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Title: A Winter Amid the Ice, and Other Thrilling Stories
Author: Verne, Jules
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Winter Amid the Ice, and Other Thrilling Stories" ***

A Winter Amid the Ice


by Jules Verne

with sixty illustrations

[Illustration: ]




How it is useless to seek, even on the best maps, for the small town of

In which the Burgomaster Van Tricasse and the Counsellor Niklausse consult
about the affairs of the town

In which the Commissary Passauf enters as noisily as unexpectedly

In which Doctor Ox reveals himself as a physiologist of the first rank, and as
an audacious experimentalist

In which the burgomaster and the counsellor pay a visit to Doctor Ox, and what

In which Frantz Niklausse and Suzel Van Tricasse form certain projects for the

In which the Andantes become Allegros, and the Allegros Vivaces

In which the ancient and solemn German waltz becomes a whirlwind

In which Doctor Ox and Ygène, his assistant, say a few words

In which it will be seen that the epidemic invades the entire town, and what
effect it produces

In which the Quiquendonians adopt a heroic resolution

In which Ygène, the assistant, gives a reasonable piece of advice, which is
eagerly rejected by Doctor Ox

In which it is once more proved that by taking high ground all human
littlenesses may be overlooked

In which matters go so far that the inhabitants of Quiquendone, the reader, and
even the author, demand an immediate dénouement

In which the dénouement takes place

In which the intelligent reader sees that he has guessed correctly, despite all
the author’s precautions

In which Doctor Ox’s theory is explained


A winter night

The pride of science

A strange visit

The Church of St. Pierre

The hour of death



The black flag

Jean Cornbutte’s project

A ray of hope

In the passes

Liverpool Island

The quaking of the ice

Settling for the winter

Plan of the explorations

The house of snow

Buried alive

A cloud of smoke

The return to the ship

The two rivals


The white bears



[Illustration: ]


 She handed her father a pipe
 The worthy Madame Brigitte Van Tricasse had now her second husband
 “I have just come from Dr. Ox’s”
 “It is in the interests of science”
 “The workmen, whom we have had to choose in Quiquendone, are not very expeditious”
 The young girl took the line
 “Good-bye, Frantz,” said Suzel
 Fiovaranti had been achieving a brilliant success in “Les Huguenots”
 They hustle each other to get out
 It was no longer a waltz
 It required two persons to eat a strawberry
 “To Virgamen! to Virgamen!”
 “A burgomaster’s place is in the front rank”
 The two friends, arm in arm
 The whole army of Quiquendone fell to the earth
 He would raise the trap-door constructed in the floor of his workshop
 The young girl prayed
 “Thou wilt see that I have discovered the secrets of existence”.
 “Father, what is the matter?”
 Then he resumed, in an ironical tone
 From morning till night discontented purchasers besieged the house
 This proud old man remained motionless
 “It is there—there!”
 “See this man,—he is Time”
 He was dead
 “Monsieur, I salute you”
 “Monsieur!” cried I, in a rage
 “He continued his observations for seven or eight hours with General Morlot”
 “The balloon became less and less inflated”
 “Zambecarri fell, and was killed!”
 The madman disappeared in space
 “Monsieur the curè,” said he, “stop a moment, if you please”
 André Vasling, the mate, apprised Jean Cornbutte of the dreadful event
 A soft voice said in his ear, “Have good courage, uncle”
 André Vasling showed himself more attentive than ever
 On the 12th September the sea consisted of one solid plain
 They found themselves in a most perilous position, for an icequake had occurred
 Map in hand, he clearly explained their situation
 The caravan set out
 “Thirty-two degrees below zero!”
 Despair and determination were struggling in his rough features for the mastery
 It was Louis Cornbutte
 Penellan advanced towards the Norwegians
 Marie begged Vasling on her knees to produce the lemons, but he did not reply
 Marie rose with cries of despair, and hurried to the bed of old Jean Cornbutte
 The bear, having descended from the mast, had fallen on the two men
 The old curè received Louis Cornbutte and Marie
 View of Mont Blanc from the Brevent
 View of Bossons glacier, near the Grands-Mulets
 Passage of the Bossons Glacier
 Crevasse and bridge
 View of the “Seracs”
 View of “Seracs”
 Passage of the “Junction”
 Hut at the Grands-Mulets
 View of Mont Blanc from Grands-Mulets
 Crossing the plateau
 Summit of Mont Blanc
 Grands-Mulets:—Party descending from the hut



If you try to find, on any map of Flanders, ancient or modern, the
small town of Quiquendone, probably you will not succeed. Is
Quiquendone, then, one of those towns which have disappeared? No. A
town of the future? By no means. It exists in spite of geographies, and
has done so for some eight or nine hundred years. It even numbers two
thousand three hundred and ninety-three souls, allowing one soul to
each inhabitant. It is situated thirteen and a half kilometres
north-west of Oudenarde, and fifteen and a quarter kilometres
south-east of Bruges, in the heart of Flanders. The Vaar, a small
tributary of the Scheldt, passes beneath its three bridges, which are
still covered with a quaint mediæval roof, like that at Tournay. An old
château is to be seen there, the first stone of which was laid so long
ago as 1197, by Count Baldwin, afterwards Emperor of Constantinople;
and there is a Town Hall, with Gothic windows, crowned by a chaplet of
battlements, and surrounded by a turreted belfry, which rises three
hundred and fifty-seven feet above the soil. Every hour you may hear
there a chime of five octaves, a veritable aerial piano, the renown of
which surpasses that of the famous chimes of Bruges. Strangers—if any
ever come to Quiquendone—do not quit the curious old town until they
have visited its “Stadtholder’s Hall”, adorned by a full-length
portrait of William of Nassau, by Brandon; the loft of the Church of
Saint Magloire, a masterpiece of sixteenth century architecture; the
cast-iron well in the spacious Place Saint Ernuph, the admirable
ornamentation of which is attributed to the artist-blacksmith, Quentin
Metsys; the tomb formerly erected to Mary of Burgundy, daughter of
Charles the Bold, who now reposes in the Church of Notre Dame at
Bruges; and so on. The principal industry of Quiquendone is the
manufacture of whipped creams and barley-sugar on a large scale. It has
been governed by the Van Tricasses, from father to son, for several
centuries. And yet Quiquendone is not on the map of Flanders! Have the
geographers forgotten it, or is it an intentional omission? That I
cannot tell; but Quiquendone really exists; with its narrow streets,
its fortified walls, its Spanish-looking houses, its market, and its
burgomaster—so much so, that it has recently been the theatre of some
surprising phenomena, as extraordinary and incredible as they are true,
which are to be recounted in the present narration.

Surely there is nothing to be said or thought against the Flemings of
Western Flanders. They are a well-to-do folk, wise, prudent, sociable,
with even tempers, hospitable, perhaps a little heavy in conversation
as in mind; but this does not explain why one of the most interesting
towns of their district has yet to appear on modern maps.

This omission is certainly to be regretted. If only history, or in
default of history the chronicles, or in default of chronicles the
traditions of the country, made mention of Quiquendone! But no; neither
atlases, guides, nor itineraries speak of it. M. Joanne himself, that
energetic hunter after small towns, says not a word of it. It might be
readily conceived that this silence would injure the commerce, the
industries, of the town. But let us hasten to add that Quiquendone has
neither industry nor commerce, and that it does very well without them.
Its barley-sugar and whipped cream are consumed on the spot; none is
exported. In short, the Quiquendonians have no need of anybody. Their
desires are limited, their existence is a modest one; they are calm,
moderate, phlegmatic—in a word, they are Flemings; such as are still to
be met with sometimes between the Scheldt and the North Sea.


“You think so?” asked the burgomaster.

“I—think so,” replied the counsellor, after some minutes of silence.

“You see, we must not act hastily,” resumed the burgomaster.

“We have been talking over this grave matter for ten years,” replied
the Counsellor Niklausse, “and I confess to you, my worthy Van
Tricasse, that I cannot yet take it upon myself to come to a decision.”

“I quite understand your hesitation,” said the burgomaster, who did not
speak until after a good quarter of an hour of reflection, “I quite
understand it, and I fully share it. We shall do wisely to decide upon
nothing without a more careful examination of the question.”

“It is certain,” replied Niklausse, “that this post of civil commissary
is useless in so peaceful a town as Quiquendone.”

“Our predecessor,” said Van Tricasse gravely, “our predecessor never
said, never would have dared to say, that anything is certain. Every
affirmation is subject to awkward qualifications.”

The counsellor nodded his head slowly in token of assent; then he
remained silent for nearly half an hour. After this lapse of time,
during which neither the counsellor nor the burgomaster moved so much
as a finger, Niklausse asked Van Tricasse whether his predecessor—of
some twenty years before—had not thought of suppressing this office of
civil commissary, which each year cost the town of Quiquendone the sum
of thirteen hundred and seventy-five francs and some centimes.

“I believe he did,” replied the burgomaster, carrying his hand with
majestic deliberation to his ample brow; “but the worthy man died
without having dared to make up his mind, either as to this or any
other administrative measure. He was a sage. Why should I not do as he

Counsellor Niklausse was incapable of originating any objection to the
burgomaster’s opinion.

“The man who dies,” added Van Tricasse solemnly, “without ever having
decided upon anything during his life, has very nearly attained to

This said, the burgomaster pressed a bell with the end of his little
finger, which gave forth a muffled sound, which seemed less a sound
than a sigh. Presently some light steps glided softly across the tile
floor. A mouse would not have made less noise, running over a thick
carpet. The door of the room opened, turning on its well-oiled hinges.
A young girl, with long blonde tresses, made her appearance. It was
Suzel Van Tricasse, the burgomaster’s only daughter. She handed her
father a pipe, filled to the brim, and a small copper brazier, spoke
not a word, and disappeared at once, making no more noise at her exit
than at her entrance.

[Illustration: She handed her father a pipe]

The worthy burgomaster lighted his pipe, and was soon hidden in a cloud
of bluish smoke, leaving Counsellor Niklausse plunged in the most
absorbing thought.

The room in which these two notable personages, charged with the
government of Quiquendone, were talking, was a parlour richly adorned
with carvings in dark wood. A lofty fireplace, in which an oak might
have been burned or an ox roasted, occupied the whole of one of the
sides of the room; opposite to it was a trellised window, the painted
glass of which toned down the brightness of the sunbeams. In an antique
frame above the chimney-piece appeared the portrait of some worthy man,
attributed to Memling, which no doubt represented an ancestor of the
Van Tricasses, whose authentic genealogy dates back to the fourteenth
century, the period when the Flemings and Guy de Dampierre were engaged
in wars with the Emperor Rudolph of Hapsburgh.

This parlour was the principal apartment of the burgomaster’s house,
which was one of the pleasantest in Quiquendone. Built in the Flemish
style, with all the abruptness, quaintness, and picturesqueness of
Pointed architecture, it was considered one of the most curious
monuments of the town. A Carthusian convent, or a deaf and dumb asylum,
was not more silent than this mansion. Noise had no existence there;
people did not walk, but glided about in it; they did not speak, they
murmured. There was not, however, any lack of women in the house,
which, in addition to the burgomaster Van Tricasse himself, sheltered
his wife, Madame Brigitte Van Tricasse, his daughter, Suzel Van
Tricasse, and his domestic, Lotchè Janshéu. We may also mention the
burgomaster’s sister, Aunt Hermance, an elderly maiden who still bore
the nickname of Tatanémance, which her niece Suzel had given her when a
child. But in spite of all these elements of discord and noise, the
burgomaster’s house was as calm as a desert.

The burgomaster was some fifty years old, neither fat nor lean, neither
short nor tall, neither rubicund nor pale, neither gay nor sad, neither
contented nor discontented, neither energetic nor dull, neither proud
nor humble, neither good nor bad, neither generous nor miserly, neither
courageous nor cowardly, neither too much nor too little of anything—a
man notably moderate in all respects, whose invariable slowness of
motion, slightly hanging lower jaw, prominent eyebrows, massive
forehead, smooth as a copper plate and without a wrinkle, would at once
have betrayed to a physiognomist that the burgomaster Van Tricasse was
phlegm personified. Never, either from anger or passion, had any
emotion whatever hastened the beating of this man’s heart, or flushed
his face; never had his pupils contracted under the influence of any
irritation, however ephemeral. He invariably wore good clothes, neither
too large nor too small, which he never seemed to wear out. He was shod
with large square shoes with triple soles and silver buckles, which
lasted so long that his shoemaker was in despair. Upon his head he wore
a large hat which dated from the period when Flanders was separated
from Holland, so that this venerable masterpiece was at least forty
years old. But what would you have? It is the passions which wear out
body as well as soul, the clothes as well as the body; and our worthy
burgomaster, apathetic, indolent, indifferent, was passionate in
nothing. He wore nothing out, not even himself, and he considered
himself the very man to administer the affairs of Quiquendone and its
tranquil population.

The town, indeed, was not less calm than the Van Tricasse mansion. It
was in this peaceful dwelling that the burgomaster reckoned on
attaining the utmost limit of human existence, after having, however,
seen the good Madame Brigitte Van Tricasse, his wife, precede him to
the tomb, where, surely, she would not find a more profound repose than
that she had enjoyed on earth for sixty years.

This demands explanation.

The Van Tricasse family might well call itself the “Jeannot family.”
This is why:—

Every one knows that the knife of this typical personage is as
celebrated as its proprietor, and not less incapable of wearing out,
thanks to the double operation, incessantly repeated, of replacing the
handle when it is worn out, and the blade when it becomes worthless. A
precisely similar operation had been going on from time immemorial in
the Van Tricasse family, to which Nature had lent herself with more
than usual complacency. From 1340 it had invariably happened that a Van
Tricasse, when left a widower, had remarried a Van Tricasse younger
than himself; who, becoming in turn a widow, had married again a Van
Tricasse younger than herself; and so on, without a break in the
continuity, from generation to generation. Each died in his or her turn
with mechanical regularity. Thus the worthy Madame Brigitte Van
Tricasse had now her second husband; and, unless she violated her every
duty, would precede her spouse—he being ten years younger than
herself—to the other world, to make room for a new Madame Van Tricasse.
Upon this the burgomaster calmly counted, that the family tradition
might not be broken. Such was this mansion, peaceful and silent, of
which the doors never creaked, the windows never rattled, the floors
never groaned, the chimneys never roared, the weathercocks never
grated, the furniture never squeaked, the locks never clanked, and the
occupants never made more noise than their shadows. The god Harpocrates
would certainly have chosen it for the Temple of Silence.

[Illustration: the worthy Madame Brigitte Van Tricasse had now her
second husband]


When the interesting conversation which has been narrated began, it was
a quarter before three in the afternoon. It was at a quarter before
four that Van Tricasse lighted his enormous pipe, which could hold a
quart of tobacco, and it was at thirty-five minutes past five that he
finished smoking it.

All this time the two comrades did not exchange a single word.

About six o’clock the counsellor, who had a habit of speaking in a very
summary manner, resumed in these words,—

“So we decide—”

“To decide nothing,” replied the burgomaster.

“I think, on the whole, that you are right, Van Tricasse.”

“I think so too, Niklausse. We will take steps with reference to the
civil commissary when we have more light on the subject— later on.
There is no need for a month yet.”

“Nor even for a year,” replied Niklausse, unfolding his
pocket-handkerchief and calmly applying it to his nose.

There was another silence of nearly a quarter of an hour. Nothing
disturbed this repeated pause in the conversation; not even the
appearance of the house-dog Lento, who, not less phlegmatic than his
master, came to pay his respects in the parlour. Noble dog!— a model
for his race. Had he been made of pasteboard, with wheels on his paws,
he would not have made less noise during his stay.

Towards eight o’clock, after Lotchè had brought the antique lamp of
polished glass, the burgomaster said to the counsellor,—

“We have no other urgent matter to consider?”

“No, Van Tricasse; none that I know of.”

“Have I not been told, though,” asked the burgomaster, “that the tower
of the Oudenarde gate is likely to tumble down?”

“Ah!” replied the counsellor; “really, I should not be astonished if it
fell on some passer-by any day.”

“Oh! before such a misfortune happens I hope we shall have come to a
decision on the subject of this tower.”

“I hope so, Van Tricasse.”

“There are more pressing matters to decide.”

“No doubt; the question of the leather-market, for instance.”

“What, is it still burning?”

“Still burning, and has been for the last three weeks.”

“Have we not decided in council to let it burn?”

“Yes, Van Tricasse—on your motion.”

“Was not that the surest and simplest way to deal with it?”

“Without doubt.”

“Well, let us wait. Is that all?”

“All,” replied the counsellor, scratching his head, as if to assure
himself that he had not forgotten anything important.

“Ah!” exclaimed the burgomaster, “haven’t you also heard something of
an escape of water which threatens to inundate the low quarter of Saint

“I have. It is indeed unfortunate that this escape of water did not
happen above the leather-market! It would naturally have checked the
fire, and would thus have saved us a good deal of discussion.”

“What can you expect, Niklausse? There is nothing so illogical as
accidents. They are bound by no rules, and we cannot profit by one, as
we might wish, to remedy another.”

It took Van Tricasse’s companion some time to digest this fine

“Well, but,” resumed the Counsellor Niklausse, after the lapse of some
moments, “we have not spoken of our great affair!”

“What great affair? Have we, then, a great affair?” asked the

“No doubt. About lighting the town.”

“O yes. If my memory serves me, you are referring to the lighting plan
of Doctor Ox.”


“It is going on, Niklausse,” replied the burgomaster. “They are already
laying the pipes, and the works are entirely completed.”

“Perhaps we have hurried a little in this matter,” said the counsellor,
shaking his head.

“Perhaps. But our excuse is, that Doctor Ox bears the whole expense of
his experiment. It will not cost us a sou.”

“That, true enough, is our excuse. Moreover, we must advance with the
age. If the experiment succeeds, Quiquendone will be the first town in
Flanders to be lighted with the oxy—What is the gas called?”

“Oxyhydric gas.”

“Well, oxyhydric gas, then.”

At this moment the door opened, and Lotchè came in to tell the
burgomaster that his supper was ready.

Counsellor Niklausse rose to take leave of Van Tricasse, whose appetite
had been stimulated by so many affairs discussed and decisions taken;
and it was agreed that the council of notables should be convened after
a reasonably long delay, to determine whether a decision should be
provisionally arrived at with reference to the really urgent matter of
the Oudenarde gate.

The two worthy administrators then directed their steps towards the
street-door, the one conducting the other. The counsellor, having
reached the last step, lighted a little lantern to guide him through
the obscure streets of Quiquendone, which Doctor Ox had not yet
lighted. It was a dark October night, and a light fog overshadowed the

Niklausse’s preparations for departure consumed at least a quarter of
an hour; for, after having lighted his lantern, he had to put on his
big cow-skin socks and his sheep-skin gloves; then he put up the furred
collar of his overcoat, turned the brim of his felt hat down over his
eyes, grasped his heavy crow-beaked umbrella, and got ready to start.

When Lotchè, however, who was lighting her master, was about to draw
the bars of the door, an unexpected noise arose outside.

Yes! Strange as the thing seems, a noise—a real noise, such as the town
had certainly not heard since the taking of the donjon by the Spaniards
in 1513—terrible noise, awoke the long-dormant echoes of the venerable
Van Tricasse mansion.

Some one knocked heavily upon this door, hitherto virgin to brutal
touch! Redoubled knocks were given with some blunt implement, probably
a knotty stick, wielded by a vigorous arm. With the strokes were
mingled cries and calls. These words were distinctly heard:—

“Monsieur Van Tricasse! Monsieur the burgomaster! Open, open quickly!”

The burgomaster and the counsellor, absolutely astounded, looked at
each other speechless.

This passed their comprehension. If the old culverin of the château,
which had not been used since 1385, had been let off in the parlour,
the dwellers in the Van Tricasse mansion would not have been more

Meanwhile, the blows and cries were redoubled. Lotchè, recovering her
coolness, had plucked up courage to speak.

“Who is there?”

“It is I! I! I!”

“Who are you?”

“The Commissary Passauf!”

The Commissary Passauf! The very man whose office it had been
contemplated to suppress for ten years. What had happened, then? Could
the Burgundians have invaded Quiquendone, as they did in the fourteenth
century? No event of less importance could have so moved Commissary
Passauf, who in no degree yielded the palm to the burgomaster himself
for calmness and phlegm.

On a sign from Van Tricasse—for the worthy man could not have
articulated a syllable—the bar was pushed back and the door opened.

Commissary Passauf flung himself into the antechamber. One would have
thought there was a hurricane.

“What’s the matter, Monsieur the commissary?” asked Lotchè, a brave
woman, who did not lose her head under the most trying circumstances.

“What’s the matter!” replied Passauf, whose big round eyes expressed a
genuine agitation. “The matter is that I have just come from Doctor
Ox’s, who has been holding a reception, and that there—”

[Illustration: I have just come from Doctor Ox’s]


“There I have witnessed such an altercation as—Monsieur the
burgomaster, they have been talking politics!”

“Politics!” repeated Van Tricasse, running his fingers through his wig.

“Politics!” resumed Commissary Passauf, “which has not been done for
perhaps a hundred years at Quiquendone. Then the discussion got warm,
and the advocate, André Schut, and the doctor, Dominique Custos, became
so violent that it may be they will call each other out.”

“Call each other out!” cried the counsellor. “A duel! A duel at
Quiquendone! And what did Advocate Schut and Doctor Gustos say?”

“Just this: ‘Monsieur advocate,’ said the doctor to his adversary, ‘you
go too far, it seems to me, and you do not take sufficient care to
control your words!’”

The Burgomaster Van Tricasse clasped his hands—the counsellor turned
pale and let his lantern fall—the commissary shook his head. That a
phrase so evidently irritating should be pronounced by two of the
principal men in the country!

“This Doctor Custos,” muttered Van Tricasse, “is decidedly a dangerous
man—a hare-brained fellow! Come, gentlemen!”

On this, Counsellor Niklausse and the commissary accompanied the
burgomaster into the parlour.


Who, then, was this personage, known by the singular name of Doctor Ox?

An original character for certain, but at the same time a bold savant,
a physiologist, whose works were known and highly estimated throughout
learned Europe, a happy rival of the Davys, the Daltons, the Bostocks,
the Menzies, the Godwins, the Vierordts—of all those noble minds who
have placed physiology among the highest of modern sciences.

Doctor Ox was a man of medium size and height, aged—: but we cannot
state his age, any more than his nationality. Besides, it matters
little; let it suffice that he was a strange personage, impetuous and
hot-blooded, a regular oddity out of one of Hoffmann’s volumes, and one
who contrasted amusingly enough with the good people of Quiquendone. He
had an imperturbable confidence both in himself and in his doctrines.
Always smiling, walking with head erect and shoulders thrown back in a
free and unconstrained manner, with a steady gaze, large open nostrils,
a vast mouth which inhaled the air in liberal draughts, his appearance
was far from unpleasing. He was full of animation, well proportioned in
all parts of his bodily mechanism, with quicksilver in his veins, and a
most elastic step. He could never stop still in one place, and relieved
himself with impetuous words and a superabundance of gesticulations.

Was Doctor Ox rich, then, that he should undertake to light a whole
town at his expense? Probably, as he permitted himself to indulge in
such extravagance,—and this is the only answer we can give to this
indiscreet question.

Doctor Ox had arrived at Quiquendone five months before, accompanied by
his assistant, who answered to the name of Gédéon Ygène; a tall,
dried-up, thin man, haughty, but not less vivacious than his master.

And next, why had Doctor Ox made the proposition to light the town at
his own expense? Why had he, of all the Flemings, selected the
peaceable Quiquendonians, to endow their town with the benefits of an
unheard-of system of lighting? Did he not, under this pretext, design
to make some great physiological experiment by operating _in anima
vili?_ In short, what was this original personage about to attempt? We
know not, as Doctor Ox had no confidant except his assistant Ygène,
who, moreover, obeyed him blindly.

In appearance, at least, Doctor Ox had agreed to light the town, which
had much need of it, “especially at night,” as Commissary Passauf
wittily said. Works for producing a lighting gas had accordingly been
established; the gasometers were ready for use, and the main pipes,
running beneath the street pavements, would soon appear in the form of
burners in the public edifices and the private houses of certain
friends of progress. Van Tricasse and Niklausse, in their official
capacity, and some other worthies, thought they ought to allow this
modern light to be introduced into their dwellings.

If the reader has not forgotten, it was said, during the long
conversation of the counsellor and the burgomaster, that the lighting
of the town was to be achieved, not by the combustion of common
carburetted hydrogen, produced by distilling coal, but by the use of a
more modern and twenty-fold more brilliant gas, oxyhydric gas, produced
by mixing hydrogen and oxygen.

The doctor, who was an able chemist as well as an ingenious
physiologist, knew how to obtain this gas in great quantity and of good
quality, not by using manganate of soda, according to the method of M.
Tessié du Motay, but by the direct decomposition of slightly acidulated
water, by means of a battery made of new elements, invented by himself.
Thus there were no costly materials, no platinum, no retorts, no
combustibles, no delicate machinery to produce the two gases
separately. An electric current was sent through large basins full of
water, and the liquid was decomposed into its two constituent parts,
oxygen and hydrogen. The oxygen passed off at one end; the hydrogen, of
double the volume of its late associate, at the other. As a necessary
precaution, they were collected in separate reservoirs, for their
mixture would have produced a frightful explosion if it had become
ignited. Thence the pipes were to convey them separately to the various
burners, which would be so placed as to prevent all chance of
explosion. Thus a remarkably brilliant flame would be obtained, whose
light would rival the electric light, which, as everybody knows, is,
according to Cassellmann’s experiments, equal to that of eleven hundred
and seventy-one wax candles,—not one more, nor one less.

It was certain that the town of Quiquendone would, by this liberal
contrivance, gain a splendid lighting; but Doctor Ox and his assistant
took little account of this, as will be seen in the sequel.

The day after that on which Commissary Passauf had made his noisy
entrance into the burgomaster’s parlour, Gédéon Ygène and Doctor Ox
were talking in the laboratory which both occupied in common, on the
ground-floor of the principal building of the gas-works.

“Well, Ygène, well,” cried the doctor, rubbing his hands. “You saw, at
my reception yesterday, the cool-bloodedness of these worthy
Quiquendonians. For animation they are midway between sponges and
coral! You saw them disputing and irritating each other by voice and
gesture? They are already metamorphosed, morally and physically! And
this is only the beginning. Wait till we treat them to a big dose!”

“Indeed, master,” replied Ygène, scratching his sharp nose with the end
of his forefinger, “the experiment begins well, and if I had not
prudently closed the supply-tap, I know not what would have happened.”

“You heard Schut, the advocate, and Custos, the doctor?” resumed Doctor
Ox. “The phrase was by no means ill-natured in itself, but, in the
mouth of a Quiquendonian, it is worth all the insults which the Homeric
heroes hurled at each other before drawing their swords, Ah, these
Flemings! You’ll see what we shall do some day!”

“We shall make them ungrateful,” replied Ygène, in the tone of a man
who esteems the human race at its just worth.

“Bah!” said the doctor; “what matters it whether they think well or ill
of us, so long as our experiment succeeds?”

“Besides,” returned the assistant, smiling with a malicious expression,
“is it not to be feared that, in producing such an excitement in their
respiratory organs, we shall somewhat injure the lungs of these good
people of Quiquendone?”

“So much the worse for them! It is in the interests of science. What
would you say if the dogs or frogs refused to lend themselves to the
experiments of vivisection?”

[Illustration: It is in the interests of Science.]

It is probable that if the frogs and dogs were consulted, they would
offer some objection; but Doctor Ox imagined that he had stated an
unanswerable argument, for he heaved a great sigh of satisfaction.

“After all, master, you are right,” replied Ygène, as if quite
convinced. “We could not have hit upon better subjects than these
people of Quiquendone for our experiment.”

“We—could—not,” said the doctor, slowly articulating each word.

“Have you felt the pulse of any of them?”

“Some hundreds.”

“And what is the average pulsation you found?”

“Not fifty per minute. See—this is a town where there has not been the
shadow of a discussion for a century, where the carmen don’t swear,
where the coachmen don’t insult each other, where horses don’t run
away, where the dogs don’t bite, where the cats don’t scratch,—a town
where the police-court has nothing to do from one year’s end to
another,—a town where people do not grow enthusiastic about anything,
either about art or business,—a town where the gendarmes are a sort of
myth, and in which an indictment has not been drawn up for a hundred
years,—a town, in short, where for three centuries nobody has struck a
blow with his fist or so much as exchanged a slap in the face! You see,
Ygène, that this cannot last, and that we must change it all.”

“Perfectly! perfectly!” cried the enthusiastic assistant; “and have you
analyzed the air of this town, master?”

“I have not failed to do so. Seventy-nine parts of azote and twenty-one
of oxygen, carbonic acid and steam in a variable quantity. These are
the ordinary proportions.”

“Good, doctor, good!” replied Ygène. “The experiment will be made on a
large scale, and will be decisive.”

“And if it is decisive,” added Doctor Ox triumphantly, “we shall reform
the world!”


The Counsellor Niklausse and the Burgomaster Van Tricasse at last knew
what it was to have an agitated night. The grave event which had taken
place at Doctor Ox’s house actually kept them awake. What consequences
was this affair destined to bring about? They could not imagine. Would
it be necessary for them to come to a decision? Would the municipal
authority, whom they represented, be compelled to interfere? Would they
be obliged to order arrests to be made, that so great a scandal should
not be repeated? All these doubts could not but trouble these soft
natures; and on that evening, before separating, the two notables had
“decided” to see each other the next day.

On the next morning, then, before dinner, the Burgomaster Van Tricasse
proceeded in person to the Counsellor Niklausse’s house. He found his
friend more calm. He himself had recovered his equanimity.

“Nothing new?” asked Van Tricasse.

“Nothing new since yesterday,” replied Niklausse.

“And the doctor, Dominique Custos?”

“I have not heard anything, either of him or of the advocate, André

After an hour’s conversation, which consisted of three remarks which it
is needless to repeat, the counsellor and the burgomaster had resolved
to pay a visit to Doctor Ox, so as to draw from him, without seeming to
do so, some details of the affair.

Contrary to all their habits, after coming to this decision the two
notables set about putting it into execution forthwith. They left the
house and directed their steps towards Doctor Ox’s laboratory, which
was situated outside the town, near the Oudenarde gate—the gate whose
tower threatened to fall in ruins.

They did not take each other’s arms, but walked side by side, with a
slow and solemn step, which took them forward but thirteen inches per
second. This was, indeed, the ordinary gait of the Quiquendonians, who
had never, within the memory of man, seen any one run across the
streets of their town.

From time to time the two notables would stop at some calm and tranquil
crossway, or at the end of a quiet street, to salute the passers-by.

“Good morning, Monsieur the burgomaster,” said one.

“Good morning, my friend,” responded Van Tricasse.

“Anything new, Monsieur the counsellor?” asked another.

“Nothing new,” answered Niklausse.

But by certain agitated motions and questioning looks, it was evident
that the altercation of the evening before was known throughout the
town. Observing the direction taken by Van Tricasse, the most obtuse
Quiquendonians guessed that the burgomaster was on his way to take some
important step. The Custos and Schut affair was talked of everywhere,
but the people had not yet come to the point of taking the part of one
or the other. The Advocate Schut, having never had occasion to plead in
a town where attorneys and bailiffs only existed in tradition, had,
consequently, never lost a suit. As for the Doctor Custos, he was an
honourable practitioner, who, after the example of his fellow-doctors,
cured all the illnesses of his patients, except those of which they
died—a habit unhappily acquired by all the members of all the faculties
in whatever country they may practise.

On reaching the Oudenarde gate, the counsellor and the burgomaster
prudently made a short detour, so as not to pass within reach of the
tower, in case it should fall; then they turned and looked at it

“I think that it will fall,” said Van Tricasse.

“I think so too,” replied Niklausse.

“Unless it is propped up,” added Van Tricasse. “But must it be propped
up? That is the question.”

“That is—in fact—the question.”

Some moments after, they reached the door of the gasworks.

“Can we see Doctor Ox?” they asked.

Doctor Ox could always be seen by the first authorities of the town,
and they were at once introduced into the celebrated physiologist’s

Perhaps the two notables waited for the doctor at least an hour; at
least it is reasonable to suppose so, as the burgomaster—a thing that
had never before happened in his life—betrayed a certain amount of
impatience, from which his companion was not exempt.

Doctor Ox came in at last, and began to excuse himself for having kept
them waiting; but he had to approve a plan for the gasometer, rectify
some of the machinery—But everything was going on well! The pipes
intended for the oxygen were already laid. In a few months the town
would be splendidly lighted. The two notables might even now see the
orifices of the pipes which were laid on in the laboratory.

Then the doctor begged to know to what he was indebted for the honour
of this visit.

“Only to see you, doctor; to see you,” replied Van Tricasse. “It is
long since we have had the pleasure. We go abroad but little in our
good town of Quiquendone. We count our steps and measure our walks. We
are happy when nothing disturbs the uniformity of our habits.”

Niklausse looked at his friend. His friend had never said so much at
once—at least, without taking time, and giving long intervals between
his sentences. It seemed to him that Van Tricasse expressed himself
with a certain volubility, which was by no means common with him.
Niklausse himself experienced a kind of irresistible desire to talk.

As for Doctor Ox, he looked at the burgomaster with sly attention.

Van Tricasse, who never argued until he had snugly ensconced himself in
a spacious armchair, had risen to his feet. I know not what nervous
excitement, quite foreign to his temperament, had taken possession of
him. He did not gesticulate as yet, but this could not be far off. As
for the counsellor, he rubbed his legs, and breathed with slow and long
gasps. His look became animated little by little, and he had “decided”
to support at all hazards, if need be, his trusty friend the

Van Tricasse got up and took several steps; then he came back, and
stood facing the doctor.

“And in how many months,” he asked in a somewhat emphatic tome, “do you
say that your work will be finished?”

“In three or four months, Monsieur the burgomaster,” replied Doctor Ox.

“Three or four months,—it’s a very long time!” said Van Tricasse.

“Altogether too long!” added Niklausse, who, not being able to keep his
seat, rose also.

“This lapse of time is necessary to complete our work,” returned Doctor
Ox. “The workmen, whom we have had to choose in Quiquendone, are not
very expeditious.”

[Illustration: “The workmen, whom we have had to choose in
Quiquendone, are not very expeditious.”]

“How not expeditious?” cried the burgomaster, who seemed to take the
remark as personally offensive.

“No, Monsieur Van Tricasse,” replied Doctor Ox obstinately. “A French
workman would do in a day what it takes ten of your workmen to do; you
know, they are regular Flemings!”

“Flemings!” cried the counsellor, whose fingers closed together. “In
what sense, sir, do you use that word?”

“Why, in the amiable sense in which everybody uses it,” replied Doctor
Ox, smiling.

“Ah, but doctor,” said the burgomaster, pacing up and down the room, “I
don’t like these insinuations. The workmen of Quiquendone are as
efficient as those of any other town in the world, you must know; and
we shall go neither to Paris nor London for our models! As for your
project, I beg you to hasten its execution. Our streets have been
unpaved for the putting down of your conduit-pipes, and it is a
hindrance to traffic. Our trade will begin to suffer, and I, being the
responsible authority, do not propose to incur reproaches which will be
but too just.”

Worthy burgomaster! He spoke of trade, of traffic, and the wonder was
that those words, to which he was quite unaccustomed, did not scorch
his lips. What could be passing in his mind?

“Besides,” added Niklausse, “the town cannot be deprived of light much

“But,” urged Doctor Ox, “a town which has been un-lighted for eight or
nine hundred years—”

“All the more necessary is it,” replied the burgomaster, emphasizing
his words. “Times alter, manners alter! The world advances, and we do
not wish to remain behind. We desire our streets to be lighted within a
month, or you must pay a large indemnity for each day of delay; and
what would happen if, amid the darkness, some affray should take

“No doubt,” cried Niklausse. “It requires but a spark to inflame a
Fleming! Fleming! Flame!”

“Apropos of this,” said the burgomaster, interrupting his friend,
“Commissary Passauf, our chief of police, reports to us that a
discussion took place in your drawing-room last evening, Doctor Ox. Was
he wrong in declaring that it was a political discussion?”

“By no means, Monsieur the burgomaster,” replied Doctor Ox, who with
difficulty repressed a sigh of satisfaction.

“So an altercation did take place between Dominique Gustos and André

“Yes, counsellor; but the words which passed were not of grave import.”

“Not of grave import!” cried the burgomaster. “Not of grave import,
when one man tells another that he does not measure the effect of his
words! But of what stuff are you made, monsieur? Do you not know that
in Quiquendone nothing more is needed to bring about extremely
disastrous results? But monsieur, if you, or any one else, presume to
speak thus to me—”

“Or to me,” added Niklausse.

As they pronounced these words with a menacing air, the two notables,
with folded arms and bristling air, confronted Doctor Ox, ready to do
him some violence, if by a gesture, or even the expression of his eye,
he manifested any intention of contradicting them.

But the doctor did not budge.

“At all events, monsieur,” resumed the burgomaster, “I propose to hold
you responsible for what passes in your house. I am bound to insure the
tranquillity of this town, and I do not wish it to be disturbed. The
events of last evening must not be repeated, or I shall do my duty,
sir! Do you hear? Then reply, sir.”

The burgomaster, as he spoke, under the influence of extraordinary
excitement, elevated his voice to the pitch of anger. He was furious,
the worthy Van Tricasse, and might certainly be heard outside. At last,
beside himself, and seeing that Doctor Ox did not reply to his
challenge, “Come, Niklausse,” said he.

And, slamming the door with a violence which shook the house, the
burgomaster drew his friend after him.

Little by little, when they had taken twenty steps on their road, the
worthy notables grew more calm. Their pace slackened, their gait became
less feverish. The flush on their faces faded away; from being crimson,
they became rosy. A quarter of an hour after quitting the gasworks, Van
Tricasse said softly to Niklausse, “An amiable man, Doctor Ox! It is
always a pleasure to see him!”


Our readers know that the burgomaster had a daughter, Suzel But, shrewd
as they may be, they cannot have divined that the counsellor Niklausse
had a son, Frantz; and had they divined this, nothing could have led
them to imagine that Frantz was the betrothed lover of Suzel. We will
add that these young people were made for each other, and that they
loved each other, as folks did love at Quiquendone.

It must not be thought that young hearts did not beat in this
exceptional place; only they beat with a certain deliberation. There
were marriages there, as in every other town in the world; but they
took time about it. Betrothed couples, before engaging in these
terrible bonds, wished to study each other; and these studies lasted at
least ten years, as at college. It was rare that any one was “accepted”
before this lapse of time.

Yes, ten years! The courtships last ten years! And is it, after all,
too long, when the being bound for life is in consideration? One
studies ten years to become an engineer or physician, an advocate or
attorney, and should less time be spent in acquiring the knowledge to
make a good husband? Is it not reasonable? and, whether due to
temperament or reason with them, the Quiquendonians seem to us to be in
the right in thus prolonging their courtship. When marriages in other
more lively and excitable cities are seen taking place within a few
months, we must shrug our shoulders, and hasten to send our boys to the
schools and our daughters to the _pensions_ of Quiquendone.

For half a century but a single marriage was known to have taken place
after the lapse of two years only of courtship, and that turned out

Frantz Niklausse, then, loved Suzel Van Tricasse, but quietly, as a man
would love when he has ten years before him in which to obtain the
beloved object. Once every week, at an hour agreed upon, Frantz went to
fetch Suzel, and took a walk with her along the banks of the Vaar. He
took good care to carry his fishing-tackle, and Suzel never forgot her
canvas, on which her pretty hands embroidered the most unlikely

Frantz was a young man of twenty-two, whose cheeks betrayed a soft,
peachy down, and whose voice had scarcely a compass of one octave.

As for Suzel, she was blonde and rosy. She was seventeen, and did not
dislike fishing. A singular occupation this, however, which forces you
to struggle craftily with a barbel. But Frantz loved it; the pastime
was congenial to his temperament. As patient as possible, content to
follow with his rather dreamy eye the cork which bobbed on the top of
the water, he knew how to wait; and when, after sitting for six hours,
a modest barbel, taking pity on him, consented at last to be caught, he
was happy—but he knew how to control his emotion.

On this day the two lovers—one might say, the two betrothed— were
seated upon the verdant bank. The limpid Vaar murmured a few feet below
them. Suzel quietly drew her needle across the canvas. Frantz
automatically carried his line from left to right, then permitted it to
descend the current from right to left. The fish made capricious rings
in the water, which crossed each other around the cork, while the hook
hung useless near the bottom.

From time to time Frantz would say, without raising his eyes,—

“I think I have a bite, Suzel.”

“Do you think so, Frantz?” replied Suzel, who, abandoning her work for
an instant, followed her lover’s line with earnest eye.

