« PoprzedniaDalej »
Rose that he should be back soon, and that he knew that his errand must be performed, she must watch by the dead in his absence, and he nerved himself to go through with it; he left the cottage at once, without waiting for he dared not return to the cottage until to hear her reply, even without looking back the mystery had been cleared up at once and as he closed the door behind him.
forever. There were two tracks to The Merchant's The Merchant's Table was formed by two Table. One, the longer of the two, by the huge stones resting horizontally on three coast cliffs ; the other across the heath. But others. In the troubled times of more than this latter path was also, for some little dis- half a century ago, regular tourists were untance, the path which led to the village and known among the Druid monuments of Britthe church. He was afraid of attracting his tany; and the entrance to the hollow place father's attention here, so he took the direc- under the stones — since often visited by strantion of the coast. At one spot, the track gers. - was at this time nearly choked trended inland, winding round some of the brambles and weeds. Gabriel's first look at many Druid monuments scattered over the this tangled nook of briars convinced him country. This place was on high ground, and that the place had not been entered — perhaps commanded a view, at no great distance, of for years - by any living being. Without the path lending to the village, just where it allowing himself to hesitate (for he felt that branched off from the heathy ridge which ran the slightest delay might be fatal to his resoin the direction of The Merchant's Table. lution) he passed as gently as possible through Here Gabriel descried the figure of a man the brambles, and knelt down at the low, standing with his back towards the coast. dusky, irregular entrance of the hollow place This figure was too far off to be identified with under the stones. absolute certainty ; but it looked like, and His heart throbbed violently, his breath might well be, François Sarzeau. Whoever he almost failed him ; but he forced himself to was, the man was evidently uncertain which crawl a few feet into the cavity, and then way he should proceed. When he moved for- groped with his hand on the ground about ward it was first to advance several paces to- him. He touched something? Something wards The Merchant's Table - then he went which it made his flesh creep to handle ; back again towards the distant cottages and something which he would fain have dropped, the church. Twice he hesitated thus ; the but wbich he grasped tight in spite of himsecond time pausing long before he appeared self. He drew back into the outer air and finally to take the way that led to the village. sunshine. Was it a human bone ? No! be Leaving the post of observation among the had been the dupe of his own morbid terror stones, at which he had instinctively halted he had only taken up a fragment of dried for some minutes past, Gabriel now proceeded wood! in his own path. Could this man really be Feeling shame at such self-deception as this, his father? And if it were so, why did he was about to throw the wood from bin François Sarzeau only determine to go to the before he reëntered the place, when another village where his business lay, after having idea occurred to him. Though it was dimly twice vainly attempted to persevere in taking lighted through one or two chinks in the the exactly opposite direction of The Mer- stones, the far part of the interior of the carchant's Table? Did he really desire to go ity was still too dusky to admit of perfect there? Had he heard the name mentioned, examination by the eye, even on a bright sunwhen the old man referred to it in his dying shiny morning. Observing this, he took out words? And had he failed to summon the tinder box and matches, which — like the courage enough to make all safe by removing other inhabitants of the district - he always
- ? This last question was too horrible to carried about with him for the purpose of be pursued : Gabriel stilled it affrightedly in lighting his pipe, determining to use the in his own heart, as he went on.
piece of wood as a torch which might illumiHe reached the great Druid monument, nate the darkest corner of the place when he without meeting a living soul on his way. next entered it. Fortunately, the wood bad The sun was rising, and the mighty storm remained so long and had been preserved so clouds of the night were parting asunder dry in its sheltered position, that it caught wildly over the whole eastward horizon. Th fire almost as easily as a piece of paper. The Waves still leapt and foamed gloriously; but moment it was fairly aflame Gabriel went into the gale had sunk to a keen, fresh breeze. As the cavity — penetrating at once, this time, to Gabriel looked up, and saw how brightly the its farthest extremity. promise of a lovely day was written in the He remained among the stones long enough heavens, he trembled as he thought of the for the wood to burn down nearly to his hand. Hearch which he was now about to make. When he came out, and flung the burning The sight of the fair fresh sunrise jarred hor- fragment from him, his face was flushed ribly with the suspicious of committed murder deeply, his eyes sparkled. He leapt carelessly that were rankling foully in his heart. But on to the heath, over the bushes through
CHAPTER THE SECOND.
