A woman’s stubborn pride is the final barrier to freedom in this stirring tale of French Revolution days
OUT OF the yellow chaise, whose horses reeled to a standstill in the cobbled yard of the Three Pigeons (formerly the Three Kings) at Pontarlier, sprang a tall, lean man, bawling “Horses!”
The postboy slid from the saddle, and faced him with a wide-mouthed grin. “It’s a miracle the poor beasts are standing up. Another furlong and they must have burst.” He went unheeded by the traveller, who continued peremptorily.
The landlord, who was also the postmaster of Pontarlier, emerged, thrusting aside a stable boy. He came in a truculence that fell from him like a cloak at sight of the tricolor sash of office about the traveller’s waist.
“Alas, Citizen-Representative, my stables are empty, and so is every other stable in Pontarlier. A requisition this morning took all our cattle.”
No horses!” The Representative’s countenance suggested a catastrophe. His vigor was blown out of him; his very stature seemed to diminish. “No horses! Oh, but ■ . . Name of heaven! I am in haste. In great haste. Business of the nation.”
The host was sympathetic. “What would you? For once the business of the nation must wait until your own horses are rested.”
Look at them,” cried the Representative in exasperation. It was as if he asked would they ever be lit to travel again. They stood with heaving flanks and sodden,
darkened coats from which a steam was rising on the chill air of that grey November afternoon.
“One sees well that they’ve not been spared.” the landlord commented. “But a good rub down, a feed of corn and a twelve hours rest, and you’ll l>e on your way again. We’ll make you comfortable for the night at the Three Pigeons, citizen.”
The landlord fell to praising his house, his beds, his wine, his kitchen. The Citizen-Representative would find here none of the Lenten fare imposed by the hard times upon so many hostelries in France.
The traveller scarcely heeded this babble. "Twelve hours!” he was muttering. “I ask myself by how many hours that may be too late.”
The Representative supplied no explanation. “Enfin! Idle to stand here in the cold." He shrugged, drew himself up and squared his shoulders, a man bracing himself to the inevitable. “Boy, see the horses stabled. Landlord, lead the way.”
He was brought to an inn parlor that was cheerfully aglow from a fire of heaped logs, and dominated by a great dresser laden with implements and utensils of brass and copjx:r, whose polished surfaces reflected the leaping flames.
The landlord recited the contents of a well-stocked larder to his distinguished guest who stood in gloomy preoccupation over the fire, his forearm along the overmantel, his head resting upon it.
“Yes. yes.” he muttered absently to that catalogue of pheasant, venison, capon and the rest. “Anything. At your choice.”
The host strove with his disgust. “The venison, then. It will be longer cooking; but since you’re not now in haste . . . You shall give me news of it when you’ve eaten. And with it perhaps a flask of red Anjou. A wine of quality. Oh, but of great quality.” He paused in vain for a reply. "Uien. It is understood, then.”
1 le shuffled out. A curmudgeon, this Representative, an animal. These republicans were more haughty and intractable than the aristocrats of old, and of a consequence that nothing must withstand. 11ère was a spoiled darling of the rabble made sour and surly because of a delay that probably mattered nothing. Contemptuously the landlord went to see to the preparation of a supper in which the guest’s lack of interest liad extinguished his own.
The Representative stripped off his greatcoat, tossed it over the tall back of a wooden settle that was ranged beside the hearth, sat down, and lost himself in gloomy abstraction. From this he was presently roused by a sound of wheels and hoofs. He sprang up, listening, eyes wide and startled; then he crossed briskly to the window.
He beheld a man and a woman alighting from a post chaise that was drawn by a pair of horses manifestly still fresh. At the sight, something more than relief succeeded apprehension. It occurred to him that these travellers would make a longer sojourn at the Three Pigeons than they suspected; for if they would not relinquish these horses to him in response to his courteous request, he would exercise his powers as a member of the government, and requisition them.
He heard their approaching voices and the landlord's, and the hollow ring of their steps on the stone flags of the jxissage. Then the parlor door was flung open, and they were across the threshold before they perceived the grimly waiting figure of its occupant. The sight of him—his quality advertised by his sash of office—halted them with an abruptness that was almost a recoil.