“N-no,” resumed Frantz; “I thought I felt a little twitch; I was

“You _will_ have a bite, Frantz,” replied Suzel, in her pure, soft
voice. “But do not forget to strike at the right moment. You are always
a few seconds too late, and the barbel takes advantage to escape.”

“Would you like to take my line, Suzel?”

“Willingly, Frantz.”

“Then give me your canvas. We shall see whether I am more adroit with
the needle than with the hook.”

And the young girl took the line with trembling hand, while her swain
plied the needle across the stitches of the embroidery. For hours
together they thus exchanged soft words, and their hearts palpitated
when the cork bobbed on the water. Ah, could they ever forget those
charming hours, during which, seated side by side, they listened to the
murmurs of the river?

[Illustration: the young girl took the line]

The sun was fast approaching the western horizon, and despite the
combined skill of Suzel and Frantz, there had not been a bite. The
barbels had not shown themselves complacent, and seemed to scoff at the
two young people, who were too just to bear them malice.

“We shall be more lucky another time, Frantz,” said Suzel, as the young
angler put up his still virgin hook.

“Let us hope so,” replied Frantz.

Then walking side by side, they turned their steps towards the house,
without exchanging a word, as mute as their shadows which stretched out
before them. Suzel became very, very tall under the oblique rays of the
setting sun. Frantz appeared very, very thin, like the long rod which
he held in his hand.

They reached the burgomaster’s house. Green tufts of grass bordered the
shining pavement, and no one would have thought of tearing them away,
for they deadened the noise made by the passers-by.

As they were about to open the door, Frantz thought it his duty to say
to Suzel,—

“You know, Suzel, the great day is approaching?”

“It is indeed, Frantz,” replied the young girl, with downcast eyes.

“Yes,” said Frantz, “in five or six years—”

“Good-bye, Frantz,” said Suzel.

[Illustration: “Good-bye, Frantz,” said Suzel.]

“Good-bye, Suzel,” replied Frantz.

And, after the door had been closed, the young man resumed the way to
his father’s house with a calm and equal pace.


The agitation caused by the Schut and Custos affair had subsided. The
affair led to no serious consequences. It appeared likely that
Quiquendone would return to its habitual apathy, which that unexpected
event had for a moment disturbed.

Meanwhile, the laying of the pipes destined to conduct the oxyhydric
gas into the principal edifices of the town was proceeding rapidly. The
main pipes and branches gradually crept beneath the pavements. But the
burners were still wanting; for, as it required delicate skill to make
them, it was necessary that they should be fabricated abroad. Doctor Ox
was here, there, and everywhere; neither he nor Ygène, his assistant,
lost a moment, but they urged on the workmen, completed the delicate
mechanism of the gasometer, fed day and night the immense piles which
decomposed the water under the influence of a powerful electric
current. Yes, the doctor was already making his gas, though the
pipe-laying was not yet done; a fact which, between ourselves, might
have seemed a little singular. But before long,—at least there was
reason to hope so,—before long Doctor Ox would inaugurate the
splendours of his invention in the theatre of the town.

For Quiquendone possessed a theatre—a really fine edifice, in truth—the
interior and exterior arrangement of which combined every style of
architecture. It was at once Byzantine, Roman, Gothic, Renaissance,
with semicircular doors, Pointed windows, Flamboyant rose-windows,
fantastic bell-turrets,—in a word, a specimen of all sorts, half a
Parthenon, half a Parisian Grand Café. Nor was this surprising, the
theatre having been commenced under the burgomaster Ludwig Van
Tricasse, in 1175, and only finished in 1837, under the burgomaster
Natalis Van Tricasse. It had required seven hundred years to build it,
and it had, been successively adapted to the architectural style in
vogue in each period. But for all that it was an imposing structure;
the Roman pillars and Byzantine arches of which would appear to
advantage lit up by the oxyhydric gas.

Pretty well everything was acted at the theatre of Quiquendone; but the
opera and the opera comique were especially patronized. It must,
however, be added that the composers would never have recognized their
own works, so entirely changed were the “movements” of the music.

In short, as nothing was done in a hurry at Quiquendone, the dramatic
pieces had to be performed in harmony with the peculiar temperament of
the Quiquendonians. Though the doors of the theatre were regularly
thrown open at four o’clock and closed again at ten, it had never been
known that more than two acts were played during the six intervening
hours. “Robert le Diable,” “Les Huguenots,” or “Guillaume Tell” usually
took up three evenings, so slow was the execution of these
masterpieces. The _vivaces_, at the theatre of Quiquendone, lagged like
real _adagios_. The _allegros_ were “long-drawn out” indeed. The
demisemiquavers were scarcely equal to the ordinary semibreves of other
countries. The most rapid runs, performed according to Quiquendonian
taste, had the solemn march of a chant. The gayest shakes were
languishing and measured, that they might not shock the ears of the
_dilettanti_. To give an example, the rapid air sung by Figaro, on his
entrance in the first act of “Le Barbiér de Séville,” lasted
fifty-eight minutes—when the actor was particularly enthusiastic.

Artists from abroad, as might be supposed, were forced to conform
themselves to Quiquendonian fashions; but as they were well paid, they
did not complain, and willingly obeyed the leader’s baton, which never
beat more than eight measures to the minute in the _allegros_.

But what applause greeted these artists, who enchanted without ever
wearying the audiences of Quiquendone! All hands clapped one after
another at tolerably long intervals, which the papers characterized as
“frantic applause;” and sometimes nothing but the lavish prodigality
with which mortar and stone had been used in the twelfth century saved
the roof of the hall from falling in.

Besides, the theatre had only one performance a week, that these
enthusiastic Flemish folk might not be too much excited; and this
enabled the actors to study their parts more thoroughly, and the
spectators to digest more at leisure the beauties of the masterpieces
brought out.

Such had long been the drama at Quiquendone. Foreign artists were in
the habit of making engagements with the director of the town, when
they wanted to rest after their exertions in other scenes; and it
seemed as if nothing could ever change these inveterate customs, when,
a fortnight after the Schut-Custos affair, an unlooked-for incident
occurred to throw the population into fresh agitation.

It was on a Saturday, an opera day. It was not yet intended, as may
well be supposed, to inaugurate the new illumination. No; the pipes had
reached the hall, but, for reasons indicated above, the burners had not
yet been placed, and the wax-candles still shed their soft light upon
the numerous spectators who filled the theatre. The doors had been
opened to the public at one o’clock, and by three the hall was half
full. A queue had at one time been formed, which extended as far as the
end of the Place Saint Ernuph, in front of the shop of Josse Lietrinck
the apothecary. This eagerness was significant of an unusually
attractive performance.

“Are you going to the theatre this evening?” inquired the counsellor
the same morning of the burgomaster.

“I shall not fail to do so,” returned Van Tricasse, “and I shall take
Madame Van Tricasse, as well as our daughter Suzel and our dear
Tatanémance, who all dote on good music.”

“Mademoiselle Suzel is going then?”

“Certainly, Niklausse.”

“Then my son Frantz will be one of the first to arrive,” said

“A spirited boy, Niklausse,” replied the burgomaster sententiously;
“but hot-headed! He will require watching!”

“He loves, Van Tricasse,—he loves your charming Suzel.”

“Well, Niklausse, he shall marry her. Now that we have agreed on this
marriage, what more can he desire?”

“He desires nothing, Van Tricasse, the dear boy! But, in short— we’ll
say no more about it—he will not be the last to get his ticket at the

“Ah, vivacious and ardent youth!” replied the burgomaster, recalling
his own past. “We have also been thus, my worthy counsellor! We have
loved—we too! We have danced attendance in our day! Till to-night,
then, till to-night! By-the-bye, do you know this Fiovaranti is a great
artist? And what a welcome he has received among us! It will be long
before he will forget the applause of Quiquendone!”

The tenor Fiovaranti was, indeed, going to sing; Fiovaranti, who, by
his talents as a virtuoso, his perfect method, his melodious voice,
provoked a real enthusiasm among the lovers of music in the town.

For three weeks Fiovaranti had been achieving a brilliant success in
“Les Huguenots.” The first act, interpreted according to the taste of
the Quiquendonians, had occupied an entire evening of the first week of
the month.—Another evening in the second week, prolonged by infinite
_andantes_, had elicited for the celebrated singer a real ovation. His
success had been still more marked in the third act of Meyerbeer’s
masterpiece. But now Fiovaranti was to appear in the fourth act, which
was to be performed on this evening before an impatient public. Ah, the
duet between Raoul and Valentine, that pathetic love-song for two
voices, that strain so full of _crescendos_, _stringendos_, and _piu
crescendos_—all this, sung slowly, compendiously, interminably! Ah, how

[Illustration: Fiovaranti had been achieving a brilliant success in
“Les Huguenots.”]

At four o’clock the hall was full. The boxes, the orchestra, the pit,
were overflowing. In the front stalls sat the Burgomaster Van Tricasse,
Mademoiselle Van Tricasse, Madame Van Tricasse, and the amiable
Tatanémance in a green bonnet; not far off were the Counsellor
Niklausse and his family, not forgetting the amorous Frantz. The
families of Custos the doctor, of Schut the advocate, of Honoré Syntax
the chief judge, of Norbet Sontman the insurance director, of the
banker Collaert, gone mad on German music, and himself somewhat of an
amateur, and the teacher Rupp, and the master of the academy, Jerome
Resh, and the civil commissary, and so many other notabilities of the
town that they could not be enumerated here without wearying the
reader’s patience, were visible in different parts of the hall.

It was customary for the Quiquendonians, while awaiting the rise of the
curtain, to sit silent, some reading the paper, others whispering low
to each other, some making their way to their seats slowly and
noiselessly, others casting timid looks towards the bewitching beauties
in the galleries.

But on this evening a looker-on might have observed that, even before
the curtain rose, there was unusual animation among the audience.
People were restless who were never known to be restless before. The
ladies’ fans fluttered with abnormal rapidity. All appeared to be
inhaling air of exceptional stimulating power. Every one breathed more
freely. The eyes of some became unwontedly bright, and seemed to give
forth a light equal to that of the candles, which themselves certainly
threw a more brilliant light over the hall. It was evident that people
saw more clearly, though the number of candles had not been increased.
Ah, if Doctor Ox’s experiment were being tried! But it was not being
tried, as yet.

The musicians of the orchestra at last took their places. The first
violin had gone to the stand to give a modest la to his colleagues. The
stringed instruments, the wind instruments, the drums and cymbals, were
in accord. The conductor only waited the sound of the bell to beat the
first bar.

The bell sounds. The fourth act begins. The _allegro appassionato_ of
the inter-act is played as usual, with a majestic deliberation which
would have made Meyerbeer frantic, and all the majesty of which was
appreciated by the Quiquendonian dilettanti.

But soon the leader perceived that he was no longer master of his
musicians. He found it difficult to restrain them, though usually so
obedient and calm. The wind instruments betrayed a tendency to hasten
the movements, and it was necessary to hold them back with a firm hand,
for they would otherwise outstrip the stringed instruments; which, from
a musical point of view, would have been disastrous. The bassoon
himself, the son of Josse Lietrinck the apothecary, a well-bred young
man, seemed to lose his self-control.

Meanwhile Valentine has begun her recitative, “I am alone,” etc.; but
she hurries it.

The leader and all his musicians, perhaps unconsciously, follow her in
her _cantabile_, which should be taken deliberately, like a 12/8 as it
is. When Raoul appears at the door at the bottom of the stage, between
the moment when Valentine goes to him and that when she conceals
herself in the chamber at the side, a quarter of an hour does not
elapse; while formerly, according to the traditions of the Quiquendone
theatre, this recitative of thirty-seven bars was wont to last just
thirty-seven minutes.

Saint Bris, Nevers, Cavannes, and the Catholic nobles have appeared,
somewhat prematurely, perhaps, upon the scene. The composer has marked
_allergo pomposo_ on the score. The orchestra and the lords proceed
_allegro_ indeed, but not at all _pomposo_, and at the chorus, in the
famous scene of the “benediction of the poniards,” they no longer keep
to the enjoined _allegro_. Singers and musicians broke away
impetuously. The leader does not even attempt to restrain them. Nor do
the public protest; on the contrary, the people find themselves carried
away, and see that they are involved in the movement, and that the
movement responds to the impulses of their souls.

“Will you, with me, deliver the land,
From troubles increasing, an impious band?”

They promise, they swear. Nevers has scarcely time to protest, and to
sing that “among his ancestors were many soldiers, but never an
assassin.” He is arrested. The police and the aldermen rush forward and
rapidly swear “to strike all at once.” Saint Bris shouts the recitative
which summons the Catholics to vengeance. The three monks, with white
scarfs, hasten in by the door at the back of Nevers’s room, without
making any account of the stage directions, which enjoin on them to
advance slowly. Already all the artists have drawn sword or poniard,
which the three monks bless in a trice. The soprani tenors, bassos,
attack the _allegro furioso_ with cries of rage, and of a dramatic 6/8
time they make it 6/8 quadrille time. Then they rush out, bellowing,—

“At midnight,
God wills it,
At midnight.”

At this moment the audience start to their feet. Everybody is
agitated—in the boxes, the pit, the galleries. It seems as if the
spectators are about to rush upon the stage, the Burgomaster Van
Tricasse at their head, to join with the conspirators and annihilate
the Huguenots, whose religious opinions, however, they share. They
applaud, call before the curtain, make loud acclamations! Tatanémance
grasps her bonnet with feverish hand. The candles throw out a lurid
glow of light.

Raoul, instead of slowly raising the curtain, tears it apart with a
superb gesture and finds himself confronting Valentine.

At last! It is the grand duet, and it starts off _allegro vivace_.
Raoul does not wait for Valentine’s pleading, and Valentine does not
wait for Raoul’s responses.

The fine passage beginning, “Danger is passing, time is flying,”
becomes one of those rapid airs which have made Offenbach famous, when
he composes a dance for conspirators. The _andante amoroso_, “Thou hast
said it, aye, thou lovest me,” becomes a real _vivace furioso_, and the
violoncello ceases to imitate the inflections of the singer’s voice, as
indicated in the composer’s score. In vain Raoul cries, “Speak on, and
prolong the ineffable slumber of my soul.” Valentine cannot “prolong.”
It is evident that an unaccustomed fire devours her. Her _b’s_ and her
_c’s_ above the stave were dreadfully shrill. He struggles, he
gesticulates, he is all in a glow.

The alarum is heard; the bell resounds; but what a panting bell! The
bell-ringer has evidently lost his self-control. It is a frightful
tocsin, which violently struggles against the fury of the orchestra.

Finally the air which ends this magnificent act, beginning, “No more
love, no more intoxication, O the remorse that oppresses me!” which the
composer marks _allegro con moto_, becomes a wild _prestissimo_. You
would say an express-train was whirling by. The alarum resounds again.
Valentine falls fainting. Raoul precipitates himself from the window.

It was high time. The orchestra, really intoxicated, could not have
gone on. The leader’s baton is no longer anything but a broken stick on
the prompter’s box. The violin strings are broken, and their necks
twisted. In his fury the drummer has burst his drum. The
counter-bassist has perched on the top of his musical monster. The
first clarionet has swallowed the reed of his instrument, and the
second hautboy is chewing his reed keys. The groove of the trombone is
strained, and finally the unhappy cornist cannot withdraw his hand from
the bell of his horn, into which he had thrust it too far.

And the audience! The audience, panting, all in a heat, gesticulates
and howls. All the faces are as red as if a fire were burning within
their bodies. They crowd each other, hustle each other to get out—the
men without hats, the women without mantles! They elbow each other in
the corridors, crush between the doors, quarrel, fight! There are no
longer any officials, any burgomaster. All are equal amid this infernal

[Illustration: They hustle each other to get out]

Some moments after, when all have reached the street, each one resumes
his habitual tranquillity, and peaceably enters his house, with a
confused remembrance of what he has just experienced.

The fourth act of the “Huguenots,” which formerly lasted six hours,
began, on this evening at half-past four, and ended at twelve minutes
before five.

It had only lasted eighteen minutes!


But if the spectators, on leaving the theatre, resumed their customary
calm, if they quietly regained their homes, preserving only a sort of
passing stupefaction, they had none the less undergone a remarkable
exaltation, and overcome and weary as if they had committed some excess
of dissipation, they fell heavily upon their beds.

The next day each Quiquendonian had a kind of recollection of what had
occurred the evening before. One missed his hat, lost in the hubbub;
another a coat-flap, torn in the brawl; one her delicately fashioned
shoe, another her best mantle. Memory returned to these worthy people,
and with it a certain shame for their unjustifiable agitation. It
seemed to them an orgy in which they were the unconscious heroes and
heroines. They did not speak of it; they did not wish to think of it.
But the most astounded personage in the town was Van Tricasse the

The next morning, on waking, he could not find his wig. Lotchè looked
everywhere for it, but in vain. The wig had remained on the field of
battle. As for having it publicly claimed by Jean Mistrol, the
town-crier,—no, it would not do. It were better to lose the wig than to
advertise himself thus, as he had the honour to be the first magistrate
of Quiquendone.

The worthy Van Tricasse was reflecting upon this, extended beneath his
sheets, with bruised body, heavy head, furred tongue, and burning
breast. He felt no desire to get up; on the contrary; and his brain
worked more during this morning than it had probably worked before for
forty years. The worthy magistrate recalled to his mind all the
incidents of the incomprehensible performance. He connected them with
the events which had taken place shortly before at Doctor Ox’s
reception. He tried to discover the causes of the singular excitability
which, on two occasions, had betrayed itself in the best citizens of
the town.

“What _can_ be going on?” he asked himself. “What giddy spirit has
taken possession of my peaceable town of Quiquendone? Are we about to
go mad, and must we make the town one vast asylum? For yesterday we
were all there, notables, counsellors, judges, advocates, physicians,
schoolmasters; and ail, if my memory serves me,—all of us were assailed
by this excess of furious folly! But what was there in that infernal
music? It is inexplicable! Yet I certainly ate or drank nothing which
could put me into such a state. No; yesterday I had for dinner a slice
of overdone veal, several spoonfuls of spinach with sugar, eggs, and a
little beer and water,—that couldn’t get into my head! No! There is
something that I cannot explain, and as, after all, I am responsible
for the conduct of the citizens, I will have an investigation.”

But the investigation, though decided upon by the municipal council,
produced no result. If the facts were clear, the causes escaped the
sagacity of the magistrates. Besides, tranquillity had been restored in
the public mind, and with tranquillity, forgetfulness of the strange
scenes of the theatre. The newspapers avoided speaking of them, and the
account of the performance which appeared in the “Quiquendone
Memorial,” made no allusion to this intoxication of the entire

Meanwhile, though the town resumed its habitual phlegm, and became
apparently Flemish as before, it was observable that, at bottom, the
character and temperament of the people changed little by little. One
might have truly said, with Dominique Custos, the doctor, that “their
nerves were affected.”

Let us explain. This undoubted change only took place under certain
conditions. When the Quiquendonians passed through the streets of the
town, walked in the squares or along the Vaar, they were always the
cold and methodical people of former days. So, too, when they remained
at home, some working with their hands and others with their
heads,—these doing nothing, those thinking nothing,—their private life
was silent, inert, vegetating as before. No quarrels, no household
squabbles, no acceleration in the beating of the heart, no excitement
of the brain. The mean of their pulsations remained as it was of old,
from fifty to fifty-two per minute.

But, strange and inexplicable phenomenon though it was, which would
have defied the sagacity of the most ingenious physiologists of the
day, if the inhabitants of Quiquendone did not change in their home
life, they were visibly changed in their civil life and in their
relations between man and man, to which it leads.

If they met together in some public edifice, it did not “work well,” as
Commissary Passauf expressed it. On ’change, at the town-hall, in the
amphitheatre of the academy, at the sessions of the council, as well as
at the reunions of the _savants_, a strange excitement seized the
assembled citizens. Their relations with each other became embarrassing
before they had been together an hour. In two hours the discussion
degenerated into an angry dispute. Heads became heated, and
personalities were used. Even at church, during the sermon, the
faithful could not listen to Van Stabel, the minister, in patience, and
he threw himself about in the pulpit and lectured his flock with far
more than his usual severity. At last this state of things brought
about altercations more grave, alas! than that between Gustos and
Schut, and if they did not require the interference of the authorities,
it was because the antagonists, after returning home, found there, with
its calm, forgetfulness of the offences offered and received.

This peculiarity could not be observed by these minds, which were
absolutely incapable of recognizing what was passing in them. One
person only in the town, he whose office the council had thought of
suppressing for thirty years, Michael Passauf, had remarked that this
excitement, which was absent from private houses, quickly revealed
itself in public edifices; and he asked himself, not without a certain
anxiety, what would happen if this infection should ever develop itself
in the family mansions, and if the epidemic—this was the word he
used—should extend through the streets of the town. Then there would be
no more forgetfulness of insults, no more tranquillity, no intermission
in the delirium; but a permanent inflammation, which would inevitably
bring the Quiquendonians into collision with each other.

“What would happen then?” Commissary Passauf asked himself in terror.
“How could these furious savages be arrested? How check these goaded
temperaments? My office would be no longer a sinecure, and the council
would be obliged to double my salary— unless it should arrest me
myself, for disturbing the public peace!”

These very reasonable fears began to be realized. The infection spread
from ’change, the theatre, the church, the town-hall, the academy, the
market, into private houses, and that in less than a fortnight after
the terrible performance of the “Huguenots.”

Its first symptoms appeared in the house of Collaert, the banker.

That wealthy personage gave a ball, or at least a dancing-party, to the
notabilities of the town. He had issued, some months before, a loan of
thirty thousand francs, three quarters of which had been subscribed;
and to celebrate this financial success, he had opened his
drawing-rooms, and given a party to his fellow-citizens.

Everybody knows that Flemish parties are innocent and tranquil enough,
the principal expense of which is usually in beer and syrups. Some
conversation on the weather, the appearance of the crops, the fine
condition of the gardens, the care of flowers, and especially of
tulips; a slow and measured dance, from time to time, perhaps a minuet;
sometimes a waltz, but one of those German waltzes which achieve a turn
and a half per minute, and during which the dancers hold each other as
far apart as their arms will permit,—such is the usual fashion of the
balls attended by the aristocratic society of Quiquendone. The polka,
after being altered to four time, had tried to become accustomed to it;
but the dancers always lagged behind the orchestra, no matter how slow
the measure, and it had to be abandoned.

These peaceable reunions, in which the youths and maidens enjoyed an
honest and moderate pleasure, had never been attended by any outburst
of ill-nature. Why, then, on this evening at Collaert the banker’s, did
the syrups seem to be transformed into heady wines, into sparkling
champagne, into heating punches? Why, towards the middle of the
evening, did a sort of mysterious intoxication take possession of the
guests? Why did the minuet become a jig? Why did the orchestra hurry
with its harmonies? Why did the candles, just as at the theatre, burn
with unwonted refulgence? What electric current invaded the banker’s
drawing-rooms? How happened it that the couples held each other so
closely, and clasped each other’s hands so convulsively, that the
“cavaliers seuls” made themselves conspicuous by certain extraordinary
steps in that figure usually so grave, so solemn, so majestic, so very

Alas! what OEdipus could have answered these unsolvable questions?
Commissary Passauf, who was present at the party, saw the storm coming
distinctly, but he could not control it or fly from it, and he felt a
kind of intoxication entering his own brain. All his physical and
emotional faculties increased in intensity. He was seen, several times,
to throw himself upon the confectionery and devour the dishes, as if he
had just broken a long fast.

The animation of the ball was increasing all this while. A long murmur,
like a dull buzzing, escaped from all breasts. They danced—really
danced. The feet were agitated by increasing frenzy. The faces became
as purple as those of Silenus. The eyes shone like carbuncles. The
general fermentation rose to the highest pitch.

And when the orchestra thundered out the waltz in “Der
Freyschütz,”—when this waltz, so German, and with a movement so slow,
was attacked with wild arms by the musicians,—ah! it was no longer a
waltz, but an insensate whirlwind, a giddy rotation, a gyration worthy
of being led by some Mephistopheles, beating the measure with a
firebrand! Then a galop, an infernal galop, which lasted an hour
without any one being able to stop it, whirled off, in its windings,
across the halls, the drawing-rooms, the antechambers, by the
staircases, from the cellar to the garret of the opulent mansion, the
young men and young girls, the fathers and mothers, people of every
age, of every weight, of both sexes; Collaert, the fat banker, and
Madame Collaert, and the counsellors, and the magistrates, and the
chief justice, and Niklausse, and Madame Van Tricasse, and the
Burgomaster Van Tricasse, and the Commissary Passauf himself, who never
could recall afterwards who had been his partner on that terrible

[Illustration: it was no longer a waltz]

But she did not forget! And ever since that day she has seen in her
dreams the fiery commissary, enfolding her in an impassioned embrace!
And “she”—was the amiable Tatanémance!


“Well, Ygène?”

“Well, master, all is ready. The laying of the pipes is finished.”

“At last! Now, then, we are going to operate on a large scale, on the


During the following months the evil, in place of subsiding, became
more extended. From private houses the epidemic spread into the
streets. The town of Quiquendone was no longer to be recognized.

A phenomenon yet stranger than those which had already happened, now
appeared; not only the animal kingdom, but the vegetable kingdom
itself, became subject to the mysterious influence.

According to the ordinary course of things, epidemics are special in
their operation. Those which attack humanity spare the animals, and
those which attack the animals spare the vegetables. A horse was never
inflicted with smallpox, nor a man with the cattle-plague, nor do sheep
suffer from the potato-rot. But here all the laws of nature seemed to
be overturned. Not only were the character, temperament, and ideas of
the townsfolk changed, but the domestic animals—dogs and cats, horses
and cows, asses and goats—suffered from this epidemic influence, as if
their habitual equilibrium had been changed. The plants themselves were
infected by a similar strange metamorphosis.

In the gardens and vegetable patches and orchards very curious symptoms
manifested themselves. Climbing plants climbed more audaciously. Tufted
plants became more tufted than ever. Shrubs became trees. Cereals,
scarcely sown, showed their little green heads, and gained, in the same
length of time, as much in inches as formerly, under the most
favourable circumstances, they had gained in fractions. Asparagus
attained the height of several feet; the artichokes swelled to the size
of melons, the melons to the size of pumpkins, the pumpkins to the size
of gourds, the gourds to the size of the belfry bell, which measured,
in truth, nine feet in diameter. The cabbages were bushes, and the
mushrooms umbrellas.

The fruits did not lag behind the vegetables. It required two persons
to eat a strawberry, and four to consume a pear. The grapes also
attained the enormous proportions of those so well depicted by Poussin
in his “Return of the Envoys to the Promised Land.”

[Illustration: It required two persons to eat a strawberry]

It was the same with the flowers: immense violets spread the most
penetrating perfumes through the air; exaggerated roses shone with the
brightest colours; lilies formed, in a few days, impenetrable copses;
geraniums, daisies, camelias, rhododendrons, invaded the garden walks,
and stifled each other. And the tulips,—those dear liliaceous plants so
dear to the Flemish heart, what emotion they must have caused to their
zealous cultivators! The worthy Van Bistrom nearly fell over backwards,
one day, on seeing in his garden an enormous “Tulipa gesneriana,” a
gigantic monster, whose cup afforded space to a nest for a whole family
of robins!

The entire town flocked to see this floral phenomenon, and renamed it
the “Tulipa quiquendonia”.

But alas! if these plants, these fruits, these flowers, grew visibly to
the naked eye, if all the vegetables insisted on assuming colossal
proportions, if the brilliancy of their colours and perfume intoxicated
the smell and the sight, they quickly withered. The air which they
absorbed rapidly exhausted them, and they soon died, faded, and dried

Such was the fate of the famous tulip, which, after several days of
splendour, became emaciated, and fell lifeless.

It was soon the same with the domestic animals, from the house-dog to
the stable pig, from the canary in its cage to the turkey of the
back-court. It must be said that in ordinary times these animals were
not less phlegmatic than their masters. The dogs and cats vegetated
rather than lived. They never betrayed a wag of pleasure nor a snarl of
wrath. Their tails moved no more than if they had been made of bronze.
Such a thing as a bite or scratch from any of them had not been known
from time immemorial. As for mad dogs, they were looked upon as
imaginary beasts, like the griffins and the rest in the menagerie of
the apocalypse.

But what a change had taken place in a few months, the smallest
incidents of which we are trying to reproduce! Dogs and cats began to
show teeth and claws. Several executions had taken place after
reiterated offences. A horse was seen, for the first time, to take his
bit in his teeth and rush through the streets of Quiquendone; an ox was
observed to precipitate itself, with lowered horns, upon one of his
herd; an ass was seen to turn himself ever, with his legs in the air,
in the Place Saint Ernuph, and bray as ass never brayed before; a
sheep, actually a sheep, defended valiantly the cutlets within him from
the butcher’s knife.

Van Tricasse, the burgomaster, was forced to make police regulations
concerning the domestic animals, as, seized with lunacy, they rendered
the streets of Quiquendone unsafe.

But alas! if the animals were mad, the men were scarcely less so. No
age was spared by the scourge. Babies soon became quite insupportable,
though till now so easy to bring up; and for the first time Honoré
Syntax, the judge, was obliged to apply the rod to his youthful

There was a kind of insurrection at the high school, and the
dictionaries became formidable missiles in the classes. The scholars
would not submit to be shut in, and, besides, the infection took the
teachers themselves, who overwhelmed the boys and girls with
extravagant tasks and punishments.

Another strange phenomenon occurred. All these Quiquendonians, so sober
before, whose chief food had been whipped creams, committed wild
excesses in their eating and drinking. Their usual regimen no longer
sufficed. Each stomach was transformed into a gulf, and it became
necessary to fill this gulf by the most energetic means. The
consumption of the town was trebled. Instead of two repasts they had
six. Many cases of indigestion were reported. The Counsellor Niklausse
could not satisfy his hunger. Van Tricasse found it impossible to
assuage his thirst, and remained in a state of rabid semi-intoxication.

In short, the most alarming symptoms manifested themselves and
increased from day to day. Drunken people staggered in the streets, and
these were often citizens of high position.

Dominique Custos, the physician, had plenty to do with the heartburns,
inflammations, and nervous affections, which proved to what a strange
degree the nerves of the people had been irritated.

There were daily quarrels and altercations in the once deserted but now
crowded streets of Quiquendone; for nobody could any longer stay at
home. It was necessary to establish a new police force to control the
disturbers of the public peace. A prison-cage was established in the
Town Hall, and speedily became full, night and day, of refractory
offenders. Commissary Passauf was in despair.

A marriage was concluded in less than two months,—such a thing had
never been seen before. Yes, the son of Rupp, the schoolmaster, wedded
the daughter of Augustine de Rovere, and that fifty-seven days only
after he had petitioned for her hand and heart!

Other marriages were decided upon, which, in old times, would have
remained in doubt and discussion for years. The burgomaster perceived
that his own daughter, the charming Suzel, was escaping from his hands.

As for dear Tatanémance, she had dared to sound Commissary Passauf on
the subject of a union, which seemed to her to combine every element of
happiness, fortune, honour, youth!

At last,—to reach the depths of abomination,—a duel took place! Yes, a
duel with pistols—horse-pistols—at seventy-five paces, with
ball-cartridges. And between whom? Our readers will never believe!

Between M. Frantz Niklausse, the gentle angler, and young Simon
Collaert, the wealthy banker’s son.

And the cause of this duel was the burgomaster’s daughter, for whom
Simon discovered himself to be fired with passion, and whom he refused
to yield to the claims of an audacious rival!


We have seen to what a deplorable condition the people of Quiquendone
were reduced. Their heads were in a ferment. They no longer knew or
recognized themselves. The most peaceable citizens had become
quarrelsome. If you looked at them askance, they would speedily send
you a challenge. Some let their moustaches grow, and several—the most
belligerent—curled them up at the ends.

This being their condition, the administration of the town and the
maintenance of order in the streets became difficult tasks, for the
government had not been organized for such a state of things. The
burgomaster—that worthy Van Tricasse whom we have seen so placid, so
dull, so incapable of coming to any decision— the burgomaster became
intractable. His house resounded with the sharpness of his voice. He
made twenty decisions a day, scolding his officials, and himself
enforcing the regulations of his administration.

Ah, what a change! The amiable and tranquil mansion of the burgomaster,
that good Flemish home—where was its former calm? What changes had
taken place in your household economy! Madame Van Tricasse had become
acrid, whimsical, harsh. Her husband sometimes succeeded in drowning
her voice by talking louder than she, but could not silence her. The
petulant humour of this worthy dame was excited by everything. Nothing
went right. The servants offended her every moment. Tatanémance, her
sister-in-law, who was not less irritable, replied sharply to her. M.
Van Tricasse naturally supported Lotchè, his servant, as is the case in
all good households; and this permanently exasperated Madame, who
constantly disputed, discussed, and made scenes with her husband.

“What on earth is the matter with us?” cried the unhappy burgomaster.
“What is this fire that is devouring us? Are we possessed with the
devil? Ah, Madame Van Tricasse, Madame Van Tricasse, you will end by
making me die before you, and thus violate all the traditions of the

The reader will not have forgotten the strange custom by which M. Van
Tricasse would become a widower and marry again, so as not to break the
chain of descent.

Meanwhile, this disposition of all minds produced other curious effects
worthy of note. This excitement, the cause of which has so far escaped
us, brought about unexpected physiological changes. Talents, hitherto
unrecognized, betrayed themselves. Aptitudes were suddenly revealed.
Artists, before common-place, displayed new ability. Politicians and
authors arose. Orators proved themselves equal to the most arduous
debates, and on every question inflamed audiences which were quite
ready to be inflamed. From the sessions of the council, this movement
spread to the public political meetings, and a club was formed at
Quiquendone; whilst twenty newspapers, the “Quiquendone Signal,” the
“Quiquendone Impartial,” the “Quiquendone Radical,” and so on, written
in an inflammatory style, raised the most important questions.

But what about? you will ask. Apropos of everything, and of nothing;
apropos of the Oudenarde tower, which was falling, and which some
wished to pull down, and others to prop up; apropos of the police
regulations issued by the council, which some obstinate citizens
threatened to resist; apropos of the sweeping of the gutters, repairing
the sewers, and so on. Nor did the enraged orators confine themselves
to the internal administration of the town. Carried on by the current
they went further, and essayed to plunge their fellow-citizens into the
hazards of war.

Quiquendone had had for eight or nine hundred years a _casus belli_ of
the best quality; but she had preciously laid it up like a relic, and
there had seemed some probability that it would become effete, and no
longer serviceable.

This was what had given rise to the _casus belli_.

It is not generally known that Quiquendone, in this cosy corner of
Flanders, lies next to the little town of Virgamen. The territories of
the two communities are contiguous.

Well, in 1185, some time before Count Baldwin’s departure to the
Crusades, a Virgamen cow—not a cow belonging to a citizen, but a cow
which was common property, let it be observed—audaciously ventured to
pasture on the territory of Quiquendone. This unfortunate beast had
scarcely eaten three mouthfuls; but the offence, the abuse, the
crime—whatever you will—was committed and duly indicted, for the
magistrates, at that time, had already begun to know how to write.

“We will take revenge at the proper moment,” said simply Natalis Van
Tricasse, the thirty-second predecessor of the burgomaster of this
story, “and the Virgamenians will lose nothing by waiting.”

The Virgamenians were forewarned. They waited thinking, without doubt,
that the remembrance of the offence would fade away with the lapse of
time; and really, for several centuries, they lived on good terms with
their neighbours of Quiquendone.

But they counted without their hosts, or rather without this strange
epidemic, which, radically changing the character of the
Quiquendonians, aroused their dormant vengeance.

It was at the club of the Rue Monstrelet that the truculent orator
Schut, abruptly introducing the subject to his hearers, inflamed them
with the expressions and metaphors used on such occasions. He recalled
the offence, the injury which had been done to Quiquendone, and which a
nation “jealous of its rights” could not admit as a precedent; he
showed the insult to be still existing, the wound still bleeding: he
spoke of certain special head-shakings on the part of the people of
Virgamen, which indicated in what degree of contempt they regarded the
people of Quiquendone; he appealed to his fellow-citizens, who,
unconsciously perhaps, had supported this mortal insult for long
centuries; he adjured the “children of the ancient town” to have no
other purpose than to obtain a substantial reparation. And, lastly, he
made an appeal to “all the living energies of the nation!”

With what enthusiasm these words, so new to Quiquendonian ears, were
greeted, may be surmised, but cannot be told. All the auditors rose,
and with extended arms demanded war with loud cries. Never had the
Advocate Schut achieved such a success, and it must be avowed that his
triumphs were not few.

The burgomaster, the counsellor, all the notabilities present at this
memorable meeting, would have vainly attempted to resist the popular
outburst. Besides, they had no desire to do so, and cried as loud, if
not louder, than the rest,—

“To the frontier! To the frontier!”

As the frontier was but three kilometers from the walls of Quiquendone,
it is certain that the Virgamenians ran a real danger, for they might
easily be invaded without having had time to look about them.

Meanwhile, Josse Liefrinck, the worthy chemist, who alone had preserved
his senses on this grave occasion, tried to make his fellow-citizens
comprehend that guns, cannon, and generals were equally wanting to
their design.

They replied to him, not without many impatient gestures, that these
generals, cannons, and guns would be improvised; that the right and
love of country sufficed, and rendered a people irresistible.

Hereupon the burgomaster himself came forward, and in a sublime
harangue made short work of those pusillanimous people who disguise
their fear under a veil of prudence, which veil he tore off with a
patriotic hand.

At this sally it seemed as if the hall would fall in under the

The vote was eagerly demanded, and was taken amid acclamations.

The cries of “To Virgamen! to Virgamen!” redoubled.

[Illustration: “To Virgamen! to Virgamen!”]

The burgomaster then took it upon himself to put the armies in motion,
and in the name of the town he promised the honours of a triumph, such
as was given in the times of the Romans to that one of its generals who
should return victorious.

Meanwhile, Josse Liefrinck, who was an obstinate fellow, and did not
regard himself as beaten, though he really had been, insisted on making
another observation. He wished to remark that the triumph was only
accorded at Rome to those victorious generals who had killed five
thousand of the enemy.

“Well, well!” cried the meeting deliriously.

“And as the population of the town of Virgamen consists of but three
thousand five hundred and seventy-five inhabitants, it would be
difficult, unless the same person was killed several times—”

But they did not let the luckless logician finish, and he was turned
out, hustled and bruised.

“Citizens,” said Pulmacher the grocer, who usually sold groceries by
retail, “whatever this cowardly apothecary may have said, I engage by
myself to kill five thousand Virgamenians, if you will accept my

“Five thousand five hundred!” cried a yet more resolute patriot.

“Six thousand six hundred!” retorted the grocer.

“Seven thousand!” cried Jean Orbideck, the confectioner of the Rue
Hemling, who was on the road to a fortune by making whipped creams.

“Adjudged!” exclaimed the burgomaster Van Tricasse, on finding that no
one else rose on the bid.

And this was how Jean Orbideck the confectioner became general-in-chief
of the forces of Quiquendone.


“Well, master,” said Ygène next day, as he poured the pails of
sulphuric acid into the troughs of the great battery.

“Well,” resumed Doctor Ox, “was I not right? See to what not only the
physical developments of a whole nation, but its morality, its dignity,
its talents, its political sense, have come! It is only a question of

“No doubt; but—”


“Do you not think that matters have gone far enough, and that these
poor devils should not be excited beyond measure?”

“No, no!” cried the doctor; “no! I will go on to the end!”

“As you will, master; the experiment, however, seems to me conclusive,
and I think it time to—”


“To close the valve.”

“You’d better!” cried Doctor Ox. “If you attempt it, I’ll throttle


“You say?” asked the Burgomaster Van Tricasse of the Counsellor

“I say that this war is necessary,” replied Niklausse, firmly, “and
that the time has come to avenge this insult.”

“Well, I repeat to you,” replied the burgomaster, tartly, “that if the
people of Quiquendone do not profit by this occasion to vindicate their
rights, they will be unworthy of their name.”

“And as for me, I maintain that we ought, without delay, to collect our
forces and lead them to the front.”

“Really, monsieur, really!” replied Van Tricasse. “And do you speak
thus to _me_?”

“To yourself, monsieur the burgomaster; and you shall hear the truth,
unwelcome as it may be.”

“And you shall hear it yourself, counsellor,” returned Van Tricasse in
a passion, “for it will come better from my mouth than from yours! Yes,
monsieur, yes, any delay would be dishonourable. The town of
Quiquendone has waited nine hundred years for the moment to take its
revenge, and whatever you may say, whether it pleases you or not, we
shall march upon the enemy.”

“Ah, you take it thus!” replied Niklausse harshly. “Very well,
monsieur, we will march without you, if it does not please you to go.”

“A burgomaster’s place is in the front rank, monsieur!”

[Illustration: “A burgomaster’s place is in the front rank,

“And that of a counsellor also, monsieur.”