which he had threaded his way so warily but his hand, and made the first advances towards a few minutes before, exclaiming, “I may reconciliation. marry Rose with a clear conscience now — ay, To his utter amazement, his father recoiled I am the son of as honest a man as there is from him. The variable temper of François in Brittany!” He had closely examined the had evidently changed completely during his cavity in every corner, and not the slightest absence at the village. A settled scowl of sign that any dead body had ever been laid distrust darkened his face, as looked at there was visible in the hollow place under his son. “I never shake hands with people The Merchant's Table.
who have once doubted me," he said loudly and irritably; “ for I always doubt them for
ever after. You are a bad son! You have " I may marry Rose with a clear conscience suspected your father of some infamy that now!' There are some parts of the world, you dare not openly charge him with, on no where it would be drawing no natural picture other testimony than the rambling nonsense of human nature to represent a son as believ- of a half-witted, dying old man.
Don't speak ing conscientiously that an offence against to me! I won't hear you! An innocent man life and the laws of hospitality, secretly com- and a spy are bad company. Go and denounce mitted by his father, rendered him, though me, you Judas in disguise! I don't care for innocent of all participation in it, unworthy your secret or for you. What 's that girl to fulfil bis engagement with his affianced Rose doing here still? Why has n't she gone wife. Among the simple inhabitants of Ga- home long ago? The priest 's coming , we briel's province, however, such acuteness of don't want strangers in the house of death. conscientious sensibility as this was no extraor- Take her back to the farm-house, and stop dinary exception to all general rules. Ig- there with her, if you like ; nobody wants norant and superstitious as they might be, you here !" the people of Brittany practised the duties of There was something in the manner and hospitality as devoutly as they practised the look of the speaker, as he uttered these words, duties of the national religion. The presence so strange, so sinister, so indescribably sugof the stranger-guest, rich or poor, was a gestive of his meaning much more than he sacred presence at their hearths." His safety said, that Gabriel felt his heart sink within was their especial charge - his property their him instantly; and almost at the same moespecial responsibility. They might be half- ment this fearful question forced itself irrestarved, but they were ready to share the last sistibly on his mind — might not his father crust with him nevertheless, as they would have followed him to The Merchant's Table ? share it with their own children. Any out- Even if he had been desired to speak, he could rage on the virtue of hospitality, thus born not have spoken now, while that question and and bred in the people, was viewed by them the suspicion that it brought with it were with universal disgust, and punished by uni- utterly destroying all the reässuring hopes versal execration. This ignominy was upper- and convictions of the morning. The mental most in Gabriel's thoughts by the side of his suffering produced by the sudden change from grandfather's bed; the dread of this worst pleasure to pain in all his thoughts, reacted dishonor, which there was no wiping out, on him physically. He felt as if he were held him speechless before Rose, shamed and stifling in the air of the cottage, in the preshorrified him so that he felt unworthy to look ence of his father; and when Rose hurried on her in the face ; and when the result of his her walking attire, and, with a face which search at the Merchant's Table proved the alternately flushed and turned pale with every absence there of all evidence of the crime moment, approached the door, he went out spoken of by the old man, the blessed relief, with her as hastily as if he had been Aging the absorbing triumph of that discovery was from his home. Never had the fresh air and expressed entirely in the one thought which the free daylight felt like heavenly and guarhad prompted his first joyful words : – He dian influences to him until now! could marry Rose with a clear conscience, for He could comfort Rose under his father's he was the son of an honest man !
harshness, he could assure her of his own afWhen he returned to the cottage, François fection, that no earthly influence could change, had not come back. Rose was astonished at while they walked together towards the farmthe change in Gabriel's manner ; even Pierre house ; but he could do no more. He durst and the children remarked it. Rest and not confide to her the subject that was upperwarmth had by this time so far recovered the most in his mind : of all human beings she younger brother, that he was able to give was the last to whom he could reveal the some account of the perilous adventures of terrible secret that was festering at his heart. the night at sea. They were still listening As soon as they got within sight of the farmto the boy's narrative when François at last house, Gabriel stopped ; and, promising to returned. It was now Gabriel who held out I see her again soon, took leave of Rose with
assumed ease in his manner and with real, now met, except when absolutely obliged to despair in his heart. Whatever the poor girl speak, he preserved total silence in his intermight think of it, he felt, at that moment, course with Gabriel. He would never take that he had not courage to face her father, Gabriel out with him in the boat; he would and hear him talk
happily and pleasantly, as never sit alone with Gabriel in the house ; he his custom was, of Rose's approaching mar- would never eat a meal with Gabriel ; he riage.