The woman was first to recover. Tall, young and beautifully proportioned, the almost classical perfection of her face and its delicate tint announced a rank that refused
to be dissembled by the simple bourgeois gown she wore with its muslin fichu crossed upon her generous breast. Besides, although she dressed the humble part, she could not act it. Humility was mocked by the poise of her head, and the glance with which she measured the Representative betrayed arrogance of caste.
The man, as tall as the Representative and as spare, offered in his plain brown frock the same republican simplicity of apparel, and wore his lank black hair en oreilles de chien. He displayed a like simplicity in his demeanor, nor was it assumed, for Armand de Beauval, Vicomte de Fresnay, was by nature kindly, gentle and unaffected. He expressed it in a glad astonishment of recognition following upon that first startled check.
“Why! Vailly!” He came forward, offering his hand.
The Representative met surprise with surprise. “If it is not Beauval !” he exclaimed, and came a step to meet him.
Smiling, they clasped hands. The landlord beamed.
“Now that is pleasant. No place like an inn for chance encounters. You will all sup happily together.”
Of that happiness there was no promise in Madame’s austerity. 11er expression was so scornful that her countenance lost most of its attractiveness. Darker still grew her brows when her husband presented the republican.
“Clotilde, my dear, this is my old friend, the CitizenRepresentative Vailly. He is from Troyes, like ourselves. A compatriot.” There was an appeal in his eyes. “We were at school together, Vailly and I. at Louis-le-Grand.”
The courtly grace in the Representative’s bow was observed by Madame with a cold stare that increased her husband's uneasiness. He added nervously: “You’ve often heard me speak of Vailly. He represented the Third Estate of Troyes in the States General, and has since become a man of great consequence in the Convention.”
As an appeal to her caution, as a warning that here was one whom it would be dangerous to offend, it failed completely.
Vailly, who had been born a gentleman, and retained the manners of one despite his fall from grace, affected not to perceive a hostility which he perfectly understood. He set a chair for her. “A seat, madame. Here by the fire. The weather is raw. You will be cold.”
Without acknowledgment she swept past him, and went to seat herself, spreading slim, aristocratic hands to the blaze.
The landlord departed, and the Vicomte made excuses for her.
“My wife is tired, Vailly. We’ve had a trying journey in this cold. Tired and anxious. You know how anxiety wears down the spirit. Old friend, I know we are safe with you, in spite of politics. I may be frank without fear.”
The Representative went to his assistance. “No need, my friend. You can tell me nothing that I do not know. You are proscribed, of course. And if I find you within five miles of Switzerland, it is because you are in flight. What then?” With a shrug and a smile, he added: “I
rejoice that you should have come so far in safety. It is certainly not I who will raise any obstacle to your crossing the frontier.”
“I knew it. You hear this good Vailly, Clotilde?”
She looked round. “I am relieved,” she admitted coldly. “Monsieur Vailly—ah, pardon!—The Citizen Vailly will understand that I was not to guess so much forbearance in one of his political faith.”
“An old friendship, madame,” Vailly assured her, “should count for more than politics.”
“Does anything count with sans-culottes?”
He refused to be ruffled by her offensiveness which served merely to engage his sympathies more deeply for the Vicomte. He marvelled that with so uncompromising and imprudent a wife, the man should so long have kept his head.
“Political beliefs may wither and change, madame. Not so the friendships that we form in our early years, before doctrines are embraced that place men in different camps.”
"Doctrines! The doctrines you profess, sir, have done that to some purpose. They have drenched the land in blood.”
Beauval moved swiftly to her side, to set a cautioning hand upon her shoulder. She shrugged it off.
“What then? Am I never to speak my mind? Am I to cringe like a coward, and be silent?”
Vailly answered her. “With safety almost in sight, madame, it would be more prudent.” he gently reproached
her. “Having won so far. it were folly to jeopardize escape by unnecessary frankness.”
“Indeed, indeed, Clotilde,” Beauval said. “You hear?”
But she was too intolerant of reproof. “I hear myself subjected to impertinences.”
T/DULLY laughed outright. “Not impertinences.
