Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Kerfol - 1916
Author: Wharton, Edith
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Kerfol - 1916" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



KERFOL

By Edith Wharton

Copyright, 1916, By Charles Scribner’s Sons



I

“You ought to buy it,” said my host; “its Just the place for a
solitary-minded devil like you. And it would be rather worth while to
own the most romantic house in Brittany. The present people are dead
broke, and it’s going for a song--you ought to buy it.”

It was not with the least idea of living up to the character my friend
Lanrivain ascribed to me (as a matter of fact, under my unsociable
exterior I have always had secret yearnings for domesticity) that I took
his hint one autumn afternoon and went to Kerfol. My friend was motoring
over to Quimper on business: he dropped me on the way, at a cross-road
on a heath, and said: “First turn to the right and second to the left.
Then straight ahead till you see an avenue. If you meet any peasants,
don’t ask your way. They don’t understand French, and they would pretend
they did and mix you up. I’ll be back for you here by sunset--and don’t
forget the tombs in the chapel.”

I followed Lanrivain’s directions with the hesitation occasioned by the
usual difficulty of remembering whether he had said the first turn
to the right and second to the left, or the contrary. If I had met a
peasant I should certainly have asked, and probably been sent astray;
but I had the desert landscape to myself, and so stumbled on the right
turn and walked across the heath till I came to an avenue. It was so
unlike any other avenue I have ever seen that I instantly knew it must
be _the_ avenue. The grey-trunked trees sprang up straight to a great
height and then interwove their pale-grey branches in a long tunnel
through which the autumn light fell faintly. I know most trees by name,
but I haven’t to this day been able to decide what those trees were.
They had the tall curve of elms, the tenuity of poplars, the ashen
colour of olives under a rainy sky; and they stretched ahead of me for
half a mile or more without a break in their arch. If ever I saw an
avenue that unmistakably led to something, it was the avenue at Kerfol.
My heart beat a little as I began to walk down it.

Presently the trees ended and I came to a fortified gate in a long wall.
Between me and the wall was an open space of grass, with other grey
avenues radiating from it. Behind the wall were tall slate roofs mossed
with silver, a chapel belfry, the top of a keep. A moat filled with
wild shrubs and brambles surrounded the place; the drawbridge had been
replaced by a stone arch, and the portcullis by an iron gate. I stood
for a long time on the hither side of the moat, gazing about me, and
letting the influence of the place sink in. I said to myself: “If I wait
long enough, the guardian will turn up and show me the tombs--” and I
rather hoped he wouldn’t turn up too soon.

I sat down on a stone and lit a cigarette. As soon as I had done it, it
struck me as a puerile and portentous thing to do, with that great blind
house looking down at me, and all the empty avenues converging on me. It
may have been the depth of the silence that made me so conscious of my
gesture. The squeak of my match sounded as loud as the scraping of a
brake, and I almost fancied I heard it fall when I tossed it onto
the grass. But there was more than that: a sense of irrelevance,
of littleness, of futile bravado, in sitting there puffing my
cigarette-smoke into the face of such a past.

I knew nothing of the history of Kerfol--I was new to Brittany, and
Lanrivain had never mentioned the name to me till the day before--but
one couldn’t as much as glance at that pile without feeling in it a
long accumulation of history. What kind of history I was not prepared
to guess: perhaps only that sheer weight of many associated lives and
deaths which gives a majesty to all old houses. But the aspect of Kerfol
suggested something more--a perspective of stern and cruel memories
stretching away, like its own grey avenues, into a blur of darkness.

Certainly no house had ever more completely and finally broken with the
present. As it stood there, lifting its proud roofs and gables to the
sky, it might have been its own funeral monument. “Tombs in the chapel?
The whole place is a tomb!” I reflected. I hoped more and more that the
guardian would not come. The details of the place, however striking,
would seem trivial compared with its collective impressiveness; and I
wanted only to sit there and be penetrated by the weight of its silence.

“It’s the very place for you!” Lanrivain had said; and I was overcome by
the almost blasphemous frivolity of suggesting to any living being that
Kerfol was the place for him. “Is it possible that any one could _not_
See--?” I wondered. I did not finish the thought: what I meant was
undefinable. I stood up and wandered toward the gate. I was beginning to
want to know more; not to _see_ more--I was by now so sure it was not
a question of seeing--but to feel more: feel all the place had to
communicate. “But to get in one will have to rout out the keeper,” I
thought reluctantly, and hesitated. Finally I crossed the bridge and
tried the iron gate. It yielded, and I walked through the tunnel formed
by the thickness of the _chemin de ronde_. At the farther end, a wooden
barricade had been laid across the entrance, and beyond it was a court
enclosed in noble architecture. The main building faced me; and I now
saw that one half was a mere ruined front, with gaping windows through
which the wild growths of the moat and the trees of the park were
visible. The rest of the house was still in its robust beauty. One end
abutted on the round tower, the other on the small traceried chapel,
and in an angle of the building stood a graceful well-head crowned
with mossy urns. A few roses grew against the walls, and on an upper
window-sill I remember noticing a pot of fuchsias.