would never let the other children talk to Left to himself, Gabriel wandered hither him about Gabriel ; and he would never hear and thither over the open heath, neither a word in expostulation, a word in reference knowing nor caring in what direction he to anything his dead father had said or done turned his steps. The doubts about his on the night of the storm, from Gabriel hinnfather's innocence, which had been dissipated self. by his visit to The Merchant's Table, that The young man pined and changed so that father's own language and manner had now even Rose hardly knew him again, under revived— had even confirmed, though he dared this cruel system of domestic excommuninot yet acknowledge so much to himself. It cation ; under the wearing influence of the was terrible enough to be obliged to admit one unchangiog doubt which never left him ; that the result of his morning's search was, and, more than all, under the incessant reafter all, not conclusive — that the mystery proaches of his own conscience, aroused by was in very truth not yet cleared up. The the sense that he was evading a responsibility violence of his father's last words of distrust; which it was his solemn, his immediate duty the extraordinary and indescribable changes in to undertake. But no sting of conscience, his father's manner while uttering them no ill-treatment at home, and no self-rewhat did these things mean? Guilt or inno- proaches for failing in his duty of confession, cence? Again, was it any longer reasonable as a good Catholic, were powerful enough in to doubt the death-bed confession made by his their influence over Gabriel to make him grandfather? Was it not, on the contrary, disclose the secret, under the oppression of far more probable that the old man's denial which his very life was wasting away. He in the morning of his own words at night, had knew that if he once revealed it, whether been made under the influence of a panic his father was ultimately proved to be guilty terror, when his moral consciousness was be- or innocent, there would remain a slur and a wildered, and his intellectual faculties were suspicion on the family, and on Rose besides, sinking? The longer Gabriel thought of from her approaching connection with it, these questions, the less competent - possibly which in their time and in their generation also the less willing — he felt to answer them. could never be removed. The reproach of Should he seek advice from others wiser than the world is terrible even in the crowded he? No : not while the thousandth part of city, where many of the dwellers in our a chance remained that his father was inno- abiding-place are strangers to us — but it cent. This thought was still in his mind, is far more terrible in the country, where when he found himself once more in sight of none near us are strangers, where all talk of his home. He was still hesitating near the us and know of us, where nothing intervenes door, when he saw it opened cautiously. His between us and the tyranny of the evil tongue. brother Pierre looked out, and then came Gabriel had not courage to face this, and dare running towards him. “ Come in, Gabriel; the fearful chance of life-long ignominy - 00, oh, do come in !” said the boy earnestly not even to serve the sacred interests of “We are afraid to be alone with father. justice, of atonement, and of truth. He 's been beating us for talking of you." While he still remained prostrated under
Gabriel went in. His father looked up the affliction that was wasting his energies of from the hearth where he was sitting, mut- body and mind, Brittany was visited by a tered the word "Spy!” and made a gesture great public calamity, in which all private of contempt - but did not address a word misfortunes were overwhelmed for a while. directly to his son. The hours passed on in It was now the time when the ever-gathering silence; afternoon waned into evening, and storm of the French Revolution had risen to evening into night; and still he never spoke its hurricane climax. Those chiefs of the to any of his children. Soon after it was dark, new republic were now in power, whose last, he went out, and took his net with him worst madness it was to decree the extinction saying that it was better to be alone on the of religion and the overthrow of everything sea than in the house with a spy. When he that outwardly symbolized it, throughout returned the next morning, there was no the whole of the country that they governed. change in him. Days passed - weeks, months Already this decree had been executed to the even elapsed — and still, though his manner letter in and around Paris ; and now the insensibly became what it used to be towards soldiers of the republic were on their way to his other children, it never altered towards his Brittany, headed by commanders whose comeldest son. At the rare periods when they' mission was to root out the Christian religion
in the last and the surest of the strongholds | this,” concluded the old man. “I shall be still left to it in France.
