pleaded the sergeant, frightened at the threat.
"These rustics tried to disarm me!"

"They were in the right to avenge the outrage! Set them free--repair
your fault. Only upon that condition shall I consent not to demand your
punishment at the hands of the Marquis of Chateauvieux."

La Montagne bit his moustache with repressed rage. It wounded his pride
and his covetousness to free the prisoners who had disarmed him, and
from whom he reckoned upon a ransom, before having them hanged.
Moreover, he knew from a thousand precedents that he had nothing to fear
from his colonel, who was utterly indifferent, as so many other
seigneurs, heads of regiments, to the acts of violence committed by
their soldiers upon bourgeois and peasants. But the sergeant also knew
that the Marquis of Chateauvieux was a great gallant. It was impossible
that he should refuse to punish an inferior officer if requested to do
so by so beautiful a woman and one of such high rank as Mademoiselle
Plouernel. These reflections caused the sergeant to raise his hat, and,
bowing respectfully before Bertha, he said:

"I shall obey the orders of mademoiselle. I shall liberate the
peasants."

The sergeant again bowed respectfully before Mademoiselle Plouernel, and
said to himself in an undertone:

"Breton brigands! You are about to triumph over my humiliation--but
patience! I shall yet be revenged! Each one shall have his turn."

La Montagne returned to the detachment which held Salaun, his son and
Madok the miller prisoners, along with several others. When the scuffle
with the soldiers began, Nominoë jumped off his horse, and leaving Tina
in charge of his uncle, had disarmed one of the soldiers. Afterwards,
seeing the struggle ended, he took his father's advice, and allowed
himself to be pinioned. A short while after, the name of Mademoiselle
Plouernel and the benedictions showered upon her by the peasants reached
his ears. Nominoë grew pale; he rose on the tips of his toes and saw
Bertha at a distance on horseback. His eyes filled with tears--soon his
head drooped, and growing ever paler he stood as one petrified. From
this spell he was awakened by the voice of a soldier, who said to him:

"I am going to untie you--you are free--go to the devil!"

"God be praised! You are given back to us!" murmured Tina, hardly able
to restrain her joy and stepping toward her husband. "Oh! I feel reborn!
A minute ago I thought I would die!"

"My son, mount your horse, take your wife on the crupper, and let us
depart! We have escaped a double danger," said Salaun, who was just set
free, and who led by the bridle both his own mount and Nominoë's. But
Nominoë, instead of obeying his father, fixed upon Tina a look of utter
distress, and cried in heartrending accents:

"Adieu! Adieu to you all! Never will you see me again!"

With these words Nominoë leaped upon his horse with a bound, turned its
head in the opposite direction, and, belaboring its flanks with his
spurs, dashed up the bank at a gallop. He cleared the hedge, reached the
skirt of the forest of Mezlean with mad rapidity, and disappeared within
the wood.



CHAPTER V.

THE MYSTERY AT PLOUERNEL.


The Castle of Plouernel is located not far from Nantes on one side nor
from Rennes on the other, and is one of the most magnificent residential
palaces of France. It dates back to the Renaissance period, and presents
a finished specimen of that style of architecture, the fancy of which is
infinite and charming. Here, cupolas, elegant as Oriental minarets,
contrast vividly with the pointed angle of high roofs; yonder,
wide-arched galleries, resembling aerial bridges thrown over space, join
one set of buildings to another; here, balustraded terraces seem
embroidered in the living stone. It is a mass of richness and diversity,
a dazzling efflorescence of architectural ornamentation from the
exterior of the chimneys, each of which is a masterpiece of execution,
down to the chimerical gutter-spouts and the stone setting of the doors
and windows, sculptured in human figures, flowers, birds and the heads
of monstrous animals, real and fabulous. And yet, Oh! prodigy of art,
the inexhaustible variety of details, the fantastic irregularity of the
different parts of the edifice merge into a whole that is instinct with
loftiness and grace. Finally, about half a league away from that
dazzling fairy palace--the façade of which runs over with sculptured
designs gilded by the slanting rays of the sun, and brilliantly
harmonizes with the azure of the sky above and the verdure of the woods
round about--the eye catches on the crest of an arid and rocky ridge
that rises almost perpendicularly, the ruins of the ancient feudal manor
of Plouernel, semi-hidden under a vast wrappage of ivy. The
indestructible dungeon only has defied the tooth of time. Its square
bulk, blackened by the ages, rises to a height of over a hundred and
twenty feet, still crowned by its old crenelated battlements and
machicolations, and flanked at either angle with a turret from which the
men on watch kept an eye upon the road and the river, the former of
which wound its way to the right, the other to the left of the foot of
the rock, at the summit of which, perched like a vulture's nest, rose
the seigniorial lair.

An avenue of centennarian elms, planted in four files, led up to the
façade of the Castle of Plouernel, which rose from a wide and
semi-circular "court of honor," surrounded by a colonnade surmounted by
terraces. The elegant architectural hemicycle masked the stables, the
kennels, the falcon cages and other out-buildings of the castle, and
was, in turn, surmounted by an impost on which, woven into implements of
war and of the chase artistically sculptured, was seen the coat-of-arms
of Plouernel--three eagle's talons sable on a field gules--and, rising
from among gracefully executed ornamentations, the lettering "Guy de
Plouernel," the builder of the palace in the year 1559, according to
the lapidary date graven above the armorial bearings.

On this day, the bustle among a large number of valets, grooms, cooks
and huntsmen who scurried over the court of honor on their way to one or
other of the out-buildings, announced that the seigneur of the place was
in the castle. Several soldiers dressed in the red uniform, and two
sentinels on guard at the foot of the winding staircase, further
indicated that the Marquis of Chateauvieux, the colonel of the Crown
Regiment, was the guest of the Count of Plouernel, the latter having
offered to his friend the colonel to quarter two companies of his
soldiers in the numerous dependencies of the castle. Finally, at a
distance, stablemen were seen putting some horses through their paces
upon the fine grass of a lawn, beyond which, and as far as the eye
reached, extended the tree-covered park, dominated to the east by the
rocky ridge, at the top of which the imposing ruins and black dungeon of
the ancient manor of Plouernel contrasted strikingly against the blue of
the sky.

The interior of this modern castle corresponded with its sumptuous
exterior. Numerous servitors in livery crowded the marble-slabbed
vestibule, to the left of which ran a gallery containing the portraits
of the Seigneurs Neroweg of Plouernel. The oldest of these paintings,
belonging to the Eighth Century, bearing unmistakable mark of Byzantine
stiffness of execution, represented a Neroweg lady, Meroflede, the
Abbess of Meriadek in Plouernel, of the days of Charles Martel. But
seeing that the origin of this family harked back to the conquest of
Gaul by the Franks, the father of the present Count, yielding to his
pride of race, had supplied the lack of authentic portraits antedating
the Eighth Century, by consulting his genealogy, and causing the
lineaments of those of his ancestors, who lived during the first five
centuries of the Frankish monarchy, to be retraced. Though not accurate
portraits of their subjects, these paintings at least reproduced the
several costumes of those past epochs. The first Neroweg, a leude of
Clovis and count of the country of Auvergne by right of his sword, was
represented in all the barbarism of the savage accoutrement of that
Frankish warrior--hair of a coppery hue tied at the top of his head with
a leather thong, and falling down loose over his back like the tail of a
horse; long, red moustaches; clean shaven chin; and savage mien. The
bust was half covered by a sort of dalmatica made of an animal's hide,
and the warrior leaned his hand upon his "framee," or battle weapon.
Among this long succession of portraits was one empty frame wrapped in
black crepe. The absent picture was that of Colonel Plouernel, an
honorable man, and one of the most valiant captains in the Protestant
armies of the Sixteenth Century. But the colonel's great-grandson had
struck him out of the family line, meaning thereby to brand in his
person the Huguenot, a rebel to his King and to the Church of Rome. The
portrait gallery led to a salon, on the other side of which was the
apartment of Madam Tremblay, the aunt of the Count of Plouernel.

The Marchioness was still the woman of the court which she was at the
time of her journey to The Hague. She was conversing confidentially
with Abbot Boujaron, who seemed to be deeply preoccupied. The two had
not yet wholly gotten over the experiences of what they called their
"accursed journey to Holland," where they came near being torn to
pieces, but where they had, they said, "at least the satisfaction of
knowing at first hand of the massacre of the two republican heretics,
those De Witt brothers."

It was a narrow escape, but the worthy pair succeeded in eluding the
popular fury that exploded against the French party by leaving The
Hague, again reaching the port of Delft--thanks to Serdan, who,
nevertheless they held to be a fellow of felonious instincts--and there
embarking on a neutral vessel bound for Havre, where they landed without
further incident. From Havre the two went to Versailles, Mademoiselle
Plouernel's flat refusal to accompany them to England having put an end
to their project of a voyage to that country. Besides, the young lady's
health was so much impaired that they would have been compelled to give
up that journey even had she not opposed it. They took her along to
Versailles.

Upon their arrival there the Marchioness summoned Monsieur Fagon, Louis
XIV's leading physician. That illustrious doctor declared that the young
woman's illness was a mystery to him. Despite all his assiduous care,
despite all the resources of his art, Bertha of Plouernel remained
between life and death, her strength being undermined by a slow fever
that rendered her almost unconscious, and that reduced her to the point
of being but the shadow of her former self. In fact, she was taken to
be at death's door, when an unexpected but favorable crisis set in, as
unexplainable as the disease itself, according to Monsieur Fagon, and
restored her to health. Her convalescence lasted more than six months.
In the spring of the year Monsieur Fagon advised Bertha's aunt to send
her to Brittany, assuring her that the girl's native climate would
complete the cure. Accordingly Bertha was sent ahead to Plouernel under
the escort of one of her brother's equerries, two of her aunt's women,
and an old nurse, Marion, who had cared for her from childhood. When the
Marchioness and her Abbot arrived there themselves, they found Bertha
greatly restored. Her cheeks had resumed their rosy hue.

It was about this very illness and recovery that the pair were anxiously
conversing. "We now feel reassured on the score of your niece's physical
condition," said Abbot Boujaron; "but--and this is the important
point--what is your opinion concerning her moral condition? To me it
seems there is much to be wished for."

"The turn of her mind and nature has always been more than bizarre, as a
consequence of the detestable bringing up that she received from her
mother. But, since her illness, my niece's oddities have grown daily
more marked so that, were it not for the reasons you know of, my nephew
and myself would long ago have decided, with the consent of the King our
master, to lock up in a convent the wayward minx who insists that our
priests are imposters, that people do not die, and that we are re-born
in flesh and bone to live onward in the stars!"

"All of which, my dear Marchioness, is heresy, pure and simple; and
worse yet--paganism of the first water. Besides that, there can be
nothing more disorderly than Bertha's conduct. She receives with open
arms the first tramp who presents himself at the castle's gate, under
the pretext of giving alms; at the burg she is called _the good
demoiselle_, a sort of indirect insult to her brother. It often happens
that she mounts her horse in the morning, and does not return until
evening, accompanied, it is true, by an old lackey and old Du Buisson,
one of the Count's equerries. Other times she leaves alone on foot upon
interminable promenades. To make a long story short, a few days ago,
Bertha took the notion of going to the manor of Mezlean, that has long
been uninhabited, and of remaining there forty-eight hours at a stretch.
Since she returned from that excursion day before yesterday, she has not
left her room nor her bed, claiming indisposition, and refusing to admit
you, as well as her brother. All this, Marchioness, is more than odd; it
verges on mental derangement. For that reason, your own and the Count's
tolerance seem to me regrettable and unpardonable. An end must be put to
this situation."

"You know very well why we must seem tolerant. We are hoping to secure
Bertha's consent to marry the Marquis of Chateauvieux, then her brother
Raoul will be able to wed Mademoiselle Chateauvieux, in turn. My nephew
attaches extreme importance to these matrimonial projects--the old Duke
of Chateauvieux, the Marquis's father, enjoys an immense influence with
the King. Due to the inheritance left to her by the Viscountess of
Morincourt, Mademoiselle Chateauvieux is one of the richest matches in
France. Now, then, however considerable Raoul's property may be, he is
prodigal and luxurious to a degree. The bailiffs of his domains of
Auvergne, of Beauvoisis and of Brittany make his vassals _sweat_, as
they humorously express it, all that it is humanly possible to sweat
them of. Two hundred and fifty-three thousand livres, good year or
bad--more than a third in excess of what the same estates yielded at the
time of his father--and yet my nephew is often reduced to such straits
that he must resort to the money-lenders. From all this it follows that,
if the King, as the Duke of Chateauvieux has formally promised us,
confers upon my nephew the embassy to Spain immediately after his
marriage, nothing less than the inheritance of the Viscountess of
Morincourt will be needed to enable the Count worthily to represent his
royal master at the court of Madrid."

"No doubt, there is nothing more desirable or more opportune than that
marriage, my dear Marchioness. But, you know what is the express
condition for its fulfilment. It is a condition that only raises fresh
perplexities."

"Yes, the Duke of Chateauvieux--a duke only by brevet, and, be it said
among us, of poor material, considering his origin, seeing that his
great-grandfather was only a domestic servant--the Duke of Chateauvieux,
despite his influence with his Majesty, and his brevet title of duke,
feels that he limps on the leg of birth. In order to dip his descendants
in the antique luster of our house, he stipulates as an express
condition of Raoul's marriage with Mademoiselle Chateauvieux, Bertha's
consent to marry the Marquis. That, as you know, is the reason why Raoul
and I, to put it plainly, are dependent upon my niece, and why we wink
at her follies."

"Well, Marchioness, do you know what, in my opinion, appears clear from
all this?"

"I listen, Abbot; open your mind to me!"

"It will happen with the marriage of Bertha to the Marquis of
Chateauvieux as happened with the contemplated mission to England."

"How can you say that! My niece receives admirably the advances of the
Marquis. She has given Monsieur Chateauvieux good cause to hope. She has
said to him that she recognized the advantages of that double marriage,
only she desired time to reflect more fully before deciding upon so
important a step."

"Oh! Marchioness, your niece is but doubling and twisting to the sole
end of gaining time! She will not give her consent to the marriage."

"Gaining time! Gaining time! And to what end? Can she expect a better
match than the Marquis? Is he not, barring his obscure origin, an
accomplished nobleman, and wealthy, besides? Is he not at home at court?
Is he not, thanks to the favor that his father enjoys with the King, a
colonel at the young age of twenty-five, and able to aspire even to a
Marshal's baton? Think of it, Abbot--a Marshal's baton!"

"Your niece snaps her fingers at Marshals' batons, and the wealth of the
Marquis, to boot! Don't you yet know her? And, by the way of wealth, a
certain occurrence comes to my mind. Did not Bertha, planting herself
upon the custom of Brittany which insures to the daughters a part of
the paternal and maternal inheritance, demand not only to know the
amount of her share, but also to be put in possession, immediately, of
her mother's jewels, which are valued at more than forty thousand ecus?
Did she not, furthermore, cause the Count's intendant to deliver to her
a thousand louis in advance, and does she not keep the money locked up
in her casket together with the precious stones? These several
proceedings have set my mind a-thinking."

"Mere whims, to which we felt constrained to yield out of fear lest the
brainless body decline the marriage!"

"Well, Marchioness, what you consider the whims of a brainless body--in
other words, this determination of having a considerable sum of money in
her possession--is, in my opinion, on the part of your niece, an action
that denotes thorough reflection, and the consequences of which may,
perhaps, prove most disastrous, if, as I much fear, a thought that
flashed through my mind last night has actually put me on the right
track. That thought obsesses and pursues me."

"What thought is that? Come, Abbot, be more explicit. Do not speak in
riddles."

"It is my opinion that Bertha is in love--crazily smitten!"

"Bertha in love! Crazily smitten! Come, your mind is wandering!"

"Oh, Marchioness! In that, I hold, lies the mystery. You may ask who the
object is of her love--"

The conversation between Madam Tremblay and the Abbot was interrupted by
the blustering arrival of the Count of Plouernel.

Raoul Neroweg, Count of Plouernel, then about thirty years of age, in no
manner resembled his sister. In consequence of one of the most
mysterious of the laws of nature, the Germanic type of the Frankish race
reappeared in him as, repeatedly across the ages, it had reappeared in
all its pristine purity in several of his ancestors. This son of the
Nerowegs had hair and beard of a fiery red, white skin, sea-green eyes,
and an aquiline nose, hooked like an eagle's beak. His rude and haughty
nature was tempered by the gracefulness of the accomplished courtier. He
was a sample of so many seigneurs of our times--greedy and prodigal,
vainglorious and luxurious, without shame or heart, consumed by ambition
and more still by the desire of drawing upon himself publicly the eyes
of his master, and capable, in order to attain that purpose, of
committing the vilest crimes. Accordingly, the Count had seen nothing
but a natural expedient, and profitable to his own career, in the
project of prostituting his sister to the King of England. This
notwithstanding, the Count of Plouernel carried high his head with the
pride of his name. Yet such is the moral aberration of the folks of the
court that, in their eyes, the adulterous love of Kings, so far from
soiling their sisters, their wives, or their daughters, honors, exalts,
crowns, consecrates them. From that instant prostitution becomes august,
infamy a sacred thing! The royal leman becomes a Madonna!

Monsieur Plouernel was horrified at Bertha's ill will, and at her
carrying her indifference to the fortune of her brother and to the
service of her King to the point of refusing to give herself up to his
Majesty Charles II of England. The young girl, already a conundrum by
reason of the manner in which she looked upon the things of her times,
was, after that latest performance, nothing but an insane woman in her
brother's eyes, and fit to be locked up for the good of his house--a
step that he would at one time undoubtedly have taken, were it not for
the involuntary compassion he experienced at the sight of Bertha almost
dying of a languishing malady. Later, when the Duke of Chateauvieux made
overtures of a double alliance between the two families to Raoul, he did
not hesitate an instant to pledge his sister to the young Marquis.
Accident willed it that the Marquis was a young and handsome nobleman,
although a debauchee, a drunkard and a gambler, neither worse nor better
than so many others of his caste; but had he been old, ugly, a cripple,
rotten of body and soul, the Count's action would not have been
otherwise, nor would he have recoiled before any measures to compel his
sister to submit to the marriage.

When the Count of Plouernel entered Madam Tremblay's salon he was
laboring under a violent irritation, caused by the information
transmitted to him by his Mezlean bailiff in a letter that he had just
received, advising him of Bertha's intervention in behalf of the vassals
of his seigniory. He was pressed to meet the enormous financial
obligations required by his ostentatious living at Versailles--his
equipages, his jewelry, his banquets, his splendid balls, without taking
into account his reckless gambling. Seeing the courtier's fortune
consisted almost exclusively in his seigniorial domains, there was no
way of increasing his revenues except by overwhelming his vassals with
exorbitant imposts. The Count of Plouernel, as almost all the other
members of his caste, neither felt, nor was able to feel, any pity for
his vassals, whom he had the right to tax at pleasure. Were they not a
conquered and disinherited race? an inferior species, standing midway
between man and the brute? bent, broken and deformed by a ceaseless
round of sorrows and toil? condemned by fate to labor and produce wealth
for the benefit of their seigneur? The Count of Plouernel approved
himself consistent with his race, his traditions and his times by
exhibiting inexorable severity towards this _species_, which he
sincerely and naïvely looked upon as an inferior race, and at all points
unlike his own. Accordingly, in an angry voice, with flashing eyes, and
holding out to the Marchioness the letter which he had just received,
and that he crumpled with rage, he said:

"Do you know, madam, what my sister was up to during her short sojourn
at Mezlean? My Mezlean bailiff informs me that he was about to execute a
seizure upon several teams belonging to certain recalcitrant vassals who
were evading payment of the taxes that it pleased me to impose upon
them, when my sister, happening to ride by along the road, took it upon
herself to forbid my bailiff to carry out his orders, or even to arrest
a scamp of a poacher who deserves to hang!"