My sense of the pressure of the invisible began to yield to my
architectural interest. The building was so fine that I felt a desire
to explore it for its own sake. I looked about the court, wondering in
which corner the guardian lodged. Then I pushed open the barrier and
went in. As I did so, a dog barred my way. He was such a remarkably
beautiful little dog that for a moment he made me forget the splendid
place he was defending. I was not sure of his breed at the time, but
have since learned that it was Chinese, and that he was of a rare
variety called the “Sleeve-dog.” He was very small and golden brown,
with large brown eyes and a ruffled throat: he looked like a large tawny
chrysanthemum. I said to myself: “These little beasts always snap and
scream, and somebody will be out in a minute.”

The little animal stood before me, forbidding, almost menacing: there
was anger in his large brown eyes. But he made no sound, he came no
nearer. Instead, as I advanced, he gradually fell back, and I noticed
that another dog, a vague rough brindled thing, had limped up on a lame
leg. “There’ll be a hubbub now,” I thought; for at the same moment a
third dog, a long-haired white mongrel, slipped out of a doorway and
joined the others. All three stood looking at me with grave eyes; but
not a sound came from them. As I advanced they continued to fall back on
muffled paws, still watching me. “At a given point, they’ll all charge
at my ankles: it’s one of the jokes that dogs who live together put up
on one,” I thought. I was not alarmed, for they were neither large
nor formidable. But they let me wander about the court as I pleased,
following me at a little distance--always the same distance--and always
keeping their eyes on me. Presently I looked across at the ruined
facade, and saw that in one of its empty window-frames another dog
stood: a white pointer with one brown ear. He was an old grave dog, much
more experienced than the others; and he seemed to be observing me with
a deeper intentness. “I’ll hear from _him_,” I said to myself; but he
stood in the window-frame, against the trees of the park, and continued
to watch me without moving. I stared back at him for a time, to see if
the sense that he was being watched would not rouse him. Half the width
of the court lay between us, and we gazed at each other silently across
it. But he did not stir, and at last I turned away. Behind me I found
the rest of the pack, with a newcomer added: a small black greyhound
with pale agate-coloured eyes. He was shivering a little, and his
expression was more timid than that of the others. I noticed that he
kept a little behind them. And still there was not a sound.

I stood there for fully five minutes, the circle about me--waiting, as
they seemed to be waiting. At last I went up to the little golden-brown
dog and stooped to pat him. As I did so, I heard myself give a nervous
laugh. The little dog did not start, or growl, or take his eyes from
me--he simply slipped back about a yard, and then paused and continued
to look at me. “Oh, hang it!” I exclaimed, and walked across the court
toward the well.

As I advanced, the dogs separated and slid away into different corners
of the court. I examined the urns on the well, tried a locked door or
two, and looked up and down the dumb façade; then I faced about toward
the chapel. When I turned I perceived that all the dogs had disappeared
except the old pointer, who still watched me from the window. It was
rather a relief to be rid of that cloud of witnesses; and I began to
look about me for a way to the back of the house. “Perhaps there’ll
be somebody in the garden,” I thought. I found a way across the moat,
scrambled over a wall smothered in brambles, and got into the garden.
A few lean hydrangeas and geraniums pined in the flower-beds, and the
ancient house looked down on them indifferently. Its garden side was
plainer and severer than the other: the long granite front, with its few
windows and steep roof, looked like a fortress-prison. I walked around
the farther wing, went up some disjointed steps, and entered the deep
twilight of a narrow and incredibly old box-walk. The walk was just wide
enough for one person to slip through, and its branches met overhead. It
was like the ghost of a box-walk, its lustrous green all turning to
the shadowy greyness of the avenues. I walked on and on, the branches
hitting me in the face and springing back with a dry rattle; and at
length I came out on the grassy top of the _chemin de ronde_. I walked
along it to the gate-tower, looking down into the court, which was just
below me. Not a human being was in sight; and neither were the dogs. I
found a flight of steps in the thickness of the wall and went down them;
and when I emerged again into the court, there stood the circle of dogs,
the golden-brown one a little ahead of the others, the black greyhound
shivering in the rear.

“Oh, hang it--you uncomfortable beasts, you!” I exclaimed, my voice
startling me with a sudden echo. The dogs stood motionless, watching me.
I knew by this time that they would not try to prevent my approaching
the house, and the knowledge left me free to examine them. I had a
feeling that they must be horribly cowed to be so silent and inert. Yet
they did not look hungry or ill-treated. Their coats were smooth and
they were not thin, except the shivering greyhound. It was more as if
they had lived a long time with people who never spoke to them or looked
at them: as though the silence of the place had gradually benumbed their
busy inquisitive natures. And this strange passivity, this almost human
lassitude, seemed to me sadder than the misery of starved and beaten
animals. I should have liked to rouse them for a minute, to coax them
into a game or a scamper; but the longer I looked into their fixed and
weary eyes the more preposterous the idea became. With the windows of
that house looking down on us, how could I have imagined such a thing?
The dogs knew better: _they_ knew what the house would tolerate and what
it would not. I even fancied that they knew what was passing through
my mind, and pitied me for my frivolity. But even that feeling probably
reached them through a thick fog of listlessness. I had an idea that
their distance from me was as nothing to my remoteness from them. The
impression they produced was that of having in common one memory so deep
and dark that nothing that had happened since was worth either a growl
or a wag.