resigned to all that may be required of me, These men began their work in a spirit if I can only know that I shall not die worthy of the worst of their superiors, who leaving Rose unprotected." Gabriel gave
the had sent them to do it. They gutted promise - gave it with his whole heart. As churches, they demolished chapels, they over- he took leave of Père Bonan, the old man threw roadside crosses wherever they found said to him : them. The terrible guillotine devoured hu “ Come here to-morrow ; I shall know more man lives in the villages of Brittany, as it then, than I know now — I shall be able to had devoured them in the streets of Paris ; fix with certainty the day for the fulfilment the musket and the sword, in highway and of your engagement with Rose.” byway, wreaked havoc on the people
Why did Gabriel hesitate at the farm-house on women and children kneeling in the act of door, looking back on Père Bonan as though prayer; the priests were tracked night and he would fain say something, and yet not day from one hiding-place where they still speaking a word ? Why, after he had gone offered up worship to another, and were killed out and walked onward several paces, did he
a8 overtaken - every atrocity was suddenly stop, return quickly to the farmcommitted in every district; but the Christian house, stand irresolute before the gate, and religion still spread wider than the widest then ret his steps, sighing heavily as he bloodshed; still sprang up with ever-renewed went, but never pausing again on his homevitality from under the very feet of the men ward way? Because the torment of his whose vain fury was powerless to trample it horrible secret had grown harder to bear down. Everywhere the people remained true than ever, since he had given the promise to their Faith ; everywhere the priests stood that had been required of him. Because, firm by them in their sorest need. The exe- while a strong impulse moved him frankly to
cutioners of the republic had been sent to lay bare his hidden dread and doubt to the • make Brittany a country of apostates; they father whose beloved daughter was soon to
did their worst, and left it a country of be his wife, there was a yet stronger passive martyrs.
influence which paralyzed on his lips the One evening, while this frightful persecu- terrible confession that he knew not whether he tion was still raging, Gabriel happened to be was the son of an honest man, or the son of detained unusually late at the cottage of an assassin and a robber. Made desperate by Rose's father. He had lately spent much of his situation, he determined, while he hasthis time at the farm-house ; it was his only ened homeward, to risk the worst and ask refuge now from that place of suffering, of that fatal question of his father in plain silence, and of secret shame, which he had words. But this supreme trial for parent once called home! Just as he had taken and child was not to be. When he entered leave of Rose for the night, and was about to the cottage, François was absent. He had open the farm-house door, her father stopped told the younger children that he should not him, and pointed to a chair in the chimney be home again before noon on the next day.
“Leave us alone, my dear," said the Early in the morning Gabriel repaired to old man to his daughter ; " I want to speak the farm-house, as he had been bidden. Influto Gabriel. You can go to your mother in enced by his love for Rose, blindly confiding the next room."
in the faint hope (which in despite of heart The words which Père Bonan- as he was and conscience he still forced himself to called by the neighbors — had now to say in cherish) that his father might be innocent, he private, were destined to lead to very unex- now preserved the appearance at least of perpected events. After referring to the altera- fect calmness. “If I tell my secret to Rose's tion which had appeared of late in Gabriel's father, I risk disturbing in him that confimanner, the old man began by asking him, dence in the future safety of his child, for sorrowfully but not suspiciously, whether he which I am his present and only warrant” still preserved his old affection for Rose. On something like this thought was in Gabriel's receiving an eager answer in the affirmative, mind, as ho took the hand of Père Bonan, and Père Bonạn then referred to the persecution waited anxiously to hear what was required still raging through the country, and to the of him on that day. consequent possibility that he, like others of 6. We have a short respite from danger, his countrymen, might yet be called to suffer Gabriel,” said the old man. “ News 'has and perhaps to die for the cause of his reli- come to me that the spoilers of our churches gion. If this last act of self-sacrifice were and the murderers of our congregations have required of him, Rose would be left unpro- been stopped on their way hitherward by tected, unless her affianced husband per- tidings which have reached them from another formed his promise to her, and assumed, district. This interval of peace and safety without delay, the position of her lawful will be a short one — we must take advantage guardian. "Let me know that you will do I of it while it is yet ours. My name is among
the names on the list of the denounced ; if (offing, making signals to the shore. They put the soldiers of the Republic find me here ! off to her in their boats; and on reaching the but we will say nothing more of this ; it is of deck saw standing before them the wellRose and of you that I must now speak. On remembered figure of Father Paul. Ile had this very evening, your marriage may be returned to his congregations; and had solemnized with all the wonted rites of our founded the new altar that they were to holy religion, and the blessing may be pro- worship at, on the deck of a ship! Razed nounced over you by the lips of a priest. from the face of the earth, their Church bad This evening, therefore, Gabriel, you must not been destroyed — for Father Paul and the become the husband and the protector of priests who acted with him had given that Rose. Listen to me attentively, and I will Church a refuge on the sea. Henceforth, tell you how.”