"That is unheard of! That is downright impudence!" cried the
Marchioness.

"Wait, madam, that is not yet all--my bailiff and an usher of the fisc,
who also had a process against those clowns, being aware of their
malignant disposition, secured the escort of a squad of soldiers from
the regiment of the Marquis, who has set up his headquarters at Vannes,
since the Duke of Chaulnes apprehends some trouble in the province.
Well, madam! Would you believe such an excess of audacity possible? The
clowns dared to rebel against the escort of the bailiff, and tried to
disarm them!"

"Why nephew! that is a very alarming piece of news. It is grave!"

"The sergeant of the escort, a resolute man, soon had the upper hand of
the canaille. He seized three of the ringleaders in the mutiny, and had
them pinioned tightly by his soldiers. And what do you imagine my sister
did? No, you will not believe such audacity possible!"

"I suppose she begged mercy for them. Oh! I doubt not that she
interceded in their behalf also--"

"Worse than that, Abbot! She demanded their immediate liberation, and
threatened the sergeant with the anger of the Marquis of Chateauvieux!"

"Steps have to be taken in the matter of this poor insane girl."

"I am all the readier for that, madam, seeing that, according to what my
bailiff writes, my sister's intervention in these matters has produced
detestable effects. My vassals, finding themselves encouraged in
resisting the payment of the taxes, are now loudly clamoring that the
imposts are exorbitant, and will not pay them! Finally, the most lawless
of them, feeling encouraged by immunity, are no longer afraid to declare
that the hay-fork of a Breton does not fear the bayonet of a soldier of
the King; that if the latter are well armed, the peasants are more
numerous; and that the fury of their despair will render them a match
for the soldiers when the hour of revolt shall have sounded! It is a
call to insurrection! To a popular revolt!"

"An insurrection! A revolt!" cried the Marchioness, alarmed. "How dare
the wretches talk of insurrection and revolt!"

"We are relapsing into the Jacquerie!" put in the Abbot, raising his
hands heavenward. "Jacques under Louis XIV! Under the Grand Monarch! In
the Seventeenth Century! It must be the end of the world! Woe is us!"

"Prompt and terrible punishment will, I still hope, my dear Abbot, bring
these clowns back to their duty," answered the Count. "But my sister has
encouraged the scoundrels. Her insane generosity has chosen for its
object the very worst elements of all my vassals. The poacher and the
recalcitrant vassal belong to a certain Lebrenn family, that numbers
among its members two mariners of the port of Vannes--a brace of active
and intriguing adventurers, who are strongly suspected of aiming at
sedition, and of even having secret understandings with the republicans
of Holland! They are both men of thought and action--most dangerous
fellows!"

"Marchioness," observed the Abbot, casting a meaning look at Madam
Tremblay, "what did I tell you about that family, which our venerable
Society of Jesus over a century and a half ago entered in its secret
register as one of the most dangerous? My information evidently was most
correct and accurate. An eye will have to be kept upon those people."

"What do you refer to?" asked the Count of Plouernel. "What information
can you have had concerning these people?"

"We shall go over that more at our leisure, my dear Raoul. The details
of the matter would now lead us too far away. Only be certain that you
can not have a more pernicious family among your vassals than this
identical Lebrenn family. We shall talk over the matter later. Suffice
it now to say that they are the sort of people that must be suppressed.
I may be able to render you some assistance in that direction; but I
consider that the most urgent thing just now is to place your sister
where it would be absolutely impossible for her to pursue the course of
her eccentricities and follies."

"Oh! Abbot, do you not know there is an obstacle, a serious one in the
way?"

"I know full well that your projects of a double marriage compel you to
humor the brainless creature--but, one thing or the other: Bertha is
either willing, or she is not willing, to lead the plan to a successful
issue. Now, then, it is my opinion that she is not willing. Her
determination is made."

"You are in error, Abbot," said the Count of Plouernel. "Bertha does not
object to the marriage."

"But she demands time--to reflect! Not so, my dear Raoul? Well, then,
all her delays have but one object in view: Bertha seeks to gain time in
order to deliver herself without restraint to her follies, perhaps
to--it is this that, above all, frightens me for the honor of your
house--the bare thought frightens and terrifies me--"

"What is the cause of your fear? Come, explain yourself!"

"My dear Raoul, our poor Abbot thinks Bertha is in love."

"Good God!" broke in the Count, stupefied. "Do you think so, madam?
Bertha in love! Impossible!"

"Everything leads to the belief that her love is an unworthy love, since
Bertha surrounds it with profound mystery," the Abbot proceeded to
explain. "Neither the Marchioness, nor yourself, nor I--I admit it--have
until now been able to suspect, or even remotely guess who the object
can be of this evidently monstrous passion. That such a passion does
exist I make no doubt. All signs point in that direction."

"Thinking the matter over, and recalling certain circumstances that now
rise vividly to my mind, I share the Abbot's opinion," added the
Marchioness. "Bertha must have availed herself of the freedom that we
allowed her to abandon herself to some disgraceful choice. One of these
days she will flee with her lover, and the honor of our house will be
tarnished forever! A scandal, dishonor, shame to our family!"

"The devil take it!" cried the Count of Plouernel. "If my sister should
ever carry her disregard of all duty to the point of refusing a marriage
that secures such great advantages to me, I swear to God! if the cause
of her refusal be some disgraceful love, I shall immediately go and
throw myself at the feet of the King, and request him to have the wretch
locked up in the Prison of the Repentant Women where she will be treated
with the utmost rigor."

"Mademoiselle Plouernel consigned to the Prison of the Repentant Women!
Oh, my dear boy, you can not mean that!" said Abbot Boujaron with devout
unction. "No; no; that is out of the question! But what is sensible and
proper is that your sister take the veil, and that the share of the
inheritance due her according to the custom of Brittany, be assigned to
the community that may receive the great sinner, to aid it in exercising
its charitable works. Besides, believe me, my dear boy," added the
Abbot, smiling, "it is not necessary that our sinner be confined in the
Prison of the Repentant Women in order to be treated with the uttermost
rigor, and be severely chastised in the flesh and in her pride--for the
salvation of her soul."

The Count of Plouernel lent but an inattentive ear to the prelate's
words, and resumed in a towering rage:

"My sister in love with some vulgar fellow! My marriage, upon which I
raised so many hopes, thwarted by the ill-will of the wretched
creature! Malediction! Let her tremble before my anger!"

"My dear boy," said the Abbot to the exasperated Count, "there is a way
of putting an end to these perplexities. Demand to-day, instantly, from
Bertha a categoric answer--yes, or no--on her marriage with the
Marquis."

"Zounds! Abbot--I know beforehand she will say neither yes nor no."

"That may be. But after you shall have urged her a last time, entreated,
implored her in the name of your most cherished interests to decide this
very day, would not her persistence in further delays prove to you that
she is determined not to marry the Marquis, and that it is certain she
is sacrificing him to some unworthy love?"

"In that event--malediction! a curse upon her! A dungeon cell will
overcome her resistance."

"My dear boy, we must not curse anybody," remarked the Abbot piously;
"but it is necessary that, without flinching, you perform the duties
that devolve upon you, the head of your illustrious house. It is urgent
that to-morrow, yes, not later than to-morrow, you prevent your sister
by prompt and rigorous measures from dishonoring your name and herself.
You have plenty of cells and dungeons."

"I swear to God!" cried the Count of Plouernel, "if Bertha refuses to
decide to accept the marriage--I shall be pitiless. Yes, and to-morrow
we shall take the steps that may be necessary to safeguard our honor."

The Count was interrupted in the flow of his threats by the entrance of
a lackey who said to Madam Tremblay:

"Monsieur the Marquis of Chateauvieux has presented himself at the door,
and requests to be admitted before madam. May I introduce him, madam?"

"Beg Monsieur the Marquis to enter," answered the Marchioness of
Tremblay. "The dear colonel! How happy we are that he comes to pay us a
visit!"

And immediately after the lackey withdrew she added hurriedly:

"Raoul, not a word to the Marquis about what we have been saying, before
we have heard from Bertha."

As the Marchioness addressed these words to the Count of Plouernel, who
answered her with an affirmative nod, the Marquis of Chateauvieux
appeared at the door of the salon, and saluted the company with the
graceful ease of a courtier. Nevertheless, the colonel seemed troubled
in mind; he held a letter in his hand.

"Madam," he said, addressing the Marchioness, "I have news for you that
grieves me doubly."

"What about, my dear Marquis?"

"This despatch that I have just received by a courier from Monsieur the
Duke of Chaulnes, Governor of Brittany, orders me to join him
immediately with the two battalions of my regiment which I am to collect
on the way thither. A sedition, believed to have been fomented by the
parliament, has broken out in Rennes. The King's authority is assailed;
the citizens are up in arms; the whole populace is in rebellion. The
Duke of Chaulnes does not feel safe."

"Great God!" cried Madam Tremblay, no less alarmed than the Abbot.
"What you are telling us, Marquis, is a most grave event."

"All the graver," interjected the Count of Plouernel thoughtfully,
"seeing this sedition seems to coincide with the recent rebellion of my
own vassals of Mezlean. Would you believe it, Marquis, that canaille had
the audacity of resisting your soldiers; the woolen caps tried to disarm
your men!"

"I have been informed of that occurrence by a letter from one of my
subaltern officers, who was compelled on that occasion to release his
prisoners upon orders from Mademoiselle Plouernel. As a consequence, I
have had to recall that detachment, it being impolitic to leave my
soldiers in a region where they had to submit to an outrage left
unpunished. They will arrive here this evening. The honor of the
regiment is compromised until the guilty parties are punished."

"Believe me, my dear Marquis, I feel grieved at my sister's rash
interference on the occasion."

"Without stopping to consider the consequences of her act, Mademoiselle
Plouernel yielded to a generous impulse for which I would not dare to
blame her. But since I did myself the honor of pronouncing her name,"
added the Marquis of Chateauvieux, "allow me, my dear Count, and you
Madam the Marchioness, to address a request to you. I must leave the
Castle of Plouernel within two hours; however insignificant may be the
revolt of the ill-intentioned people of Rennes, whom I expect to
chastise severely, civil war has its risks. The bullet from an old
musket fired by a bourgeois not infrequently hits its mark as
unerringly as that of our own soldiers. I do not know what fate awaits
me in the conflict that is about to take place. Before taking leave of
you, my dear Count, I entertain the liveliest desire not to be left in
doubt concerning the favorable or unfavorable success of a double
marriage that is the highest aspiration of myself and my father."

"Dear Marquis," answered the Count of Plouernel with emphasis, "my aunt,
the Abbot and myself were just considering the urgency of obtaining this
very day a final answer from my sister, which I doubt not will be in
accord with the desires of our two families. The untoward events that
hasten your departure render the necessity for her answer all the more
urgent. If she is what she should be, and what I doubt not she is, our
chaplain will betroth you to-day to my sister in the chapel of the
castle. It will be your induction into the family. I had so decided."

"And after you shall have chastised the insolent bourgeois of Rennes, a
thing that will be easy to do and will be done promptly, thanks to you
and your soldiers, my dear Marquis," put in Madam Tremblay, feeling more
at ease, "you will return to us. Monsieur the Duke your father and
Mademoiselle Chateauvieux as agreed before our departure from
Versailles, will come to Plouernel, where the festivities of the double
marriage will be held with so much splendor and magnificence that they
will be the admiration of all Brittany."

"Above all, Monsieur the Marquis, induce the Duke of Chaulnes to hang
high and dry as many bourgeois as he can," added Abbot Boujaron, who
seemed less sure than the Marchioness of the speedy quelling of the
sedition. "The minds of the scamps must be struck with terror. The
repression must be merciless."

"The customary severity of the Duke of Chaulnes should be an ample
guarantee to you, Monsieur Abbot, that he will not flinch before the
populace," was the Marquis of Chateauvieux's answer. "He will be
inexorable."

And, proceeding to address the Marchioness and the Count:

"I can not express to you how touched I feel at your words! I can now
hope for the best--unless the health of Mademoiselle Plouernel should
prevent our betrothal. She has not left her room for two days, a
circumstance that has desolated me; it prevented me from presenting to
her my homage upon her return from Mezlean. I hope you can give me a
favorable report of her health."

"Reassure yourself, my dear Marquis; my niece's indisposition was caused
only by the fatigue of the journey. It will in no wise prevent her from
proceeding to the chapel to solemnize her betrothal, if, as I do not
doubt, any more than my nephew, she consents to hasten the conclusion of
the marriage. I shall immediately visit Bertha. I shall tell her that
her brother and myself wish to converse with her; and I doubt not, dear
Marquis, that the issue will fully meet your wishes and ours."

Saying this the Marchioness of Tremblay proceeded immediately to
Bertha's apartment. Mademoiselle Plouernel occupied the chamber that her
mother formerly inhabited, contiguous to the library of the castle. As
the Marchioness crossed this vast room she met Dame Marion, Bertha's
nurse, who was devotedly attached to her. Madam Tremblay ordered her to
notify her mistress that she wished to speak to her shortly.

"She is probably still in bed," added the Marchioness. "She must rise
without delay and dress herself to receive her brother, myself and
Monsieur the Abbot. We have to speak to her upon matters of the highest
importance."

"Oh! Mademoiselle has risen and dressed herself more than two hours ago,
madam."

"That being the case, go and request Monsieur the Count and Monsieur the
Abbot to come and join me in my niece's chamber."

"Madam the Marchioness will not find mademoiselle in her chamber."

"Where is she?"

"Mademoiselle went out for a walk in the park, as she often does."

"What! Gone out! And yesterday and this morning she pretended to feel so
ill that she could not receive me?"

"The weather is so beautiful that mademoiselle believed a walk would do
her good. She went down and walked towards the park."

"You lie! My niece did not go out!"

"Madam the Marchioness can ascertain the truth for herself by walking
into the room."

"This sudden going out looks highly suspicious. Toward what part of the
park did my niece go?"

"I could not say as to that, madam; mademoiselle took her gloves, her
mask[6] and her taffeta hood to protect herself from the heat of the
sun--and she left. That is all I know."

"There is some mystery in this--you are hiding something from me."

"I am telling madam all I know."

"You are an accomplice in all the follies of Mademoiselle Plouernel, and
it may happen that you will have reason to feel sorry for it!"

"I obey the orders of mademoiselle the same as I obeyed the orders of
Madam the Countess, her mother. That is my duty."

"It is impossible that my niece, who only this morning claimed to be
ill, can have gone out without some particular reason. You know the
reason. Answer! What caused my niece to leave her chamber?"

"I have already told madam. The weather is so beautiful that
mademoiselle believed a walk would help her."

"Enough!" ordered Madam Tremblay angrily, and casting a threatening look
upon old Marion. "I shall remember your obstinacy. I shall find out the
truth."

The Marchioness hastened to rejoin the Count of Plouernel and the Abbot,
who were no less surprised, alarmed and angry than herself at
Mademoiselle Plouernel's unexpected outing. The Marquis of Chateauvieux
could prolong his stay at the castle only a couple of hours, so that,
if Bertha did not return before his departure the marriage would have to
undergo a further postponement. Accordingly, not satisfied with sending
several of his men in quest of his sister in all directions through the
park, the Count himself took horse together with the Marquis of
Chateauvieux in the hope of meeting Mademoiselle Plouernel; while,
anxious not to be themselves idle in the search, Abbot Boujaron and the
Marchioness of Tremblay went out in a carriage.



CHAPTER VI.

BERTHA AND NOMINOE.


As has already been told, the ruins of the ancient feudal manor of
Plouernel rose on the crest of an abruptly rising ridge that once was
wholly stripped of vegetation, but that was since planted with trees,
seeing it was one of the views from the new castle, the park of which it
bounded from the north. The antique dungeon, like all fortified
seigniorial castles of the middle ages, had a secret and subterranean
issue which opened at a considerable distance from the manor itself.
Thanks to this issue, the seigneur, who was always involved in feuds
with his neighbors, could flee and elude his enemies if he found his
lair on the point of being forced. The subterranean passage of the
dungeon of Plouernel which was cut through the living stone by the labor
of serfs, communicated, at its near end, with the floors that were
constructed below the level of the ground, where were located the prison
cells, the torture rooms, and the oubliettes of the manor, and, at the
further end, with a precipitous slope at the foot of the mountain, at
the top of which rose the dungeon itself. This outer issue opened just
outside of but close to the park. One of the numerous gates of the park,
the one nearest to the modern castle, opened on the outside upon an
avenue, cut through the forest that belonged to the domain of the Count
of Plouernel. To the right of the avenue, which ran into the highroad to
Rennes, extended a thick wood of old trees, and about two hundred paces
from the edge of the same, where the wood grew thickest, was the
location of the outer issue of the underground passage from the dungeon.
This issue, obstructed in the course of many centuries by underbrush and
the slow rise of the soil, bore marks of having recently been cleared,
although a curtain of ivy and wild trailing vines, that fell over a
natural platform formed by a rocky projection upon which the tangled
vegetation had taken root, was left to mask the entrance. Thanks to his
family archives, Salaun Lebrenn was aware of this entrance to the
dungeon, and he and his son having put themselves in touch with some of
the Count's vassals--resolute men and leaders in the projected
uprising--he had acquainted them with the secret passage that
communicated with the open country, and which offered a safe place for
the deposit of arms and munitions of war. The mouth of the passage,
partially masked by the vines, lay about twenty paces from a clump of
old trees that surrounded a little clearing carpeted with grass. In the
middle of the clearing rose an enormous oak, so old, so very old, that,
_crowned_ with age, as foresters say, its sap had dried out, and not a
leaf greened its immense spread of branches. A living spring furnished a
natural reservoir at the extremity of the clearing. A narrow path, worn
across the copse of the wood by the hoofs of the does and stags who
came during the night to drink at the spring, ran out into the road.

At the hour when Mademoiselle Plouernel's family was searching for her
in the park, Nominoë Lebrenn, standing with his back against the dead
oak tree in the middle of the clearing, was a prey to profound anxiety.
Pale, worn, with his head drooping, his eyes fixed upon the ground, and
his arms crossed on his breast, he was saying to himself:

"No, she will not come! Oh! now that this desperate attempt has been
made, I recognize how insensate it was! To write to Dame Marion, to beg
her to place in the hands of Mademoiselle Plouernel the letter that
accompanied my note, to entrust the package to the gateman at the castle
with the words: 'For Dame Marion,' and then run back to wait for her at
this place! To believe that she would come! It is a crazy man's dream!
No, she will not come."

After a short pause Nominoë resumed:

"Who knows but she may have lost her way! But the directions in my
letter were accurate--'Take, to the right of the avenue, that runs from
the park, the first path that leads to a clearing where rises a big dead
oak near a running spring of water.' Oh, I know this wood! For the last
two days I have prowled around it like a bandit! I also know that
underground passage," added Nominoë, turning his head in the direction
of the issue masked by the ivy and wild vines. "In that underground
place have bleached the bones of one of my ancestors--a serf of a sire
of Plouernel." With a start Nominoë continued: "Strange fatality! Woe
is me! It is for a daughter of this race--a race that mine has so often
cursed across the ages--it is for a daughter of the Nerowegs that I am
consumed with delirious love--and soon, perhaps--but no! Go to! Set your
hopes at rest, poor fool! She will not come. No, however generous her
heart may be, she cannot forget that she is of noble origin, and that my
family are vassals to her brother! No! she will not come--and if she
did--would I dare to meet her gaze! Have I not virtually imposed this
rendezvous upon her gratitude! Did I not write to her: 'He who at The
Hague saved your life and your honor--waits for you--you will come if
you have preserved the remembrance of the service he rendered you.' If
she does come, will it not be with a haughty front and a severe mien?"