“I say,” I broke out abruptly, addressing myself to the dumb circle, “do
you know what you look like, the whole lot of you? You look as if you’d
seen a ghost--that’s how you look! I wonder if there _is_ a ghost here,
and nobody but you left for it to appear to?” The dogs continued to gaze
at me without moving....

*****

It was dark when I saw Lanrivain’s motor lamps at the cross-roads--and I
wasn’t exactly sorry to see them. I had the sense of having escaped from
the loneliest place in the whole world, and of not liking loneliness--to
that degree--as much as I had imagined I should. My friend had brought
his solicitor back from Quimper for the night, and seated beside a fat
and affable stranger I felt no inclination to talk of Kerfol....

But that evening, when Lanrivain and the solicitor were closeted in the
study, Madame de Lanrivain began to question me in the drawing-room.

“Well--are you going to buy Kerfol?” she asked, tilting up her gay chin
from her embroidery.

“I haven’t decided yet. The fact is, I couldn’t get into the house,” I
said, as if I had simply postponed my decision, and meant to go back for
another look.

“You couldn’t get in? Why, what happened? The family are mad to sell the
place, and the old guardian has orders--”

“Very likely. But the old guardian wasn’t there.”

“What a pity! He must have gone to market. But his daughter--?”

“There was nobody about. At least I saw no one.”

“How extraordinary! Literally nobody?”

“Nobody but a lot of dogs--a whole pack of them--who seemed to have the
place to themselves.”

Madame de Lanrivain let the embroidery slip to her knee and folded her
hands on it. For several minutes she looked at me thoughtfully.

“A pack of dogs--you _saw_ them?”

“Saw them? I saw nothing else!”

“How many?” She dropped her voice a little. “I’ve always wondered--”

I looked at her with surprise: I had supposed the place to be familiar
to her. “Have you never been to Kerfol?” I asked.

“Oh, yes: often. But never on that day.”

“What day?”

“I’d quite forgotten--and so had Hervé, I’m sure. If we’d remembered, we
never should have sent you to-day--but then, after all, one doesn’t half
believe that sort of thing, does one?”

“What sort of thing?” I asked, involuntarily sinking my voice to
the level of hers. Inwardly I was thinking: “I _knew_ there was
something....”

Madame de Lanrivain cleared her throat and produced a reassuring smile.
“Didn’t Hervé tell you the story of Kerfol? An ancestor of his was mixed
up in it. You know every Breton house has its ghost-story; and some of
them are rather unpleasant.”

“Yes--but those dogs?”

“Well, those dogs are the ghosts of Kerfol. At least, the peasants say
there’s one day in the year when a lot of dogs appear there; and that
day the keeper and his daughter go off to Morlaix and get drunk. The
women in Brittany drink dreadfully.” She stooped to match a silk; then
she lifted her charming inquisitive Parisian face. “Did you _really_ see
a lot of dogs? There isn’t one at Kerfol.” she said.



II

Lanrivain, the next day, hunted out a shabby calf volume from the back
of an upper shelf of his library.

“Yes--here it is. What does it call itself? _A History of the Assizes
of the Duchy of Brittany. Quimper, 1702_. The book was written about a
hundred years later than the Kerfol affair; but I believe the account
is transcribed pretty literally from the judicial records. Anyhow, it’s
queer reading. And there’s a Hervé de Lanrivain mixed up in it--not
exactly _my_ style, as you’ll see. But then he’s only a collateral.
Here, take the book up to bed with you. I don’t exactly remember the
details; but after you’ve read it I’ll bet anything you’ll leave your
light burning all night!”

I left my light burning all night, as he had predicted; but it was
chiefly because, till near dawn, I was absorbed in my reading. The
account of the trial of Anne de Cornault, wife of the lord of Kerfol,
was long and closely printed. It was, as my friend had said, probably an
almost literal transcription of what took place in the court-room; and
the trial lasted nearly a month. Besides, the type of the book was very
bad....

At first I thought of translating the old record. But it is full of
wearisome repetitions, and the main lines of the story are forever
straying off into side issues. So I have tried to disentangle it, and
give it here in a simpler form. At times, however, I have reverted to
the text because no other words could have conveyed so exactly the sense
of what I felt at Kerfol; and nowhere have I added anything of my own.



III

It was in the year 16-- that Yves de Cornault, lord of the domain
of Kerfol, went to the _pardon_ of Locronan to perform his religious
duties. He was a rich and powerful noble, then in his sixty-second year,
but hale and sturdy, a great horseman and hunter and a pious man. So all
his neighbours attested. In appearance he was short and broad, with a
swarthy face, legs slightly bowed from the saddle, a hanging nose and
broad hands with black hairs on them. He had married young and lost his
wife and son soon after, and since then had lived alone at Kerfol. Twice
a year he went to Morlaix, where he had a handsome house by the river,
and spent a week or ten days there; and occasionally he rode to Rennes
on business. Witnesses were found to declare that during these absences
he led a life different from the one he was known to lead at Kerfol,
where he busied himself with his estate, attended mass daily, and found
his only amusement in hunting the wild boar and water-fowl. But these
rumours are not particularly relevant, and it is certain that among
people of his own class in the neighbourhood he passed for a stern and
even austere man, observant of his religious obligations, and keeping
strictly to himself. There was no talk of any familiarity with the women
on his estate, though at that time the nobility were very free with
their peasants. Some people said he had never looked at a woman since
his wife’s death; but such things are hard to prove, and the evidence on
this point was not worth much.