* madame. Nothing could be more pertinent than what I have said. Fortunately, perhaps, the treason you so rashly utter represents opinions which I have come to share. But it was not the doctrines which I embraced and for which I fought that were unsound. Those were lofty and noble. They were conceived by men of heart and brain, whose only purpose was to better the lot of all mankind. Unfortunately the revolution that we made has fallen into the control of political adventurers, of selfseeking sanguinocrats, who have befouled our labors. For the tyranny of the palace which we abolished, they have set up a tyranny of the gutter. I surprise you? Let me confess, then, that I have done with the Republic; that I, too, am leaving France.”
ou are leaving France? Done with it, you say. Having made of it a shambles, having wrecked it, spread misery and desolation over the face of it, you go. To us against whom you stirred up these horrors, all you say is that you perceive your error.”
“But that is what I have not said.” His tone was gentle. “There was no error in the conception. It is that execution has fallen into the hands of criminals; who crowded in through the door we opened so that we might drive criminals out.”
We were those criminals you would have driven out. That is what you mean.” She spoke in swelling indignation. Her husband intervened.
Peace! Peace!” he cried. “What purpose does it serve now to recriminate?”
Particularly,” added the Representative, “since today we are in the same case, you and I : fugitives alike.”
From the havoc such men as you have wrought,” she insisted.
Have it so if you will, madame.” He sighed and turned to the Vicomte. T could not wish, Beauval, at such a time
to embitter this meeting by disputes.”
“Nor could I.” Beauval agreed. “It is fortunate for us that the meeting is with you, Vailly, and not another.”
The Vicomtesse’s contempt for what she accounted a lack of pride was audible. Elbow on knee and chin in her hand, she frowned into the fire, and her foot resumed an impatient tapping. Vailly, observing it. likened it to the tail-lashings of an angry wildcat. His weary eyes looked at Beauval.
“If I could further your escape, believe me, I should be happy. But . . . No doubt you have well provided. You will be supplied with papers.” The Vicomte shook his head. “We have none.” “None?” The Representative frowned. “Then how do you propose to cross the frontier?”
“By stealth. On foot. Avoiding roads, and keeping to the open country and the mountains. Fortunately I am familiar with the district. Many have crossed the Jura in safety, and so with a little luck shall we.”
“It has its dangers.” “Without passports we have no choice. But I assure you, I am not seriously worried.”
“Even so, hardships remain. For a man they are perhaps no great matter. But for a lady ...” He looked at the Vicomtesse.
“I do not ask your concern, monsieur,” she snapped.
“It is inevitable that I should feel it, madame.” Her delicate beauty stimulated his desire to stiften this hostility. “If I could offer help, instead of useless sympathy. If .
And yet . . . something I might do. My passport is personal only to myself—a Representative on mission to Switzerland. Unfortunately not even my office and the deference it commands would enable me to pass both of you over the frontier with me. But if a lady only were to accompany me, the frontier guards would hardly find this so strange that they would not be content to wink at it in the case of a Representative of the Nation.”
His tone left no doubt that this was an offer. Beauval sprang forward eagerly, to clutch his arm.
“You would do that. Vailly ! God reward you, my friend. It would take a load from my heart. Alone I should face the adventure without concern. If you take my wife with you ...”
There she interrupted him. “Are you crazy? You must be, if you can conceive so mean a thought of me.”
“My dear, my dear,” he faltered. “All my thought is for your safety, for . . . ”
“Safety may be too dearly bought. Have you not lived long enough to realize it? Rather than support such a proposal I should have expected you to resent the insult of it.”
“Oh, madame!” Vailly remonstrated. “Insult can exist only where there is the intention to offend.”
“It can exist in a presumption, Monsieur the SansCulotte.”
The Representative calmly bowed. “I make you my excuses, madame. In my stupidity I conceived your need so urgent that I hoped you might overlook the unworthiness of the means by which you served it. Forgive me.” He turned more briskly to Beauval, who stood crushed by shame and misery. “To come to what are purely my own concerns, I am delayed here by lack of relays, and the delay is not without danger for me. Since you will be going
hence on foot I will make so bold as to appropriate your horses. If you will give me leave I will have them harnessed to my chaise at once. As I shall not now remain to sup. madame will be relieved of my presence.”
“My dear Vailly, I ... I ... ”
“Not another word.” The Representative was all kindly graciousness. “By your leave.”