Suddenly, as he turned his ear toward the wood, a tremor ran through
Nominoë's frame. He quickly straightened up. His heart, that before
heaved heavily, now stopped beating. His strength failed him. He
attempted to take a step, but fell upon his knees on the grass and
clasped his hands as in prayer. Mademoiselle Plouernel entered the
clearing, holding her silken mask in her hand.

What was his surprise and joy! The features of Mademoiselle Plouernel,
so far from expressing the sentiment of wounded pride, revealed profound
tenderness. She advanced with steady step towards Nominoë, who remained
on his knees; pulled off her glove, and extended to him her charming
hand that illness, alas! had thinned. Presently, her beautiful face
suffused with a slight blush, she said without attempting to restrain
the tears that enhanced the brilliancy of her large black eyes:

"Thanks to you, Monsieur Lebrenn. You afford me at last the opportunity
of telling you that never have I forgotten that on the coast of Holland
you saved my life--and in The Hague you saved my honor! Yes, thanks to
you," repeated the young girl in an accent of ineffable tenderness,
while sweet tears slowly rolled down her cheeks. "I owe to you the only
happy moment that I have tasted for a long time."

Mademoiselle Plouernel's emotion, her words, her tone, the cordiality of
her gesture as she extended her hand to Nominoë, threw him into such
confusion that, remaining on his knees and contemplating the young girl
with a sort of adoration, he tremblingly received the hand which she
offered him, wet it with his tears, and pressed his burning front upon
it. Sobs smothered his words.

Bertha gently withdrew her hand from Nominoë's, saying in a moved voice:

"Monsieur Lebrenn, rise--"

And noticing a few steps from where they were a rock covered with moss,
a sort of natural bench, the young girl added:

"I am barely convalescent--my weakness is still great. I feel tired;
allow me to repose on that rock."

Nominoë rose, and obeyed a sign of Mademoiselle Plouernel, who, after
seating herself, invited him to a place beside her. The girl remained
silent for a moment and then proceeded:

"Situations that seem difficult, and even false, become, I think, easy
and right, thanks to straightforwardness of conduct. I shall be frank.
You also will be sincere, Monsieur Lebrenn. You will answer all my
questions."

"I feel grateful to you, mademoiselle, that you judge me so favorably,"
answered Nominoë. "You will find me straightforward and sincere in all
things."

"First of all, in order to render intelligible what may otherwise seem
inexplicable to you, Monsieur Lebrenn, I must inform you that even
before I owed my life--and then my honor--to you, I already felt a deep
interest, if not in you personally, at least in all the members of your
family."

And in response to a gesture of surprise on the part of Nominoë, Bertha
added:

"I am acquainted with a part of your family legend."

"You, mademoiselle! You are acquainted with our plebeian legends!"

"Yes; thanks to a manuscript left to us by Colonel Plouernel, one of my
ancestors."

"Does that manuscript date back to the last century?" inquired Nominoë,
struck by a sudden recollection. "Colonel Plouernel, a Huguenot,
intended those pages for his son. Yes, indeed, our family narrative
mentions the fact."

"My mother discovered the manuscript in the library of the castle. My
mother suffered a great deal, Monsieur Lebrenn; she was a woman of great
understanding and of a large heart. Therefore, so far from embittering
her disposition, her sufferings rendered her still more generous.
Herself acquainted with sorrow, she sympathized all the more with the
sorrows of others. A victim of iniquity, she felt tender compassion for
the victims of all iniquity, and a vigorous hatred for all oppression.
Although she was of patrician origin, and although the wife of the Count
of Plouernel, my mother, ripened by misfortune and by reflection, being
instructed by the revelations contained in your family narratives,
embraced the convictions of the Huguenot colonel who was the friend of
your ancestor Odelin Lebrenn, the armorer of La Rochelle. Oh, I have not
forgotten a single incident of that interesting narrative."

"What, mademoiselle! You remember that obscure name?"

"That obscure name was the name of an honorable man and one of the brave
soldiers of Admiral Coligny, wrote Colonel Plouernel in the pages that
he destined for his son. You seem surprised at the accuracy of my
memory, Monsieur Lebrenn," added Bertha with a melancholy smile; "and
yet my recollections are not circumscribed to that incident alone. At
this moment there is present to my memory the name of another of your
ancestors--Den-Brao the mason, who, assisted by other serfs, cut the
underground gallery, one of the issues of which you can see yonder."
With these words the young girl pointed to the orifice of the vault cut
in the rock, and added, with a shiver, "It is a mournful history, that
history of your ancestor Den-Brao! He was starved to death in the
passage his own hands had built."

Nominoë and Bertha looked at each other in silence. Bertha proceeded:

"Do you know why I now recall those narratives? It is that you may
understand what a deep impression was bound to be produced upon my
mother--and then upon myself--by the account contained in the manuscript
of Colonel Plouernel. Yes, judge what we must have felt, especially when
we learned that one of the descendants of that Gallic race was in our
own days among the vassals of the seigniory of Plouernel, on the domain
of Mezlean. 'Oh! my child,' my mother would say to me, 'is not this
revelation of the iniquities and barbaric acts committed from century to
century by your father's family upon the family of this poor vassal, a
providential revelation? Should not such a revelation induce us to step
upon the path of expiation for so many iniquities and barbarisms
committed from century to century? Alas! Had I any power in this place,
I would call around us the descendants of that family, who are to-day
our vassals; I would strive to appease their resentment with acts of
kindness, and with delicate consolation. I would be their protectress,
their friend.'"

"Oh, generous heart!" exclaimed Nominoë, touched to tears. "How else
could it be, but that, brought up by such a mother, Mademoiselle
Plouernel, you should prove worthy of her!"

"Never shall I forget her lessons and her example. Finally, at the time
that a sudden illness carried my mother away, she and I were on the
point of going to Mezlean, in order to visit the leasehold peasant
Gildas Lebrenn, who, as I subsequently learned, is your father's
brother. That excursion never took place. I lost my mother, I had to
leave Brittany. I went to Versailles with my aunt. Perhaps you learned
from your friend, Monsieur Serdan, the object that, without my being
made privy to the plot, was contemplated by those who were taking me to
England?"

"Yes, mademoiselle; it was that which enabled Monsieur Serdan to
discover the loftiness of your sentiments and the grandeur of your
nature."

"The oddness of our meeting has caused you extreme surprise; is it not
true, monsieur? Well, imagine what my feeling must have been when, at
The Hague, I, Bertha of Plouernel," the young girl proceeded, fixing her
beautiful eyes upon Nominoë, "learned that he who had saved my life, and
who, subsequently, at the price of his blood, saved my honor, was
descended from that very family to whom mine had so much to atone
for--when I discovered that my savior's heart was as great as his
courage--when it was granted to me to know--to appreciate you."

The accents of Mademoiselle Plouernel's voice, and the expression of her
face as she uttered these last words, denoted such tenderness, such
nobility, such affection--the silence into which she immediately
relapsed seemed so significant to Nominoë, that a sudden thought flashed
through his mind. Despite his own modesty, despite his diffidence in
himself, despite the seemingly insane improbability of the hope that
caused his heart to bound--he believed himself loved. The intoxication
of bliss emboldened him. In a tremulous voice he cried:

"And you, mademoiselle, imagine what my feelings must be at this moment,
when I hear you recall to my memory the running conflict between our two
families across the ages--and then to hear you pronounce the words of
atonement and reparation! In what can that reparation consist? Despite
myself--an insane hope enters my heart. Alas! I know but too well that
my hope is insensate! Pronounce my sentence!"

"What do you hope?" asked Bertha in a firm voice.

"No; I should never have the courage to tell you--I dread to arouse your
just disdain--your mockery--your anger--"

"If I could disdain you, would I now be near you? The future of us both
is too somber for me to think of mocking! You promised sincerity to me."

Nominoë grew paler than he was before; he lowered his head; he murmured
in a trembling, desperate, passionate voice:

"I love you! I love you to distraction!"

"I also, Nominoë, love you!" answered Mademoiselle Plouernel solemnly.
"Yes," she proceeded, holding her head high, and serene; "I love
you--with all my soul--I fear not to make the admission."

"Oh, joy in heaven!" cried the young man, falling upon his knees and
clasping his hands before Bertha. "You love me! I am not the sport of a
dream! You love me?"

"Yes, I love you; I tell you so without blushing, because I hold you
worthy of such a love, Nominoë! 'Joy in heaven!' did you say? Oh, you
spoke truly. Our joys will be celestial--our future looks dark here on
earth--but yonder--yonder, where, according to the belief of your
fathers, we shall live anew, body and soul--yonder our future will shine
in splendor. You seek to fathom the meaning of my words, Nominoë! Rise,
sit down here beside me, listen to me! You shall be made acquainted with
all my thoughts."

Racked by doubt and hope, intoxicated by the confession of Mademoiselle
Plouernel, discouraged, almost frightened by her last words, Nominoë
rose silently, approached again the moss-covered bench, and sat down
beside Bertha, who proceeded:

"The first time I saw you was in the midst of a storm that threatened to
engulf our vessel, and dash it against the coast of Holland. I preserved
my self-possession despite the threatening danger--because I do not fear
death. Thus I could follow your manoeuvres with inexpressible interest.
I admired your devotion. I was touched by your youth. Shortly after, as
our vessel rode safely at anchor, I had the opportunity of appreciating
your nature and the dignity of your character by the answer you gave to
the offer of remuneration made to you by the Abbot, our traveling
companion. I then thought I would never see you again, Nominoë!
Nevertheless, I felt happy at being bound to you by the bond of
gratitude. Since that day your image took its place in my heart!"

"Oh! Since that day also, your image has been ever present in my
thoughts. How was I ever to forget the moment when, as I approached
your brigantine in the hope of saving it, I saw you at the poop of the
vessel so beautiful, so calm, smiling at the tempest! It was to me a
dazzling vision! Alas! often did the vision reappear in my dreams!
Finally, when on that same day, I read in your eyes the grief it caused
you to see the humiliation that I had to suffer--I divined the benignity
and the nobility of your heart! Your remembrance became still dearer to
me! Oh! I loved you passionately!"

"I believe you, Nominoë! Why should not the feelings that you
experienced have been as strong as the feelings experienced by myself?
Then came that unhappy, that frightful day when, wounded by gunshots,
you came near perishing in order to shelter me from dishonor," continued
Mademoiselle Plouernel with a tremulous voice and eyes moist with tears;
"in short, the day when I learned--Oh, providential coincidence!--that
my savior belonged to that vassal family whose history I knew. The
discovery, coming, as it did, upon the heels of the shocks of that same
day, quite overthrew me; it dealt me a last blow. Nevertheless, when,
after Monsieur Serdan had furnished us with the conveyances to leave The
Hague, he gave me warrant to entertain the hope that your wounds would
not prove fatal, and with a few heartfelt words praised you in a way
that filled my soul with bliss, I recovered heart. I swear to you,
Nominoë, had I not at that moment felt prostrated by the first symptoms
of a grave illness that was to prey upon me for a long time; had my mind
not been upset and my strength exhausted by so many violent emotions, I
would not have left The Hague that night without first seeing
you--without expressing to you all the gratitude and admiration that
your generous conduct evoked in me. But all the springs of my spirit had
snapped; I could only weep--sterile, cowardly tears!--in that I left you
in that city; dying, perhaps; a victim of your devotion to me! We
departed for France. The fatigues of the journey, coupled with a slow
fever, left me in an almost desperate condition when we arrived at
Versailles. For two or three months I hovered between life and death.
Thanks to the care of able physicians and to my youth, I finally emerged
from the desperate state in which I languished. It seemed to me that I
awoke from a frightful dream--by little and little the events in The
Hague and of my return to France came back to me. Those recollections,
rendered as they were doubly dear to my heart by our separation, awoke
within my breast a sentiment towards you more tender than mere
gratitude. I loved you, Nominoë! In doing so I yielded above all to the
irresistible attraction of the thought that I loved in you the
descendant of that family that had so long been persecuted by my own. My
love became an atonement for the past! I saw something providential in
the events that had thrown us together! Did I not owe life, honor, to
you, the descendant of those vassals who had themselves been so often
smitten in their lives, in the honor of their daughters and of their
wives, by my ancestors! Oh! Nominoë, if you only knew with what fervor I
thanked God for having inspired me with the desire of taking for my
husband, I, a daughter of Neroweg the Frank, a son of Joel the Gaul! Was
not the atonement of the daughter of the oppressors a just one to the
son of the oppressed? Was not the marriage, that would consecrate the
union of the conquered race with the conqueror, a natural one? Was not
that love celestial that had its source in justice? I felt happy at the
thought of that fusion of our two races!"

Words are impotent to express certain emotions. His visage bathed in
tears, Nominoë remained silent. Suddenly a voice from afar, fresh and
pure--the voice of a young girl--began to sing or rather to recite to a
slow and melancholy rythm, one of those bardings or national Breton
songs, some of which, popular still in these days, go back to the oldest
possible antiquity. The singer was taking her sheep to pasture upon one
of the shaded slopes of the ridge, at the crest of which rose the ruins
of the feudal dungeon. The sweet voice, thinned by the distance, seemed
to descend from the skies. At the sound of the first lines of the song,
despite his emotion, Nominoë felt thrilled; he listened a moment, and
said to Mademoiselle Plouernel:

"Strange coincidence! That chant, traditional in Brittany for centuries
and centuries, recounts the death of a young girl of our family in the
days of the conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar."

"The death of a young girl!" echoed Mademoiselle Plouernel with an
indefinable smile.

The last couplet of the song barely reached the ears of Bertha and
Nominoë because the shepherdess was climbing the slope as she sang, and
soon her voice was lost in space. Mademoiselle Plouernel had listened to
the chant with profound attention, clasped hands, and eyes raised
heavenward.

Awaking from her revery and addressing Nominoë with an agony, the cause
of which he was unable to explain, Bertha said to him:

"Is the legend of the brave and sweet Hena, the Virgin of the Isle of
Sen, the daughter of your ancestor Joel, also preserved in your family?
The virgin who sacrificed herself to appease the anger of Hesus?"

"Yes, mademoiselle; it is one of the legends of our family. To the
narrative is attached a little gold sickle, a sort of symbolic and
sacred piece of jewelry that female druids wore in their belts."

"So it is, Nominoë! I remember that in his manuscript Colonel Plouernel
says that to each of your family narratives there is attached some
trinket that is almost always symbolic and was left by the author of the
story, and that, in that way, from generation to generation, the humble
and antique collection of your family relics was gathered. Monsieur
Plouernel mentions among others a little silver cross, left by your
ancestral grandmother Genevieve, who witnessed the execution of Jesus of
Nazareth in Jerusalem! What mementoes! What magnificent mementoes!"

Bertha relapsed into a pensive mood, and then asked:

"Tell me, Nominoë, are the sacred stones of Karnak, mentioned in the
ballad of Hena, the Virgin of the Isle of Sen, the same that are seen to
this day?"

"They are the same; and already in the days of Julius Caesar their
origin was lost in the night of remote ages."

"I visited those stones during my recent trip to Mezlean. They are
gigantic; their colossal avenues extend to the very edge of the sea,
which breaks at their feet! Their granite ribs have defied the ages!
They are at this hour what they were on the day when your ancestress
offered her innocent life to the gods, in order to appease their anger,
and save Gaul from the foreign invader! Sublime devotion! Its memory is
perpetuated down to our own days! Oh, Nominoë! My proud family boasts of
the antiquity of its stock and the nobility of its origin! How much
older and truly noble is yours! It is you, my friend, it is you who
would _stoop low_, as they say, if this union, that I have dreamed
about--"

And answering a gesture of the young man, Bertha added:

"Did I not tell you, Nominoë--our joys will be celestial, not
terrestrial! Providence so wills it--you must submit to the providential
decree. We must know how to resign ourselves, my friend."

"Bertha, I implore you, have mercy upon my feverish brain. What is
happening to me hurls me into a sort of vertigo. I know not whether I am
dreaming, or whether I am awake. I doubt what I see, what I hear, what I
feel! A moment ago you pronounced the word marriage. Despite myself I
yielded to the intoxication of an insane hope. Oh, truly insane!"

"I have not yet finished my confessions to you, Nominoë. That ballad,
the thoughts it awakened in me; the memories that it recalled to your
mind, interrupted our conversation. Listen further. I saw in our
marriage an atonement, a reparation of the wrongs that your family
suffered from century to century at the hands of mine. In the measure
that my health improved, that project grew to a rooted thought. But
doubts and misgivings assailed me. First of all, you might not love
me--perhaps, on learning that I was a daughter of the Nerowegs, you
might entertain an instinctive aversion for me, one of those racial
antipathies that often are invincible, and, unhappily, but too well
justified. I often doubted whether you could love me. Again, when I
considered this marriage in the light of the world's prejudices, deep
abysses of difficulties seemed to yawn before my eyes. Nothing
frightened me away--I continued to love you bravely, Nominoë. Long did I
cudgel my brains in the effort to overcome so many obstacles, above all
to ascertain whether you remembered me at all. Finally my ponderings
arrived at the following conclusions: I would, first of all, make
certain of the nature of your feelings towards me, by addressing myself
directly to you with the tranquility of a straightforward heart and a
pure soul. You were a sailor of the port of Vannes, your father told me;
other members of your family were vassals of the domain of Mezlean, and
leasehold peasants of Karnak. Consequently, I had to return to Brittany.
There I would be certain of an opportunity to meet you. My fate and
yours would then be ascertained and determined. This decision put an end
to the anxieties that had long beset me, and operated a wholesome
reaction in my health. My recovery made rapid progress. In the spring of
this year, the physician to whom I communicated my desire to return to
Brittany not only approved, but added that my native climate was alone
able to finish my cure. As my aunt and my brother could not then leave
Versailles, they let me depart for Plouernel in the escort of an old
equerry and accompanied by my old nurse Marion, a good and worthy woman
who never left my side. She is honest, faithful, devoted and of Breton
extraction; her family lives in Vannes. Immediately upon my arrival at
Plouernel I ordered Marion to write to one of her relatives and beg him
to inquire, whether Monsieur Lebrenn and his son, mariners of the port
of Vannes, were still residents of the town. Marion received answer that
you and your father were away, but were soon expected back. I waited. At
about this time--I must conceal nothing from you--my brother came to
Plouernel. The plans he had formed concerning myself, at the time of our
projected journey to England, had extinguished all the affection, all
the esteem I entertained for him. I told him so one day; since that,
self-esteem and a sense of personal dignity prevented me from again
touching upon the subject with him. But court people are so constituted
that they speedily forget one unworthy act in the commission of another.
Although all the new plans of my brother were honorable, compared with
the first, yet were they stamped with his characteristic and profound
selfishness. He wished to marry me off. The ambition and greed of
Monsieur Plouernel saw considerable advantage in the marriage that he
now proposed. However great the strain upon my candor, I did not
formally reject his new projects. Thanks to this seeming readiness on my
part, my brother showed himself tolerant towards what he calls my
eccentricities. In that way it happened that, learning of your return to
Vannes from Marion's relative, I could, without encountering the Count's
opposition, undertake a trip to Mezlean, accompanied by my nurse and the
old equerry. It was on the road to the burg that I saw you again for the
first time--when--when--I met--"

Mademoiselle Plouernel could proceed no further. Tears streamed from her
eyes. Her tears, her silence, the heaving of her bosom, betrayed such
painful emotions that Nominoë turned suddenly pale and shuddered. Only
then did he remember what in the confusion of his thoughts he had
forgotten until that moment--that he was leading Tina to the altar as
his bride when he met Mademoiselle Plouernel, and that she could not
choose but be informed of his wedding. Overwhelmed at that thought, he
dared not raise his eyes to Bertha; he felt his last hopes melting away!
He dropped from heaven to the earth.