Well, in his sixty-second year, Yves de Cornault went to the _pardon_ at
Locronan, and saw there a young lady of Douarnenez, who had ridden over
pillion behind her father to do her duty to the saint. Her name was Anne
de Barrigan, and she came of good old Breton stock, but much less
great and powerful than that of Yves de Cornault; and her father had
squandered his fortune at cards, and lived almost like a peasant in his
little granite manor on the moors.... I have said I would add nothing
of my own to this bald statement of a strange case; but I must interrupt
myself here to describe the young lady who rode up to the lych-gate
of Locronan at the very moment when the Baron de Cornault was also
dismounting there. I take my description from a faded drawing in red
crayon, sober and truthful enough to be by a late pupil of the Clouets,
which hangs in Lanrivain’s study, and is said to be a portrait of Anne
de Barrigan. It is unsigned and has no mark of identity but the initials
A. B., and the date 16--, the year after her marriage. It represents a
young woman with a small oval face, almost pointed, yet wide enough for
a full mouth with a tender depression at the corners. The nose is
small, and the eyebrows are set rather high, far apart, and as lightly
pencilled as the eyebrows in a Chinese painting. The forehead is high
and serious, and the hair, which one feels to be fine and thick and
fair, is drawn off it and lies close like a cap. The eyes are neither
large nor small, hazel probably, with a look at once shy and steady. A
pair of beautiful long hands are crossed below the lady’s breast....

The chaplain of Kerfol, and other witnesses, averred that when the Baron
came back from Locronan he jumped from his horse, ordered another to
be instantly saddled, called to a young page to come with him, and
rode away that same evening to the south. His steward followed the next
morning with coffers laden on a pair of pack mules. The following week
Yves de Cornault rode back to Kerfol, sent for his vassals and tenants,
and told them he was to be married at All Saints to Anne de Barrigan of
Douarnenez. And on All Saints’ Day the marriage took place.

As to the next few years, the evidence on both sides seems to show that
they passed happily for the couple. No one was found to say that Yves
de Cornault had been unkind to his wife, and it was plain to all that
he was content with his bargain. Indeed, it was admitted by the chaplain
and other witnesses for the prosecution that the young lady had a
softening influence on her husband, and that he became less exacting
with his tenants, less harsh to peasants and dependents, and less
subject to the fits of gloomy silence which had darkened his widowhood.
As to his wife, the only grievance her champions could call up in her
behalf was that Kerfol was a lonely place, and that when her husband was
away on business at Bennes or Morlaix--whither she was never taken--she
was not allowed so much as to walk in the park unaccompanied. But no
one asserted that she was unhappy, though one servant-woman said she
had surprised her crying, and had heard her say that she was a woman
accursed to have no child, and nothing in life to call her own. But
that was a natural enough feeling in a wife attached to her husband; and
certainly it must have been a great grief to Yves de Cornault that
she bore no son. Yet he never made her feel her childlessness as a
reproach--she admits this in her evidence--but seemed to try to make her
forget it by showering gifts and favours on her. Rich though he was, he
had never been openhanded; but nothing was too fine for his wife, in
the way of silks or gems or linen, or whatever else she fancied. Every
wandering merchant was welcome at Kerfol, and when the master was
called away he never came back without bringing his wife a handsome
present--something curious and particular--from Morlaix or Rennes
or Quimper. One of the waiting-women gave, in cross-examination, an
interesting list of one year’s gifts, which I copy. From Morlaix, a
carved ivory junk, with Chinamen at the oars, that a strange sailor had
brought back as a votive offering for Notre Dame de la Clarté, above
Ploumanac’h; from Quimper, an embroidered gown, worked by the nuns of
the Assumption; from Rennes, a silver rose that opened and showed an
amber Virgin with a crown of garnets; from Morlaix, again, a length
of Damascus velvet shot with gold, bought of a Jew from Syria; and for
Michaelmas that same year, from Rennes, a necklet or bracelet of round
stones--emeralds and pearls and rubies--strung like beads on a fine gold
chain. This was the present that pleased the lady best, the woman said.
Later on, as it happened, it was produced at the trial, and appears to
have struck the Judges and the public as a curious and valuable jewel.

The very same winter, the Baron absented himself again, this time as far
as Bordeaux, and on his return he brought his wife something even odder
and prettier than the bracelet. It was a winter evening when he rode up
to Kerfol and, walking into the hall, found her sitting by the hearth,
her chin on her hand, looking into the fire. He carried a velvet box
in his hand and, setting it down, lifted the lid and let out a little
golden-brown dog.

Anne de Cornault exclaimed with pleasure as the little creature bounded
toward her. “Oh, it looks like a bird or a butterfly!” she cried as she
picked it up; and the dog put its paws on her shoulders and looked at
her with eyes “like a Christian’s.” After that she would never have
it out of her sight, and petted and talked to it as if it had been a
child--as indeed it was the nearest thing to a child she was to know.
Yves de Cornault was much pleased with his purchase. The dog had been
brought to him by a sailor from an East India merchantman, and the
sailor had bought it of a pilgrim in a bazaar at Jaffa, who had stolen
it from a nobleman’s wife in China: a perfectly permissible thing to do,
since the pilgrim was a Christian and the nobleman a heathen doomed to
hell-fire.