AS THE door closed upon Vailly, Beauval looked at his wife. “Clotilde! How could you? Oh, how could
"Ah! And now I am to be scolded, I suppose.”
“Scolded? No. But, my dear, to reject so offensively an offer so generous.”
“Am 1 to accept favors from your gutterlings?”
“But Vailly ! An old friend.”
“It does you no credit to have friends among the rabble. Always you disappoint me, Armand, and I suppose you always will. Even to suggest that I should travel with this man—as what? A woman to be leered at by the corps de £7rde at the frontier. Is that your notion of the part to be played by the Vicomtesse de Beauval?”
He choked down a rising indignation. Through five years of matrimony this headstrong, ill-natured, lovely termagant had abused his patient nature. Always her merciless tongue had scourged him to obey a will, that often had been no more than a perversity. Yielding for the sake of peace, he had come ever more inextricably under that petulant yoke.
“What then of dignity, of proper pride?” she interrupted him. “To be sure you have none. Because of that you have had to suffer countless humiliations. But not on that account will I be humiliated.”
“When one is bom a lady it is not necessary to be so conscious of it,” he protested. “My concern was for your safety.”
“My safety? Was it not rather your own? A woman would hamper you across the Jura. You would travel more quickly and safely alone. Why do you scowl at me? Am I wrong perhaps? I lave I not always been the victim of your selfishness? Of that and your stupidity, and never more than now when a man of wit is needed.”
I le flung out a hand in distraction. “Tell me, then, what a man of wit would do.”
“Are you quite a fool, Armand?” She stcxxl up suddenly. “This man. this rascal, this Citizen-Representative, possesses papers that will pass him anywhere. He is on mission, so he said, to Switzerland. He also said that the frontier guards would not account it odd in a CitizenRepresentative to travel with a light-of-love. That was the noble part you had in mind that I might play. Very well. I’ll play it if you will play the Citizen-Representative.” “Play the Citizen-Representative? What do you mean?” “Oh, for a man of a little understanding ! Possess yourself of his papers. We can travel in safety under the shelter of them. That is what I mean.”
“That is merely mad.” He shrugged his ill-humored scorn of the suggestion. “How could it be accomplished?” “You carry pistols. Are they merely for adornment?” "Heaven of heavens! What are you suggesting? Am I to kill a man so that 1 may rob him? Is that whither I am to be led by this pride, this dignity of which you are so conscious?”
But she was no longer heeding him. Her glance had settled upon Vailly's greatcoat, where it lay tossed across the back of the wooden settle. On a sudden inspiration she crossed to it, flung it inside out. and disclosed a bulging inner pocket. From this she pulled a bulky leather wallet. With swift fingers that trembled in their eagerness, she ran through the contents, despite the muttered protests of Beauval, and drew forth at last a sheet headed by the emblems of the Republic, One and Indivisible.
“Here it is. His passjxjrt. ‘Let no man hinder . . .’ ” she was reading, when he broke in:
“Bah ! The description, then?”
Feverishly she read it out: “ ‘Hair, straight and black; eyes, dark, complexion, olive; nose, hooked . . . ’ You possess all these. ‘Height, one metre seventy.’ That is about your height. It all fits.”
“You are proposing to turn thief?”
Her stare was one of amazed anger, while he ran on: “Is this the wit you promised? A nice return for the toleration he has shown us, for his offer of assistance. And the folly, the futile folly of it! When he discovers the theft ...” “Your pistols can prevent that. Or does your courage falter?”
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“Courage? Courage to do murder !”
She was Hung into raging disgust. “This is war, you fool. This man represents the enemy. It is his life or ours.”
“That is not even true. Our plans are sound, and we will keep to them.”
“When we have this?” She flourished the passport. “Don’t you understand that it makes our escape easy and certain?” “At the price of murder. I am to buy our safety by murdering an old friend, one who despite all differences is ready to help us now. That would be noble !”
“Is it more noble to sacrifice your wife? You have to choose. Choose whether you’ll see me dragged back to Paris and the guillotine or raise your hand against this gutterling?”
“How you distort the facts!” he cried out in despair.
“Distort them? This is a chance sent by heaven. Will you neglect it as you have neglected so many? Act the man for once.”