“You insult me by thwarting all my wishes,” cried the burgomaster,
whose fists seemed likely to hit out before long.

“And you insult me equally by doubting my patriotism,” cried Niklausse,
who was equally ready for a tussle.

“I tell you, monsieur, that the army of Quiquendone shall be put in
motion within two days!”

“And I repeat to you, monsieur, that forty-eight hours shall not pass
before we shall have marched upon the enemy!”

It is easy to see, from this fragment of conversation, that the two
speakers supported exactly the same idea. Both wished for hostilities;
but as their excitement disposed them to altercation, Niklausse would
not listen to Van Tricasse, nor Van Tricasse to Niklausse. Had they
been of contrary opinions on this grave question, had the burgomaster
favoured war and the counsellor insisted on peace, the quarrel would
not have been more violent. These two old friends gazed fiercely at
each other. By the quickened beating of their hearts, their red faces,
their contracted pupils, the trembling of their muscles, their harsh
voices, it might be conjectured that they were ready to come to blows.

But the striking of a large clock happily checked the adversaries at
the moment when they seemed on the point of assaulting each other.

“At last the hour has come!” cried the burgomaster.

“What hour?” asked the counsellor.

“The hour to go to the belfry tower.”

“It is true, and whether it pleases you or not, I shall go, monsieur.”

“And I too.”

“Let us go!”

“Let us go!”

It might have been supposed from these last words that a collision had
occurred, and that the adversaries were proceeding to a duel; but it
was not so. It had been agreed that the burgomaster and the counsellor,
as the two principal dignitaries of the town, should repair to the Town
Hall, and there show themselves on the high tower which overlooked
Quiquendone; that they should examine the surrounding country, so as to
make the best strategetic plan for the advance of their troops.

Though they were in accord on this subject, they did not cease to
quarrel bitterly as they went. Their loud voices were heard resounding
in the streets; but all the passers-by were now accustomed to this; the
exasperation of the dignitaries seemed quite natural, and no one took
notice of it. Under the circumstances, a calm man would have been
regarded as a monster.

The burgomaster and the counsellor, having reached the porch of the
belfry, were in a paroxysm of fury. They were no longer red, but pale.
This terrible discussion, though they had the same idea, had produced
internal spasms, and every one knows that paleness shows that anger has
reached its last limits.

At the foot of the narrow tower staircase there was a real explosion.
Who should go up first? Who should first creep up the winding steps?
Truth compels us to say that there was a tussle, and that the
Counsellor Niklausse, forgetful of all that he owed to his superior, to
the supreme magistrate of the town, pushed Van Tricasse violently back,
and dashed up the staircase first.

Both ascended, denouncing and raging at each other at every step. It
was to be feared that a terrible climax would occur on the summit of
the tower, which rose three hundred and fifty-seven feet above the

The two enemies soon got out of breath, however, and in a little while,
at the eightieth step, they began to move up heavily, breathing loud
and short.

Then—was it because of their being out of breath?—their wrath subsided,
or at least only betrayed itself by a succession of unseemly epithets.
They became silent, and, strange to say, it seemed as if their
excitement diminished as they ascended higher above the town. A sort of
lull took place in their minds. Their brains became cooler, and
simmered down like a coffee-pot when taken away from the fire. Why?

We cannot answer this “why;” but the truth is that, having reached a
certain landing-stage, two hundred and sixty-six feet above ground, the
two adversaries sat down and, really more calm, looked at each other
without any anger in their faces.

“How high it is!” said the burgomaster, passing his handkerchief over
his rubicund face.

“Very high!” returned the counsellor. “Do you know that we have gone
fourteen feet higher than the Church of Saint Michael at Hamburg?”

“I know it,” replied the burgomaster, in a tone of vanity very
pardonable in the chief magistrate of Quiquendone.

The two notabilities soon resumed their ascent, casting curious glances
through the loopholes pierced in the tower walls. The burgomaster had
taken the head of the procession, without any remark on the part of the
counsellor. It even happened that at about the three hundred and fourth
step, Van Tricasse being completely tired out, Niklausse kindly pushed
him from behind. The burgomaster offered no resistance to this, and,
when he reached the platform of the tower, said graciously,—

“Thanks, Niklausse; I will do the same for you one day.”

A little while before it had been two wild beasts, ready to tear each
other to pieces, who had presented themselves at the foot of the tower;
it was now two friends who reached its summit.

The weather was superb. It was the month of May. The sun had absorbed
all the vapours. What a pure and limpid atmosphere! The most minute
objects over a broad space might be discerned. The walls of Virgamen,
glistening in their whiteness,—its red, pointed roofs, its belfries
shining in the sunlight—appeared a few miles off. And this was the town
that was foredoomed to all the horrors of fire and pillage!

The burgomaster and the counsellor sat down beside each other on a
small stone bench, like two worthy people whose souls were in close
sympathy. As they recovered breath, they looked around; then, after a
brief silence,—

“How fine this is!” cried the burgomaster.

“Yes, it is admirable!” replied the counsellor. “Does it not seem to
you, my good Van Tricasse, that humanity is destined to dwell rather at
such heights, than to crawl about on the surface of our globe?”

“I agree with you, honest Niklausse,” returned the burgomaster, “I
agree with you. You seize sentiment better when you get clear of
nature. You breathe it in every sense! It is at such heights that
philosophers should be formed, and that sages should live, above the
miseries of this world!”

“Shall we go around the platform?” asked the counsellor.

“Let us go around the platform,” replied the burgomaster.

And the two friends, arm in arm, and putting, as formerly, long pauses
between their questions and answers, examined every point of the

[Illustration: The two friends, arm in arm]

“It is at least seventeen years since I have ascended the belfry
tower,” said Van Tricasse.

“I do not think I ever came up before,” replied Niklausse; “and I
regret it, for the view from this height is sublime! Do you see, my
friend, the pretty stream of the Vaar, as it winds among the trees?”

“And, beyond, the heights of Saint Hermandad! How gracefully they shut
in the horizon! Observe that border of green trees, which Nature has so
picturesquely arranged! Ah, Nature, Nature, Niklausse! Could the hand
of man ever hope to rival her?”

“It is enchanting, my excellent friend,” replied the counsellor. “See
the flocks and herds lying in the verdant pastures,—the oxen, the cows,
the sheep!”

“And the labourers going to the fields! You would say they were
Arcadian shepherds; they only want a bagpipe!”

“And over all this fertile country the beautiful blue sky, which no
vapour dims! Ah, Niklausse, one might become a poet here! I do not
understand why Saint Simeon Stylites was not one of the greatest poets
of the world.”

“It was because, perhaps, his column was not high enough,” replied the
counsellor, with a gentle smile.

At this moment the chimes of Quiquendone rang out. The clear bells
played one of their most melodious airs. The two friends listened in

Then in his calm voice, Van Tricasse said,—

“But what, friend Niklausse, did we come to the top of this tower to

“In fact,” replied the counsellor, “we have permitted ourselves to be
carried away by our reveries—”

“What did we come here to do?” repeated the burgomaster.

“We came,” said Niklausse, “to breathe this pure air, which human
weaknesses have not corrupted.”

“Well, shall we descend, friend Niklausse?”

“Let us descend, friend Van Tricasse.”

They gave a parting glance at the splendid panorama which was spread
before their eyes; then the burgomaster passed down first, and began to
descend with a slow and measured pace. The counsellor followed a few
steps behind. They reached the landing-stage at which they had stopped
on ascending. Already their cheeks began to redden. They tarried a
moment, then resumed their descent.

In a few moments Van Tricasse begged Niklausse to go more slowly, as he
felt him on his heels, and it “worried him.” It even did more than
worry him; for twenty steps lower down he ordered the counsellor to
stop, that he might get on some distance ahead.

The counsellor replied that he did not wish to remain with his leg in
the air to await the good pleasure of the burgomaster, and kept on.

Van Tricasse retorted with a rude expression.

The counsellor responded by an insulting allusion to the burgomaster’s
age, destined as he was, by his family traditions, to marry a second

The burgomaster went down twenty steps more, and warned Niklausse that
this should not pass thus.

Niklausse replied that, at all events, he would pass down first; and,
the space being very narrow, the two dignitaries came into collision,
and found themselves in utter darkness. The words “blockhead” and
“booby” were the mildest which they now applied to each other.

“We shall see, stupid beast!” cried the burgomaster,—“we shall see what
figure you will make in this war, and in what rank you will march!”

“In the rank that precedes yours, you silly old fool!” replied

Then there were other cries, and it seemed as if bodies were rolling
over each other. What was going on? Why were these dispositions so
quickly changed? Why were the gentle sheep of the tower’s summit
metamorphosed into tigers two hundred feet below it?

However this might be, the guardian of the tower, hearing the noise,
opened the door, just at the moment when the two adversaries, bruised,
and with protruding eyes, were in the act of tearing each other’s
hair,—fortunately they wore wigs.

“You shall give me satisfaction for this!” cried the burgomaster,
shaking his fist under his adversary’s nose.

“Whenever you please!” growled the Counsellor Niklausse, attempting to
respond with a vigorous kick.

The guardian, who was himself in a passion,—I cannot say why,— thought
the scene a very natural one. I know not what excitement urged him to
take part in it, but he controlled himself, and went off to announce
throughout the neighbourhood that a hostile meeting was about to take
place between the Burgomaster Van Tricasse and the Counsellor


The last incident proves to what a pitch of excitement the
Quiquendonians had been wrought. The two oldest friends in the town,
and the most gentle—before the advent of the epidemic, to reach this
degree of violence! And that, too, only a few minutes after their old
mutual sympathy, their amiable instincts, their contemplative habit,
had been restored at the summit of the tower!

On learning what was going on, Doctor Ox could not contain his joy. He
resisted the arguments which Ygène, who saw what a serious turn affairs
were taking, addressed to him. Besides, both of them were infected by
the general fury. They were not less excited than the rest of the
population, and they ended by quarrelling as violently as the
burgomaster and the counsellor.

Besides, one question eclipsed all others, and the intended duels were
postponed to the issue of the Virgamenian difficulty. No man had the
right to shed his blood uselessly, when it belonged, to the last drop,
to his country in danger. The affair was, in short, a grave one, and
there was no withdrawing from it.

The Burgomaster Van Tricasse, despite the warlike ardour with which he
was filled, had not thought it best to throw himself upon the enemy
without warning him. He had, therefore, through the medium of the rural
policeman, Hottering, sent to demand reparation of the Virgamenians for
the offence committed, in 1195, on the Quiquendonian territory.

The authorities of Virgamen could not at first imagine of what the
envoy spoke, and the latter, despite his official character, was
conducted back to the frontier very cavalierly.

Van Tricasse then sent one of the aides-de-camp of the
confectioner-general, citizen Hildevert Shuman, a manufacturer of
barley-sugar, a very firm and energetic man, who carried to the
authorities of Virgamen the original minute of the indictment drawn up
in 1195 by order of the Burgomaster Natalís Van Tricasse.

The authorities of Virgamen burst out laughing, and served the
aide-de-camp in the same manner as the rural policeman.

The burgomaster then assembled the dignitaries of the town.

A letter, remarkably and vigorously drawn up, was written as an
ultimatum; the cause of quarrel was plainly stated, and a delay of
twenty-four hours was accorded to the guilty city in which to repair
the outrage done to Quiquendone.

The letter was sent off, and returned a few hours afterwards, torn to
bits, which made so many fresh insults. The Virgamenians knew of old
the forbearance and equanimity of the Quiquendonians, and made sport of
them and their demand, of their _casus belli_ and their _ultimatum_.

There was only one thing left to do,—to have recourse to arms, to
invoke the God of battles, and, after the Prussian fashion, to hurl
themselves upon the Virgamenians before the latter could be prepared.

This decision was made by the council in solemn conclave, in which
cries, objurgations, and menacing gestures were mingled with unexampled
violence. An assembly of idiots, a congress of madmen, a club of
maniacs, would not have been more tumultuous.

As soon as the declaration of war was known, General Jean Orbideck
assembled his troops, perhaps two thousand three hundred and
ninety-three combatants from a population of two thousand three hundred
and ninety-three souls. The women, the children, the old men, were
joined with the able-bodied males. The guns of the town had been put
under requisition. Five had been found, two of which were without
cocks, and these had been distributed to the advance-guard. The
artillery was composed of the old culverin of the château, taken in
1339 at the attack on Quesnoy, one of the first occasions of the use of
cannon in history, and which had not been fired off for five centuries.
Happily for those who were appointed to take it in charge there were no
projectiles with which to load it; but such as it was, this engine
might well impose on the enemy. As for side-arms, they had been taken
from the museum of antiquities,—flint hatchets, helmets, Frankish
battle-axes, javelins, halberds, rapiers, and so on; and also in those
domestic arsenals commonly known as “cupboards” and “kitchens.” But
courage, the right, hatred of the foreigner, the yearning for
vengeance, were to take the place of more perfect engines, and to
replace—at least it was hoped so—the modern mitrailleuses and

The troops were passed in review. Not a citizen failed at the
roll-call. General Orbideck, whose seat on horseback was far from firm,
and whose steed was a vicious beast, was thrown three times in front of
the army; but he got up again without injury, and this was regarded as
a favourable omen. The burgomaster, the counsellor, the civil
commissary, the chief justice, the school-teacher, the banker, the
rector,—in short, all the notabilities of the town,—marched at the
head. There were no tears shed, either by mothers, sisters, or
daughters. They urged on their husbands, fathers, brothers, to the
combat, and even followed them and formed the rear-guard, under the
orders of the courageous Madame Van Tricasse.

The crier, Jean Mistrol, blew his trumpet; the army moved off, and
directed itself, with ferocious cries, towards the Oudenarde gate.

At the moment when the head of the column was about to pass the walls
of the town, a man threw himself before it.

“Stop! stop! Fools that you are!” he cried. “Suspend your blows! Let me
shut the valve! You are not changed in nature! You are good citizens,
quiet and peaceable! If you are so excited, it is my master, Doctor
Ox’s, fault! It is an experiment! Under the pretext of lighting your
streets with oxyhydric gas, he has saturated—”

The assistant was beside himself; but he could not finish. At the
instant that the doctor’s secret was about to escape his lips, Doctor
Ox himself pounced upon the unhappy Ygène in an indescribable rage, and
shut his mouth by blows with his fist.

It was a battle. The burgomaster, the counsellor, the dignitaries, who
had stopped short on Ygène’s sudden appearance, carried away in turn by
their exasperation, rushed upon the two strangers, without waiting to
hear either the one or the other.

Doctor Ox and his assistant, beaten and lashed, were about to be
dragged, by order of Van Tricasse, to the round-house, when,—


When a formidable explosion resounded. All the atmosphere which
enveloped Quiquendone seemed on fire. A flame of an intensity and
vividness quite unwonted shot up into the heavens like a meteor. Had it
been night, this flame would have been visible for ten leagues around.

The whole army of Quiquendone fell to the earth, like an army of monks.
Happily there were no victims; a few scratches and slight hurts were
the only result. The confectioner, who, as chance would have it, had
not fallen from his horse this time, had his plume singed, and escaped
without any further injury.

[Illustration: The whole army of Quiquendone fell to the earth]

What had happened?

Something very simple, as was soon learned; the gasworks had just blown
up. During the absence of the doctor and his assistant, some careless
mistake had no doubt been made. It is not known how or why a
communication had been established between the reservoir which
contained the oxygen and that which enclosed the hydrogen. An explosive
mixture had resulted from the union of these two gases, to which fire
had accidentally been applied.

This changed everything; but when the army got upon its feet again,
Doctor Ox and his assistant Ygène had disappeared.


After the explosion, Quiquendone immediately became the peaceable,
phlegmatic, and Flemish town it formerly was.

After the explosion, which indeed did not cause a very lively
sensation, each one, without knowing why, mechanically took his way
home, the burgomaster leaning on the counsellor’s arm, the advocate
Schut going arm in arm with Custos the doctor, Frantz Niklausse walking
with equal familiarity with Simon Collaert, each going tranquilly,
noiselessly, without even being conscious of what had happened, and
having already forgotten Virgamen and their revenge. The general
returned to his confections, and his aide-de-camp to the barley-sugar.

Thus everything had become calm again; the old existence had been
resumed by men and beasts, beasts and plants; even by the tower of
Oudenarde gate, which the explosion—these explosions are sometimes
astonishing—had set upright again!

And from that time never a word was spoken more loudly than another,
never a discussion took place in the town of Quiquendone. There were no
more politics, no more clubs, no more trials, no more policemen! The
post of the Commissary Passauf became once more a sinecure, and if his
salary was not reduced, it was because the burgomaster and the
counsellor could not make up their minds to decide upon it.

From time to time, indeed, Passauf flitted, without any one suspecting
it, through the dreams of the inconsolable Tatanémance.

As for Frantz’s rival, he generously abandoned the charming Suzel to
her lover, who hastened to wed her five or six years after these

And as for Madame Van Tricasse, she died ten years later, at the proper
time, and the burgomaster married Mademoiselle Pélagie Van Tricasse,
his cousin, under excellent conditions—for the happy mortal who should
succeed him.


What, then, had this mysterious Doctor Ox done? Tried a fantastic
experiment,—nothing more.

After having laid down his gas-pipes, he had saturated, first the
public buildings, then the private dwellings, finally the streets of
Quiquendone, with pure oxygen, without letting in the least atom of

This gas, tasteless and odorless, spread in generous quantity through
the atmosphere, causes, when it is breathed, serious agitation to the
human organism. One who lives in an air saturated with oxygen grows
excited, frantic, burns!

You scarcely return to the ordinary atmosphere before you return to
your usual state. For instance, the counsellor and the burgomaster at
the top of the belfry were themselves again, as the oxygen is kept, by
its weight, in the lower strata of the air.

But one who lives under such conditions, breathing this gas which
transforms the body physiologically as well as the soul, dies speedily,
like a madman.

It was fortunate, then, for the Quiquendonians, that a providential
explosion put an end to this dangerous experiment, and abolished Doctor
Ox’s gas-works.

To conclude: Are virtue, courage, talent, wit, imagination,—are all
these qualities or faculties only a question of oxygen?

Such is Doctor Ox’s theory; but we are not bound to accept it, and for
ourselves we utterly reject it, in spite of the curious experiment of
which the worthy old town of Quiquendone was the theatre.



The city of Geneva lies at the west end of the lake of the same name.
The Rhone, which passes through the town at the outlet of the lake,
divides it into two sections, and is itself divided in the centre of
the city by an island placed in mid-stream. A topographical feature
like this is often found in the great depôts of commerce and industry.
No doubt the first inhabitants were influenced by the easy means of
transport which the swift currents of the rivers offered them—those
“roads which walk along of their own accord,” as Pascal puts it. In the
case of the Rhone, it would be the road that ran along.

Before new and regular buildings were constructed on this island, which
was enclosed like a Dutch galley in the middle of the river, the
curious mass of houses, piled one on the other, presented a
delightfully confused _coup-d’oeil_. The small area of the island had
compelled some of the buildings to be perched, as it were, on the
piles, which were entangled in the rough currents of the river. The
huge beams, blackened by time, and worn by the water, seemed like the
claws of an enormous crab, and presented a fantastic appearance. The
little yellow streams, which were like cobwebs stretched amid this
ancient foundation, quivered in the darkness, as if they had been the
leaves of some old oak forest, while the river engulfed in this forest
of piles, foamed and roared most mournfully.

One of the houses of the island was striking for its curiously aged
appearance. It was the dwelling of the old clockmaker, Master
Zacharius, whose household consisted of his daughter Gerande, Aubert
Thun, his apprentice, and his old servant Scholastique.

There was no man in Geneva to compare in interest with this Zacharius.
His age was past finding out. Not the oldest inhabitant of the town
could tell for how long his thin, pointed head had shaken above his
shoulders, nor the day when, for the first time, he had-walked through
the streets, with his long white locks floating in the wind. The man
did not live; he vibrated like the pendulum of his clocks. His spare
and cadaverous figure was always clothed in dark colours. Like the
pictures of Leonardo di Vinci, he was sketched in black.

Gerande had the pleasantest room in the whole house, whence, through a
narrow window, she had the inspiriting view of the snowy peaks of Jura;
but the bedroom and workshop of the old man were a kind of cavern close
on to the water, the floor of which rested on the piles.

From time immemorial Master Zacharius had never come out except at meal
times, and when he went to regulate the different clocks of the town.
He passed the rest of his time at his bench, which was covered with
numerous clockwork instruments, most of which he had invented himself.
For he was a clever man; his works were valued in all France and
Germany. The best workers in Geneva readily recognized his superiority,
and showed that he was an honour to the town, by saying, “To him
belongs the glory of having invented the escapement.” In fact, the
birth of true clock-work dates from the invention which the talents of
Zacharius had discovered not many years before.

After he had worked hard for a long time, Zacharius would slowly put
his tools away, cover up the delicate pieces that he had been adjusting
with glasses, and stop the active wheel of his lathe; then he would
raise a trap-door constructed in the floor of his workshop, and,
stooping down, used to inhale for hours together the thick vapours of
the Rhone, as it dashed along under his eyes.

[Illustration: he would raise the trap door constructed in the floor
of his workshop.]

One winter’s night the old servant Scholastique served the supper,
which, according to old custom, she and the young mechanic shared with
their master. Master Zacharius did not eat, though the food carefully
prepared for him was offered him in a handsome blue and white dish. He
scarcely answered the sweet words of Gerande, who evidently noticed her
father’s silence, and even the clatter of Scholastique herself no more
struck his ear than the roar of the river, to which he paid no

After the silent meal, the old clockmaker left the table without
embracing his daughter, or saying his usual “Good-night” to all. He
left by the narrow door leading to his den, and the staircase groaned
under his heavy footsteps as he went down.

Gerande, Aubert, and Scholastique sat for some minutes without
speaking. On this evening the weather was dull; the clouds dragged
heavily on the Alps, and threatened rain; the severe climate of
Switzerland made one feel sad, while the south wind swept round the
house, and whistled ominously.

“My dear young lady,” said Scholastique, at last, “do you know that our
master has been out of sorts for several days? Holy Virgin! I know he
has had no appetite, because his words stick in his inside, and it
would take a very clever devil to drag even one out of him.”

“My father has some secret cause of trouble, that I cannot even guess,”
replied Gerande, as a sad anxiety spread over her face.

“Mademoiselle, don’t let such sadness fill your heart. You know the
strange habits of Master Zacharius. Who can read his secret thoughts in
his face? No doubt some fatigue has overcome him, but to-morrow he will
have forgotten it, and be very sorry to have given his daughter pain.”

It was Aubert who spoke thus, looking into Gerande’s lovely eyes.
Aubert was the first apprentice whom Master Zacharius had ever admitted
to the intimacy of his labours, for he appreciated his intelligence,
discretion, and goodness of heart; and this young man had attached
himself to Gerande with the earnest devotion natural to a noble nature.

Gerande was eighteen years of age. Her oval face recalled that of the
artless Madonnas whom veneration still displays at the street corners
of the antique towns of Brittany. Her eyes betrayed an infinite
simplicity. One would love her as the sweetest realization of a poet’s
dream. Her apparel was of modest colours, and the white linen which was
folded about her shoulders had the tint and perfume peculiar to the
linen of the church. She led a mystical existence in Geneva, which had
not as yet been delivered over to the dryness of Calvinism.

While, night and morning, she read her Latin prayers in her
iron-clasped missal, Gerande had also discovered a hidden sentiment in
Aubert Thun’s heart, and comprehended what a profound devotion the
young workman had for her. Indeed, the whole world in his eyes was
condensed into this old clockmaker’s house, and he passed all his time
near the young girl, when he left her father’s workshop, after his work
was over.

Old Scholastique saw all this, but said nothing. Her loquacity
exhausted itself in preference on the evils of the times, and the
little worries of the household. Nobody tried to stop its course. It
was with her as with the musical snuff-boxes which they made at Geneva;
once wound up, you must break them before you will prevent their
playing all their airs through.

Finding Gerande absorbed in a melancholy silence, Scholastique left her
old wooden chair, fixed a taper on the end of a candlestick, lit it,
and placed it near a small waxen Virgin, sheltered in her niche of
stone. It was the family custom to kneel before this protecting Madonna
of the domestic hearth, and to beg her kindly watchfulness during the
coming night; but on this evening Gerande remained silent in her seat.

“Well, well, dear demoiselle,” said the astonished Scholastique,
“supper is over, and it is time to go to bed. Why do you tire your eyes
by sitting up late? Ah, Holy Virgin! It’s much better to sleep, and to
get a little comfort from happy dreams! In these detestable times in
which we live, who can promise herself a fortunate day?”

“Ought we not to send for a doctor for my father?” asked Gerande.

“A doctor!” cried the old domestic. “Has Master Zacharius ever listened
to their fancies and pompous sayings? He might accept medicines for the
watches, but not for the body!”

“What shall we do?” murmured Gerande. “Has he gone to work, or to

“Gerande,” answered Aubert softly, “some mental trouble annoys your
father, that is all.”

“Do you know what it is, Aubert?”

“Perhaps, Gerande”

“Tell us, then,” cried Scholastique eagerly, economically extinguishing
her taper.

“For several days, Gerande,” said the young apprentice, “something
absolutely incomprehensible has been going on. All the watches which
your father has made and sold for some years have suddenly stopped.
Very many of them have been brought back to him. He has carefully taken
them to pieces; the springs were in good condition, and the wheels well
set. He has put them together yet more carefully; but, despite his
skill, they will not go.”

“The devil’s in it!” cried Scholastique.

“Why say you so?” asked Gerande. “It seems very natural to me. Nothing
lasts for ever in this world. The infinite cannot be fashioned by the
hands of men.”

“It is none the less true,” returned Aubert, “that there is in this
something very mysterious and extraordinary. I have myself been helping
Master Zacharius to search for the cause of this derangement of his
watches; but I have not been able to find it, and more than once I have
let my tools fall from my hands in despair.”

“But why undertake so vain a task?” resumed Scholastique. “Is it
natural that a little copper instrument should go of itself, and mark
the hours? We ought to have kept to the sun-dial!”

“You will not talk thus, Scholastique,” said Aubert, “when you learn
that the sun-dial was invented by Cain.”

“Good heavens! what are you telling me?”

“Do you think,” asked Gerande simply, “that we might pray to God to
give life to my father’s watches?”

“Without doubt,” replied Aubert.

“Good! They will be useless prayers,” muttered the old servant, “but
Heaven will pardon them for their good intent.”

The taper was relighted. Scholastique, Gerande, and Aubert knelt down
together upon the tiles of the room. The young girl prayed for her
mother’s soul, for a blessing for the night, for travellers and
prisoners, for the good and the wicked, and more earnestly than all for
the unknown misfortunes of her father.

[Illustration: The young girl prayed]

Then the three devout souls rose with some confidence in their hearts,
because they had laid their sorrow on the bosom of God.

Aubert repaired to his own room; Gerande sat pensively by the window,
whilst the last lights were disappearing from the city streets; and
Scholastique, having poured a little water on the flickering embers,
and shut the two enormous bolts on the door, threw herself upon her
bed, where she was soon dreaming that she was dying of fright.

Meanwhile the terrors of this winter’s night had increased. Sometimes,
with the whirlpools of the river, the wind engulfed itself among the
piles, and the whole house shivered and shook; but the young girl,
absorbed in her sadness, thought only of her father. After hearing what
Aubert told her, the malady of Master Zacharius took fantastic
proportions in her mind; and it seemed to her as if his existence, so
dear to her, having become purely mechanical, no longer moved on its
worn-out pivots without effort.

Suddenly the pent-house shutter, shaken by the squall, struck against
the window of the room. Gerande shuddered and started up without
understanding the cause of the noise which thus disturbed her reverie.
When she became a little calmer she opened the sash. The clouds had
burst, and a torrent-like rain pattered on the surrounding roofs. The
young girl leaned out of the window to draw to the shutter shaken by
the wind, but she feared to do so. It seemed to her that the rain and
the river, confounding their tumultuous waters, were submerging the
frail house, the planks of which creaked in every direction. She would
have flown from her chamber, but she saw below the flickering of a
light which appeared to come from Master Zacharius’s retreat, and in
one of those momentary calms during which the elements keep a sudden
silence, her ear caught plaintive sounds. She tried to shut her window,
but could not. The wind violently repelled her, like a thief who was
breaking into a dwelling.

Gerande thought she would go mad with terror. What was her father
doing? She opened the door, and it escaped from her hands, and slammed
loudly with the force of the tempest. Gerande then found herself in the
dark supper-room, succeeded in gaining, on tiptoe, the staircase which
led to her father’s shop, and pale and fainting, glided down.

The old watchmaker was upright in the middle of the room, which
resounded with the roaring of the river. His bristling hair gave him a
sinister aspect. He was talking and gesticulating, without seeing or
hearing anything. Gerande stood still on the threshold.

“It is death!” said Master Zacharius, in a hollow voice; “it is death!
Why should I live longer, now that I have dispersed my existence over
the earth? For I, Master, Zacharius, am really the creator of all the
watches that I have fashioned! It is a part of my very soul that I have
shut up in each of these cases of iron, silver, or gold! Every time
that one of these accursed watches stops, I feel my heart cease
beating, for I have regulated them with its pulsations!”

As he spoke in this strange way, the old man cast his eyes on his
bench. There lay all the pieces of a watch that he had carefully taken
apart. He took up a sort of hollow cylinder, called a barrel, in which
the spring is enclosed, and removed the steel spiral, but instead of
relaxing itself, according to the laws of its elasticity, it remained
coiled on itself like a sleeping viper. It seemed knotted, like
impotent old men whose blood has long been congealed. Master Zacharius
vainly essayed to uncoil it with his thin fingers, the outlines of
which were exaggerated on the wall; but he tried in vain, and soon,
with a terrible cry of anguish and rage, he threw it through the
trap-door into the boiling Rhone.

Gerande, her feet riveted to the floor, stood breathless and
motionless. She wished to approach her father, but could not. Giddy
hallucinations took possession of her. Suddenly she heard, in the
shade, a voice murmur in her ears,—

“Gerande, dear Gerande! grief still keeps you awake. Go in again, I beg
of you; the night is cold.”

“Aubert!” whispered the young girl. “You!”

“Ought I not to be troubled by what troubles you?”

These soft words sent the blood back into the young girl’s heart. She
leaned on Aubert’s arm, and said to him,—

“My father is very ill, Aubert! You alone can cure him, for this
disorder of the mind would not yield to his daughter’s consolings. His
mind is attacked by a very natural delusion, and in working with him,
repairing the watches, you will bring him back to reason. Aubert,” she
continued, “it is not true, is it, that his life is mixed up with that
of his watches?”

Aubert did not reply.

“But is my father’s a trade condemned by God?” asked Gerande,

“I know not,” returned the apprentice, warming the cold hands of the
girl with his own. “But go back to your room, my poor Gerande, and with
sleep recover hope!”

Gerande slowly returned to her chamber, and remained there till
daylight, without sleep closing her eyelids. Meanwhile, Master
Zacharius, always mute and motionless, gazed at the river as it rolled
turbulently at his feet.


The severity of the Geneva merchant in business matters has become
proverbial. He is rigidly honourable, and excessively just. What must,
then, have been the shame of Master Zacharius, when he saw these
watches, which he had so carefully constructed, returning to him from
every direction?

It was certain that these watches had suddenly stopped, and without any
apparent reason. The wheels were in a good condition and firmly fixed,
but the springs had lost all elasticity. Vainly did the watchmaker try
to replace them; the wheels remained motionless. These unaccountable
derangements were greatly to the old man’s discredit. His noble
inventions had many times brought upon him suspicions of sorcery, which
now seemed confirmed. These rumours reached Gerande, and she often
trembled for her father, when she saw malicious glances directed
towards him.

Yet on the morning after this night of anguish, Master Zacharius seemed
to resume work with some confidence. The morning sun inspired him with
some courage. Aubert hastened to join him in the shop, and received an
affable “Good-day.”

“I am better,” said the old man. “I don’t know what strange pains in
the head attacked me yesterday, but the sun has quite chased them away,
with the clouds of the night.”

“In faith, master,” returned Aubert, “I don’t like the night for either
of us!”

“And thou art right, Aubert. If you ever become a great man, you will
understand that day is as necessary to you as food. A great savant
should be always ready to receive the homage of his fellow-men.”

“Master, it seems to me that the pride of science has possessed you.”

“Pride, Aubert! Destroy my past, annihilate my present, dissipate my
future, and then it will be permitted to me to live in obscurity! Poor
boy, who comprehends not the sublime things to which my art is wholly
devoted! Art thou not but a tool in my hands?”

“Yet. Master Zacharius,” resumed Aubert, “I have more than once merited
your praise for the manner in which I adjusted the most delicate parts
of your watches and clocks.”

“No doubt, Aubert; thou art a good workman, such as I love; but when
thou workest, thou thinkest thou hast in thy hands but copper, silver,
gold; thou dost not perceive these metals, which my genius animates,
palpitating like living flesh! So that thou wilt not die, with the
death of thy works!”

Master Zacharius remained silent after these words; but Aubert essayed
to keep up the conversation.

“Indeed, master,” said he, “I love to see you work so unceasingly! You
will be ready for the festival of our corporation, for I see that the
work on this crystal watch is going forward famously.”

“No doubt, Aubert,” cried the old watchmaker, “and it will be no slight
honour for me to have been able to cut and shape the crystal to the
durability of a diamond! Ah, Louis Berghem did well to perfect the art
of diamond-cutting, which has enabled me to polish and pierce the
hardest stones!”

Master Zacharius was holding several small watch pieces of cut crystal,
and of exquisite workmanship. The wheels, pivots, and case of the watch
were of the same material, and he had employed remarkable skill in this
very difficult task.

“Would it not be fine,” said he, his face flushing, “to see this watch
palpitating beneath its transparent envelope, and to be able to count
the beatings of its heart?”

“I will wager, sir,” replied the young apprentice, “that it will not
vary a second in a year.”

“And you would wager on a certainty! Have I not imparted to it all that
is purest of myself? And does my heart vary? My heart, I say?”

Aubert did not dare to lift his eyes to his master’s face.

“Tell me frankly,” said the old man sadly. “Have you never taken me for
a madman? Do you not think me sometimes subject to dangerous folly?
Yes; is it not so? In my daughter’s eyes and yours, I have often read
my condemnation. Oh!” he cried, as if in pain, “to be misunderstood by
those whom one most loves in the world! But I will prove victoriously
to thee, Aubert, that I am right! Do not shake thy head, for thou wilt
be astounded. The day on which thou understandest how to listen to and
comprehend me, thou wilt see that I have discovered the secrets of
existence, the secrets of the mysterious union of the soul with the

[Illustration: “Thou wilt see that I have discovered the secrets of

As he spoke thus, Master Zacharius appeared superb in his vanity. His
eyes glittered with a supernatural fire, and his pride illumined every
feature. And truly, if ever vanity was excusable, it was that of Master

The watchmaking art, indeed, down to his time, had remained almost in
its infancy. From the day when Plato, four centuries before the
Christian era, invented the night watch, a sort of clepsydra which
indicated the hours of the night by the sound and playing of a flute,
the science had continued nearly stationary. The masters paid more
attention to the arts than to mechanics, and it was the period of
beautiful watches of iron, copper, wood, silver, which were richly
engraved, like one of Cellini’s ewers. They made a masterpiece of
chasing, which measured time imperfectly, but was still a masterpiece.
When the artist’s imagination was not directed to the perfection of
modelling, it set to work to create clocks with moving figures and
melodious sounds, whose appearance took all attention. Besides, who
troubled himself, in those days, with regulating the advance of time?
The delays of the law were not as yet invented; the physical and
astronomical sciences had not as yet established their calculations on
scrupulously exact measurements; there were neither establishments
which were shut at a given hour, nor trains which departed at a precise
moment. In the evening the curfew bell sounded; and at night the hours
were cried amid the universal silence. Certainly people did not live so
long, if existence is measured by the amount of business done; but they
lived better. The mind was enriched with the noble sentiments born of
the contemplation of chefs-d’oeuvré. They built a church in two
centuries, a painter painted but few pictures in the course of his
life, a poet only composed one great work; but these were so many
masterpieces for after-ages to appreciate.

When the exact sciences began at last to make some progress, watch and
clock making followed in their path, though it was always arrested by
an insurmountable difficulty,—the regular and continuous measurement of

It was in the midst of this stagnation that Master Zacharius invented
the escapement, which enabled him to obtain a mathematical regularity
by submitting the movement of the pendulum to a sustained force. This
invention had turned the old man’s head. Pride, swelling in his heart,
like mercury in the thermometer, had attained the height of
transcendent folly. By analogy he had allowed himself to be drawn to
materialistic conclusions, and as he constructed his watches, he
fancied that he had discovered the secrets of the union of the soul
with the body.

Thus, on this day, perceiving that Aubert listened to him attentively,
he said to him in a tone of simple conviction,—

“Dost thou know what life is, my child? Hast thou comprehended the
action of those springs which produce existence? Hast thou examined
thyself? No. And yet, with the eyes of science, thou mightest have seen
the intimate relation which exists between God’s work and my own; for
it is from his creature that I have copied the combinations of the
wheels of my clocks.”

“Master,” replied Aubert eagerly, “can you compare a copper or steel
machine with that breath of God which is called the soul, which
animates our bodies as the breeze stirs the flowers? What mechanism
could be so adjusted as to inspire us with thought?”

“That is not the question,” responded Master Zacharius gently, but with
all the obstinacy of a blind man walking towards an abyss. “In order to
understand me, thou must recall the purpose of the escapement which I
have invented. When I saw the irregular working of clocks, I understood
that the movements shut up in them did not suffice, and that it was
necessary to submit them to the regularity of some independent force. I
then thought that the balance-wheel might accomplish this, and I
succeeded in regulating the movement! Now, was it not a sublime idea
that came to me, to return to it its lost force by the action of the
clock itself, which it was charged with regulating?”

Aubert made a sign of assent.

“Now, Aubert,” continued the old man, growing animated, “cast thine
eyes upon thyself! Dost thou not understand that there are two distinct
forces in us, that of the soul and that of the body—that is, a movement
and a regulator? The soul is the principle of life; that is, then, the
movement. Whether it is produced by a weight, by a spring, or by an
immaterial influence, it is none the less in the heart. But without the
body this movement would be unequal, irregular, impossible! Thus the
body regulates the soul, and, like the balance-wheel, it is submitted
to regular oscillations. And this is so true, that one falls ill when
one’s drink, food, sleep—in a word, the functions of the body—are not
properly regulated; just as in my watches the soul renders to the body
the force lost by its oscillations. Well, what produces this intimate
union between soul and body, if not a marvellous escapement, by which
the wheels of the one work into the wheels of the other? This is what I
have discovered and applied; and there are no longer any secrets for me
in this life, which is, after all, only an ingenious mechanism!”

Master Zacharius looked sublime in this hallucination, which carried
him to the ultimate mysteries of the Infinite. But his daughter
Gerande, standing on the threshold of the door, had heard all. She
rushed into her father’s arms, and he pressed her convulsively to his

“What is the matter with thee, my daughter?” he asked.

“If I had only a spring here,” said she, putting her hand on her heart,
“I would not love you as I do, father.”

Master Zacharius looked intently at Gerande, and did not reply.
Suddenly he uttered a cry, carried his hand eagerly to his heart, and
fell fainting on his old leathern chair.

“Father, what is the matter?”

[Illustration: “Father, what is the matter?”]

“Help!” cried Aubert. “Scholastique!”

But Scholastique did not come at once. Some one was knocking at the
front door; she had gone to open it, and when she returned to the shop,
before she could open her mouth, the old watchmaker, having recovered
his senses, spoke:—

“I divine, my old Scholastique, that you bring me still another of
those accursed watches which have stopped.”

“Lord, it is true enough!” replied Scholastique, handing a watch to

“My heart could not be mistaken!” said the old man, with a sigh.

Meanwhile Aubert carefully wound up the watch, but it would not go.


Poor Gerande would have lost her life with that of her father, had it
not been for the thought of Aubert, who still attached her to the

The old watchmaker was, little by little, passing away. His faculties
evidently grew more feeble, as he concentrated them on a single
thought. By a sad association of ideas, he referred everything to his
monomania, and a human existence seemed to have departed from him, to
give place to the extra-natural existence of the intermediate powers.
Moreover, certain malicious rivals revived the sinister rumours which
had spread concerning his labours.

The news of the strange derangements which his watches betrayed had a
prodigious effect upon the master clockmakers of Geneva. What signified
this sudden paralysis of their wheels, and why these strange relations
which they seemed to have with the old man’s life? These were the kind
of mysteries which people never contemplate without a secret terror. In
the various classes of the town, from the apprentice to the great lord
who used the watches of the old horologist, there was no one who could
not himself judge of the singularity of the fact. The citizens wished,
but in vain, to get to see Master Zacharius. He fell very ill; and this
enabled his daughter to withdraw him from those incessant visits which
had degenerated into reproaches and recriminations.

