A Winter Amid the Ice
DOCTOR OX'S EXPERIMENT
How it is useless to seek, even on the best maps, for the small
town of Quiquendone
In which the Burgomaster Van Tricasse and the Counsellor
Niklausse consult about the affairs of the town
In which the Commissary Passauf enters as noisily as unexpectedly
In which Doctor Ox reveals himself as a physiologist of the first
rank, and as an audacious experimentalist
In which the burgomaster and the counsellor pay a visit to Doctor
Ox, and what follows
In which Frantz Niklausse and Suzel Van Tricasse form certain
projects for the future
In which the Andantes become Allegros, and the Allegros Vivaces
In which the ancient and solemn German waltz becomes a whirlwind
In which Doctor Ox and Ygène, his assistant, say a few words
In which it will be seen that the epidemic invades the entire
town, and what effect it produces
In which the Quiquendonians adopt a heroic resolution
In which Ygène, the assistant, gives a reasonable piece of
advice, which is eagerly rejected by Doctor Ox
In which it is once more proved that by taking high ground all
human littlenesses may be overlooked
In which matters go so far that the inhabitants of Quiquendone,
the reader, and even the author, demand an immediate dénouement
In which the dénouement takes place
In which the intelligent reader sees that he has guessed
correctly, despite all the author's precautions
In which Doctor Ox's theory is explained
A winter night
The pride of science
A strange visit
The Church of St. Pierre
The hour of death
A DRAMA IN THE AIR
A WINTER AMID THE ICE
The black flag
Jean Cornbutte's project
A ray of hope
In the passes
The quaking of the ice
Settling for the winter
Plan of the explorations
The house of snow
A cloud of smoke
The return to the ship
The two rivals
The white bears
ASCENT OF MONT BLANC
DOCTOR OX'S EXPERIMENT.
HOW IT IS USELESS TO SEEK, EVEN ON THE BEST MAPS, FOR THE
If you try to find, on any map of Flanders, ancient or modern,
the small town of Quiquendone, probably you will not succeed. Is
Quiquendone, then, one of those towns which have disappeared? No.
A town of the future? By no means. It exists in spite of
geographies, and has done so for some eight or nine hundred
years. It even numbers two thousand three hundred and ninety-three
souls, allowing one soul to each inhabitant. It is situated
thirteen and a half kilometres north-west of Oudenarde, and
fifteen and a quarter kilometres south-east of Bruges, in the
heart of Flanders. The Vaar, a small tributary of the Scheldt,
passes beneath its three bridges, which are still covered with a
quaint mediæval roof, like that at Tournay. An old château is to
be seen there, the first stone of which was laid so long ago as
1197, by Count Baldwin, afterwards Emperor of Constantinople; and
there is a Town Hall, with Gothic windows, crowned by a chaplet
of battlements, and surrounded by a turreted belfry, which rises
three hundred and fifty-seven feet above the soil. Every hour you
may hear there a chime of five octaves, a veritable aerial piano,
the renown of which surpasses that of the famous chimes of
Bruges. Strangers--if any ever come to Quiquendone--do not quit
the curious old town until they have visited its "Stadtholder's
Hall", adorned by a full-length portrait of William of Nassau, by
Brandon; the loft of the Church of Saint Magloire, a masterpiece
of sixteenth century architecture; the cast-iron well in the
spacious Place Saint Ernuph, the admirable ornamentation of which
is attributed to the artist-blacksmith, Quentin Metsys; the tomb
formerly erected to Mary of Burgundy, daughter of Charles the
Bold, who now reposes in the Church of Notre Dame at Bruges; and
so on. The principal industry of Quiquendone is the manufacture
of whipped creams and barley-sugar on a large scale. It has been
governed by the Van Tricasses, from father to son, for several
centuries. And yet Quiquendone is not on the map of Flanders!
Have the geographers forgotten it, or is it an intentional
omission? That I cannot tell; but Quiquendone really exists; with
its narrow streets, its fortified walls, its Spanish-looking
houses, its market, and its burgomaster--so much so, that it has
recently been the theatre of some surprising phenomena, as
extraordinary and incredible as they are true, which are to be
recounted in the present narration.
Surely there is nothing to be said or thought against the
Flemings of Western Flanders. They are a well-to-do folk, wise,
prudent, sociable, with even tempers, hospitable, perhaps a
little heavy in conversation as in mind; but this does not
explain why one of the most interesting towns of their district
has yet to appear on modern maps.
This omission is certainly to be regretted. If only history, or
in default of history the chronicles, or in default of chronicles
the traditions of the country, made mention of Quiquendone! But
no; neither atlases, guides, nor itineraries speak of it. M.
Joanne himself, that energetic hunter after small towns, says not
a word of it. It might be readily conceived that this silence
would injure the commerce, the industries, of the town. But let
us hasten to add that Quiquendone has neither industry nor
commerce, and that it does very well without them. Its barley-sugar
and whipped cream are consumed on the spot; none is exported. In
short, the Quiquendonians have no need of anybody. Their desires are
limited, their existence is a modest one; they are calm, moderate,
phlegmatic--in a word, they are Flemings; such as are still to be
met with sometimes between the Scheldt and the North Sea.
IN WHICH THE BURGOMASTER VAN TRICASSE AND THE COUNSELLOR
CONSULT ABOUT THE AFFAIRS OF THE TOWN.
"You think so?" asked the burgomaster.
"I--think so," replied the counsellor, after some minutes of
"You see, we must not act hastily," resumed the burgomaster.
"We have been talking over this grave matter for ten years,"
replied the Counsellor Niklausse, "and I confess to you, my
worthy Van Tricasse, that I cannot yet take it upon myself to
come to a decision."
"I quite understand your hesitation," said the burgomaster, who
did not speak until after a good quarter of an hour of reflection,
"I quite understand it, and I fully share it. We shall do wisely to
decide upon nothing without a more careful examination of the
"It is certain," replied Niklausse, "that this post of civil
commissary is useless in so peaceful a town as Quiquendone."
"Our predecessor," said Van Tricasse gravely, "our predecessor
never said, never would have dared to say, that anything is
certain. Every affirmation is subject to awkward qualifications."
The counsellor nodded his head slowly in token of assent; then he
remained silent for nearly half an hour. After this lapse of
time, during which neither the counsellor nor the burgomaster
moved so much as a finger, Niklausse asked Van Tricasse whether
his predecessor--of some twenty years before--had not thought of
suppressing this office of civil commissary, which each year cost
the town of Quiquendone the sum of thirteen hundred and seventy-five
francs and some centimes.
"I believe he did," replied the burgomaster, carrying his hand
with majestic deliberation to his ample brow; "but the worthy man
died without having dared to make up his mind, either as to this
or any other administrative measure. He was a sage. Why should I
not do as he did?"
Counsellor Niklausse was incapable of originating any objection
to the burgomaster's opinion.
"The man who dies," added Van Tricasse solemnly, "without ever
having decided upon anything during his life, has very nearly
attained to perfection."
This said, the burgomaster pressed a bell with the end of his
little finger, which gave forth a muffled sound, which seemed
less a sound than a sigh. Presently some light steps glided
softly across the tile floor. A mouse would not have made less
noise, running over a thick carpet. The door of the room opened,
turning on its well-oiled hinges. A young girl, with long blonde
tresses, made her appearance. It was Suzel Van Tricasse, the
burgomaster's only daughter. She handed her father a pipe, filled
to the brim, and a small copper brazier, spoke not a word, and
disappeared at once, making no more noise at her exit than at her
The worthy burgomaster lighted his pipe, and was soon hidden in a
cloud of bluish smoke, leaving Counsellor Niklausse plunged in
the most absorbing thought.
The room in which these two notable personages, charged with the
government of Quiquendone, were talking, was a parlour richly
adorned with carvings in dark wood. A lofty fireplace, in which
an oak might have been burned or an ox roasted, occupied the
whole of one of the sides of the room; opposite to it was a
trellised window, the painted glass of which toned down the
brightness of the sunbeams. In an antique frame above the
chimney-piece appeared the portrait of some worthy man,
attributed to Memling, which no doubt represented an ancestor of
the Van Tricasses, whose authentic genealogy dates back to the
fourteenth century, the period when the Flemings and Guy de
Dampierre were engaged in wars with the Emperor Rudolph of
This parlour was the principal apartment of the burgomaster's
house, which was one of the pleasantest in Quiquendone. Built in
the Flemish style, with all the abruptness, quaintness, and
picturesqueness of Pointed architecture, it was considered one of
the most curious monuments of the town. A Carthusian convent, or
a deaf and dumb asylum, was not more silent than this mansion.
Noise had no existence there; people did not walk, but glided
about in it; they did not speak, they murmured. There was not,
however, any lack of women in the house, which, in addition to
the burgomaster Van Tricasse himself, sheltered his wife, Madame
Brigitte Van Tricasse, his daughter, Suzel Van Tricasse, and his
domestic, Lotchè Janshéu. We may also mention the burgomaster's
sister, Aunt Hermance, an elderly maiden who still bore the
nickname of Tatanémance, which her niece Suzel had given her when
a child. But in spite of all these elements of discord and noise,
the burgomaster's house was as calm as a desert.
The burgomaster was some fifty years old, neither fat nor lean,
neither short nor tall, neither rubicund nor pale, neither gay
nor sad, neither contented nor discontented, neither energetic
nor dull, neither proud nor humble, neither good nor bad, neither
generous nor miserly, neither courageous nor cowardly, neither
too much nor too little of anything--a man notably moderate in
all respects, whose invariable slowness of motion, slightly
hanging lower jaw, prominent eyebrows, massive forehead, smooth
as a copper plate and without a wrinkle, would at once have
betrayed to a physiognomist that the burgomaster Van Tricasse was
phlegm personified. Never, either from anger or passion, had any
emotion whatever hastened the beating of this man's heart, or
flushed his face; never had his pupils contracted under the
influence of any irritation, however ephemeral. He invariably
wore good clothes, neither too large nor too small, which he
never seemed to wear out. He was shod with large square shoes
with triple soles and silver buckles, which lasted so long that
his shoemaker was in despair. Upon his head he wore a large hat
which dated from the period when Flanders was separated from
Holland, so that this venerable masterpiece was at least forty
years old. But what would you have? It is the passions which wear
out body as well as soul, the clothes as well as the body; and
our worthy burgomaster, apathetic, indolent, indifferent, was
passionate in nothing. He wore nothing out, not even himself, and
he considered himself the very man to administer the affairs of
Quiquendone and its tranquil population.
The town, indeed, was not less calm than the Van Tricasse
mansion. It was in this peaceful dwelling that the burgomaster
reckoned on attaining the utmost limit of human existence, after
having, however, seen the good Madame Brigitte Van Tricasse, his
wife, precede him to the tomb, where, surely, she would not find
a more profound repose than that she had enjoyed on earth for
This demands explanation.
The Van Tricasse family might well call itself the "Jeannot
family." This is why:--
Every one knows that the knife of this typical personage is as
celebrated as its proprietor, and not less incapable of wearing
out, thanks to the double operation, incessantly repeated, of
replacing the handle when it is worn out, and the blade when it
becomes worthless. A precisely similar operation had been going
on from time immemorial in the Van Tricasse family, to which
Nature had lent herself with more than usual complacency. From
1340 it had invariably happened that a Van Tricasse, when left a
widower, had remarried a Van Tricasse younger than himself; who,
becoming in turn a widow, had married again a Van Tricasse
younger than herself; and so on, without a break in the
continuity, from generation to generation. Each died in his or
her turn with mechanical regularity. Thus the worthy Madame
Brigitte Van Tricasse had now her second husband; and, unless she
violated her every duty, would precede her spouse--he being ten
years younger than herself--to the other world, to make room for
a new Madame Van Tricasse. Upon this the burgomaster calmly
counted, that the family tradition might not be broken. Such was
this mansion, peaceful and silent, of which the doors never
creaked, the windows never rattled, the floors never groaned, the
chimneys never roared, the weathercocks never grated, the
furniture never squeaked, the locks never clanked, and the
occupants never made more noise than their shadows. The god
Harpocrates would certainly have chosen it for the Temple of
IN WHICH THE COMMISSARY PASSAUF ENTERS AS NOISILY AS
When the interesting conversation which has been narrated began,
it was a quarter before three in the afternoon. It was at a
quarter before four that Van Tricasse lighted his enormous pipe,
which could hold a quart of tobacco, and it was at thirty-five
minutes past five that he finished smoking it.
All this time the two comrades did not exchange a single word.
About six o'clock the counsellor, who had a habit of speaking in
a very summary manner, resumed in these words,--
"So we decide--"
"To decide nothing," replied the burgomaster.
"I think, on the whole, that you are right, Van Tricasse."
"I think so too, Niklausse. We will take steps with reference to
the civil commissary when we have more light on the subject--
later on. There is no need for a month yet."
"Nor even for a year," replied Niklausse, unfolding his
pocket-handkerchief and calmly applying it to his nose.
There was another silence of nearly a quarter of an hour. Nothing
disturbed this repeated pause in the conversation; not even the
appearance of the house-dog Lento, who, not less phlegmatic than
his master, came to pay his respects in the parlour. Noble dog!--
a model for his race. Had he been made of pasteboard, with wheels
on his paws, he would not have made less noise during his stay.
Towards eight o'clock, after Lotchè had brought the antique lamp
of polished glass, the burgomaster said to the counsellor,--
"We have no other urgent matter to consider?"
"No, Van Tricasse; none that I know of."
"Have I not been told, though," asked the burgomaster, "that the
tower of the Oudenarde gate is likely to tumble down?"