their children could still be baptized, their This was the substance of what Gabriel now sons and daughters could still be married, the heard from Père Bonan :
burial of their dead could still be solemnized, Not very long before the persecution broke under the sanction of the old religion for out in Brittany, a priest, known generally by which, not vainly, they had suffered so pathe name of Father Paul, was appointed to a tiently and so long. Throughout the reinaincuracy in one of the northern districts of the ing time of trouble, the services were unprovince. He fulfilled all the duties of his interrupted on board the ship. A code of station in such a manner as to win the confi- signals was established by which those ou dence and affection of every member in his shore were always enabled to direct their congregation, and was often spoken of with brethren at sea towards such parts of the respect, even in parts of the country distant coast as happened to be uninfested by the from the scene of his labors. It was not, enemies of their worship. On the inorning however, until the troubles broke out, and of Gabriel's visit to the farm-house, these the destruction and bloodshed began, that he signals had shaped the course of the ship became renowned far and wide, from one end towards the extremity of the peninsula of of Brittany to another. From the date of the Quiberon. The people of the district were very first persecutions the name of Father all prepared to expect the appearance of the Paul was a rallying cry of the hunted peas- vessel some time in the evening, and had antry; he was their great encouragement their boats ready at a moment's notice to under oppression, their example in danger, put off and attend the service. At the contheir last and only consoler in the hour of clusion of this service Père Bonan had ardeath. Wherever havoc and ruin raged most ranged that the marriage of his daughter and fiercely, wherever the pursuit was hottest and Gabriel was to take place. the slaughter most cruel, there the intrepid They waited for evening at the farm-house. priest was sure to be seen pursuing his sacred A little before sunset the ship was signalled duties in defiance of every peril. His hair- as in sight; and then Père Bonan and his breadth escapes from death; his extraordi- wife, followed by Gabriel and Rose, set forth nary reäppearances in parts of the country over the heath to the beach. With the soliwhere no one ever expected to see him again, tary exception of François Sarzeau, the whole were regarded by the poorer classes with population of the neighborhood was already superstitious awe. Wherever Father Paul assembled there, Gabriel's brother and sis. appeared, with his black dress, his calm face, ters being among the number. It was the and the ivory crucifix which he always car- calmest evening that had been known for ried in his band, the people reverenced him months. There was not a cloud in the as more than mortal ; and grew at last to be- lustrous sky — not a ripple on the still surface lieve that, single-handed, he would success of the sea. The smallest children were suffully defend his religion against the armies of fered by their mothers to stray down on the the republic. But their simple confidence in beach as they pleased ; for the waves of the his
powers of resistance was soon destined to great ocean slept as tenderly and noiselessly be shaken. Fresh reinforcements arrived in on their sandy bed, as if they had been Brittany, and overran the whole province changed into the waters of an inland lake. from one end to the other. One morning, Slow, almost imperceptible, was the approach after celebrating service in a dismantled of the ship - there was hardly a breath of church, and after narrowly escaping with his wind to carry her on — she was just drifting life from those who pursued him, the priest gently with the land ward set of the tide at disappeared. Secret inquiries were made that hour, while her sails hung idly against the after him in all directions; but he was heard masts. Long after the sun had gone down, of no more.
the congregation still waited and watched on Many weary days had passed, and the dis- the beach. The moon and stars were arrayed pirited peasantry had already mourned him in their glory of the night, before the ship as dead, when some fishermen on the northern dropped anchor. Then the mufiled tolling of coast observed a ship of light burden in the la bell came solemnly across the quiet waters ;