Medicines and physicians were powerless in presence of this organic
wasting away, the cause of which could not be discovered. It sometimes
seemed as if the old man’s heart had ceased to beat; then the
pulsations were resumed with an alarming irregularity.

A custom existed in those days of publicly exhibiting the works of the
masters. The heads of the various corporations sought to distinguish
themselves by the novelty or the perfection of their productions; and
it was among these that the condition of Master Zacharius excited the
most lively, because most interested, commiseration. His rivals pitied
him the more willingly because they feared him the less. They never
forgot the old man’s success, when he exhibited his magnificent clocks
with moving figures, his repeaters, which provoked general admiration,
and commanded such high prices in the cities of France, Switzerland,
and Germany.

Meanwhile, thanks to the constant and tender care of Gerande and
Aubert, his strength seemed to return a little; and in the tranquillity
in which his convalescence left him, he succeeded in detaching himself
from the thoughts which had absorbed him. As soon as he could walk, his
daughter lured him away from the house, which was still besieged with
dissatisfied customers. Aubert remained in the shop, vainly adjusting
and readjusting the rebel watches; and the poor boy, completely
mystified, sometimes covered his face with his hands, fearful that he,
like his master, might go mad.

Gerande led her father towards the more pleasant promenades of the
town. With his arm resting on hers, she conducted him sometimes through
the quarter of Saint Antoine, the view from which extends towards the
Cologny hill, and over the lake; on fine mornings they caught sight of
the gigantic peaks of Mount Buet against the horizon. Gerande pointed
out these spots to her father, who had well-nigh forgotten even their
names. His memory wandered; and he took a childish interest in learning
anew what had passed from his mind. Master Zacharius leaned upon his
daughter; and the two heads, one white as snow and the other covered
with rich golden tresses, met in the same ray of sunlight.

So it came about that the old watchmaker at last perceived that he was
not alone in the world. As he looked upon his young and lovely
daughter, and on himself old and broken, he reflected that after his
death she would be left alone without support. Many of the young
mechanics of Geneva had already sought to win Gerande’s love; but none
of them had succeeded in gaining access to the impenetrable retreat of
the watchmaker’s household. It was natural, then, that during this
lucid interval, the old man’s choice should fall on Aubert Thun. Once
struck with this thought, he remarked to himself that this young couple
had been brought up with the same ideas and the same beliefs; and the
oscillations of their hearts seemed to him, as he said one day to
Scholastique, “isochronous.”

The old servant, literally delighted with the word, though she did not
understand it, swore by her holy patron saint that the whole town
should hear it within a quarter of an hour. Master Zacharius found it
difficult to calm her; but made her promise to keep on this subject a
silence which she never was known to observe.

So, though Gerande and Aubert were ignorant of it, all Geneva was soon
talking of their speedy union. But it happened also that, while the
worthy folk were gossiping, a strange chuckle was often heard, and a
voice saying, “Gerande will not wed Aubert.”

If the talkers turned round, they found themselves facing a little old
man who was quite a stranger to them.

How old was this singular being? No one could have told. People
conjectured that he must have existed for several centuries, and that
was all. His big flat head rested upon shoulders the width of which was
equal to the height of his body; this was not above three feet. This
personage would have made a good figure to support a pendulum, for the
dial would have naturally been placed on his face, and the
balance-wheel would have oscillated at its ease in his chest. His nose
might readily have been taken for the style of a sun-dial, for it was
narrow and sharp; his teeth, far apart, resembled the cogs of a wheel,
and ground themselves between his lips; his voice had the metallic
sound of a bell, and you could hear his heart beat like the tick of a
clock. This little man, whose arms moved like the hands on a dial,
walked with jerks, without ever turning round. If any one followed him,
it was found that he walked a league an hour, and that his course was
nearly circular.

This strange being had not long been seen wandering, or rather
circulating, around the town; but it had already been observed that,
every day, at the moment when the sun passed the meridian, he stopped
before the Cathedral of Saint Pierre, and resumed his course after the
twelve strokes of noon had sounded. Excepting at this precise moment,
he seemed to become a part of all the conversations in which the old
watchmaker was talked of; and people asked each other, in terror, what
relation could exist between him and Master Zacharius. It was remarked,
too, that he never lost sight of the old man and his daughter while
they were taking their promenades.

One day Gerande perceived this monster looking at her with a hideous
smile. She clung to her father with a frightened motion.

“What is the matter, my Gerande?” asked Master Zacharius.

“I do not know,” replied the young girl.

“But thou art changed, my child. Art thou going to fall ill in thy
turn? Ah, well,” he added, with a sad smile, “then I must take care of
thee, and I will do it tenderly.”

“O father, it will be nothing. I am cold, and I imagine that it is—”

“What, Gerande?”

“The presence of that man, who always follows us,” she replied in a low

Master Zacharius turned towards the little old man.

“Faith, he goes well,” said he, with a satisfied air, “for it is just
four o’clock. Fear nothing, my child; it is not a man, it is a clock!”

Gerande looked at her father in terror. How could Master Zacharius read
the hour on this strange creature’s visage?

“By-the-bye,” continued the old watchmaker, paying no further attention
to the matter, “I have not seen Aubert for several days.”

“He has not left us, however, father,” said Gerande, whose thoughts
turned into a gentler channel.

“What is he doing then?”

“He is working.”

“Ah!” cried the old man. “He is at work repairing my watches, is he
not? But he will never succeed; for it is not repair they need, but a

Gerande remained silent.

“I must know,” added the old man, “if they have brought back any more
of those accursed watches upon which the Devil has sent this epidemic!”

After these words Master Zacharius fell into complete silence, till he
knocked at the door of his house, and for the first time since his
convalescence descended to his shop, while Gerande sadly repaired to
her chamber.

Just as Master Zacharius crossed the threshold of his shop, one of the
many clocks suspended on the wall struck five o’clock. Usually the
bells of these clocks—admirably regulated as they were—struck
simultaneously, and this rejoiced the old man’s heart; but on this day
the bells struck one after another, so that for a quarter of an hour
the ear was deafened by the successive noises. Master Zacharius
suffered acutely; he could not remain still, but went from one clock to
the other, and beat the time to them, like a conductor who no longer
has control over his musicians.

When the last had ceased striking, the door of the shop opened, and
Master Zacharius shuddered from head to foot to see before him the
little old man, who looked fixedly at him and said,—

“Master, may I not speak with you a few moments?”

“Who are you?” asked the watchmaker abruptly.

“A colleague. It is my business to regulate the sun.”

“Ah, you regulate the sun?” replied Master Zacharius eagerly, without
wincing. “I can scarcely compliment you upon it. Your sun goes badly,
and in order to make ourselves agree with it, we have to keep putting
our clocks forward so much or back so much.”

“And by the cloven foot,” cried this weird personage, “you are right,
my master! My sun does not always mark noon at the same moment as your
clocks; but some day it will be known that this is because of the
inequality of the earth’s transfer, and a mean noon will be invented
which will regulate this irregularity!”

“Shall I live till then?” asked the old man, with glistening eyes.

“Without doubt,” replied the little old man, laughing. “Can you believe
that you will ever die?”

“Alas! I am very ill now.”

“Ah, let us talk of that. By Beelzebub! that will lead to just what I
wish to speak to you about.”

Saying this, the strange being leaped upon the old leather chair, and
carried his legs one under the other, after the fashion of the bones
which the painters of funeral hangings cross beneath death’s heads.
Then he resumed, in an ironical tone,—

[Illustration: Then he resumed, in an ironical tone]

“Let us see, Master Zacharius, what is going on in this good town of
Geneva? They say that your health is failing, that your watches have
need of a doctor!”

“Ah, do you believe that there is an intimate relation between their
existence and mine?” cried Master Zacharius.

“Why, I imagine that these watches have faults, even vices. If these
wantons do not preserve a regular conduct, it is right that they should
bear the consequences of their irregularity. It seems to me that they
have need of reforming a little!”

“What do you call faults?” asked Master Zacharius, reddening at the
sarcastic tone in which these words were uttered. “Have they not a
right to be proud of their origin?”

“Not too proud, not too proud,” replied the little old man. “They bear
a celebrated name, and an illustrious signature is graven on their
cases, it is true, and theirs is the exclusive privilege of being
introduced among the noblest families; but for some time they have got
out of order, and you can do nothing in the matter, Master Zacharius;
and the stupidest apprentice in Geneva could prove it to you!”

“To me, to me,—Master Zacharius!” cried the old man, with a flush of
outraged pride.

“To you, Master Zacharius,—you, who cannot restore life to your

“But it is because I have a fever, and so have they also!” replied the
old man, as a cold sweat broke out upon him.

“Very well, they will die with you, since you cannot impart a little
elasticity to their springs.”

“Die! No, for you yourself have said it! I cannot die,—I, the first
watchmaker in the world; I, who, by means of these pieces and diverse
wheels, have been able to regulate the movement with absolute
precision! Have I not subjected time to exact laws, and can I not
dispose of it like a despot? Before a sublime genius had arranged these
wandering hours regularly, in what vast uncertainty was human destiny
plunged? At what certain moment could the acts of life be connected
with each other? But you, man or devil, whatever you may be, have never
considered the magnificence of my art, which calls every science to its
aid! No, no! I, Master Zacharius, cannot die, for, as I have regulated
time, time would end with me! It would return to the infinite, whence
my genius has rescued it, and it would lose itself irreparably in the
abyss of nothingness! No, I can no more die than the Creator of this
universe, that submitted to His laws! I have become His equal, and I
have partaken of His power! If God has created eternity, Master
Zacharius has created time!”

The old watchmaker now resembled the fallen angel, defiant in the
presence of the Creator. The little old man gazed at him, and even
seemed to breathe into him this impious transport.

“Well said, master,” he replied. “Beelzebub had less right than you to
compare himself with God! Your glory must not perish! So your servant
here desires to give you the method of controlling these rebellious

“What is it? what is it?” cried Master Zacharius.

“You shall know on the day after that on which you have given me your
daughter’s hand.”

“My Gerande?”


“My daughter’s heart is not free,” replied Master Zacharius, who seemed
neither astonished nor shocked at the strange demand.

“Bah! She is not the least beautiful of watches; but she will end by
stopping also—”

“My daughter,—my Gerande! No!”

“Well, return to your watches, Master Zacharius. Adjust and readjust
them. Get ready the marriage of your daughter and your apprentice.
Temper your springs with your best steel. Bless Aubert and the pretty
Gerande.  But remember, your watches will never go, and Gerande will
not wed Aubert!”

Thereupon the little old man disappeared, but not so quickly that
Master Zacharius could not hear six o’clock strike in his breast.


Meanwhile Master Zacharius became more feeble in mind and body every
day. An unusual excitement, indeed, impelled him to continue his work
more eagerly than ever, nor could his daughter entice him from it.

His pride was still more aroused after the crisis to which his strange
visitor had hurried him so treacherously, and he resolved to overcome,
by the force of genius, the malign influence which weighed upon his
work and himself. He first repaired to the various clocks of the town
which were confided to his care. He made sure, by a scrupulous
examination, that the wheels were in good condition, the pivots firm,
the weights exactly balanced. Every part, even to the bells, was
examined with the minute attention of a physician studying the breast
of a patient. Nothing indicated that these clocks were on the point of
being affected by inactivity.

Gerande and Aubert often accompanied the old man on these visits. He
would no doubt have been pleased to see them eager to go with him, and
certainly he would not have been so much absorbed in his approaching
end, had he thought that his existence was to be prolonged by that of
these cherished ones, and had he understood that something of the life
of a father always remains in his children.

The old watchmaker, on returning home, resumed his labours with
feverish zeal. Though persuaded that he would not succeed, it yet
seemed to him impossible that this could be so, and he unceasingly took
to pieces the watches which were brought to his shop, and put them
together again.

Aubert tortured his mind in vain to discover the causes of the evil.

“Master,” said he, “this can only come from the wear of the pivots and

“Do you want, then, to kill me, little by little?” replied Master
Zacharius passionately. “Are these watches child’s work? Was it lest I
should hurt my fingers that I worked the surface of these copper pieces
in the lathe? Have I not forged these pieces of copper myself, so as to
obtain a greater strength? Are not these springs tempered to a rare
perfection? Could anybody have used finer oils than mine? You must
yourself agree that it is impossible, and you avow, in short, that the
devil is in it!”

From morning till night discontented purchasers besieged the house, and
they got access to the old watchmaker himself, who knew not which of
them to listen to.

[Illustration: From morning till night discontented purchasers
besieged the house]

“This watch loses, and I cannot succeed in regulating it,” said one.

“This,” said another, “is absolutely obstinate, and stands still, as
did Joshua’s sun.”

“If it is true,” said most of them, “that your health has an influence
on that of your watches, Master Zacharius, get well as soon as

The old man gazed at these people with haggard eyes, and only replied
by shaking his head, or by a few sad words,—

“Wait till the first fine weather, my friends. The season is coming
which revives existence in wearied bodies. We want the sun to warm us

“A fine thing, if my watches are to be ill through the winter!” said
one of the most angry. “Do you know, Master Zacharius, that your name
is inscribed in full on their faces? By the Virgin, you do little
honour to your signature!”

It happened at last that the old man, abashed by these reproaches, took
some pieces of gold from his old trunk, and began to buy back the
damaged watches. At news of this, the customers came in a crowd, and
the poor watchmaker’s money fast melted away; but his honesty remained
intact. Gerande warmly praised his delicacy, which was leading him
straight towards ruin; and Aubert soon offered his own savings to his

“What will become of my daughter?” said Master Zacharius, clinging now
and then in the shipwreck to his paternal love.

Aubert dared not answer that he was full of hope for the future, and of
deep devotion to Gerande. Master Zacharius would have that day called
him his son-in-law, and thus refuted the sad prophecy, which still
buzzed in his ears,—

“Gerande will not wed Aubert.”

By this plan the watchmaker at last succeeded in entirely despoiling
himself. His antique vases passed into the hands of strangers; he
deprived himself of the richly-carved panels which adorned the walls of
his house; some primitive pictures of the early Flemish painters soon
ceased to please his daughter’s eyes, and everything, even the precious
tools that his genius had invented, were sold to indemnify the
clamorous customers.

Scholastique alone refused to listen to reason on the subject; but her
efforts failed to prevent the unwelcome visitors from reaching her
master, and from soon departing with some valuable object. Then her
chattering was heard in all the streets of the neighbourhood, where she
had long been known. She eagerly denied the rumours of sorcery and
magic on the part of Master Zacharius, which gained currency; but as at
bottom she was persuaded of their truth, she said her prayers over and
over again to redeem her pious falsehoods.

It had been noticed that for some time the old watchmaker had neglected
his religious duties. Time was, when he had accompanied Gerande to
church, and had seemed to find in prayer the intellectual charm which
it imparts to thoughtful minds, since it is the most sublime exercise
of the imagination. This voluntary neglect of holy practices, added to
the secret habits of his life, had in some sort confirmed the
accusations levelled against his labours. So, with the double purpose
of drawing her father back to God, and to the world, Gerande resolved
to call religion to her aid. She thought that it might give some
vitality to his dying soul; but the dogmas of faith and humility had to
combat, in the soul of Master Zacharius, an insurmountable pride, and
came into collision with that vanity of science which connects
everything with itself, without rising to the infinite source whence
first principles flow.

It was under these circumstances that the young girl undertook her
father’s conversion; and her influence was so effective that the old
watchmaker promised to attend high mass at the cathedral on the
following Sunday. Gerande was in an ecstasy, as if heaven had opened to
her view. Old Scholastique could not contain her joy, and at last found
irrefutable arguments’ against the gossiping tongues which accused her
master of impiety. She spoke of it to her neighbours, her friends, her
enemies, to those whom she knew not as well as to those whom she knew.

“In faith, we scarcely believe what you tell us, dame Scholastique,”
they replied; “Master Zacharius has always acted in concert with the

“You haven’t counted, then,” replied the old servant, “the fine bells
which strike for my master’s clocks? How many times they have struck
the hours of prayer and the mass!”

“No doubt,” they would reply. “But has he not invented machines which
go all by themselves, and which actually do the work of a real man?”

“Could a child of the devil,” exclaimed dame Scholastique wrathfully,
“have executed the fine iron clock of the château of Andernatt, which
the town of Geneva was not rich enough to buy? A pious motto appeared
at each hour, and a Christian who obeyed them, would have gone straight
to Paradise! Is that the work of the devil?”

This masterpiece, made twenty years before, had carried Master
Zacharius’s fame to its acme; but even then there had been accusations
of sorcery against him. But at least the old man’s visit to the
Cathedral ought to reduce malicious tongues to silence.

Master Zacharius, having doubtless forgotten the promise made to his
daughter, had returned to his shop. After being convinced of his
powerlessness to give life to his watches, he resolved to try if he
could not make some new ones. He abandoned all those useless works, and
devoted himself to the completion of the crystal watch, which he
intended to be his masterpiece; but in vain did he use his most perfect
tools, and employ rubies and diamonds for resisting friction. The watch
fell from his hands the first time that he attempted to wind it up!

The old man concealed this circumstance from every one, even from his
daughter; but from that time his health rapidly declined. There were
only the last oscillations of a pendulum, which goes slower when
nothing restores its original force. It seemed as if the laws of
gravity, acting directly upon him, were dragging him irresistibly down
to the grave.

The Sunday so ardently anticipated by Gerande at last arrived. The
weather was fine, and the temperature inspiriting. The people of Geneva
were passing quietly through the streets, gaily chatting about the
return of spring. Gerande, tenderly taking the old man’s arm, directed
her steps towards the cathedral, while Scholastique followed behind
with the prayer-books. People looked curiously at them as they passed.
The old watchmaker permitted himself to be led like a child, or rather
like a blind man. The faithful of Saint Pierre were almost frightened
when they saw him cross the threshold, and shrank back at his approach.

The chants of high mass were already resounding through the church.
Gerande went to her accustomed bench, and kneeled with profound and
simple reverence. Master Zacharius remained standing upright beside

The ceremonies continued with the majestic solemnity of that faithful
age, but the old man had no faith. He did not implore the pity of
Heaven with cries of anguish of the “Kyrie;” he did not, with the
“Gloria in Excelsis,” sing the splendours of the heavenly heights; the
reading of the Testament did not draw him from his materialistic
reverie, and he forgot to join in the homage of the “Credo.” This proud
old man remained motionless, as insensible and silent as a stone
statue; and even at the solemn moment when the bell announced the
miracle of transubstantiation, he did not bow his head, but gazed
directly at the sacred host which the priest raised above the heads of
the faithful. Gerande looked at her father, and a flood of tears
moistened her missal. At this moment the clock of Saint Pierre struck
half-past eleven. Master Zacharius turned quickly towards this ancient
clock which still spoke. It seemed to him as if its face was gazing
steadily at him; the figures of the hours shone as if they had been
engraved in lines of fire, and the hands shot forth electric sparks
from their sharp points.

[Illustration: This proud old man remained motionless]

The mass ended. It was customary for the “Angelus” to be said at noon,
and the priests, before leaving the altar, waited for the clock to
strike the hour of twelve. In a few moments this prayer would ascend to
the feet of the Virgin.

But suddenly a harsh noise was heard. Master Zacharius uttered a
piercing cry.

The large hand of the clock, having reached twelve, had abruptly
stopped, and the clock did not strike the hour.

Gerande hastened to her father’s aid. He had fallen down motionless,
and they carried him outside the church.

“It is the death-blow!” murmured Gerande, sobbing.

When he had been borne home, Master Zacharius lay upon his bed utterly
crushed. Life seemed only to still exist on the surface of his body,
like the last whiffs of smoke about a lamp just extinguished. When he
came to his senses, Aubert and Gerande were leaning over him. In these
last moments the future took in his eyes the shape of the present. He
saw his daughter alone, without a protector.

“My son,” said he to Aubert, “I give my daughter to thee.”

So saying, he stretched out his hands towards his two children, who
were thus united at his death-bed.

But soon Master Zacharius lifted himself up in a paroxysm of rage. The
words of the little old man recurred to his mind.

“I do not wish to die!” he cried; “I cannot die! I, Master Zacharius,
ought not to die! My books—my accounts!—”

With these words he sprang from his bed towards a book in which the
names of his customers and the articles which had been sold to them
were inscribed. He seized it and rapidly turned over its leaves, and
his emaciated finger fixed itself on one of the pages.

“There!” he cried, “there! this old iron clock, sold to Pittonaccio! It
is the only one that has not been returned to me! It still exists—it
goes—it lives! Ah, I wish for it—I must find it! I will take such care
of it that death will no longer seek me!”

And he fainted away.

Aubert and Gerande knelt by the old man’s bed-side and prayed together.


Several days passed, and Master Zacharius, though almost dead, rose
from his bed and returned to active life under a supernatural
excitement. He lived by pride. But Gerande did not deceive herself; her
father’s body and soul were for ever lost.

The old man got together his last remaining resources, without thought
of those who were dependent upon him. He betrayed an incredible energy,
walking, ferreting about, and mumbling strange, incomprehensible words.

One morning Gerande went down to his shop. Master Zacharius was not
there. She waited for him all day. Master Zacharius did not return.

Gerande wept bitterly, but her father did not reappear.

Aubert searched everywhere through the town, and soon came to the sad
conviction that the old man had left it.

“Let us find my father!” cried Gerande, when the young apprentice told
her this sad news.

“Where can he be?” Aubert asked himself.

An inspiration suddenly came to his mind. He remembered the last words
which Master Zacharius had spoken. The old man only lived now in the
old iron clock that had not been returned! Master Zacharius must have
gone in search of it.

Aubert spoke of this to Gerande.

“Let us look at my father’s book,” she replied.

They descended to the shop. The book was open on the bench. All the
watches or clocks made by the old man, and which had been returned to
him because they were out of order, were stricken out excepting one:—

“Sold to M. Pittonaccio, an iron clock, with bell and moving figures;
sent to his château at Andernatt.”

It was this “moral” clock of which Scholastique had spoken with so much

“My father is there!” cried Gerande.

“Let us hasten thither,” replied Aubert. “We may still save him!”

“Not for this life,” murmured Gerande, “but at least for the other.”

“By the mercy of God, Gerande! The château of Andernatt stands in the
gorge of the ‘Dents-du-Midi’ twenty hours from Geneva. Let us go!”

That very evening Aubert and Gerande, followed by the old servant, set
out on foot by the road which skirts Lake Leman. They accomplished five
leagues during the night, stopping neither at Bessinge nor at Ermance,
where rises the famous château of the Mayors. They with difficulty
forded the torrent of the Dranse, and everywhere they went they
inquired for Master Zacharius, and were soon convinced that they were
on his track.

The next morning, at daybreak, having passed Thonon, they reached
Evian, whence the Swiss territory may be seen extended over twelve
leagues. But the two betrothed did not even perceive the enchanting
prospect. They went straight forward, urged on by a supernatural force.
Aubert, leaning on a knotty stick, offered his arm alternately to
Gerande and to Scholastique, and he made the greatest efforts to
sustain his companions. All three talked of their sorrow, of their
hopes, and thus passed along the beautiful road by the water-side, and
across the narrow plateau which unites the borders of the lake with the
heights of the Chalais. They soon reached Bouveret, where the Rhone
enters the Lake of Geneva.

On leaving this town they diverged from the lake, and their weariness
increased amid these mountain districts. Vionnaz, Chesset, Collombay,
half lost villages, were soon left behind. Meanwhile their knees shook,
their feet were lacerated by the sharp points which covered the ground
like a brushwood of granite;—but no trace of Master Zacharius!

He must be found, however, and the two young people did not seek repose
either in the isolated hamlets or at the château of Monthay, which,
with its dependencies, formed the appanage of Margaret of Savoy. At
last, late in the day, and half dead with fatigue, they reached the
hermitage of Notre-Dame-du-Sex, which is situated at the base of the
Dents-du-Midi, six hundred feet above the Rhone.

The hermit received the three wanderers as night was falling. They
could not have gone another step, and here they must needs rest.

The hermit could give them no news of Master Zacharius. They could
scarcely hope to find him still living amid these sad solitudes. The
night was dark, the wind howled amid the mountains, and the avalanches
roared down from the summits of the broken crags.

Aubert and Gerande, crouching before the hermit’s hearth, told him
their melancholy tale. Their mantles, covered with snow, were drying in
a corner; and without, the hermit’s dog barked lugubriously, and
mingled his voice with that of the tempest.

“Pride,” said the hermit to his guests, “has destroyed an angel created
for good. It is the stumbling-block against which the destinies of man
strike. You cannot reason with pride, the principal of all the vices,
since, by its very nature, the proud man refuses to listen to it. It
only remains, then, to pray for your father!”

All four knelt down, when the barking of the dog redoubled, and some
one knocked at the door of the hermitage.

“Open, in the devil’s name!”

The door yielded under the blows, and a dishevelled, haggard,
ill-clothed man appeared.

“My father!” cried Gerande.

It was Master Zacharius.

“Where am I?” said he. “In eternity! Time is ended—the hours no longer
strike—the hands have stopped!”

“Father!” returned Gerande, with so piteous an emotion that the old man
seemed to return to the world of the living.

“Thou here, Gerande?” he cried; “and thou, Aubert? Ah, my dear
betrothed ones, you are going to be married in our old church!”

“Father,” said Gerande, seizing him by the arm, “come home to
Geneva,—come with us!”

The old man tore away from his daughter’s embrace and hurried towards
the door, on the threshold of which the snow was falling in large

“Do not abandon your children!” cried Aubert.

“Why return,” replied the old man sadly, “to those places which my life
has already quitted, and where a part of myself is for ever buried?”

“Your soul is not dead,” said the hermit solemnly.

“My soul? O no,—its wheels are good! I perceive it beating regularly—”

“Your soul is immaterial,—your soul is immortal!” replied the hermit

“Yes—like my glory! But it is shut up in the château of Andernatt, and
I wish to see it again!”

The hermit crossed himself; Scholastique became almost inanimate.
Aubert held Gerande in his arms.

“The château of Andernatt is inhabited by one who is lost,” said the
hermit, “one who does not salute the cross of my hermitage.”

“My father, go not thither!”

“I want my soul! My soul is mine—”

“Hold him! Hold my father!” cried Gerande.

But the old man had leaped across the threshold, and plunged into the
night, crying, “Mine, mine, my soul!”

Gerande, Aubert, and Scholastique hastened after him. They went by
difficult paths, across which Master Zacharius sped like a tempest,
urged by an irresistible force. The snow raged around them, and mingled
its white flakes with the froth of the swollen torrents.

As they passed the chapel erected in memory of the massacre of the
Theban legion, they hurriedly crossed themselves. Master Zacharius was
not to be seen.

At last the village of Evionnaz appeared in the midst of this sterile
region. The hardest heart would have been moved to see this hamlet,
lost among these horrible solitudes. The old man sped on, and plunged
into the deepest gorge of the Dents-du-Midi, which pierce the sky with
their sharp peaks.

Soon a ruin, old and gloomy as the rocks at its base, rose before him.

“It is there—there!” he cried, hastening his pace still more

[Illustration: “It is there—there!”]

The château of Andernatt was a ruin even then. A thick, crumbling tower
rose above it, and seemed to menace with its downfall the old gables
which reared themselves below. The vast piles of jagged stones were
gloomy to look on. Several dark halls appeared amid the debris, with
caved-in ceilings, now become the abode of vipers.

A low and narrow postern, opening upon a ditch choked with rubbish,
gave access to the château. Who had dwelt there none knew. No doubt
some margrave, half lord, half brigand, had sojourned in it; to the
margrave had succeeded bandits or counterfeit coiners, who had been
hanged on the scene of their crime. The legend went that, on winter
nights, Satan came to lead his diabolical dances on the slope of the
deep gorges in which the shadow of these ruins was engulfed.

But Master Zacharius was not dismayed by their sinister aspect. He
reached the postern. No one forbade him to pass. A spacious and gloomy
court presented itself to his eyes; no one forbade him to cross it. He
passed along the kind of inclined plane which conducted to one of the
long corridors, whose arches seemed to banish daylight from beneath
their heavy springings. His advance was unresisted. Gerande, Aubert,
and Scholastique closely followed him.

Master Zacharius, as if guided by an irresistible hand, seemed sure of
his way, and strode along with rapid step. He reached an old worm-eaten
door, which fell before his blows, whilst the bats described oblique
circles around his head.

An immense hall, better preserved than the rest, was soon reached. High
sculptured panels, on which serpents, ghouls, and other strange figures
seemed to disport themselves confusedly, covered its walls. Several
long and narrow windows, like loopholes, shivered beneath the bursts of
the tempest.

Master Zacharius, on reaching the middle of this hall, uttered a cry of

On an iron support, fastened to the wall, stood the clock in which now
resided his entire life. This unequalled masterpiece represented an
ancient Roman church, with buttresses of wrought iron, with its heavy
bell-tower, where there was a complete chime for the anthem of the day,
the “Angelus,” the mass, vespers, compline, and the benediction. Above
the church door, which opened at the hour of the services, was placed a
“rose,” in the centre of which two hands moved, and the archivault of
which reproduced the twelve hours of the face sculptured in relief.
Between the door and the rose, just as Scholastique had said, a maxim,
relative to the employment of every moment of the day, appeared on a
copper plate. Master Zacharius had once regulated this succession of
devices with a really Christian solicitude; the hours of prayer, of
work, of repast, of recreation, and of repose, followed each other
according to the religious discipline, and were to infallibly insure
salvation to him who scrupulously observed their commands.

Master Zacharius, intoxicated with joy, went forward to take possession
of the clock, when a frightful roar of laughter resounded behind him.

He turned, and by the light of a smoky lamp recognized the little old
man of Geneva.

“You here?” cried he.

Gerande was afraid. She drew closer to Aubert.

“Good-day, Master Zacharius,” said the monster.

“Who are you?”

“Signor Pittonaccio, at your service! You have come to give me your
daughter! You have remembered my words, ‘Gerande will not wed Aubert.’”

The young apprentice rushed upon Pittonaccio, who escaped from him like
a shadow.

“Stop, Aubert!” cried Master Zacharius.

“Good-night,” said Pittonaccio, and he disappeared.

“My father, let us fly from this hateful place!” cried Gerande. “My

Master Zacharius was no longer there. He was pursuing the phantom of
Pittonaccio across the rickety corridors. Scholastique, Gerande, and
Aubert remained, speechless and fainting, in the large gloomy hall. The
young girl had fallen upon a stone seat; the old servant knelt beside
her, and prayed; Aubert remained erect, watching his betrothed. Pale
lights wandered in the darkness, and the silence was only broken by the
movements of the little animals which live in old wood, and the noise
of which marks the hours of “death watch.”

When daylight came, they ventured upon the endless staircase which
wound beneath these ruined masses; for two hours they wandered thus
without meeting a living soul, and hearing only a far-off echo
responding to their cries. Sometimes they found themselves buried a
hundred feet below the ground, and sometimes they reached places whence
they could overlook the wild mountains.

Chance brought them at last back again to the vast hall, which had
sheltered them during this night of anguish. It was no longer empty.
Master Zacharius and Pittonaccio were talking there together, the one
upright and rigid as a corpse, the other crouching over a marble table.

Master Zacharius, when he perceived Gerande, went forward and took her
by the hand, and led her towards Pittonaccio, saying, “Behold your lord
and master, my daughter. Gerande, behold your husband!”

Gerande shuddered from head to foot.

“Never!” cried Aubert, “for she is my betrothed.”

“Never!” responded Gerande, like a plaintive echo.

Pittonaccio began to laugh.

“You wish me to die, then!” exclaimed the old man. “There, in that
clock, the last which goes of all which have gone from my hands, my
life is shut up; and this man tells me, ‘When I have thy daughter, this
clock shall belong to thee.’ And this man will not rewind it. He can
break it, and plunge me into chaos. Ah, my daughter, you no longer love

“My father!” murmured Gerande, recovering consciousness.

“If you knew what I have suffered, far away from this principle of my
existence!” resumed the old man. “Perhaps no one looked after this
timepiece. Perhaps its springs were left to wear out, its wheels to get
clogged. But now, in my own hands, I can nourish this health so dear,
for I must not die,—I, the great watchmaker of Geneva. Look, my
daughter, how these hands advance with certain step. See, five o’clock
is about to strike. Listen well, and look at the maxim which is about
to be revealed.”

Five o’clock struck with a noise which resounded sadly in Gerande’s
soul, and these words appeared in red letters:


Aubert and Gerande looked at each other stupefied. These were no longer
the pious sayings of the Catholic watchmaker. The breath of Satan must
have passed over it. But Zacharius paid no attention to this, and

“Dost thou hear, my Gerande? I live, I still live! Listen to my
breathing,—see the blood circulating in my veins! No, thou wouldst not
kill thy father, and thou wilt accept this man for thy husband, so that
I may become immortal, and at last attain the power of God!”

At these blasphemous words old Scholastique crossed herself, and
Pittonaccio laughed aloud with joy.

“And then, Gerande, thou wilt be happy with him. See this man,—he is
Time! Thy existence will be regulated with absolute precision. Gerande,
since I gave thee life, give life to thy father!”

[Illustration: “See this man,—he is Time!”]

“Gerande,” murmured Aubert, “I am thy betrothed.”

“He is my father!” replied Gerande, fainting.

“She is thine!” said Master Zacharius. “Pittonaccio, them wilt keep thy

“Here is the key of the clock,” replied the horrible man.

Master Zacharius seized the long key, which resembled an uncoiled
snake, and ran to the clock, which he hastened to wind up with
fantastic rapidity. The creaking of the spring jarred upon the nerves.
The old watchmaker wound and wound the key, without stopping a moment,
and it seemed as if the movement were beyond his control. He wound more
and more quickly, with strange contortions, until he fell from sheer

“There, it is wound up for a century!” he cried.

Aubert rushed from the hall as if he were mad. After long wandering, he
found the outlet of the hateful château, and hastened into the open
air. He returned to the hermitage of Notre-Dame-du-Sex, and talked so
despairingly to the holy recluse, that the latter consented to return
with him to the château of Andernatt.

If, during these hours of anguish, Gerande had not wept, it was because
her tears were exhausted.

Master Zacharius had not left the hall. He ran every moment to listen
to the regular beating of the old clock.

Meanwhile the clock had struck, and to Scholastique’s great terror,
these words had appeared on the silver face:—


The old man had not only not been shocked by these impious maxims, but
read them deliriously, and flattered himself with thoughts of pride,
whilst Pittonaccio kept close by him.

The marriage-contract was to be signed at midnight. Gerande, almost
unconscious, saw or heard nothing. The silence was only broken by the
old man’s words, and the chuckling of Pittonaccio.

Eleven o’clock struck. Master Zacharius shuddered, and read in a loud


“Yes!” he cried, “there is nothing but science in this world!”

The hands slipped over the face of the clock with the hiss of a
serpent, and the pendulum beat with accelerated strokes.

Master Zacharius no longer spoke. He had fallen to the floor, his
throat rattled, and from his oppressed bosom came only these
half-broken words: “Life—science!”

The scene had now two new witnesses, the hermit and Aubert. Master
Zacharius lay upon the floor; Gerande was praying beside him, more dead
than alive.

Of a sudden a dry, hard noise was heard, which preceded the strike.

Master Zacharius sprang up.

“Midnight!” he cried.

The hermit stretched out his hand towards the old clock,—and midnight
did not sound.

Master Zacharius uttered a terrible cry, which must have been heard in
hell, when these words appeared:—


The old clock burst with a noise like thunder, and the spring,
escaping, leaped across the hall with a thousand fantastic contortions;
the old man rose, ran after it, trying in vain to seize it, and
exclaiming, “My soul,—my soul!”

The spring bounded before him, first on one side, then on the other,
and he could not reach it.

At last Pittonaccio seized it, and, uttering a horrible blasphemy,
ingulfed himself in the earth.

Master Zacharius fell backwards. He was dead.

[Illustration: He was dead.]

The old watchmaker was buried in the midst of the peaks of Andernatt.

Then Aubert and Gerande returned to Geneva, and during the long life
which God accorded to them, they made it a duty to redeem by prayer the
soul of the castaway of science.


In the month of September, 185—, I arrived at Frankfort-on-the-Maine.
My passage through the principal German cities had been brilliantly
marked by balloon ascents; but as yet no German had accompanied me in
my car, and the fine experiments made at Paris by MM. Green, Eugene
Godard, and Poitevin had not tempted the grave Teutons to essay aerial

But scarcely had the news of my approaching ascent spread through
Frankfort, than three of the principal citizens begged the favour of
being allowed to ascend with me. Two days afterwards we were to start
from the Place de la Comédie. I began at once to get my balloon ready.
It was of silk, prepared with gutta percha, a substance impermeable by
acids or gasses; and its volume, which was three thousand cubic yards,
enabled it to ascend to the loftiest heights.

The day of the ascent was that of the great September fair, which
attracts so many people to Frankfort. Lighting gas, of a perfect
quality and of great lifting power, had been furnished to me in
excellent condition, and about eleven o’clock the balloon was filled;
but only three-quarters filled,—an indispensable precaution, for, as
one rises, the atmosphere diminishes in density, and the fluid enclosed
within the balloon, acquiring more elasticity, might burst its sides.
My calculations had furnished me with exactly the quantity of gas
necessary to carry up my companions and myself.

We were to start at noon. The impatient crowd which pressed around the
enclosed space, filling the enclosed square, overflowing into the
contiguous streets, and covering the houses from the ground-floor to
the slated gables, presented a striking scene. The high winds of the
preceding days had subsided. An oppressive heat fell from the cloudless
sky. Scarcely a breath animated the atmosphere. In such weather, one
might descend again upon the very spot whence he had risen.

I carried three hundred pounds of ballast in bags; the car, quite
round, four feet in diameter, was comfortably arranged; the hempen
cords which supported it stretched symmetrically over the upper
hemisphere of the balloon; the compass was in place, the barometer
suspended in the circle which united the supporting cords, and the
anchor carefully put in order. All was now ready for the ascent.

Among those who pressed around the enclosure, I remarked a young man
with a pale face and agitated features. The sight of him impressed me.
He was an eager spectator of my ascents, whom I had already met in
several German cities. With an uneasy air, he closely watched the
curious machine, as it lay motionless a few feet above the ground; and
he remained silent among those about him.

Twelve o’clock came. The moment had arrived, but my travelling
companions did not appear.

I sent to their houses, and learnt that one had left for Hamburg,
another for Vienna, and the third for London. Their courage had failed
them at the moment of undertaking one of those excursions which, thanks
to the ability of living aeronauts, are free from all danger. As they
formed, in some sort, a part of the programme of the day, the fear had
seized them that they might be forced to execute it faithfully, and
they had fled far from the scene at the instant when the balloon was
being filled. Their courage was evidently the inverse ratio of their
speed—in decamping.

The multitude, half deceived, showed not a little ill-humour. I did not
hesitate to ascend alone. In order to re-establish the equilibrium
between the specific gravity of the balloon and the weight which had
thus proved wanting, I replaced my companions by more sacks of sand,
and got into the car. The twelve men who held the balloon by twelve
cords fastened to the equatorial circle, let them slip a little between
their fingers, and the balloon rose several feet higher. There was not
a breath of wind, and the atmosphere was so leaden that it seemed to
forbid the ascent.

“Is everything ready?” I cried.

The men put themselves in readiness. A last glance told me that I might


There was a movement in the crowd, which seemed to be invading the

“Let go!”

The balloon rose slowly, but I experienced a shock which threw me to
the bottom of the car.

When I got up, I found myself face to face with an unexpected
fellow-voyager,—the pale young man.

“Monsieur, I salute you,” said he, with the utmost coolness.

[Illustration: “Monsieur, I salute you,”]

“By what right—”

“Am I here? By the right which the impossibility of your getting rid of
me confers.”

I was amazed! His calmness put me out of countenance, and I had nothing
to reply. I looked at the intruder, but he took no notice of my

“Does my weight disarrange your equilibrium, monsieur?” he asked. “You
will permit me—”

And without waiting for my consent, he relieved the balloon of two
bags, which he threw into space.

“Monsieur,” said I, taking the only course now possible, “you have
come; very well, you will remain; but to me alone belongs the
management of the balloon.”

“Monsieur,” said he, “your urbanity is French all over: it comes from
my own country. I morally press the hand you refuse me. Make all
precautions, and act as seems best to you. I will wait till you have

“For what?”

“To talk with you.”

The barometer had fallen to twenty-six inches. We were nearly six
hundred yards above the city; but nothing betrayed the horizontal
displacement of the balloon, for the mass of air in which it is
enclosed goes forward with it. A sort of confused glow enveloped the
objects spread out under us, and unfortunately obscured their outline.

I examined my companion afresh.

