IN THE REIGN OF TERROR
The Adventures of a Westminster Boy.
G. A. Henty
MY DEAR LADS,
This time only a few words are needed, for the story speaks for itself. My object has been rather to tell you a tale of interest than to impart historical knowledge, for the facts of the dreadful time when "the terror" reigned supreme in France are well known to all educated lads. I need only say that such historical allusions as are necessary for the sequence of the story will be found correct, except that the Noyades at Nantes did not take place until a somewhat later period than is here assigned to them.
I A Journey to France II A Mad Dog III The Demon Wolf IV The Clouds Gather V The Outburst VI An Anxious Time VII The 2d of September VIII Marie Arrested IX Robespierre X Free XI Marie and Victor XII Nantes XIII In the Hands of the Reds XIV The Noyades XV England
A Journey to France
"I don't know what to say, my dear."
"Why, surely, James, you are not thinking for a moment of letting him go?"
"Well, I don't know. Yes, I am certainly thinking of it, though I haven't at all made up my mind. There are advantages and disadvantages."
"Oh, but it is such a long way, and to live among those French people, who have been doing such dreadful things, attacking the Bastille, and, as I have heard you say, passing all sorts of revolutionary laws, and holding their king and queen almost as prisoners in Paris!"
"Well, they won't eat him, my dear. The French Assembly, or the National Assembly, or whatever it ought to be called, has certainly been passing laws limiting the power of the king and abolishing many of the rights and privileges of the nobility and clergy; but you must remember that the condition of the vast body of the French nation has been terrible. We have long conquered our liberties, and, indeed, never even in the height of the feudal system were the mass of the English people more enslaved as have been the peasants of France.
"We must not be surprised, therefore, if in their newly-recovered freedom they push matters to an excess at first; but all this will right itself, and no doubt a constitutional form of government, somewhat similar to our own, will be established. But all this is no reason against Harry's going out there. You don't suppose that the French people are going to fly at the throats of the nobility. Why, even in the heat of the civil war here there was no instance of any personal wrong being done to the families of those engaged in the struggle, and in only two or three cases, after repeated risings, were any even of the leaders executed.
"No; Harry will be just as safe there as he would be here. As to the distance, it's nothing like so far as if he went to India, for example. I don't see any great chance of his setting the Thames on fire at home. His school report is always the same—'Conduct fair; progress in study moderate'—which means, as I take it, that he just scrapes along. That's it, isn't it, Harry?"
"Yes, father, I think so. You see every one cannot be at the top of the form."
"That's a very true observation, my boy. It is clear that if there are twenty boys in a class, nineteen fathers have to be disappointed. Still, of course, one would like to be the father who is not disappointed."
"I stick to my work," the boy said; "but there are always fellows who seem to know just the right words without taking any trouble about it. It comes to them, I suppose."
"What do you say to this idea yourself, Harry?"
"I don't know, sir," the boy said doubtfully.
"And I don't know," his father agreed. "At anyrate we will sleep upon it. I am clear that the offer is not to be lightly rejected."
Dr. Sandwith was a doctor in Chelsea. Chelsea in the year 1790 was a very different place to Chelsea of the present day. It was a pretty suburban hamlet, and was indeed a very fashionable quarter. Here many of the nobility and personages connected with the court had their houses, and broad country fields and lanes separated it from the stir and din of London. Dr. Sandwith had a good practice, but he had also a large family. Harry was at Westminster, going backwards and forwards across the fields to school. So far he had evinced no predilection for any special career. He was a sturdy, well-built lad of some sixteen years old. He was, as his father said, not likely to set the Thames on fire in any way. He was as undistinguished in the various sports popular among boys in those days as he was in his lessons. He was as good as the average, but no better; had fought some tough fights with boys of his own age, and had shown endurance rather than brilliancy.
In the ordinary course of things he would probably in three or four years' time have chosen some profession; and, indeed, his father had already settled in his mind that as Harry was not likely to make any great figure in life in the way of intellectual capacity, the best thing would be to obtain for him a commission in his Majesty's service, as to which, with the doctor's connection among people of influence, there would not be any difficulty. He had, however, said nothing as yet to the boy on the subject.
The fact that Harry had three younger brothers and four sisters, and that Dr. Sandwith, who was obliged to keep up a good position, sometimes found it difficult to meet his various expenses, made him perhaps more inclined to view favourably the offer he had that morning received than would otherwise have been the case. Two years before he had attended professionally a young French nobleman attached to the embassy. It was from him that the letter which had been the subject of conversation had been received. It ran as follows:
"Dear Doctor Sandwith,—Since my return from Paris I have frequently spoken to my brother, the Marquis of St. Caux, respecting the difference of education between your English boys and our own. Nothing struck me more when I was in London than your great schools. With us the children of good families are almost always brought up at home. They learn to dance and to fence, but have no other exercise for their limbs, and they lack the air of manly independence which struck me in English boys. They are more gentil—I do not know the word in your language which expresses it—they carry themselves better; they are not so rough; they are more polite. There are advantages in both systems, but for myself I like yours much the best. My brother is, to some extent, a convert to my view. There are no such schools to which he could send his sons in France, for what large schools we have are under the management of the fathers, and the boys have none of that freedom which is the distinguishing point of the English system of education. Even if there were such schools, I am sure that madame my sister-in-law would never hear of her sons being sent there.
"Since this is so, the marquis has concluded that the best thing would be to have an English boy of good family as their companion. He would, of course, study with them under their masters. He would play and ride with them, and would be treated as one of themselves. They would learn something of English from him, which would be useful if they adopt the diplomatic profession. He would learn French, which might also be useful to him; but of course the great point which my brother desires is that his sons should acquire something of the manly independence of thought and action which distinguishes English boys.
"Having arranged this much, I thought of you. I know that you have several sons. If you have one of from fourteen to sixteen years, and you would like him to take such a position for two or three years, I should be glad indeed to secure such a companion for my nephews. If not, would you do me the favour of looking round among your acquaintances and find us a lad such as we need. He must be a gentleman and a fair type of the boy we are speaking of. I may say that my brother authorizes me to offer in his name, in addition to all expenses, two thousand francs a year to the young gentleman who will thus benefit his sons. I do not think that the political excitement which is agitating Paris need be taken into consideration. Now that great concessions have been made to the representatives of the nation, it is not at all probable that there will be any recurrence of such popular tumults as that which brought about the capture of the Bastille. But in any case this need not weigh in the decision, as my brother resides for the greater part of the year in his chateau near Dijon in Burgundy, far removed from the troubles in the capital."
The more Dr. Sandwith thought over the matter the more he liked it. There were comparatively few Englishmen in those days who spoke the French language. It was, indeed, considered part of the education of a young man of good family to make what was called the grand tour of Europe under the charge of a tutor, after leaving the university. But these formed a very small proportion of society, and, indeed, the frequent wars which had, since the Stuarts lost the throne of England, occurred between the two countries had greatly interfered with continental travel.
Even now the subjects of France and England were engaged in a desperate struggle in India, although there was peace between the courts of Versailles and St. James's. A knowledge of the French language then would be likely to be of great utility to Harry if he entered the army; his expenses at Westminster would be saved, and the two hundred and forty pounds which he would acquire during his three years' stay in France would be very useful to him on his first start in life. After breakfast next morning Dr. Sandwith asked Harry to take a turn in the garden with him, for the holidays had just begun.
"What do you think of this, Harry?"
"I have not thought much about it one way or the other, sir," Harry said, looking up with a smile. "It seemed to me better that you should do the thinking for both of us."
"I might perhaps be better able to judge whether it would be advantageous or otherwise for you to accept the offer, but you must be the best judge as to whether you would like to accept it or not."
"I can't quite make up my mind as to that, sir. I like school very much and I like being at home. I don't want to learn Frenchified ways, nor to eat frogs and snails and all sorts of nastiness; still, it would be fun going to a place so different to England, and hearing no English spoken, and learning all their rum ways, and getting to jabber French."
"It might be very useful to you in the army, Harry;" and then the doctor stopped suddenly.
"The army!" Harry exclaimed in a tone of astonished delight. "Oh, sir, do you really think of my going into the army? You never said a word about that before. I should like that immensely."
"That slipped out, Harry, for I did not mean to say anything about it until you had left school; still, if you go to France I do not know why you should not keep that before you. I don't think the army is a very good profession, but you do not seem to have any marked talent for anything else. You don't like the idea of medicine or the church, and you were almost heart-broken when I wanted you to accept the offer of your uncle John of a seat in his counting-house. It seems to me that the army would suit you better than anything else, and I have no doubt that I could get you a commission. Now, whenever we fight France is sure to be on the other side, and I think that it would be of great advantage to you to have a thorough knowledge of French—a thing which very few officers in our army possess. If you accept this offer you will have the opportunity of attaining this, and at the same time of earning a nice little sum which would pay for your outfit and supply you with pocket-money for some time."