"Ah!" replied the counsellor; "really, I should not be astonished
if it fell on some passer-by any day."
"Oh! before such a misfortune happens I hope we shall have come
to a decision on the subject of this tower."
"I hope so, Van Tricasse."
"There are more pressing matters to decide."
"No doubt; the question of the leather-market, for instance."
"What, is it still burning?"
"Still burning, and has been for the last three weeks."
"Have we not decided in council to let it burn?"
"Yes, Van Tricasse--on your motion."
"Was not that the surest and simplest way to deal with it?"
"Well, let us wait. Is that all?"
"All," replied the counsellor, scratching his head, as if to
assure himself that he had not forgotten anything important.
"Ah!" exclaimed the burgomaster, "haven't you also heard
something of an escape of water which threatens to inundate the
low quarter of Saint Jacques?"
"I have. It is indeed unfortunate that this escape of water did
not happen above the leather-market! It would naturally have
checked the fire, and would thus have saved us a good deal of
"What can you expect, Niklausse? There is nothing so illogical as
accidents. They are bound by no rules, and we cannot profit by
one, as we might wish, to remedy another."
It took Van Tricasse's companion some time to digest this fine
"Well, but," resumed the Counsellor Niklausse, after the lapse of
some moments, "we have not spoken of our great affair!"
"What great affair? Have we, then, a great affair?" asked the
"No doubt. About lighting the town."
"O yes. If my memory serves me, you are referring to the lighting
plan of Doctor Ox."
"It is going on, Niklausse," replied the burgomaster. "They are
already laying the pipes, and the works are entirely completed."
"Perhaps we have hurried a little in this matter," said the
counsellor, shaking his head.
"Perhaps. But our excuse is, that Doctor Ox bears the whole
expense of his experiment. It will not cost us a sou."
"That, true enough, is our excuse. Moreover, we must advance with
the age. If the experiment succeeds, Quiquendone will be the
first town in Flanders to be lighted with the oxy--What is the
"Well, oxyhydric gas, then."
At this moment the door opened, and Lotchè came in to tell the
burgomaster that his supper was ready.
Counsellor Niklausse rose to take leave of Van Tricasse, whose
appetite had been stimulated by so many affairs discussed and
decisions taken; and it was agreed that the council of notables
should be convened after a reasonably long delay, to determine
whether a decision should be provisionally arrived at with
reference to the really urgent matter of the Oudenarde gate.
The two worthy administrators then directed their steps towards
the street-door, the one conducting the other. The counsellor,
having reached the last step, lighted a little lantern to guide
him through the obscure streets of Quiquendone, which Doctor Ox
had not yet lighted. It was a dark October night, and a light fog
overshadowed the town.
Niklausse's preparations for departure consumed at least a
quarter of an hour; for, after having lighted his lantern, he had
to put on his big cow-skin socks and his sheep-skin gloves; then
he put up the furred collar of his overcoat, turned the brim of
his felt hat down over his eyes, grasped his heavy crow-beaked
umbrella, and got ready to start.
When Lotchè, however, who was lighting her master, was about to
draw the bars of the door, an unexpected noise arose outside.
Yes! Strange as the thing seems, a noise--a real noise, such as
the town had certainly not heard since the taking of the donjon
by the Spaniards in 1513--terrible noise, awoke the long-dormant
echoes of the venerable Van Tricasse mansion.
Some one knocked heavily upon this door, hitherto virgin to
brutal touch! Redoubled knocks were given with some blunt
implement, probably a knotty stick, wielded by a vigorous arm.
With the strokes were mingled cries and calls. These words were
"Monsieur Van Tricasse! Monsieur the burgomaster! Open, open
The burgomaster and the counsellor, absolutely astounded, looked
at each other speechless.
This passed their comprehension. If the old culverin of the
château, which had not been used since 1385, had been let off in
the parlour, the dwellers in the Van Tricasse mansion would not
have been more dumbfoundered.
Meanwhile, the blows and cries were redoubled. Lotchè, recovering
her coolness, had plucked up courage to speak.
"Who is there?"
"It is I! I! I!"
"Who are you?"
"The Commissary Passauf!"
The Commissary Passauf! The very man whose office it had been
contemplated to suppress for ten years. What had happened, then?
Could the Burgundians have invaded Quiquendone, as they did in
the fourteenth century? No event of less importance could have so
moved Commissary Passauf, who in no degree yielded the palm to
the burgomaster himself for calmness and phlegm.
On a sign from Van Tricasse--for the worthy man could not have
articulated a syllable--the bar was pushed back and the door
Commissary Passauf flung himself into the antechamber. One would
have thought there was a hurricane.
"What's the matter, Monsieur the commissary?" asked Lotchè, a
brave woman, who did not lose her head under the most trying
"What's the matter!" replied Passauf, whose big round eyes
expressed a genuine agitation. "The matter is that I have just
come from Doctor Ox's, who has been holding a reception, and that
"There I have witnessed such an altercation as--Monsieur the
burgomaster, they have been talking politics!"
"Politics!" repeated Van Tricasse, running his fingers through
"Politics!" resumed Commissary Passauf, "which has not been done
for perhaps a hundred years at Quiquendone. Then the discussion
got warm, and the advocate, André Schut, and the doctor,
Dominique Custos, became so violent that it may be they will call
each other out."
"Call each other out!" cried the counsellor. "A duel! A duel at
Quiquendone! And what did Advocate Schut and Doctor Gustos say?"
"Just this: 'Monsieur advocate,' said the doctor to his
adversary, 'you go too far, it seems to me, and you do not take
sufficient care to control your words!'"
The Burgomaster Van Tricasse clasped his hands--the counsellor
turned pale and let his lantern fall--the commissary shook his
head. That a phrase so evidently irritating should be pronounced
by two of the principal men in the country!
"This Doctor Custos," muttered Van Tricasse, "is decidedly a
dangerous man--a hare-brained fellow! Come, gentlemen!"
On this, Counsellor Niklausse and the commissary accompanied the
burgomaster into the parlour.
IN WHICH DOCTOR OX REVEALS HIMSELF AS A PHYSIOLOGIST OF THE
RANK, AND AS AN AUDACIOUS EXPERIMENTALIST.
Who, then, was this personage, known by the singular name of
An original character for certain, but at the same time a bold
savant, a physiologist, whose works were known and highly
estimated throughout learned Europe, a happy rival of the Davys,
the Daltons, the Bostocks, the Menzies, the Godwins, the
Vierordts--of all those noble minds who have placed physiology
among the highest of modern sciences.
Doctor Ox was a man of medium size and height, aged--: but we
cannot state his age, any more than his nationality. Besides, it
matters little; let it suffice that he was a strange personage,
impetuous and hot-blooded, a regular oddity out of one of
Hoffmann's volumes, and one who contrasted amusingly enough with
the good people of Quiquendone. He had an imperturbable
confidence both in himself and in his doctrines. Always smiling,
walking with head erect and shoulders thrown back in a free and
unconstrained manner, with a steady gaze, large open nostrils, a
vast mouth which inhaled the air in liberal draughts, his
appearance was far from unpleasing. He was full of animation,
well proportioned in all parts of his bodily mechanism, with
quicksilver in his veins, and a most elastic step. He could never
stop still in one place, and relieved himself with impetuous
words and a superabundance of gesticulations.
Was Doctor Ox rich, then, that he should undertake to light a
whole town at his expense? Probably, as he permitted himself to
indulge in such extravagance,--and this is the only answer we can
give to this indiscreet question.
Doctor Ox had arrived at Quiquendone five months before,
accompanied by his assistant, who answered to the name of Gédéon
Ygène; a tall, dried-up, thin man, haughty, but not less
vivacious than his master.
And next, why had Doctor Ox made the proposition to light the
town at his own expense? Why had he, of all the Flemings,
selected the peaceable Quiquendonians, to endow their town with
the benefits of an unheard-of system of lighting? Did he not,
under this pretext, design to make some great physiological
experiment by operating in anima vili? In short, what was this
original personage about to attempt? We know not, as Doctor Ox
had no confidant except his assistant Ygène, who, moreover,
obeyed him blindly.
In appearance, at least, Doctor Ox had agreed to light the town,
which had much need of it, "especially at night," as Commissary
Passauf wittily said. Works for producing a lighting gas had
accordingly been established; the gasometers were ready for use,
and the main pipes, running beneath the street pavements, would
soon appear in the form of burners in the public edifices and the
private houses of certain friends of progress. Van Tricasse and
Niklausse, in their official capacity, and some other worthies,
thought they ought to allow this modern light to be introduced
into their dwellings.
If the reader has not forgotten, it was said, during the long
conversation of the counsellor and the burgomaster, that the
lighting of the town was to be achieved, not by the combustion of
common carburetted hydrogen, produced by distilling coal, but by
the use of a more modern and twenty-fold more brilliant gas,
oxyhydric gas, produced by mixing hydrogen and oxygen.
The doctor, who was an able chemist as well as an ingenious
physiologist, knew how to obtain this gas in great quantity and
of good quality, not by using manganate of soda, according to the
method of M. Tessié du Motay, but by the direct decomposition of
slightly acidulated water, by means of a battery made of new
elements, invented by himself. Thus there were no costly
materials, no platinum, no retorts, no combustibles, no delicate
machinery to produce the two gases separately. An electric
current was sent through large basins full of water, and the
liquid was decomposed into its two constituent parts, oxygen and
hydrogen. The oxygen passed off at one end; the hydrogen, of
double the volume of its late associate, at the other. As a
necessary precaution, they were collected in separate reservoirs,
for their mixture would have produced a frightful explosion if it
had become ignited. Thence the pipes were to convey them
separately to the various burners, which would be so placed as to
prevent all chance of explosion. Thus a remarkably brilliant
flame would be obtained, whose light would rival the electric
light, which, as everybody knows, is, according to Cassellmann's
experiments, equal to that of eleven hundred and seventy-one wax
candles,--not one more, nor one less.
It was certain that the town of Quiquendone would, by this
liberal contrivance, gain a splendid lighting; but Doctor Ox and
his assistant took little account of this, as will be seen in the
The day after that on which Commissary Passauf had made his noisy
entrance into the burgomaster's parlour, Gédéon Ygène and Doctor
Ox were talking in the laboratory which both occupied in common,
on the ground-floor of the principal building of the gas-works.
"Well, Ygène, well," cried the doctor, rubbing his hands. "You
saw, at my reception yesterday, the cool-bloodedness of these
worthy Quiquendonians. For animation they are midway between
sponges and coral! You saw them disputing and irritating each
other by voice and gesture? They are already metamorphosed,
morally and physically! And this is only the beginning. Wait till
we treat them to a big dose!"
"Indeed, master," replied Ygène, scratching his sharp nose with
the end of his forefinger, "the experiment begins well, and if I
had not prudently closed the supply-tap, I know not what would
"You heard Schut, the advocate, and Custos, the doctor?" resumed
Doctor Ox. "The phrase was by no means ill-natured in itself,
but, in the mouth of a Quiquendonian, it is worth all the insults
which the Homeric heroes hurled at each other before drawing
their swords, Ah, these Flemings! You'll see what we shall do
"We shall make them ungrateful," replied Ygène, in the tone of a
man who esteems the human race at its just worth.
"Bah!" said the doctor; "what matters it whether they think well
or ill of us, so long as our experiment succeeds?"
"Besides," returned the assistant, smiling with a malicious
expression, "is it not to be feared that, in producing such an
excitement in their respiratory organs, we shall somewhat injure
the lungs of these good people of Quiquendone?"
"So much the worse for them! It is in the interests of science.
What would you say if the dogs or frogs refused to lend
themselves to the experiments of vivisection?"
It is probable that if the frogs and dogs were consulted, they
would offer some objection; but Doctor Ox imagined that he had
stated an unanswerable argument, for he heaved a great sigh of
"After all, master, you are right," replied Ygène, as if quite
convinced. "We could not have hit upon better subjects than these
people of Quiquendone for our experiment."
"We--could--not," said the doctor, slowly articulating each word.
"Have you felt the pulse of any of them?"
"And what is the average pulsation you found?"
"Not fifty per minute. See--this is a town where there has not
been the shadow of a discussion for a century, where the carmen
don't swear, where the coachmen don't insult each other, where
horses don't run away, where the dogs don't bite, where the cats
don't scratch,--a town where the police-court has nothing to do
from one year's end to another,--a town where people do not grow
enthusiastic about anything, either about art or business,--a
town where the gendarmes are a sort of myth, and in which an
indictment has not been drawn up for a hundred years,--a town, in
short, where for three centuries nobody has struck a blow with
his fist or so much as exchanged a slap in the face! You see,
Ygène, that this cannot last, and that we must change it all."
"Perfectly! perfectly!" cried the enthusiastic assistant; "and
have you analyzed the air of this town, master?"
"I have not failed to do so. Seventy-nine parts of azote and
twenty-one of oxygen, carbonic acid and steam in a variable
quantity. These are the ordinary proportions."
"Good, doctor, good!" replied Ygène. "The experiment will be made
on a large scale, and will be decisive."
"And if it is decisive," added Doctor Ox triumphantly, "we shall
reform the world!"
IN WHICH THE BURGOMASTER AND THE COUNSELLOR PAY A VISIT TO
OX, AND WHAT FOLLOWS.
The Counsellor Niklausse and the Burgomaster Van Tricasse at last
knew what it was to have an agitated night. The grave event which
had taken place at Doctor Ox's house actually kept them awake.