Yves de Cornault had paid a long price for the dog, for they were
beginning to be in demand at the French court, and the sailor knew he
had got hold of a good thing; but Anne’s pleasure was so great that,
to see her laugh and play with the little animal, her husband would
doubtless have given twice the sum.

*****

So far, all the evidence is at one, and the narrative plain sailing;
but now the steering becomes difficult. I will try to keep as nearly as
possible to Anne’s own statements; though toward the end, poor thing....

Well, to go back. The very year after the little brown dog was brought
to Kerfol, Yves de Cornault, one winter night, was found dead at the
head of a narrow flight of stairs leading down from his wife’s rooms to
a door opening on the court. It was his wife who found him and gave the
alarm, so distracted, poor wretch, with fear and horror--for his blood
was all over her--that at first the roused household could not make out
what she was saying, and thought she had suddenly gone mad. But there,
sure enough, at the top of the stairs lay her husband, stone dead, and
head foremost, the blood from his wounds dripping down to the steps
below him. He had been dreadfully scratched and gashed about the face
and throat, as if with curious pointed weapons; and one of his legs
had a deep tear in it which had cut an artery, and probably caused his
death. But how did he come there, and who had murdered him?

His wife declared that she had been asleep in her bed, and hearing
his cry had rushed out to find him lying on the stairs; but this was
immediately questioned. In the first place, it was proved that from her
room she could not have heard the struggle on the stairs, owing to the
thickness of the walls and the length of the intervening passage; then
it was evident that she had not been in bed and asleep, since she was
dressed when she roused the house, and her bed had not been slept in.
Moreover, the door at the bottom of the stairs was ajar, and it was
noticed by the chaplain (an observant man) that the dress she wore was
stained with blood about the knees, and that there were traces of small
blood-stained hands low down on the staircase walls, so that it was
conjectured that she had really been at the postern-door when her
husband fell and, feeling her way up to him in the darkness on her hands
and knees, had been stained by his blood dripping down on her. Of course
it was argued on the other side that the blood-marks on her dress might
have been caused by her kneeling down by her husband when she rushed out
of her room; but there was the open door below, and the fact that the
finger-marks in the staircase all pointed upward.

The accused held to her statement for the first two days, in spite of
its improbability; but on the third day word was brought to her that
Hervé de Lanrivain, a young nobleman of the neighbourhood, had been
arrested for complicity in the crime. Two or three witnesses thereupon
came forward to say that it was known throughout the country that
Lanrivain had formerly been on good terms with the lady of Cornault; but
that he had been absent from Brittany for over a year, and people had
ceased to associate their names. The witnesses who made this statement
were not of a very reputable sort. One was an old herb-gatherer
suspected of witchcraft, another a drunken clerk from a neighbouring
parish, the third a half-witted shepherd who could be made to say
anything; and it was clear that the prosecution was not satisfied
with its case, and would have liked to find more definite proof of
Lanrivain’s complicity than the statement of the herb-gatherer, who
swore to having seen him climbing the wall of the park on the night of
the murder. One way of patching out incomplete proofs in those days was
to put some sort of pressure, moral or physical, on the accused person.
It is not clear what pressure was put on Anne de Cornault; but on
the third day, when she was brought in court, she “appeared weak and
wandering,” and after being encouraged to collect herself and speak
the truth, on her honour and the wounds of her Blessed Redeemer, she
confessed that she had in fact gone down the stairs to speak with Hervé
de Lanrivain (who denied everything), and had been surprised there by
the sound of her husband’s fall. That was better; and the prosecution
rubbed its hands with satisfaction. The satisfaction increased when
various dependents living at Kerfol were induced to say--with apparent
sincerity--that during the year or two preceding his death their master
had once more grown uncertain and irascible, and subject to the fits
of brooding silence which his household had learned to dread before his
second marriage. This seemed to show that things had not been going well
at Kerfol; though no one could be found to say that there had been any
signs of open disagreement between husband and wife.

Anne de Cornault, when questioned as to her reason for going down at
night to open the door to Hervé de Lanrivain, made an answer which must
have sent a smile around the court. She said it was because she was
lonely and wanted to talk with the young man. Was this the only reason?
she was asked; and replied: “Yes, by the Cross over your Lordships’
heads.” “But why at midnight?” the court asked. “Because I could see him
in no other way.” I can see the exchange of glances across the ermine
collars under the Crucifix.

Anne de Cornault, further questioned, said that her married life had
been extremely lonely: “desolate” was the word she used. It was true
that her husband seldom spoke harshly to her; but there were days
when he did not speak at all. It was true that he had never struck or
threatened her; but he kept her like a prisoner at Kerfol, and when he
rode away to Morlaix or Quimper or Rennes he set so close a watch on
her that she could not pick a flower in the garden without having a
waiting-woman at her heels. “I am no Queen, to need such honours,” she
once said to him; and he had answered that a man who has a treasure does
not leave the key in the lock when he goes out. “Then take me with you,”
 she urged; but to this he said that towns were pernicious places, and
young wives better off at their own firesides.

“But what did you want to say to Hervé de Lanrivain?” the court asked;
and she answered: “To ask him to take me away.”

“Ah--you confess that you went down to him with adulterous thoughts?”

“Then why did you want him to take you away?”