After a pause Mademoiselle Plouernel recovered control over her
emotions, wiped her tears, and proceeded:

"Nominoë, this was my purpose in going to Mezlean: I meant to write to
you and request you to come to the manor. The wish, so natural a wish,
of expressing my gratitude to you for the services you had rendered me,
justified the step. I expected you to respond to my invitation, I
relied upon my sincere and penetrating love to discover at our very
first interview whether you shared the sentiments that you inspired in
me, and whether the loftiness of your heart was equal to my
expectations. If so, I was to make to you the admission that I made to
you so shortly ago, and I meant to add: 'Nominoë, I am master over my
person--my family's unworthy conduct towards me has forever snapped the
bonds that held me subject to its wishes, it has snapped all the bonds
of deference to them; I offer you my hand; I know that, in France, a
pastor may fear to consecrate our union, dreading the resentment of so
powerful a house as mine; let us pledge ourselves to each other to-day;
let us exchange our pledges in the presence of God and of your father;
to-morrow we shall depart with him from Vannes for England on board of
the vessel that he owns; once in London a magistrate will marry us; I
shall not speak of my property; it may be confiscated from me; but I
have my mother's jewelry and a sum large enough to secure to us a modest
comfort; we shall live in England in case we should think it too risky
to return to France; would you prefer to face such risks rather than
expatriation? I love you, I am brave, your wishes shall be mine,
Nominoë'--That was my plan, such were my ardent wishes! Accordingly, on
the day following my arrival at Mezlean, I was on my way to the burg for
the purpose of ascertaining your residence and addressing my letter to
you, when I encountered a nuptial procession which the soldiers of the
King had stopped--and--the very moment when I learned that that nuptial
procession was yours, Nominoë--yours--I saw you fleeing at a distance,
distractedly fleeing, to the painful astonishment of your father and
your bride. The cause of your flight was unexplainable to me; but that
did not matter; your heart was no longer free--the charming beauty of
the young girl whom you are to marry justifies your love for her! I
returned to Plouernel the day after our meeting. I arrived broken with
grief. I had not left my room since my return when, this morning, Marion
delivered to me your letter--and I came. Now you know it all, Nominoë.
Perhaps, in the course of this interview, I wrongly reproached you with
insincerity when you protested the constancy of your love for me. You
are an honorable man, incapable of having meant to deceive the young
girl who is to be your wife. And yet, you claim to have always loved me!
Well! I believe you! Did I not believe you, my confession would have
remained forever buried in my heart! Yes, the human soul is at times so
strange a mystery, that another affection may have found its place
beside your love for me--a love that you looked upon as a dream. But, at
least, the remembrance of your love will remain sweet and dear to you,
because it will have been noble and pure. On my part, Nominoë, the
remembrance of you will also remain ever dear to me, because it was you
who inspired me with a generous thought, a thought of justice and
reparation. Yes, when, according to our common belief, we shall meet
again in yonder other worlds, we shall meet with countenances radiant
with celestial bliss. I said to you, my friend, our joys are not to be
of this world."

Nominoë raised his face bathed in tears, and, making an effort to steady
his voice:

"Listen to me, in turn--above all, mademoiselle, I implore you--believe
in my sincerity--"

"Nominoë, call me Bertha. The fraternal familiarity will be in the
nature of a consolation to me."

"Oh, God! Is it your purpose to render my despair still more distressful
by reminding me, with such a token of familiarity, of the happiness that
I have forfeited!" exclaimed Nominoë amid heartrending sobs. "Pardon,
Bertha, pardon me such an answer to the touching proof of your
affection; but if you only knew, alas! how much I suffer! Since that
journey to The Hague I have loved you, loved you passionately! Do you
know, Bertha, what it was that rendered that love irresistible? It was
an attraction exactly the counterpart of that which drew you to me. Yes,
however singular, however unexplainable it may seem, I loved in you,
above all, the daughter of the Nerowegs! Yes, that hopeless love, that
insane love, promised only disappointment, grief, suffering, and
annihilation to me! And yet it had for me the fatal charm of the void,
that drags us to an abyss! I felt at once I know not what sad and tender
sentiment by loving in you the descendant of the race that, since
earliest childhood, I had learned to curse! You were in my eyes an angel
of pardon and of concord! Oh, Bertha! However legitimate hatred may be,
it is so bitter, and pardon so sweet! In you I spoke your ancestors free
from guilt! So far from considering you one with their iniquities, I
considered them one with your virtues! Yes, you redeemed the wicked of
your race, as Christ redeemed the world by his virtues, his kindness,
his evangelical grace!"

"Nominoë! How proud I am of my love for you!" cried Mademoiselle
Plouernel with indescribable ecstasy, and moved to the profoundest
depths of her soul by Nominoë's words and the accent in which they were
uttered. "Oh! I was not mistaken when I said to you, our love draws its
inspiration from sentiments too celestial, ever to be of this world."

"In this world, as in the next ones where we shall proceed to live, our
love, I feel it, will last through all eternity! Its source is too lofty
ever to be untrue to itself--it is providential. On the very morning of
my marriage, at the moment when I was to proceed to my bride's house to
lead her to the temple, I learned of your arrival at Mezlean. I was
unaware of, I could not even suspect your intentions. Nevertheless, an
invincible presentiment came over me! I wished to break off my wedding!
Betrothed to my cousin almost from childhood, I had loved her as the
future companion of my life, until my return from The Hague. But ever
since I met you I have lived only for the intoxicating passion, the
fatal passion, the folly of which I realized but too well. In the
meantime the day for my marriage with my cousin approached. I confess
it, the fear of dealing a painful blow to the poor child by breaking a
union that was planned so long, the fear of grieving my father, then the
further thought that surely I would never again see you--finally, the
hope of finding in the sweet delights of the family hearth oblivion for
an insane love, induced me to consent to the marriage."

"All is now clear to me, Nominoë," put in Mademoiselle Plouernel with a
sigh of ineffable relief. "Oh! I believe you; I feel happy in believing
you."

"When I saw you again, Bertha, on the road to Mezlean, I lost my
head--an irresistible power carried me away--I fled demented. During
that night I wandered like one insane in the forest. Presently my
agitation subsided, I contemplated the reality. My marriage with my
cousin was no longer possible--it was absolutely impossible."

"Impossible?" echoed Mademoiselle Plouernel with a tremor. "Why
impossible, Nominoë?"

"Because I am a man of honor! Because no human power could now induce me
to marry that poor child, now that I know, Bertha, that you love me. I
therefore left Mezlean without seeing my family; I had not the courage
to face their indignation. I came to Plouernel, obsessed with the hope
of an interview with you, and then, Bertha, I swear before God, who
hears and judges me--"

"Nominoë, before God, who hears and judges us, answer me," said
Mademoiselle Plouernel solemnly, so to speak transfigured with the
radiance of unutterable hope. "Are you firmly resolved to persist in the
rupture of your marriage?"

"No human power can compel me to a marriage that would render my cousin
and myself wretched."

"And are you resolved to expatriate yourself?"

"Yes. I never again would dare to see my father, who would curse
me--who, perhaps, has already cursed me!"

"When do you propose to leave?"

"To-day," answered Nominoë swallowing a sob. "I shall engage myself as a
sailor at Nantes, on some vessel sailing to the Indies. We shall never
again meet here below, Bertha!"

Mademoiselle Plouernel remained steeped in silent reflection. Presently
she asked abruptly:

"Is there near Nantes, along the coast, any small and little-frequented
port where one may embark secretly?"

"Yes, St. Renan," answered Nominoë, raising his head and looking at
Bertha with surprise; "St. Renan, near the mouth of the Loire."

"Are you sure you could find there a vessel that could attempt the
passage to England?"

"St. Renan is a fishermen's port; their vessels are decked, and are
excellent sailers; they can cross the channel with ease."

"How long would it take to reach the place from here on a good horse?"

"From seven to eight hours, including stops. The horse would have to be
rested on the hills."

"Is the road that leads to St. Renan a frequented one?"

"Very slightly; it is only a cross-road."

"Can one take ship at St. Renan at any tide?"

"No; only when the tide is high."

"At what hour could one embark to-morrow?"

"At this part of the month the tide must be high between eleven and
twelve at night. One would have to be at St. Renan at midnight."

"Could you, between now and to-morrow," asked Bertha, "procure a
carriage drawn by a good horse?"

"Yes," answered Nominoë, hardly able any longer to resist the
intoxication of a hope that caused his heart to beat to the breaking
point.

"There will be wanted, besides," said Mademoiselle Plouernel, "two
mantles with hoods attached, of the kind worn by peasant women.
Nominoë," she proceeded, controlling her voice which, however, vibrated
under the strain of the emotions that agitated her soul at that solemn
moment, "to-morrow, at three o'clock in the afternoon, wait for me a
hundred paces from here, at the road of the Cross, with the carriage
that you will drive. Do not forget the two hooded cloaks--one is for me,
the other for Marion. The hoods will hide our faces. My leaving the
castle at full daylight, and at the usual hour for my promenade, will
awaken no suspicion. We shall then start instantly for St. Renan, where
we shall set sail for England, and there, Nominoë," added Bertha, giving
herself finally over to the impulse of her love and breaking out into
tears of celestial sweetness, "our marriage--shall be consummated."

"Your mask! Put your mask on! There is someone coming! Great God, my
father!" cried Nominoë, perceiving Salaun Lebrenn and Serdan as they
cautiously emerged from the underground gallery that led to the ruins of
the dungeon of Plouernel.

Mademoiselle Plouernel hastened to hide her face in the silken mask
that she had laid down beside her at the start of her interview with
Nominoë. The latter, stupefied at the sight of his father and Monsieur
Serdan, remained silent and in consternation, while Bertha, masked,
standing motionless, her arms crossed over her palpitating bosom awaited
anxiously the issue of the unexpected encounter.

Despite the anger that his face revealed, Salaun Lebrenn could not
restrain a sigh of relief at seeing his son, concerning whom he had been
racked with anxiety since the day of his disappearance. Serdan
contemplated with inquisitive and suspicious eyes the masked woman whom
they found in a tête-à-tête with Nominoë, not far from one of the park
gates of the Castle of Plouernel. Reassured upon his son's fate, Salaun
was about to give a loose to his indignation, but the presence of the
unknown masked woman restrained him. While asking himself who the woman
could be and what relations she could have with Nominoë, he said to the
latter in a peremptory tone, accompanying the words with a gesture of
authority:

"Follow us, my son! Your uncle and I must speak with you."

"Father, please let me know where I shall meet you. I shall place myself
at your orders at sunset."

"Follow me instantly!" replied Salaun imperiously. "Come on the spot!
What we have to say to you will brook no delay."

"It is hard for me to disobey you, father--but at this moment I can not
accompany you," answered Nominoë, stepping towards Bertha. "I can not
leave the lady alone--later I shall obey you. I shall go to whatever
place you may please to appoint."

"You dare resist your father's orders--unhappy boy!"

"Father, do not insist--it is useless--I will and must stay here."

"Heaven and earth!" cried Salaun, beside himself with rage at his son's
refusal--"man without faith and without honor!"

"Oh! Enough! For mercy's sake, father!" retorted Nominoë in a hollow
voice, turning pale with both pain and anger at hearing himself insulted
by his own father in the presence of Mademoiselle Plouernel.

But she, taking the young man's hand, said to him in a low and suppliant
voice:

"Obey your father!"

"Lebrenn! For heaven's sake, collect yourself!" put in Serdan,
continuing to eye Bertha attentively. "It is imprudent to allow yourself
to be carried away by your just indignation--before a strange woman."

"That strange woman!" cried Salaun, interrupting his friend. "That
strange woman!" And taking with a menacing mien a step towards
Mademoiselle Plouernel: "Woman without honor! It is you who corrupted,
you who drove my son to perdition! Who are you? Answer me, wretch that
you are!"

"Oh! God have mercy! Such an insult to her! to her!" cried Nominoë, and,
dashing forward towards Salaun: "Father, you know not whom you are
speaking to. Not another word!"

"A threat! And to me!" exclaimed Salaun, exasperated. "A threat, when
you should drop at my feet repentant and suppliant--cowardly assassin!"

"Assassin! I!" stammered Nominoë, thunderstruck at Salaun's aspect,
while the latter, more and more enraged, addressed Mademoiselle
Plouernel:

"Infamous creature--you are the accomplice in the murder!"

"Murder?" repeated Nominoë, stupefied.

"Yes; murder; the murder of Tina, your bride--"

"Great God! Father! What is that you are saying!" cried Nominoë,
shuddering with horror. "Tina, my bride--"

"You killed her, wretch! You killed her by deserting her!" answered
Salaun in a voice broken with sobs. "She died--the poor child is no
more."

"Down on our knees before your father! Let us weep over the dead on our
knees, Nominoë!" said Mademoiselle Plouernel, throwing her mask far
away. "Let us weep for the ill-starred Tina."

And pale, her face in tears, overwhelmed with grief and almost fainting,
she fell down, like Nominoë, upon her knees before Salaun, while Serdan,
jumping back a step, cried out:

"Mademoiselle Plouernel! In this place!"

Salaun, recognizing, as Serdan had done, the young girl whom he had not
seen again since leaving The Hague, remained speechless. Remembering how
he had admired the loftiness of the young girl's sentiments, he now
regretted the vehemence of the language he had just used towards her.
Now, no longer doubting the love with which she inspired Nominoë, he
understood the cause of his son's irresolution on the very morning of
the wedding, and why he had fled like one demented, when the nuptial
procession was about to resume its march to the temple. Upon these
thoughts, this other followed: His son loved a daughter of the Nerowegs!
a descendant of that race that the descendants of Joel had so often
cursed across the ages! And yet, the beauty and the tears of
Mademoiselle Plouernel, now prostrated at his feet, moved Salaun despite
himself, especially when Bertha said to him in heartrending accents:

"I was not aware of the death of Nominoë's bride, when, a minute ago, I
say it without blushing, I offered my hand to your son."

"You?" cried Salaun, hardly believing what he heard. "You, mademoiselle!
A Plouernel!"

"This union of one of the descendants of Joel with a daughter of Neroweg
was, in my estimation, to repair the iniquities that for centuries my
family whelmed yours with."

"Noble and generous heart!" cried Serdan.

Salaun remained silent and pensive. Nominoë, still upon his knees beside
Bertha, and overcome with sorrow by the death of Tina, dared at this
moment to raise his moist and suppliant eyes to his father. His looks
seemed to say:

"Do you still deem me so guilty for loving Mademoiselle Plouernel?"

"It is upon my knees, monsieur, that I expected to confess to you a love
that I, nevertheless, feel proud of! But, alas! this love has caused the
death of an innocent girl! Therefore, also, it is upon my knees that I
wish to ask your pardon for that misfortune, seeing that, although
unwittingly, yet, Oh, just heavens! I am not a stranger to it! Now,
Nominoë, rise!" added Bertha, herself rising with dignity. "Your father,
I doubt not, has restored me to his esteem. For this esteem I am
grateful to you, monsieur; I shall not be unworthy of it," observed the
young girl, answering a gesture of approbation from Salaun.

And turning towards Nominoë, who had also risen from the ground, she
proceeded in a trembling and resigned voice, and endeavoring to control
the pangs of her soul:

"Our marriage, even with the approval of your father, is henceforth
impossible, Nominoë! The remembrance, the shadow of that ill-starred
girl would always rise between us!" said Bertha shuddering.

But proceeding with a poignant smile:

"Courage, my friend! Thanks to God, our life is not confined to the life
of this world! At this moment, when I take my leave of you, I say to you
not adieu! I say till we meet again, Nominoë! Perhaps, although still
very young, I may precede you to one of those mysterious worlds where my
mother awaits me--and whither that sweet girl, your bride, has taken
flight! Oh! At least, I shall be able to meet their eyes without fear, I
shall then tell all to them. And the day when, departing from this
earth, you will come to join us, the hearts of all us three will fly to
meet your spirit! Till we meet, then, my friend! Alas, my presentiments
did not deceive me. My love was kindled in sentiments too celestial to
be for this world;--having come from yonder, on high, it must reascend
to its divine source!" and Bertha pointed Nominoë heavenward with a mien
of sublime simplicity.

Nominoë, his father, and Serdan listened to Mademoiselle Plouernel with
inexpressible emotion, while Madok the miller came out of the
underground gallery, looking hither and thither with precaution. An
instant he remained motionless with surprise at the sight of Serdan and
Lebrenn conversing with Mademoiselle Plouernel, whom he had seen on the
road to Mezlean on the day of Tina's wedding. Casting thereupon a look
of somber reproach upon Nominoë, seeing he now met him again for the
first time since the nuptial ceremony at which he filled the role of
"Brotaer," the miller beckoned to Salaun to step aside and said to him
in an undertone:

"What is the _demoiselle_ doing here? She is as good as her brother is
wicked, but--she is a daughter of Plouernel."

"And our men?" inquired Salaun interrupting Madok, and not considering
the moment opportune for answering his question. "Have they arrived? Did
they bring the arms that were promised us, the pikes, muskets and
ammunition?"

"Yes, they brought the last load of arms concealed among faggots and
green branches. They went down into the underground gallery through the
ruins of the dungeon. They report everything ready for to-night in the
parishes. The tocsin is to sound with the rising of the moon. A
package-carrier who went through Plouernel left the news that the people
of Nantes and Rennes have risen in revolt, and that fighting is going on
in the suburbs. The troops are getting the worst of it."

"That I knew," answered Salaun. "We must not be found behindhanded. Wait
here for me; I shall return immediately."

Salaun walked back to his son and Mademoiselle Plouernel, who said to
him in a voice that she strove to render firm:

"Monsieur Lebrenn, I shall now return to the castle; to-morrow I shall
depart for the manor of Mezlean, where I desire to live in absolute
seclusion. I shall not see you again, Nominoë; but at least I carry with
me in my solitary retreat your father's respect, and the remembrance of
a love that I am proud of, because it sprang from a generous sentiment.
In offering my hand to your son, Monsieur Lebrenn, I meant to do a
worthy act."

"Infamy and treason! Her hand to a vassal!" suddenly broke in a voice
that shook with rage. "Malediction upon the miserable woman!"

And emerging from the copse behind which they had for an instant lain
concealed, there suddenly appeared upon the clearing the Count of
Plouernel and the Marquis of Chateauvieux.

After having explored the avenues of the park, the Count had come across
several of his forester guardsmen, from whom he inquired whether they
had seen Mademoiselle Plouernel. They saw her, was their answer, about
two hours ago, walking in the direction of one of the park gates, which
they found open; great was their surprise upon first noticing on the
dust of the road the imprint of Bertha's little feet; but their surprise
redoubled when they saw the tracks of the young girl running towards the
narrow and shaded path that led to the clearing. Agitated by a vague
presentiment, the Count alighted from his mount, the Marquis did
likewise, and the Count ordered one of the equerries who accompanied him
to run back immediately, and by all means to return with the forester
guardsmen, whom he had just met. Thereupon the Count of Plouernel and
the Marquis of Chateauvieux, leaving their horses in charge of another
equerry, dived into the copse, followed the path and, arriving at the
clearing, stood petrified at the sight of Bertha conversing with
strangers. Finally, as they listened they caught the last words that
Mademoiselle Plouernel was addressing to Salaun Lebrenn on the subject
of her love for Nominoë. Informed by his bailiff that two members of the
Lebrenn family, a vassal family of his own domains, and mariners of the
port of Vannes, were pointed out as mutinous and dangerous people, the
Count was fired with an incontrollable fury at hearing his sister admit
her love for a miserable mariner of the vassal race. The love, at which
the Count's family pride rose in revolt, furthermore dashed the
projected double marriage that he pursued. He now could explain to
himself the cause of Bertha's continuous delays in giving her consent
to her marriage with the Marquis of Chateauvieux. The latter, no less
wounded in his vanity than the Count of Plouernel felt wounded in his
family pride, shared his friend's fury and followed him, when, unable
any longer to control himself, the Count dashed into the clearing.