What consequences was this affair destined to bring about? They
could not imagine. Would it be necessary for them to come to a
decision? Would the municipal authority, whom they represented,
be compelled to interfere? Would they be obliged to order arrests
to be made, that so great a scandal should not be repeated? All
these doubts could not but trouble these soft natures; and on
that evening, before separating, the two notables had "decided"
to see each other the next day.
On the next morning, then, before dinner, the Burgomaster Van
Tricasse proceeded in person to the Counsellor Niklausse's house.
He found his friend more calm. He himself had recovered his
"Nothing new?" asked Van Tricasse.
"Nothing new since yesterday," replied Niklausse.
"And the doctor, Dominique Custos?"
"I have not heard anything, either of him or of the advocate,
After an hour's conversation, which consisted of three remarks
which it is needless to repeat, the counsellor and the burgomaster
had resolved to pay a visit to Doctor Ox, so as to draw from him,
without seeming to do so, some details of the affair.
Contrary to all their habits, after coming to this decision the
two notables set about putting it into execution forthwith. They
left the house and directed their steps towards Doctor Ox's
laboratory, which was situated outside the town, near the
Oudenarde gate--the gate whose tower threatened to fall in ruins.
They did not take each other's arms, but walked side by side,
with a slow and solemn step, which took them forward but thirteen
inches per second. This was, indeed, the ordinary gait of the
Quiquendonians, who had never, within the memory of man, seen any
one run across the streets of their town.
From time to time the two notables would stop at some calm and
tranquil crossway, or at the end of a quiet street, to salute the
"Good morning, Monsieur the burgomaster," said one.
"Good morning, my friend," responded Van Tricasse.
"Anything new, Monsieur the counsellor?" asked another.
"Nothing new," answered Niklausse.
But by certain agitated motions and questioning looks, it was
evident that the altercation of the evening before was known
throughout the town. Observing the direction taken by Van
Tricasse, the most obtuse Quiquendonians guessed that the
burgomaster was on his way to take some important step. The
Custos and Schut affair was talked of everywhere, but the people
had not yet come to the point of taking the part of one or the
other. The Advocate Schut, having never had occasion to plead in
a town where attorneys and bailiffs only existed in tradition,
had, consequently, never lost a suit. As for the Doctor Custos,
he was an honourable practitioner, who, after the example of his
fellow-doctors, cured all the illnesses of his patients, except
those of which they died--a habit unhappily acquired by all the
members of all the faculties in whatever country they may
On reaching the Oudenarde gate, the counsellor and the
burgomaster prudently made a short detour, so as not to pass
within reach of the tower, in case it should fall; then they
turned and looked at it attentively.
"I think that it will fall," said Van Tricasse.
"I think so too," replied Niklausse.
"Unless it is propped up," added Van Tricasse. "But must it be
propped up? That is the question."
"That is--in fact--the question."
Some moments after, they reached the door of the gasworks.
"Can we see Doctor Ox?" they asked.
Doctor Ox could always be seen by the first authorities of the
town, and they were at once introduced into the celebrated
Perhaps the two notables waited for the doctor at least an hour;
at least it is reasonable to suppose so, as the burgomaster--a
thing that had never before happened in his life--betrayed a
certain amount of impatience, from which his companion was not
Doctor Ox came in at last, and began to excuse himself for having
kept them waiting; but he had to approve a plan for the
gasometer, rectify some of the machinery--But everything was
going on well! The pipes intended for the oxygen were already
laid. In a few months the town would be splendidly lighted. The
two notables might even now see the orifices of the pipes which
were laid on in the laboratory.
Then the doctor begged to know to what he was indebted for the
honour of this visit.
"Only to see you, doctor; to see you," replied Van Tricasse. "It
is long since we have had the pleasure. We go abroad but little
in our good town of Quiquendone. We count our steps and measure
our walks. We are happy when nothing disturbs the uniformity of
Niklausse looked at his friend. His friend had never said so much
at once--at least, without taking time, and giving long intervals
between his sentences. It seemed to him that Van Tricasse
expressed himself with a certain volubility, which was by no
means common with him. Niklausse himself experienced a kind of
irresistible desire to talk.
As for Doctor Ox, he looked at the burgomaster with sly
Van Tricasse, who never argued until he had snugly ensconced
himself in a spacious armchair, had risen to his feet. I know not
what nervous excitement, quite foreign to his temperament, had
taken possession of him. He did not gesticulate as yet, but this
could not be far off. As for the counsellor, he rubbed his legs,
and breathed with slow and long gasps. His look became animated
little by little, and he had "decided" to support at all hazards,
if need be, his trusty friend the burgomaster.
Van Tricasse got up and took several steps; then he came back,
and stood facing the doctor.
"And in how many months," he asked in a somewhat emphatic tome,
"do you say that your work will be finished?"
"In three or four months, Monsieur the burgomaster," replied
"Three or four months,--it's a very long time!" said Van
"Altogether too long!" added Niklausse, who, not being able to
keep his seat, rose also.
"This lapse of time is necessary to complete our work," returned
Doctor Ox. "The workmen, whom we have had to choose in Quiquendone,
are not very expeditious."
"How not expeditious?" cried the burgomaster, who seemed to take
the remark as personally offensive.
"No, Monsieur Van Tricasse," replied Doctor Ox obstinately. "A
French workman would do in a day what it takes ten of your
workmen to do; you know, they are regular Flemings!"
"Flemings!" cried the counsellor, whose fingers closed together.
"In what sense, sir, do you use that word?"
"Why, in the amiable sense in which everybody uses it," replied
Doctor Ox, smiling.
"Ah, but doctor," said the burgomaster, pacing up and down the
room, "I don't like these insinuations. The workmen of Quiquendone
are as efficient as those of any other town in the world, you must
know; and we shall go neither to Paris nor London for our models!
As for your project, I beg you to hasten its execution. Our streets
have been unpaved for the putting down of your conduit-pipes, and it
is a hindrance to traffic. Our trade will begin to suffer, and I,
being the responsible authority, do not propose to incur reproaches
which will be but too just."
Worthy burgomaster! He spoke of trade, of traffic, and the wonder
was that those words, to which he was quite unaccustomed, did not
scorch his lips. What could be passing in his mind?
"Besides," added Niklausse, "the town cannot be deprived of light
"But," urged Doctor Ox, "a town which has been un-lighted for
eight or nine hundred years--"
"All the more necessary is it," replied the burgomaster,
emphasizing his words. "Times alter, manners alter! The world
advances, and we do not wish to remain behind. We desire our
streets to be lighted within a month, or you must pay a large
indemnity for each day of delay; and what would happen if, amid
the darkness, some affray should take place?"
"No doubt," cried Niklausse. "It requires but a spark to inflame
a Fleming! Fleming! Flame!"
"Apropos of this," said the burgomaster, interrupting his friend,
"Commissary Passauf, our chief of police, reports to us that a
discussion took place in your drawing-room last evening, Doctor
Ox. Was he wrong in declaring that it was a political discussion?"
"By no means, Monsieur the burgomaster," replied Doctor Ox, who
with difficulty repressed a sigh of satisfaction.
"So an altercation did take place between Dominique Gustos and
"Yes, counsellor; but the words which passed were not of grave
"Not of grave import!" cried the burgomaster. "Not of grave
import, when one man tells another that he does not measure the
effect of his words! But of what stuff are you made, monsieur? Do
you not know that in Quiquendone nothing more is needed to bring
about extremely disastrous results? But monsieur, if you, or any
one else, presume to speak thus to me--"
"Or to me," added Niklausse.
As they pronounced these words with a menacing air, the two
notables, with folded arms and bristling air, confronted Doctor
Ox, ready to do him some violence, if by a gesture, or even the
expression of his eye, he manifested any intention of contradicting
But the doctor did not budge.
"At all events, monsieur," resumed the burgomaster, "I propose to
hold you responsible for what passes in your house. I am bound to
insure the tranquillity of this town, and I do not wish it to be
disturbed. The events of last evening must not be repeated, or I
shall do my duty, sir! Do you hear? Then reply, sir."
The burgomaster, as he spoke, under the influence of
extraordinary excitement, elevated his voice to the pitch of
anger. He was furious, the worthy Van Tricasse, and might
certainly be heard outside. At last, beside himself, and seeing
that Doctor Ox did not reply to his challenge, "Come, Niklausse,"
And, slamming the door with a violence which shook the house, the
burgomaster drew his friend after him.
Little by little, when they had taken twenty steps on their road,
the worthy notables grew more calm. Their pace slackened, their
gait became less feverish. The flush on their faces faded away;
from being crimson, they became rosy. A quarter of an hour after
quitting the gasworks, Van Tricasse said softly to Niklausse, "An
amiable man, Doctor Ox! It is always a pleasure to see him!"
IN WHICH FRANTZ NIKLAUSSE AND SUZEL VAN TRICASSE FORM
PROJECTS FOR THE FUTURE.
Our readers know that the burgomaster had a daughter, Suzel But,
shrewd as they may be, they cannot have divined that the
counsellor Niklausse had a son, Frantz; and had they divined
this, nothing could have led them to imagine that Frantz was the
betrothed lover of Suzel. We will add that these young people
were made for each other, and that they loved each other, as
folks did love at Quiquendone.
It must not be thought that young hearts did not beat in this
exceptional place; only they beat with a certain deliberation.
There were marriages there, as in every other town in the world;
but they took time about it. Betrothed couples, before engaging
in these terrible bonds, wished to study each other; and these
studies lasted at least ten years, as at college. It was rare
that any one was "accepted" before this lapse of time.
Yes, ten years! The courtships last ten years! And is it, after
all, too long, when the being bound for life is in consideration?
One studies ten years to become an engineer or physician, an
advocate or attorney, and should less time be spent in acquiring
the knowledge to make a good husband? Is it not reasonable? and,
whether due to temperament or reason with them, the Quiquendonians
seem to us to be in the right in thus prolonging their courtship.
When marriages in other more lively and excitable cities are seen
taking place within a few months, we must shrug our shoulders,
and hasten to send our boys to the schools and our daughters to the
pensions of Quiquendone.
For half a century but a single marriage was known to have taken
place after the lapse of two years only of courtship, and that
turned out badly!
Frantz Niklausse, then, loved Suzel Van Tricasse, but quietly, as
a man would love when he has ten years before him in which to
obtain the beloved object. Once every week, at an hour agreed
upon, Frantz went to fetch Suzel, and took a walk with her along
the banks of the Vaar. He took good care to carry his fishing-tackle,
and Suzel never forgot her canvas, on which her pretty hands
embroidered the most unlikely flowers.
Frantz was a young man of twenty-two, whose cheeks betrayed a
soft, peachy down, and whose voice had scarcely a compass of one
As for Suzel, she was blonde and rosy. She was seventeen, and did
not dislike fishing. A singular occupation this, however, which
forces you to struggle craftily with a barbel. But Frantz loved
it; the pastime was congenial to his temperament. As patient as
possible, content to follow with his rather dreamy eye the cork
which bobbed on the top of the water, he knew how to wait; and
when, after sitting for six hours, a modest barbel, taking pity
on him, consented at last to be caught, he was happy--but he knew
how to control his emotion.
On this day the two lovers--one might say, the two betrothed--
were seated upon the verdant bank. The limpid Vaar murmured a few
feet below them. Suzel quietly drew her needle across the canvas.
Frantz automatically carried his line from left to right, then
permitted it to descend the current from right to left. The fish
made capricious rings in the water, which crossed each other
around the cork, while the hook hung useless near the bottom.
From time to time Frantz would say, without raising his eyes,--
"I think I have a bite, Suzel."
"Do you think so, Frantz?" replied Suzel, who, abandoning her
work for an instant, followed her lover's line with earnest eye.
"N-no," resumed Frantz; "I thought I felt a little twitch; I was
"You will have a bite, Frantz," replied Suzel, in her pure,
soft voice. "But do not forget to strike at the right moment. You
are always a few seconds too late, and the barbel takes advantage
"Would you like to take my line, Suzel?"
"Then give me your canvas. We shall see whether I am more adroit
with the needle than with the hook."
And the young girl took the line with trembling hand, while her
swain plied the needle across the stitches of the embroidery. For
hours together they thus exchanged soft words, and their hearts
palpitated when the cork bobbed on the water. Ah, could they ever
forget those charming hours, during which, seated side by side,
they listened to the murmurs of the river?
The sun was fast approaching the western horizon, and despite the
combined skill of Suzel and Frantz, there had not been a bite.
The barbels had not shown themselves complacent, and seemed to
scoff at the two young people, who were too just to bear them
"We shall be more lucky another time, Frantz," said Suzel, as the
young angler put up his still virgin hook.
"Let us hope so," replied Frantz.
Then walking side by side, they turned their steps towards the
house, without exchanging a word, as mute as their shadows which
stretched out before them. Suzel became very, very tall under the
oblique rays of the setting sun. Frantz appeared very, very thin,
like the long rod which he held in his hand.
They reached the burgomaster's house. Green tufts of grass
bordered the shining pavement, and no one would have thought of
tearing them away, for they deadened the noise made by the
As they were about to open the door, Frantz thought it his duty
to say to Suzel,--
"You know, Suzel, the great day is approaching?"
"It is indeed, Frantz," replied the young girl, with downcast
"Yes," said Frantz, "in five or six years--"
"Good-bye, Frantz," said Suzel.
"Good-bye, Suzel," replied Frantz.
And, after the door had been closed, the young man resumed the
way to his father's house with a calm and equal pace.
IN WHICH THE ANDANTES BECOME ALLEGROS, AND THE ALLEGROS
The agitation caused by the Schut and Custos affair had subsided.