“The assassin, you mean,” he interjected.
“Listen to me, Armand. If you refuse I shall not take another step with you. Understand me. I refuse—definitely refuse—to go tramping through the Jura mountains. Unless you spare me that, I shall go back to Paris at the risk of being guillotined. That, at least, would put an end to a life that your cruel disregard of me has poisoned. 1 swear it. Now make your choice.”
OFTEN had he hated her but never had he hated her as now. His knowledge of her unyielding stubbornness did not permit him to doubt that she would execute her threat. To spite and punish him, did he deny her, he judged her capable of laying her head under the knife; and the courage, with the lack of which she taunted him, was the courage to let her do it.
Agonized, he stcxxi before her. Then a thought arose, to supply a hopeful pretext. "Don’t you see that to pistol him would bring the place about our ears? Our doom would then be certain.”
“There are other ways. Silent ways. You have your hands. You are powerful. Must 1 tell you this? Must I always think for both?”
“What you ask is unthinkable, he protested.
“Unthinkable! But it is not unthinkable to leave me in danger.”
‘ I leave you in none that I do not share with you.”
“I am to comfort myself with that! And then, abruptly, her tactics changed. She was in tears. “Always it has been the same,” she complained. “Always. From the hour I married you. Your folly and your weakness have spoiled my life. Always have vou opposed me. Had you had a thought for me. you would have emigrated months ago, when I first urged it, when all sensible men were doing so.
“Clotilde! Were they all fools and weaklings, then, who remained to suffer?
"I am not concerned with them. I did not marry them. 1 married you.
“Alas!” he sighed.
That stayed her tears, and revived her fury. “So! And now you insult me. And in such an hour as this. Oh, it is brave, it is gallant, to mock a weak, defenseless woman. How detestable you are. But how right not to protect me. I am better dead.”
“Hush, Clotilde! Hush!”
She was hushed, however, not by his prayer, but by the sound of Vailly’s returning steps. In panic her shaking hand thrust the passport into her bosom, and returned the wallet to the pocket of the greatcoat. Her fumbling had scarcely completed the task when Vailly came in, announcing that his chaise was ready.
He had cast off the gloom that earlier had enveloped him, and seemed a man transfigured. His glance, moving from one to the other of them, noted their look of strain. A moment he hesitated, smiling a little. Then, in a tone almost apologetic, “I wonder,” he said, “whether upon second thoughts, madame would avail herself of the offer I had the temerity to make. If so, I am entirely at her service, to carry her to Neuchâtel, where you, Beauval, would rejoin her.”
This time her refusal was in more courteous terms. “You are very good, monsieur.” Her voice had a queer, strangled sound. “But the Vicomte and I are resolved to go together.”
He made a little gesture of regretful dismissal. “So be it. It remains, then, only to wish you a safe journey.”
He moved past them, to take his greatcoat. They saw him check and stare. The garment lay reversed; the inner pocket was displayed, and from this a third of the wallet was protruding.
Their cringing seemed to supply an answer to his questioning glance. He drew forth the wallet, and set himself to inspect its contents.
Within the space of a single heart-beat Beauval perceived to what he was committed by the rash action of his wife. He conceived that he had now no choice. At whatever cost he must prevent a discovery which must result in ruin and death for her as for himself. Within the space of that same heart-beat, standing as he did by the dresser, behind the Representative, his hand had closed upon a heavy brass candlestick, and with all his strength, using the utensil as a bludgeon, he had brought it down upon Vailly’s head.
The Representative’s knees bent under him, and without a single cry he sagged down, senseless, at their feet.
For one breathless moment they stood gazing upon the fallen man. Then the Vicomtesse spoke.
"Thank heaven that for once you have acted sensibly.” But her quavering voice and ashen face belied the stout cynicism of her words.
Beauval went down on one knee beside the unconscious Representative. “At least, God be thanked, he lives,” he announced* ‘ •
“Then jtfe’ve the less time to waste. Come ! Stir yourself. Let us go.”
"Go? Ah, yes.” He stood up. He glanced stupidly at the candlestick which he still held. He flung it from him in sudden horror. “I shall always hate myself for this.” he cried. “Why did you put it upon me?”