He was a man of thirty years, simply clad. The sharpness of his
features betrayed an indomitable energy, and he seemed very muscular.
Indifferent to the astonishment he created, he remained motionless,
trying to distinguish the objects which were vaguely confused below us.

“Miserable mist!” said he, after a few moments.

I did not reply.

“You owe me a grudge?” he went on. “Bah! I could not pay for my
journey, and it was necessary to take you by surprise.”

“Nobody asks you to descend, monsieur!”

“Eh, do you not know, then, that the same thing happened to the Counts
of Laurencin and Dampierre, when they ascended at Lyons, on the 15th of
January, 1784? A young merchant, named Fontaine, scaled the gallery, at
the risk of capsizing the machine. He accomplished the journey, and
nobody died of it!”

“Once on the ground, we will have an explanation,” replied I, piqued at
the light tone in which he spoke.

“Bah! Do not let us think of our return.”

“Do you think, then, that I shall not hasten to descend?”

“Descend!” said he, in surprise. “Descend? Let us begin by first

And before I could prevent it, two more bags had been thrown over the
car, without even having been emptied.

“Monsieur!” cried I, in a rage.

[Illustration: “Monsieur!” cried I, in a rage.]

“I know your ability,” replied the unknown quietly, “and your fine
ascents are famous. But if Experience is the sister of Practice, she is
also a cousin of Theory, and I have studied the aerial art long. It has
got into my head!” he added sadly, falling into a silent reverie.

The balloon, having risen some distance farther, now became stationary.
The unknown consulted the barometer, and said,—

“Here we are, at eight hundred yards. Men are like insects. See! I
think we should always contemplate them from this height, to judge
correctly of their proportions. The Place de la Comédie is transformed
into an immense ant-hill. Observe the crowd which is gathered on the
quays; and the mountains also get smaller and smaller. We are over the
Cathedral. The Main is only a line, cutting the city in two, and the
bridge seems a thread thrown between the two banks of the river.”

The atmosphere became somewhat chilly.

“There is nothing I would not do for you, my host,” said the unknown.
“If you are cold, I will take off my coat and lend it to you.”

“Thanks,” said I dryly.

“Bah! Necessity makes law. Give me your hand. I am your
fellow-countryman; you will learn something in my company, and my
conversation will indemnify you for the trouble I have given you.”

I sat down, without replying, at the opposite extremity of the car. The
young man had taken a voluminous manuscript from his great-coat. It was
an essay on ballooning.

“I possess,” said he, “the most curious collection of engravings and
caricatures extant concerning aerial manias. How people admired and
scoffed at the same time at this precious discovery! We are happily no
longer in the age in which Montgolfier tried to make artificial clouds
with steam, or a gas having electrical properties, produced by the
combustion of moist straw and chopped-up wool.”

“Do you wish to depreciate the talent of the inventors?” I asked, for I
had resolved to enter into the adventure. “Was it not good to have
proved by experience the possibility of rising in the air?”

“Ah, monsieur, who denies the glory of the first aerial navigators? It
required immense courage to rise by means of those frail envelopes
which only contained heated air. But I ask you, has the aerial science
made great progress since Blanchard’s ascensions, that is, since nearly
a century ago? Look here, monsieur.”

The unknown took an engraving from his portfolio.

“Here,” said he, “is the first aerial voyage undertaken by Pilâtre des
Rosiers and the Marquis d’Arlandes, four months after the discovery of
balloons. Louis XVI. refused to consent to the venture, and two men who
were condemned to death were the first to attempt the aerial ascent.
Pilâtre des Rosiers became indignant at this injustice, and, by means
of intrigues, obtained permission to make the experiment. The car,
which renders the management easy, had not then been invented, and a
circular gallery was placed around the lower and contracted part of the
Montgolfier balloon. The two aeronauts must then remain motionless at
each extremity of this gallery, for the moist straw which filled it
forbade them all motion. A chafing-dish with fire was suspended below
the orifice of the balloon; when the aeronauts wished to rise, they
threw straw upon this brazier, at the risk of setting fire to the
balloon, and the air, more heated, gave it fresh ascending power. The
two bold travellers rose, on the 21st of November, 1783, from the
Muette Gardens, which the dauphin had put at their disposal. The
balloon went up majestically, passed over the Isle of Swans, crossed
the Seine at the Conference barrier, and, drifting between the dome of
the Invalides and the Military School, approached the Church of Saint
Sulpice. Then the aeronauts added to the fire, crossed the Boulevard,
and descended beyond the Enfer barrier. As it touched the soil, the
balloon collapsed, and for a few moments buried Pilâtre des Rosiers
under its folds.”

“Unlucky augury,” I said, interested in the story, which affected me

“An augury of the catastrophe which was later to cost this unfortunate
man his life,” replied the unknown sadly. “Have you never experienced
anything like it?”


“Bah! Misfortunes sometimes occur unforeshadowed!” added my companion.

He then remained silent.

Meanwhile we were advancing southward, and Frankfort had already passed
from beneath us.

“Perhaps we shall have a storm,” said the young man.

“We shall descend before that,” I replied.

“Indeed! It is better to ascend. We shall escape it more surely.”

And two more bags of sand were hurled into space.

The balloon rose rapidly, and stopped at twelve hundred yards. I became
colder; and yet the sun’s rays, falling upon the surface, expanded the
gas within, and gave it a greater ascending force.

“Fear nothing,” said the unknown. “We have still three thousand five
hundred fathoms of breathing air. Besides, do not trouble yourself
about what I do.”

I would have risen, but a vigorous hand held me to my seat.

“Your name?” I asked.

“My name? What matters it to you?”

“I demand your name!”

“My name is Erostratus or Empedocles, whichever you choose!”

This reply was far from reassuring.

The unknown, besides, talked with such strange coolness that I
anxiously asked myself whom I had to deal with.

“Monsieur,” he continued, “nothing original has been imagined since the
physicist Charles. Four months after the discovery of balloons, this
able man had invented the valve, which permits the gas to escape when
the balloon is too full, or when you wish to descend; the car, which
aids the management of the machine; the netting, which holds the
envelope of the balloon, and divides the weight over its whole surface;
the ballast, which enables you to ascend, and to choose the place of
your landing; the india-rubber coating, which renders the tissue
impermeable; the barometer, which shows the height attained. Lastly,
Charles used hydrogen, which, fourteen times lighter than air, permits
you to penetrate to the highest atmospheric regions, and does not
expose you to the dangers of a combustion in the air. On the 1st of
December, 1783, three hundred thousand spectators were crowded around
the Tuileries. Charles rose, and the soldiers presented arms to him. He
travelled nine leagues in the air, conducting his balloon with an
ability not surpassed by modern aeronauts. The king awarded him a
pension of two thousand livres; for then they encouraged new

The unknown now seemed to be under the influence of considerable

“Monsieur,” he resumed, “I have studied this, and I am convinced that
the first aeronauts guided their balloons. Without speaking of
Blanchard, whose assertions may be received with doubt,
Guyton-Morveaux, by the aid of oars and rudder, made his machine answer
to the helm, and take the direction he determined on. More recently, M.
Julien, a watchmaker, made some convincing experiments at the
Hippodrome, in Paris; for, by a special mechanism, his aerial
apparatus, oblong in form, went visibly against the wind. It occurred
to M. Petin to place four hydrogen balloons together; and, by means of
sails hung horizontally and partly folded, he hopes to be able to
disturb the equilibrium, and, thus inclining the apparatus, to convey
it in an oblique direction. They speak, also, of forces to overcome the
resistance of currents,—for instance, the screw; but the screw, working
on a moveable centre, will give no result. I, monsieur, have discovered
the only means of guiding balloons; and no academy has come to my aid,
no city has filled up subscriptions for me, no government has thought
fit to listen to me! It is infamous!”

The unknown gesticulated fiercely, and the car underwent violent
oscillations. I had much trouble in calming him.

Meanwhile the balloon had entered a more rapid current, and we advanced
south, at fifteen hundred yards above the earth.

“See, there is Darmstadt,” said my companion, leaning over the car. “Do
you perceive the château? Not very distinctly, eh? What would you have?
The heat of the storm makes the outline of objects waver, and you must
have a skilled eye to recognize localities.”

“Are you certain it is Darmstadt?” I asked.

“I am sure of it. We are now six leagues from Frankfort.”

“Then we must descend.”

“Descend! You would not go down, on the steeples,” said the unknown,
with a chuckle.

“No, but in the suburbs of the city.”

“Well, let us avoid the steeples!”

So speaking, my companion seized some bags of ballast. I hastened to
prevent him; but he overthrew me with one hand, and the unballasted
balloon ascended to two thousand yards.

“Rest easy,” said he, “and do not forget that Brioschi, Biot,
Gay-Lussac, Bixio, and Barral ascended to still greater heights to make
their scientific experiments.”

“Monsieur, we must descend,” I resumed, trying to persuade him by
gentleness. “The storm is gathering around us. It would be more

“Bah! We will mount higher than the storm, and then we shall no longer
fear it!” cried my companion. “What is nobler than to overlook the
clouds which oppress the earth? Is it not an honour thus to navigate on
aerial billows? The greatest men have travelled as we are doing. The
Marchioness and Countess de Montalembert, the Countess of Podenas,
Mademoiselle la Garde, the Marquis de Montalembert, rose from the
Faubourg Saint-Antoine for these unknown regions, and the Duke de
Chartres exhibited much skill and presence of mind in his ascent on the
15th of July, 1784. At Lyons, the Counts of Laurencin and Dampierre; at
Nantes, M. de Luynes; at Bordeaux, D’Arbelet des Granges; in Italy, the
Chevalier Andreani; in our own time, the Duke of Brunswick,—have all
left the traces of their glory in the air. To equal these great
personages, we must penetrate still higher than they into the celestial
depths! To approach the infinite is to comprehend it!”

The rarefaction of the air was fast expanding the hydrogen in the
balloon, and I saw its lower part, purposely left empty, swell out, so
that it was absolutely necessary to open the valve; but my companion
did not seem to intend that I should manage the balloon as I wished. I
then resolved to pull the valve cord secretly, as he was excitedly
talking; for I feared to guess with whom I had to deal. It would have
been too horrible! It was nearly a quarter before one. We had been gone
forty minutes from Frankfort; heavy clouds were coming against the wind
from the south, and seemed about to burst upon us.

“Have you lost all hope of succeeding in your project?” I asked with
anxious interest.

“All hope!” exclaimed the unknown in a low voice. “Wounded by slights
and caricatures, these asses’ kicks have finished me! It is the eternal
punishment reserved for innovators! Look at these caricatures of all
periods, of which my portfolio is full.”

While my companion was fumbling with his papers, I had seized the
valve-cord without his perceiving it. I feared, however, that he might
hear the hissing noise, like a water-course, which the gas makes in

“How many jokes were made about the Abbé Miolan!” said he. “He was to
go up with Janninet and Bredin. During the filling their balloon caught
fire, and the ignorant populace tore it in pieces! Then this caricature
of ‘curious animals’ appeared, giving each of them a punning nickname.”

I pulled the valve-cord, and the barometer began to ascend. It was
time. Some far-off rumblings were heard in the south.

“Here is another engraving,” resumed the unknown, not suspecting what I
was doing. “It is an immense balloon carrying a ship, strong castles,
houses, and so on. The caricaturists did not suspect that their follies
would one day become truths. It is complete, this large vessel. On the
left is its helm, with the pilot’s box; at the prow are
pleasure-houses, an immense organ, and a cannon to call the attention
of the inhabitants of the earth or the moon; above the poop there are
the observatory and the balloon long-boat; in the equatorial circle,
the army barrack; on the left, the funnel; then the upper galleries for
promenading, sails, pinions; below, the cafés and general storehouse.
Observe this pompous announcement: ‘Invented for the happiness of the
human race, this globe will depart at once for the ports of the Levant,
and on its return the programme of its voyages to the two poles and the
extreme west will be announced. No one need furnish himself with
anything; everything is foreseen, and all will prosper. There will be a
uniform price for all places of destination, but it will be the same
for the most distant countries of our hemisphere—that is to say, a
thousand louis for one of any of the said journeys. And it must be
confessed that this sum is very moderate, when the speed, comfort, and
arrangements which will be enjoyed on the balloon are
considered—arrangements which are not to be found on land, while on the
balloon each passenger may consult his own habits and tastes. This is
so true that in the same place some will be dancing, others standing;
some will be enjoying delicacies; others fasting. Whoever desires the
society of wits may satisfy himself; whoever is stupid may find stupid
people to keep him company. Thus pleasure will be the soul of the
aerial company.’ All this provoked laughter; but before long, if I am
not cut off, they will see it all realized.”

We were visibly descending. He did not perceive it!

“This kind of ‘game at balloons,’” he resumed, spreading out before me
some of the engravings of his valuable collection, “this game contains
the entire history of the aerostatic art. It is used by elevated minds,
and is played with dice and counters, with whatever stakes you like, to
be paid or received according to where the player arrives.”

“Why,” said I, “you seem to have studied the science of aerostation

“Yes, monsieur, yes! From Phaethon, Icarus, Architas, I have searched
for, examined, learnt everything. I could render immense services to
the world in this art, if God granted me life. But that will not be!”


“Because my name is Empedocles, or Erostratus.”

Meanwhile, the balloon was happily approaching the earth; but when one
is falling, the danger is as great at a hundred feet as at five

“Do you recall the battle of Fleurus?” resumed my companion, whose face
became more and more animated. “It was at that battle that Contello, by
order of the Government, organized a company of balloonists. At the
siege of Manbenge General Jourdan derived so much service from this new
method of observation that Contello ascended twice a day with the
general himself. The communications between the aeronaut and his agents
who held the balloon were made by means of small white, red, and yellow
flags. Often the gun and cannon shot were directed upon the balloon
when he ascended, but without result. When General Jourdan was
preparing to invest Charleroi, Contello went into the vicinity,
ascended from the plain of Jumet, and continued his observations for
seven or eight hours with General Morlot, and this no doubt aided in
giving us the victory of Fleurus. General Jourdan publicly acknowledged
the help which the aeronautical observations had afforded him. Well,
despite the services rendered on that occasion and during the Belgian
campaign, the year which had seen the beginning of the military career
of balloons saw also its end. The school of Meudon, founded by the
Government, was closed by Buonaparte on his return from Egypt. And now,
what can you expect from the new-born infant? as Franklin said. The
infant was born alive; it should not be stifled!”

[Illustration: “He continued his observations for seven or eight
hours with General Morlot”]

The unknown bowed his head in his hands, and reflected for some
moments; then raising his head, he said,—

“Despite my prohibition, monsieur, you have opened the valve.”

I dropped the cord.

“Happily,” he resumed, “we have still three hundred pounds of ballast.”

“What is your purpose?” said I.

“Have you ever crossed the seas?” he asked.

I turned pale.

“It is unfortunate,” he went on, “that we are being driven towards the
Adriatic. That is only a stream; but higher up we may find other

And, without taking any notice of me, he threw over several bags of
sand; then, in a menacing voice, he said,—

“I let you open the valve because the expansion of the gas threatened
to burst the balloon; but do not do it again!”

Then he went on as follows:—

“You remember the voyage of Blanchard and Jeffries from Dover to
Calais? It was magnificent! On the 7th of January, 1785, there being a
north-west wind, their balloon was inflated with gas on the Dover
coast. A mistake of equilibrium, just as they were ascending, forced
them to throw out their ballast so that they might not go down again,
and they only kept thirty pounds. It was too little; for, as the wind
did not freshen, they only advanced very slowly towards the French
coast. Besides, the permeability of the tissue served to reduce the
inflation little by little, and in an hour and a half the aeronauts
perceived that they were descending.

“‘What shall we do?’ said Jeffries.

“‘We are only one quarter of the way over,’ replied Blanchard, ‘and
very low down. On rising, we shall perhaps meet more favourable winds.’

“‘Let us throw out the rest of the sand.’

“The balloon acquired some ascending force, but it soon began to
descend again. Towards the middle of the transit the aeronauts threw
over their books and tools. A quarter of an hour after, Blanchard said
to Jeffries,—

“‘The barometer?’

“‘It is going up! We are lost, and yet there is the French coast.’

“A loud noise was heard.

“‘Has the balloon burst?’ asked Jeffries.

“‘No. The loss of the gas has reduced the inflation of the lower part
of the balloon. But we are still descending. We are lost! Out with
everything useless!’

“Provisions, oars, and rudder were thrown into the sea. The aeronauts
were only one hundred yards high.

“‘We are going up again,’ said the doctor.

“‘No. It is the spurt caused by the diminution of the weight, and not a
ship in sight, not a bark on the horizon! To the sea with our

“The unfortunates stripped themselves, but the balloon continued to

“‘Blanchard,’ said Jeffries, ‘you should have made this voyage alone;
you consented to take me; I will sacrifice myself! I am going to throw
myself into the water, and the balloon, relieved of my weight, will
mount again.’

“‘No, no! It is frightful!’

“The balloon became less and less inflated, and as it doubled up its
concavity pressed the gas against the sides, and hastened its downward

[Illustration: The balloon became less and less inflated]

“‘Adieu, my friend,” said the doctor. ‘God preserve you!’

“He was about to throw himself over, when Blanchard held him back.

“‘There is one more chance,’ said he. ‘We can cut the cords which hold
the car, and cling to the net! Perhaps the balloon will rise. Let us
hold ourselves ready. But—the barometer is going down! The wind is
freshening! We are saved!’

“The aeronauts perceived Calais. Their joy was delirious. A few moments
more, and they had fallen in the forest of Guines. I do not doubt,”
added the unknown, “that, under similar circumstances, you would have
followed Doctor Jeffries’ example!”

The clouds rolled in glittering masses beneath us. The balloon threw
large shadows on this heap of clouds, and was surrounded as by an
aureola. The thunder rumbled below the car. All this was terrifying.

“Let us descend!” I cried.

“Descend, when the sun is up there, waiting for us? Out with more

And more than fifty pounds of ballast were cast over.

At a height of three thousand five hundred yards we remained

The unknown talked unceasingly. I was in a state of complete
prostration, while he seemed to be in his element.

“With a good wind, we shall go far,” he cried. “In the Antilles there
are currents of air which have a speed of a hundred leagues an hour.
When Napoleon was crowned, Garnerin sent up a balloon with coloured
lamps, at eleven o’clock at night. The wind was blowing
north-north-west. The next morning, at daybreak, the inhabitants of
Rome greeted its passage over the dome of St. Peter’s. We shall go
farther and higher!”

I scarcely heard him. Everything whirled around me. An opening appeared
in the clouds.

“See that city,” said the unknown. “It is Spires!”

I leaned over the car and perceived a small blackish mass. It was
Spires. The Rhine, which is so large, seemed an unrolled ribbon. The
sky was a deep blue over our heads. The birds had long abandoned us,
for in that rarefied air they could not have flown. We were alone in
space, and I in presence of this unknown!

“It is useless for you to know whither I am leading you,” he said, as
he threw the compass among the clouds. “Ah! a fall is a grand thing!
You know that but few victims of ballooning are to be reckoned, from
Pilâtre des Rosiers to Lieutenant Gale, and that the accidents have
always been the result of imprudence. Pilâtre des Rosiers set out with
Romain of Boulogne, on the 13th of June, 1785. To his gas balloon he
had affixed a Montgolfier apparatus of hot air, so as to dispense, no
doubt, with the necessity of losing gas or throwing out ballast. It was
putting a torch under a powder-barrel. When they had ascended four
hundred yards, and were taken by opposing winds, they were driven over
the open sea. Pilâtre, in order to descend, essayed to open the valve,
but the valve-cord became entangled in the balloon, and tore it so
badly that it became empty in an instant. It fell upon the Montgolfier
apparatus, overturned it, and dragged down the unfortunates, who were
soon shattered to pieces! It is frightful, is it not?”

I could only reply, “For pity’s sake, let us descend!”

The clouds gathered around us on every side, and dreadful detonations,
which reverberated in the cavity of the balloon, took place beneath us.

“You provoke me,” cried the unknown, “and you shall no longer know
whether we are rising or falling!”

The barometer went the way of the compass, accompanied by several more
bags of sand. We must have been 5000 yards high. Some icicles had
already attached themselves to the sides of the car, and a kind of fine
snow seemed to penetrate to my very bones. Meanwhile a frightful
tempest was raging under us, but we were above it.

“Do not be afraid,” said the unknown. “It is only the imprudent who are
lost. Olivari, who perished at Orleans, rose in a paper ‘Montgolfier;’
his car, suspended below the chafing-dish, and ballasted with
combustible materials, caught fire; Olivari fell, and was killed!
Mosment rose, at Lille, on a light tray; an oscillation disturbed his
equilibrium; Mosment fell, and was killed! Bittorf, at Mannheim, saw
his balloon catch fire in the air; and he, too, fell, and was killed!
Harris rose in a badly constructed balloon, the valve of which was too
large and would not shut; Harris fell, and was killed! Sadler, deprived
of ballast by his long sojourn in the air, was dragged over the town of
Boston and dashed against the chimneys; Sadler fell, and was killed!
Cokling descended with a convex parachute which he pretended to have
perfected; Cokling fell, and was killed! Well, I love them, these
victims of their own imprudence, and I shall die as they did. Higher!
still higher!”

All the phantoms of this necrology passed before my eyes. The
rarefaction of the air and the sun’s rays added to the expansion of the
gas, and the balloon continued to mount. I tried mechanically to open
the valve, but the unknown cut the cord several feet above my head. I
was lost!

“Did you see Madame Blanchard fall?” said he. “I saw her; yes, I! I was
at Tivoli on the 6th of July, 1819. Madame Blanchard rose in a small
sized balloon, to avoid the expense of filling, and she was forced to
entirely inflate it. The gas leaked out below, and left a regular train
of hydrogen in its path. She carried with her a sort of pyrotechnic
aureola, suspended below her car by a wire, which she was to set off in
the air. This she had done many times before. On this day she also
carried up a small parachute ballasted by a firework contrivance, that
would go off in a shower of silver. She was to start this contrivance
after having lighted it with a port-fire made on purpose. She set out;
the night was gloomy. At the moment of lighting her fireworks she was
so imprudent as to pass the taper under the column of hydrogen which
was leaking from the balloon. My eyes were fixed upon her. Suddenly an
unexpected gleam lit up the darkness. I thought she was preparing a
surprise. The light flashed out, suddenly disappeared and reappeared,
and gave the summit of the balloon the shape of an immense jet of
ignited gas. This sinister glow shed itself over the Boulevard and the
whole Montmartre quarter. Then I saw the unhappy woman rise, try twice
to close the appendage of the balloon, so as to put out the fire, then
sit down in her car and try to guide her descent; for she did not fall.
The combustion of the gas lasted for several minutes. The balloon,
becoming gradually less, continued to descend, but it was not a fall.
The wind blew from the north-west and drove it towards Paris. There
were then some large gardens just by the house No. 16, Rue de Provence.
Madame Blanchard essayed to fall there without danger: but the balloon
and the car struck on the roof of the house with a light shock. ‘Save
me!’ cried the wretched woman. I got into the street at this moment.
The car slid along the roof, and encountered an iron cramp. At this
concussion, Madame Blanchard was thrown out of her car and precipitated
upon the pavement. She was killed!”

These stories froze me with horror. The unknown was standing with bare
head, dishevelled hair, haggard eyes!

There was no longer any illusion possible. I at last recognized the
horrible truth. I was in the presence of a madman!

He threw out the rest of the ballast, and we must have now reached a
height of at least nine thousand yards. Blood spurted from my nose and

“Who are nobler than the martyrs of science?” cried the lunatic. “They
are canonized by posterity.”

But I no longer heard him. He looked about him, and, bending down to my
ear, muttered,—

“And have you forgotten Zambecarri’s catastrophe? Listen. On the 7th of
October, 1804, the clouds seemed to lift a little. On the preceding
days, the wind and rain had not ceased; but the announced ascension of
Zambecarri could not be postponed. His enemies were already bantering
him. It was necessary to ascend, to save the science and himself from
becoming a public jest. It was at Boulogne. No one helped him to
inflate his balloon.

“He rose at midnight, accompanied by Andreoli and Grossetti. The
balloon mounted slowly, for it had been perforated by the rain, and the
gas was leaking out. The three intrepid aeronauts could only observe
the state of the barometer by aid of a dark lantern. Zambecarri had
eaten nothing for twenty-four hours. Grossetti was also fasting.

“‘My friends,’ said Zambecarri, ‘I am overcome by cold, and exhausted.
I am dying.’

“He fell inanimate in the gallery. It was the same with Grossetti.
Andreoli alone remained conscious. After long efforts, he succeeded in
reviving Zambecarri.

“‘What news? Whither are we going? How is the wind? What time is it?’

“‘It is two o’clock.’

“‘Where is the compass?’


“‘Great God! The lantern has gone out!’

“‘It cannot burn in this rarefied air,’ said Zambecarri.

“The moon had not risen, and the atmosphere was plunged in murky

“‘I am cold, Andreoli. What shall I do?’

“They slowly descended through a layer of whitish clouds.

“‘Sh!’ said Andreoli. ‘Do you hear?’

“‘What?’ asked Zambecarri.

“‘A strange noise.’

“‘You are mistaken.’


“Consider these travellers, in the middle of the night, listening to
that unaccountable noise! Are they going to knock against a tower? Are
they about to be precipitated on the roofs?

“‘Do you hear? One would say it was the noise of the sea.’


“‘It is the groaning of the waves!’

“‘It is true.’

“‘Light! light!’

“After five fruitless attempts, Andreoli succeeded in obtaining light.
It was three o’clock.

“The voice of violent waves was heard. They were almost touching the
surface of the sea!

“‘We are lost!’ cried Zambecarri, seizing a large bag of sand.

“‘Help!’ cried Andreoli.

“The car touched the water, and the waves came up to their breasts.

“‘Throw out the instruments, clothes, money!’

“The aeronauts completely stripped themselves. The balloon, relieved,
rose with frightful rapidity. Zambecarri was taken with vomiting.
Grossetti bled profusely. The unfortunate men could not speak, so short
was their breathing. They were taken with cold, and they were soon
crusted over with ice. The moon looked as red as blood.

“After traversing the high regions for a half-hour, the balloon again
fell into the sea. It was four in the morning. They were half submerged
in the water, and the balloon dragged them along, as if under sail, for
several hours.

“At daybreak they found themselves opposite Pesaro, four miles from the
coast. They were about to reach it, when a gale blew them back into the
open sea. They were lost! The frightened boats fled at their approach.
Happily, a more intelligent boatman accosted them, hoisted them on
board, and they landed at Ferrada.

“A frightful journey, was it not? But Zambecarri was a brave and
energetic man. Scarcely recovered from his sufferings, he resumed his
ascensions. During one of them he struck against a tree; his
spirit-lamp was broken on his clothes; he was enveloped in fire, his
balloon began to catch the flames, and he came down half consumed.

“At last, on the 21st of September, 1812, he made another ascension at
Boulogne. The balloon clung to a tree, and his lamp again set it on
fire. Zambecarri fell, and was killed! And in presence of these facts,
we would still hesitate! No. The higher we go, the more glorious will
be our death!”

[Illustration: “Zambecarri fell, and was killed!”]

The balloon being now entirely relieved of ballast and of all it
contained, we were carried to an enormous height. It vibrated in the
atmosphere. The least noise resounded in the vaults of heaven. Our
globe, the only object which caught my view in immensity, seemed ready
to be annihilated, and above us the depths of the starry skies were
lost in thick darkness.

I saw my companion rise up before me.

“The hour is come!” he said. “We must die. We are rejected of men. They
despise us. Let us crush them!”

“Mercy!” I cried.

“Let us cut these cords! Let this car be abandoned in space. The
attractive force will change its direction, and we shall approach the

Despair galvanized me. I threw myself upon the madman, we struggled
together, and a terrible conflict took place. But I was thrown down,
and while he held me under his knee, the madman was cutting the cords
of the car.

“One!” he cried.

“My God!”

“Two! Three!”

I made a superhuman effort, rose up, and violently repulsed the madman.


The car fell, but I instinctively clung to the cords and hoisted myself
into the meshes of the netting.

The madman disappeared in space!

[Illustration: The madman disappeared in space!]

The balloon was raised to an immeasurable height. A horrible cracking
was heard. The gas, too much dilated, had burst the balloon. I shut my

Some instants after, a damp warmth revived me. I was in the midst of
clouds on fire. The balloon turned over with dizzy velocity. Taken by
the wind, it made a hundred leagues an hour in a horizontal course, the
lightning flashing around it.

Meanwhile my fall was not a very rapid one. When I opened my eyes, I
saw the country. I was two miles from the sea, and the tempest was
driving me violently towards it, when an abrupt shock forced me to
loosen my hold. My hands opened, a cord slipped swiftly between my
fingers, and I found myself on the solid earth!

It was the cord of the anchor, which, sweeping along the surface of the
ground, was caught in a crevice; and my balloon, unballasted for the
last time, careered off to lose itself beyond the sea.

When I came to myself, I was in bed in a peasant’s cottage, at
Harderwick, a village of La Gueldre, fifteen leagues from Amsterdam, on
the shores of the Zuyder-Zee.

A miracle had saved my life, but my voyage had been a series of
imprudences, committed by a lunatic, and I had not been able to prevent

May this terrible narrative, though instructing those who read it, not
discourage the explorers of the air.



The curé of the ancient church of Dunkirk rose at five o’clock on the
12th of May, 18—, to perform, according to his custom, low mass for the
benefit of a few pious sinners.

Attired in his priestly robes, he was about to proceed to the altar,
when a man entered the sacristy, at once joyous and frightened. He was
a sailor of some sixty years, but still vigorous and sturdy, with, an
open, honest countenance.

“Monsieur the curé,” said he, “stop a moment, if you please.”

[Illustration: “Monsieur the curé,” said he, “stop a moment, if you

“What do you want so early in the morning, Jean Cornbutte?” asked the

“What do I want? Why, to embrace you in my arms, i’ faith!”

“Well, after the mass at which you are going to be present—”

“The mass?” returned the old sailor, laughing. “Do you think you are
going to say your mass now, and that I will let you do so?”

“And why should I not say my mass?” asked the curé. “Explain yourself.
The third bell has sounded—”

“Whether it has or not,” replied Jean Cornbutte, “it will sound many
more times to-day, monsieur the curé, for you have promised me that you
will bless, with your own hands, the marriage of my son Louis and my
niece Marie!”

“He has arrived, then,” said the curé “joyfully.

“It is nearly the same thing,” replied Cornbutte, rubbing his hands.
“Our brig was signalled from the look out at sunrise,—our brig, which
you yourself christened by the good name of the ‘Jeune-Hardie’!”

“I congratulate you with all my heart, Cornbutte,” said the curé,
taking off his chasuble and stole. “I remember our agreement. The vicar
will take my place, and I will put myself at your disposal against your
dear son’s arrival.”

“And I promise you that he will not make you fast long,” replied the
sailor. “You have already published the banns, and you will only have
to absolve him from the sins he may have committed between sky and
water, in the Northern Ocean. I had a good idea, that the marriage
should be celebrated the very day he arrived, and that my son Louis
should leave his ship to repair at once to the church.”

“Go, then, and arrange everything, Cornbutte.”

“I fly, monsieur the curé. Good morning!”

The sailor hastened with rapid steps to his house, which stood on the
quay, whence could be seen the Northern Ocean, of which he seemed so

Jean Cornbutte had amassed a comfortable sum at his calling. After
having long commanded the vessels of a rich shipowner of Havre, he had
settled down in his native town, where he had caused the brig
“Jeune-Hardie” to be constructed at his own expense. Several successful
voyages had been made in the North, and the ship always found a good
sale for its cargoes of wood, iron, and tar. Jean Cornbutte then gave
up the command of her to his son Louis, a fine sailor of thirty, who,
according to all the coasting captains, was the boldest mariner in

Louis Cornbutte had gone away deeply attached to Marie, his father’s
niece, who found the time of his absence very long and weary. Marie was
scarcely twenty. She was a pretty Flemish girl, with some Dutch blood
in her veins. Her mother, when she was dying, had confided her to her
brother, Jean Cornbutte. The brave old sailor loved her as a daughter,
and saw in her proposed union with Louis a source of real and durable

The arrival of the ship, already signalled off the coast, completed an
important business operation, from which Jean Cornbutte expected large
profits. The “Jeune-Hardie,” which had left three months before, came
last from Bodoë, on the west coast of Norway, and had made a quick
voyage thence.

On returning home, Jean Cornbutte found the whole house alive. Marie,
with radiant face, had assumed her wedding-dress.

“I hope the ship will not arrive before we are ready!” she said.

“Hurry, little one,” replied Jean Cornbutte, “for the wind is north,
and she sails well, you know, when she goes freely.”

“Have our friends been told, uncle?” asked Marie.

“They have.”

“The notary, and the curé?”

“Rest easy. You alone are keeping us waiting.”

At this moment Clerbaut, an old crony, came in.

“Well, old Cornbutte,” cried he, “here’s luck! Your ship has arrived at
the very moment that the government has decided to contract for a large
quantity of wood for the navy!”

“What is that to me?” replied Jean Cornbutte. “What care I for the

“You see, Monsieur Clerbaut,” said Marie, “one thing only absorbs
us,—Louis’s return.”

“I don’t dispute that,” replied Clerbaut. “But—in short—this purchase
of wood—”

“And you shall be at the wedding,” replied Jean Cornbutte, interrupting
the merchant, and shaking his hand as if he would crush it.

“This purchase of wood—”

“And with all our friends, landsmen and seamen, Clerbaut. I have
already informed everybody, and I shall invite the whole crew of the

“And shall we go and await them on the pier?” asked Marie.

“Indeed we will,” replied Jean Cornbutte. “We will defile, two by two,
with the violins at the head.”

Jean Cornbutte’s invited guests soon arrived. Though it was very early,
not a single one failed to appear. All congratulated the honest old
sailor whom they loved. Meanwhile Marie, kneeling down, changed her
prayers to God into thanksgivings. She soon returned, lovely and decked
out, to the company; and all the women kissed her on the check, while
the men vigorously grasped her by the hand. Then Jean Cornbutte gave
the signal of departure.

It was a curious sight to see this joyous group taking its way, at
sunrise, towards the sea. The news of the ship’s arrival had spread
through the port, and many heads, in nightcaps, appeared at the windows
and at the half-opened doors. Sincere compliments and pleasant nods
came from every side.

The party reached the pier in the midst of a concert of praise and
blessings. The weather was magnificent, and the sun seemed to take part
in the festivity. A fresh north wind made the waves foam; and some
fishing-smacks, their sails trimmed for leaving port, streaked the sea
with their rapid wakes between the breakwaters.

The two piers of Dunkirk stretch far out into the sea. The
wedding-party occupied the whole width of the northern pier, and soon
reached a small house situated at its extremity, inhabited by the
harbour-master. The wind freshened, and the “Jeune-Hardie” ran swiftly
under her topsails, mizzen, brigantine, gallant, and royal. There was
evidently rejoicing on board as well as on land. Jean Cornbutte,
spy-glass in hand, responded merrily to the questions of his friends.

“See my ship!” he cried; “clean and steady as if she had been rigged at
Dunkirk! Not a bit of damage done,—not a rope wanting!”

“Do you see your son, the captain?” asked one.

“No, not yet. Why, he’s at his business!”

“Why doesn’t he run up his flag?” asked Clerbaut.

“I scarcely know, old friend. He has a reason for it, no doubt.”

“Your spy-glass, uncle?” said Marie, taking it from him. “I want to be
the first to see him.”

“But he is my son, mademoiselle!”

“He has been your son for thirty years,” answered the young girl,
laughing, “and he has only been my betrothed for two!”

The “Jeune-Hardie” was now entirely visible. Already the crew were
preparing to cast anchor. The upper sails had been reefed. The sailors
who were among the rigging might be recognized. But neither Marie nor
Jean Cornbutte had yet been able to wave their hands at the captain of
the ship.

“Faith! there’s the first mate, André Vasling,” cried Clerbaut.

“And there’s Fidèle Misonne, the carpenter,” said another.

“And our friend Penellan,” said a third, saluting the sailor named.

The “Jeune-Hardie” was only three cables’ lengths from the shore, when
a black flag ascended to the gaff of the brigantine. There was mourning
on board!

A shudder of terror seized the party and the heart of the young girl.

The ship sadly swayed into port, and an icy silence reigned on its
deck. Soon it had passed the end of the pier. Marie, Jean Cornbutte,
and all their friends hurried towards the quay at which she was to
anchor, and in a moment found themselves on board.

“My son!” said Jean Cornbutte, who could only articulate these words.

The sailors, with uncovered heads, pointed to the mourning flag.

Marie uttered a cry of anguish, and fell into old Cornbutte’s arms.

André Vasling had brought back the “Jeune-Hardie,” but Louis Cornbutte,
Marie’s betrothed, was not on board.


As soon as the young girl, confided to the care of the sympathizing
friends, had left the ship, André Vasling, the mate, apprised Jean
Cornbutte of the dreadful event which had deprived him of his son,
narrated in the ship’s journal as follows:—

[Illustration: André Vasling, the mate, apprised Jean Cornbutte of
the dreadful event]

“At the height of the Maëlstrom, on the 26th of April, the ship,
putting for the cape, by reason of bad weather and south-west winds,
perceived signals of distress made by a schooner to the leeward. This
schooner, deprived of its mizzen-mast, was running towards the
whirlpool, under bare poles. Captain Louis Cornbutte, seeing that this
vessel was hastening into imminent danger, resolved to go on board her.
Despite the remonstrances of his crew, he had the long-boat lowered
into the sea, and got into it, with the sailor Courtois and the
helmsman Pierre Nouquet. The crew watched them until they disappeared
in the fog. Night came on. The sea became more and more boisterous. The
“Jeune-Hardie”, drawn by the currents in those parts, was in danger of
being engulfed by the Maëlstrom. She was obliged to fly before the
wind. For several days she hovered near the place of the disaster, but
in vain. The long-boat, the schooner, Captain Louis, and the two
sailors did not reappear. André Vasling then called the crew together,
took command of the ship, and set sail for Dunkirk.”

After reading this dry narrative, Jean Cornbutte wept for a long time;
and if he had any consolation, it was the thought that his son had died
in attempting to save his fellow-men. Then the poor father left the
ship, the sight of which made him wretched, and returned to his
desolate home.

The sad news soon spread throughout Dunkirk. The many friends of the
old sailor came to bring him their cordial and sincere sympathy. Then
the sailors of the “Jeune-Hardie” gave a more particular account of the
event, and André Vasling told Marie, at great length, of the devotion
of her betrothed to the last.

When he ceased weeping, Jean Cornbutte thought over the matter, and the
next day after the ship’s arrival, when Andre came to see him, said,—

“Are you very sure, André, that my son has perished?”

“Alas, yes, Monsieur Jean,” replied the mate.

“And you made all possible search for him?”

“All, Monsieur Cornbutte. But it is unhappily but too certain that he
and the two sailors were sucked down in the whirlpool of the

“Would you like, André, to keep the second command of the ship?”

“That will depend upon the captain, Monsieur Cornbutte.”

“I shall be the captain,” replied the old sailor. “I am going to
discharge the cargo with all speed, make up my crew, and sail in search
of my son.”

“Your son is dead!” said André obstinately.

“It is possible, Andre,” replied Jean Cornbutte sharply, “but it is
also possible that he saved himself. I am going to rummage all the
ports of Norway whither he might have been driven, and when I am fully
convinced that I shall never see him again, I will return here to die!”

André Vasling, seeing that this decision was irrevocable, did not
insist further, but went away.

Jean Cornbutte at once apprised his niece of his intention, and he saw
a few rays of hope glisten across her tears. It had not seemed to the
young girl that her lover’s death might be doubtful; but scarcely had
this new hope entered her heart, than she embraced it without reserve.

The old sailor determined that the “Jeune-Hardie” should put to sea
without delay. The solidly built ship had no need of repairs. Jean
Cornbutte gave his sailors notice that if they wished to re-embark, no
change in the crew would be made. He alone replaced his son in the
command of the brig. None of the comrades of Louis Cornbutte failed to
respond to his call, and there were hardy tars among them,—Alaine
Turquiette, Fidèle Misonne the carpenter, Penellan the Breton, who
replaced Pierre Nouquet as helmsman, and Gradlin, Aupic, and Gervique,
courageous and well-tried mariners.

Jean Cornbutte again offered André Vasling his old rank on board. The
first mate was an able officer, who had proved his skill in bringing
the “Jeune-Hardie” into port. Yet, from what motive could not be told,
André made some difficulties and asked time for reflection.

“As you will, André Vasling,” replied Cornbutte. “Only remember that if
you accept, you will be welcome among us.”