The affair led to no serious consequences. It appeared likely
that Quiquendone would return to its habitual apathy, which that
unexpected event had for a moment disturbed.
Meanwhile, the laying of the pipes destined to conduct the
oxyhydric gas into the principal edifices of the town was
proceeding rapidly. The main pipes and branches gradually crept
beneath the pavements. But the burners were still wanting; for,
as it required delicate skill to make them, it was necessary that
they should be fabricated abroad. Doctor Ox was here, there, and
everywhere; neither he nor Ygène, his assistant, lost a moment,
but they urged on the workmen, completed the delicate mechanism
of the gasometer, fed day and night the immense piles which
decomposed the water under the influence of a powerful electric
current. Yes, the doctor was already making his gas, though the
pipe-laying was not yet done; a fact which, between ourselves,
might have seemed a little singular. But before long,--at least
there was reason to hope so,--before long Doctor Ox would
inaugurate the splendours of his invention in the theatre of the
For Quiquendone possessed a theatre--a really fine edifice, in
truth--the interior and exterior arrangement of which combined
every style of architecture. It was at once Byzantine, Roman,
Gothic, Renaissance, with semicircular doors, Pointed windows,
Flamboyant rose-windows, fantastic bell-turrets,--in a word, a
specimen of all sorts, half a Parthenon, half a Parisian Grand
Café. Nor was this surprising, the theatre having been commenced
under the burgomaster Ludwig Van Tricasse, in 1175, and only
finished in 1837, under the burgomaster Natalis Van Tricasse. It
had required seven hundred years to build it, and it had, been
successively adapted to the architectural style in vogue in each
period. But for all that it was an imposing structure; the Roman
pillars and Byzantine arches of which would appear to advantage
lit up by the oxyhydric gas.
Pretty well everything was acted at the theatre of Quiquendone;
but the opera and the opera comique were especially patronized.
It must, however, be added that the composers would never have
recognized their own works, so entirely changed were the
"movements" of the music.
In short, as nothing was done in a hurry at Quiquendone, the
dramatic pieces had to be performed in harmony with the peculiar
temperament of the Quiquendonians. Though the doors of the
theatre were regularly thrown open at four o'clock and closed
again at ten, it had never been known that more than two acts
were played during the six intervening hours. "Robert le Diable,"
"Les Huguenots," or "Guillaume Tell" usually took up three
evenings, so slow was the execution of these masterpieces. The
vivaces, at the theatre of Quiquendone, lagged like real
adagios. The allegros were "long-drawn out" indeed. The
demisemiquavers were scarcely equal to the ordinary semibreves of
other countries. The most rapid runs, performed according to
Quiquendonian taste, had the solemn march of a chant. The gayest
shakes were languishing and measured, that they might not shock
the ears of the dilettanti. To give an example, the rapid air
sung by Figaro, on his entrance in the first act of "Le Barbiér
de Séville," lasted fifty-eight minutes--when the actor was
Artists from abroad, as might be supposed, were forced to conform
themselves to Quiquendonian fashions; but as they were well paid,
they did not complain, and willingly obeyed the leader's baton,
which never beat more than eight measures to the minute in the
But what applause greeted these artists, who enchanted without
ever wearying the audiences of Quiquendone! All hands clapped one
after another at tolerably long intervals, which the papers
characterized as "frantic applause;" and sometimes nothing but
the lavish prodigality with which mortar and stone had been used
in the twelfth century saved the roof of the hall from falling
Besides, the theatre had only one performance a week, that these
enthusiastic Flemish folk might not be too much excited; and this
enabled the actors to study their parts more thoroughly, and the
spectators to digest more at leisure the beauties of the
masterpieces brought out.
Such had long been the drama at Quiquendone. Foreign artists were
in the habit of making engagements with the director of the town,
when they wanted to rest after their exertions in other scenes;
and it seemed as if nothing could ever change these inveterate
customs, when, a fortnight after the Schut-Custos affair, an
unlooked-for incident occurred to throw the population into fresh
It was on a Saturday, an opera day. It was not yet intended, as
may well be supposed, to inaugurate the new illumination. No; the
pipes had reached the hall, but, for reasons indicated above, the
burners had not yet been placed, and the wax-candles still shed
their soft light upon the numerous spectators who filled the
theatre. The doors had been opened to the public at one o'clock,
and by three the hall was half full. A queue had at one time been
formed, which extended as far as the end of the Place Saint
Ernuph, in front of the shop of Josse Lietrinck the apothecary.
This eagerness was significant of an unusually attractive
"Are you going to the theatre this evening?" inquired the
counsellor the same morning of the burgomaster.
"I shall not fail to do so," returned Van Tricasse, "and I shall
take Madame Van Tricasse, as well as our daughter Suzel and our
dear Tatanémance, who all dote on good music."
"Mademoiselle Suzel is going then?"
"Then my son Frantz will be one of the first to arrive," said
"A spirited boy, Niklausse," replied the burgomaster
sententiously; "but hot-headed! He will require watching!"
"He loves, Van Tricasse,--he loves your charming Suzel."
"Well, Niklausse, he shall marry her. Now that we have agreed on
this marriage, what more can he desire?"
"He desires nothing, Van Tricasse, the dear boy! But, in short--
we'll say no more about it--he will not be the last to get his
ticket at the box-office."
"Ah, vivacious and ardent youth!" replied the burgomaster,
recalling his own past. "We have also been thus, my worthy
counsellor! We have loved--we too! We have danced attendance in
our day! Till to-night, then, till to-night! By-the-bye, do you
know this Fiovaranti is a great artist? And what a welcome he has
received among us! It will be long before he will forget the
applause of Quiquendone!"
The tenor Fiovaranti was, indeed, going to sing; Fiovaranti, who,
by his talents as a virtuoso, his perfect method, his melodious
voice, provoked a real enthusiasm among the lovers of music in
For three weeks Fiovaranti had been achieving a brilliant success
in "Les Huguenots." The first act, interpreted according to the
taste of the Quiquendonians, had occupied an entire evening of
the first week of the month.--Another evening in the second week,
prolonged by infinite andantes, had elicited for the celebrated
singer a real ovation. His success had been still more marked in
the third act of Meyerbeer's masterpiece. But now Fiovaranti was
to appear in the fourth act, which was to be performed on this
evening before an impatient public. Ah, the duet between Raoul
and Valentine, that pathetic love-song for two voices, that
strain so full of crescendos, stringendos, and piu
crescendos--all this, sung slowly, compendiously, interminably!
Ah, how delightful!
At four o'clock the hall was full. The boxes, the orchestra, the
pit, were overflowing. In the front stalls sat the Burgomaster
Van Tricasse, Mademoiselle Van Tricasse, Madame Van Tricasse, and
the amiable Tatanémance in a green bonnet; not far off were the
Counsellor Niklausse and his family, not forgetting the amorous
Frantz. The families of Custos the doctor, of Schut the advocate,
of Honoré Syntax the chief judge, of Norbet Sontman the insurance
director, of the banker Collaert, gone mad on German music, and
himself somewhat of an amateur, and the teacher Rupp, and the
master of the academy, Jerome Resh, and the civil commissary, and
so many other notabilities of the town that they could not be
enumerated here without wearying the reader's patience, were
visible in different parts of the hall.
It was customary for the Quiquendonians, while awaiting the rise
of the curtain, to sit silent, some reading the paper, others
whispering low to each other, some making their way to their
seats slowly and noiselessly, others casting timid looks towards
the bewitching beauties in the galleries.
But on this evening a looker-on might have observed that, even
before the curtain rose, there was unusual animation among the
audience. People were restless who were never known to be
restless before. The ladies' fans fluttered with abnormal
rapidity. All appeared to be inhaling air of exceptional
stimulating power. Every one breathed more freely. The eyes of
some became unwontedly bright, and seemed to give forth a light
equal to that of the candles, which themselves certainly threw a
more brilliant light over the hall. It was evident that people
saw more clearly, though the number of candles had not been
increased. Ah, if Doctor Ox's experiment were being tried! But it
was not being tried, as yet.
The musicians of the orchestra at last took their places. The
first violin had gone to the stand to give a modest la to his
colleagues. The stringed instruments, the wind instruments, the
drums and cymbals, were in accord. The conductor only waited the
sound of the bell to beat the first bar.
The bell sounds. The fourth act begins. The allegro
appassionato of the inter-act is played as usual, with a
majestic deliberation which would have made Meyerbeer frantic,
and all the majesty of which was appreciated by the Quiquendonian
But soon the leader perceived that he was no longer master of his
musicians. He found it difficult to restrain them, though usually
so obedient and calm. The wind instruments betrayed a tendency to
hasten the movements, and it was necessary to hold them back with
a firm hand, for they would otherwise outstrip the stringed
instruments; which, from a musical point of view, would have been
disastrous. The bassoon himself, the son of Josse Lietrinck the
apothecary, a well-bred young man, seemed to lose his self-control.
Meanwhile Valentine has begun her recitative, "I am alone," &c.;
but she hurries it.
The leader and all his musicians, perhaps unconsciously, follow
her in her cantabile, which should be taken deliberately, like
a 12/8 as it is. When Raoul appears at the door at the bottom of
the stage, between the moment when Valentine goes to him and that
when she conceals herself in the chamber at the side, a quarter
of an hour does not elapse; while formerly, according to the
traditions of the Quiquendone theatre, this recitative of
thirty-seven bars was wont to last just thirty-seven minutes.
Saint Bris, Nevers, Cavannes, and the Catholic nobles have
appeared, somewhat prematurely, perhaps, upon the scene. The
composer has marked allergo pomposo on the score. The orchestra
and the lords proceed allegro indeed, but not at all pomposo,
and at the chorus, in the famous scene of the "benediction of the
poniards," they no longer keep to the enjoined allegro. Singers
and musicians broke away impetuously. The leader does not even
attempt to restrain them. Nor do the public protest; on the
contrary, the people find themselves carried away, and see that
they are involved in the movement, and that the movement responds
to the impulses of their souls.
"Will you, with me, deliver the land,
From troubles increasing, an impious band?"
They promise, they swear. Nevers has scarcely time to protest,
and to sing that "among his ancestors were many soldiers, but
never an assassin." He is arrested. The police and the aldermen
rush forward and rapidly swear "to strike all at once." Saint
Bris shouts the recitative which summons the Catholics to
vengeance. The three monks, with white scarfs, hasten in by the
door at the back of Nevers's room, without making any account of
the stage directions, which enjoin on them to advance slowly.
Already all the artists have drawn sword or poniard, which the
three monks bless in a trice. The soprani tenors, bassos, attack
the allegro furioso with cries of rage, and of a dramatic 6/8
time they make it 6/8 quadrille time. Then they rush out,
God wills it,
At this moment the audience start to their feet. Everybody is
agitated--in the boxes, the pit, the galleries. It seems as if
the spectators are about to rush upon the stage, the Burgomaster
Van Tricasse at their head, to join with the conspirators and
annihilate the Huguenots, whose religious opinions, however, they
share. They applaud, call before the curtain, make loud
acclamations! Tatanémance grasps her bonnet with feverish hand.
The candles throw out a lurid glow of light.
Raoul, instead of slowly raising the curtain, tears it apart with
a superb gesture and finds himself confronting Valentine.
At last! It is the grand duet, and it starts off allegro
vivace. Raoul does not wait for Valentine's pleading, and
Valentine does not wait for Raoul's responses.
The fine passage beginning, "Danger is passing, time is flying,"
becomes one of those rapid airs which have made Offenbach famous,
when he composes a dance for conspirators. The andante amoroso,
"Thou hast said it, aye, thou lovest me," becomes a real vivace
furioso, and the violoncello ceases to imitate the inflections
of the singer's voice, as indicated in the composer's score. In
vain Raoul cries, "Speak on, and prolong the ineffable slumber of
my soul." Valentine cannot "prolong." It is evident that an
unaccustomed fire devours her. Her b's and her c's above the
stave were dreadfully shrill. He struggles, he gesticulates, he
is all in a glow.
The alarum is heard; the bell resounds; but what a panting bell!
The bell-ringer has evidently lost his self-control. It is a
frightful tocsin, which violently struggles against the fury of
Finally the air which ends this magnificent act, beginning, "No
more love, no more intoxication, O the remorse that oppresses
me!" which the composer marks allegro con moto, becomes a wild
prestissimo. You would say an express-train was whirling by.
The alarum resounds again. Valentine falls fainting. Raoul
precipitates himself from the window.
It was high time. The orchestra, really intoxicated, could not
have gone on. The leader's baton is no longer anything but a
broken stick on the prompter's box. The violin strings are
broken, and their necks twisted. In his fury the drummer has
burst his drum. The counter-bassist has perched on the top of his
musical monster. The first clarionet has swallowed the reed of
his instrument, and the second hautboy is chewing his reed keys.
The groove of the trombone is strained, and finally the unhappy
cornist cannot withdraw his hand from the bell of his horn, into
which he had thrust it too far.
And the audience! The audience, panting, all in a heat,
gesticulates and howls. All the faces are as red as if a fire
were burning within their bodies. They crowd each other, hustle
each other to get out--the men without hats, the women without
mantles! They elbow each other in the corridors, crush between
the doors, quarrel, fight! There are no longer any officials, any
burgomaster. All are equal amid this infernal frenzy!
Some moments after, when all have reached the street, each one
resumes his habitual tranquillity, and peaceably enters his
house, with a confused remembrance of what he has just experienced.
The fourth act of the "Huguenots," which formerly lasted six
hours, began, on this evening at half-past four, and ended at
twelve minutes before five.