“Because I was afraid for my life.”

“Of whom were you afraid?”

“Of my husband.”

“Why were you afraid of your husband?”

“Because he had strangled my little dog.”

Another smile must have passed around the courtroom: in days when any
nobleman had a right to hang his peasants--and most of them exercised
it--pinching a pet animal’s wind-pipe was nothing to make a fuss about.

At this point one of the Judges, who appears to have had a certain
sympathy for the accused, suggested that she should be allowed to
explain herself in her own way; and she thereupon made the following
statement.

The first years of her marriage had been lonely; but her husband had
not been unkind to her. If she had had a child she would not have been
unhappy; but the days were long, and it rained too much.

It was true that her husband, whenever he went away and left her,
brought her a handsome present on his return; but this did not make up
for the loneliness. At least nothing had, till he brought her the little
brown dog from the East: after that she was much less unhappy. Her
husband seemed pleased that she was so fond of the dog; he gave her
leave to put her jewelled bracelet around its neck, and to keep it
always with her.

One day she had fallen asleep in her room, with the dog at her feet, as
his habit was. Her feet were bare and resting on his back. Suddenly she
was waked by her husband: he stood beside her, smiling not unkindly.

“You look like my great-grandmother, Juliane de Cornault, lying in the
chapel with her feet on a little dog,” he said.

The analogy sent a chill through her, but she laughed and answered:
“Well, when I am dead you must put me beside her, carved in marble, with
my dog at my feet.”

“Oho--we’ll wait and see,” he said, laughing also, but with his black
brows close together. “The dog is the emblem of fidelity.”

“And do you doubt my right to lie with mine at my feet?”

“When I’m in doubt I find out,” he answered. “I am an old man,” he
added, “and people say I make you lead a lonely life. But I swear you
shall have your monument if you earn it.”

“And I swear to be faithful,” she returned, “if only for the sake of
having my little dog at my feet.”

Not long afterward he went on business to the Quimper Assizes; and while
he was away his aunt, the widow of a great nobleman of the duchy, came
to spend a night at Kerfol on her way to the _pardon_ of Ste. Barbe.
She was a woman of piety and consequence, and much respected by Yves de
Cornault, and when she proposed to Anne to go with her to Ste. Barbe no
one could object, and even the chaplain declared himself in favour of
the pilgrimage. So Anne set out for Ste. Barbe, and there for the first
time she talked with Hervé de Lanrivain. He had come once or twice to
Kerfol with his father, but she had never before exchanged a dozen words
with him. They did not talk for more than five minutes now: it was under
the chestnuts, as the procession was coming out of the chapel. He said:
“I pity you,” and she was surprised, for she had not supposed that any
one thought her an object of pity. He added: “Call for me when you need
me,” and she smiled a little, but was glad afterward, and thought often
of the meeting.

She confessed to having seen him three times afterward: not more. How
or where she would not say--one had the impression that she feared to
implicate some one. Their meetings had been rare and brief; and at the
last he had told her that he was starting the next day for a foreign
country, on a mission which was not without peril and might keep him for
many months absent. He asked her for a remembrance, and she had none
to give him but the collar about the little dog’s neck. She was sorry
afterward that she had given it, but he was so unhappy at going that she
had not had the courage to refuse.

Her husband was away at the time. When he returned a few days later he
picked up the animal to pet it, and noticed that its collar was missing.
His wife told him that the dog had lost it in the undergrowth of the
park, and that she and her maids had hunted a whole day for it. It was
true, she explained to the court, that she had made the maids search for
the necklet--they all believed the dog had lost it in the park....

Her husband made no comment, and that evening at supper he was in his
usual mood, between good and bad: you could never tell which. He talked
a good deal, describing what he had seen and done at Rennes; but now
and then he stopped and looked hard at her, and when she went to bed she
found her little dog strangled on her pillow. The little thing was
dead, but still warm; she stooped to lift it, and her distress turned to
horror when she discovered that it had been strangled by twisting twice
round its throat the necklet she had given to Lanrivain.

The next morning at dawn she buried the dog in the garden, and hid the
necklet in her breast. She said nothing to her husband, then or later,
and he said nothing to her; but that day he had a peasant hanged for
stealing a faggot in the park, and the next day he nearly beat to death
a young horse he was breaking.

Winter set in, and the short days passed, and the long nights, one by
one; and she heard nothing of Hervé de Lanrivain. It might be that
her husband had killed him; or merely that he had been robbed of the
necklet. Day after day by the hearth among the spinning maids, night
after night alone on her bed, she wondered and trembled. Sometimes at
table her husband looked across at her and smiled; and then she felt
sure that Lanrivain was dead. She dared not try to get news of him, for
she was sure her husband would find out if she did: she had an idea that
he could find out anything. Even when a witchwoman who was a noted seer,
and could show you the whole world in her crystal, came to the castle
for a night’s shelter, and the maids flocked to her, Anne held back.

The winter was long and black and rainy. One day, in Yves de Cornault’s
absence, some gypsies came to Kerfol with a troop of performing dogs.
Anne bought the smallest and cleverest, a white dog with a feathery coat
and one blue and one brown eye. It seemed to have been ill-treated by
the gypsies, and clung to her plaintively when she took it from them.
That evening her husband came back, and when she went to bed she found
the dog strangled on her pillow.