Jean had a devoted sailor in Penellan the Breton, who had long been his
fellow-voyager. In times gone by, little Marie was wont to pass the
long winter evenings in the helmsman’s arms, when he was on shore. He
felt a fatherly friendship for her, and she had for him ah affection
quite filial. Penellan hastened the fitting out of the ship with all
his energy, all the more because, according to his opinion, André
Vasling had not perhaps made every effort possible to find the
castaways, although he was excusable from the responsibility which
weighed upon him as captain.

Within a week the “Jeune-Hardie” was ready to put to sea. Instead of
merchandise, she was completely provided with salt meats, biscuits,
barrels of flour, potatoes, pork, wine, brandy, coffee, tea, and

The departure was fixed for the 22nd of May. On the evening before,
André Vasling, who had not yet given his answer to Jean Cornbutte, came
to his house. He was still undecided, and did not know which course to

Jean was not at home, though the house-door was open. André went into
the passage, next to Marie’s chamber, where the sound of an animated
conversation struck his ear. He listened attentively, and recognized
the voices of Penellan and Marie.

The discussion had no doubt been going on for some time, for the young
girl seemed to be stoutly opposing what the Breton sailor said.

“How old is my uncle Cornbutte?” said Marie.

“Something about sixty years,” replied Penellan.

“Well, is he not going to brave danger to find his son?”

“Our captain is still a sturdy man,” returned the sailor. “He has a
body of oak and muscles as hard as a spare spar. So I am not afraid to
have him go to sea again!’”

“My good Penellan,” said Marie, “one is strong when one loves! Besides,
I have full confidence in the aid of Heaven. You understand me, and
will help me.”

“No!” said Penellan. “It is impossible, Marie. Who knows whither we
shall drift, or what we must suffer? How many vigorous men have I seen
lose their lives in these seas!”

“Penellan,” returned the young girl, “if you refuse me, I shall believe
that you do not love me any longer.”

André Vasling understood the young girl’s resolution. He reflected a
moment, and his course was determined on.

“Jean Cornbutte,” said he, advancing towards the old sailor, who now
entered, “I will go with you. The cause of my hesitation has
disappeared, and you may count upon my devotion.”

“I have never doubted you, André Vasling,” replied Jean Cornbutte,
grasping him by the hand. “Marie, my child!” he added, calling in a
loud voice.

Marie and Penellan made their appearance.

“We shall set sail to-morrow at daybreak, with the outgoing tide,” said
Jean. “My poor Marie, this is the last evening that we shall pass

“Uncle!” cried Marie, throwing herself into his arms.

“Marie, by the help of God, I will bring your lover back to you!”

“Yes, we will find Louis,” added André Vasling.

“You are going with us, then?” asked Penellan quickly.

“Yes, Penellan, André Vasling is to be my first mate,” answered Jean.

“Oh, oh!” ejaculated the Breton, in a singular tone.

“And his advice will be useful to us, for he is able and enterprising.

“And yourself, captain,” said André. “You will set us all a good
example, for you have still as much vigour as experience.”

“Well, my friends, good-bye till to-morrow. Go on board and make the
final arrangements. Good-bye, André; good-bye, Penellan.”

The mate and the sailor went out together, and Jean and Marie remained
alone. Many bitter tears were shed during that sad evening. Jean
Cornbutte, seeing Marie so wretched, resolved to spare her the pain of
separation by leaving the house on the morrow without her knowledge. So
he gave her a last kiss that evening, and at three o’clock next morning
was up and away.

The departure of the brig had attracted all the old sailor’s friends to
the pier. The curé, who was to have blessed Marie’s union with Louis,
came to give a last benediction on the ship. Rough grasps of the hand
were silently exchanged, and Jean went on board.

The crew were all there. André Vasling gave the last orders. The sails
were spread, and the brig rapidly passed out under a stiff north-west
breeze, whilst the cure, upright in the midst of the kneeling
spectators, committed the vessel to the hands of God.

Whither goes this ship? She follows the perilous route upon which so
many castaways have been lost! She has no certain destination. She must
expect every peril, and be able to brave them without hesitating. God
alone knows where it will be her fate to anchor. May God guide her!


At that time of the year the season was favourable, and the crew might
hope promptly to reach the scene of the shipwreck.

Jean Cornbutte’s plan was naturally traced out. He counted on stopping
at the Feroë Islands, whither the north wind might have carried the
castaways; then, if he was convinced that they had not been received in
any of the ports of that locality, he would continue his search beyond
the Northern Ocean, ransack the whole western coast of Norway as far as
Bodoë, the place nearest the scene of the shipwreck; and, if necessary,
farther still.

André Vasling thought, contrary to the captain’s opinion, that the
coast of Iceland should be explored; but Penellan observed that, at the
time of the catastrophe, the gale came from the west; which, while it
gave hope that the unfortunates had not been forced towards the gulf of
the Maëlstrom, gave ground for supposing that they might have been
thrown on the Norwegian coast.

It was determined, then, that this coast should be followed as closely
as possible, so as to recognize any traces of them that might appear.

The day after sailing, Jean Cornbutte, intent upon a map, was absorbed
in reflection, when a small hand touched his shoulder, and a soft voice
said in his ear,—

“Have good courage, uncle.”

[Illustration: A soft voice said in his ear, “Have good courage,

He turned, and was stupefied. Marie embraced him.

“Marie, my daughter, on board!” he cried.

“The wife may well go in search of her husband, when the father embarks
to save his child.”

“Unhappy Marie! How wilt thou support our fatigues! Dost thou know that
thy presence may be injurious to our search?”

“No, uncle, for I am strong.”

“Who knows whither we shall be forced to go, Marie? Look at this map.
We are approaching places dangerous even for us sailors, hardened
though we are to the difficulties of the sea. And thou, frail child?”

“But, uncle, I come from a family of sailors. I am used to stories of
combats and tempests. I am with you and my old friend Penellan!”

“Penellan! It was he who concealed you on board?”

“Yes, uncle; but only when he saw that I was determined to come without
his help.”

“Penellan!” cried Jean.

Penellan entered.

“It is not possible to undo what you have done, Penellan; but remember
that you are responsible for Marie’s life.”

“Rest easy, captain,” replied Penellan. “The little one has force and
courage, and will be our guardian angel. And then, captain, you know it
is my theory, that all in this world happens for the best.”

The young girl was installed in a cabin, which the sailors soon got
ready for her, and which they made as comfortable as possible.

A week later the “Jeune-Hardie” stopped at the Feroë Islands, but the
most minute search was fruitless. No wreck, or fragments of a ship had
come upon these coasts. Even the news of the event was quite unknown.
The brig resumed its voyage, after a stay of ten days, about the 10th
of June. The sea was calm, and the winds were favourable. The ship sped
rapidly towards the Norwegian coast, which it explored without better

Jean Cornbutte determined to proceed to Bodoë. Perhaps he would there
learn the name of the shipwrecked schooner to succour which Louis and
the sailors had sacrificed themselves.

On the 30th of June the brig cast anchor in that port.

The authorities of Bodoë gave Jean Cornbutte a bottle found on the
coast, which contained a document bearing these words:—

“This 26th April, on board the ‘Froöern,’ after being accosted by the
long-boat of the ‘Jeune-Hardie,’ we were drawn by the currents towards
the ice. God have pity on us!”

Jean Cornbutte’s first impulse was to thank Heaven. He thought himself
on his son’s track. The “Froöern” was a Norwegian sloop of which there
had been no news, but which had evidently been drawn northward.

Not a day was to be lost. The “Jeune-Hardie” was at once put in
condition to brave the perils of the polar seas. Fidèle Misonne, the
carpenter, carefully examined her, and assured himself that her solid
construction might resist the shock of the ice-masses.

Penellan, who had already engaged in whale-fishing in the arctic
waters, took care that woollen and fur coverings, many sealskin
moccassins, and wood for the making of sledges with which to cross the
ice-fields were put on board. The amount of provisions was increased,
and spirits and charcoal were added; for it might be that they would
have to winter at some point on the Greenland coast. They also
procured, with much difficulty and at a high price, a quantity of
lemons, for preventing or curing the scurvy, that terrible disease
which decimates crews in the icy regions. The ship’s hold was filled
with salt meat, biscuits, brandy, etc., as the steward’s room no longer
sufficed. They provided themselves, moreover, with a large quantity of
“pemmican,” an Indian preparation which concentrates a great deal of
nutrition within a small volume.

By order of the captain, some saws were put on board for cutting the
ice-fields, as well as picks and wedges for separating them. The
captain determined to procure some dogs for drawing the sledges on the
Greenland coast.

The whole crew was engaged in these preparations, and displayed great
activity. The sailors Aupic, Gervique, and Gradlin zealously obeyed
Penellan’s orders; and he admonished them not to accustom themselves to
woollen garments, though the temperature in this latitude, situated
just beyond the polar circle, was very low.

Penellan, though he said nothing, narrowly watched every action of
André Vasling. This man was Dutch by birth, came from no one knew
whither, but was at least a good sailor, having made two voyages on
board the “Jeune-Hardie”. Penellan would not as yet accuse him of
anything, unless it was that he kept near Marie too constantly, but he
did not let him out of his sight.

Thanks to the energy of the crew, the brig was equipped by the 16th of
July, a fortnight after its arrival at Bodoë. It was then the
favourable season for attempting explorations in the Arctic Seas. The
thaw had been going on for two months, and the search might be carried
farther north. The “Jeune-Hardie” set sail, and directed her way
towards Cape Brewster, on the eastern coast of Greenland, near the 70th
degree of latitude.


About the 23rd of July a reflection, raised above the sea, announced
the presence of the first icebergs, which, emerging from Davis’
Straits, advanced into the ocean. From this moment a vigilant watch was
ordered to the look-out men, for it was important not to come into
collision with these enormous masses.

The crew was divided into two watches. The first was composed of Fidèle
Misonne, Gradlin, and Gervique; and the second of Andre Vasling, Aupic,
and Penellan. These watches were to last only two hours, for in those
cold regions a man’s strength is diminished one-half. Though the
“Jeune-Hardie” was not yet beyond the 63rd degree of latitude, the
thermometer already stood at nine degrees centigrade below zero.

Rain and snow often fell abundantly. On fair days, when the wind was
not too violent, Marie remained on deck, and her eyes became accustomed
to the uncouth scenes of the Polar Seas.

On the 1st of August she was promenading aft, and talking with her
uncle, Penellan, and André Vasling. The ship was then entering a
channel three miles wide, across which broken masses of ice were
rapidly descending southwards.

“When shall we see land?” asked the young girl.

“In three or four days at the latest,” replied Jean Cornbutte.

“But shall we find there fresh traces of my poor Louis?”

“Perhaps so, my daughter; but I fear that we are still far from the end
of our voyage. It is to be feared that the ‘Froöern’ was driven farther

“That may be,” added André Vasling, “for the squall which separated us
from the Norwegian boat lasted three days, and in three days a ship
makes good headway when it is no longer able to resist the wind.”

“Permit me to tell you, Monsieur Vasling.” replied Penellan, “that that
was in April, that the thaw had not then begun, and that therefore the
‘Froöern’ must have been soon arrested by the ice.”

“And no doubt dashed into a thousand pieces,” said the mate, “as her
crew could not manage her.”

“But these ice-fields,” returned Penellan, “gave her an easy means of
reaching land, from which she could not have been far distant.”

“Let us hope so,” said Jean Cornbutte, interrupting the discussion,
which was daily renewed between the mate and the helmsman. “I think we
shall see land before long.”

“There it is!” cried Marie. “See those mountains!”

“No, my child,” replied her uncle. “Those are mountains of ice, the
first we have met with. They would shatter us like glass if we got
entangled between them. Penellan and Vasling, overlook the men.”

These floating masses, more than fifty of which now appeared at the
horizon, came nearer and nearer to the brig. Penellan took the helm,
and Jean Cornbutte, mounted on the gallant, indicated the route to

Towards evening the brig was entirely surrounded by these moving rocks,
the crushing force of which is irresistible. It was necessary, then, to
cross this fleet of mountains, for prudence prompted them to keep
straight ahead. Another difficulty was added to these perils. The
direction of the ship could not be accurately determined, as all the
surrounding points constantly changed position, and thus failed to
afford a fixed perspective. The darkness soon increased with the fog.
Marie descended to her cabin, and the whole crew, by the captain’s
orders, remained on deck. They were armed with long boat-poles, with
iron spikes, to preserve the ship from collision with the ice.

The ship soon entered a strait so narrow that often the ends of her
yards were grazed by the drifting mountains, and her booms seemed about
to be driven in. They were even forced to trim the mainyard so as to
touch the shrouds. Happily these precautions did not deprive, the
vessel of any of its speed, for the wind could only reach the upper
sails, and these sufficed to carry her forward rapidly. Thanks to her
slender hull, she passed through these valleys, which were filled with
whirlpools of rain, whilst the icebergs crushed against each other with
sharp cracking and splitting.

Jean Cornbutte returned to the deck. His eyes could not penetrate the
surrounding darkness. It became necessary to furl the upper sails, for
the ship threatened to ground, and if she did so she was lost.

“Cursed voyage!” growled André Vasling among the sailors, who, forward,
were avoiding the most menacing ice-blocks with their boat-hooks.

“Truly, if we escape we shall owe a fine candle to Our Lady of the
Ice!” replied Aupic.

“Who knows how many floating mountains we have got to pass through
yet?” added the mate.

“And who can guess what we shall find beyond them?” replied the sailor.

“Don’t talk so much, prattler,” said Gervique, “and look out on your
side. When we have got by them, it’ll be time to grumble. Look out for
your boat-hook!”

At this moment an enormous block of ice, in the narrow strait through
which the brig was passing, came rapidly down upon her, and it seemed
impossible to avoid it, for it barred the whole width of the channel,
and the brig could not heave-to.

“Do you feel the tiller?” asked Cornbutte of Penellan.

“No, captain. The ship does not answer the helm any longer.”

“_Ohé_, boys!” cried the captain to the crew; “don’t be afraid, and
buttress your hooks against the gunwale.”

The block was nearly sixty feet high, and if it threw itself upon the
brig she would be crushed. There was an undefinable moment of suspense,
and the crew retreated backward, abandoning their posts despite the
captain’s orders.

But at the instant when the block was not more than half a cable’s
length from the “Jeune-Hardie,” a dull sound was heard, and a veritable
waterspout fell upon the bow of the vessel, which then rose on the back
of an enormous billow.

The sailors uttered a cry of terror; but when they looked before them
the block had disappeared, the passage was free, and beyond an immense
plain of water, illumined by the rays of the declining sun, assured
them of an easy navigation.

“All’s well!” cried Penellan. “Let’s trim our topsails and mizzen!”

An incident very common in those parts had just occurred. When these
masses are detached from one another in the thawing season, they float
in a perfect equilibrium; but on reaching the ocean, where the water is
relatively warmer, they are speedily undermined at the base, which
melts little by little, and which is also shaken by the shock of other
ice-masses. A moment comes when the centre of gravity of these masses
is displaced, and then they are completely overturned. Only, if this
block had turned over two minutes later, it would have fallen on the
brig and carried her down in its fall.


The brig now sailed in a sea which was almost entirely open. At the
horizon only, a whitish light, this time motionless, indicated the
presence of fixed plains of ice.

Jean Cornbutte now directed the “Jeune-Hardie” towards Cape Brewster.
They were already approaching the regions where the temperature is
excessively cold, for the sun’s rays, owing to their obliquity when
they reach them, are very feeble.

On the 3rd of August the brig confronted immoveable and united
ice-masses. The passages were seldom more than a cable’s length in
width, and the ship was forced to make many turnings, which sometimes
placed her heading the wind.

Penellan watched over Marie with paternal care, and, despite the cold,
prevailed upon her to spend two or three hours every day on deck, for
exercise had become one of the indispensable conditions of health.

Marie’s courage did not falter. She even comforted the sailors with her
cheerful talk, and all of them became warmly attached to her. André
Vasling showed himself more attentive than ever, and seized every
occasion to be in her company; but the young girl, with a sort of
presentiment, accepted his services with some coldness. It may be
easily conjectured that André’s conversation referred more to the
future than to the present, and that he did not conceal the slight
probability there was of saving the castaways. He was convinced that
they were lost, and the young girl ought thenceforth to confide her
existence to some one else.

[Illustration: André Vasling showed himself more attentive than ever.]

Marie had not as yet comprehended André’s designs, for, to his great
disgust, he could never find an opportunity to talk long with her
alone. Penellan had always an excuse for interfering, and destroying
the effect of Andre’s words by the hopeful opinions he expressed.

Marie, meanwhile, did not remain idle. Acting on the helmsman’s advice,
she set to work on her winter garments; for it was necessary that she
should completely change her clothing. The cut of her dresses was not
suitable for these cold latitudes. She made, therefore, a sort of
furred pantaloons, the ends of which were lined with seal-skin; and her
narrow skirts came only to her knees, so as not to be in contact with
the layers of snow with which the winter would cover the ice-fields. A
fur mantle, fitting closely to the figure and supplied with a hood,
protected the upper part of her body.

In the intervals of their work, the sailors, too, prepared clothing
with which to shelter themselves from the cold. They made a quantity of
high seal-skin boots, with which to cross the snow during their
explorations. They worked thus all the time that the navigation in the
straits lasted.

André Vasling, who was an excellent shot, several times brought down
aquatic birds with his gun; innumerable flocks of these were always
careering about the ship. A kind of eider-duck provided the crew with
very palatable food, which relieved the monotony of the salt meat.

At last the brig, after many turnings, came in sight of Cape Brewster.
A long-boat was put to sea. Jean Cornbutte and Penellan reached the
coast, which was entirely deserted.

The ship at once directed its course towards Liverpool Island,
discovered in 1821 by Captain Scoresby, and the crew gave a hearty
cheer when they saw the natives running along the shore. Communication
was speedily established with them, thanks to Penellan’s knowledge of a
few words of their language, and some phrases which the natives
themselves had learnt of the whalers who frequented those parts.

These Greenlanders were small and squat; they were not more than four
feet ten inches high; they had red, round faces, and low foreheads;
their hair, flat and black, fell over their shoulders; their teeth were
decayed, and they seemed to be affected by the sort of leprosy which is
peculiar to ichthyophagous tribes.

In exchange for pieces of iron and brass, of which they are extremely
covetous, these poor creatures brought bear furs, the skins of
sea-calves, sea-dogs, sea-wolves, and all the animals generally known
as seals. Jean Cornbutte obtained these at a low price, and they were
certain to become most useful.

The captain then made the natives understand that he was in search of a
shipwrecked vessel, and asked them if they had heard of it. One of them
immediately drew something like a ship on the snow, and indicated that
a vessel of that sort had been carried northward three months before:
he also managed to make it understood that the thaw and breaking up of
the ice-fields had prevented the Greenlanders from going in search of
it; and, indeed, their very light canoes, which they managed with
paddles, could not go to sea at that time.

This news, though meagre, restored hope to the hearts of the sailors,
and Jean Cornbutte had no difficulty in persuading them to advance
farther in the polar seas.

Before quitting Liverpool Island, the captain purchased a pack of six
Esquimaux dogs, which were soon acclimatised on board. The ship weighed
anchor on the morning of the 10th of August, and entered the northern
straits under a brisk wind.

The longest days of the year had now arrived; that is, the sun, in
these high latitudes, did not set, and reached the highest point of the
spirals which it described above the horizon.

This total absence of night was not, however, very apparent, for the
fog, rain, and snow sometimes enveloped the ship in real darkness.

Jean Cornbutte, who was resolved to advance as far as possible, began
to take measures of health. The space between decks was securely
enclosed, and every morning care was taken to ventilate it with fresh
air. The stoves were installed, and the pipes so disposed as to yield
as much heat as possible. The sailors were advised to wear only one
woollen shirt over their cotton shirts, and to hermetically close their
seal cloaks. The fires were not yet lighted, for it was important to
reserve the wood and charcoal for the most intense cold.

Warm beverages, such as coffee and tea, were regularly distributed to
the sailors morning and evening; and as it was important to live on
meat, they shot ducks and teal, which abounded in these parts.

Jean Cornbutte also placed at the summit of the mainmast a “crow’s
nest,” a sort of cask staved in at one end, in which a look-out
remained constantly, to observe the icefields.

Two days after the brig had lost sight of Liverpool Island the
temperature became suddenly colder under the influence of a dry wind.
Some indications of winter were perceived. The ship had not a moment to
lose, for soon the way would be entirely closed to her. She advanced
across the straits, among which lay ice-plains thirty feet thick.

On the morning of the 3rd of September the “Jeune-Hardie” reached the
head of Gaël-Hamkes Bay. Land was then thirty miles to the leeward. It
was the first time that the brig had stopped before a mass of ice which
offered no outlet, and which was at least a mile wide. The saws must
now be used to cut the ice. Penellan, Aupic, Gradlin, and Turquiette
were chosen to work the saws, which had been carried outside the ship.
The direction of the cutting was so determined that the current might
carry off the pieces detached from the mass. The whole crew worked at
this task for nearly twenty hours. They found it very painful to remain
on the ice, and were often obliged to plunge into the water up to their
middle; their seal-skin garments protected them but imperfectly from
the damp.

Moreover all excessive toil in those high latitudes is soon followed by
an overwhelming weariness; for the breath soon fails, and the strongest
are forced to rest at frequent intervals.

At last the navigation became free, and the brig was towed beyond the
mass which had so long obstructed her course.


For several days the “Jeune-Hardie” struggled against formidable
obstacles. The crew were almost all the time at work with the saws, and
often powder had to be used to blow up the enormous blocks of ice which
closed the way.

On the 12th of September the sea consisted of one solid plain, without
outlet or passage, surrounding the vessel on all sides, so that she
could neither advance nor retreat. The temperature remained at an
average of sixteen degrees below zero. The winter season had come on,
with its sufferings and dangers.

[Illustration: On the 12th of September the sea consisted of one
solid plain.]

The “Jeune-Hardie” was then near the 21st degree of longitude west and
the 76th degree of latitude north, at the entrance of Gaël-Hamkes Bay.

Jean Cornbutte made his preliminary preparations for wintering. He
first searched for a creek whose position would shelter the ship from
the wind and breaking up of the ice. Land, which was probably thirty
miles west, could alone offer him secure shelter, and he resolved to
attempt to reach it.

He set out on the 12th of September, accompanied by André Vasling,
Penellan, and the two sailors Gradlin and Turquiette. Each man carried
provisions for two days, for it was not likely that their expedition
would occupy a longer time, and they were supplied with skins on which
to sleep.

Snow had fallen in great abundance and was not yet frozen over; and
this delayed them seriously. They often sank to their waists, and could
only advance very cautiously, for fear of falling into crevices.
Penellan, who walked in front, carefully sounded each depression with
his iron-pointed staff.

About five in the evening the fog began to thicken, and the little band
were forced to stop. Penellan looked about for an iceberg which might
shelter them from the wind, and after refreshing themselves, with
regrets that they had no warm drink, they spread their skins on the
snow, wrapped themselves up, lay close to each other, and soon dropped
asleep from sheer fatigue.

The next morning Jean Cornbutte and his companions were buried beneath
a bed of snow more than a foot deep. Happily their skins, perfectly
impermeable, had preserved them, and the snow itself had aided in
retaining their heat, which it prevented from escaping.

The captain gave the signal of departure, and about noon they at last
descried the coast, which at first they could scarcely distinguish.
High ledges of ice, cut perpendicularly, rose on the shore; their
variegated summits, of all forms and shapes, reproduced on a large
scale the phenomena of crystallization. Myriads of aquatic fowl flew
about at the approach of the party, and the seals, lazily lying on the
ice, plunged hurriedly into the depths.

“I’ faith!” said Penellan, “we shall not want for either furs or game!”

“Those animals,” returned Cornbutte, “give every evidence of having
been already visited by men; for in places totally uninhabited they
would not be so wild.”

“None but Greenlanders frequent these parts,” said André Vasling.

“I see no trace of their passage, however; neither any encampment nor
the smallest hut,” said Penellan, who had climbed up a high peak. “O
captain!” he continued, “come here! I see a point of land which will
shelter us splendidly from the north-east wind.”

“Come along, boys!” said Jean Cornbutte.

His companions followed him, and they soon rejoined Penellan. The
sailor had said what was true. An elevated point of land jutted out
like a promontory, and curving towards the coast, formed a little inlet
of a mile in width at most. Some moving ice-blocks, broken by this
point, floated in the midst, and the sea, sheltered from the colder
winds, was not yet entirely frozen over.

This was an excellent spot for wintering, and it only remained to get
the ship thither. Jean Cornbutte remarked that the neighbouring
ice-field was very thick, and it seemed very difficult to cut a canal
to bring the brig to its destination. Some other creek, then, must be
found; it was in vain that he explored northward. The coast remained
steep and abrupt for a long distance, and beyond the point it was
directly exposed to the attacks of the east-wind. The circumstance
disconcerted the captain all the more because André Vasling used strong
arguments to show how bad the situation was. Penellan, in this dilemma,
found it difficult to convince himself that all was for the best.

But one chance remained—to seek a shelter on the southern side of the
coast. This was to return on their path, but hesitation was useless.
The little band returned rapidly in the direction of the ship, as their
provisions had begun to run short. Jean Cornbutte searched for some
practicable passage, or at least some fissure by which a canal might be
cut across the ice-fields, all along the route, but in vain.

Towards evening the sailors came to the same place where they had
encamped over night. There had been no snow during the day, and they
could recognize the imprint of their bodies on the ice. They again
disposed themselves to sleep with their furs.

Penellan, much disturbed by the bad success of the expedition, was
sleeping restlessly, when, at a waking moment, his attention was
attracted by a dull rumbling. He listened attentively, and the rumbling
seemed so strange that he nudged Jean Cornbutte with his elbow.

“What is that?” said the latter, whose mind, according to a sailor’s
habit, was awake as soon as his body.

“Listen, captain.”

The noise increased, with perceptible violence.

“It cannot be thunder, in so high a latitude,” said Cornbutte, rising.

“I think we have come across some white bears,” replied Penellan.

“The devil! We have not seen any yet.”

“Sooner or later, we must have expected a visit from them. Let us give
them a good reception.”

Penellan, armed with a gun, lightly crossed the ledge which sheltered
them. The darkness was very dense; he could discover nothing; but a new
incident soon showed him that the cause of the noise did not proceed
from around them.

Jean Cornbutte rejoined him, and they observed with terror that this
rumbling, which awakened their companions, came from beneath them.

A new kind of peril menaced them. To the noise, which resembled peals
of thunder, was added a distinct undulating motion of the ice-field.
Several of the party lost their balance and fell.

“Attention!” cried Penellan.

“Yes!” some one responded.

“Turquiette! Gradlin! where are you?”

“Here I am!” responded Turquiette, shaking off the snow with which he
was covered.

“This way, Vasling,” cried Cornbutte to the mate. “And Gradlin?”

“Present, captain. But we are lost!” shouted Gradlin, in fright.

“No!” said Penellan. “Perhaps we are saved!”

Hardly had he uttered these words when a frightful cracking noise was
heard. The ice-field broke clear through, and the sailors were forced
to cling to the block which was quivering just by them. Despite the
helmsman’s words, they found themselves in a most perilous position,
for an ice-quake had occurred. The ice masses had just “weighed
anchor,” as the sailors say. The movement lasted nearly two minutes,
and it was to be feared that the crevice would yawn at the very feet of
the unhappy sailors. They anxiously awaited daylight in the midst of
continuous shocks, for they could not, without risk of death, move a
step, and had to remain stretched out at full length to avoid being

[Illustration: they found themselves in a most perilous position, for
an ice-quake had occurred.]

As soon as it was daylight a very different aspect presented itself to
their eyes. The vast plain, a compact mass the evening before, was now
separated in a thousand places, and the waves, raised by some submarine
commotion, had broken the thick layer which sheltered them.

The thought of his ship occurred to Jean Cornbutte’s mind.

“My poor brig!” he cried. “It must have perished!”

The deepest despair began to overcast the faces of his companions. The
loss of the ship inevitably preceded their own deaths.

“Courage, friends,” said Penellan. “Reflect that this night’s disaster
has opened us a path across the ice, which will enable us to bring our
ship to the bay for wintering! And, stop! I am not mistaken. There is
the ‘Jeune-Hardie,’ a mile nearer to us!”

All hurried forward, and so imprudently, that Turquiette slipped into a
fissure, and would have certainly perished, had not Jean Cornbutte
seized him by his hood. He got off with a rather cold bath.

The brig was indeed floating two miles away. After infinite trouble,
the little band reached her. She was in good condition; but her rudder,
which they had neglected to lift, had been broken by the ice.


Penellan was once more right; all was for the best, and this ice-quake
had opened a practicable channel for the ship to the bay. The sailors
had only to make skilful use of the currents to conduct her thither.

On the 19th of September the brig was at last moored in her bay for
wintering, two cables’ lengths from the shore, securely anchored on a
good bottom. The ice began the next day to form around her hull; it
soon became strong enough to bear a man’s weight, and they could
establish a communication with land.

The rigging, as is customary in arctic navigation, remained as it was;
the sails were carefully furled on the yards and covered with their
casings, and the “crow’s-nest” remained in place, as much to enable
them to make distant observations as to attract attention to the ship.

The sun now scarcely rose above the horizon. Since the June solstice,
the spirals which it had described descended lower and lower; and it
would soon disappear altogether.

The crew hastened to make the necessary preparations. Penellan
supervised the whole. The ice was soon thick around the ship, and it
was to be feared that its pressure might become dangerous; but Penellan
waited until, by reason of the going and coming of the floating
ice-masses and their adherence, it had reached a thickness of twenty
feet; he then had it cut around the hull, so that it united under the
ship, the form of which it assumed; thus enclosed in a mould, the brig
had no longer to fear the pressure of the ice, which could make no

The sailors then elevated along the wales, to the height of the
nettings, a snow wall five or six feet thick, which soon froze as hard
as a rock. This envelope did not allow the interior heat to escape
outside. A canvas tent, covered with skins and hermetically closed, was
stretched aver the whole length of the deck, and formed a sort of walk
for the sailors.

They also constructed on the ice a storehouse of snow, in which
articles which embarrassed the ship were stowed away. The partitions of
the cabins were taken down, so as to form a single vast apartment
forward, as well as aft. This single room, besides, was more easy to
warm, as the ice and damp found fewer corners in which to take refuge.
It was also less difficult to ventilate it, by means of canvas funnels
which opened without.

Each sailor exerted great energy in these preparations, and about the
25th of September they were completed. André Vasling had not shown
himself the least active in this task. He devoted himself with especial
zeal to the young girl’s comfort, and if she, absorbed in thoughts of
her poor Louis, did not perceive this, Jean Cornbutte did not fail soon
to remark it. He spoke of it to Penellan; he recalled several incidents
which completely enlightened him regarding his mate’s intentions; André
Vasling loved Marie, and reckoned on asking her uncle for her hand, as
soon as it was proved beyond doubt that the castaways were irrevocably
lost; they would return then to Dunkirk, and André Vasling would be
well satisfied to wed a rich and pretty girl, who would then be the
sole heiress of Jean Cornbutte.

But André, in his impatience, was often imprudent. He had several times
declared that the search for the castaways was useless, when some new
trace contradicted him, and enabled Penellan to exult over him. The
mate, therefore, cordially detested the helmsman, who returned his
dislike heartily. Penellan only feared that André might sow seeds of
dissension among the crew, and persuaded Jean Cornbutte to answer him
evasively on the first occasion.

When the preparations for the winter were completed, the captain took
measures to preserve the health of the crew. Every morning the men were
ordered to air their berths, and carefully clean the interior walls, to
get rid of the night’s dampness. They received boiling tea or coffee,
which are excellent cordials to use against the cold, morning and
evening; then they were divided into hunting-parties, who should
procure as much fresh nourishment as possible for every day.

Each one also took healthy exercise every day, so as not to expose
himself without motion to the cold; for in a temperature thirty degrees
below zero, some part of the body might suddenly become frozen. In such
cases friction of the snow was used, which alone could heal the
affected part.

Penellan also strongly advised cold ablutions every morning. It
required some courage to plunge the hands and face in the snow, which
had to be melted within. But Penellan bravely set the example, and
Marie was not the last to imitate him.

Jean Cornbutte did not forget to have readings and prayers, for it was
needful that the hearts of his comrades should not give way to despair
or weariness. Nothing is more dangerous in these desolate latitudes.

The sky, always gloomy, filled the soul with sadness. A thick snow,
lashed by violent winds, added to the horrors of their situation. The
sun would soon altogether disappear. Had the clouds not gathered in
masses above their heads, they might have enjoyed the moonlight, which
was about to become really their sun during the long polar night; but,
with the west winds, the snow did not cease to fall. Every morning it
was necessary to clear off the sides of the ship, and to cut a new
stairway in the ice to enable them to reach the ice-field. They easily
succeeded in doing this with snow-knives; the steps once cut, a little
water was thrown over them, and they at once hardened.

Penellan had a hole cut in the ice, not far from the ship. Every day
the new crust which formed over its top was broken, and the water which
was drawn thence, from a certain depth, was less cold than that at the

All these preparations occupied about three weeks. It was then time to
go forward with the search. The ship was imprisoned for six or seven
months, and only the next thaw could open a new route across the ice.
It was wise, then, to profit by this delay, and extend their
explorations northward.


On the 9th of October, Jean Cornbutte held a council to settle the plan
of his operations, to which, that there might be union, zeal, and
courage on the part of every one, he admitted the whole crew. Map in
hand, he clearly explained their situation.

[Illustration: Map in hand, he clearly explained their situation.]

The eastern coast of Greenland advances perpendicularly northward. The
discoveries of the navigators have given the exact boundaries of those
parts. In the extent of five hundred leagues, which separates Greenland
from Spitzbergen, no land has been found. An island (Shannon Island)
lay a hundred miles north of Gaël-Hamkes Bay, where the “Jeune-Hardie”
was wintering.

If the Norwegian schooner, as was most probable, had been driven in
this direction, supposing that she could not reach Shannon Island, it
was here that Louis Cornbutte and his comrades must have sought for a
winter asylum.

This opinion prevailed, despite André Vasling’s opposition; and it was
decided to direct the explorations on the side towards Shannon Island.

Arrangements for this were at once begun. A sledge like that used by
the Esquimaux had been procured on the Norwegian coast. This was
constructed of planks curved before and behind, and was made to slide
over the snow and ice. It was twelve feet long and four wide, and could
therefore carry provisions, if need were, for several weeks. Fidèle
Misonne soon put it in order, working upon it in the snow storehouse,
whither his tools had been carried. For the first time a coal-stove was
set up in this storehouse, without which all labour there would have
been impossible. The pipe was carried out through one of the lateral
walls, by a hole pierced in the snow; but a grave inconvenience
resulted from this,—for the heat of the stove, little by little, melted
the snow where it came in contact with it; and the opening visibly
increased. Jean Cornbutte contrived to surround this part of the pipe
with some metallic canvas, which is impermeable by heat. This succeeded

While Misonne was at work upon the sledge, Penellan, aided by Marie,
was preparing the clothing necessary for the expedition. Seal-skin
boots they had, fortunately, in plenty. Jean Cornbutte and André
Vasling occupied themselves with the provisions. They chose a small
barrel of spirits-of-wine for heating a portable chafing-dish; reserves
of coffee and tea in ample quantity were packed; a small box of
biscuits, two hundred pounds of pemmican, and some gourds of brandy
completed the stock of viands. The guns would bring down some fresh
game every day. A quantity of powder was divided between several bags;
the compass, sextant, and spy-glass were put carefully out of the way
of injury.

On the 11th of October the sun no longer appeared above the horizon.
They were obliged to keep a lighted lamp in the lodgings of the crew
all the time. There was no time to lose; the explorations must be
begun. For this reason: in the month of January it would become so cold
that it would be impossible to venture out without peril of life. For
two months at least the crew would be condemned to the most complete
imprisonment; then the thaw would begin, and continue till the time
when the ship should quit the ice. This thaw would, of course, prevent
any explorations. On the other hand, if Louis Cornbutte and his
comrades were still in existence, it was not probable that they would
be able to resist the severities of the arctic winter. They must
therefore be saved beforehand, or all hope would be lost. André Vasling
knew all this better than any one. He therefore resolved to put every
possible obstacle in the way of the expedition.

The preparations for the journey were completed about the 20th of
October. It remained to select the men who should compose the party.
The young girl could not be deprived of the protection of Jean
Cornbutte or of Penellan; neither of these could, on the other hand, be
spared from the expedition.

The question, then, was whether Marie could bear the fatigues of such a
journey. She had already passed through rough experiences without
seeming to suffer from them, for she was a sailor’s daughter, used from
infancy to the fatigues of the sea, and even Penellan was not dismayed
to see her struggling in the midst of this severe climate, against the
dangers of the polar seas.

It was decided, therefore, after a long discussion, that she should go
with them, and that a place should be reserved for her, at need, on the
sledge, on which a little wooden hut was constructed, closed in
hermetically. As for Marie, she was delighted, for she dreaded to be
left alone without her two protectors.

The expedition was thus formed: Marie, Jean Cornbutte, Penellan, André
Vasling, Aupic, and Fidèle Misonne were to go. Alaine Turquiette
remained in charge of the brig, and Gervique and Gradlin stayed behind
with him. New provisions of all kinds were carried; for Jean Cornbutte,
in order to carry the exploration as far as possible, had resolved to
establish depôts along the route, at each seven or eight days’ march.
When the sledge was ready it was at once fitted up, and covered with a
skin tent. The whole weighed some seven hundred pounds, which a pack of
five dogs might easily carry over the ice.

On the 22nd of October, as the captain had foretold, a sudden change
took place in the temperature. The sky cleared, the stars emitted an
extraordinary light, and the moon shone above the horizon, no longer to
leave the heavens for a fortnight. The thermometer descended to
twenty-five degrees below zero.

The departure was fixed for the following day.


On the 23rd of October, at eleven in the morning, in a fine moonlight,
the caravan set out. Precautions were this time taken that the journey
might be a long one, if necessary. Jean Cornbutte followed the coast,
and ascended northward. The steps of the travellers made no impression
on the hard ice. Jean was forced to guide himself by points which he
selected at a distance; sometimes he fixed upon a hill bristling with
peaks; sometimes on a vast iceberg which pressure had raised above the

[Illustration: The caravan set out]

At the first halt, after going fifteen miles, Penellan prepared to
encamp. The tent was erected against an ice-block. Marie had not
suffered seriously with the extreme cold, for luckily the breeze had
subsided, and was much more bearable; but the young girl had several
times been obliged to descend from her sledge to avert numbness from
impeding the circulation of her blood. Otherwise, her little hut, hung
with skins, afforded her all the comfort possible under the

When night, or rather sleeping-time, came, the little hut was carried
under the tent, where it served as a bed-room for Marie. The evening
repast was composed of fresh meat, pemmican, and hot tea. Jean
Cornbutte, to avert danger of the scurvy, distributed to each of the
party a few drops of lemon-juice. Then all slept under God’s

After eight hours of repose, they got ready to resume their march. A
substantial breakfast was provided to the men and the dogs; then they
set out. The ice, exceedingly compact, enabled these animals to draw
the sledge easily. The party sometimes found it difficult to keep up
with them.

But the sailors soon began to suffer one discomfort—that of being
dazzled. Ophthalmia betrayed itself in Aupic and Misonne. The moon’s
light, striking on these vast white plains, burnt the eyesight, and
gave the eyes insupportable pain.

There was thus produced a very singular effect of refraction. As they
walked, when they thought they were about to put foot on a hillock,
they stepped down lower, which often occasioned falls, happily so
little serious that Penellan made them occasions for bantering. Still,
he told them never to take a step without sounding the ground with the
ferruled staff with which each was equipped.

About the 1st of November, ten days after they had set out, the caravan
had gone fifty leagues to the northward. Weariness pressed heavily on
all. Jean Cornbutte was painfully dazzled, and his sight sensibly
changed. Aupic and Misonne had to feel their way: for their eyes,
rimmed with red, seemed burnt by the white reflection. Marie had been
preserved from this misfortune by remaining within her hut, to which
she confined herself as much as possible. Penellan, sustained by an
indomitable courage, resisted all fatigue. But it was André Vasling who
bore himself best, and upon whom the cold and dazzling seemed to
produce no effect. His iron frame was equal to every hardship; and he
was secretly pleased to see the most robust of his companions becoming
discouraged, and already foresaw the moment when they would be forced
to retreat to the ship again.

On the 1st of November it became absolutely necessary to halt for a day
or two. As soon as the place for the encampment had been selected, they
proceeded to arrange it. It was determined to erect a house of snow,
which should be supported against one of the rocks of the promontory.
Misonne at once marked out the foundations, which measured fifteen feet
long by five wide. Penellan, Aupic, and Misonne, by aid of their
knives, cut out great blocks of ice, which they carried to the chosen
spot and set up, as masons would have built stone walls. The sides of
the foundation were soon raised to a height and thickness of about five
feet; for the materials were abundant, and the structure was intended
to be sufficiently solid to last several days. The four walls were
completed in eight hours; an opening had been left on the southern
side, and the canvas of the tent, placed on these four walls, fell over
the opening and sheltered it. It only remained to cover the whole with
large blocks, to form the roof of this temporary structure.