"Yes, sir, it would be first rate!" Harry exclaimed excitedly. "Oh, please, accept the offer; I should like it of all things; and even if I do get ever so skinny on frogs and thin soup, I can get fat on roast beef again when I get back."
"That is all nonsense, Harry, about frogs and starving. The French style of cookery differs from ours, but they eat just as much, and although they may not, as a rule, be as broad and heavy as Englishmen, that is simply a characteristic of race; the Latin peoples are of slighter build than the Teutonic. As to their food, you know that the Romans, who were certainly judges of good living, considered the snail a great luxury, and I dare say ate frogs too. A gentleman who had made the grand tour told me that he had tasted them in Paris and found them very delicate eating. You may not like the living quite at first, but you will soon get over that, and once accustomed to it you will like it quite as well as our solid joints. My principal objection to your going lies quite in another direction. Public opinion in France is much disturbed. In the National Assembly, which is the same as our Parliament, there is a great spirit of resistance to the royal authority, something like a revolution has already been accomplished, and the king is little more than a prisoner."
"But that would surely make no difference to me, sir!"
"No, I don't see that it should, Harry. Still, it would cause your mother a good deal of anxiety."
"I don't see it could make any difference," Harry repeated; "and you see, sir, when I go into the army and there is war, mother would be a great deal more anxious."
"You mean, Harry," the doctor said with a smile, "that whether her anxiety begins a little sooner or later does not make much difference."
"I don't think I quite meant that, sir," Harry said; "but yes," he added frankly, after a moment's thought, "I suppose I did; but I really don't see that supposing there were any troubles in France it could possibly make any difference to me; even if there were a civil war, such as we had in England, they would not interfere with boys."
"No, I don't see that it would make any difference, and the chance is so remote that it need not influence our decision. Of course if war broke out between the two countries the marquis would see that you were sent back safely. Well, then, Harry, I am to consider that your decision is in favour of your accepting this appointment."
"If you please, sir. I am sure it will be a capital thing for me, and I have no doubt it will be great fun. Of course at first it will be strange to hear them all jabbering in French, but I suppose I shall soon pick it up."
And so Mrs. Sandwith was informed by her husband that after talking it over with Harry he had concluded that the proposed arrangement would really be an excellent one, and that it would be a great pity to let such an opportunity slip.
The good lady was for a time tearful in her forebodings that Harry would be starved, for in those days it was a matter of national opinion that our neighbours across the Channel fed on the most meagre of diet; but she was not in the habit of disputing her husband's will, and when the letter of acceptance had been sent off, she busied herself in preparing Harry's clothes for his long absence.
"He ought to be measured for several suits, my dear," she said to her husband, "made bigger and bigger to allow for his growing."
"Nonsense, my dear! You do not suppose that clothes cannot be purchased in France! Give him plenty of under-linen, but the fewer jackets and trousers he takes over the better; it will be much better for him to get clothes out there of the same fashion as other people; the boy will not want to be stared at wherever he goes. The best rule is always to dress like people around you. I shall give him money, and directly he gets there he can get a suit or two made by the tailor who makes for the lads he is going to be with. The English are no more loved in France than the French are here, and though Harry has no reason to be ashamed of his nationality there is no occasion for him to draw the attention of everyone he meets to it by going about in a dress which would seem to them peculiar."
In due time a letter was received from Count Auguste de St. Caux, stating that the marquis had requested him to write and say that he was much gratified to hear that one of the doctor's own sons was coming over to be a companion and friend to his boys, and that he was sending off in the course of two days a gentleman of his household to Calais to meet him and conduct him to Paris. On young Mr. Sandwith's arrival at Calais he was to go at once to the Hotel Lion door and ask for M. du Tillet.
During the intervening time Harry had been very busy, he had to say good-bye to all his friends, who looked, some with envy, some with pity, upon him, for the idea of a three years' residence in France was a novel one to all. He was petted and made much of at home, especially by his sisters, who regarded him in the light of a hero about to undertake a strange and hazardous adventure.
Three days after the arrival of the letter of the marquis, Dr. Sandwith and Harry started by stage for Dover, and the doctor put his son on board the packet sailing for Calais. The evening before, he gave him much good advice as to his behaviour.
"You will see much that is new, and perhaps a good deal that you don't like, Harry, but it is better for you never to criticize or give a hostile opinion about things; you would not like it if a French boy came over here and made unpleasant remarks about English ways and manners. Take things as they come and do as others do; avoid all comparisons between French and English customs; fall in with the ways of those around you; and adopt as far as you can the polite and courteous manner which is general among the French, and in which, I must say, they are far ahead of us. If questioned, you will, of course, give your opinion frankly and modestly; it is the independence of thought among English boys which has attracted the attention and approval of Auguste de St. Caux.
"Be natural and simple, giving yourself no airs, and permitting none on the part of the lads you are with; their father says you are to be treated as their equal. But, upon the other hand, do not be ever on the lookout for small slights, and bear with perfect good temper any little ridicule your, to them foreign, ways and manners may excite. I need not tell you to be always straightforward, honest, and true, for of those qualities I think you possess a fair share. Above all things restrain any tendency to use your fists; fighting comes naturally to English boys, but in France it is considered as brutal and degrading—a blow is a deadly insult, and would never be forgiven.
"So, whatever the provocation, abstain from striking anyone. Should you find that in any way your position is made intolerable, you will of course appeal to the marquis, and unless you obtain redress you will come home—you will find no difficulty in travelling when you once understand the language—but avoid anything like petty complaints. I trust there will be no reason for complaints at all, and that you will find your position an exceedingly pleasant one as soon as you become accustomed to it; but should occasion arise bear my words in mind."
Harry promised to follow his father's advice implicitly, but in his own mind he wondered what fellows did when they quarrelled if they were not allowed to fight; however, he supposed that he should, under the circumstances, do the same as French boys, whatever that might be.
As soon as the packet was once fairly beyond the harbour Harry's thoughts were effectually diverted from all other matters by the motion of the sailing boat, and he was soon in a state of prostration, in which he remained until, seven hours later, the packet entered Calais harbour.
Dr. Sandwith had requested the captain to allow one of his men to show Harry the way to the Lion door. Harry had pulled himself together a little as the vessel entered the still water in the harbour, and was staring at the men in their blue blouses and wooden shoes, at the women in their quaint and picturesque attire, when a sailor touched him on the shoulder:
"Now, young sir, the captain tells me I am to show you the way to your hotel. Which is your box?"
Harry pointed out his trunk; the sailor threw it on his shoulder, and Harry, with a feeling of bewilderment, followed him along the gangway to the shore. Here he was accosted by an officer.
"What does he say?" he asked the sailor.
"He asks for your passport."
Harry fumbled in his breast pocket for the document which his father had obtained for him from the foreign office, duly viseed by the French ambassador, notifying that Henry Sandwith, age sixteen, height five feet eight, hair brown, eyes gray, nose short, mouth large, was about to reside in France in the family of the Marquis de St. Caux. The officer glanced it over, and then returned it to Harry with a polite bow, which Harry in some confusion endeavoured to imitate.
"What does the fellow want to bow and scrape like that for?" he muttered to himself as he followed his guide. "An Englishman would just have nodded and said 'All right!' What can a fellow want more, I should like to know? Well I suppose I shall get accustomed to it, and shall take to bowing and scraping as a matter of course."
The Lion door was close at hand. In reply to the sailor's question the landlord said that M. du Tillet was within. The sailor put down the trunk, pocketed the coin Harry gave him, and with a "Good luck, young master!" went out, taking with him, as Harry felt, the last link to England. He turned and followed the landlord. The latter mounted a flight of stairs, knocked at a door, and opened it.
"A young gentleman desires to see M. du Tillet," he said, and Harry entered.
A tall, big man, whose proportions at once disappointed Harry's preconceived notions as to the smallness and leanness of Frenchmen, rose from the table at which he was writing.
"Monsieur—Sandwith?" he said interrogatively. "I am glad to see you."
Harry did not understand the latter portion of the remark, but he caught the sound of his name.
"That's all right," he said nodding. "How do you do, M. du Tillet?"
The French gentleman bowed; Harry bowed; and then they looked at each other. There was nothing more to say. A smile stole over Harry's face, and broke into a frank laugh. The Frenchman smiled, put his hand on Harry's shoulder, and said:
"Brave garcon!" and Harry felt they were friends.
M. du Tillet's face bore an expression of easy good temper. He wore a wig with long curls; he had a soldier's bearing, and a scar on his left cheek; his complexion was dark and red, his eyebrows black and bushy. After a pause he said:
"Are you hungry?" and then put imaginary food to his mouth.
"You mean will I eat anything?" Harry translated. "Yes, that I will if there's anything fit to eat. I begin to feel as hungry as a hunter, and no wonder, for I am as hollow as a drum!"