After that she said to herself that she would never have another dog;
but one bitter cold evening a poor lean greyhound was found whining at
the castle-gate, and she took him in and forbade the maids to speak of
him to her husband. She hid him in a room that no one went to, smuggled
food to him from her own plate, made him a warm bed to lie on and petted
him like a child.

Yves de Cornault came home, and the next day she found the greyhound
strangled on her pillow. She wept in secret, but said nothing, and
resolved that even if she met a dog dying of hunger she would never
bring him into the castle; but one day she found a young sheepdog, a
brindled puppy with good blue eyes, lying with a broken leg in the snow
of the park. Yves de Cornault was at Bennes, and she brought the dog
in, warmed and fed it, tied up its leg and hid it in the castle till
her husband’s return. The day before, she gave it to a peasant woman
who lived a long way off, and paid her handsomely to care for it and say
nothing; but that night she heard a whining and scratching at her door,
and when she opened it the lame puppy, drenched and shivering, jumped up
on her with little sobbing barks. She hid him in her bed, and the next
morning was about to have him taken back to the peasant woman when she
heard her husband ride into the court. She shut the dog in a chest, and
went down to receive him. An hour or two later, when she returned to her
room, the puppy lay strangled on her pillow....

After that she dared not make a pet of any other dog; and her loneliness
became almost unendurable. Sometimes, when she crossed the court of
the castle, and thought no one was looking, she stopped to pat the old
pointer at the gate. But one day as she was caressing him her husband
came out of the chapel; and the next day the old dog was gone....

This curious narrative was not told in one sitting of the court, or
received without impatience and incredulous comment. It was plain that
the Judges were surprised by its puerility, and that it did not help the
accused in the eyes of the public. It was an odd tale, certainly; but
what did it prove? That Yves de Cornault disliked dogs, and that his
wife, to gratify her own fancy, persistently ignored this dislike.
As for pleading this trivial disagreement as an excuse for her
relations--whatever their nature--with her supposed accomplice, the
argument was so absurd that her own lawyer manifestly regretted having
let her make use of it, and tried several times to cut short her story.
But she went on to the end, with a kind of hypnotized insistence, as
though the scenes she evoked were so real to her that she had forgotten
where she was and imagined herself to be re-living them.

At length the Judge who had previously shown a certain kindness to her
said (leaning forward a little, one may suppose, from his row of dozing
colleagues): “Then you would have us believe that you murdered your
husband because he would not let you keep a pet dog?”

“I did not murder my husband.”

“Who did, then? Hervé de Lanrivain?”

“No.”

“Who then? Can you tell us?”

“Yes, I can tell you. The dogs--” At that point she was carried out of
the court in a swoon.

*****

It was evident that her lawyer tried to get her to abandon this line
of defense. Possibly her explanation, whatever it was, had seemed
convincing when she poured it out to him in the heat of their first
private colloquy; but now that it was exposed to the cold daylight of
judicial scrutiny, and the banter of the town, he was thoroughly ashamed
of it, and would have sacrificed her without a scruple to save his
professional reputation. But the obstinate Judge--who perhaps, after
all, was more inquisitive than kindly--evidently wanted to hear
the story out, and she was ordered, the next day, to continue her
deposition.

She said that after the disappearance of the old watchdog nothing
particular happened for a month or two. Her husband was much as usual:
she did not remember any special incident. But one evening a pedlar
woman came to the castle and was selling trinkets to the maids. She had
no heart for trinkets, but she stood looking on while the women made
their choice. And then, she did not know how, but the pedlar coaxed her
into buying for herself a pear-shaped pomander with a strong scent in
it--she had once seen something of the kind on a gypsy woman. She had
no desire for the pomander, and did not know why she had bought it. The
pedlar said that whoever wore it had the power to read the future;
but she did not really believe that, or care much either. However, she
bought the thing and took it up to her room, where she sat turning it
about in her hand. Then the strange scent attracted her and she began to
wonder what kind of spice was in the box. She opened it and found a grey
bean rolled in a strip of paper; and on the paper she saw a sign she
knew, and a message from Hervé de Lanrivain, saying that he was at home
again and would be at the door in the court that night after the moon
had set....

She burned the paper and sat down to think. It was nightfall, and her
husband was at home.... She had no way of warning Lanrivain, and there
was nothing to do but to wait....

At this point I fancy the drowsy court-room beginning to wake up. Even
to the oldest hand on the bench there must have been a certain relish
in picturing the feelings of a woman on receiving such a message at
nightfall from a man living twenty miles away, to whom she had no means
of sending a warning....

She was not a clever woman, I imagine; and as the first result of her
cogitation she appears to have made the mistake of being, that evening,
too kind to her husband. She could not ply him with wine, according to
the traditional expedient, for though he drank heavily at times he had
a strong head; and when he drank beyond its strength it was because
he chose to, and not because a woman coaxed him. Not his wife, at any
rate--she was an old story by now. As I read the case, I fancy there was
no feeling for her left in him but the hatred occasioned by his supposed
dishonour.