The Count of Plouernel drew his sword and with the flat of the blade
struck Nominoë across the face, crying:

"Vile clown! That is for your having dared to raise your eyes to
Mademoiselle Plouernel--while you wait to be hanged from the gibbet!"

Such was the violence of the blow that although it was given with the
flat of the sword blood spurted out of Nominoë's cheek and forehead. He
emitted a terrible cry, and clenched his fists, but noticing a traveling
cutlass hanging at Serdan's side he seized it and precipitated himself
upon the Count of Plouernel.

"Count!" shouted the Marquis of Chateauvieux, also drawing his sword,
"let us kill the vassal like a dog!"

Salaun ran to the help of his son, who was attacked by two adversaries
at once; jumped at the neck of the Marquis of Chateauvieux; threw him to
the ground; and, despite all the resistance that he offered, disarmed
him; while Nominoë, after dexterously parrying a blow aimed at him by
the Count of Plouernel, struck back so heavily with the reverse of the
cutlass upon the Count's wrist that his hand was paralyzed and dropped
the sword. All this happened with the swiftness of thought. Despite the
Count's conduct towards her, Mademoiselle Plouernel emitted a cry of
terror at the sight of her brother engaged in a hand-to-hand conflict
with Nominoë. At the risk of being struck by both in the heat of the
combat, she rushed forward to separate them. Trembling at the danger
that the young girl ran, Serdan threw his arms around her and held her
back. The girl uttered a piercing cry, staggered, became ashen pale; her
head fell backward, she fainted away overcome with terror, and would
have dropped to the ground but for Serdan holding her up and seating her
gently upon the grass with her back supported by the old oak tree.
Mademoiselle Plouernel had lost all consciousness. In the midst of the
tumult, the forester guardsmen whom one of the Count's equerries had
gone in search of as ordered by his master, stepped upon the scene,
armed with their muskets and hunting knives.

"To me, guardsmen! Arrest these assassins! Do not kill them, I shall
bring them to justice!" cried the Count of Plouernel, whom the blow of
Nominoë's cutlass had rendered helpless, and who held his bleeding and
mutilated right hand in his left, while Nominoë himself, seeing Bertha
lying unconscious at the foot of the old dead oak, flung away his
cutlass, and thinking only of Mademoiselle Plouernel, threw himself upon
his knees beside the young girl.

At the call of their seigneur, the guardsmen, to the number of eight,
rushed upon Salaun Lebrenn and Serdan. Disarmed by Nominoë, the latter
could offer no effective resistance to the men who sought to seize him.
Salaun, however, drawing his mariner's sword, returned thrust for
thrust to the guardsmen who attacked him, and called out to his son, who
was on his knees beside Bertha:

"Up, Nominoë! Defend yourself! Let us defend ourselves!"

Salaun's voice expired upon his lips. He was knocked down by a heavy
blow, dealt from behind with the butt of a musket by one of the
guardsmen while he fought two others in front, one of whom he succeeded
in wounding. Serdan was also floored, and then pinioned with the
shoulder straps of the guardsmen, the same as Salaun, who had dropped to
the ground dazed by the blow which he received. Finally, Nominoë,
delirious with grief, was, upon a sign from the Count of Plouernel torn
from Bertha by the foresters. His mind seemed to wander. He allowed
himself to be bound without offering any resistance whatever.

"Monseigneur," a lackey came and said to the Count of Plouernel, "Madam
the Marchioness and Monsieur the Abbot took a carriage to join in the
search for mademoiselle; they met the equerry who was bringing the
forester guardsmen; their carriage is near by; Madam the Marchioness
sent me to receive monseigneur's orders."

"Go and tell Monsieur the Abbot that I request him to come here without
delay. We need his services," the Count of Plouernel answered the
lackey.

And addressing the Marquis of Chateauvieux:

"My friend, you will have to help the Abbot to transport my sister to
the carriage. I shall join you there--I can hardly hold myself on my
feet; I am losing so much blood that I am afraid I shall faint."

Then, finally, turning to the three prisoners, who stood with lowering
brows, motionless and silent, and firmly bound, the Count cried:

"Bandits! Murderers! I am vested with low and high judicial powers in my
seigniory. You shall be tried to-night--and hanged to-morrow."

"Marquis, were there not four of these brigands? I only see three. What
became of the fourth?"

"Indeed, it seems to me there were four of them--one of them had a white
vest on," answered the Marquis of Chateauvieux, remembering having seen
Madok the miller, who, at the approach of the forester guardsmen
disappeared in the thickest of the wood.

"Monseigneur," said one of the foresters to the Count, "as we entered
the clearing we saw a man flee through the copse; he was probably the
companion of the prisoners, the one you are missing."

"The wood will have to be beaten and the bandit found--he shall be
hanged with his accomplices."

Abbot Boujaron arrived at that moment. He looked bewildered. He was
informed of the tragic adventure and helped the Marquis of Chateauvieux
to transport to the carriage Mademoiselle Plouernel, who, pale and
inert, seemed dead but for the convulsive tremors that shook her frame
from time to time. She was laid down upon the cushions of the carriage
near the Marchioness. The Count took a seat beside his sister, and the
carriage returned to the castle at full speed.

Bertha was taken to her own apartment and locked up with her nurse. She
was not to come out again but to be consigned to a cloister by orders of
the King. Before nightfall, Serdan, Salaun Lebrenn and his son, whom the
foresters led off, were separately imprisoned in the cells of the
manor--the sumptuous Renaissance palace was furnished with its
subterranean prisons, the same as the ancient feudal dungeon, seeing
that the seigneur of the Seventeenth exercised, like his ancestor of the
Eleventh Century, the functions of high and low judicial magistrate.
Reassured on the score of the wound received by the Count of Plouernel,
the Marquis of Chateauvieux hastened to obey the orders of the Governor
of Brittany, who summoned him to Rennes without delay, together with the
two companies of his regiment; but he left, however, with the Count, for
the latter's security, the detachment of Sergeant La Montagne, which he
had summoned to Plouernel the day before.



CHAPTER VII.

EZ-LIBR.


It was close on midnight. The moon, now on the wane, had just risen in a
cloudless sky. Hardly had the silvery crescent lifted itself above the
horizon when the parish bells, spread over an area of about ten square
leagues round about the burg of Plouernel sounded the tocsin at their
loudest. At the signal, a troop of peasants armed with hatchets,
hay-forks, scythes and old halberds, and preceded by a sort of vanguard
consisting of fifty men armed with muskets, sallied out of the burg of
Plouernel. They followed in silence the long avenue that led to the iron
gate of the court of honor before the castle. At the head of this
vanguard marched Gildas Lebrenn, the leasehold peasant of Karnak, Madok
the miller, three leasehold peasants of the domain of Plouernel itself,
and Tankeru. Tankeru carried, flung over his shoulder, his heavy
blacksmith's hammer into the head of which he had cut the Breton words:
EZ-LIBR--To Be Free. His arms were bare; in the pocket of his leathern
apron was a roll of paper partly visible above the edge. The light of
the moon illumined Tankeru's face. In two nights the sturdy man's hair
had turned grey. His features were hardly recognizable since Tina's
death. Despair had left its stamp upon them. He stopped at about a
hundred paces from the iron gate of the castle, and said to Madok in a
hollow voice:

"We swore to Salaun Lebrenn that we would follow his advice and place
justice on our side before coming to blows, and to submit the Peasant
Code for the approval of the Seigneur Count. Perhaps he has already
hanged Salaun; but, dead or alive, Salaun has our word. We shall keep
it! Tell our men to stop at the avenue. We shall enter the castle
unarmed."

The order was given and executed. The vanguard, together with the troop
of armed vassals, halted under the trees of the avenue. Tankeru and his
five companions advanced to the iron gate, which closed the entrance to
the court of honor and stood between two pavilions, where the gateman or
porter was housed. The vestibule and all the windows on the first floor
of the castle could be seen brilliantly illuminated. Tankeru drew near
the gate and called:

"Halloa! Porter! Porter! Come out!"

The porter, clad in a rich livery, came out of one of the pavilions, and
approaching Tankeru, inquired:

"Who goes there? What do you want?"

"We want to speak with your master, and on the spot. Open the gate of
the castle."

"You, clown?" answered the porter, with the insolence of a lackey, as he
spied through the iron bars the blacksmith and his companions, all of
whom were poorly clad. "Go your ways! Go, barefooted rabble! If you
don't, I shall take my cane and come out--and then, look to your backs!"

"If you do not open, I shall force the gate!" cried Tankeru to the
porter, who started to return to his pavilion grumbling.

Tankeru seized his hammer in both his hands, swung it, and with one blow
snapped the lock of the gate. It flew open. The frightened porter ran
towards the winding staircase of the castle, shouting:

"Help!"

The six vassals entered the court of honor, and walked across it at a
rapid pace. Suddenly Tankeru stopped. His eyes had caught sight of three
gibbets, recently reared, as shown by the fresh earth that was thrown up
at their feet. He called Gildas's attention to the instruments of death,
and said:

"We arrive on time! The gibbets are intended for Salaun, his friend
Serdan, and--"

The blacksmith did not mention the name of Nominoë. His features
contracted and assumed a frightful expression. The robust man smothered
a sob, clenched with convulsive rage the handle of his heavy hammer, and
pursued his march a few stops ahead of his companions.

The frightened gateman rushed into the vestibule of the castle where a
large number of other lackeys were playing cards. Among the gamesters
was Sergeant La Montagne and his corporal. The soldiers of his
detachment, tired out with their recent tramp, were resting in one of
the adjoining out-buildings.

"A number of vassals have forced open the gate!" shouted the porter as
he tumbled in. "They demand to see monseigneur immediately! Go and tell
the Count, and ask his orders!"

One of the lackeys ran off to carry the news to his master. The Count
was at that moment discussing with his bailiffs, Abbot Boujaron and the
Marchioness of Tremblay the sentence that was to be pronounced upon the
three "murderers" early next morning. At first stupefied at the audacity
of his vassals, the Count bounded up with indignation, and left the
hall, followed by his bailiffs and Abbot Boujaron. As the Abbot crossed
the vestibule he perceived Sergeant La Montagne, stepped towards him,
and gave him a few hurried instructions in a low voice. The sergeant
forthwith called to him his corporal, and both left the antechamber by
an inside staircase. With his arm in a sling, followed by his bailiffs,
and surrounded by a bevy of gallooned lackeys carrying torches in their
hands, the Count of Plouernel presented himself upon the stairway of the
castle at the moment when Tankeru was ascending the lower steps. The
blacksmith and his friends had reached the middle of the stairs when the
Abbot said in an undertone to the young Count of Plouernel:

"Gain time--a quarter of an hour, or if but ten minutes. The sergeant
has gone out to wake up the soldiers and arm them, together with the
forester guards. We shall bag the whole pack."

The Count of Plouernel nodded with his head approvingly to the Abbot,
and addressed his vassals in an angry tone:

"Wretches, who forced the gate of my court! What do you want? What do
you come for?"

"You shall know in a minute, monseigneur," answered Tankeru in a firm
voice as he drew the scroll of paper from the pocket of his leathern
apron. While so doing, he ascended the steps that separated him from the
landing where the Count of Plouernel stood, and handed him the writing:
"Read this, if you please, monseigneur."

"What is this silly paper that you hand me, rustic?"

"It is the PEASANT CODE, monseigneur. Our code, the code of the poor, of
the rustics, as you call us, Count of Plouernel."

"In other words, ye clowns, you presume to discuss!"

"Monseigneur," replied Tankeru, "we here are six honorable men who are
delegated by your vassals of Mezlean and Plouernel. In that writing,
which contains the Peasant Code, we humbly present our grievances, and
we endeavor to lay down, as clearly as is in our power, the rules that
it may please you to observe towards us, monseigneur, from this day on.
It is in great humbleness that we present our code to you, monseigneur."

"A code! Rules dictated by this rustic rabble!" stammered the Count of
Plouernel, beside himself with rage. "The audacity! Is it insolence,
carried to a climax? Is it folly? Or are these clowns simply drunk? Go
back, rustics! Back to your work!"

"Humor the miscreants," whispered the Abbot to the Count; "entertain
them, gain time; the soldiers and the foresters must be here soon--we
must bag the whole pack."

"Indeed, my clowns. You present your grievances?" proceeded the Count of
Plouernel, thus admonished, with supreme disdain not unmixed with
stupefaction. "So you have drawn up rules that it may please me to
observe towards you! The grievances of this plebs must be droll to
read!"

"We have taken the liberty, monseigneur, to submit our grievances to
you. We are at the end of our endurance; this must change! In short, we
demand of you no longer to be treated worse than draft animals; we
demand of you, monseigneur, no longer to be driven with sticks applied
to our backs; we demand of you, monseigneur, no longer to be overwhelmed
with taxes imposed at your _good pleasure_; we demand of you,
monseigneur, no longer to be thrown into prison, whipped with switches,
sent to the galleys, or hanged if we kill your stags, or your boars,
when they enter our fields and ravage our crops; finally, we demand of
you--but read the paper, monseigneur, and you will see that all we ask
is Justice--read the Peasant Code! Accept it; it will not ruin you--far
from it! But then at least, we and our families would no longer die of
hunger, neither worse nor better than foundered horses! We shall still
continue to work for you from dawn to dusk, monseigneur, you will still
have the larger share, we the smaller;--but then you would allow us to
live as the creatures of the good God should live! Accept the Peasant
Code, monseigneur; sign it; be, then, faithful to your signature, and
we will be faithful to our agreement--it will mean peace--a good peace
for you and for our families."

"Ho! Ho!" broke in the Count of Plouernel, whom the audacity of his
vassals threw into all manner of wrathful transports. "So, then, if I
accept your code, we shall have peace? Whence it follows that, in case I
refuse--please complete your sentence!"

"'Sdeath! It will then be war, monseigneur! And, take notice, it will
then be your fault, not ours," answered Tankeru resolutely. "Finally, in
order to cancel the whole bill, we demand of you that it may please you
to set free three prisoners whom you are holding in the castle. You
intend to have them hanged. Well, monseigneur, you must deliver them to
us, if you please; they must be set free--without further delay. If
not--"

"If not?" cried the Count of Plouernel at the end of his patience. "If I
refuse to set the prisoners free, what will you do? Please answer,
miserable fellow! What will you do? I would like to know!"

"'Sdeath! Monseigneur, we shall set them free ourselves! We shall open
the war. It will be you who will have made the choice!"

"This is too much!" cried the Count of Plouernel. But suddenly breaking
off and listening to windward, he turned to the Abbot and asked: "Is not
that the ringing of the tocsin that I hear from afar?"

"Yes, monseigneur," observed Tankeru in a hollow voice that now waxed
threatening. "With the rise of the moon, the tocsin was rung in all the
parishes of your seigniories of Plouernel and Mezlean--it is now ringing
at Rennes--at Nantes--at Quimper, where the fight is on. Everywhere the
revolt is on--war everywhere--in case our seigneurs refuse to accept the
Peasant Code. Decide on the spot!"

And pointing with his hand in the direction of the avenue to the castle,
where the troop of armed vassals was assembled, the blacksmith added:

"All the people of Plouernel and other parishes are yonder under arms;
they are waiting for your answer, monseigneur! It will be peace, if you
sign the Peasant Code and deliver us the prisoners; if not--fire and
flames!--it will be war! War without mercy towards you, as you have been
towards us, merciless and pitiless."

"Sergeant! Kill these rebels with your bayonets, or the brigands down
the avenue will hear the fire of your muskets and run to their help!"
suddenly ordered the Count of Plouernel addressing Sergeant La Montagne,
who, at the head of his men and hidden in the dark, had noiselessly
crept along the façade of the castle. "This way, foresters!" added the
Count in a ringing voice. "The castle is going to be attacked! Kill,
kill the malignant rustic plebs--kill them all!"

"Run the clowns through! Let not one escape! Head and bowels! They tried
to disarm us on the road to Mezlean!" cried Sergeant La Montagne. "This
is our revenge! Prick them through and through! Death to the rustics!"

At the word of command the soldiers suddenly rushed forth upon the
staircase, charging Tankeru and his companions with their bayonets.

While the soldiers turned to obey the order to massacre the vassals upon
the stairway of the castle, Nominoë was awaiting death in his cell,
whither the forester guards of the Count had taken him. The bailiff of
the seigniory, assisted by his registrar, had proceeded to interrogate
the prisoner, who was charged with a murderous attempt, followed by
wounds, upon the person of the very high, very powerful and very
redoubtable seigneur, etc. Nominoë remained silent, declining to answer
any of the bailiff's questions. The only words he uttered were to
inquire about the condition of Mademoiselle Plouernel. Not considering
it fit to impart the information to the prisoner, the officer of justice
once more urged him to consider that his refusal to answer the charges
against him was equivalent to a confession of guilt on his part, and
that the crime, in which he was caught red-handed, was punishable with
death. The prisoner was to appear early the next morning at the bar of
the seigniorial tribunal, together with his two accomplices, guilty like
himself of attempted murder, also followed by serious wounds upon the
person of the very high, very powerful and very redoubtable seigneur,
etc. The execution of the sentence was immediately to follow the
judgment. The three gibbets were to be erected that same night. Nominoë
persisted in his silence. Thereupon the bailiff and the registrar took
their departure, and he was left alone.

"To die!" pondered Nominoë. "I am about to die. Or rather, I am about to
be re-born yonder! Oh! I would greet that new life with a shout of joy,
were it not for my sorrow at departing from this world at the very
moment when there is about to break out the revolt of which my father is
the soul, and which, under his direction, might have led to the
overthrow of the royal power itself. This is what attaches me to life."

Absorbed in his meditations, Nominoë had not noticed that for a
considerable space of time the sound of a number of bells, though
weakened by the distance, reached him through the air-hole of his cell.
Suddenly a tumultuous noise that drew nearer and nearer attracted his
attention. With the noise of the tumult was speedily mingled the
detonations of musketry fire, frequent and well sustained, and but
irregularly answered. Little by little the musketry discharges ceased.
The turmoil seemed hushed. A long silence ensued--and, presently, a
reddish glint of flames penetrated through the air-hole of the cell,
reflected itself upon the opposite wall, and speedily threw the same
into a flamboyant glare. It was the war upon the castles that broke out!
Peace to the huts, war to the palaces!

"The vassals have attacked the feudal manor--they have seized it--they
are in the halls! They are now setting it on fire!" cried Nominoë,
ecstatic with joy. But immediately struck by an opposite train of
thought: "Good God! What will become of Bertha!"

A prey to distracting anxiety, Nominoë dashed himself against the thick
and iron-studded door; vainly he sought to break it down with his
shoulders. Presently loud cries reached his ears. They proceeded from a
throng of people, who, rushing by the air-hole of his cell, shouted
aloud to one another:

"The prisoners must be here! This way! this way! break open their cells!
The fire is spreading! Save the prisoners! Save the prisoners!"

"God be blessed! Perhaps I may yet see Bertha--and save her once more!"
cried Nominoë.

Encouraged by this thought, Nominoë approached his lips to the key-hole
and called out:

"Friends! This way! This way!"

"Here I am!" answered the voice of Tankeru. "I have heard you! I am
coming!" And turning the key, which was left by the jailer in the lock
outside, he opened the door. The blacksmith stepped into the cell of
Nominoë.