His nod was a sufficient answer. M. du Tillet took his hat, opened the door, and bowed for Harry to precede him.
Harry hesitated, but believing it would be the polite way to do as he was told, returned the bow and went out. The Frenchman put his hand on his shoulder, and they went down stairs together and took their seats in the salon, where his companion gave an order, and in two or three minutes a bowl of broth was placed before each of them.
It fully answered Harry's ideas as to the thinness of French soup, for it looked like dirty water with a few pieces of bread and some scraps of vegetables floating in it. He was astonished at the piece of bread, nearly a yard long, placed on the table. M. du Tillet cut a piece off and handed it to him. He broke a portion of it into his broth, and found, when he tasted it, that it was much nicer than it looked.
"It's not so bad after all," he thought to himself. "Anyhow bread seems plentiful, so there's no fear of my starving." He followed his companion's example and made his way steadily through a number of dishes all new and strange to him; neither his sight nor his taste gave him the slightest indication as to what meat he was eating.
"I suppose it's all right," he concluded; "but what people can want to make such messes of their food for I can't make out. A slice of good roast beef is worth the lot of it; but really it isn't nasty; some of the dishes are not bad at all if one only knew what they were made of." M. du Tillet offered him some wine, which he tasted but shook his head, for it seemed rough and sour; but he poured himself out some water. Presently a happy idea seized him; he touched the bread and said interrogatively, "Bread?" M. du Tillet at once replied "Pain," which Harry repeated after him.
The ice thus broken, conversation began, and Harry soon learned the French for knife, fork, spoon, plate, and various other articles, and felt that he was fairly on the way towards talking French. After the meal was over M. du Tillet rose and put on his hat, and signed to Harry to accompany him. They strolled through the town, went down to the quays and looked at the fishing-boats; Harry was feeling more at home now, and asked the French name for everything he saw, repeating the word over and over again to himself until he felt sure that he should remember it, and then asking the name of some fresh object.
The next morning they started in the post-waggon for Paris, and arrived there after thirty-six hours' travel. Harry was struck with the roads, which were far better tended and kept than those in England. The extreme flatness of the country surprised him, and, except in the quaintness of the villages and the variety of the church towers, he saw little to admire during the journey.
"If it is all like this," he thought to himself, "I don't see that they have any reason for calling it La belle France."
Of Paris he saw little. A blue-bloused porter carried his trunk what seemed to Harry a long distance from the place where the conveyance stopped. The streets here were quiet and almost deserted after the busy thoroughfares of the central city. The houses stood, for the most part, back from the street, with high walls and heavy gates.
"Here we are at last," his guide said, as he halted before a large and massive gateway, surmounted by a coat of arms with supporters carved in stone work. He rang at the bell, which was opened by a porter in livery, who bowed profoundly upon seeing M. du Tillet. Passing through the doorway, Harry found himself in a spacious hall, decorated with armour and arms. As he crossed the threshold M. du Tillet took his hand and shook it heartily, saying, "Welcome!" Harry understood the action, though not the words, and nodded, saying:
"I think I shall get on capitally if they are all as jolly as you are."
Then they both laughed, and Harry looked round wondering what was coming next.
"The marquis and his family are all away at their chateau near Dijon," his companion said, waving his hand. "We shall stay a day or two to rest ourselves after our journey, and then start to join them."
He led Harry into a great salon magnificently furnished, pointed to the chairs and looking-glasses and other articles of furniture, all swathed up in coverings; and the lad understood at once that the family were away. This was a relief to him; he was getting on capitally with M. du Tillet, but shrank from the prospect of meeting so many strange faces.
A meal was speedily served in a small and comfortably-furnished apartment; and Harry concluded that although he might not be able to decide on the nature of his food, it was really nice, and that there was no fear whatever of his falling away in flesh. M. du Tillet pressed him to try the wine again, and this he found to be a vast improvement upon the vintage he had tasted at Calais.
After breakfast next morning they started for a walk, and Harry was delighted with the Louvre, the Tuileries, the Palais Royal, and other public buildings, which he could not but acknowledge were vastly superior to anything he had seen in London. Then he was taken to a tailor's, the marquis having commissioned his guide to carry out Dr. Sandwith's request in this matter. M. du Tillet looked interrogatively at Harry as he entered the shop, as if to ask if he understood why he was taken there.
Harry nodded, for indeed he was glad to see that no time was to be lost, for he was already conscious that his dress differed considerably from that of French boys. Several street gamins had pointed at him and made jeering remarks, which, without understanding the words, Harry felt to be insulting, and would, had he heard them in the purlieus of Westminster, have considered as a challenge to battle. He had not, however, suffered altogether unavenged, for upon one occasion M. du Tillet turned sharply round and caught one offender so smartly with his cane that he ran howling away.
"They are awful guys!" Harry thought as he looked at the French boys he met. "But it's better to be a guy than to be chaffed by every boy one meets, especially if one is not to be allowed to fight." It was, therefore, with a feeling of satisfaction that he turned into the tailor's shop. The proprietor came up bowing, as Harry thought, in a most cringing sort of way to his companion. M. du Tillet gave some orders, and the tailor unrolled a variety of pieces of cloth and other materials for Harry's inspection.
The lad shook his head and turned to his guide, and, pointing to the goods, asked him to choose the things which were most suitable for him; M. du Tillet understood the appeal and ordered four suits. Two of these were for ordinary wear; another was, Harry concluded, for the evening; and the fourth for ceremonial occasions.
The coats were cut long, but very open in front, and were far too scanty to button; the waistcoats were long and embroidered; a white and ample handkerchief went round the throat and was tied loosely, with long ends edged with lace falling in front; knee-breeches, with white stockings, and shoes with buckles, completed the costume.
Harry looked on with a smile of amusement, and burst into a hearty laugh when the garments were fixed upon, for the idea of himself dressed out in these seemed to him ludicrous in the extreme.
"How they would laugh at home," he thought to himself, "if they could see me in these things! The girls would give me no peace. And wouldn't there be an uproar if I were to turn up in them in Dean's Yard and march up school!"
Harry was then measured. When this was done he took out his purse, which contained fifty guineas; for his father had thought it probable that the clothes he would require would cost more than they would in London, and he wished him to have a good store of pocket-money until he received the first instalment of his pay. M. du Tillet, however, shook his head and motioned to him to put up his purse; and Harry supposed that it was not customary to pay for things in France until they were delivered. Then his companion took him into another shop, and pointing to his own ruffles intimated that Harry would require some linen of this kind to be worn when in full dress. Harry signified that his friend should order what was necessary; and half a dozen shirts, with deep ruffles at the wrist and breast, were ordered. This brought their shopping to an end.
They remained three days in Paris, at the end of which time Harry's clothes were delivered. The following morning a carriage with the arms of the marquis emblazoned upon it came up to the door, and they started. The horses were fat and lazy; and Harry, who had no idea how far they were going, thought that the journey was likely to be a long one if this was the pace at which they were to travel.
Twelve miles out they changed horses at a post-station, their own returning to Paris, and after this had relays at each station, and travelled at a pace which seemed to Harry to be extraordinarily rapid. They slept twice upon the road.
The third day the appearance of the country altogether changed, and, instead of the flat plains which Harry had begun to think extended all over France, they were now among hills higher than anything he had ever seen before. Towards the afternoon they crossed the range and began to descend, and as evening approached M. du Tillet pointed to a building standing on rising ground some miles away and said:
"That is the chateau."
A Mad Dog
It was dark before the carriage drove up to the chateau. Their approach had been seen, for two lackeys appeared with torches at the head of the broad steps. M. du Tillet put his hand encouragingly on Harry's shoulder and led him up the steps. A servant preceded them across a great hall, when a door opened and a gentleman came forward.
"Monsieur le Marquis," M. du Tillet said, bowing, "this is the young gentleman you charged me to bring to you.
"I am glad to see you," the marquis said; "and I hope you will make yourself happy and comfortable here."
Harry did not understand the words, but he felt the tone of kindness and courtesy with which they were spoken. He could, however, only bow; for although in the eight days he had spent with M. du Tillet he had picked up a great many nouns and a few phrases, his stock of words was of no use to him at present.
"And you, M. du Tillet," the marquis said. "You have made a good journey, I hope? I thank you much for the trouble you have taken. I like the boy's looks; what do you think of him?"
"I like him very much," M. du Tillet said; "he is a new type to me, and a pleasant one. I think he will make a good companion for the young count."
The marquis now turned and led the way into a great drawing-room, and taking Harry's hand led him up to a lady seated on a couch.
"This is our young English friend, Julie. Of course he is strange at present, but M. du Tillet reports well of him, and I already like his face."
The lady held out her hand, which Harry, instead of bending over and kissing, as she had expected, shook heartily. For an instant only a look of intense surprise passed across her face; then she said courteously:
"We are glad to see you. It is very good of you to come so far to us. I trust that you will be happy here."