After three more hours of hard work, the house was done; and they all
went into it, overcome with weariness and discouragement. Jean
Cornbutte suffered so much that he could not walk, and André Vasling so
skilfully aggravated his gloomy feelings, that he forced from him a
promise not to pursue his search farther in those frightful solitudes.
Penellan did not know which saint to invoke. He thought it unworthy and
craven to give up his companions for reasons which had little weight,
and tried to upset them; but in vain.

Meanwhile, though it had been decided to return, rest had become so
necessary that for three days no preparations for departure were made.

On the 4th of November, Jean Cornbutte began to bury on a point of the
coast the provisions for which there was no use. A stake indicated the
place of the deposit, in the improbable event that new explorations
should be made in that direction. Every day since they had set out
similar deposits had been made, so that they were assured of ample
sustenance on the return, without the trouble of carrying them on the

The departure was fixed for ten in the morning, on the 5th. The most
profound sadness filled the little band. Marie with difficulty
restrained her tears, when she saw her uncle so completely discouraged.
So many useless sufferings! so much labour lost! Penellan himself
became ferocious in his ill-humour; he consigned everybody to the
nether regions, and did not cease to wax angry at the weakness and
cowardice of his comrades, who were more timid and tired, he said, than
Marie, who would have gone to the end of the world without complaint.

André Vasling could not disguise the pleasure which this decision gave
him. He showed himself more attentive than ever to the young girl, to
whom he even held out hopes that a new search should be made when the
winter was over; knowing well that it would then be too late!


The evening before the departure, just as they were about to take
supper, Penellan was breaking up some empty casks for firewood, when he
was suddenly suffocated by a thick smoke. At the same instant the
snow-house was shaken as if by an earthquake. The party uttered a cry
of terror, and Penellan hurried outside.

It was entirely dark. A frightful tempest—for it was not a thaw—was
raging, whirlwinds of snow careered around, and it was so exceedingly
cold that the helmsman felt his hands rapidly freezing. He was obliged
to go in again, after rubbing himself violently with snow.

“It is a tempest,” said he. “May heaven grant that our house may
withstand it, for, if the storm should destroy it, we should be lost!”

At the same time with the gusts of wind a noise was heard beneath the
frozen soil; icebergs, broken from the promontory, dashed away noisily,
and fell upon one another; the wind blew with such violence that it
seemed sometimes as if the whole house moved from its foundation;
phosphorescent lights, inexplicable in that latitude, flashed across
the whirlwinds of the snow.

“Marie! Marie!” cried Penellan, seizing the young girl’s hands.

“We are in a bad case!” said Misonne.

“And I know not whether we shall escape,” replied Aupic.

“Let us quit this snow-house!” said André Vasling.

“Impossible!” returned Penellan. “The cold outside is terrible; perhaps
we can bear it by staying here.”

“Give me the thermometer,” demanded Vasling.

Aupic handed it to him. It showed ten degrees below zero inside the
house, though the fire was lighted. Vasling raised the canvas which
covered the opening, and pushed it aside hastily; for he would have
been lacerated by the fall of ice which the wind hurled around, and
which fell in a perfect hail-storm.

“Well, Vasling,” said Penellan, “will you go out, then? You see that we
are more safe here.”

“Yes,” said Jean Cornbutte; “and we must use every effort to strengthen
the house in the interior.”

“But a still more terrible danger menaces us,” said Vasling.

“What?” asked Jean.

“The wind is breaking the ice against which we are propped, just as it
has that of the promontory, and we shall be either driven out or

“That seems doubtful,” said Penellan, “for it is freezing hard enough
to ice over all liquid surfaces. Let us see what the temperature is.”

He raised the canvas so as to pass out his arm, and with difficulty
found the thermometer again, in the midst of the snow; but he at last
succeeded in seizing it, and, holding the lamp to it, said,—

“Thirty-two degrees below zero! It is the coldest we have seen here

[Illustration: “Thirty-two degrees below zero!”]

“Ten degrees more,” said Vasling, “and the mercury will freeze!”

A mournful silence followed this remark.

About eight in the morning Penellan essayed a second time to go out to
judge of their situation. It was necessary to give an escape to the
smoke, which the wind had several times repelled into the hut. The
sailor wrapped his cloak tightly about him, made sure of his hood by
fastening it to his head with a handkerchief, and raised the canvas.

The opening was entirely obstructed by a resisting snow. Penellan took
his staff, and succeeded in plunging it into the compact mass; but
terror froze his blood when he perceived that the end of the staff was
not free, and was checked by a hard body!

“Cornbutte,” said he to the captain, who had come up to him, “we are
buried under this snow!”

“What say you?” cried Jean Cornbutte.

“I say that the snow is massed and frozen around us and over us, and
that we are buried alive!”

“Let us try to clear this mass of snow away,” replied the captain.

The two friends buttressed themselves against the obstacle which
obstructed the opening, but they could not move it. The snow formed an
iceberg more than five feet thick, and had become literally a part of
the house. Jean could not suppress a cry, which awoke Misonne and
Vasling. An oath burst from the latter, whose features contracted. At
this moment the smoke, thicker than ever, poured into the house, for it
could not find an issue.

“Malediction!” cried Misonne. “The pipe of the stove is sealed up by
the ice!”

Penellan resumed his staff, and took down the pipe, after throwing snow
on the embers to extinguish them, which produced such a smoke that the
light of the lamp could scarcely be seen; then he tried with his staff
to clear out the orifice, but he only encountered a rock of ice! A
frightful end, preceded by a terrible agony, seemed to be their doom!
The smoke, penetrating the throats of the unfortunate party, caused an
insufferable pain, and air would soon fail them altogether!

Marie here rose, and her presence, which inspired Cornbutte with
despair, imparted some courage to Penellan. He said to himself that it
could not be that the poor girl was destined to so horrible a death.

“Ah!” said she, “you have made too much fire. The room is full of

“Yes, yes,” stammered Penellan.

“It is evident,” resumed Marie, “for it is not cold, and it is long
since we have felt too much heat.”

No one dared to tell her the truth.

“See, Marie,” said Penellan bluntly, “help us get breakfast ready. It
is too cold to go out. Here is the chafing-dish, the spirit, and the
coffee. Come, you others, a little pemmican first, as this wretched
storm forbids us from hunting.”

These words stirred up his comrades.

“Let us first eat,” added Penellan, “and then we shall see about
getting off.”

Penellan set the example and devoured his share of the breakfast. His
comrades imitated him, and then drank a cup of boiling coffee, which
somewhat restored their spirits. Then Jean Cornbutte decided
energetically that they should at once set about devising means of

André Vasling now said,—

“If the storm is still raging, which is probable, we must be buried ten
feet under the ice, for we can hear no noise outside.”

Penellan looked at Marie, who now understood the truth, and did not
tremble. The helmsman first heated, by the flame of the spirit, the
iron point of his staff, and successfully introduced it into the four
walls of ice, but he could find no issue in either. Cornbutte then
resolved to cut out an opening in the door itself. The ice was so hard
that it was difficult for the knives to make the least impression on
it. The pieces which were cut off soon encumbered the hut. After
working hard for two hours, they had only hollowed out a space three
feet deep.

Some more rapid method, and one which was less likely to demolish the
house, must be thought of; for the farther they advanced the more
violent became the effort to break off the compact ice. It occurred to
Penellan to make use of the chafing-dish to melt the ice in the
direction they wanted. It was a hazardous method, for, if their
imprisonment lasted long, the spirit, of which they had but little,
would be wanting when needed to prepare the meals. Nevertheless, the
idea was welcomed on all hands, and was put in execution. They first
cut a hole three feet deep by one in diameter, to receive the water
which would result from the melting of the ice; and it was well that
they took this precaution, for the water soon dripped under the action
of the flames, which Penellan moved about under the mass of ice. The
opening widened little by little, but this kind of work could not be
continued long, for the water, covering their clothes, penetrated to
their bodies here and there. Penellan was obliged to pause in a quarter
of an hour, and to withdraw the chafing-dish in order to dry himself.
Misonne then took his place, and worked sturdily at the task.

In two hours, though the opening was five feet deep, the points of the
staffs could not yet find an issue without.

“It is not possible,” said Jean Cornbutte, “that snow could have fallen
in such abundance. It must have been gathered on this point by the
wind. Perhaps we had better think of escaping in some other direction.”

“I don’t know,” replied Penellan; “but if it were only for the sake of
not discouraging our comrades, we ought to continue to pierce the wall
where we have begun. We must find an issue ere long.”

“Will not the spirit fail us?” asked the captain.

“I hope not. But let us, if necessary, dispense with coffee and hot
drinks. Besides, that is not what most alarms me.”

“What is it, then, Penellan?”

“Our lamp is going out, for want of oil, and we are fast exhausting our
provisions.—At last, thank God!”

Penellan went to replace André Vasling, who was vigorously working for
the common deliverance.

“Monsieur Vasling,” said he, “I am going to take your place; but look
out well, I beg of you, for every tendency of the house to fall, so
that we may have time to prevent it.”

The time for rest had come, and when Penellan had added one more foot
to the opening, he lay down beside his comrades.


The next day, when the sailors awoke, they were surrounded by complete
darkness. The lamp had gone out. Jean Cornbutte roused Penellan to ask
him for the tinder-box, which was passed to him. Penellan rose to light
the fire, but in getting up, his head struck against the ice ceiling.
He was horrified, for on the evening before he could still stand
upright. The chafing-dish being lighted up by the dim rays of the
spirit, he perceived that the ceiling was a foot lower than before.

Penellan resumed work with desperation.

At this moment the young girl observed, by the light which the
chafing-dish cast upon Penellan’s face, that despair and determination
were struggling in his rough features for the mastery. She went to him,
took his hands, and tenderly pressed them.

[Illustration: despair and determination were struggling in his rough
features for the mastery.]

“She cannot, must not die thus!” he cried.

He took his chafing-dish, and once more attacked the narrow opening. He
plunged in his staff, and felt no resistance. Had he reached the soft
layers of the snow? He drew out his staff, and a bright ray penetrated
to the house of ice!

“Here, my friends!” he shouted.

He pushed back the snow with his hands and feet, but the exterior
surface was not thawed, as he had thought. With the ray of light, a
violent cold entered the cabin and seized upon everything moist, to
freeze it in an instant. Penellan enlarged the opening with his
cutlass, and at last was able to breathe the free air. He fell on his
knees to thank God, and was soon joined by Marie and his comrades.

A magnificent moon lit up the sky, but the cold was so extreme that
they could not bear it. They re-entered their retreat; but Penellan
first looked about him. The promontory was no longer there, and the hut
was now in the midst of a vast plain of ice. Penellan thought he would
go to the sledge, where the provisions were. The sledge had

The cold forced him to return. He said nothing to his companions. It
was necessary, before all, to dry their clothing, which was done with
the chafing-dish. The thermometer, held for an instant in the air,
descended to thirty degrees below zero.

An hour after, Vasling and Penellan resolved to venture outside. They
wrapped themselves up in their still wet garments, and went out by the
opening, the sides of which had become as hard as a rock.

“We have been driven towards the north-east,” said Vasling, reckoning
by the stars, which shone with wonderful brilliancy.

“That would not be bad,” said Penellan, “if our sledge had come with

“Is not the sledge there?” cried Vasling. “Then we are lost!”

“Let us look for it,” replied Penellan.

They went around the hut, which formed a block more than fifteen feet
high. An immense quantity of snow had fallen during the whole of the
storm, and the wind had massed it against the only elevation which the
plain presented. The entire block had been driven by the wind, in the
midst of the broken icebergs, more than twenty-five miles to the
north-east, and the prisoners had suffered the same fate as their
floating prison. The sledge, supported by another iceberg, had been
turned another way, for no trace of it was to be seen, and the dogs
must have perished amid the frightful tempest.

André Vasling and Penellan felt despair taking possession of them. They
did not dare to return to their companions. They did not dare to
announce this fatal news to their comrades in misfortune. They climbed
upon the block of ice in which the hut was hollowed, and could perceive
nothing but the white immensity which encompassed them on all sides.
Already the cold was beginning to stiffen their limbs, and the damp of
their garments was being transformed into icicles which hung about

Just as Penellan was about to descend, he looked towards André. He saw
him suddenly gaze in one direction, then shudder and turn pale.

“What is the matter, Vasling?” he asked.

“Nothing,” replied the other. “Let us go down and urge the captain to
leave these parts, where we ought never to have come, at once!”

Instead of obeying, Penellan ascended again, and looked in the
direction which had drawn the mate’s attention. A very different effect
was produced on him, for he uttered a shout of joy, and cried,—

“Blessed be God!”

A light smoke was rising in the north-east. There was no possibility of
deception. It indicated the presence of human beings. Penellan’s cries
of joy reached the rest below, and all were able to convince themselves
with their eyes that he was not mistaken.

Without thinking of their want of provisions or the severity of the
temperature, wrapped in their hoods, they were all soon advancing
towards the spot whence the smoke arose in the north-east. This was
evidently five or six miles off, and it was very difficult to take
exactly the right direction. The smoke now disappeared, and no
elevation served as a guiding mark, for the ice-plain was one united
level. It was important, nevertheless, not to diverge from a straight

“Since we cannot guide ourselves by distant objects,” said Jean
Cornbutte, “we must use this method. Penellan will go ahead, Vasling
twenty steps behind him, and I twenty steps behind Vasling. I can then
judge whether or not Penellan diverges from the straight line.”

They had gone on thus for half an hour, when Penellan suddenly stopped
and listened. The party hurried up to him.

“Did you hear nothing?” he asked.

“Nothing!” replied Misonne.

“It is strange,” said Penellan. “It seemed to me I heard cries from
this direction.”

“Cries?” replied Marie. “Perhaps we are near our destination, then.”

“That is no reason,” said André Vasling. “In these high latitudes and
cold regions sounds may be heard to a great distance.”

“However that may be,” replied Jean Cornbutte, “let us go forward, or
we shall be frozen.”

“No!” cried Penellan. “Listen!”

Some feeble sounds—quite perceptible, however—were heard. They seemed
to be cries of distress. They were twice repeated. They seemed like
cries for help. Then all became silent again.

“I was not mistaken,” said Penellan. “Forward!”

He began to run in the direction whence the cries had proceeded. He
went thus two miles, when, to his utter stupefaction, he saw a man
lying on the ice. He went up to him, raised him, and lifted his arms to
heaven in despair.

André Vasling, who was following close behind with the rest of the
sailors, ran up and cried,—

“It is one of the castaways! It is our sailor Courtois!”

“He is dead!” replied Penellan. “Frozen to death!”

Jean Cornbutte and Marie came up beside the corpse, which was already
stiffened by the ice. Despair was written on every face. The dead man
was one of the comrades of Louis Cornbutte!

“Forward!” cried Penellan.

They went on for half an hour in perfect silence, and perceived an
elevation which seemed without doubt to be land.

“It is Shannon Island,” said Jean Cornbutte.

A mile farther on they distinctly perceived smoke escaping from a
snow-hut, closed by a wooden door. They shouted. Two men rushed out of
the hut, and Penellan recognized one of them as Pierre Nouquet.

“Pierre!” he cried.

Pierre stood still as if stunned, and unconscious of what was going on
around him. André Vasling looked at Pierre Nouquet’s companion with
anxiety mingled with a cruel joy, for he did not recognize Louis
Cornbutte in him.

“Pierre! it is I!” cried Penellan. “These are all your friends!”

Pierre Nouquet recovered his senses, and fell into his old comrade’s

“And my son—and Louis!” cried Jean Cornbutte, in an accent of the most
profound despair.


At this moment a man, almost dead, dragged himself out of the hut and
along the ice.

It was Louis Cornbutte.

[Illustration: It was Louis Cornbutte.]

“My son!”

“My beloved!”

These two cries were uttered at the same time, and Louis Cornbutte fell
fainting into the arms of his father and Marie, who drew him towards
the hut, where their tender care soon revived him.

“My father! Marie!” cried Louis; “I shall not die without having seen

“You will not die!” replied Penellan, “for all your friends are near

André Vasling must have hated Louis Cornbutte bitterly not to extend
his hand to him, but he did not.

Pierre Nouquet was wild with joy. He embraced every body; then he threw
some wood into the stove, and soon a comfortable temperature was felt
in the cabin.

There were two men there whom neither Jean Cornbutte nor Penellan

They were Jocki and Herming, the only two sailors of the crew of the
Norwegian schooner who were left.

“My friends, we are saved!” said Louis. “My father! Marie! You have
exposed yourselves to so many perils!”

“We do not regret it, my Louis,” replied the father. “Your brig, the
‘Jeune-Hardie,’ is securely anchored in the ice sixty leagues from
here. We will rejoin her all together.”

“When Courtois comes back he’ll be mightily pleased,” said Pierre

A mournful silence followed this, and Penellan apprised Pierre and
Louis of their comrade’s death by cold.

“My friends,” said Penellan, “we will wait here until the cold
decreases. Have you provisions and wood?”

“Yes; and we will burn what is left of the ‘Froöern.’”

The “Froöern” had indeed been driven to a place forty miles from where
Louis Cornbutte had taken up his winter quarters. There she was broken
up by the icebergs floated by the thaw, and the castaways were carried,
with a part of the _débris_ of their cabin, on the southern shores of
Shannon Island.

They were then five in number—Louis Cornbutte, Courtois, Pierre
Nouquet, Jocki, and Herming. As for the rest of the Norwegian crew,
they had been submerged with the long-boat at the moment of the wreck.

When Louis Cornbutte, shut in among the ice, realized what must happen,
he took every precaution for passing the winter. He was an energetic
man, very active and courageous; but, despite his firmness, he had been
subdued by this horrible climate, and when his father found him he had
given up all hope of life. He had not only had to contend with the
elements, but with the ugly temper of the two Norwegian sailors, who
owed him their existence. They were like savages, almost inaccessible
to the most natural emotions. When Louis had the opportunity to talk to
Penellan, he advised him to watch them carefully. In return, Penellan
told him of André Vasling’s conduct. Louis could not believe it, but
Penellan convinced him that after his disappearance Vasling had always
acted so as to secure Marie’s hand.

The whole day was employed in rest and the pleasures of reunion.
Misonne and Pierre Nouquet killed some sea-birds near the hut, whence
it was not prudent to stray far. These fresh provisions and the
replenished fire raised the spirits of the weakest. Louis Cornbutte got
visibly better. It was the first moment of happiness these brave people
had experienced. They celebrated it with enthusiasm in this wretched
hut, six hundred leagues from the North Sea, in a temperature of thirty
degrees below zero!

This temperature lasted till the end of the moon, and it was not until
about the 17th of November, a week after their meeting, that Jean
Cornbutte and his party could think of setting out. They only had the
light of the stars to guide them; but the cold was less extreme, and
even some snow fell.

Before quitting this place a grave was dug for poor Courtois. It was a
sad ceremony, which deeply affected his comrades. He was the first of
them who would not again see his native land.

Misonne had constructed, with the planks of the cabin, a sort of sledge
for carrying the provisions, and the sailors drew it by turns. Jean
Cornbutte led the expedition by the ways already traversed. Camps were
established with great promptness when the times for repose came. Jean
Cornbutte hoped to find his deposits of provisions again, as they had
become well-nigh indispensable by the addition of four persons to the
party. He was therefore very careful not to diverge from the route by
which he had come.

By good fortune he recovered his sledge, which had stranded near the
promontory where they had all run so many dangers. The dogs, after
eating their straps to satisfy their hunger, had attacked the
provisions in the sledge. These had sustained them, and they served to
guide the party to the sledge, where there was a considerable quantity
of provisions left. The little band resumed its march towards the bay.
The dogs were harnessed to the sleigh, and no event of interest
attended the return.

It was observed that Aupic, André Vasling, and the Norwegians kept
aloof, and did not mingle with the others; but, unbeknown to
themselves, they were narrowly watched. This germ of dissension more
than once aroused the fears of Louis Cornbutte and Penellan.

About the 7th of December, twenty days after the discovery of the
castaways, they perceived the bay where the “Jeune-Hardie” was lying.
What was their astonishment to see the brig perched four yards in the
air on blocks of ice! They hurried forward, much alarmed for their
companions, and were received with joyous cries by Gervique,
Turquiette, and Gradlin. All of them were in good health, though they
too had been subjected to formidable dangers.

The tempest had made itself felt throughout the polar sea. The ice had
been broken and displaced, crushed one piece against another, and had
seized the bed on which the ship rested. Though its specific weight
tended to carry it under water, the ice had acquired an incalculable
force, and the brig had been suddenly raised up out of the sea.

The first moments were given up to the happiness inspired by the safe
return. The exploring party were rejoiced to find everything in good
condition, which assured them a supportable though it might be a rough
winter. The ship had not been shaken by her sudden elevation, and was
perfectly tight. When the season of thawing came, they would only have
to slide her down an inclined plane, to launch her, in a word, in the
once more open sea.

But a bad piece of news spread gloom on the faces of Jean Cornbutte and
his comrades. During the terrible gale the snow storehouse on the coast
had been quite demolished; the provisions which it contained were
scattered, and it had not been possible to save a morsel of them. When
Jean and Louis Cornbutte learnt this, they visited the hold and
steward’s room, to ascertain the quantity of provisions which still

The thaw would not come until May, and the brig could not leave the bay
before that period. They had therefore five winter months before them
to pass amid the ice, during which fourteen persons were to be fed.
Having made his calculations, Jean Cornbutte found that he would at
most be able to keep them alive till the time for departure, by putting
each and all on half rations. Hunting for game became compulsory to
procure food in larger quantity.

For fear that they might again run short of provisions, it was decided
to deposit them no longer in the ground. All of them were kept on
board, and beds were disposed for the new comers in the common lodging.
Turquiette, Gervique, and Gradlin, during the absence of the others,
had hollowed out a flight of steps in the ice, which enabled them
easily to reach the ship’s deck.


André Vasling had been cultivating the good-will of the two Norwegian
sailors. Aupic also made one of their band, and held himself apart,
with loud disapproval of all the new measures taken; but Louis
Cornbutte, to whom his father had transferred the command of the ship,
and who had become once more master on board, would listen to no
objections from that quarter, and in spite of Marie’s advice to act
gently, made it known that he intended to be obeyed on all points.

Nevertheless, the two Norwegians succeeded, two days after, in getting
possession of a box of salt meat. Louis ordered them to return it to
him on the spot, but Aupic took their part, and André Vasling declared
that the precautions about the food could not be any longer enforced.

It was useless to attempt to show these men that these measures were
for the common interest, for they knew it well, and only sought a
pretext to revolt.

Penellan advanced towards the Norwegians, who drew their cutlasses;
but, aided by Misonne and Turquiette, he succeeded in snatching the
weapons from their hands, and gained possession of the salt meat. André
Vasling and Aupic, seeing that matters were going against them, did not
interfere. Louis Cornbutte, however, took the mate aside, and said to

[Illustration: Penellan advanced towards the Norwegians.]

“André Vasling, you are a wretch! I know your whole conduct, and I know
what you are aiming at, but as the safety of the whole crew is confided
to me, if any man of you thinks of conspiring to destroy them, I will
stab him with my own hand!”

“Louis Cornbutte,” replied the mate, “it is allowable for you to act
the master; but remember that absolute obedience does not exist here,
and that here the strongest alone makes the law.”

Marie had never trembled before the dangers of the polar seas; but she
was terrified by this hatred, of which she was the cause, and the
captain’s vigour hardly reassured her.

Despite this declaration of war, the meals were partaken of in common
and at the same hours. Hunting furnished some ptarmigans and white
hares; but this resource would soon fail them, with the approach of the
terrible cold weather. This began at the solstice, on the 22nd of
December, on which day the thermometer fell to thirty-five degrees
below zero. The men experienced pain in their ears, noses, and the
extremities of their bodies. They were seized with a mortal torpor
combined with headache, and their breathing became more and more

In this state they had no longer any courage to go hunting or to take
any exercise. They remained crouched around the stove, which gave them
but a meagre heat; and when they went away from it, they perceived that
their blood suddenly cooled.

Jean Cornbutte’s health was seriously impaired, and he could no longer
quit his lodging. Symptoms of scurvy manifested themselves in him, and
his legs were soon covered with white spots. Marie was well, however,
and occupied herself tending the sick ones with the zeal of a sister of
charity. The honest fellows blessed her from the bottom of their

The 1st of January was one of the gloomiest of these winter days. The
wind was violent, and the cold insupportable. They could not go out,
except at the risk of being frozen. The most courageous were fain to
limit themselves to walking on deck, sheltered by the tent. Jean
Cornbutte, Gervique, and Gradlin did not leave their beds. The two
Norwegians, Aupic, and André Vasling, whose health was good, cast
ferocious looks at their companions, whom they saw wasting away.

Louis Cornbutte led Penellan on deck, and asked him how much firing was

“The coal was exhausted long ago,” replied Penellan, “and we are about
to burn our last pieces of wood.”

“If we are not able to keep off this cold, we are lost,” said Louis.

“There still remains a way—” said Penellan, “to burn what we can of the
brig, from the barricading to the water-line; and we can even, if need
be, demolish her entirely, and rebuild a smaller craft.”

“That is an extreme means,” replied Louis, “which it will be full time
to employ when our men are well. For,” he added in a low voice, “our
force is diminishing, and that of our enemies seems to be increasing.
That is extraordinary.”

“It is true,” said Penellan; “and unless we took the precaution to
watch night and day, I know not what would happen to us.”

“Let us take our hatchets,” returned Louis, “and make our harvest of

Despite the cold, they mounted on the forward barricading, and cut off
all the wood which was not indispensably necessary to the ship; then
they returned with this new provision. The fire was started afresh, and
a man remained on guard to prevent it from going out.

Meanwhile Louis Cornbutte and his friends were soon tired out. They
could not confide any detail of the life in common to their enemies.
Charged with all the domestic cares, their powers were soon exhausted.
The scurvy betrayed itself in Jean Cornbutte, who suffered intolerable
pain. Gervique and Gradlin showed symptoms of the same disease. Had it
not been for the lemon-juice with which they were abundantly furnished,
they would have speedily succumbed to their sufferings. This remedy was
not spared in relieving them.

But one day, the 15th of January, when Louis Cornbutte was going down
into the steward’s room to get some lemons, he was stupefied to find
that the barrels in which they were kept had disappeared. He hurried up
and told Penellan of this misfortune. A theft had been committed, and
it was easy to recognize its authors. Louis Cornbutte then understood
why the health of his enemies continued so good! His friends were no
longer strong enough to take the lemons away from them, though his life
and that of his comrades depended on the fruit; and he now sank, for
the first time, into a gloomy state of despair.


On the 20th of January most of the crew had not the strength to leave
their beds. Each, independently of his woollen coverings, had a
buffalo-skin to protect him against the cold; but as soon as he put his
arms outside the clothes, he felt a pain which obliged him quickly to
cover them again.

Meanwhile, Louis having lit the stove fire, Penellan, Misonne, and
André Vasling left their beds and crouched around it. Penellan prepared
some boiling coffee, which gave them some strength, as well as Marie,
who joined them in partaking of it.

Louis Cornbutte approached his father’s bedside; the old man was almost
motionless, and his limbs were helpless from disease. He muttered some
disconnected words, which carried grief to his son’s heart.

“Louis,” said he, “I am dying. O, how I suffer! Save me!”

Louis took a decisive resolution. He went up to the mate, and,
controlling himself with difficulty, said,—

“Do you know where the lemons are, Vasling?”

“In the steward’s room, I suppose,” returned the mate, without

“You know they are not there, as you have stolen them!”

“You are master, Louis Cornbutte, and may say and do anything.”

“For pity’s sake, André Vasling, my father is dying! You can save

“I have nothing to answer,” replied André Vasling.

“Wretch!” cried Penellan, throwing himself, cutlass in hand, on the

“Help, friends!” shouted Vasling, retreating.

Aupic and the two Norwegian sailors jumped from their beds and placed
themselves behind him. Turquiette, Penellan, and Louis prepared to
defend themselves. Pierre Nouquet and Gradlin, though suffering much,
rose to second them.

“You are still too strong for us,” said Vasling. “We do not wish to
fight on an uncertainty.”

The sailors were so weak that they dared not attack the four rebels,
for, had they failed, they would have been lost.

“André Vasling!” said Louis Cornbutte, in a gloomy tone, “if my father
dies, you will have murdered him; and I will kill you like a dog!”

Vasling and his confederates retired to the other end of the cabin, and
did not reply.

It was then necessary to renew the supply of wood, and, in spite of the
cold, Louis went on deck and began to cut away a part of the
barricading, but was obliged to retreat in a quarter of an hour, for he
was in danger of falling, overcome by the freezing air. As he passed,
he cast a glance at the thermometer left outside, and saw that the
mercury was frozen. The cold, then, exceeded forty-two degrees below
zero. The weather was dry, and the wind blew from the north.

On the 26th the wind changed to the north-east, and the thermometer
outside stood at thirty-five degrees. Jean Cornbutte was in agony, and
his son had searched in vain for some remedy with which to relieve his
pain. On this day, however, throwing himself suddenly on Vasling, he
managed to snatch a lemon from him which he was about to suck.

Vasling made no attempt to recover it. He seemed to be awaiting an
opportunity to accomplish his wicked designs.

The lemon-juice somewhat relieved old Cornbutte, but it was necessary
to continue the remedy. Marie begged Vasling on her knees to produce
the lemons, but he did not reply, and soon Penellan heard the wretch
say to his accomplices,—

[Illustration: Marie begged Vasling on her knees to produce the
lemons, but he did not reply.]

“The old fellow is dying. Gervique, Gradlin, and Nouquet are not much
better. The others are daily losing their strength. The time is near
when their lives will belong to us!”

It was then resolved by Louis Cornbutte and his adherents not to wait,
and to profit by the little strength which still remained to them. They
determined to act the next night, and to kill these wretches, so as not
to be killed by them.

The temperature rose a little. Louis Cornbutte ventured to go out with
his gun in search of some game.

He proceeded some three miles from the ship, and often, deceived by the
effects of the mirage and refraction, he went farther away than he
intended. It was imprudent, for recent tracts of ferocious animals were
to be seen. He did not wish, however, to return without some fresh
meat, and continued on his route; but he then experienced a strange
feeling, which turned his head. It was what is called “white vertigo.”

The reflection of the ice hillocks and fields affected him from head to
foot, and it seemed to him that the dazzling colour penetrated him and
caused an irresistible nausea. His eye was attacked. His sight became
uncertain. He thought he should go mad with the glare. Without fully
understanding this terrible effect, he advanced on his way, and soon
put up a ptarmigan, which he eagerly pursued. The bird soon fell, and
in order to reach it Louis leaped from an ice-block and fell heavily;
for the leap was at least ten feet, and the refraction made him think
it was only two. The vertigo then seized him, and, without knowing why,
he began to call for help, though he had not been injured by the fall.
The cold began to take him, and he rose with pain, urged by the sense
of self-preservation.

Suddenly, without being able to account for it, he smelt an odour of
boiling fat. As the ship was between him and the wind, he supposed that
this odour proceeded from her, and could not imagine why they should be
cooking fat, this being a dangerous thing to do, as it was likely to
attract the white bears.

Louis returned towards the ship, absorbed in reflections which soon
inspired his excited mind with terror. It seemed to him as if colossal
masses were moving on the horizon, and he asked himself if there was
not another ice-quake. Several of these masses interposed themselves
between him and the ship, and appeared to rise about its sides. He
stopped to gaze at them more attentively, when to his horror he
recognized a herd of gigantic bears.

These animals had been attracted by the odour of grease which had
surprised Lonis. He sheltered himself behind a hillock, and counted
three, which were scaling the blocks on which the “Jeune-Hardie” was

Nothing led him to suppose that this danger was known in the interior
of the ship, and a terrible anguish oppressed his heart. How resist
these redoubtable enemies? Would André Vasling and his confederates
unite with the rest on board in the common peril? Could Penellan and
the others, half starved, benumbed with cold, resist these formidable
animals, made wild by unassuaged hunger? Would they not be surprised by
an unlooked-for attack?

Louis made these reflections rapidly. The bears had crossed the blocks,
and were mounting to the assault of the ship. He might then quit the
block which protected him; he went nearer, clinging to the ice, and
could soon see the enormous animals tearing the tent with their paws,
and leaping on the deck. He thought of firing his gun to give his
comrades notice; but if these came up without arms, they would
inevitably be torn in pieces, and nothing showed as yet that they were
even aware of their new danger.


After Louis Cornbutte’s departure, Penellan had carefully shut the
cabin door, which opened at the foot of the deck steps. He returned to
the stove, which he took it upon himself to watch, whilst his
companions regained their berths in search of a little warmth.

It was then six in the evening, and Penellan set about preparing
supper. He went down into the steward’s room for some salt meat, which
he wished to soak in the boiling water. When he returned, he found
André Vasling in his place, cooking some pieces of grease in a basin.

“I was there before you,” said Penellan roughly; “why have you taken my

“For the same reason that you claim it,” returned Vasling: “because I
want to cook my supper.”

“You will take that off at once, or we shall see!”

“We shall see nothing,” said Vasling; “my supper shall be cooked in
spite of you.”

“You shall not eat it, then,” cried Penellan, rushing upon Vasling, who
seized his cutlass, crying,—

“Help, Norwegians! Help, Aupic!”

These, in the twinkling of an eye, sprang to their feet, armed with
pistols and daggers. The crisis had come.

Penellan precipitated himself upon Vasling, to whom, no doubt, was
confided the task to fight him alone; for his accomplices rushed to the
beds where lay Misonne, Turquiette, and Nouquet. The latter, ill and
defenceless, was delivered over to Herming’s ferocity. The carpenter
seized a hatchet, and, leaving his berth, hurried up to encounter
Aupic. Turquiette and Jocki, the Norwegian, struggled fiercely.
Gervique and Gradlin, suffering horribly, were not even conscious of
what was passing around them.

Nouquet soon received a stab in the side, and Herming turned to
Penellan, who was fighting desperately. André Vasling had seized him
round the body.

At the beginning of the affray the basin had been upset on the stove,
and the grease running over the burning coals, impregnated the
atmosphere with its odour. Marie rose with cries of despair, and
hurried to the bed of old Jean Cornbutte.

[Illustration: Marie rose with cries of despair, and hurried to the
bed of old Jean Cornbutte.]

Vasling, less strong than Penellan, soon perceived that the latter was
getting the better of him. They were too close together to make use of
their weapons. The mate, seeing Herming, cried out,—

“Help, Herming!”

“Help, Misonne!” shouted Penellan, in his turn.

But Misonne was rolling on the ground with Aupic, who was trying to
stab him with his cutlass. The carpenter’s hatchet was of little use to
him, for he could not wield it, and it was with the greatest difficulty
that he parried the lunges which Aupic made with his knife.

Meanwhile blood flowed amid the groans and cries. Turquiette, thrown
down by Jocki, a man of immense strength, had received a wound in the
shoulder, and he tried in vain to clutch a pistol which hung in the
Norwegian’s belt. The latter held him as in a vice, and it was
impossible for him to move.

At Vasling’s cry for help, who was being held by Penellan close against
the door, Herming rushed up. As he was about to stab the Breton’s back
with his cutlass, the latter felled him to the earth with a vigorous
kick. His effort to do this enabled Vasling to disengage his right arm;
but the door, against which they pressed with all their weight,
suddenly yielded, and Vasling fell over.

Of a sudden a terrible growl was heard, and a gigantic bear appeared on
the steps. Vasling saw him first. He was not four feet away from him.
At the same moment a shot was heard, and the bear, wounded or
frightened, retreated. Vasling, who had succeeded in regaining his
feet, set-out in pursuit of him, abandoning Penellan.

Penellan then replaced the door, and looked around him. Misonne and
Turquiette, tightly garrotted by their antagonists, had been thrown
into a corner, and made vain efforts to break loose. Penellan rushed to
their assistance, but was overturned by the two Norwegians and Aupic.
His exhausted strength did not permit him to resist these three men,
who so clung to him as to hold him motionless Then, at the cries of the
mate, they hurried on deck, thinking that Louis Cornbutte was to be

André Vasling was struggling with a bear, which he had already twice
stabbed with his knife. The animal, beating the air with his heavy
paws, was trying to clutch Vasling; he retiring little by little on the
barricading, was apparently doomed, when a second shot was heard. The
bear fell. André Vasling raised his head and saw Louis Cornbutte in the
ratlines of the mizen-mast, his gun in his hand. Louis had shot the
bear in the heart, and he was dead.

Hate overcame gratitude in Vasling’s breast; but before satisfying it,
he looked around him. Aupic’s head was broken by a paw-stroke, and he
lay lifeless on deck. Jocki, hatchet in hand, was with difficulty
parrying the blows of the second bear which had just killed Aupic. The
animal had received two wounds, and still struggled desperately. A
third bear was directing his way towards the ship’s prow. Vasling paid
no attention to him, but, followed by Herming, went to the aid of
Jocki; but Jocki, seized by the beast’s paws, was crushed, and when the
bear fell under the shots of the other two men, he held only a corpse
in his shaggy arms.

“We are only two, now” said Vasling, with gloomy ferocity, “but if we
yield, it will not be without vengeance!”

Herming reloaded his pistol without replying. Before all, the third
bear must be got rid of. Vasling looked forward, but did not see him.
On raising his eyes, he perceived him erect on the barricading,
clinging to the ratlines and trying to reach Louis. Vasling let his gun
fall, which he had aimed at the animal, while a fierce joy glittered in
his eyes.

“Ah,” he cried, “you owe me that vengeance!”

Louis took refuge in the top of the mast. The bear kept mounting, and
was not more than six feet from Louis, when he raised his gun and
pointed it at the animal’s heart.

Vasling raised his weapon to shoot Louis if the bear fell.

Louis fired, but the bear did not appear to be hit, for he leaped with
a bound towards the top. The whole mast shook.

Vasling uttered a shout of exultation.

“Herming,” he cried, “go and find Marie! Go and find my betrothed!”

Herming descended the cabin stairs.

Meanwhile the furious beast had thrown himself upon Louis, who was
trying to shelter himself on the other side of the mast; but at the
moment that his enormous paw was raised to break his head, Louis,
seizing one of the backstays, let himself slip down to the deck, not
without danger, for a ball hissed by his ear when he was half-way down.
Vasling had shot at him, and missed him. The two adversaries now
confronted each other, cutlass in hand.

The combat was about to become decisive. To entirely glut his
vengeance, and to have the young girl witness her lover’s death,
Vasling had deprived himself of Herming’s aid. He could now reckon only
on himself.

Louis and Vasling seized each other by the collar, and held each other
with iron grip. One of them must fall. They struck each other
violently. The blows were only half parried, for blood soon flowed from
both. Vasling tried to clasp his adversary about the neck with his arm,
to bring him to the ground. Louis, knowing that he who fell was lost,
prevented him, and succeeded in grasping his two arms; but in doing
this he let fall his cutlass.

Piteous cries now assailed his ears; it was Marie’s voice. Herming was
trying to drag her up. Louis was seized with a desperate rage. He
stiffened himself to bend Vasling’s loins; but at this moment the
combatants felt themselves seized in a powerful embrace. The bear,
having descended from the mast, had fallen upon the two men. Vasling
was pressed against the animal’s body. Louis felt his claws entering
his flesh. The bear, was strangling both of them.

[Illustration: The bear, having descended from the mast, had fallen
upon the two men.]

“Help! help! Herming!” cried the mate.

“Help! Penellan!” cried Louis.

Steps were heard on the stairs. Penellan appeared, loaded his pistol,
and discharged it in the bear’s ear; he roared; the pain made him relax
his paws for a moment, and Louis, exhausted, fell motionless on the
deck; but the bear, closing his paws tightly in a supreme agony, fell,
dragging down the wretched Vasling, whose body was crushed under him.

Penellan hurried to Louis Cornbutte’s assistance. No serious wound
endangered his life: he had only lost his breath for a moment.

“Marie!” he said, opening his eyes.

“Saved!” replied Perfellan. “Herming is lying there with a knife-wound
in his stomach.”

“And the bears—”

“Dead, Louis; dead, like our enemies! But for those beasts we should
have been lost. Truly, they came to our succour. Let us thank Heaven!”

Louis and Penellan descended to the cabin, and Marie fell into their


Herming, mortally wounded, had been carried to a berth by Misonne and
Turquiette, who had succeeded in getting free. He was already at the
last gasp of death; and the two sailors occupied themselves with
Nouquet, whose wound was not, happily, a serious one.

But a greater misfortune had overtaken Louis Cornbutte. His father no
longer gave any signs of life. Had he died of anxiety for his son,
delivered over to his enemies? Had he succumbed in presence of these
terrible events? They could not tell. But the poor old sailor, broken
by disease, had ceased to live!