It had only lasted eighteen minutes!
IN WHICH THE ANCIENT AND SOLEMN GERMAN WALTZ BECOMES A
But if the spectators, on leaving the theatre, resumed their
customary calm, if they quietly regained their homes, preserving
only a sort of passing stupefaction, they had none the less
undergone a remarkable exaltation, and overcome and weary as if
they had committed some excess of dissipation, they fell heavily
upon their beds.
The next day each Quiquendonian had a kind of recollection of
what had occurred the evening before. One missed his hat, lost in
the hubbub; another a coat-flap, torn in the brawl; one her
delicately fashioned shoe, another her best mantle. Memory
returned to these worthy people, and with it a certain shame for
their unjustifiable agitation. It seemed to them an orgy in which
they were the unconscious heroes and heroines. They did not speak
of it; they did not wish to think of it. But the most astounded
personage in the town was Van Tricasse the burgomaster.
The next morning, on waking, he could not find his wig. Lotchè
looked everywhere for it, but in vain. The wig had remained on
the field of battle. As for having it publicly claimed by Jean
Mistrol, the town-crier,--no, it would not do. It were better to
lose the wig than to advertise himself thus, as he had the honour
to be the first magistrate of Quiquendone.
The worthy Van Tricasse was reflecting upon this, extended
beneath his sheets, with bruised body, heavy head, furred tongue,
and burning breast. He felt no desire to get up; on the contrary;
and his brain worked more during this morning than it had
probably worked before for forty years. The worthy magistrate
recalled to his mind all the incidents of the incomprehensible
performance. He connected them with the events which had taken
place shortly before at Doctor Ox's reception. He tried to
discover the causes of the singular excitability which, on two
occasions, had betrayed itself in the best citizens of the town.
"What can be going on?" he asked himself. "What giddy spirit
has taken possession of my peaceable town of Quiquendone? Are we
about to go mad, and must we make the town one vast asylum? For
yesterday we were all there, notables, counsellors, judges,
advocates, physicians, schoolmasters; and ail, if my memory
serves me,--all of us were assailed by this excess of furious
folly! But what was there in that infernal music? It is
inexplicable! Yet I certainly ate or drank nothing which could
put me into such a state. No; yesterday I had for dinner a slice
of overdone veal, several spoonfuls of spinach with sugar, eggs,
and a little beer and water,--that couldn't get into my head! No!
There is something that I cannot explain, and as, after all, I am
responsible for the conduct of the citizens, I will have an
But the investigation, though decided upon by the municipal
council, produced no result. If the facts were clear, the causes
escaped the sagacity of the magistrates. Besides, tranquillity
had been restored in the public mind, and with tranquillity,
forgetfulness of the strange scenes of the theatre. The
newspapers avoided speaking of them, and the account of the
performance which appeared in the "Quiquendone Memorial," made no
allusion to this intoxication of the entire audience.
Meanwhile, though the town resumed its habitual phlegm, and
became apparently Flemish as before, it was observable that, at
bottom, the character and temperament of the people changed
little by little. One might have truly said, with Dominique
Custos, the doctor, that "their nerves were affected."
Let us explain. This undoubted change only took place under
certain conditions. When the Quiquendonians passed through the
streets of the town, walked in the squares or along the Vaar,
they were always the cold and methodical people of former days.
So, too, when they remained at home, some working with their
hands and others with their heads,--these doing nothing, those
thinking nothing,--their private life was silent, inert,
vegetating as before. No quarrels, no household squabbles, no
acceleration in the beating of the heart, no excitement of the
brain. The mean of their pulsations remained as it was of old,
from fifty to fifty-two per minute.
But, strange and inexplicable phenomenon though it was, which
would have defied the sagacity of the most ingenious physiologists
of the day, if the inhabitants of Quiquendone did not change in
their home life, they were visibly changed in their civil life
and in their relations between man and man, to which it leads.
If they met together in some public edifice, it did not "work
well," as Commissary Passauf expressed it. On 'change, at the
town-hall, in the amphitheatre of the academy, at the sessions of
the council, as well as at the reunions of the savants, a
strange excitement seized the assembled citizens. Their relations
with each other became embarrassing before they had been together
an hour. In two hours the discussion degenerated into an angry
dispute. Heads became heated, and personalities were used. Even
at church, during the sermon, the faithful could not listen to
Van Stabel, the minister, in patience, and he threw himself about
in the pulpit and lectured his flock with far more than his usual
severity. At last this state of things brought about altercations
more grave, alas! than that between Gustos and Schut, and if they
did not require the interference of the authorities, it was
because the antagonists, after returning home, found there, with
its calm, forgetfulness of the offences offered and received.
This peculiarity could not be observed by these minds, which were
absolutely incapable of recognizing what was passing in them. One
person only in the town, he whose office the council had thought
of suppressing for thirty years, Michael Passauf, had remarked
that this excitement, which was absent from private houses,
quickly revealed itself in public edifices; and he asked himself,
not without a certain anxiety, what would happen if this
infection should ever develop itself in the family mansions, and
if the epidemic--this was the word he used--should extend
through the streets of the town. Then there would be no more
forgetfulness of insults, no more tranquillity, no intermission
in the delirium; but a permanent inflammation, which would
inevitably bring the Quiquendonians into collision with each
"What would happen then?" Commissary Passauf asked himself in
terror. "How could these furious savages be arrested? How check
these goaded temperaments? My office would be no longer a
sinecure, and the council would be obliged to double my salary--
unless it should arrest me myself, for disturbing the public
These very reasonable fears began to be realized. The infection
spread from 'change, the theatre, the church, the town-hall, the
academy, the market, into private houses, and that in less than a
fortnight after the terrible performance of the "Huguenots."
Its first symptoms appeared in the house of Collaert, the banker.
That wealthy personage gave a ball, or at least a dancing-party,
to the notabilities of the town. He had issued, some months
before, a loan of thirty thousand francs, three quarters of which
had been subscribed; and to celebrate this financial success, he
had opened his drawing-rooms, and given a party to his fellow-citizens.
Everybody knows that Flemish parties are innocent and tranquil
enough, the principal expense of which is usually in beer and
syrups. Some conversation on the weather, the appearance of the
crops, the fine condition of the gardens, the care of flowers,
and especially of tulips; a slow and measured dance, from time to
time, perhaps a minuet; sometimes a waltz, but one of those
German waltzes which achieve a turn and a half per minute, and
during which the dancers hold each other as far apart as their
arms will permit,--such is the usual fashion of the balls
attended by the aristocratic society of Quiquendone. The polka,
after being altered to four time, had tried to become accustomed
to it; but the dancers always lagged behind the orchestra, no
matter how slow the measure, and it had to be abandoned.
These peaceable reunions, in which the youths and maidens enjoyed
an honest and moderate pleasure, had never been attended by any
outburst of ill-nature. Why, then, on this evening at Collaert
the banker's, did the syrups seem to be transformed into heady
wines, into sparkling champagne, into heating punches? Why,
towards the middle of the evening, did a sort of mysterious
intoxication take possession of the guests? Why did the minuet
become a jig? Why did the orchestra hurry with its harmonies? Why
did the candles, just as at the theatre, burn with unwonted
refulgence? What electric current invaded the banker's drawing-rooms?
How happened it that the couples held each other so closely, and
clasped each other's hands so convulsively, that the "cavaliers seuls"
made themselves conspicuous by certain extraordinary steps in that
figure usually so grave, so solemn, so majestic, so very proper?
Alas! what OEdipus could have answered these unsolvable
questions? Commissary Passauf, who was present at the party, saw
the storm coming distinctly, but he could not control it or fly
from it, and he felt a kind of intoxication entering his own
brain. All his physical and emotional faculties increased in
intensity. He was seen, several times, to throw himself upon the
confectionery and devour the dishes, as if he had just broken a
The animation of the ball was increasing all this while. A long
murmur, like a dull buzzing, escaped from all breasts. They
danced--really danced. The feet were agitated by increasing
frenzy. The faces became as purple as those of Silenus. The eyes
shone like carbuncles. The general fermentation rose to the
And when the orchestra thundered out the waltz in "Der
Freyschütz,"--when this waltz, so German, and with a movement so
slow, was attacked with wild arms by the musicians,--ah! it was
no longer a waltz, but an insensate whirlwind, a giddy rotation,
a gyration worthy of being led by some Mephistopheles, beating
the measure with a firebrand! Then a galop, an infernal galop,
which lasted an hour without any one being able to stop it,
whirled off, in its windings, across the halls, the drawing-rooms,
the antechambers, by the staircases, from the cellar to the garret of
the opulent mansion, the young men and young girls, the fathers and
mothers, people of every age, of every weight, of both sexes;
Collaert, the fat banker, and Madame Collaert, and the counsellors,
and the magistrates, and the chief justice, and Niklausse, and Madame
Van Tricasse, and the Burgomaster Van Tricasse, and the Commissary
Passauf himself, who never could recall afterwards who had been his
partner on that terrible evening.
But she did not forget! And ever since that day she has seen in
her dreams the fiery commissary, enfolding her in an impassioned
embrace! And "she"--was the amiable Tatanémance!
IN WHICH DOCTOR OX AND YGÈNE, HIS ASSISTANT, SAY A FEW WORDS.
"Well, master, all is ready. The laying of the pipes is
"At last! Now, then, we are going to operate on a large scale, on
IN WHICH IT WILL BE SEEN THAT THE EPIDEMIC INVADES THE ENTIRE
AND WHAT EFFECT IT PRODUCES.
During the following months the evil, in place of subsiding,
became more extended. From private houses the epidemic spread
into the streets. The town of Quiquendone was no longer to be
A phenomenon yet stranger than those which had already happened,
now appeared; not only the animal kingdom, but the vegetable
kingdom itself, became subject to the mysterious influence.
According to the ordinary course of things, epidemics are special
in their operation. Those which attack humanity spare the
animals, and those which attack the animals spare the vegetables.
A horse was never inflicted with smallpox, nor a man with the
cattle-plague, nor do sheep suffer from the potato-rot. But here
all the laws of nature seemed to be overturned. Not only were the
character, temperament, and ideas of the townsfolk changed, but
the domestic animals--dogs and cats, horses and cows, asses and
goats--suffered from this epidemic influence, as if their
habitual equilibrium had been changed. The plants themselves were
infected by a similar strange metamorphosis.
In the gardens and vegetable patches and orchards very curious
symptoms manifested themselves. Climbing plants climbed more
audaciously. Tufted plants became more tufted than ever. Shrubs
became trees. Cereals, scarcely sown, showed their little green
heads, and gained, in the same length of time, as much in inches
as formerly, under the most favourable circumstances, they had
gained in fractions. Asparagus attained the height of several
feet; the artichokes swelled to the size of melons, the melons to
the size of pumpkins, the pumpkins to the size of gourds, the
gourds to the size of the belfry bell, which measured, in truth,
nine feet in diameter. The cabbages were bushes, and the
The fruits did not lag behind the vegetables. It required two
persons to eat a strawberry, and four to consume a pear. The
grapes also attained the enormous proportions of those so well
depicted by Poussin in his "Return of the Envoys to the Promised
It was the same with the flowers: immense violets spread the most
penetrating perfumes through the air; exaggerated roses shone
with the brightest colours; lilies formed, in a few days,
impenetrable copses; geraniums, daisies, camelias, rhododendrons,
invaded the garden walks, and stifled each other. And the
tulips,--those dear liliaceous plants so dear to the Flemish
heart, what emotion they must have caused to their zealous
cultivators! The worthy Van Bistrom nearly fell over backwards,
one day, on seeing in his garden an enormous "Tulipa gesneriana,"
a gigantic monster, whose cup afforded space to a nest for a
whole family of robins!
The entire town flocked to see this floral phenomenon, and
renamed it the "Tulipa quiquendonia".
But alas! if these plants, these fruits, these flowers, grew
visibly to the naked eye, if all the vegetables insisted on
assuming colossal proportions, if the brilliancy of their colours
and perfume intoxicated the smell and the sight, they quickly
withered. The air which they absorbed rapidly exhausted them, and
they soon died, faded, and dried up.
Such was the fate of the famous tulip, which, after several days
of splendour, became emaciated, and fell lifeless.
It was soon the same with the domestic animals, from the house-dog
to the stable pig, from the canary in its cage to the turkey
of the back-court. It must be said that in ordinary times these
animals were not less phlegmatic than their masters. The dogs and
cats vegetated rather than lived. They never betrayed a wag of
pleasure nor a snarl of wrath. Their tails moved no more than if
they had been made of bronze. Such a thing as a bite or scratch
from any of them had not been known from time immemorial. As for
mad dogs, they were looked upon as imaginary beasts, like the
griffins and the rest in the menagerie of the apocalypse.
But what a change had taken place in a few months, the smallest
incidents of which we are trying to reproduce! Dogs and cats
began to show teeth and claws. Several executions had taken place
after reiterated offences. A horse was seen, for the first time,
to take his bit in his teeth and rush through the streets of
Quiquendone; an ox was observed to precipitate itself, with
lowered horns, upon one of his herd; an ass was seen to turn
himself ever, with his legs in the air, in the Place Saint
Ernuph, and bray as ass never brayed before; a sheep, actually a
sheep, defended valiantly the cutlets within him from the
Van Tricasse, the burgomaster, was forced to make police
regulations concerning the domestic animals, as, seized with
lunacy, they rendered the streets of Quiquendone unsafe.
But alas! if the animals were mad, the men were scarcely less so.