"These are my sons Ernest and Jules, who will, I am sure, do all in their power to make you comfortable," the marquis said.
The last words were spoken sharply and significantly, and their tone was not lost upon the two boys; they had a moment before been struggling to prevent themselves bursting into a laugh at Harry's reception of their mother's greeting, but they now instantly composed their faces and advanced.
"Shake hands with him," the marquis said sharply; "it is the custom of his country."
Each in turn held out his hand to Harry, who, as he shook hands with them, took a mental stock of his future companions.
"Good looking," he said to himself, "but more like girls than boys. A year in the fifth form would do them a world of good. I could polish the two off together with one hand."
"My daughters," the marquis said, "Mesdemoiselles Marie, Jeanne, and Virginie."
Three young ladies had risen from their seats as their father entered, each made a deep curtsy as her name was mentioned, and Harry bowed deeply in return. Mademoiselle Marie was two years at least older than himself, and was already a young lady of fashion. Jeanne struck him as being about the same age as his sister Fanny, who was between fourteen and fifteen. Virginie was a child of ten. Ernest was about his own age, while Jules came between the two younger girls.
"Take M. Sandwith to the abbe," the marquis said to Ernest, "and do all in your power to set him at his ease. Remember what you would feel if you were placed, as he is, among strange people in a strange country."
The lad motioned to Harry to accompany him, and the three boys left the room together.
"You can go to your gouvernante," the marquise said to the two younger girls; and with a profound curtsy to her and another to the marquis, they left the room. Unrestrained now by their presence, the marquise turned to her husband with a merry laugh.
"But it is a bear you have brought home, Edouard, a veritable bear—my fingers ache still—and he is to teach manners to my sons! I always protested against the plan, but I did not think it would be as bad as this. These islanders are savages."
The marquis smiled.
"He is a little gauche, but that will soon rub off. I like him, Julie. Remember it was a difficult position for a boy. We did not have him here to give polish to our sons. It may be that they have even a little too much of this at present. The English are not polished, everyone knows that, but they are manly and independent. That boy bore himself well. He probably had never been in a room like this in his life, he was ignorant of our language, alone among strangers, but he was calm and self-possessed. I like the honest straightforward look in his face. And look at the width of the shoulders and the strength of his arms; why, he would break Ernest across his knee, and the two boys must be about the same age."
"Oh, he has brute strength, I grant," the marquise said; "so have the sons of our peasants; however, I do not want to find fault with him, it is your hobby, or rather that of Auguste, who is, I think, mad about these English; I will say nothing to prevent its having a fair trial, only I hope it will not be necessary for me to give him my hand again."
"I do not suppose it will until he leaves, Julie, and by that time, no doubt, he will know what to do with it; but here is M. du Tillet waiting all this time for you to speak to him."
"Pardon me, my good M. du Tillet," the marquise said. "In truth that squeeze of my hand has driven all other matters from my mind. How have you fared? This long journey with this English bear must have been very tedious for you."
"Indeed, Madame la Marquise," M. du Tillet replied, "it has been no hardship, the boy has amused me greatly; nay, more, he has pleased me. We have been able to say little to each other, though, indeed, he is quick and eager to learn, and will soon speak our language; but his face has been a study. When he is pleased you can see that he is pleased, and that is a pleasure, for few people are pleased in our days. Again, when he does not like a thing you can also see it. I can see that he says to himself, I can expect nothing better, these poor people are only French. When the gamins in Paris jeered him as to his dress, he closed his hands and would have flown at them with his fists after the manner of his countrymen had he not put strong restraint on himself. From the look of his honest eyes I shall, when he can speak our language, believe implicitly what he says. That boy would not tell a lie whatever were the consequences. Altogether I like him much. I think that in a very little while he will adapt himself to what goes on around him, and that you will have no reason ere long to complain of his gaucheries."
"And you really think, M. du Tillet, that he will be a useful companion for my boys?"
"If you will pardon me for saying so, madam, I think that he will—at any rate I am sure he can be trusted to teach them no wrong."
"You are all against me," the marquise laughed. "And you, Marie?"
"I did not think of him one way or the other," the girl said coldly. "He is very awkward; but as he is not to be my companion that does not concern me. It is like one of papa's dogs, one more or less makes no difference in the house so long as they do not tread upon one's skirt."
"That is the true spirit of the French nobility, Marie," her father said sarcastically. "Outside our own circle the whole human race is nothing to us; they are animals who supply our wants, voila tour. I tell you, my dear, that the time is coming when this will not suffice. The nation is stirring; that France which we have so long ignored is lifting its head and muttering; the news from Paris is more and more grave. The Assembly has assumed the supreme authority, and the king is a puppet in its power. The air is dark as with a thunder-cloud, and there may be such a storm sweep over France as there has not been since the days of the Jacquerie."
"But the people should be contented," M. du Tillet said; "they have had all the privileges they ever possessed given back to them."
"Yes," the marquis assented, "and there lies the danger. It is one thing or the other. If as soon as the temper of the third estate had been seen the king's guards had entered and cleared the place and closed the door, as Cromwell did when the parliament was troublesome to him in England, that would have been one way. Paris would have been troublesome, we might have had again the days of the Fronde, but in the end the king's party would have won.
"However, that was not the way tried. They began by concessions, they go on with concessions, and each concession is made the ground for more. It is like sliding down a hill; when you have once begun you cannot stop yourself, and you go on until there is a crash; then it may be you pick yourself up sorely wounded and bruised, and begin to reclimb the hill slowly and painfully; it may be that you are dashed to pieces. I am not a politician. I do not care much for the life of Paris, and am well content to live quietly here on our estates; but even I can see that a storm is gathering; and as for my brother Auguste, he goes about shaking his head and wringing his hands, his anticipations are of the darkest. What can one expect when fellows like Voltaire and Rousseau were permitted by their poisonous preaching to corrupt and inflame the imagination of the people? Both those men's heads should have been cut off the instant they began to write.
"The scribblers are at the root of all the trouble with their pestilent doctrines; but it is too late now, the mischief is done. If we had a king strong and determined all might yet be well; but Louis is weak in decision, he listens one moment to Mirabeau and the next to the queen, who is more firm and courageous. And so things drift on from bad to worse, and the Assembly, backed by the turbulent scum of Paris, are masters of the situation."
For some time Harry lived a quiet life at the chateau. He found his position a very pleasant one. The orders of the marquis that he should be treated as one of the family were obeyed, and there was no distinction made between himself and Ernest. In the morning the two boys and himself worked with the abbe, a quiet and gentle old man; in the afternoon they rode and fenced, under the instructions of M. du Tillet or one or other of the gentlemen of the marquis establishment; and on holidays shot or fished as they chose on the preserves or streams of the estate. For an hour each morning the two younger girls shared in their studies, learning Latin and history with their brothers. Harry got on very well with Ernest, but there was no real cordiality between them. The hauteur and insolence with which the young count treated his inferiors were a constant source of exasperation to Harry.
"He thinks himself a little god," he would often mutter to himself. "I would give a good deal to have him for three months at Westminster. Wouldn't he get his conceit and nonsense knocked out of him!"
At the same time he was always scrupulously polite and courteous to his English companion—much too polite, indeed, to please Harry. He had good qualities too: he was generous with his money, and if during their rides a woman came up with a tale of distress he was always ready to assist her. He was clever, and Harry, to his surprise, found that his knowledge of Latin was far beyond his own, and that Ernest could construct passages with the greatest ease which altogether puzzled him. He was a splendid rider, and could keep his seat with ease and grace on the most fiery animals in his father's stables.
When they went out with their guns Harry felt his inferiority keenly. Not only was Ernest an excellent shot, but at the end of a long day's sport he would come in apparently fresh and untired, while Harry, although bodily far the most powerful, would be completely done up; and at gymnastic exercises he could do with ease feats which Harry could at first not even attempt. In this respect, however, the English lad in three months' time was able to rival him. His disgust at finding himself so easily beaten by a French boy nerved him to the greatest exertions, and his muscles, practised in all sorts of games, soon adapted themselves to the new exercises.
Harry picked up French very rapidly. The absolute necessity there was to express himself in that language caused him to make a progress which surprised himself, and at the end of three months he was able to converse with little difficulty, and having learned it entirely by ear he spoke with a fair accent and pronunciation. M. du Tillet, who was the principal instructor of the boys in their outdoor exercises, took much pains to assist him in his French, and helped him on in every way in his power.
In the evening there were dancing lessons, and although very far from exhibiting the stately grace with which Ernest could perform the minuet or other courtly dances then in fashion, Harry came in time to perform his part fairly. Two hours were spent in the evening in the salon. This part of the day Harry at first found the most tedious; but as soon as he began to speak fluently the marquis addressed most of his conversation to him, asking him questions about the life of English boys at school and about English manners and customs, and Harry soon found himself chatting at his ease.