Tankeru looked ashen pale. He bled. He had received two bayonet
thrusts--one in the arm, the other in the thigh. When, with felled
bayonets, the soldiers charged upon the delegates of the vassals, the
blacksmith, armed with his hammer, a fearful weapon in his hands,
succeeded in beating his way through the soldiers and joined his
companions who were waiting for him outside the gate. Immediately
placing himself at the head of the vassals' troop, he marched back with
them upon the castle and successfully conducted the assault. The
forester guards, the soldiers, the Count's hunting men, concealed behind
the embrasures of the windows on the ground floor, directed a plunging
fire against the assailants. Many of these fell mortally wounded. The
survivors rushed up the wide stairway with Tankeru at their head. The
door of the vestibule was beaten down; a stubborn and bloody combat
immediately ensued inside the edifice. Victory fell to the vassals.
Heated and furious with the ardor of the battle, these threw down and
smashed whatever they could lay hands upon in the sumptuous castle.
Tankeru and several other peasants proceeded immediately to search for
Serdan, Salaun and Nominoë. A fleeing lackey who was caught, pointed out
the building in which the prison was situated, and tendered his services
to the vassals as a guide while he begged for his life. He led them to
the jail. It was then that Tankeru heard Nominoë's voice and stepped
into his cell.

At the aspect of Tina's father Nominoë forgot the anxious thoughts that
but a moment before were assailing him, and fell back terror-stricken as
if a living remorse had suddenly risen before him. With features
distorted by fury, the blacksmith bounded forward, raising his hammer,
over the head of him whom he held responsible for the death of his
daughter.

"Strike!" said Nominoë without moving, and lowering his head with
resignation. "Strike! It is your right."

The blacksmith lowered his hammer, remained for a moment steeped in
thought, and then said with icy calmness:

"You shall die; but, before you do, you shall know how my daughter
died!"

Again the blacksmith paused, and again proceeded:

"Listen, murderer. On the day of the wedding, as you know, I took flight
upon seeing that the attempt to disarm the soldiers miscarried. After
dark I returned to my house; I knocked at the door; my mother opened it.
She was pale; she was sobbing. I asked what was the matter--as yet I
knew nothing. She answered: 'It is all over. Nominoë has fled. He said
to Salaun and Tina that they would nevermore see him. The child was
brought home in a swoon. A short while ago she regained consciousness.
She is upstairs. She is spinning at her wheel as if nothing had
happened. She does not speak. She does not weep--she frightens me--I
fear the poor girl has gone crazy.'"

"Oh, God!" murmured Nominoë, hiding his face, in his hands. "Poor child!
Poor--poor child!"

"Upon hearing these words from my mother," Tankeru proceeded without
seeming to hear the painful wail that escaped Nominoë, "at these words
from my mother, I was at first seized with a vertigo. The blood rushed
to my brain; I fell seated upon a bench; my head reeled. Presently I
could think again. I said to myself--it is done for my daughter, grief
will kill her! I went upstairs. Tina, seated before her wheel, spun. Her
eyes were fixed; her cheeks were purple; heavy drops of sweat rolled
down her forehead. When I came in, her eyes were turned in my
direction--she did not budge--she did not recognize me. I believed she
was crazy; sobs choked me. I called to her--'Tina! Tina! My child!' No
answer; no look of recognition--nothing! nothing! I left her to my
mother's care, and ran to Vannes in quest of a physician. I trembled
with fear lest he should arrive too late. I informed the physician of
what had happened. He took horse, and followed me. I ran afoot faster
than he on horseback. I knocked again at our door, and entering I asked
my mother: 'Is she dead?' 'No,' she answered, 'she had a spell of
weakness, but, upon recovering, she recognized me. I wished to undress
her to lay her to bed. She wept and begged me not to take off her
wedding clothes. She is now on her bed.' We ran upstairs with the
physician. We found her lying on her bed with her nuptial headdress and
clothes. She had grown so pale that I shivered. This time she recognized
and stretched out her arms to me. She endeavored to rise; her strength
failed her. I approached close to her pale face; she embraced me--her
lips were icy--also her cheeks. I realized on the instant that she was
expiring. I felt as if my heart was being wrung--I screamed with actual
pain! My mother drew me away. I had forgotten the physician. He
contemplated my daughter for a long time; he touched her hand, her
forehead; and then he motioned to me to leave the room with him. The
sudden shock that my daughter had sustained caused all her blood to rush
to her heart; a blood vessel had burst; she was dying. That was what the
physician said to me. I returned to Tina's room. She endeavored to
smile--what a smile!--and she said to us, to my mother and me: 'Give me
your dear hands, and leave them in mine till the end.' She pressed them
gently, and a little later said: 'Oh! that warms me up.' Poor dear
child, her hands were so cold! her little hands were already so cold
that they froze the very marrow in my bones. I sought to comfort her.
She shook her head and said to my mother: 'Do you see grandma, do you
now agree that heaven does send us tokens to prepare us for misfortune?
The black crow of this morning? The little dead dove? Do you remember?
No--God did not wish me to be the wife of Nominoë. We exchanged
rings'--and she raised to her lips the ring that she wore on her
finger--'I was his wife, and see me, now, his widow before his death. He
married me only out of kindness, but the Lord God did not want that
marriage. May His will be done! May Nominoë be happy! Father, you must
pardon him, as I pardon him the sorrow that, despite himself, he has
caused us. It is not his fault. Had he been able to love me with a
husband's love he would have loved me. Pardon for him--it is the last
request of your daughter Tina. She also asks you to bury her in her
bridal robe, with her ring and her nuptial ribbons. Good father, adieu!
Grandma, adieu. Leave your hands in mine--I die--'"

Tankeru could not finish the sentence. His voice, which trembled more
and more as he proceeded, utterly broke down. Sobs convulsed his frame.
In the tenderness of his grief he forgot for a moment the revengeful
rage that transported him, and he himself repeated the supreme last
words of Tina--the pardon that with her last breath she implored for
Nominoë! The latter, utterly overwhelmed with the distressful report of
Tina's last hours, listened to it in mournful silence. So profound was
his grief, so sincere his remorse, that he never thought of his anxiety
concerning the fate of Mademoiselle Plouernel. Suddenly Tankeru's tears
ceased to flow. With them also ceased his tenderness. Only his despair
now remained. His fury was rekindled; he picked up the hammer that had
fallen at his feet, swung it in the air and rushed upon Nominoë crying:

"I have informed you of the sufferings and the agony of your
victim--now, assassin, die!"

The heavy hammer of the blacksmith rose to drop upon the head of
Nominoë. The latter jumped aside, threw his arms around Tankeru's neck,
embraced him effusively, and said in a voice choked with tears:

"I do not fear death! Not that! But, believe me, my death would one day
weigh heavily upon your conscience! You loved my mother so dearly! Tina
has pardoned me, and she asked you to have mercy upon me! You see my
tears, my remorse--you loved me once--your heart is good--uncle!
uncle!--do not kill me! Eternal remorse would pursue you for the act!"

The touching words of Nominoë, his tender embrace, the memory of his
sister, the last words of Tina, the paternal affection he had always
felt for his nephew disarmed Tankeru. The hammer slipped from his hand
and fell at his feet.

At that moment Serdan and Salaun Lebrenn, whom the vassals had freed,
entered precipitately into the cell. Serdan cried out:

"Flee! Flee! The fire is reaching the building!"

Having overheard his son's words in answer to Tankeru's threat to kill
him, Salaun took the blacksmith's hand and pressing it warmly in his
own, said:

"Brother, I swear to God! Despite the immensity of the wrong that he has
done, Nominoë does deserve, if not your pardon, at least your pity!"

"The fire! The fire!" cried several peasants who had descended into the
prison to deliver the captives, and who, having regained the stairs, now
ran through the gallery of cells. In view of the increasing danger, the
blacksmith, Salaun and his son dashed across the black clouds of smoke,
picking their way by the ruddy reflections which the conflagration
projected upon the steps of the staircase through the prison gate, that
looked like the mouth of a roaring furnace. Nominoë followed close upon
the steps of his father and the blacksmith who preceded him. Despite the
imminence of the danger that he ran, the youth's thoughts now returned
to Mademoiselle Plouernel. In heartrending accents he muttered:

"Oh, woe! Oh, woe! The fire is consuming the castle. What may have
become of her? Where may Bertha be?"

"She is safe!" answered Serdan, who, happening to walk close by the side
of Nominoë, had overheard him. "The peasants informed us that, once
masters of the castle, their companions took care of their _good
demoiselle_. A carriage was quickly hitched to a team of horses, and
Mademoiselle Plouernel departed with her nurse and an equerry to
Mezlean. The Marchioness, terror-stricken, died of apoplexy."

Tankeru, Serdan, Salaun Lebrenn and Nominoë made their escape through
the underground staircase of the prison building. The building itself
was now ablaze, the same as all the out-houses appertaining to the
castle. Their roofs fell with crash upon crash within the walls that
had partly crumbled in the conflagration, and shot up long streamers of
fire and sparkling embers. Seeing that the castle itself did not contain
the mass of combustible materials of all sorts with which the out-houses
were filled, it offered a longer resistance to the conflagration. Off
and on a tongue of fire would be seen expiring in the midst of smoke
that was still escaping from the windows on the ground floor; the panes
of glass had exploded noisily and the frames were charred black. But the
fire spared the upper floors where the vassals still pursued their work
of devastation, throwing out of the windows pieces of furniture, looking
glasses, bedding, books, pictures. Debris of all kinds was heaped in the
center of the court of honor, and the insurgents turned the heap into a
huge bonfire that lighted the three gibbets which were erected for
Salaun, Serdan and Nominoë, but from which now dangled the lifeless
bodies of the Count of Plouernel, Abbot Boujaron and Sergeant La
Montagne, all three objects of the implacable hatred of the people--the
_seigneur_, the _priest_ and the _King's soldier_.

Informed of the death of his brother Gildas who was massacred together
with the other delegates of the vassals, Tankeru excepted, Salaun looked
for and found the body, and laid it in a grave that he dug with the
assistance of Tankeru, Serdan and Nominoë. That funeral duty being
fulfilled, Salaun said to them, as he sadly contemplated the scene of
wreck and ruin which they had been unable to prevent:

"Oh, my son! my friends! Had we been free, we would have succeeded in
preventing these acts of savagery that are so fatal to our cause! Alas,
it is now too late! What is the mysterious law that causes the
re-vindication of human rights ever to drag excesses in its wake! The
vassals of the Count of Plouernel first submitted their grievances
humbly to him, and presented the surely legitimate demands which they
formulated in the Peasant Code. Had the Count listened to their claims,
he would have done an act of humanity and justice, and he would have
preserved his privileges. By yielding to the peasants' wishes, and
discontinuing to look upon his peasants as beasts of burden, that man
would have shown himself not only just, but also intelligent in his own
interest. If these wretched people were spared the homicidal privations
that, before taking them to their graves, gradually sap their health,
undermine their strength, and render them unfit for continued toil, they
would have yielded more wealth to him, and would have rendered more
fruitful the seigniorial domains. But no! In his pitiless egotism, the
Count of Plouernel answered the peasants' prayers with disdain, with
insult, with murder! They thereupon grew furious, enraged. They returned
blow for blow, death for death; gave themselves over to frightful acts
of reprisal; killed their seigneur; and now ravage and burn down his
castle! It will cost the brother of the Count of Plouernel a good deal
to repair the disasters of this single night--twenty times more than it
would have cost the Count to ease his vassals for a century and more of
the taxes that oppressed them. Alas! This is not an isolated instance
in history. Did not the seigneurs and their bishops proceed in the same
manner during the Middle Ages towards those communes which our ancestor
Fergan the Quarryman was one of the most intrepid to defend? The
communiers also began with humble supplications to their seigneurs, or
their bishops, to alleviate their taxes. But both seigneurs and bishops
ordered their men-at-arms to mow down the 'villains' and 'clowns.' And,
thereupon, 'clowns' and 'villains' rose in revolt, and, arms in hand, at
the price of their blood, and after taking signal vengeance, conquered
the franchises and the charters--the safeguards of their freedom! Even
during the last century, did not the Reformers first request humbly that
they be granted the right to exercise their own cult? But the Church and
the Crown answered their prayers with the pyre and wholesale massacres.
And thereupon the Reformers in turn, rose in revolt, and, after a half
century of bloody religious wars, the Edict of Nantes finally
consecrated and confirmed the four edicts of tolerance which the
Huguenots had conquered, arms in hand. And yet, as our ancestor
Christian the printer said in the days of Francis I, a simple decree of
two lines only, recognizing in all the right to exercise their cult,
while respecting the cult of others, would have avoided the dreadful
catastrophes that Catholic intolerance brought upon France for over
fifty years. What is the reason that all civil, political or religious
reform can be conquered only at the price of blood and of frightful
disasters? Alas! simply because the nobility, the clergy and royalty
look upon all attempt to curb or clip the rights, that they consider
sacred, as an outrage, as theft, and as the ruination of the land;
because they never will consent voluntarily to curtail their privileges,
these being the source of their power and their wealth; because, even
did they grant some measure of reform under the pressure of necessity,
they would strive to withdraw what they conceded, the moment they
thought the danger was over."

"But, at least, however violent the reaction against the reforms that
are granted, something always remains; some gain always is left,"
observed Nominoë. "It is only by this process, slowly, painfully, and
step by step, that human progress pursues its course across the ages."

"Oh!" broke in Salaun. "Without this deep-rooted faith in the
irresistible progress of humanity, a progress that is as evident as the
sun's light, what would man be? A sport of accident, a blind creature,
fated to wear himself out with impotent efforts in the midst of eternal
darkness! No; no. You did not wish that, Oh, God of justice! You have
pointed out a sublime goal to man! His free will chooses the path, be it
slow or swift, easy or painful, peaceful or bloody. Your sovereign will
is bound to be accomplished, it is in process of being
accomplished.--And now, my friends, seeing we were not able to prevent
these dreadful acts of reprisal, let us rally the peasants. Our troop
will be swollen by accessions from all the parishes that are now in
revolt. We shall march upon Rennes in order to bring assistance to the
people and the bourgeois there in arms. The other chieftains, at the
head of the peasants of the districts of Nantes and of Quimper, will,
on their part, carry succor to their respective cities in revolt. From
that moment, the victorious insurrection, mistress of Brittany as it is
of Guyenne, of Languedoc, of Saintonge and of Dauphiné, will impose the
PEASANT CODE upon the clergy and the seigniory, and its national reforms
upon Louis XIV!--THE LAND SHALL BELONG TO THOSE WHO CULTIVATE IT."



CHAPTER VIII.

THE MANOR OF MEZLEAN.


The manor of Mezlean, located at a considerable distance from the burg
of the same name, lies about half a league from the druid stones of
Karnak, which rise on the border of the ocean in long and wide avenues
of gigantic pillars.

About a month had elapsed since the burning of the Castle of Plouernel.
It was night. Bertha's nurse, old Marion, was mechanically spinning at
her wheel in the spacious lower hall of the manor that was so long
uninhabited, and the antique furniture of which dated from the reign of
Henry IV. Near Marion, on a table, stood a copper lamp with three jets.

"It is going on three weeks that old Du Buisson, mademoiselle's equerry,
has been on the road, and he is not yet back," mused Marion uneasily to
herself. "Can he have met with some accident? If not, I wonder what news
he will bring from down there! One hears nothing here at Mezlean of what
goes on in Brittany. A company of soldiers marched into the burg this
morning. They can have found there only women, children and old men,
besides some few other people who took no part in the revolt." And
shuddering at the thought, Marion added: "Oh, what a night, what a night
was that on which the peasants attacked the castle! I thought my poor
Bertha's last hour had sounded when I saw them invade our apartment,
arms in hand! But not at all. 'You are our _good demoiselle_, as good as
your brother is wicked,' said they to Bertha. 'You have nothing to fear,
demoiselle. But leave the place; take along everything you want. We
ordered your domestics to hitch up a carriage. They are waiting for
you.' And mademoiselle took a little portrait of her mother, a casket
containing some money and jewelry, and a manuscript written by Colonel
Plouernel. I hurriedly packed up a few bundles, and we left the castle.
Alas! They were at that moment hanging Monseigneur the Count, Monsieur
the Abbot, and the sergeant. 'Mercy! Mercy for my brother!' cried my
poor Bertha piteously, falling upon her knees on the staircase, from the
top of which she saw Monseigneur the Count, pale and bleeding,
struggling against the vassals who were dragging him to the gibbet! It
was too late! Mademoiselle's voice was not heard by the peasants in the
tumult. We finally arrived here with a coachman and a lackey. Old Du
Buisson escorted us on horseback, riding beside the door of the
carriage. Mademoiselle sent the men back with generous expressions of
her gratitude, keeping only Du Buisson and myself in her service,
besides the porter and his wife. I trembled when I saw my poor Bertha
relapse after so many shocks, into a serious illness. But thanks to God,
I was mistaken. For a few days she had a high fever as the consequence
of her despair at the horrible death of her brother. But slowly she
recovered her health. I must admit that, since her last great illness at
Versailles, she never has been better--she is now more beautiful and
fresher than I have ever seen her. She seems calm and happy. All that
should set me at ease. And yet--sad presentiments assail my heart. I can
not overcome them."

At this point Marion broke off abruptly, listened toward the hall door
and said:

"I hear steps. Who can it be that is coming in at this hour?"

The door opened, and Du Buisson entered.

"God be blessed! At last you are back, Du Buisson! Well, what news do
you bring?"

"Bad news, my dear Marion. Bad news from everywhere!"

"Good God! Then Monsieur Nominoë Lebrenn, the poor young man--?"

"He must have fared like so many others. I found it impossible to
discover any traces of either him or his father. Whether he is dead or
alive, I can not tell."

"Oh, my poor Bertha! My poor Bertha! How much is she to be pitied!"

"Fortunately mademoiselle is a brave woman. Moreover, she entertained
but slight hopes of my succeeding in the mission that she charged me
with. I did my best. How is mademoiselle's health?"

"Excellent, my dear Du Buisson!"

"Heaven be praised!"

"Every day mademoiselle takes a long walk along the seashore in the
direction of the stones of Karnak. She seems to have taken a liking for
the spot. When she returns home she takes up the manuscript of Colonel
Plouernel, and starts to read. Especially in the evening, she remains
for hours at a stretch in a revery, contemplating the sky. She looks sad
every time the stars are veiled by the clouds."

"She must have been impatient to see me back?"

"Yes. As far as I could judge from a few words that she dropped to me,
she is awaiting your return to take some kind of action. What it may be
I do not know."

"Perhaps she contemplates leaving France for a while, and traveling
abroad."

"I do believe she is thinking of a voyage. More than once did
mademoiselle say to me we were here only transiently."

"At any rate, the important point is that she is much less melancholy,
and her health is good--not so?"

"Yes, her sadness seems to have vanished, and her health is excellent.
And yet, Du Buisson, I often feel greatly alarmed about mademoiselle; it
seems to me some misfortune is approaching--sad thoughts assail me day
and night."

"What can be the cause of these presentiments of evil?"

"I hardly dare tell you. You would take me for a fool--you would laugh
at me, I fear."

"Nothing that concerns our young mademoiselle can cause me to indulge
in levity, Marion. Speak out, I pray you."

"Well, shortly after your departure, my poor Bertha, who was barely over
her fever, still seemed quite sad. One day mademoiselle was speaking to
me with her usual kindness of heart about my family in Vannes, and she
asked me whether none of my relatives needed any financial assistance. I
answered her that my brother, a small trader, found in his business
enough to meet the personal wants of himself, his wife and children;
and, in the hope of amusing mademoiselle, I added that my brother and I
expected from one moment to another a windfall of incalculable value.
Mademoiselle very soberly asked me what I meant. I answered that one of
our cousins, an old man almost dotish, was, as so many others have been
doing of late years, _blowing_ in order to find the 'powder of
projection'--"[7]

"What, Marion! Did this _blowing_ fad penetrate to the very heart of
Brittany? Are there here also people who indulge in such vagaries?"