No age was spared by the scourge. Babies soon became quite
insupportable, though till now so easy to bring up; and for the
first time Honoré Syntax, the judge, was obliged to apply the rod
to his youthful offspring.
There was a kind of insurrection at the high school, and the
dictionaries became formidable missiles in the classes. The
scholars would not submit to be shut in, and, besides, the
infection took the teachers themselves, who overwhelmed the boys
and girls with extravagant tasks and punishments.
Another strange phenomenon occurred. All these Quiquendonians, so
sober before, whose chief food had been whipped creams, committed
wild excesses in their eating and drinking. Their usual regimen
no longer sufficed. Each stomach was transformed into a gulf, and
it became necessary to fill this gulf by the most energetic
means. The consumption of the town was trebled. Instead of two
repasts they had six. Many cases of indigestion were reported.
The Counsellor Niklausse could not satisfy his hunger. Van
Tricasse found it impossible to assuage his thirst, and remained
in a state of rabid semi-intoxication.
In short, the most alarming symptoms manifested themselves and
increased from day to day. Drunken people staggered in the
streets, and these were often citizens of high position.
Dominique Custos, the physician, had plenty to do with the
heartburns, inflammations, and nervous affections, which proved
to what a strange degree the nerves of the people had been
There were daily quarrels and altercations in the once deserted
but now crowded streets of Quiquendone; for nobody could any
longer stay at home. It was necessary to establish a new police
force to control the disturbers of the public peace. A prison-cage
was established in the Town Hall, and speedily became full,
night and day, of refractory offenders. Commissary Passauf was in
A marriage was concluded in less than two months,--such a thing
had never been seen before. Yes, the son of Rupp, the schoolmaster,
wedded the daughter of Augustine de Rovere, and that fifty-seven
days only after he had petitioned for her hand and heart!
Other marriages were decided upon, which, in old times, would
have remained in doubt and discussion for years. The burgomaster
perceived that his own daughter, the charming Suzel, was escaping
from his hands.
As for dear Tatanémance, she had dared to sound Commissary
Passauf on the subject of a union, which seemed to her to combine
every element of happiness, fortune, honour, youth!
At last,--to reach the depths of abomination,--a duel took place!
Yes, a duel with pistols--horse-pistols--at seventy-five paces,
with ball-cartridges. And between whom? Our readers will never
Between M. Frantz Niklausse, the gentle angler, and young Simon
Collaert, the wealthy banker's son.
And the cause of this duel was the burgomaster's daughter, for
whom Simon discovered himself to be fired with passion, and whom
he refused to yield to the claims of an audacious rival!
IN WHICH THE QUIQUENDONIANS ADOPT A HEROIC RESOLUTION.
We have seen to what a deplorable condition the people of
Quiquendone were reduced. Their heads were in a ferment. They no
longer knew or recognized themselves. The most peaceable citizens
had become quarrelsome. If you looked at them askance, they would
speedily send you a challenge. Some let their moustaches grow,
and several--the most belligerent--curled them up at the ends.
This being their condition, the administration of the town and
the maintenance of order in the streets became difficult tasks,
for the government had not been organized for such a state of
things. The burgomaster--that worthy Van Tricasse whom we have
seen so placid, so dull, so incapable of coming to any decision--
the burgomaster became intractable. His house resounded with the
sharpness of his voice. He made twenty decisions a day, scolding
his officials, and himself enforcing the regulations of his
Ah, what a change! The amiable and tranquil mansion of the
burgomaster, that good Flemish home--where was its former calm?
What changes had taken place in your household economy! Madame
Van Tricasse had become acrid, whimsical, harsh. Her husband
sometimes succeeded in drowning her voice by talking louder than
she, but could not silence her. The petulant humour of this
worthy dame was excited by everything. Nothing went right. The
servants offended her every moment. Tatanémance, her sister-in-law,
who was not less irritable, replied sharply to her. M. Van
Tricasse naturally supported Lotchè, his servant, as is the case
in all good households; and this permanently exasperated Madame,
who constantly disputed, discussed, and made scenes with her
"What on earth is the matter with us?" cried the unhappy
burgomaster. "What is this fire that is devouring us? Are we
possessed with the devil? Ah, Madame Van Tricasse, Madame Van
Tricasse, you will end by making me die before you, and thus
violate all the traditions of the family!"
The reader will not have forgotten the strange custom by which M.
Van Tricasse would become a widower and marry again, so as not to
break the chain of descent.
Meanwhile, this disposition of all minds produced other curious
effects worthy of note. This excitement, the cause of which has
so far escaped us, brought about unexpected physiological
changes. Talents, hitherto unrecognized, betrayed themselves.
Aptitudes were suddenly revealed. Artists, before common-place,
displayed new ability. Politicians and authors arose. Orators
proved themselves equal to the most arduous debates, and on every
question inflamed audiences which were quite ready to be
inflamed. From the sessions of the council, this movement spread
to the public political meetings, and a club was formed at
Quiquendone; whilst twenty newspapers, the "Quiquendone Signal,"
the "Quiquendone Impartial," the "Quiquendone Radical," and so
on, written in an inflammatory style, raised the most important
But what about? you will ask. Apropos of everything, and of
nothing; apropos of the Oudenarde tower, which was falling, and
which some wished to pull down, and others to prop up; apropos of
the police regulations issued by the council, which some
obstinate citizens threatened to resist; apropos of the sweeping
of the gutters, repairing the sewers, and so on. Nor did the
enraged orators confine themselves to the internal administration
of the town. Carried on by the current they went further, and
essayed to plunge their fellow-citizens into the hazards of war.
Quiquendone had had for eight or nine hundred years a casus
belli of the best quality; but she had preciously laid it up
like a relic, and there had seemed some probability that it would
become effete, and no longer serviceable.
This was what had given rise to the casus belli.
It is not generally known that Quiquendone, in this cosy corner
of Flanders, lies next to the little town of Virgamen. The
territories of the two communities are contiguous.
Well, in 1185, some time before Count Baldwin's departure to the
Crusades, a Virgamen cow--not a cow belonging to a citizen, but a
cow which was common property, let it be observed--audaciously
ventured to pasture on the territory of Quiquendone. This
unfortunate beast had scarcely eaten three mouthfuls; but the
offence, the abuse, the crime--whatever you will--was committed
and duly indicted, for the magistrates, at that time, had already
begun to know how to write.
"We will take revenge at the proper moment," said simply Natalis
Van Tricasse, the thirty-second predecessor of the burgomaster of
this story, "and the Virgamenians will lose nothing by waiting."
The Virgamenians were forewarned. They waited thinking, without
doubt, that the remembrance of the offence would fade away with
the lapse of time; and really, for several centuries, they lived
on good terms with their neighbours of Quiquendone.
But they counted without their hosts, or rather without this
strange epidemic, which, radically changing the character of the
Quiquendonians, aroused their dormant vengeance.
It was at the club of the Rue Monstrelet that the truculent
orator Schut, abruptly introducing the subject to his hearers,
inflamed them with the expressions and metaphors used on such
occasions. He recalled the offence, the injury which had been
done to Quiquendone, and which a nation "jealous of its rights"
could not admit as a precedent; he showed the insult to be still
existing, the wound still bleeding: he spoke of certain special
head-shakings on the part of the people of Virgamen, which
indicated in what degree of contempt they regarded the people of
Quiquendone; he appealed to his fellow-citizens, who, unconsciously
perhaps, had supported this mortal insult for long centuries; he
adjured the "children of the ancient town" to have no other purpose
than to obtain a substantial reparation. And, lastly, he made an
appeal to "all the living energies of the nation!"
With what enthusiasm these words, so new to Quiquendonian ears,
were greeted, may be surmised, but cannot be told. All the
auditors rose, and with extended arms demanded war with loud
cries. Never had the Advocate Schut achieved such a success, and
it must be avowed that his triumphs were not few.
The burgomaster, the counsellor, all the notabilities present at
this memorable meeting, would have vainly attempted to resist the
popular outburst. Besides, they had no desire to do so, and cried
as loud, if not louder, than the rest,--
"To the frontier! To the frontier!"
As the frontier was but three kilometers from the walls of
Quiquendone, it is certain that the Virgamenians ran a real
danger, for they might easily be invaded without having had time
to look about them.
Meanwhile, Josse Liefrinck, the worthy chemist, who alone had
preserved his senses on this grave occasion, tried to make his
fellow-citizens comprehend that guns, cannon, and generals were
equally wanting to their design.
They replied to him, not without many impatient gestures, that
these generals, cannons, and guns would be improvised; that the
right and love of country sufficed, and rendered a people
Hereupon the burgomaster himself came forward, and in a sublime
harangue made short work of those pusillanimous people who
disguise their fear under a veil of prudence, which veil he tore
off with a patriotic hand.
At this sally it seemed as if the hall would fall in under the
The vote was eagerly demanded, and was taken amid acclamations.
The cries of "To Virgamen! to Virgamen!" redoubled.
The burgomaster then took it upon himself to put the armies in
motion, and in the name of the town he promised the honours of a
triumph, such as was given in the times of the Romans to that one
of its generals who should return victorious.
Meanwhile, Josse Liefrinck, who was an obstinate fellow, and did
not regard himself as beaten, though he really had been, insisted
on making another observation. He wished to remark that the
triumph was only accorded at Rome to those victorious generals
who had killed five thousand of the enemy.
"Well, well!" cried the meeting deliriously.
"And as the population of the town of Virgamen consists of but
three thousand five hundred and seventy-five inhabitants, it
would be difficult, unless the same person was killed several
But they did not let the luckless logician finish, and he was
turned out, hustled and bruised.
"Citizens," said Pulmacher the grocer, who usually sold groceries
by retail, "whatever this cowardly apothecary may have said, I
engage by myself to kill five thousand Virgamenians, if you will
accept my services!"
"Five thousand five hundred!" cried a yet more resolute patriot.
"Six thousand six hundred!" retorted the grocer.
"Seven thousand!" cried Jean Orbideck, the confectioner of the
Rue Hemling, who was on the road to a fortune by making whipped
"Adjudged!" exclaimed the burgomaster Van Tricasse, on finding
that no one else rose on the bid.
And this was how Jean Orbideck the confectioner became
general-in-chief of the forces of Quiquendone.
IN WHICH YGÈNE, THE ASSISTANT, GIVES A REASONABLE PIECE OF
WHICH IS EAGERLY REJECTED BY DOCTOR OX.
"Well, master," said Ygène next day, as he poured the pails of
sulphuric acid into the troughs of the great battery.
"Well," resumed Doctor Ox, "was I not right? See to what not only
the physical developments of a whole nation, but its morality,
its dignity, its talents, its political sense, have come! It is
only a question of molecules."
"No doubt; but--"
"Do you not think that matters have gone far enough, and that
these poor devils should not be excited beyond measure?"
"No, no!" cried the doctor; "no! I will go on to the end!"
"As you will, master; the experiment, however, seems to me
conclusive, and I think it time to--"
"To close the valve."
"You'd better!" cried Doctor Ox. "If you attempt it, I'll
IN WHICH IT IS ONCE MORE PROVED THAT BY TAKING HIGH GROUND
LITTLENESSES MAY BE OVERLOOKED.
"You say?" asked the Burgomaster Van Tricasse of the Counsellor
"I say that this war is necessary," replied Niklausse, firmly,
"and that the time has come to avenge this insult."
"Well, I repeat to you," replied the burgomaster, tartly, "that
if the people of Quiquendone do not profit by this occasion to
vindicate their rights, they will be unworthy of their name."
"And as for me, I maintain that we ought, without delay, to
collect our forces and lead them to the front."
"Really, monsieur, really!" replied Van Tricasse. "And do you
speak thus to me?"
"To yourself, monsieur the burgomaster; and you shall hear the
truth, unwelcome as it may be."
"And you shall hear it yourself, counsellor," returned Van
Tricasse in a passion, "for it will come better from my mouth
than from yours! Yes, monsieur, yes, any delay would be
dishonourable. The town of Quiquendone has waited nine hundred
years for the moment to take its revenge, and whatever you may
say, whether it pleases you or not, we shall march upon the
"Ah, you take it thus!" replied Niklausse harshly. "Very well,
monsieur, we will march without you, if it does not please you to
"A burgomaster's place is in the front rank, monsieur!"
"And that of a counsellor also, monsieur."
"You insult me by thwarting all my wishes," cried the
burgomaster, whose fists seemed likely to hit out before long.
"And you insult me equally by doubting my patriotism," cried
Niklausse, who was equally ready for a tussle.
"I tell you, monsieur, that the army of Quiquendone shall be put
in motion within two days!"
"And I repeat to you, monsieur, that forty-eight hours shall not
pass before we shall have marched upon the enemy!"
It is easy to see, from this fragment of conversation, that the
two speakers supported exactly the same idea. Both wished for
hostilities; but as their excitement disposed them to altercation,
Niklausse would not listen to Van Tricasse, nor Van Tricasse to
Niklausse. Had they been of contrary opinions on this grave
question, had the burgomaster favoured war and the counsellor
insisted on peace, the quarrel would not have been more violent.
These two old friends gazed fiercely at each other. By the
quickened beating of their hearts, their red faces, their
contracted pupils, the trembling of their muscles, their harsh
voices, it might be conjectured that they were ready to come to
But the striking of a large clock happily checked the adversaries
at the moment when they seemed on the point of assaulting each
"At last the hour has come!" cried the burgomaster.
"What hour?" asked the counsellor.
"The hour to go to the belfry tower."
"It is true, and whether it pleases you or not, I shall go,
"And I too."