"The distinction of classes is clearly very much less with you in England than it is here," the marquis said one day when Harry had been describing a great fight which had taken place between a party of Westminster boys and those of the neighbourhood. "It seems extraordinary to me that sons of gentlemen should engage in a personal fight with boys of the lowest class. Such a thing could not happen here. If you were insulted by such a boy, what would you do, Ernest?"
"I should run him through the body," Ernest said quietly.
"Just so," his father replied, "and I don't say you would be wrong according to our notions; but I do not say that the English plan is not the best. The English gentleman—for Monsieur Sandwith says that even among grown-up people the same habits prevail—does not disdain to show the canaille that even with their own rough weapons he is their superior, and he thus holds their respect. It is a coarse way and altogether at variance with our notions, but there is much to be said for it."
"But it altogether does away with the reverence that the lower class should feel for the upper," Ernest objected.
"That is true, Ernest. So long as that feeling generally exists, so long as there is, as it were, a wide chasm between the two classes, as there has always existed in France, it would be unwise perhaps for one of the upper to admit that in any respect there could be any equality between them; but this is not so in England, where a certain equality has always been allowed to exist. The Englishman of all ranks has a certain feeling of self-respect and independence, and the result is shown in the history of the wars which have been fought between the two nations.
"France in early days always relied upon her chivalry. The horde of footmen she placed in the field counted for little. England, upon the other hand, relied principally upon her archers and her pikemen, and it must be admitted that they beat us handsomely. Then again in the wars in Flanders, under the English general Marlborough their infantry always proved themselves superior to ours. It is galling to admit it, but there is no blinking the facts of history. It seems to me that the feeling of independence and self-respect which this English system gives rise to, even among the lowest class, must render them man for man better soldiers than those drawn from a peasantry whose very lives are at the mercy of their lords."
"I think, du Tillet," the marquis said later on on the same evening, when the young people had retired, "I have done very well in taking my brother Auguste's advice as to having an English companion for Ernest. If things were as they were under the Grand Monarque, I do not say that it would have been wise to allow a young French nobleman to get these English ideas into his head, but it is different now.
"We are on the eve of great changes. What will come of it no one can say; but there will certainly be changes, and it is a good thing that my children should get broader ideas than those in which we were brought up. This lad is quiet and modest, but he ventures to think for himself. It scarce entered the head of a French nobleman a generation back that the mass of the people had any feelings or wishes, much less rights. They were useful in their way, just as the animals are, but needed no more consideration. They have never counted for anything.
"In England the people have rights and liberties; they won them years ago. It would be well for us in the present day had they done so in France. I fancy the next generation will have to adapt themselves to changed circumstances, and the ideas that Ernest and Jules will learn from this English lad will be a great advantage to them, and will fit them for the new state of things."
It was only during lessons, when their gouvernante was always present, at meal times, and in the salon in the evening, that Harry had any communication with the young ladies of the family. If they met in the grounds they were saluted by the boys with as much formal courtesy as if they had been the most distant acquaintances, returning the bows with deep curtsies.
These meetings were a source of great amusement to Harry, who could scarcely preserve his gravity at these formal and distant greetings. On one occasion, however, the even course of these meetings was broken. The boys had just left the tennis-court where they had been playing, and had laid aside the swords which they carried when walking or riding.
The tennis-court was at some little distance from the house, and they were walking across the garden when they heard a scream. At a short distance was the governess with her two young charges. She had thrown her arms round them, and stood the picture of terror, uttering loud screams.
Looking round in astonishment to discover the cause of her terror, Harry saw a large wolf-hound running towards them at a trot. Its tongue was hanging out, and there was a white foam on its jaws. He had heard M. du Tillet tell the marquis on the previous day that this dog, which was a great favourite, seemed strange and unquiet, and he had ordered it to be chained up. It had evidently broken its fastening, for it was dragging a piece of chain some six feet long behind It.
It flashed across him at once that the animal was mad, but without an instant's hesitation he dashed off at full speed and threw himself in front of the ladies before the dog reached them. Snatching off his coat, and then kneeling on one knee, he awaited the animal's attack. Without deviating from its course the hound sprang at him with a short snarling howl. Harry threw his coat over its head and then grasped it round the neck.
The impetus of the spring knocked him over, and they rolled together on the ground. The animal struggled furiously, but Harry retained his grasp round its neck. In vain the hound tried to free itself from its blinding encumbrance, or to bite his assailant through it, and struggled to shake off his hold with its legs and claws. Harry maintained his grasp tightly round its neck, with his head pressed closely against one of its ears. Several times they rolled over and over. At last Harry made a great effort when he was uppermost, and managed to get his knees upon the animal's belly, and then, digging his toes in the ground, pressed with all his weight upon it.
There was a sound as of cracking of bones, then the dog's struggles suddenly ceased, and his head fell over, and Harry rose to his feet by the side of the dead hound just as a number of men, with pitch-forks and other weapons, ran up to the spot from the stables, while the marquis, sword in hand, arrived from the house.
The gouvernante, too, paralysed by fear, had stood close by with her charges while the struggle was going on. Ernest had come up, and was standing in front of his sisters, ready to be the next victim if the dog had overpowered Harry. Less accustomed to running than the English boy, and for a moment rooted to the ground with horror at his sisters' danger, he had not arrived at the spot until the struggle between Harry and the dog was half over, and had then seen no way of rendering assistance; but believing that the dog was sure to be the conqueror, he had placed himself before his sisters to bear the brunt of the next assault.
Seeing at a glance that his daughters were untouched, the marquis ran on to Harry, who was standing panting and breathless, and threw his arms round him.
"My brave boy," he exclaimed, "you have saved my daughters from a dreadful death by your courage and devotion. How can I and their mother ever thank you? I saw it all from the terrace—the speed with which you sprang to their assistance—the quickness of thought with which you stripped off your coat and threw it over its head. After that I could see nothing except your rolling over and over in a confused mass. You are not hurt, I trust?"
"Not a bit, sir," Harry said.
"And you have killed it—wonderful!"
"There was nothing in that, sir. I have heard my father, who is a doctor, say that a man could kill the biggest dog if he could get it down on its back and kneel on it. So when I once managed to get my knees on it I felt it was all right."
"Ah, it is all very well for you to speak as if it were nothing!" the marquis said. "There are few men, indeed, who would throw themselves in the way of a mad dog, especially of such a formidable brute as that. You too have behaved with courage, my son, and I saw you were ready to give your life for your sisters; but you had not the quickness and readiness of your friend, and would have been too late."
"It is true, father," Ernest said in a tone of humility. "I should have been too late, and, moreover, I should have been useless, for he would have torn me down in a moment, and then fallen upon my sisters. M. Sandwith," he said frankly, "I own I have been wrong. I have thought the games of which you spoke, and your fighting, rough and barbarous; but I see their use now. You have put me to shame. When I saw that dog I felt powerless, for I had not my sword with me; but you—you rushed to the fight without a moment's hesitation, trusting in your strength and your head. Yes, your customs have made a man of you, while I am a boy still."
"You are very good to say so," Harry said; "but I am quite sure that you would be just as quick and ready as me in most circumstances, and if it had been a matter of swords, very much more useful; but I am glad you see there is some advantage in our rough English ways."
The marquis had put his hand approvingly upon Ernest's shoulder when he addressed Harry, and then turned to his daughters. The governess had sunk fainting to the ground when she saw that the danger was over. Virginie had thrown herself down and was crying loudly; while Jeanne stood pale, but quiet, beside them.
The marquis directed one of the men to run up to the chateau and bid a female servant bring down water and smelling-salts for the governess, and then lifted Virginie up and tried to soothe her, while he stretched out his other hand to Jeanne.
"You are shaken, my Jeanne," he said tenderly, "but you have borne the trial well. I did not hear you cry out, though madame, and the little one screamed loudly enough."
"I was frightened enough, father," she said simply, "but of course I wasn't going to cry out; but it was very terrible; and oh, how noble and brave he was! And you know, papa, I feel ashamed to think how often I have been nearly laughing because he was awkward in the minuet. I feel so little now beside him."
"You see, my dear, one must not judge too much by externals," her father said soothingly as she hid her face against his coat, and he could feel that she was trembling from head to foot. "Older people than you often do so, and are sorry for it afterwards; but as I am sure that you would never allow him to see that you were amused no harm has been done."
"Shall I thank him, papa?"
"Yes, presently, my dear; he has just gone off with Ernest to see them bury the dog."