At any rate, she tried to call up her old graces; but early in the
evening he complained of pains and fever, and left the hall to go up to
the closet where he sometimes slept. His servant carried him a cup
of hot wine, and brought back word that he was sleeping and not to be
disturbed; and an hour later, when Anne lifted the tapestry and listened
at his door, she heard his loud regular breathing. She thought it might
be a feint, and stayed a long time barefooted in the passage, her ear
to the crack; but the breathing went on too steadily and naturally to
be other than that of a man in a sound sleep. She crept back to her room
reassured, and stood in the window watching the moon set through the
trees of the park. The sky was misty and starless, and after the moon
went down the night was black as pitch. She knew the time had come,
and stole along the passage, past her husband’s door--where she stopped
again to listen to his breathing--to the top of the stairs. There she
paused a moment, and assured herself that no one was following her; then
she began to go down the stairs in the darkness. They were so steep and
winding that she had to go very slowly, for fear of stumbling. Her one
thought was to get the door unbolted, tell Lanrivain to make his escape,
and hasten back to her room. She had tried the bolt earlier in the
evening, and managed to put a little grease on it; but nevertheless,
when she drew it, it gave a squeak... not loud, but it made her heart
stop; and the next minute, overhead, she heard a noise....

“What noise?” the prosecution interposed.

“My husband’s voice calling out my name and cursing me.”

“What did you hear after that?”

“A terrible scream and a fall.”

“Where was Hervé de Lanrivain at this time?”

“He was standing outside in the court. I just made him out in the
darkness. I told him for God’s sake to go, and then I pushed the door
shut.”

“What did you do next?”

“I stood at the foot of the stairs and listened.”

“What did you hear?”

“I heard dogs snarling and panting.” (Visible discouragement of the
bench, boredom of the public, and exasperation of the lawyer for the
defense. Dogs again--! But the inquisitive Judge insisted.)

“What dogs?”

She bent her head and spoke so low that she had to be told to repeat her
answer: “I don’t know.”

“How do you mean--you don’t know?”

“I don’t know what dogs....”

The Judge again intervened: “Try to tell us exactly what happened. How
long did you remain at the foot of the stairs?”

“Only a few minutes.”

“And what was going on meanwhile overhead?”

“The dogs kept on snarling and panting. Once or twice he cried out. I
think he moaned once. Then he was quiet.”

“Then what happened?”

“Then I heard a sound like the noise of a pack when the wolf is thrown
to them--gulping and lapping.”

(There was a groan of disgust and repulsion through the court, and
another attempted intervention by the distracted lawyer. But the
inquisitive Judge was still inquisitive.)

“And all the while you did not go up?”

“Yes--I went up then--to drive them off.”

“The dogs?”

“Yes.”

“Well--?”

“When I got there it was quite dark. I found my husband’s flint and
steel and struck a spark. I saw him lying there. He was dead.”

“And the dogs?”

“The dogs were gone.”

“Gone--whereto?”

“I don’t know. There was no way out--and there were no dogs at Kerfol.”

She straightened herself to her full height, threw her arms above her
head, and fell down on the stone floor with a long scream. There was a
moment of confusion in the court-room. Some one on the bench was heard
to say: “This is clearly a case for the ecclesiastical authorities”--and
the prisoner’s lawyer doubtless jumped at the suggestion.

After this, the trial loses itself in a maze of cross-questioning and
squabbling. Every witness who was called corroborated Anne de Cornault’s
statement that there were no dogs at Kerfol: had been none for several
months. The master of the house had taken a dislike to dogs, there was
no denying it But, on the other hand, at the inquest, there had been
long and bitter discussions as to the nature of the dead man’s wounds.
One of the surgeons called in had spoken of marks that looked like
bites. The suggestion of witchcraft was revived, and the opposing
lawyers hurled tomes of necromancy at each other.

At last Anne de Cornault was brought back into court--at the instance of
the same Judge--and asked if she knew where the dogs she spoke of could
have come from. On the body of her Redeemer she swore that she did not.
Then the Judge put his final question: “If the dogs you think you heard
had been known to you, do you think you would have recognized them by
their barking?”

“Yes.”

“Did you recognize them?”

“Yes.”

“What dogs do you take them to have been?”

“My dead dogs,” she said in a whisper.... She was taken out of court,
not to reappear there again. There was some kind of ecclesiastical
investigation, and the end of the business was that the Judges disagreed
with each other, and with the ecclesiastical committee, and that

Anne de Cornault was finally handed over to the keeping of her husband’s
family, who shut her up in the keep of Kerfol, where she is said to have
died many years later, a harmless mad-woman.

So ends her story. As for that of Hervé de Lanrivain, I had only to
apply to his collateral descendant for its subsequent details. The
evidence against the young man being insufficient, and his family
influence in the duchy considerable, he was set free, and left soon
afterward for Paris. He was probably in no mood for a worldly life, and
he appears to have come almost immediately under the influence of the
famous M. Arnauld d’Andilly and the gentlemen of Port Royal. A year or
two later he was received into their Order, and without achieving any
particular distinction he followed its good and evil fortunes till his
death some twenty years later. Lanrivain showed me a portrait of him by
a pupil of Philippe de Champaigne: sad eyes, an impulsive mouth and a
narrow brow. Poor Hervé de Lanrivain: it was a grey ending. Yet as
I looked at his stiff and sallow effigy, in the dark dress of the
Janséniste, I almost found myself envying his fate. After all, in the
course of his life two great things had happened to him: he had loved
romantically, and he must have talked with Pascal....





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Kerfol - 1916" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home