At this unexpected blow, Louis and Marie fell into a sad despair; then
they knelt at the bedside and wept, as they prayed for Jean Cornbutte’s
soul, Penellan, Misonne, and Turquiette left them alone in the cabin,
and went on deck. The bodies of the three bears were carried forward.
Penellan decided to keep their skins, which would be of no little use;
but he did not think for a moment of eating their flesh. Besides, the
number of men to feed was now much decreased. The bodies of Vasling,
Aupic, and Jocki, thrown into a hole dug on the coast, were soon
rejoined by that of Herming. The Norwegian died during the night,
without repentance or remorse, foaming at the mouth with rage.

The three sailors repaired the tent, which, torn in several places,
permitted the snow to fall on the deck. The temperature was exceedingly
cold, and kept so till the return of the sun, which did not reappear
above the horizon till the 8th of January.

Jean Cornbutte was buried on the coast. He had left his native land to
find his son, and had died in these terrible regions! His grave was dug
on an eminence, and the sailors placed over it a simple wooden cross.

From that day, Louis Cornbutte and his comrades passed through many
other trials; but the lemons, which they found, restored them to

Gervique, Gradlin, and Nouquet were able to rise from their berths a
fortnight after these terrible events, and to take a little exercise.

Soon hunting for game became more easy and its results more abundant.
The water-birds returned in large numbers. They often brought down a
kind of wild duck which made excellent food. The hunters had no other
deprivation to deplore than that of two dogs, which they lost in an
expedition to reconnoitre the state of the icefields, twenty-five miles
to the southward.

The month of February was signalized by violent tempests and abundant
snows. The mean temperature was still twenty-five degrees below zero,
but they did not suffer in comparison with past hardships. Besides, the
sight of the sun, which rose higher and higher above the horizon,
rejoiced them, as it forecast the end of their torments. Heaven had
pity on them, for warmth came sooner than usual that year. The ravens
appeared in March, careering about the ship. Louis Cornbutte captured
some cranes which had wandered thus far northward. Flocks of wild birds
were also seen in the south.

The return of the birds indicated a diminution of the cold; but it was
not safe to rely upon this, for with a change of wind, or in the new or
full moons, the temperature suddenly fell; and the sailors were forced
to resort to their most careful precautions to protect themselves
against it. They had already burned all the barricading, the bulkheads,
and a large portion of the bridge. It was time, then, that their
wintering was over. Happily, the mean temperature of March was not over
sixteen degrees below zero. Marie occupied herself with preparing new
clothing for the advanced season of the year.

After the equinox, the sun had remained constantly above the horizon.
The eight months of perpetual daylight had begun. This continual
sunlight, with the increasing though still quite feeble heat, soon
began to act upon the ice.

Great precautions were necessary in launching the ship from the lofty
layer of ice which surrounded her. She was therefore securely propped
up, and it seemed best to await the breaking up of the ice; but the
lower mass, resting on a bed of already warm water, detached itself
little by little, and the ship gradually descended with it. Early in
April she had reached her natural level.

Torrents of rain came with April, which, extending in waves over the
ice-plain, hastened still more its breaking up. The thermometer rose to
ten degrees below zero. Some of the men took off their seal-skin
clothes, and it was no longer necessary to keep a fire in the cabin
stove day and night. The provision of spirit, which was not exhausted,
was used only for cooking the food.

Soon the ice began to break up rapidly, and it became imprudent to
venture upon the plain without a staff to sound the passages; for
fissures wound in spirals here and there. Some of the sailors fell into
the water, with no worse result, however, than a pretty cold bath.

The seals returned, and they were often hunted, and their grease

The health of the crew was fully restored, and the time was employed in
hunting and preparations for departure. Louis Cornbutte often examined
the channels, and decided, in consequence of the shape of the southern
coast, to attempt a passage in that direction. The breaking up had
already begun here and there, and the floating ice began to pass off
towards the high seas. On the 25th of April the ship was put in
readiness. The sails, taken from their sheaths, were found to be
perfectly preserved, and it was with real delight that the sailors saw
them once more swaying in the wind. The ship gave a lurch, for she had
found her floating line, and though she would not yet move forward, she
lay quietly and easily in her natural element.

In May the thaw became very rapid. The snow which covered the coast
melted on every hand, and formed a thick mud, which made it well-nigh
impossible to land. Small heathers, rosy and white, peeped out timidly
above the lingering snow, and seemed to smile at the little heat they
received. The thermometer at last rose above zero.

Twenty miles off, the ice masses, entirely separated, floated towards
the Atlantic Ocean. Though the sea was not quite free around the ship,
channels opened by which Louis Cornbutte wished to profit.

On the 21st of May, after a parting visit to his father’s grave, Louis
at last set out from the bay. The hearts of the honest sailors were
filled at once with joy and sadness, for one does not leave without
regret a place where a friend has died. The wind blew from the north,
and favoured their departure. The ship was often arrested by ice-banks,
which were cut with the saws; icebergs not seldom confronted her, and
it was necessary to blow them up with powder. For a month the way was
full of perils, which sometimes brought the ship to the verge of
destruction; but the crew were sturdy, and used to these dangerous
exigencies. Penellan, Pierre Nouquet, Turquiette, Fidèle Misonne, did
the work of ten sailors, and Marie had smiles of gratitude for each.

The “Jeune-Hardie” at last passed beyond the ice in the latitude of
Jean-Mayer Island. About the 25th of June she met ships going northward
for seals and whales. She had been nearly a month emerging from the
Polar Sea.

On the 16th of August she came in view of Dunkirk. She had been
signalled by the look-out, and the whole population flocked to the
jetty. The sailors of the ship were soon clasped in the arms of their
friends. The old curé received Louis Cornbutte and Marie with
patriarchal arms, and of the two masses which he said on the following
day, the first was for the repose of Jean Cornbutte’s soul, and the
second to bless these two lovers, so long united in misfortune.

[Illustration: The old curé received Louis Cornbutte and Marie.]



I arrived at Chamonix on the 18th of August, 1871, fully decided to
make the ascent of Mont Blanc, cost what it might. My first attempt in
August, 1869, was not successful. Bad weather had prevented me from
mounting beyond the Grands-Mulets. This time circumstances seemed
scarcely more favourable, for the weather, which had promised to be
fine on the morning of the 18th, suddenly changed towards noon. Mont
Blanc, as they say in its neighbourhood, “put on its cap and began to
smoke its pipe,” which, to speak more plainly, means that it is covered
with clouds, and that the snow, driven upon it by a south-west wind,
formed a long crest on its summit in the direction of the unfathomable
precipices of the Brenva glaciers. This crest betrayed to imprudent
tourists the route they would have taken, had they had the temerity to
venture upon the mountain.

The next night was very inclement. The rain and wind were violent, and
the barometer, below the “change,” remained stationary.

Towards daybreak, however, several thunder-claps announced a change in
the state of the atmosphere. Soon the clouds broke. The chain of the
Brevent and the Aiguilles-Rouges betrayed itself. The wind, turning to
the north-west, brought into view above the Col de Balme, which shuts
in the valley of Chamonix on the north, some light, isolated, fleecy
clouds, which I hailed as the heralds of fine weather.

Despite this happy augury and a slight rise in the barometer, M.
Balmat, chief guide of Chamonix, declared to me that I must not yet
think of attempting the ascent.

“If the barometer continues to rise,” he added, “and the weather holds
good, I promise you guides for the day after to-morrow— perhaps for
to-morrow. Meanwhile, have patience and stretch your legs; I will take
you up the Brevent. The clouds are clearing away, and you will be able
to exactly distinguish the path you will have to go over to reach the
summit of Mont Blanc. If, in spite of this, you are determined to go,
you may try it!”

This speech, uttered in a certain tone, was not very reassuring, and
gave food for reflection. Still, I accepted his proposition, and he
chose as my companion the guide Edward Ravanel, a very sedate and
devoted fellow, who perfectly knew his business.

M. Donatien Levesque, an enthusiastic tourist and an intrepid
pedestrian, who had made early in the previous year an interesting and
difficult trip in North America, was with me. He had already visited
the greater part of America, and was about to descend the Mississippi
to New Orleans, when the war cut short his projects and recalled him to
France. We had met at Aix-les-Bains, and we had determined to make an
excursion together in Savoy and Switzerland.

Donatien Levesque knew my intentions, and, as he thought that his
health would not permit him to attempt so long a journey over the
glaciers, it had been agreed that he should await my return from Mont
Blanc at Chamonix, and should make the traditional visit to the
Mer-de-Glace by the Montanvers during my absence.

On learning that I was going to ascend the Brevent, my friend did not
hesitate to accompany me thither. The ascent of the Brevent is one of
the most interesting trips that can be made from Chamonix. This
mountain, about seven thousand six hundred feet high, is only the
prolongation of the chain for the Aiguilles-Rouges, which runs from the
south-west to the north-east, parallel with that of Mont Blanc, and
forms with it the narrow valley of Chamonix. The Brevent, by its
central position, exactly opposite the Bossons glacier, enables one to
watch the parties which undertake the ascent of the giant of the Alps
nearly throughout their journey. It is therefore much frequented.

We started about seven o’clock in the morning. As we went along, I
thought of the mysterious words of the master-guide; they annoyed me a
little. Addressing Ravanel, I said,—

“Have you made the ascent of Mont Blanc?”

“Yes, monsieur,” he replied, “once; and that’s enough. I am not anxious
to do it again.”

“The deuce!” said I. “I am going to try it.”

“You are free, monsieur; but I shall not go with you. The mountain is
not good this year. Several attempts have already been made; two only
have succeeded. As for the second, the party tried the ascent twice.
Besides, the accident last year has rather cooled the amateurs.”

“An accident! What accident?”

“Did not monsieur hear of it? This is how it happened. A party,
consisting of ten guides and porters and two Englishmen, started about
the middle of September for Mont Blanc. They were seen to reach the
summit; then, some minutes after, they disappeared in a cloud. When the
cloud passed over no one was visible. The two travellers, with seven
guides and porters, had been blown off by the wind and precipitated on
the Cormayeur side, doubtless into the Brenva glacier. Despite the most
vigilant search, their bodies could not be found. The other three were
found one hundred and fifty yards below the summit, near the
Petits-Mulets. They had become blocks of ice.”

“But these travellers must have been imprudent,” said I to Ravanel.
“What folly it was to start off so late in the year on such an
expedition! They should have gone up in August.”

I vainly tried to keep up my courage; this lugubrious story would haunt
me in spite of myself. Happily the weather soon cleared, and the rays
of a bright sun dissipated the clouds which still veiled Mont Blanc,
and, at the same time, those which overshadowed my thoughts.

Our ascent was satisfactorily accomplished. On leaving the chalets of
Planpraz, situated at a height of two thousand and sixty-two yards, you
ascend, on ragged masses of rock and pools of snow, to the foot of a
rock called “The Chimney,” which is scaled with the feet and hands.
Twenty minutes after, you reach the summit of the Brevent, whence the
view is very fine. The chain of Mont Blanc appears in all its majesty.
The gigantic mountain, firmly established on its powerful strata, seems
to defy the tempests which sweep across its icy shield without ever
impairing it; whilst the crowd of icy needles, peaks, mountains, which
form its cortege and rise everywhere around it, without equalling its
noble height, carry the evident traces of a slow wasting away.

[Illustration: View of Mont Blanc from the Brevent.]

From the excellent look-out which we occupied, we could reckon, though
still imperfectly, the distance to be gone over in order to attain the
summit. This summit, which from Chamonix appears so near the dome of
the Goûter, now took its true position. The various plateaus which form
so many degrees which must be crossed, and which are not visible from
below, appeared from the Brevent, and threw the so-much-desired summit,
by the laws of perspective, still farther in the background. The
Bossons glacier, in all its splendour, bristled with icy needles and
blocks (blocks sometimes ten yards square), which seemed, like the
waves of an angry sea, to beat against the sides of the rocks of the
Grands-Mulets, the base of which disappeared in their midst.

This marvellous spectacle was not likely to cool my impatience, and I
more eagerly than ever promised myself to explore this hitherto unknown

My companion was equally inspired by the scene, and from this moment I
began to think that I should not have to ascend Mont Blanc alone.

We descended again to Chamonix; the weather became milder every hour;
the barometer continued to ascend; everything seemed to promise well.

The next day at sunrise I hastened to the master-guide. The sky was
cloudless; the wind, almost imperceptible, was north-east. The chain of
Mont Blanc, the higher summits of which were gilded by the rising sun,
seemed to invite the many tourists to ascend it. One could not, in all
politeness, refuse so kindly an invitation.

M. Balmat, after consulting his barometer, declared the ascent to be
practicable, and promised me the two guides and the porter prescribed
in our agreement. I left the selection of these to him. But an
unexpected incident disturbed my preparations for departure.

As I came out of M. Balmat’s office, I met Ravanel, my guide of the day

“Is monsieur going to Mont Blanc?” he asked.

“Yes, certainly,” said I. “Is it not a favourable time to go?”

He reflected a few moments, and then said with an embarrassed air,—

“Monsieur, you are my traveller; I accompanied you yesterday to the
Brevent, so I cannot leave you now; and, since you are going up, I will
go with you, if you will kindly accept my services. It is your right,
for on all dangerous journeys the traveller can choose his own guides.
Only, if you accept my offer, I ask that you will also take my brother,
Ambrose Ravanel, and my cousin, Gaspard Simon. These are young,
vigorous fellows; they do not like the ascent of Mont Blanc better than
I do; but they will not shirk it, and I answer for them to you as I
would for myself.”

This young man inspired me with all confidence. I accepted his
proposition, and hastened to apprise M. Balmat of the choice I had
made. But M. Balmat had meanwhile been selecting guides for me
according to their turn on his list. One only had accepted, Edward
Simon; the answer of another, Jean Carrier, had not yet been received,
though it was scarcely doubtful, as this man had already made the
ascent of Mont Blanc twenty-nine times. I thus found myself in an
embarrassing position. The guides I had chosen were all from
Argentière, a village six kilometres from Chamonix. Those of Chamonix
accused Ravanel of having influenced me in favour of his family, which
was contrary to the regulations.

To cut the discussion short, I took Edward Simon, who had already made
his preparations as a third guide. He would be useless if I went up
alone, but would become indispensable if my friend also ascended.

This settled, I went to tell Donatien Levesque. I found him sleeping
the sleep of the just, for he had walked over sixteen kilometres on a
mountain the evening before. I had some difficulty in waking him; but
on removing first his sheets, then his pillows, and finally his
mattress, I obtained some result, and succeeded in making him
understand that I was preparing for the hazardous trip.

“Well,” said he, yawning, “I will go with you as far as the
Grands-Mulets, and await your return there.”

“Bravo!” I replied. “I have just one guide too many, and I will attach
him to your person.”

We bought the various articles indispensable to a journey across the
glaciers. Iron-spiked alpenstocks, coarse cloth leggings, green
spectacles fitting tightly to the eyes, furred gloves, green
veils,—nothing was forgotten. We each had excellent triple-soled shoes,
which our guides roughed for the ice. This last is an important detail,
for there are moments in such an expedition when the least slip is
fatal, not only to yourself, but to the whole party with you.

Our preparations and those of the guides occupied nearly two hours.
About eight o’clock our mules were brought; and we set out at last for
the chalet of the Pierre-Pointue, situated at a height of six thousand
five hundred feet, or three thousand above the valley of Chamonix, not
far from eight thousand five hundred feet below the summit of Mont

On reaching the Pierre-Pointue, about ten o’clock, we found there a
Spanish tourist, M. N——, accompanied by two guides and a porter. His
principal guide, Paccard, a relative of the Doctor Paccard who made,
with Jacques Balmat, the first ascent of Mont Blanc, had already been
to the summit eighteen times. M. N—— was also getting himself ready for
the ascent. He had travelled much in America, and had crossed the
Cordilleras to Quito, passing through snow at the highest points. He
therefore thought that he could, without great difficulty, carry
through his new enterprise; but in this he was mistaken. He had
reckoned without the steepness of the inclinations which he had to
cross, and the rarefaction of the air. I hasten to add, to his honour,
that, since he succeeded in reaching the summit of Mont Blanc, it was
due to a rare moral energy, for his physical energies had long before
deserted him.

We breakfasted as heartily as possible at the Pierre-Pointue; this
being a prudent precaution, as the appetite usually fails higher up
among the ice.

[Illustration: View Of Bossons Glacier, Near The Grands-Mulets.]

M. N—— set out at eleven, with his guides, for the Grands-Mulets. We
did not start until noon. The mule-road ceases at the Pierre-Pointue.
We had then to go up a very narrow zigzag path, which follows the edge
of the Bossons glacier, and along the base of the Aiguille-du-Midi.
After an hour of difficult climbing in an intense heat, we reached a
point called the Pierre-a-l’Echelle, eight thousand one hundred feet
high. The guides and travellers were then bound together by a strong
rope, with three or four yards between each. We were about to advance
upon the Bossons glacier. This glacier, difficult at first, presents
yawning and apparently bottomless crevasses on every hand. The vertical
sides of these crevasses are of a glaucous and uncertain colour, but
too seducing to the eye; when, approaching closely, you succeed in
looking into their mysterious depths, you feel yourself irresistibly
drawn towards them, and nothing seems more natural than to go down into

[Illustration: Passage Of The Bossons Glacier.]

You advance slowly, passing round the crevasses, or on the snow bridges
of dubious strength. Then the rope plays its part. It is stretched out
over these dangerous transits; if the snow bridge yields, the guide or
traveller remains hanging over the abyss. He is drawn beyond it, and
gets off with a few bruises. Sometimes, if the crevasse is very wide
but not deep, he descends to the bottom and goes up on the other side.
In this case it is necessary to cut steps in the ice, and the two
leading guides, armed with a sort of hatchet, perform this difficult
and perilous task. A special circumstance makes the entrance on the
Bossons dangerous. You go upon the glacier at the base of the
Aiguille-du-Midi, opposite a passage whence stone avalanches often
descend. This passage is nearly six hundred feet wide. It must be
crossed quickly, and as you pass, a guide stands on guard to avert the
danger from you if it presents itself. In 1869 a guide was killed on
this spot, and his body, hurled into space by a stone, was dashed to
pieces on the rocks nine hundred feet below.

[Illustration: Crevasse and Bridge.]

We were warned, and hastened our steps as fast as our inexperience
would permit; but on leaving this dangerous zone, another, not less
dangerous, awaited us. This was the region of the “seracs,”—immense
blocks of ice, the formation of which is not as yet explained.

[Illustration: View of the “Seracs”.]

These are usually situated on the edge of a plateau, and menace the
whole valley beneath them. A slight movement of the glacier, or even a
light vibration of the temperature, impels their fall, and occasions
the most serious accidents.

[Illustration: View of the “Seracs”.]

“Messieurs, keep quiet, and let us pass over quickly.” These words,
roughly spoken by one of the guides, checked our conversation. We went
across rapidly and in silence. We finally reached what is called the
“Junction” (which might more properly be called the violent
“Separation”), by the Côte Mountain, the Bossons and Tacconay glaciers.
At this point the scene assumes an indescribable character; crevasses
with changing colours, ice-needles with sharp forms, seracs suspended
and pierced with the light, little green lakes compose a chaos which
surpasses everything that one can imagine. Added to this, the rush of
the torrents at the foot of the glaciers, the sinister and repeated
crackings of the blocks which detached themselves and fell in
avalanches down the crevasses, the trembling of the ground which opened
beneath our feet, gave a singular idea of those desolate places the
existence of which only betrays itself by destruction and death.

[Illustration: Passage of the “Junction”.]

After passing the “Junction” you follow the Tacconay glacier for
awhile, and reach the side which leads to the Grands-Mulets. This part,
which is very sloping, is traversed in zigzags. The leading guide takes
care to trace them at an angle of thirty degrees, when there is fresh
snow, to avoid the avalanches.

After crossing for three hours on the ice and snow, we reach the
Grands-Mulets, rocks six hundred feet high, overlooking on one side the
Bossons glacier, and on the other the sloping plains which extend to
the base of the Goûter dome.

[Illustration: Hut At The Grands-Mulets.]

A small hut, constructed by the guides near the summit of the first
rock, gives a shelter to travellers, and enables them to await a
favourable moment for setting out for the summit of Mont Blanc.

They dine there as well as they can, and sleep too; but the proverb,
“He who sleeps dines,” does not apply to this elevation, for one cannot
seriously do the one or the other.

“Well,” said I to Levesque, after a pretence of a meal, “did I
exaggerate the splendour of the landscape, and do you regret having
come thus far?”

“I regret it so little,” he replied, “that I am determined to go on to
the summit. You may count on me.”

“Very good,” said I. “But you know the worst is yet to come.”

“Nonsense!” he exclaimed, “we will go to the end. Meanwhile, let us
observe the sunset, which must be magnificent.”

The heavens had remained wonderfully clear. The chain of the Brevent
and the Aiguilles-Rouges stretched out at our feet. Beyond, the Fiz
rocks and the Aiguille-de-Varan rose above the Sallanche Valley, and
the whole chains of Mont Fleury and the Reposoir appeared in the
background. More to the right we could descry the snowy summit of the
Buet, and farther off the Dents-du-Midi, with its five tusks,
overhanging the valley of the Rhone. Behind us were the eternal snows
of the Goûter, Mont Maudit, and, lastly, Mont Blanc.

Little by little the shadows invaded the valley of Chamonix, and
gradually each of the summits which overlook it on the west. The chain
of Mont Blanc alone remained luminous, and seemed encircled by a golden
halo. Soon the shadows crept up the Goûter and Mont Maudit. They still
respected the giant of the Alps. We watched this gradual disappearance
of the light with admiration. It lingered awhile on the highest summit,
and gave us the foolish hope that it would not depart thence. But in a
few moments all was shrouded in gloom, and the livid and ghastly
colours of death succeeded the living hues. I do not exaggerate. Those
who love mountains will comprehend me.

[Illustration: View of Mont Blanc from Grands-Mulets.]

After witnessing this sublime scene, we had only to await the moment of
departure. We were to set out again at two in the morning. Now,
therefore, we stretched ourselves upon our mattresses.

It was useless to think of sleeping, much more of talking. We were
absorbed by more or less gloomy thoughts. It was the night before the
battle, with the difference that nothing forced us to engage in the
struggle. Two sorts of ideas struggled in the mind. It was the ebb and
flow of the sea, each in its turn. Objections to the venture were not
wanting. Why run so much danger? If we succeeded, of what advantage
would it be? If an accident happened, how we should regret it! Then the
imagination set to work; all the mountain catastrophes rose in the
fancy. I dreamed of snow bridges giving way under my feet, of being
precipitated in the yawning crevasses, of hearing the terrible noises
of the avalanches detaching themselves and burying me, of disappearing,
of cold and death seizing upon me, and of struggling with desperate
effort, but in vain!

A sharp, horrible noise is heard at this moment

“The avalanche! the avalanche!” I cry.

“What is the matter with you?” asks Levesque, starting up.

Alas! It is a piece of furniture which, in the struggles of my
nightmare, I have just broken. This very prosaic avalanche recalls me
to the reality. I laugh at my terrors, a contrary current of thought
gets the upper hand, and with it ambitious ideas. I need only use a
little effort to reach this summit, so seldom attained. It is a
victory, as others are. Accidents are rare—very rare! Do they ever take
place at all? The spectacle from the summit must be so marvellous! And
then what satisfaction there would be in having accomplished what so
many others dared not undertake!

My courage was restored by these thoughts, and I calmly awaited the
moment of departure.

About one o’clock the steps and voices of the guides, and the noise of
opening doors, indicated that that moment was approaching. Soon Ravanel
came in and said, “Come, messieurs, get up; the weather is magnificent.
By ten o’clock we shall be at the’ summit.”

At these words we leaped from our beds, and hurried to make our toilet.
Two of the guides, Ambrose Ravanel and his cousin Simon, went on ahead
to explore the road. They were provided with a lantern, which was to
show us the way to go, and with hatchets to make the path and cut steps
in the very difficult spots. At two o’clock we tied ourselves one to
another: the order of march was, Edward Ravanel before me, and at the
head; behind me Edward Simon, then Donatien Levesque; after him our two
porters (for we took along with us the domestic of the Grands-Mulets
hut as a second), and M. N——’s party.

The guides and porters having distributed the provisions between them,
the signal for departure was given, and we set off in the midst of
profound darkness, directing ourselves according to the lantern held up
at some distance ahead.

There was something solemn in this setting out. But few words were
spoken; the vagueness of the unknown impressed us, but the new and
strange situation excited us, and rendered us insensible to its
dangers. The landscape around was fantastic. But few outlines were
distinguishable. Great white confused masses, with blackish spots here
and there, closed the horizon. The celestial vault shone with
remarkable brilliancy. We could perceive, at an uncertain distance, the
lantern of the guides who were ahead, and the mournful silence of the
night was only disturbed by the dry, distant noise of the hatchet
cutting steps in the ice.

We crept slowly and cautiously over the first ascent, going towards the
base of the Goûter. After ascending laboriously for two hours, we
reached the first plateau, called the “Petit-Plateau,” at the foot of
the Goûter, at a height of about eleven thousand feet. We rested a few
moments and then proceeded, turning now to the left and going towards
the edge which conducts to the “Grand-Plateau.”

But our party had already lessened in number: M. N——, with his guides,
had stopped; his fatigue obliged him to take a longer rest.

About half-past four dawn began to whiten the horizon. At this moment
we were ascending the slope which leads to the Grand-Plateau, which we
soon safely reached. We were eleven thousand eight hundred feet high.
We had well earned our breakfast. Wonderful to relate, Levesque and I
had a good appetite. It was a good sign. We therefore installed
ourselves on the snow, and made such a repast as we could. Our guides
joyfully declared that success was certain. As for me, I thought they
resumed work too quickly.

M. N—— rejoined us before long. We urged him to take some nourishment.
He peremptorily refused. He felt the contraction of the stomach which
is so common in those parts, and was almost broken down.

The Grand-Plateau deserves a special description. On the right rises
the dome of the Goûter. Opposite it is Mont Blanc, rearing itself two
thousand seven hundred feet above it. On the left are the “Rouges”
rocks and Mont Maudit. This immense circle is one mass of glittering
whiteness. On every side are vast crevasses. It was in one of these
that three of the guides who accompanied Dr. Hamel and Colonel
Anderson, in 1820, were swallowed up. In 1864 another guide met his
death there.

This plateau must be crossed with great caution, as the crevasses are
often hidden by the snow; besides, it is often swept by avalanches. On
the 13th of October, 1866, an English traveller and three of his guides
were buried under a mass of ice that fell from Mont Blanc. After a
perilous search, the bodies of the three guides were found. They were
expecting every moment to find that of the Englishman, when a fresh
avalanche fell upon the first, and forced the searchers to abandon
their task.

[Illustration: Crossing the Plateau.]

Three routes presented themselves to us. The ordinary route, which
passes entirely to the left, by the base of Mont Maudit, through a sort
of valley called the “Corridor,” leads by gentle ascents to the top of
the first escarpment of the Rouges rocks.

The second, less frequented, turns to the right by the Goûter, and
leads to the summit of Mont Blanc by the ridge which unites these two
mountains. You must pursue for three hours a giddy path, and scale a
height of moving ice, called the “Camel’s Hump.”

The third route consists in ascending directly to the summit of the
Corridor, crossing an ice-wall seven hundred and fifty feet high, which
extends along the first escarpment of the Rouges rocks.

The guides declared the first route impracticable, on account of the
recent crevasses which entirely obstructed it; the choice between the
two others remained. I thought the second, by the “Camel’s Hump,” the
best; but it was regarded as too dangerous, and it was decided that we
should attack the ice-wall conducting to the summit of the Corridor.

When a decision is made, it is best to execute it without delay. We
crossed the Grand-Plateau, and reached the foot of this really
formidable obstacle.

The nearer we approached the more nearly vertical became its slope.
Besides, several crevasses which we had not perceived yawned at its

We nevertheless began the difficult ascent. Steps were begun by the
foremost guide, and completed by the next. We ascended two steps a
minute. The higher we went the more the steepness increased. Our guides
themselves discussed what route to follow; they spoke in patois, and
did not always agree, which was not a good sign. At last the slope
became such that our hats touched the legs of the guide just before us.

A hailstorm of pieces of ice, produced by the cutting of the steps,
blinded us, and made our progress still more difficult. Addressing one
of the foremost guides, I said,—

“Ah, it’s very well going up this way! It is not an open road, I admit:
still, it is practicable. Only how are you going to get us down again?”

“O monsieur,” replied Ambrose Ravanel, “we will take another route
going back.”

At last, after violent effort for two hours, and after having cut more
than four hundred steps in this terrible mass, we reached the summit of
the Corridor completely exhausted.

We then crossed a slightly sloping plateau of snow, and passed along
the side of an immense crevasse which obstructed our way. We had
scarcely turned it when we uttered a cry of admiration. On the right,
Piedmont and the plains of Lombardy were at our feet. On the left, the
Pennine Alps and the Oberland, crowned with snow, raised their
magnificent crests. Monte Rosa and the Cervin alone still rose above
us, but soon we should overlook them in our turn.

This reflection recalled us to the end of our expedition. We turned our
gaze towards Mont Blanc, and stood stupefied.

“Heavens! how far off it is still!” cried Levesque.

“And how high!” I added.

It was a discouraging sight. The famous wall of the ridge, so much
feared, but which must be crossed, was before us, with its slope of
fifty degrees. But after scaling the wall of the Corridor, it did not
terrify us. We rested for half an hour and then continued our tramp;
but we soon perceived that the atmospheric conditions were no longer
the same. The sun shed his warm rays upon us; and their reflection on
the snow added to our discomfort. The rarefaction of the air began to
be severely felt. We advanced slowly, making frequent halts, and at
last reached the plateau which overlooks the second escarpment of the
Rouges rocks. We were at the foot of Mont Blanc. It rose, alone and
majestic, at a height of six hundred feet above us. Monte Rosa itself
had lowered its flag!

Levesque and I were completely exhausted. As for M. N——, who had
rejoined us at the summit of the Corridor, it might be said that he was
insensible to the rarefaction of the air, for he no longer breathed, so
to speak.

We began at last to scale the last stage. We made ten steps and then
stopped, finding it absolutely impossible to proceed. A painful
contraction of the throat made our breathing exceedingly difficult. Our
legs refused to carry us; and I then understood the picturesque
expression of Jacques Balmat, when, in narrating his first ascent, he
said that “his legs seemed only to be kept up by his trousers!” But our
mental was superior to our physical force; and if the body faltered,
the heart, responding “Excelsior!” stifled its desperate complaint, and
urged forward our poor worn-out mechanism, despite itself. We thus
passed the Petits-Mulets, and after two hours of superhuman efforts
finally overlooked the entire chain. Mont Blanc was under our feet!

[Illustration: Summit of Mont Blanc.]

It was fifteen minutes after twelve.

The pride of success soon dissipated our fatigue. We had at last
conquered this formidable crest. We overlooked all the others, and the
thoughts which Mont Blanc alone can inspire affected us with a deep
emotion. It was ambition satisfied; and to me, at least, a dream

Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in Europe. Several mountains in Asia
and America are higher; but of what use would it be to attempt them,
if, in the absolute impossibility of reaching their summit, you must be
content to remain at a lesser height?

Others, such as Mont Cervin, are more difficult of access; but we
perceived the summit of Mont Cervin twelve hundred feet below us!

And then, what a view to reward us for our troubles and dangers!

The sky, still pure, had assumed a deep-blue tint. The sun, despoiled
of a part of his rays, had lost his brilliancy, as if in a partial
eclipse. This effect, due to the rarefaction of the air, was all the
more apparent as the surrounding eminences and plains were inundated
with light. No detail of the scene, therefore, escaped our notice.

In the south-east, the mountains of Piedmont, and farther off the
plains of Lombardy, shut in our horizon. Towards the west, the
mountains of Savoy and Dauphiné; beyond, the valley of the Rhone. In
the north-west, the Lake of Geneva and the Jura; then, descending
towards the south, a chaos of mountains and glaciers, beyond
description, overlooked by the masses of Monte Rosa, the
Mischabelhoerner, the Cervin, the Weishorn—the most beautiful of
crests, as Tyndall calls it—and farther off by the Jungfrau, the Monck,
the Eiger, and the Finsteraarhorn.

The extent of our range of vision was not less than sixty leagues. We
therefore saw at least one hundred and twenty leagues of country.

A special circumstance happened to enhance the beauty of the scene.
Clouds formed on the Italian side and invaded the valleys of the
Pennine Alps without veiling their summits. We soon had under our eyes
a second sky, a lower sky, a sea of clouds, whence emerged a perfect
archipelago of peaks and snow-wrapped mountains. There was something
magical in it, which the greatest poets could scarcely describe.

The summit of Mont Blanc forms a ridge from southwest to north-east,
two hundred paces long and a yard wide at the culminating point. It
seemed like a ship’s hull overturned, the keel in the air.

Strangely enough, the temperature was very high—ten degrees above zero.
The air was almost still. Sometimes we felt a light breeze.

The first care of our guides was to place us all in a line on the crest
opposite Chamonix, that we might be easily counted from below, and thus
make it known that no one of us had been lost. Many of the tourists had
ascended the Brevent and the Jardin to watch our ascent. They might now
be assured of its success.

But to ascend was not all; we must think also of going down. The most
difficult, if not most wearisome, task remained; and then one quits
with regret a summit attained at the price of so much toil. The energy
which urges you to ascend, the need, so natural and imperious, of
overcoming, now fails you. You go forward listlessly, often looking
behind you!

It was necessary, however, to decide, and, after a last traditional
libation of champagne, we put ourselves in motion. We had remained on
the summit an hour. The order of march was now changed. M. N——’s party
led off; and, at the suggestion of his guide Paccard, we were all tied
together with a rope. M. N——’s fatigue, which his strength, but not his
will, betrayed, made us fear falls on his part which would require the
help of the whole party to arrest. The event justified our foreboding.
On descending the side of the wall, M. N—— made several false steps.
His guides, very vigorous and skilful, were happily able to check him;
but ours, feeling, with reason, that the whole party might be dragged
down, wished to detach us from the rope. Levesque and I opposed this;
and, by taking great precautions, we safely reached the base of this
giddy ledge. There was no room for illusions. The almost bottomless
abyss was before us, and the pieces of detached ice, which bounded by
us with the rapidity of an arrow, clearly showed us the route which the
party would take if a slip were made.

Once this terrible gap crossed, I began to breathe again. We descended
the gradual slopes which led to the summit of the Corridor. The snow,
softened by the heat, yielded beneath our feet; we sank in it to the
knees, which made our progress very fatiguing. We steadily followed the
path by which we ascended in the morning, and I was astonished when
Gaspard Simon, turning towards me, said,—

“Monsieur, we cannot take any other road, for the Corridor is
impracticable, and we must descend by the wall which we climbed up this

I told Levesque this disagreeable news.

“Only,” added Gaspard Simon, “I do not think we can all remain tied
together. However, we will see how M. N—— bears it at first.”

We advanced towards this terrible wall! M. N——’s party began to
descend, and we heard Paccard talking rapidly to him. The inclination
became so steep that we perceived neither him nor his guides, though we
were bound together by the same rope.

As soon as Gaspard Simon, who went before me, could comprehend what was
passing, he stopped, and after exchanging some words in _patois_ with
his comrades, declared that we must detach ourselves from M. N——’s

“We are responsible for you,” he added, “but we cannot be responsible
for others; and if they slip, they will drag us after them.”

Saying this, he got loose from the rope. We were very unwilling to take
this step; but our guides were inflexible.

We then proposed to send two of them to help M. N——’s guides. They
eagerly consented; but having no rope they could not put this plan into

We then began this terrible descent. Only one of us moved at a time,
and when each took a step the others buttressed themselves ready to
sustain the shock if he slipped. The foremost guide, Edward Ravanel,
had the most perilous task; it was for him to make the steps over
again, now more or less worn away by the ascending caravan.

We progressed slowly, taking the most careful precautions. Our route
led us in a right line to one of the crevasses which opened at the base
of the escarpment. When we were going up we could not look at this
crevasse, but in descending we were fascinated by its green and yawning
sides. All the blocks of ice detached by our passage went the same way,
and after two or three bounds, ingulfed themselves in the crevasse, as
in the jaws of the minotaur, only the jaws of the minotaur closed after
each morsel, while the unsatiated crevasse yawned perpetually, and
seemed to await, before closing, a larger mouthful. It was for us to
take care that we should not be this mouthful, and all our efforts were
made for this end. In order to withdraw ourselves from this
fascination, this moral giddiness, if I may so express myself, we tried
to joke about the dangerous position in which we found ourselves, and
which even a chamois would not have envied us. We even got so far as to
hum one of Offenbach’s couplets; but I must confess that our jokes were
feeble, and that we did not sing the airs correctly.

I even thought I discovered Levesque obstinately setting the words of
“Barbe-Bleue” to one of the airs in “Il Trovatore,” which rather
indicated some grave preoccupation of the mind. In short, in order to
keep up our spirits, we did as do those brave cowards who sing in the
dark to forget their fright.

We remained thus, suspended between life and death, for an hour, which
seemed an eternity; at last we reached the bottom of this terrible
escarpment. We there found M. N—— and his party, safe and sound.

After resting a little while, we continued our journey.

As we were approaching the Petit-Plateau, Edward Ravanel suddenly
stopped, and, turning towards us, said,—

“See what an avalanche! It has covered our tracks.”

An immense avalanche of ice had indeed fallen from the Goûter, and
entirely buried the path we had followed in the morning across the

I estimated that the mass of this avalanche could not comprise less
than five hundred cubic yards. If it had fallen while we were passing,
one more catastrophe would no doubt have been added to the list,
already too long, of the necrology of Mont Blanc.

This fresh obstacle forced us to seek a new road, or to pass around the
foot of the avalanche. As we were much fatigued, the latter course was
assuredly the simplest; but it involved a serious danger. A wall of ice
more than sixty feet high, already partly detached from the Goûter, to
which it only clung by one of its angles, overhung the path which we
should follow. This great mass seemed to hold itself in equilibrium.
What if our passing, by disturbing the air, should hasten its fall? Our
guides held a consultation. Each of them examined with a spy-glass the
fissure which had been formed between the mountain and this alarming
ice-mass. The sharp and clear edges of the cleft betrayed a recent
breaking off, evidently caused by the fall of the avalanche.

After a brief discussion, our guides, recognizing the impossibility of
finding another road, decided to attempt this dangerous passage.

“We must walk very fast,—even run, if possible,” said they, “and we
shall be in safety in five minutes. Come, messieurs, a last effort!”

A run of five minutes is a small matter for people who are only tired;
but for us, who were absolutely exhausted, to run even for so short a
time on soft snow, in which we sank up to the knees, seemed an
impossibility. Nevertheless, we made an urgent appeal to our energies,
and after two or three tumbles, drawn forward by one, pushed by
another, we finally reached a snow hillock, on which we fell
breathless. We were out of danger.

It required some time to recover ourselves. We stretched out on the
snow with a feeling of comfort which every one will understand. The
greatest difficulties had been surmounted, and though there were still
dangers to brave, we could confront them with comparatively little

We prolonged our halt in the hope of witnessing the fall of the
avalanche, but in vain. As the day was advancing, and it was not
prudent to tarry in these icy solitudes, we decided to continue on our
way, and about five o’clock we reached the hut of the Grands-Mulets.

After a bad night, attended by fever caused by the sunstrokes
encountered in our expedition, we made ready to return to Chamonix;
but, before setting out, we inscribed the names of our guides and the
principal events of our journey, according to the custom, on the
register kept for this purpose at the Grands-Mulets.

About eight o’clock we started for Chamonix. The passage of the Bossons
was difficult, but we accomplished it without accident.

[Illustration: Grands-Mulets.—Party Descending From The Hut.]

Half an hour before reaching Chamonix, we met, at the chalet of the
Dard falls, some English tourists, who seemed to be watching our
progress. When they perceived us, they hurried up eagerly to
congratulate us on our success. One of them presented us to his wife, a
charming person, with a well-bred air. After we had given them a sketch
of our perilous peregrinations, she said to us, in earnest accents,—

“How much you are envied here by everybody! Let me touch your

These words seemed to interpret the general feeling.

The ascent of Mont Blanc is a very painful one. It is asserted that the
celebrated naturalist of Geneva, De Saussure, acquired there the seeds
of the disease of which he died in a few months after his return from
the summit. I cannot better close this narrative than by quoting the
words of M. Markham Sherwell:—

“However it may be,” he says, in describing his ascent of Mont Blanc,
“I would not advise any one to undertake this ascent, the rewards of
which can never have an importance proportionate to the dangers
encountered by the tourist, and by those who accompany him.”


*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A Winter Amid the Ice, and Other Thrilling Stories" ***

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