This incident caused a considerable change in Harry's position in the family. Previously he had been accepted in consequence of the orders of the marquis. Although compelled to treat him as an equal the two boys had in their hearts looked upon him as an inferior, while the girls had regarded him as a sort of tutor of their brothers, and thus as a creature altogether indifferent to them. But henceforth he appeared in a different light. Ernest acted up to the spirit of the words he had spoken at the time, and henceforth treated him as a comrade to be respected as well as liked. He tried to learn some of the English games, but as most of these required more than two players he was forced to abandon them. He even asked him to teach him to box, but Harry had the good sense to make excuses for not doing so. He felt that Ernest was by no means his match in strength, and that, with all his good-will, he would find it difficult to put up good-naturedly with being knocked about. He therefore said that it could not be done without boxing-gloves, and these it would be impossible to obtain in France; and that in the next place he should hardly advise him to learn even if he procured the gloves, for that in such contests severe bruises often were given.
"We think nothing of a black eye," he said laughing, "but I am sure madame your mother would not be pleased to see you so marked; besides, your people would not understand your motive in undertaking so rough an exercise, and you might lose somewhat of their respect. Be content, Count Ernest; you are an excellent swordsman, and although I am improving under M. du Tillet's tuition I shall never be your match. If you like; sometime when we are out and away from observation we can take off our coats, and I can give you a lesson in wrestling; it is a splendid exercise, and it has not the disadvantages of boxing."
Little Jules looked up to Harry as a hero, and henceforth, when they were together, gave him the same sort of implicit obedience he paid to his elder brother. The ceremonious habits of the age prevented anything like familiarity on the part of the younger girls; but Jeanne and Virginie now always greeted him with a smile when they met, and joined in conversation with him as with their brothers in the evening.
The marquise, who had formerly protested, if playfully, against her husband's whim in introducing an English boy into their family circle, now regarded him with real affection, only refraining from constant allusions to the debt she considered she owed him because she saw that he really shrank from the subject.
The marquis shortly after this incident went to Paris for a fortnight to ascertain from his friends there the exact position of things. He returned depressed and angry.
The violence of the Assembly had increased from day to day. The property of all the convents had been confiscated, and this measure had been followed by the seizure of the vast estates of the church. All the privileges of the nobility had been declared at an end, and in August a decree had been passed abolishing all titles of nobility. This decree had taken effect in Paris and in the great towns, and also in some parts of the country where the passions of the people were most aroused against the nobility; but in Burgundy it had remained a dead letter. The Marquis de St. Caux was popular upon his estates, and no one had ever neglected to concede to him and to the marquise their titles. He himself had regarded the decree with disdain. "They may take away my estates by force," he said, "but no law can deprive me of my title, any more than of the name which I inherited from my fathers. Such laws as these are mere outbursts of folly."
But the Assembly continued to pass laws of the most sweeping description, assuming the sovereign power, and using it as no monarch of France had ever ventured to do. Moderate men were shocked at the headlong course of events, and numbers of those who at the commencement of the movement had thrown themselves heart and soul into it now shrank back in dismay at the strange tyranny which was called liberty.
"It seems to me that a general madness has seized all Paris," the marquis said to his wife on his return, "but at present nothing can be done to arrest it. I have seen the king and queen. His majesty is resolved to do nothing; that is, to let events take their course, and what that will be Heaven only knows. The Assembly has taken all power into its hands, the king is already a mere cipher, the violence of the leaders of these men is beyond all bounds; the queen is by turns hot and cold, at one moment she agrees with her husband that the only hope lies in conceding everything; at another she would go to the army, place herself in its hands, and call on it to march upon Paris.
"At anyrate there is nothing to be done at present but to wait. Already numbers of the deputies, terrified at the aspect of affairs, have left France, and I am sorry to say many of the nobles have also gone. This is cowardice and treachery to the king. We cannot help him if he will not be helped, but it is our duty to remain here ready to rally round him when he calls us to his side. I am glad that the Assembly has passed a law confiscating the estates of all who have emigrated."
Although the marquise was much alarmed at the news brought by her husband she did not think of questioning his decision. It did not seem to her possible that there could be danger for her and hers in their quiet country chateau. There might be disturbance and bloodshed, and even revolution, in Paris; but surely a mere echo of this would reach them so far away.
"Whenever you think it is right to go up and take your place by the king I will go and take mine by the queen," she said quietly. "The children will be safe here; but of course we must do our duty."
The winter passed quietly at the chateau; there was none of the usual gaiety, for a deep gloom hung over all the noble families of the province; still at times great hunting parties were got up for the chase of the wolves among the forests, for, when the snow was on the ground, these often came down into the villages and committed great depredations.
The Demon Wolf
Upon the first of these occasions Harry and Ernest were in high spirits, for they were to take part in the chase. It was the first time that Ernest had done so, for during the previous winter the marquis had been in attendance on the court. At an early hour the guests invited to take part in the chase began to assemble at the chateau. Many who lived at a distance had come overnight, and the great court-yard presented a lively aspect with the horses and attendants of the guests. A collation was spread in the great hall, and the marquise and her eldest daughter moved about among the guests saying a few words of welcome to each.
"Who is that young man who is talking to mademoiselle your sister, Ernest?" Harry asked, for since the adventure with the mad dog the ceremonious title had been dropped, and the boys addressed each other by their Christian names.
"That is Monsieur Lebat; he is the son of the Mayor of Dijon. I have not see him here before, but I suppose my father thinks it is well in these times to do the civil thing to the people of Dijon. He is a good-looking fellow too, but it is easy to see he is not a man of good family."
"I don't like his looks at all," Harry said shortly. "Look what a cringing air he puts on as he speaks to madame la marquise. And yet I fancy he could be insolent when he likes. He may be good-looking, but it is not a style I admire, with his thick lips and his half-closed eyes. If I met him at home I should say the fellow was something between a butcher and a Jew pedlar."
"Well done, monsieur the aristocrat!" Ernest said laughing. "This is your English equality! Here is a poor fellow who is allowed to take a place our of his station, thanks to the circumstances of the time, and you run him down mercilessly!"
"I don't run him down because he is not a gentleman," Harry said. "I run him down because I don't like his face; and if he were the son of a duke instead of the son of a mayor I should dislike it just as much. You take my word for it, Ernest, that's a bad fellow."
"Poor Monsieur Lebat!" Ernest laughed. "I daresay he is a very decent fellow in his way.
"I am sure he is not, Ernest; he has a cruel bad look. I would not have been that fellow's fag at school for any money.
"Well, it's fortunate, Harry, that you are not likely to see much of him, else I should expect to see you flying at his neck and strangling him as you did the hound."
Harry joined in the laugh.
"I will restrain myself, Ernest; and besides, he would be an awkward customer; there's plenty of strength in those shoulders of his, and he looks active and sinewy in spite of that indolent air he puts on; but there is the horn, it is time for us to mount."
In a few minutes some thirty gentlemen were in the saddle, the marquis, who was grand louvetier of the province, blew his horn, and the whole cavalcade got into motion, raising their hunting caps, as they rode off, to the marquise and her daughters, who were standing on the step of the chateau to see them depart. The dogs had already been sent forward to the forest, which was some miles distant.
On arriving there the marquis found several woodmen, who had been for the last two days marking the places most frequented by the wolves. They had given their reports and the party were just starting when a young forester rode up.
"Monsieur le marquis," he said, "I have good news for you; the demon wolf is in the forest. I saw him making his way along a glade an hour since as I was on my way thither. I turned back to follow him, and tracked him to a ravine in the hills choked with undergrowth."
The news created great excitement.
"The demon wolf!" the marquis repeated. "Are you sure?"
"Quite sure, monsieur. How could I mistake it! I saw him once four years ago, and no one who had once done so could mistake any other wolf for him."
"We are in luck indeed, gentlemen," the marquis said. "We will see if we can't bring this fellow's career to an end at last. I have hunted him a score of times myself since my first chase of him, well-nigh fifteen years ago, but he has always given us the slip."
"And will again," an old forester, who was standing close to Harry, muttered. "I do not believe the bullet is cast which will bring that wolf to earth."
"What is this demon wolf?" Harry asked Ernest.
"It is a wolf of extraordinary size and fierceness. For many years he has been the terror of the mothers of this part of France. He has been known to go into a village and boldly carry off an infant in mid-day. Every child who has been killed by wolves for years is always supposed to have been slain by this wolf. Sometimes he is seen in one part of the province, and sometimes in another.
"For months he is not heard of. Then there is slaughter among the young lambs. A child going to school, or an old woman carrying home a faggot from the forest is found torn and partly devoured, and the news spreads that the demon wolf has returned to the neighbourhood. Great hunts have over and over again been got up specially to slay him, but he seems to lead a charmed life. He has been shot at over and over again, but he seems to be bullet-proof.
"The peasants regard him not as an ordinary wolf but as a demon, and mothers quiet their children when they cry by saying that if they are not good the demon wolf will carry them off. Ah, if we could kill him to-day it would be a grand occasion!"
"Is there anything particular about his appearance?"