"Let us go!"
"Let us go!"
It might have been supposed from these last words that a
collision had occurred, and that the adversaries were proceeding
to a duel; but it was not so. It had been agreed that the
burgomaster and the counsellor, as the two principal dignitaries
of the town, should repair to the Town Hall, and there show
themselves on the high tower which overlooked Quiquendone; that
they should examine the surrounding country, so as to make the
best strategetic plan for the advance of their troops.
Though they were in accord on this subject, they did not cease to
quarrel bitterly as they went. Their loud voices were heard
resounding in the streets; but all the passers-by were now
accustomed to this; the exasperation of the dignitaries seemed
quite natural, and no one took notice of it. Under the circumstances,
a calm man would have been regarded as a monster.
The burgomaster and the counsellor, having reached the porch of
the belfry, were in a paroxysm of fury. They were no longer red,
but pale. This terrible discussion, though they had the same
idea, had produced internal spasms, and every one knows that
paleness shows that anger has reached its last limits.
At the foot of the narrow tower staircase there was a real
explosion. Who should go up first? Who should first creep up the
winding steps? Truth compels us to say that there was a tussle,
and that the Counsellor Niklausse, forgetful of all that he owed
to his superior, to the supreme magistrate of the town, pushed
Van Tricasse violently back, and dashed up the staircase first.
Both ascended, denouncing and raging at each other at every step.
It was to be feared that a terrible climax would occur on the
summit of the tower, which rose three hundred and fifty-seven
feet above the pavement.
The two enemies soon got out of breath, however, and in a little
while, at the eightieth step, they began to move up heavily,
breathing loud and short.
Then--was it because of their being out of breath?--their wrath
subsided, or at least only betrayed itself by a succession of
unseemly epithets. They became silent, and, strange to say, it
seemed as if their excitement diminished as they ascended higher
above the town. A sort of lull took place in their minds. Their
brains became cooler, and simmered down like a coffee-pot when
taken away from the fire. Why?
We cannot answer this "why;" but the truth is that, having
reached a certain landing-stage, two hundred and sixty-six feet
above ground, the two adversaries sat down and, really more calm,
looked at each other without any anger in their faces.
"How high it is!" said the burgomaster, passing his handkerchief
over his rubicund face.
"Very high!" returned the counsellor. "Do you know that we have
gone fourteen feet higher than the Church of Saint Michael at
"I know it," replied the burgomaster, in a tone of vanity very
pardonable in the chief magistrate of Quiquendone.
The two notabilities soon resumed their ascent, casting curious
glances through the loopholes pierced in the tower walls. The
burgomaster had taken the head of the procession, without any
remark on the part of the counsellor. It even happened that at
about the three hundred and fourth step, Van Tricasse being
completely tired out, Niklausse kindly pushed him from behind.
The burgomaster offered no resistance to this, and, when he
reached the platform of the tower, said graciously,--
"Thanks, Niklausse; I will do the same for you one day."
A little while before it had been two wild beasts, ready to tear
each other to pieces, who had presented themselves at the foot of
the tower; it was now two friends who reached its summit.
The weather was superb. It was the month of May. The sun had
absorbed all the vapours. What a pure and limpid atmosphere! The
most minute objects over a broad space might be discerned. The
walls of Virgamen, glistening in their whiteness,--its red,
pointed roofs, its belfries shining in the sunlight--appeared a
few miles off. And this was the town that was foredoomed to all
the horrors of fire and pillage!
The burgomaster and the counsellor sat down beside each other on
a small stone bench, like two worthy people whose souls were in
close sympathy. As they recovered breath, they looked around;
then, after a brief silence,--
"How fine this is!" cried the burgomaster.
"Yes, it is admirable!" replied the counsellor. "Does it not
seem to you, my good Van Tricasse, that humanity is destined to
dwell rather at such heights, than to crawl about on the surface
of our globe?"
"I agree with you, honest Niklausse," returned the burgomaster,
"I agree with you. You seize sentiment better when you get clear
of nature. You breathe it in every sense! It is at such heights
that philosophers should be formed, and that sages should live,
above the miseries of this world!"
"Shall we go around the platform?" asked the counsellor.
"Let us go around the platform," replied the burgomaster.
And the two friends, arm in arm, and putting, as formerly, long
pauses between their questions and answers, examined every point
of the horizon.
"It is at least seventeen years since I have ascended the belfry
tower," said Van Tricasse.
"I do not think I ever came up before," replied Niklausse; "and I
regret it, for the view from this height is sublime! Do you see,
my friend, the pretty stream of the Vaar, as it winds among the
"And, beyond, the heights of Saint Hermandad! How gracefully they
shut in the horizon! Observe that border of green trees, which
Nature has so picturesquely arranged! Ah, Nature, Nature,
Niklausse! Could the hand of man ever hope to rival her?"
"It is enchanting, my excellent friend," replied the counsellor.
"See the flocks and herds lying in the verdant pastures,--the
oxen, the cows, the sheep!"
"And the labourers going to the fields! You would say they were
Arcadian shepherds; they only want a bagpipe!"
"And over all this fertile country the beautiful blue sky, which
no vapour dims! Ah, Niklausse, one might become a poet here! I do
not understand why Saint Simeon Stylites was not one of the
greatest poets of the world."
"It was because, perhaps, his column was not high enough,"
replied the counsellor, with a gentle smile.
At this moment the chimes of Quiquendone rang out. The clear
bells played one of their most melodious airs. The two friends
listened in ecstasy.
Then in his calm voice, Van Tricasse said,--
"But what, friend Niklausse, did we come to the top of this tower
"In fact," replied the counsellor, "we have permitted ourselves
to be carried away by our reveries--"
"What did we come here to do?" repeated the burgomaster.
"We came," said Niklausse, "to breathe this pure air, which human
weaknesses have not corrupted."
"Well, shall we descend, friend Niklausse?"
"Let us descend, friend Van Tricasse."
They gave a parting glance at the splendid panorama which was
spread before their eyes; then the burgomaster passed down first,
and began to descend with a slow and measured pace. The
counsellor followed a few steps behind. They reached the landing-stage
at which they had stopped on ascending. Already their cheeks began to
redden. They tarried a moment, then resumed their descent.
In a few moments Van Tricasse begged Niklausse to go more slowly,
as he felt him on his heels, and it "worried him." It even did
more than worry him; for twenty steps lower down he ordered the
counsellor to stop, that he might get on some distance ahead.
The counsellor replied that he did not wish to remain with his
leg in the air to await the good pleasure of the burgomaster, and
Van Tricasse retorted with a rude expression.
The counsellor responded by an insulting allusion to the
burgomaster's age, destined as he was, by his family traditions,
to marry a second time.
The burgomaster went down twenty steps more, and warned Niklausse
that this should not pass thus.
Niklausse replied that, at all events, he would pass down first;
and, the space being very narrow, the two dignitaries came into
collision, and found themselves in utter darkness. The words
"blockhead" and "booby" were the mildest which they now applied
to each other.
"We shall see, stupid beast!" cried the burgomaster,--"we shall
see what figure you will make in this war, and in what rank you
"In the rank that precedes yours, you silly old fool!" replied
Then there were other cries, and it seemed as if bodies were
rolling over each other. What was going on? Why were these
dispositions so quickly changed? Why were the gentle sheep of the
tower's summit metamorphosed into tigers two hundred feet below
However this might be, the guardian of the tower, hearing the
noise, opened the door, just at the moment when the two
adversaries, bruised, and with protruding eyes, were in the act
of tearing each other's hair,--fortunately they wore wigs.
"You shall give me satisfaction for this!" cried the burgomaster,
shaking his fist under his adversary's nose.
"Whenever you please!" growled the Counsellor Niklausse,
attempting to respond with a vigorous kick.
The guardian, who was himself in a passion,--I cannot say why,--
thought the scene a very natural one. I know not what excitement
urged him to take part in it, but he controlled himself, and went
off to announce throughout the neighbourhood that a hostile
meeting was about to take place between the Burgomaster Van
Tricasse and the Counsellor Niklausse.
IN WHICH MATTERS GO SO FAR THAT THE INHABITANTS OF
THE READER, AND EVEN THE AUTHOR, DEMAND AN IMMEDIATE
The last incident proves to what a pitch of excitement the
Quiquendonians had been wrought. The two oldest friends in the
town, and the most gentle--before the advent of the epidemic, to
reach this degree of violence! And that, too, only a few minutes
after their old mutual sympathy, their amiable instincts, their
contemplative habit, had been restored at the summit of the
On learning what was going on, Doctor Ox could not contain his
joy. He resisted the arguments which Ygène, who saw what a
serious turn affairs were taking, addressed to him. Besides, both
of them were infected by the general fury. They were not less
excited than the rest of the population, and they ended by
quarrelling as violently as the burgomaster and the counsellor.
Besides, one question eclipsed all others, and the intended duels
were postponed to the issue of the Virgamenian difficulty. No man
had the right to shed his blood uselessly, when it belonged, to
the last drop, to his country in danger. The affair was, in
short, a grave one, and there was no withdrawing from it.
The Burgomaster Van Tricasse, despite the warlike ardour with
which he was filled, had not thought it best to throw himself
upon the enemy without warning him. He had, therefore, through
the medium of the rural policeman, Hottering, sent to demand
reparation of the Virgamenians for the offence committed, in
1195, on the Quiquendonian territory.
The authorities of Virgamen could not at first imagine of what
the envoy spoke, and the latter, despite his official character,
was conducted back to the frontier very cavalierly.
Van Tricasse then sent one of the aides-de-camp of the
confectioner-general, citizen Hildevert Shuman, a manufacturer of
barley-sugar, a very firm and energetic man, who carried to the
authorities of Virgamen the original minute of the indictment
drawn up in 1195 by order of the Burgomaster Natalís Van
The authorities of Virgamen burst out laughing, and served the
aide-de-camp in the same manner as the rural policeman.
The burgomaster then assembled the dignitaries of the town.
A letter, remarkably and vigorously drawn up, was written as an
ultimatum; the cause of quarrel was plainly stated, and a delay
of twenty-four hours was accorded to the guilty city in which to
repair the outrage done to Quiquendone.
The letter was sent off, and returned a few hours afterwards,
torn to bits, which made so many fresh insults. The Virgamenians
knew of old the forbearance and equanimity of the Quiquendonians,
and made sport of them and their demand, of their casus belli
and their ultimatum.
There was only one thing left to do,--to have recourse to arms,
to invoke the God of battles, and, after the Prussian fashion, to
hurl themselves upon the Virgamenians Before the latter could be
This decision was made by the council in solemn conclave, in
which cries, objurgations, and menacing gestures were mingled
with unexampled violence. An assembly of idiots, a congress of
madmen, a club of maniacs, would not have been more tumultuous.
As soon as the declaration of war was known, General Jean
Orbideck assembled his troops, perhaps two thousand three hundred
and ninety-three combatants from a population of two thousand
three hundred and ninety-three souls. The women, the children,
the old men, were joined with the able-bodied males. The guns of
the town had been put under requisition. Five had been found, two
of which were without cocks, and these had been distributed to
the advance-guard. The artillery was composed of the old culverin
of the château, taken in 1339 at the attack on Quesnoy, one of
the first occasions of the use of cannon in history, and which
had not been fired off for five centuries. Happily for those who
were appointed to take it in charge there were no projectiles
with which to load it; but such as it was, this engine might well
impose on the enemy. As for side-arms, they had been taken from
the museum of antiquities,--flint hatchets, helmets, Frankish
battle-axes, javelins, halberds, rapiers, and so on; and also in
those domestic arsenals commonly known as "cupboards" and
"kitchens." But courage, the right, hatred of the foreigner, the
yearning for vengeance, were to take the place of more perfect
engines, and to replace--at least it was hoped so--the modern
mitrailleuses and breech-loaders.
The troops were passed in review. Not a citizen failed at the
roll-call. General Orbideck, whose seat on horseback was far from
firm, and whose steed was a vicious beast, was thrown three times
in front of the army; but he got up again without injury, and
this was regarded as a favourable omen. The burgomaster, the
counsellor, the civil commissary, the chief justice, the
school-teacher, the banker, the rector,--in short, all the
notabilities of the town,--marched at the head. There were no tears
shed, either by mothers, sisters, or daughters. They urged on their
husbands, fathers, brothers, to the combat, and even followed
them and formed the rear-guard, under the orders of the
courageous Madame Van Tricasse.
The crier, Jean Mistrol, blew his trumpet; the army moved off,
and directed itself, with ferocious cries, towards the Oudenarde
At the moment when the head of the column was about to pass the
walls of the town, a man threw himself before it.
"Stop! stop! Fools that you are!" he cried. "Suspend your blows!
Let me shut the valve! You are not changed in nature! You are
good citizens, quiet and peaceable! If you are so excited, it is
my master, Doctor Ox's, fault! It is an experiment! Under the
pretext of lighting your streets with oxyhydric gas, he has
The assistant was beside himself; but he could not finish. At the
instant that the doctor's secret was about to escape his lips,
Doctor Ox himself pounced upon the unhappy Ygène in an indescribable
rage, and shut his mouth by blows with his fist.
It was a battle. The burgomaster, the counsellor, the
dignitaries, who had stopped short on Ygène's sudden appearance,
carried away in turn by their exasperation, rushed upon the two
strangers, without waiting to hear either the one or the other.
Doctor Ox and his assistant, beaten and lashed, were about to be
dragged, by order of Van Tricasse, to the round-house, when,--
IN WHICH THE DÉNOUEMENT TAKES PLACE.