"Unfortunately so. The cousin whom I refer to is one of those fools. He
inherited a little patrimony, and sank it all in alembics and chemical
retorts. All the while, the old fellow is ever more convinced that he is
on the track of that famous powder with the help of which everything,
just everything, can be changed into gold. I was retailing this nonsense
to mademoiselle in the hope of amusing her, when I perceived that she
suddenly grew quite serious, and said to me there was more truth than
people generally thought for in the wisdom of the alchemists; that she
was curious to pay a visit to the blower; and she wound up saying that
we would go the very next day to Vannes."

"So, then, mademoiselle took the nonsense seriously! That is
surprising--but it does not justify your alarm."

"I also was very much surprised, I must confess; and my surprise
increased greatly when, just before stepping into the carriage to go to
Vannes, I saw mademoiselle open her casket, take out some gold and
precious stones, and put them into a little satchel that she carried. We
arrived at the suburbs of Vannes. The carriage stopped before an
isolated house in which the dotish fellow lives. I found him surrounded
by his furnaces, and announced to him the visit of mademoiselle. She
went in, told me to wait for her outside, and she remained quite long
alone with him. Does not that yet strike you as singular?"

"Go to, Marion! You are trying to hint at magic. To be sure
mademoiselle's visit to the old fool is singular. But that does not
indicate magic."

"I am coming to the point. I was waiting for mademoiselle in the
necromancer's vestibule when suddenly he came out looking wild, ran out
to the nearest house, and speedily returned carrying--a big black cat!"

"Oh! Oh! I begin to see! The black cat is the cabalistic animal _par
excellence_! And what became of the black cat?"

"I do not know--but what is quite certain is that about an hour later
mademoiselle came out of the blower's den beaming with happiness and
joy. Her feet did not seem to touch the ground. In short, the
expression on her face had changed to the point that I asked myself, and
often ask myself still, whether that man may not have resorted to some
witchcraft that could so suddenly metamorphose my poor Bertha. I must
also tell you that she did not bring back to Mezlean the gold pieces and
precious stones which she took from her casket. Whether it is that,
knowing from me that the old man is penniless, she meant to help him, or
whether it is that she was made to pay through the nose for some
charm--I do not know. But, no. She is too sensible to be duped by such
juggler's tricks."

"My poor Marion, all the black cats in the world will not make me
believe in sorcery. But I am struck by the change that you say came over
mademoiselle's spirits after her visit to the blower, especially if the
change has been permanent, as you claim it is."

"And so it is. Since that day, mademoiselle has never looked sad, nor
care-worn, as formerly. She seems to await your return impatiently in
order to take a decision connected with some voyage. Finally, when she
speaks to me of her deceased mother, Madam the Countess, and she does so
quite often--that is another matter that perplexes and alarms me a good
deal--mademoiselle occasionally expresses herself in language that
implies she expects to meet her soon. On such occasions the eyes of my
poor Bertha become so brilliant that I cannot face their light; her face
radiates celestial beauty; she looks transfigured, as I said to you
before, and--"

Marion broke suddenly off and said to the old equerry:

"Hush! Here is mademoiselle."



CHAPTER IX.

THE PEASANTS' DEFEAT.


Mademoiselle Plouernel entered the apartment walking slowly. She looked
fresher, more beautiful than ever. She was dressed in white. The old
equerry bowed respectfully and said to her, who upon seeing him, uttered
a cry of surprise:

"I did not hurry to present myself before mademoiselle because the
tidings that I bring are of the saddest."

"Leave us alone, Marion," said Mademoiselle Plouernel to her nurse. "I
must see Du Buisson privately for a moment."

Marion left the room, and Bertha kindly addressed the equerry:

"I am all the sorrier for the trouble I have put you to, Du Buisson,
seeing that it was to prove fruitless;" and seating herself, the young
girl added: "Do not remain standing; you must feel tired after your long
journey."

Out of deference for his mistress the old man hesitated to obey. Bertha
repeated:

"Take a seat; I want it."

Du Buisson sat down. Bertha proceeded:

"Then you bring me back my letter?"

"Here it is, mademoiselle," answered the old man. "I could not find the
addressee," and taking a letter out of his wallet, he passed it over to
Bertha, who laid the folded and sealed paper on a table beside her,
saying:

"So then you found it impossible to ascertain the whereabouts of
Monsieur Nominoë Lebrenn? Could you gather no information concerning
him?"

"None, mademoiselle! When I left Mezlean I learned that the troop of
insurgent peasants took the road to Rennes, was greatly augmented by
contingents from the parishes which it traversed, and must have numbered
about twenty thousand men, more or less well armed. It was a veritable
army. Monsieur Nominoë Lebrenn, his father and Monsieur Serdan had
brought the body under considerable disciplinary order. Nevertheless,
all their efforts to the contrary, not a few disorderly acts were
indulged in at the castles and rectories. The peasant army moved all the
while towards Rennes. I hoped to encounter it at Guemenee. But there I
learned that envoys of Monsieur the Duke of Chaulnes, Governor of
Brittany, had arrived at that town ahead of the insurgents and announced
to the inhabitants that the new royal taxes were repealed, that the
parliament of Brittany was to assemble at Vannes, that it would register
the Peasant Code, that the vassals also were to be exonerated from
paying the royal taxes, and that thenceforth they were all to be
protected against any further extortions and maltreatment by the
seigneurs and the curates. The promises made by the emissaries of
Monsieur the Duke of Chaulnes caused great jubilation among the
peasants. They declared that, having obtained what they wanted, the war
was ended, and they would return home to their respective parishes. So
far from sharing the confidence into which the peasants were lulled,
Lebrenn and Serdan urged upon them the necessity of not disbanding and
not laying down their arms; they assured the peasants that they were
being deceived, and that the plan was to dissolve their army by means of
mendacious promises, and then to fall upon and crush them. Indeed, the
promises were but a snare and a lure. But the lure seduced the peasants,
who were homesick for their huts, their wives and their children. In
vain did their chiefs urge them to march upon Rennes, the usual place
for the parliament to hold its sessions, and support the assembly in its
defiance of the King."

"And the advice was not heeded?"

"No, mademoiselle. The vassals, delighted at the realization of their
aspirations, answered that it was impossible to suppose Monseigneur the
Governor would vilely lie to them. They broke ranks and struck the roads
home in separate bands, proclaiming everywhere along their passage that
the Peasant Code was accepted by the seigneurs and the curates. Great
rejoicing reigned in all the parishes of Brittany. Everywhere bonfires
were lighted. Upon learning at Guemenee of the dispersion of the
insurgents, I inquired after their chiefs. I learned that Monsieur
Salaun Lebrenn, his son and Monsieur Serdan had proceeded to Rennes. I
went thither. The masses of the people, especially the bourgeoisie,
being less credulous than the peasants, remained in arms, the same as
at Nantes, awaiting the opening of the parliament promised by Monsieur
the Duke of Chaulnes. While at Rennes I looked for the Lebrenns and
Monsieur Serdan. Later I learned they had departed for Nantes. Thither I
wended my way. Upon arriving at Nantes I learned that a body of ten
thousand troops, commanded by Monsieur De Forbin, had just entered
Brittany in order to crush the rebellious parliamentarians--were they
bourgeois or peasants. On the following day the town of Nantes was
occupied by two regiments of infantry, supported by artillery and
cavalry. The executions commenced. On the first day forty-seven leading
bourgeois were hanged, and eleven men of the common people, who were
marked as seditious, broken alive on the wheel."

"My God!" cried Mademoiselle Plouernel horrified. "How much blood! How
much blood!"

"The city was mulcted of one hundred thousand ecus, the sum to be
delivered to the troops within forty-eight hours. Thereupon a decree of
the Governor of Brittany was posted pronouncing sentence of death upon
all those who would afford refuge to the chiefs of the insurrection. At
the head of the list of the chiefs, whose heads were pronounced forfeit,
were the names of Salaun and Nominoë Lebrenn."

"I am not surprised," put in Bertha calmly. "And at Nantes neither were
you able to find any traces of Monsieur Lebrenn and his son?"

"No, mademoiselle. From that moment it seemed to me there was nothing
left for me to do but to return and inform you of the miscarriage of my
errand. But, alas! as I crossed Brittany, what a lamentable spectacle!
Pillage, desolation, gallows--everywhere! The soldiers treat Brittany
like a conquered country, and demean themselves in the identical manner
that they did in Flanders. Their acts of rapine and cruelty transcend
description. I saw along the roads almost as many gibbets as trees! The
peasants are tortured and then butchered. Those who flee to the woods
are tracked, hunted and killed like wild beasts by the soldiers! They
spare neither old men nor children--the women are outraged. In short,
such is the terror that reigns in the country that yesterday, as I
crossed Lesneven, which was just occupied by a company of soldiers, I
saw a score of peasants throw themselves upon their knees, clasp their
hands, and offering their throats, cry out pitifully to the soldiers:
'Cut our throats, if you wish, but do not make us languish in torture!'
Finally this morning, at Karer, a lot of drunken soldiers roasted a
child alive!"

"Enough! That's horrible!" cried Mademoiselle Plouernel, shivering. "Oh,
great century! Oh, Grand Monarch! Blessed be the hour when I shall
depart from this land, the scene of so many horrors and so many
infamies!"

"Is mademoiselle going on a voyage?"

"Yes," answered Bertha with an indefinable smile; "yes, I contemplate
undertaking a long voyage."

"May I hope that mademoiselle will keep me near her? I am old, but
devoted."

"I know your devotion, good and faithful servitor. It matches Marion,
my nurse's. Nevertheless, I could hardly think of taking you with me,
either you, or her."

"Is it possible!" exclaimed the old man, tears coming to his eyes.
"What! Are we not to accompany mademoiselle? But, good God! I may ask
without presuming too much, where will mademoiselle find more faithful
servants, or more devoted to her? We must implore mademoiselle to keep
us near her, in her service."

"Can you imagine that, if I were to keep any servants, I would look for
others than yourselves?"

"But, mademoiselle," persisted Du Buisson, stupefied, "mademoiselle can
not think of traveling alone!"

"Exactly! That surprises you? I can well understand that it does. And
yet, it is so. I need not add that I shall provide for your old age, my
good Du Buisson."

"Oh, I hope mademoiselle does not think that my private interest--is
what concerns me--"

"Your disinterestedness, Du Buisson, is equal to your probity and
zeal--I know it. For that very reason it will be an agreeable duty on my
part to recompense your long services. That is not yet all. I shall
leave you--you and Marion--charged with a mission that, I am sure, you
will be thankful to me for entrusting you with. I can entrust it to no
worthier hands. The large number of executions, which, by order of Louis
XIV will turn Brittany into a vast cemetery, will make many widows, many
orphans. Before my departure I shall leave with you a considerable sum
in gold and valuables. You and Marion shall use the same towards
alleviating the distress of the poor families whose breadwinners will
have perished and--"

Marion burst into the room. She was pale and trembling. In a broken
voice she said:

"Oh, mademoiselle! What a singular occurrence!"

"What is the matter, nurse?"

"I hardly dare tell you! My God, you will be so much surprised! It will
be so strange to you--I am all upset!"

"What is the matter?"

"Margarid, the porter's wife, came up to the house to announce to me
that someone knocked at the gate, that she opened, a person appeared and
asked to speak--"

"Well?"

"I told Margarid to let the person come in; he did--I saw him. It
is--Nominoë Lebrenn."

"Heaven be praised! Thanks, Oh Lord, thanks!" cried Mademoiselle
Plouernel, clasping her hands tightly and raising her eyes moistened
with joyful tears. Immediately after her first transport of gladness,
Bertha said to Marion in a voice that trembled:

"Bring him to me. Let him come."

Marion left, and Bertha returned to her old equerry:

"You will not forget my recommendations regarding the sum that I destine
for the widows and orphans--whom the savage soldiers of the Grand
Monarch will have made."

"Mademoiselle's wishes shall be carried out," answered the old man,
bowing.

He left the room; almost immediately after Nominoë entered the hall. His
clothes were dusty; he threw his wallet and traveling stick upon an arm
chair. He stood alone before Bertha.



CHAPTER X.

UNITED.


Mademoiselle Plouernel stepped buoyantly towards Nominoë, reached out
her hand to him, and said delightedly:

"At last I see you again!"

"How beautiful she is! My God, how beautiful she is!" the young man
murmured involuntarily, standing in ecstasy before the young girl whose
hand he held in his own. Never before, not even at The Hague, was he
dazzled by the radiant beauty of Bertha as now. For a moment he remained
as if in a transport--enraptured--in ecstatic adoration.

Soon the intoxicating emotion was succeeded by a bitter presentiment in
Nominoë's heart. He knew himself to be passionately loved by Bertha. She
must have suffered a thousand cruel pangs at the thought of the perils
that he ran since they last met, above all at the thought of the wreck
of the marriage which she had so long looked forward to. And yet, so far
from finding her dejected, pale, emaciated by grief and despair, she
stood there blooming with freshness and beauty. Love has a penetrating
eye. Mademoiselle Plouernel divined the secret thought of Nominoë, and
addressing him with a charming smile, said:

"Be frank, my friend, you find me too beautiful, do you not?"

"What is that you say, Bertha!"

"Admit it, pallor would better suit my cheeks than the tint of the rose.
Recent tears should dim the brilliancy of my eyes. An expression of
despair should compress my lips. Instead--my eyes shine brilliantly, my
cheeks are red, and a smile sits upon my lips. Nothing in me betrays the
pangs of despair; I look brimful of confidence, of calm and serene hope.
What can I say to you, Nominoë?--my face can dissemble as little as my
heart. Only a minute ago, before your arrival, I was happy; I see you
again, my happiness is doubled. My words, my appearance, astonish you,
because you left me broken with grief. Here," added Mademoiselle
Plouernel taking from the table the letter which her old equerry had
just returned to her; "read this; you will then understand what seems
unexplainable to you. I sent to you a man whom I trust; he was to
deliver this letter to you; he followed your traces to Guemenee, to
Rennes, to Nantes; nowhere could he find you."

The young man took the letter; Bertha stepped out of the hall for a
moment and quickly returned carrying a rather heavy casket. She laid the
latter upon the table where also stood some writing materials, and
traced a few lines with a firm hand. She then folded the two sheets; on
the one she wrote--_To my dear and good Marion_; on the other--_To my
faithful Du Buisson_. While Bertha was thus engaged, Nominoë informed
himself of the contents of the letter that she had handed to him. A
tremor ran through his frame and his moist eyes turned to Bertha. "What
a heart! What courage! As brave as she is beautiful!" he muttered to
himself, and resumed his reading. When he finished he carried the letter
to his lips. Tears covered his face. He stepped forward, transfigured.
His countenance became, like Bertha's, radiantly serene. He raised his
head; his tears ceased to flow; a smile flitted over his lips; he
collected his thoughts, and said to Mademoiselle Plouernel, who stepped
towards him:

"Bertha, the future dazzles me like your beauty; but two words about the
past: The insurrection is suppressed; Serdan is dead; my father! my
father has gone and now is reborn, and lives yonder--but, alas! I could
not bid him my supreme adieu, and close his eyes."

"When did that misfortune happen?"

"At Nantes, where we stopped, together with Serdan, we hoped to be able
to rekindle the energy of the population of the town, and counteract the
defection of the peasants. But the promises of Monsieur Chaulnes had
made their dupes in Nantes also. Hence arose a fatal division between
those of the inhabitants who laid down their arms, and those who wished
to remain under arms. In the midst of the discord Nantes was occupied by
a strong armed force. To attempt resistance would have been folly. The
executions started. My father, Serdan and myself were signalled out as
the chiefs of the sedition. From the moment the King's troops occupied
Nantes the town gates were watched. We could not leave the place. Some
devoted friends offered us a place of refuge, but we had to hide
separately. I left my father and Serdan. They were discovered in their
hiding places. Serdan, who was fallen upon as he lay asleep, was
arrested. The next day he was hanged. My father at least escaped such an
inauspicious death. Entrenched in his room and well armed, he defended
himself until he fell. The next day the Governor's decree was proclaimed
to the sound of the trumpet pronouncing sentence of death upon all who
thenceforward gave aid or comfort to the heads of the sedition. From my
place of concealment I could hear the proclamation distinctly. I wished
to surrender myself, in order to free my host from the responsibility
that rested upon him. Besides, I was tired of life. The miscarriage of
our insurrectionary plans, the death of my father, of Serdan, of Tina my
bride--the certainty of your love, Bertha, the prospect of being reborn
in the invisible world, everything drove me toward what is called death.
I only regretted not having seen you once more on this earth. Frightened
at my determination to surrender myself, my host opposed it warmly.
Finding me set upon my purpose, he offered me a means of escape that he
considered safe, although singular. The cemetery of the Protestants of
Nantes lies outside of the walls, as a sign of contempt. It is now
forbidden to the Reformed pastors to accompany a corpse to its last
resting place. My host proposed to place me in a coffin. Two men were to
transport me out of town, as if they were carrying a Protestant corpse
to the grave. The plan was carried out. In that manner I was enabled to
leave Nantes. Obsessed with the wish of seeing you I came to Mezlean,
traveling only by night, and occasionally stopping at some solitary
peasant's hut, or hiding in the forest. In that way I succeeded in
coming to you. And now, Bertha, let us forget the past, let us think
only of the present. A dazzling future discloses itself to my eyes."

Nominoë was interrupted by the sudden entrance of Marion, who, a prey to
violent anxiety, cried out from the threshold:

"An officer of the King! and soldiers!"

"What does the officer want?" asked Bertha without stirring.

"To search the manor, instantly, he says, for a criminal. The porter
refused to open the gate without your orders, mademoiselle; the officer
threatens to use force."

"Heaven and earth! They will not take me alive!" cried Nominoë, drawing
his dagger partly out of its sheath. "The soldiers of the Grand Monarch
will not enjoy the pleasure of arresting me--I shall escape their
gibbet."

"Keep cool, my friend; keep cool," replied Mademoiselle Plouernel,
stepping towards the door of the hall with a tranquil smile. "Come,
nurse."

"Bertha," asked Nominoë, "where are you going?"

"I am going to ask the officer whether he has completely lost his
senses. What! Armed men demand, at this advanced hour of the night, to
search the house of Mademoiselle Plouernel, when she is at home! No, no!
I shall induce the noble officer to postpone his search for to-morrow. I
feel certain the officer will feel happy to accede to my wishes."

"And suppose the officer should persist in forcing his way in?"

"Mademoiselle, there is a safe way of escape," said Marion anxiously.
"The passage that leads from the close to the orchard runs under the
path that skirts the walls of the garden; once in the orchard, the
fields and the seashore can be safely reached."

"Mademoiselle!" the old equerry in turn ran in crying bewildered: "The
soldiers have entered the yard and are trying to beat down the house
door with the butts of their muskets."

"The door is thick; the walls of the close are high; we still have the
passage to the orchard," observed Bertha calmly, and she added almost
mirthfully: "If, contrary to my expectations, and after having _heard_
me--I shall say nothing of after having _seen_ me--the officer should
persist in his savage conduct, then I shall return here instantly, and
we shall have time to carry out our project, Nominoë. I have penetrated
your thought. It is in accord with mine."

As Mademoiselle Plouernel uttered these last words she cast upon Nominoë
a glance that intoxicated him. She left the hall followed by Marion and
the old equerry and went to the manor door.

Left alone, Nominoë exclaimed in a transport of joy:

"She knows my mind! Oh, God be blessed for having brought me back to
Mezlean! The minutes are numbered! I must now hasten to fulfill my
father's wishes in the matter of our family narratives and relics. On
the eve of the insurrection he deposited them at Vannes with a faithful
and devoted friend, the only relative we have left in Brittany."