"Nothing except his size. Some of those who have seen him declare that he is as big as three ordinary wolves; but my father, who has caught sight of him several times, says that this is an exaggeration, though he is by far the largest wolf he ever saw. He is lighter in colour than other wolves, but those who saw him years ago say that this was not the case then, and that his light colour must be due to his great age."
The party now started, under the guidance of the forester, to the spot where he had seen the wolf enter the underwood.
It was the head of a narrow valley. The sides which inclosed it sloped steeply, but not too much so for the wolf to climb. During the last halt the marquis had arranged the plan of action. He himself, with three of the most experienced huntsmen, took their stations across the valley, which was but seventy or eighty yards wide. Eight of the others were to dismount and take post on either side of the ravine.
"I am sorry, gentlemen, that I cannot find posts for the rest of you, but you may have your share of the work. Over and over again this wolf has slipped away when we thought we had him surrounded, and what he has done before he may do again. Therefore, let each of you take up such a position as he thinks best outside our circle, but keeping well behind trees or other shelter, so as to cover himself from any random shot that may be fired after the wolf. Do you, on your part, fire only when the wolf has passed your line, or you may hit some of us."
The two lads were naturally among those left out from the inner circle.
"What do you think, Ernest; shall we remain on our horses here in the valley or climb the hills?"
"I should say wait here, Harry; in the first place, because it is the least trouble, and in the second, because I think he is as likely to come this way as any other. At any rate we may as well dismount here, and let horses crop that piece of fresh grass until we hear the horn that will tell us when the dogs have been turned into the thicket to drive him out."
It was half an hour before they heard the distant note of the horn.
"They have begun," Ernest exclaimed; "we had better mount at once. If the brute is still there he is just as likely, being such an old hand at the sport, to make a bolt at once, instead of waiting until the dogs are close to him."
"What are we to do if we see him?" Harry asked.
"We are to shoot him if we can. If we miss him, or he glides past before we can get a shot, we must follow shouting, so as to guide the rest as to the direction he is taking."
"My chance of hitting him is not great," Harry said. "I am not a very good shot even on my feet; but sitting in my saddle I do not think it likely I should get anywhere near him."
A quarter of an hour passed. The occasional note of a dog and the shouts of the men encouraging them to work their way through the dense thicket could be heard, but no sound of a shot met their ears.
"Either he is not there at all, or he is lying very close," Ernest said.
"Look, look!" Harry said suddenly, pointing through the trees to the right.
"That is the wolf, sure enough," Ernest exclaimed. "Come along."
The two lads spurred their horses and rode recklessly through the trees towards the great gray beast, who seemed to flit like a shadow past them.
"Mind the boughs, Ernest, or you will be swept from your saddle. Hurrah! The trees are more open in front."
But although the horses were going at the top of their speed they scarcely seemed to gain on the wolf, who, as it seemed to them, kept his distance ahead without any great exertion.
"We shall never catch him," Harry exclaimed after they had ridden for nearly half an hour, and the laboured panting of the horses showed that they could not long maintain the pace.
Suddenly, ten yards ahead of the wolf, a man, armed with a hatchet, stepped out from behind a tree directly in its way. He was a wood-cutter whose attention being called by the sound of the galloping feet of the horses, had left his half-hewn tree and stepped out to see who was coming. He gave an exclamation of surprise and alarm as he saw the wolf, and raised his hatchet to defend himself. Without a moment's hesitation the animal sprang upon him and carried him to the ground, fixing its fangs into his throat. There was a struggle for a few moments, and then the wolf left its lifeless foe and was about to continue its flight.
"Get ready to fire, Harry," Ernest exclaimed as the wolf sprang upon the man, "it is our last chance. If he gets away now we shall never catch him."
They reined in their horses just as the wolf rose to fly. Harry fired first, but the movement of his panting horse deranged his aim and the bullet flew wide. More accustomed to firing on horseback, Ernest's aim was truer, he struck the wolf on the shoulder, and it rolled over and over. With a shout of triumph the boys dashed forward, but when they were within a few paces the wolf leapt to its feet and endeavoured to spring towards them. Harry's horse wheeled aside so sharply that he was hurled from the saddle.
The shock was a severe one, and before he could rise to his feet the wolf was close upon him. He tried as he rose to draw his hunting-sword, but before he could do so, Ernest, who had, when he saw him fall, at once leaped from his horse, threw himself before him, and dealt the wolf a severe blow on the head with his weapon.
Furious with rage and pain the wolf sprang upon him and seized him by the shoulder. Ernest dropped his sword, and drawing his hunting-knife struck at it, while at the same moment Harry ran it through the body.
So strong and tenacious of life was the animal that the blows were repeated several times before it loosed its hold of Ernest's shoulder and fell dead.
"Are you hurt, my dear Ernest?" was Harry's first exclamation.
"Oh, never mind that, that's nothing," Ernest replied. "Only think, Harry, you and I have killed the demon wolf, and no else had a hand in it. There is a triumph for us."
"The triumph is yours, Ernest," Harry said. "He would have got away had you not stopped him with your bullet, and he would have made short work of me had you not come to my rescue, for I was half stunned with the fall, and he would have done for me as quickly as he did for that poor fellow there."
"That is true, Harry, but it was you who gave him his mortal wound. He would have mastered me otherwise. He was too strong for me, and would have borne me to the ground. No, it's a joint business, and we have both a right to be proud of it. Now let us fasten him on my horse; but before we do that, you must bind up my shoulder somehow. In spite of my thick doublet he has bit me very sharply. But first let us see to this poor fellow. I fear he is dead."
It was soon seen that nothing could be done for the woodman, who had been killed almost instantly. Harry, therefore, proceeded to cut off Ernest's coat-sleeve and bathed the wound. The flesh was badly torn, and the arm was so useless that he thought that some bones were broken. Having done his best to bandage the wound, he strapped the arm firmly across the body, so as to prevent its being shaken by the motion of the riding. It was with the greatest difficulty that they were able to lift the body of the wolf, but could not lay it across the horse, as the animal plunged and kicked and refused to allow it to be brought near. Ernest was able to assist but little, for now that the excitement was over he felt faint and sick with the pain of his wound.
"I think you had better ride off, Harry, and bring some one to our assistance. I will wait here till you come back."
"I don't like to do that," Harry said. "They must be seven or eight miles away, and I may not be able to find them. They may have moved away to some other part of the forest. Ah! I have an idea! Suppose I cut a pole, tie the wolf's legs together and put the pole through them; then we can hoist the pole up and lash its ends behind the two saddles. The horses may not mind so much if it's not put upon their backs."
"That might do," Ernest agreed; "but you mustn't make the pole more than six or seven feet long, or we shall have difficulty in riding between the trees."
The pole was soon cut and the wolf in readiness to be lifted, but the horses still refused to stand steady.
"Blindfold them, Harry," Ernest said suddenly, "and tie them up to two trees a few feet apart."
This was soon done, and the boys then patted and soothed them until they became quiet. The pole was now lifted, and this time they managed to lay it across the saddles and to lash it securely to the cantles. Then they mounted, and taking the bandages off the horses' eyes set out on their way. The horses were fidgety at first, but presently fell into a quiet walk.
For upwards of an hour they heard nothing of the huntsmen. Not a sound broke the stillness of the forest; the sun was shining through the leafless trees, and they were therefore enabled to shape their course in the direction in which they had come. Presently they heard the sound of a shot, followed by several others, and then the bay of hounds. The sound came from their left.
"They have been trying a fresh place," Ernest said, "and I expect they have come upon two wolves; one they have shot, the hounds are after the other."
They turned their horses' heads in the direction of the sounds, and presently Harry said:
"They are coming this way."
Louder and louder grew the sounds of the chase; then the deep tones of the hounds were exchanged for a fierce angry barking.
"The wolf is at bay!" Ernest exclaimed.
A minute later some notes were sounded on the horn.
"That is the mort, Harry. We shall arrive before they move on again."
Five minutes later they rode into a glade where a number of horsemen were assembled. There was a shout as they were seen.
"Why, Ernest," the marquis called as they approached, "we thought you had lost us. You have missed some rare sport; but what's the matter with your arm, and what have you got there?"
"We have got the demon wolf," Ernest replied; "so you haven't had all the sport to yourselves."
There was a general exclamation of surprise and almost incredulity, and then every one rode over to meet them, and when it was seen that the object slung between the two horses was really the demon wolf there was a shout of satisfaction and pleasure. Again the notes of the mort rang out through the woods, and every one crowded round the lads to congratulate them and to examine the dead monster. Ernest was lifted from his horse, for he was now reeling in the saddle, and could not have kept his seat many minutes longer. His wound was carefully examined, and the marquis pronounced the shoulder-bone to be broken. A litter was made and four of the foresters hoisted him upon their shoulders, while four others carried the wolf, still slung on its pole, behind the litter. While the preparations were being made Harry had given the history of the slaying of the wolf, saying that he owed his life to the quickness and courage of Ernest.