“Will you rant now, when every second counts? Here!” She caught up Vailly's greatcoat, and thrust it upon him. Halfdazed under that dominance to which he yielded while detesting it and her who exercised it, he struggled into the garment. She raised the wide collar, so that it muffled him to the ears, pressed down upon his brows the republican’s round, shadowing hat. “Come,” she commanded. “Come! Don’t you yet understand? The Representative’s chaise is waiting at the
door. You are now the Representative, and you have persuaded me to travel with you.”
STILL bewildered, he allowed her to lead him forth, leaving all initiative to those remorseless wits that forgot nothing.
There was a moment’s pause while she locked the parlor door and withdrew the key. “That will delay anyone who comes, and prevent Vailly from following if he recovers too soon. By the time they discover him, we shall be upon our way. and there are no horses with which to follow us.”
They sped to the doorway leading to the yard, where the landlord waited. Masterfully she thrust her muffled husband on toward the waiting yellow chaise, the postboy already in the saddle.
“I am accompanying the Citizen-Representative,” she announced. “My brother remains with you until tomorrow. He will pay you for your trouble.”
Beauval had climbed into the vehicle. With her foot on the step, she gave her orders to the postilion. “You’ll take the road to St. Sulpicc, and remember that the Citizen-Representative is pressed. So do not spare the horses.” •
She sprang in, the landlord slammed the door, the postilion cracked his whip, and the yellow chaise rolled out of the yard and took the way out of the town at rocking speed.
She fetched a deep sigh of relief as she sank back, her pulses throbbing. “It is done. You see how easy it all proved.” “Easy, indeed.” He was bitter. “God forgive me. And you.”
“What a weakling you are! Where would you be without my wit and my courage? On your way to the guillotine by now. Yet without the grace to thank me, you must even grumble.” She fumbled at her breast, and drew forth Vaillv’s passport. “Take it. Place it with the other papers in the wallet.”
“You do not give a thought to Vailly's case,” he said. “Like ourselves, he was in flight. This theft will doom him.”
“Why should it? Let him tramp across the Jura as we were prepared to do. Although I dare say you would still prefer that your wife should suffer that hardship.”
He did not answer her. His affection for her had been utterly slain. And so for a couple of miles or more they rode in a sullen silence. Already they were more
than halfway to the frontier post, when to a growing sound of hoofs behind them was added a shout at which the chaise slowed down.
Madame thrust her head from the window. “What is it. oaf? Why are you stopping?”
The postilion turned in the saddle, to point back with his whip as a troop of dragoons swept up. An officer drew alongside the chaise, and halted. His leer, of a republican impudence, drove her to sit back. His head came to the window. “Who are you?” he asked, and added in the same breath: “Let me see your
Beauval roused himself. He proffered the passport. “Vailly, Representative on mission to the Swiss Republic,” he announced shortly.
To this Madame must be adding: “The Representative is in haste. You are not to délayais.”
“Am I not. citoyenne?” There was a humorous insolence in the officer’s tone. He scanned the passport.
At his elbow a sergeant was chuckling: “I was certain that the yellow chaise carried our bird.”
The officer folded the paper, and thrust it into his pocket. “You’ve given us a long chase. Citizen Vailly. I began to fear we were too late to catch you. I have an order for your arrest on a charge of treason to the Republic. You’ll return with me to Paris, and, faith, we may as well take the lady also, lest you should feel lonely.” He waved to the postilion. “Put about, my lad.”
As they were wheeling round, the Vicomtesse roused herself from her stupor. “Wait! Wait! There’s a mistake.”
But the officer had gone; the dragoons were closing about the chaise. She clutched the arm of the Vicomte, who sat singularly unmoved. She shook him frenziedly.
“Rouse yourself, rouse yourself. Tell them there’s a mistake.”
“Can you suppose that it would avail us?” he asked her. “It’s not worth the trouble. They’ll find it out for themselves when we reach Paris. But comfort yourself, madame. Your wit and your courage will not be wholly wasted. They will have served, at least to save Vailly’s life.” And then the undertone of mockery that seemed to rumble in the voice of that long-suffering man exploded in a chuckle. “How Vailly will laugh when he discovers what has happened.”