Nominoë drew a thick package from his pocket, laid it beside him, and
rapidly covered several leaves with a fine and close writing.
Mademoiselle Plouernel re-entered the hall, and smilingly said to
Nominoë:

"We were wholly wrong, my friend, in doubting the gallantry of the
officer. 'Is it not true, monsieur,' I asked him, 'that it is not your
intention to invade to-night the dwelling of a young lady, who is alone
in her house with her nurse and an old grey-headed equerry? To-morrow it
will be daylight. The gate of the manor shall be thrown open to you. You
shall then search for your criminal. Place your sentries at the gate.
Surround the walls, if you fear escape in that quarter. To-morrow I
should be happy to express to you my appreciation of your courtesy, and
to the best of my powers I shall do you the honors of my house.' Our
man," Bertha added, "lost himself in apologies; he postponed for
to-morrow his visit to the manor, and asked my pardon for the liberty he
would take of placing sentrymen at the gate and at the wall of the close
in order to render all escape impossible. Thereupon I bade the officer
good evening--and here I am back again."

"But now, my friend," Bertha proceeded in a more serious tone, after a
pause, "in an hour it will be daylight. Before that hour shall have
elapsed we must take and carry out a resolution that has been long
decreed. You must have been convinced thereof by the letter which I
wrote to you. And, once upon this subject, I must say that, even if the
death of your bride had not rendered our marriage impossible, it became
so by reason of your encounter with my brother. You struck him with a
sword; I could not accept your hand, now that it is reddened with my
brother's blood. Above all, however legitimate the revolt was, it caused
his death, and you were one of the chiefs of the uprising. An abyss
separates us in this world, Nominoë. Back in this manor after the
burning of the Castle of Plouernel, I faced the reality without
weakness. Our separation, the barriers that rendered our union
impossible, weakened in nothing my love. That can not be affected by
earthly causes. But my existence--sorely tried by so many misfortunes,
by so many and cruel disappointments, even in the bosom of my own
family--was becoming intolerable to me. Our marriage being broken off,
my life lacked purpose. Then came the passionate desire to see my mother
again, and shall I confess it to you?--an invincible, a devouring
curiosity regarding the worlds where our lives are continued, body and
soul: a curiosity that bordered on vertigo, when, back at Mezlean, and
seated here in the evening with my eyes fixed upon the sky, I
contemplated the myriads of stars, where our re-births are effected, as
infinite in number as all eternity. All these reasons determined me to
leave this world, to the end of rejoining my mother and waiting for you,
Nominoë, there where we shall meet again those whom we have loved. My
determination being taken, I wrote to you, I wished to bid you good-bye
and receive a word of farewell from you. My emissary departed in quest
of you. Soon a metamorphosis operated itself in me. The burning
insomnias, the painful anxieties that had so long been undermining my
health and exhausting my strength, ceased in the face of the certainty
that soon I should meet again my mother, and soon my enchanted eyes will
have opened to the marvels of the new worlds! This assurance gave me the
needed peace of mind. My health recovered rapidly; my days passed in
ineffable reveries while waiting for the return of the messenger who
carried my letter to you. And yet, at times, I felt a sort of hesitation
with regard to the manner in which I was to undertake that voyage, which
seems so distant, and yet lasts but the length of a breath. I went
almost every day to Karnak, where your ancestress Hena, the Virgin of
the Isle of Sen, immolated herself centuries ago, offering her blood as
a sacrifice to the gods of Gaul. I delighted in strolling along that
deserted beach that the winds and waves ever beat against. Occasionally,
I clambered up the highest of the Karnak rocks, the top of which offers
a sort of platform, and I thought of leaping from there into the waves
the foam of which seethes at the foot of the boulder. Other times I
thought of imitating your ancestress Hena; I thought of cutting with a
firm hand the slender thread that fetters our existence here below. But
one day Marion accidentally informed me that one of her relatives
_blew_--besides that he was ruining himself in the attempt to discover
the philosopher's stone. I knew that those _blowers_, being experts in
alchemy, often find in their alembics things that they do not look
for--subtile poisons, sudden and frightful in their effects, which our
sad days have, alas! often seen employed with disastrous results. Among
other things these alchemists have discovered what is called the _powder
of succession_. I went with Marion to Vannes, where the good man
resides; I promised him a liberal reward if he would prepare me a mortal
beverage, one that was certain and that left the victim in full control
of his senses up to the last moment. Attracted by the prospect of gain,
the blower set his retorts over the fire, and, in order to prove to me
the efficacy of his liquid, left the room and quickly returned with a
black cat in his arms. 'Just watch the effect of my philter,' said the
blower to me, 'watch!' and before I had time to object to the
experiment, he poured a few drops of the liquid into the mouth of the
poor animal. The cat immediately lay down quietly. Her eyes remained
clear, brilliant and alert. She stretched herself out with easy
playfulness. But by little and little sleep seemed to overcome her, she
lay down on one side; made a few slight motions--and expired peacefully,
without the slightest tremor or symptom of pain. The alchemist had told
me the truth! I took my newly acquired treasure with me. The certainty
of a death that was so easy and sweet capped my sense of security,
confidence and safety. Finally, returning to Mezlean this very night, my
messenger informed me of the fruitlessness of his search for you,
Nominoë. The revolt, of which you were one of the leaders, has provoked
frightful reprisals. Brittany swims in blood. I decided to depart before
to-morrow from this homicidal earth. I gave my last instructions to my
old servitors. Under the pretext of contemplating a long voyage, I
enclosed my testament in this casket."

Mademoiselle Plouernel paused. Only then did she notice that Nominoë,
who was seated in an attitude of deep meditation, with his forehead
resting upon his hand, was writing with the other. Until that moment the
casket had concealed from Bertha's eyes the motion of his hand.

"Nominoë!" said Mademoiselle Plouernel in a tone of kind reproach, "I
thought you were listening to my words--what are you writing there?"

"I am writing down your words, Bertha."

"Why so?"

"To join them to this," and Nominoë held up the envelope which he had
laid upon the table.

"What does that package contain?"

"It contains the account of our love, which we may both be proud of. It
is the narrative of what has happened to us, dear Bertha."

"And for whom do you destine that account?"

"For the descendants of the Lebrenn family," answered Nominoë, reading
from one of the pages of his manuscript:

     "Oh, sons of Joel--you who some day will read these lines traced by
     me, Nominoë Lebrenn, at this supreme hour, at the manor of Mezlean,
     under the eyes of Bertha of Plouernel--fail not to remember that
     angel of goodness and of concord, and, in her name, forget, pardon
     the injuries that her family has done to ours. Be merciful! Neither
     vengeance nor reprisals!"

"Noble heart!" answered Bertha with eyes moist with tears, and
contemplating Nominoë with an expression of boundless love.
"Accordingly, you are resolved, like myself, firmly resolved, to leave
this sad earth for another dwelling place?"

"Even if an infamous death, from which only voluntary death could snatch
me, did not await me to-morrow, my most ardent wish would be to
accompany you, Bertha, upon this mysterious voyage."

"But to whom are you going to deliver the story of your life? To your
father's brother, Gildas Lebrenn, the leasehold farmer of Karnak?"

"We dug the grave of Gildas, who was butchered by the King's soldiers on
the staircase of the Castle of Plouernel."

"Will you then bequeath it to the father of your bride, your mother's
brother?"

"Tankeru, the blacksmith, was arrested day before yesterday in his
house, taken to Vannes, and broken alive on the wheel, along with Madok
the miller. The inoffensive Paskou the Long, the 'Baz-valan' of my
nuptials, was not spared either--he was hanged, like so many thousands
of other insurgents!"

Nominoë rose, took up and opened his traveling wallet, and drew from it
the iron head of a heavy blacksmith's hammer.

"Look at this, Bertha! This shall be joined to our family relics--sad
and painful relics of a serf family."

"What sort of a hammer is that? It carries, cut into the iron head the
Breton words _Ez-Libr_."

"They mean _To Be Free_. It was the device of Tankeru the blacksmith.
He used this hammer as his weapon during the insurrection. I arrived
this morning before dawn in the forest of Mezlean, feeling greatly
alarmed over the fate of Tina's father. I went to his house early this
morning. I calculated upon waiting there for nightfall, not daring to
draw near Mezlean by daylight. I found at Tankeru's house only his
desolate old mother. Tankeru had been arrested. Distracted with despair
she informed me of her son's execution. My eyes alighted upon his hammer
which lay near his extinct forge. I took its iron head. The blacksmith's
hammer shall be joined to our symbolic relics. The manuscripts and the
relic are to be forwarded to a relative, an artisan at Vannes, who will
transmit them to his children. One of them will, perhaps, continue our
plebeian annals by writing the history of Mademoiselle Plouernel and
Nominoë Lebrenn."

Nominoë then proceeded to write and to read as he wrote:

"I, Nominoë Lebrenn, write this on the 17th of July, 1675, at the manor
of Mezlean, one hour before dawn. Bertha of Plouernel is standing beside
me. In a few minutes we shall leave the manor, which is surrounded by
soldiers. The passage that leads from the close to the orchard runs
under the road along which the sentries are on watch."

Nominoë stopped writing and asked Bertha:

"I understand it will be easy for us to reach the fields and the
seashore after we are in the orchard?"

"Very easy, my friend. The owners of this manor had the vaulted passage
dug under the road in order not to have to cross it every time they
wished to go to the garden. The high walls that surround it will shelter
us from the sight of the soldiers. The door that leads to the fields can
be easily opened."

"When we leave the orchard," Nominoë proceeded to write, "we shall
hasten to the seashore. The stones of Karnak rise there. The night is
clear; the moon shines. Guided by the mellow light of the planet, Bertha
and I, holding each other's hands, will climb the stairs of the ancient
rock consecrated to the sacrifices, the druid trysting place, where ran
the blood of Hena, the Virgin of the Isle of Sen. When Bertha and I
shall have reached the platform of the granite rock, then, in the
presence of the immensity of the sky and the ocean, the illimitable
expanses of which will spread before our eyes, we shall kneel down, and
joining our voices, say to the God of justice:

"'We could not be joined in this world--we decided to be joined in
death! in death, the mysterious dawn of our eternal re-birth! This
expiatory union of a daughter of the conquering Franks with a son of the
subjugated Gauls being impossible in the sight of man, we consecrate it
before Thee. Our two souls are merged into one. May it please Thee, Oh,
Almighty! that it may be likewise henceforth with our two races which
have so long been enemies! May it please Thee to cause the one to regret
the iniquities it has committed for these many centuries, and the other
to pardon them! May it please Thee to cause this revolt, to which the
oppressed were driven by an excess of hardships, to be a lesson to the
vanquishers. May it please Thee so to ordain it that this shall be the
last time blood is shed in these impious conflicts! May it please Thee
that in the future the children, whether of the conquerors or the
conquered, be forever equal in rights, equal in duties, equal in
justice, and be like brothers in a broad humanity, Oh, God our Father!
Freedom, equality, fraternity--the Universal Republic!'

"Having finished our prayer, Bertha and I--"

"Your pen, my friend!" said Mademoiselle Plouernel. "Give me your pen!"

And leaning over the table she wrote at the bottom of the page which
Nominoë had begun:

"I, Bertha of Plouernel, close the narrative of what is to happen in a
few minutes. Our prayer being finished, Nominoë and I, both upon our
knees and filled with confident joy, will approach our lips to the magic
philter which is to give us admission to the starry spheres; we shall
soon thereupon feel our souls untrammeling themselves from their
terrestrial wrappage, and fly radiant towards the Infinite. Death is but
the separation of the body from the soul."

As Bertha was tracing these last lines the clock of the manor struck
three in the morning.

"Nominoë," said Mademoiselle Plouernel, "let us make haste; it will not
be long before daylight. Place this paper and the iron hammer head in
your traveling wallet. We shall leave them upon the table, addressed to
the person that you may designate. My old servant will forward it to
him, as I shall instruct him by a last word from my hand," she added, as
she wrote the instructions to Du Buisson.

While Nominoë placed the papers and the iron hammer head in his wallet,
Bertha opened her casket, took from it a little flask filled with a
bluish liquid, hid the same in her bosom, wrapped herself in a silk
mantle, and reaching out her hand to Nominoë, said with a celestial
smile:

"Come, my friend, let us depart for those mysterious worlds that none
knows--and which we shall know at the hour of our re-birth!"

"Let us depart, Bertha!"

Mademoiselle Plouernel and Nominoë Lebrenn left the hall of the manor of
Mezlean to descend into the underground passage.

       *       *       *       *       *

The sky above is beautifully serene. The dew of night impregnates the
atmosphere of this delightful summer's night with a delicate freshness.
The approaching dawn is paling the stars, and tingeing the eastern
horizon purple. The silence of the solitude is alone disturbed by the
imposing murmur of the sea, calmly and sonorously rolling upon the shore
where rise the stones of Karnak, sacred stones of ancient Gaul! gigantic
pillars of a temple that has the firmament for its dome! Their ten long
avenues converge towards the colossal sacrificial altar. Glory to the
God of Gaul!

The horizon is reddened by the first fires of day. The crests of the
long stretched waves of the azure ocean become transparently ruddy. The
sands of the beach glisten like golden dust. The sun flares up; its rays
seem to envelop the sacrificial altar with a dazzling aureola; above,
the birds are singing their morning symphony.

On the altar, lifeless, close to each other, their arms interlaced in a
supreme and chaste embrace, lie Bertha of Plouernel and Nominoë Lebrenn.
Their beauty survives their death throes. With a smile upon their lips
and their eyes half shut, they seem to slumber wrapped in peaceful
repose. Their immortal soul has left their earthly bodies; it has fled
to reincarnate itself in a new body, a body appropriate to the world
that is to be their dwelling place, like the traveler who dons lighter
clothing when journeying in a milder climate.



EPILOGUE.


Bertha and Nominoë live at this hour, body and soul, spirit and matter,
in those starry worlds where none of us on earth has been, where we all
will go--after having accomplished our mission on earth.

My son believed I was dead, having, indeed been left for dead at Nantes
by the soldiers against whom I defended myself to the utmost. Even my
host took me for dead. He was engaged in procuring my burial when a
movement that I made revealed to him that I still lived. Nursed by my
friend with fraternal care, I recovered from my wounds and remained
concealed in my place of refuge until the day when I embarked secretly
at Nantes on an English vessel that took me to London. From there I
crossed over into Holland, where a shipowner entrusted me with one of
his vessels. Finding myself exiled from France, I requested my relative
at Vannes, with whom the narratives and relics of my family were left
for safe-keeping, to forward them to me by a Breton vessel. I found the
relics increased by Tankeru's blacksmith's hammer and the archives by
the sheets of paper left by Nominoë. With the aid of the letter and of
my own recollections, I, Salaun Lebrenn, completed the preceding story,
which I joined to those left to me by my ancestors, and which I shall
transmit to my descendants.

Alas! Perhaps I must blame myself for the death of my son. I neglected
to fortify his mind against suicide by teaching him that it is not
allowed to us to forestall the hour of our deliverance, and that those
who endeavor to escape the trials of this life are punished by God
either by separating them, if they expected to be united after death, or
by condemning them to reincarnation on earth.

Alas! my expiation of the negligence has continued during these many
years of exile. May the trials that I underwent disarm the just anger of
God, and soften the punishment reserved for my son, before his final
union in the spirit world with her who loved him to the point of dying
with him.

We are now in the year 1715, and I in the ninety-first year of my life,
after having resided here in Holland since the year 1675, and where, in
1680, I married Wilhelmina Vandael, the widow of the shipowner in whose
employ I was. In this year Louis XIV, the execrable King of France,
died. His reign continued to the end a veritable scourge to the nation.
Insurrections followed insurrections, and were smothered in their own
blood. Religious persecutions followed upon religious persecutions. The
Edict of Nantes by which Henry IV put an end to the religious wars that
lasted half a century, was revoked, and the country was again a prey to
desolating religious intolerance.

The death of Louis XIV will certainly put an end to the religious
persecutions; at least will mitigate them. Thousands of Protestants,
banished from France by the reign of terror, will, no doubt, now return
to their own country. That pleasure will not be mine. I am too feeble
with years to undertake such a voyage. But if, happier than myself, you,
my son Alain, should ever return to the cradle of your race, never lose
sight of the fact that our family has everything to fear from the
Society of Jesus, whose influence seems to be on the ascendant in almost
every country.

To you, my son Alain--the son of my old age and my exile--I now bequeath
these legends and relics of our family. I bequeath them to you, the
younger brother of my son Nominoë, ever lamented, ever wept. Even now my
eyes are blurred with tears when I recollect the double suicide of
himself and Bertha of Plouernel.

May you, my son Alain, be able to transmit these legends and relics to
your descendants! May you soon be able to leave the Republic of Holland,
the asylum and refuge of exiles, and return to France. May you witness
the realization of the prophecy of Victoria the Great--the downfall of
the monarchy, the liberation of Gaul!

May you, son of Joel, live to see the dawn of the day when our country,
casting off the foreign name imposed upon her by the Frankish conquest,
will re-assume her old name--the _Republic of the Gauls_, and will
shelter herself under the glorious folds of her own ancient red flag,
surmounted by the Gallic cock!--Commune and Federation!

Finally, in the event that, having no children, you may be unable to
transmit the plebeian legends of our family to your direct descendants,
you shall bequeath them to one of the two surviving branches of our
family.

The first is that of the Renneponts, an ancestor of whom married at La
Rochelle, towards the end of the Sixteenth Century, the daughter of
Odelin the armorer, son of Christian the printer. I have had no news
from the Rennepont branch of our family for many long years. You will
have to inquire after it in La Rochelle, where, until the end of last
century I knew them to reside.

The other branch of our family is that of the Gerolsteins, sovereign
Princes in Germany, and descendants of Gaëlo the pirate, the grandson of
our ancestor Vortigern, who met our ancestor Eidiol, the dean of the
Parisian skippers, in the Tenth Century, on the occasion of the siege of
Paris by the Northmans. The Princes of Gerolstein continue to reign in
Germany, and have remained faithful to the Protestant religion since the
time when it was embraced by Prince Charles of Gerolstein, who was the
friend of Coligny, and whose son fought at the battle of Roche-la-Belle
by the side of our ancestor Odelin, the armorer of La Rochelle.

Either to the Gerolsteins or the Renneponts our family archives and
relics will be left by you, in the event of your not living onward in
your posterity.

Along with these legends, I bequeath to you and your descendants our
family hatred for the Church and for Royalty.

THE END.


FOOTNOTES:

[1] All attribute to themselves the glory of success; reverses they
impute to only one.

[2] The above details of the torture of Cornelius De Witt, who had the
fortitude to recite this strophe in the midst of atrocious sufferings,
are scrupulously exact. See Basnage, _History of the United Provinces_,
vol. II, p. 171.

[3] For letters written by eye-witnesses of these atrocities, see
Basnage, _History of the United Provinces; Events of the Campaign of
1672_, published at The Hague, 1675: _The Cry of the Martyrs_, published
in the same city, 1673; etc., etc.

[4] It is simply impossible to give the shocking details of their
disfigurement.

[5] Facts like these would seem incredible by their savage barbarity,
did not authentic witnesses confirm them, almost daily, under the reign
of the Grand Monarch. "The military constraint arrived in the town to
the sound of bell and drum; then was furnished the melancholy spectacle
of the house being demolished, the stones, the beams, the lumber, the
iron publicly sold, because the owner had failed to pay his tax, etc.,
etc."--_Vauban, La Dime Royale_, vol. 1, chap. X. See also the _New Code
of Taxes_, or the _Collected Ordinances_, Paris, 1761, article on
Military Constraints; Forbonnais, _Researches in Finance, etc._

[6] Even at the end of the Eighteenth Century women among the nobility
still often wore masks, especially in the country, to preserve the
freshness of their color from the tan.

[7] In the Sixteenth Century, all the chemists who were engaged in the
search for the philosopher's stone, a myth then much in vogue, were
dubbed "blowers," because of the continual play of their bellows in the
operation of fusing metals.





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