"And I owe mine to him," Ernest protested from the bank where he was lying. "The wolf would have killed me had he not slain it. I was lucky in stopping it with a ball, but the rest was entirely a joint affair."
The slaying of the demon wolf was so important an event that no one thought of pursuing the hunt further that day. The other two wolves were added to the procession, but they looked small and insignificant beside the body of that killed by the boys. Harry learned that no one had suspected that they had gone in pursuit of the wolf. A vigilant look-out had been kept all round the thicket, while the dogs hunted it from end to end, but no signs had been seen of it, and none were able to understand how it could have slipped between the watchers unseen.
After the ravine had been thoroughly beaten the party had moved off to another cover. On their way there the marquis had missed the two boys. No one had seen them, and it was supposed that they had loitered behind in the forest. Two or three notes of recall had been blown, and then no one had thought more of the matter until they rode into the glade when the second wolf had just been pulled down by the pack.
It was afternoon when the hunting party arrived at the chateau. Before they started homewards the marquis had sent off two horsemen; one to Dijon to bring a surgeon with all speed to the chateau, the other to tell the marquise that Ernest had been hurt, and that everything was to be got in readiness for him; but that she was not to make herself uneasy, as the injury was not a serious one. The messengers were charged strictly to say nothing about the death of the demon wolf.
The marquise and her daughters were at the entrance as the party arrived. The sight of the litter added to the anxiety which Ernest's mother was feeling; but the marquis rode on a short distance ahead to her.
"Do not be alarmed, Julie," he said; "the lad is not very seriously hurt. He has been torn a bit by a wolf, and has behaved splendidly."
"The messenger said he had been hurt by a wolf, Edouard; but how came he to put himself in such peril?"
"He will tell you all about it, my dear. Here he is to speak for himself."
"Do not look so alarmed, mother," Ernest said as she ran down to the side of the litter. "It is no great harm, and I should not have minded if it had been ten times as bad."
"Bring up the wolf," the marquis said, "and Harry, do you come here and stand by Ernest's side. Madam la marquise," he went on, "do you see that great gray wolf? That is the demon wolf which has for years been the terror of the district, and these are its slayers. Your son and M. Sandwith, they, and they alone, have reaped the glory which every sportsman in Burgundy has been so long striving to attain; they alone in the forest, miles away from the hunt, pursued and slew this scourge of the province."
He put his horn to his lips. The others who carried similar instruments followed his example. A triumphant traralira was blown. All present took off their hunting-caps and cheered, and the hounds added their barking to the chorus.
"Is it possible, Edward," the marquise said, terrified at the thought of the danger her son must have run in an encounter with the dreaded beast, "is it possible that these two alone have slain this dreadful wolf?"
"It is quite possible, my dear, since it has been done, though, had you asked me yesterday, I should almost have said that it could not be; however, there it is. Ernest and his brave young friend have covered themselves with glory; they will be the heroes of the department. But we must not stay talking here. We must get Ernest into bed as soon as possible. A surgeon will be here very shortly. I sent a messenger on to Dijon for one at the same time I sent to you."
The marquis stayed outside for a few minutes while the domestics handed round great silver cups full of spiced wine, and then bidding good-bye to his guests entered the chateau just as the surgeon rode up to the entrance.
"Please tell us all about it," his daughters asked him when, having seen the surgeon set the broken bone and bandage the wound, operations which Ernest bore with stoical firmness, he went down to the salon where his daughters were anxiously expecting him. "All about it, please. We have heard nothing, for Harry went upstairs with Ernest, and has not come down again."
The marquis told the whole story, how the wolf had made his escape unseen through the cordon round his lair, and had passed within the sight of the two boys some distance away, and how they had hunted it down and slain it. The girls shuddered at the story of the death of the wood-cutter and the short but desperate conflict with the wolf.
"Then Ernest has the principal honour this time," the eldest girl said.
"It is pretty evenly divided," the marquis said. "You see Ernest brought the wolf to bay by breaking its shoulder, and struck the first blow as it was flying upon Harry, who had been thrown from his horse. Then, again, Ernest would almost certainly have been killed had not Harry in his turn come to his assistance and dealt it its mortal blows. There is not much difference, but perhaps the chief honours rest with Ernest."
"I am glad of that, papa," Mademoiselle de St. Caux said; "it is only right the chief honour should be with your son and not with this English boy. He has had more than his share already, I think."
"You would not think so if he had saved your life, sister," Jeanne broke in impetuously. "It was very brave of them both to kill the wolf; but I think it was ever, ever so much braver to attack a great mad dog without weapons. Don't you think so, papa?"
"I don't think you should speak so warmly to your elder sister, Jeanne," the marquis said; "she is a grown-up young lady, and you are in the school-room. Still, in answer to your question, I admit that the first was very much the braver deed. I myself should have liked nothing better than to stand before that great wolf with my hunting sword in my hand; but although if I had been near you when the hound attacked you, I should doubtless have thrown myself before you, I should have been horribly frightened and should certainly have been killed; for I should never have thought of or carried so promptly out the plan which Harry adopted of muzzling the animal. But there is no need to make comparisons. On the present occasion both the lads have behaved with great bravery, and I am proud that Ernest is one of the conquerors of the demon wolf. It will start him in life with a reputation already established for courage. Now, come with me and have a look at the wolf. I don't think such a beast was ever before seen in France. I am going to have him stuffed and set up as a trophy. He shall stand over the fireplace in the hall, and long after we have all mouldered to dust our descendants will point to it proudly, telling how a lad of their race, with another his own age, slew the demon wolf of Burgundy."
Ernest was confined to his bed for nearly a month, and during this time Harry often went long rides and walks by himself. In the evening the marquis frequently talked with him over the situation of the country and compared the events which had taken place with the struggle of the English parliament with the king.
"There was one point of difference between the two cases," he said one evening. "In England the people had already great power in the state. The parliament had always been a check upon the royal authority; and it was because the king tried to overrule parliament that the trouble came about. Here our kings, or at least the ministers they appointed, have always governed; often unwisely I admit, but is it likely that the mob would govern better? That is the question. At present they seem bent on showing their incapacity to govern even themselves."
The Marquis de St. Caux had, in some respects, the thoughts and opinions of the old school. He was a royalist pure and simple. As to politics, he troubled his head little about them. These were a matter for ministers. It was their business to find a remedy for the general ills. As to the National Assembly which represented only the middle class and people, he regarded it with contempt.
"Why, it was from the middle class," he said, "that the oppressors of the people were drawn. It is they who were farmers-general, collectors, and officials of all kinds. It is they who ground down the nation and enriched themselves with the spoil. It is not the nobles who dirtied their hands with money wrung from the poor. By all means let the middle class have a share in the government; but it is not a share they desire. The clergy are to have no voice; the nobility are to have no voice; the king himself is to be a cipher. All power is to be placed in the hands of these men, the chosen of the scum of the great towns, the mere mouthpieces of the ignorant mob. It is not order that these gentry are organizing, it is disorder."
Such were the opinions of the marquis, but he was tolerant of other views, and at the gatherings at the chateau Harry heard opinions of all kinds expressed.
During his rambles alone he entered as much as he could into conversation with the peasants, with woodcutters, foresters, and villagers. He found that the distress which prevailed everywhere was terrible. The people scarcely kept life together, and many had died of absolute starvation. He found a feeling of despair everywhere, and a dull hatred of all who were above them in the world. Harry had difficulty in making them talk, and at first could obtain only sullen monosyllables. His dress and appearance showed him to belong to the hated classes, and set them against him at once; but when he said that he was English, and that in England people were watching with great interest what was passing in France, they had no hesitation in speaking.
Harry's motives in endeavouring to find out what were the feelings of the people at large, were not those of mere curiosity. He was now much attached to the marquis and his family; and the reports which came from all parts of France, as well as from Paris, together with the talk among the visitors at the chateau, convinced him that the state of affairs was more serious than the marquis was inclined to admit. The capture of the Bastille and the slaughter of its defenders—the massacres of persons obnoxious to the mob, not only in the streets of Paris but in those of other great towns, proved that the lower class, if they once obtained the upper hand, were ready to go all lengths; while the number of the nobility who were flocking across the frontier showed that among this body there existed grievous apprehensions as to the future.
Harry had read in a book in the library of the chateau an account of the frightful excesses perpetrated by the Jacquerie. That dreadful insurrection had been crushed out by the armour-clad knights of France; but who was to undertake the task should such a flame again burst out? The nobles no longer wore armour, they had no armed retainers; they would be a mere handful among a multitude. The army had already shown its sympathy with the popular movement, and could not be relied upon. That the marquis himself should face out any danger which might come seemed to Harry right and natural; but he thought that he was wrong not to send his wife and daughters, and at any rate Jules, across the Rhine until the dangers were passed.