When a formidable explosion resounded. All the atmosphere which
enveloped Quiquendone seemed on fire. A flame of an intensity and
vividness quite unwonted shot up into the heavens like a meteor.
Had it been night, this flame would have been visible for ten
The whole army of Quiquendone fell to the earth, like an army of
monks. Happily there were no victims; a few scratches and slight
hurts were the only result. The confectioner, who, as chance
would have it, had not fallen from his horse this time, had his
plume singed, and escaped without any further injury.
What had happened?
Something very simple, as was soon learned; the gasworks had just
blown up. During the absence of the doctor and his assistant,
some careless mistake had no doubt been made. It is not known how
or why a communication had been established between the reservoir
which contained the oxygen and that which enclosed the hydrogen.
An explosive mixture had resulted from the union of these two
gases, to which fire had accidentally been applied.
This changed everything; but when the army got upon its feet
again, Doctor Ox and his assistant Ygène had disappeared.
IN WHICH THE INTELLIGENT READER SEES THAT HE HAS GUESSED
DESPITE ALL THE AUTHOR'S PRECAUTIONS.
After the explosion, Quiquendone immediately became the peaceable,
phlegmatic, and Flemish town it formerly was.
After the explosion, which indeed did not cause a very lively
sensation, each one, without knowing why, mechanically took his
way home, the burgomaster leaning on the counsellor's arm, the
advocate Schut going arm in arm with Custos the doctor, Frantz
Niklausse walking with equal familiarity with Simon Collaert,
each going tranquilly, noiselessly, without even being conscious
of what had happened, and having already forgotten Virgamen and
their revenge. The general returned to his confections, and his
aide-de-camp to the barley-sugar.
Thus everything had become calm again; the old existence had been
resumed by men and beasts, beasts and plants; even by the tower
of Oudenarde gate, which the explosion--these explosions are
sometimes astonishing--had set upright again!
And from that time never a word was spoken more loudly than
another, never a discussion took place in the town of Quiquendone.
There were no more politics, no more clubs, no more trials, no
more policemen! The post of the Commissary Passauf became once
more a sinecure, and if his salary was not reduced, it was because
the burgomaster and the counsellor could not make up their minds
to decide upon it.
From time to time, indeed, Passauf flitted, without any one
suspecting it, through the dreams of the inconsolable Tatanémance.
As for Frantz's rival, he generously abandoned the charming Suzel
to her lover, who hastened to wed her five or six years after
And as for Madame Van Tricasse, she died ten years later, at the
proper time, and the burgomaster married Mademoiselle Pélagie Van
Tricasse, his cousin, under excellent conditions--for the happy
mortal who should succeed him.
IN WHICH DOCTOR OX'S THEORY IS EXPLAINED.
What, then, had this mysterious Doctor Ox done? Tried a fantastic
After having laid down his gas-pipes, he had saturated, first the
public buildings, then the private dwellings, finally the streets
of Quiquendone, with pure oxygen, without letting in the least
atom of hydrogen.
This gas, tasteless and odorless, spread in generous quantity
through the atmosphere, causes, when it is breathed, serious
agitation to the human organism. One who lives in an air
saturated with oxygen grows excited, frantic, burns!
You scarcely return to the ordinary atmosphere before you return
to your usual state. For instance, the counsellor and the
burgomaster at the top of the belfry were themselves again, as
the oxygen is kept, by its weight, in the lower strata of the
But one who lives under such conditions, breathing this gas which
transforms the body physiologically as well as the soul, dies
speedily, like a madman.
It was fortunate, then, for the Quiquendonians, that a
providential explosion put an end to this dangerous experiment,
and abolished Doctor Ox's gas-works.
To conclude: Are virtue, courage, talent, wit, imagination,--are
all these qualities or faculties only a question of oxygen?
Such is Doctor Ox's theory; but we are not bound to accept it,
and for ourselves we utterly reject it, in spite of the curious
experiment of which the worthy old town of Quiquendone was the
A WINTER NIGHT.
The city of Geneva lies at the west end of the lake of the same
name. The Rhone, which passes through the town at the outlet of
the lake, divides it into two sections, and is itself divided in
the centre of the city by an island placed in mid-stream. A
topographical feature like this is often found in the great
depôts of commerce and industry. No doubt the first inhabitants
were influenced by the easy means of transport which the swift
currents of the rivers offered them--those "roads which walk
along of their own accord," as Pascal puts it. In the case of the
Rhone, it would be the road that ran along.
Before new and regular buildings were constructed on this island,
which was enclosed like a Dutch galley in the middle of the
river, the curious mass of houses, piled one on the other,
presented a delightfully confused coup-d'oeil. The small area
of the island had compelled some of the buildings to be perched,
as it were, on the piles, which were entangled in the rough
currents of the river. The huge beams, blackened by time, and
worn by the water, seemed like the claws of an enormous crab, and
presented a fantastic appearance. The little yellow streams,
which were like cobwebs stretched amid this ancient foundation,
quivered in the darkness, as if they had been the leaves of some
old oak forest, while the river engulfed in this forest of piles,
foamed and roared most mournfully.
One of the houses of the island was striking for its curiously
aged appearance. It was the dwelling of the old clockmaker,
Master Zacharius, whose household consisted of his daughter
Gerande, Aubert Thun, his apprentice, and his old servant
There was no man in Geneva to compare in interest with this
Zacharius. His age was past finding out. Not the oldest
inhabitant of the town could tell for how long his thin, pointed
head had shaken above his shoulders, nor the day when, for the
first time, he had-walked through the streets, with his long
white locks floating in the wind. The man did not live; he
vibrated like the pendulum of his clocks. His spare and
cadaverous figure was always clothed in dark colours. Like the
pictures of Leonardo di Vinci, he was sketched in black.
Gerande had the pleasantest room in the whole house, whence,
through a narrow window, she had the inspiriting view of the
snowy peaks of Jura; but the bedroom and workshop of the old man
were a kind of cavern close on to the water, the floor of which
rested on the piles.
From time immemorial Master Zacharius had never come out except
at meal times, and when he went to regulate the different clocks
of the town. He passed the rest of his time at his bench, which
was covered with numerous clockwork instruments, most of which he
had invented himself. For he was a clever man; his works were
valued in all France and Germany. The best workers in Geneva
readily recognized his superiority, and showed that he was an
honour to the town, by saying, "To him belongs the glory of
having invented the escapement." In fact, the birth of true
clock-work dates from the invention which the talents of
Zacharius had discovered not many years before.
After he had worked hard for a long time, Zacharius would slowly
put his tools away, cover up the delicate pieces that he had been
adjusting with glasses, and stop the active wheel of his lathe;
then he would raise a trap-door constructed in the floor of his
workshop, and, stooping down, used to inhale for hours together
the thick vapours of the Rhone, as it dashed along under his
One winter's night the old servant Scholastique served the
supper, which, according to old custom, she and the young
mechanic shared with their master. Master Zacharius did not eat,
though the food carefully prepared for him was offered him in a
handsome blue and white dish. He scarcely answered the sweet
words of Gerande, who evidently noticed her father's silence, and
even the clatter of Scholastique herself no more struck his ear
than the roar of the river, to which he paid no attention.
After the silent meal, the old clockmaker left the table without
embracing his daughter, or saying his usual "Good-night" to all.
He left by the narrow door leading to his den, and the staircase
groaned under his heavy footsteps as he went down.
Gerande, Aubert, and Scholastique sat for some minutes without
speaking. On this evening the weather was dull; the clouds
dragged heavily on the Alps, and threatened rain; the severe
climate of Switzerland made one feel sad, while the south wind
swept round the house, and whistled ominously.
"My dear young lady," said Scholastique, at last, "do you know
that our master has been out of sorts for several days? Holy
Virgin! I know he has had no appetite, because his words stick in
his inside, and it would take a very clever devil to drag even
one out of him."
"My father has some secret cause of trouble, that I cannot even
guess," replied Gerande, as a sad anxiety spread over her face.
"Mademoiselle, don't let such sadness fill your heart. You know
the strange habits of Master Zacharius. Who can read his secret
thoughts in his face? No doubt some fatigue has overcome him, but
to-morrow he will have forgotten it, and be very sorry to have
given his daughter pain."
It was Aubert who spoke thus, looking into Gerande's lovely eyes.
Aubert was the first apprentice whom Master Zacharius had ever
admitted to the intimacy of his labours, for he appreciated his
intelligence, discretion, and goodness of heart; and this young
man had attached himself to Gerande with the earnest devotion
natural to a noble nature.
Gerande was eighteen years of age. Her oval face recalled that of
the artless Madonnas whom veneration still displays at the street
corners of the antique towns of Brittany. Her eyes betrayed an
infinite simplicity. One would love her as the sweetest
realization of a poet's dream. Her apparel was of modest colours,
and the white linen which was folded about her shoulders had the
tint and perfume peculiar to the linen of the church. She led a
mystical existence in Geneva, which had not as yet been delivered
over to the dryness of Calvinism.
While, night and morning, she read her Latin prayers in her
iron-clasped missal, Gerande had also discovered a hidden sentiment in
Aubert Thun's heart, and comprehended what a profound devotion
the young workman had for her. Indeed, the whole world in his
eyes was condensed into this old clockmaker's house, and he
passed all his time near the young girl, when he left her
father's workshop, after his work was over.
Old Scholastique saw all this, but said nothing. Her loquacity
exhausted itself in preference on the evils of the times, and the
little worries of the household. Nobody tried to stop its course.
It was with her as with the musical snuff-boxes which they made
at Geneva; once wound up, you must break them before you will
prevent their playing all their airs through.
Finding Gerande absorbed in a melancholy silence, Scholastique
left her old wooden chair, fixed a taper on the end of a
candlestick, lit it, and placed it near a small waxen Virgin,
sheltered in her niche of stone. It was the family custom to
kneel before this protecting Madonna of the domestic hearth, and
to beg her kindly watchfulness during the coming night; but on
this evening Gerande remained silent in her seat.
"Well, well, dear demoiselle," said the astonished Scholastique,
"supper is over, and it is time to go to bed. Why do you tire your
eyes by sitting up late? Ah, Holy Virgin! It's much better to
sleep, and to get a little comfort from happy dreams! In these
detestable times in which we live, who can promise herself a
"Ought we not to send for a doctor for my father?" asked Gerande.
"A doctor!" cried the old domestic. "Has Master Zacharius ever
listened to their fancies and pompous sayings? He might accept
medicines for the watches, but not for the body!"
"What shall we do?" murmured Gerande. "Has he gone to work, or to
"Gerande," answered Aubert softly, "some mental trouble annoys
your father, that is all."
"Do you know what it is, Aubert?"
"Tell us, then," cried Scholastique eagerly, economically
extinguishing her taper.
"For several days, Gerande," said the young apprentice,
"something absolutely incomprehensible has been going on. All the
watches which your father has made and sold for some years have
suddenly stopped. Very many of them have been brought back to
him. He has carefully taken them to pieces; the springs were in
good condition, and the wheels well set. He has put them together
yet more carefully; but, despite his skill, they will not go."
"The devil's in it!" cried Scholastique.
"Why say you so?" asked Gerande. "It seems very natural to me.
Nothing lasts for ever in this world. The infinite cannot be
fashioned by the hands of men."
"It is none the less true," returned Aubert, "that there is in
this something very mysterious and extraordinary. I have myself
been helping Master Zacharius to search for the cause of this
derangement of his watches; but I have not been able to find it,
and more than once I have let my tools fall from my hands in
"But why undertake so vain a task?" resumed Scholastique. "Is it
natural that a little copper instrument should go of itself, and
mark the hours? We ought to have kept to the sun-dial!"
"You will not talk thus, Scholastique," said Aubert, "when you
learn that the sun-dial was invented by Cain.''
"Good heavens! what are you telling me?"
"Do you think," asked Gerande simply, "that we might pray to God
to give life to my father's watches?"
"Without doubt," replied Aubert.
"Good! They will be useless prayers," muttered the old servant,
"but Heaven will pardon them for their good intent."
The taper was relighted. Scholastique, Gerande, and Aubert knelt
down together upon the tiles of the room. The young girl prayed
for her mother's soul, for a blessing for the night, for
travellers and prisoners, for the good and the wicked, and more
earnestly than all for the unknown misfortunes of her father.
Then the three devout souls rose with some confidence in their
hearts, because they had laid their sorrow on the bosom of God.
Aubert repaired to his own room; Gerande sat pensively by the
window, whilst the last lights were disappearing from the city
streets; and Scholastique, having poured a little water on the
flickering embers, and shut the two enormous bolts on the door,
threw herself upon her bed, where she was soon dreaming that she
was dying of fright.
Meanwhile the terrors of this winter's night had increased.
Sometimes, with the whirlpools of the river, the wind engulfed
itself among the piles, and the whole house shivered and shook;
but the young girl, absorbed in her sadness, thought only of her
father. After hearing what Aubert told her, the malady of Master
Zacharius took fantastic proportions in her mind; and it seemed
to her as if his existence, so dear to her, having become purely
mechanical, no longer moved on its worn-out pivots without
Suddenly the pent-house shutter, shaken by the squall, struck
against the window of the room. Gerande shuddered and started up
without understanding the cause of the noise which thus disturbed
her reverie. When she became a little calmer she opened the sash.
The clouds had burst, and a torrent-like rain pattered on the
surrounding roofs. The young girl leaned out of the window to
draw to the shutter shaken by the wind, but she feared to do so.
It seemed to her that the rain and the river, confounding their
tumultuous waters, were submerging the frail house, the planks of
which creaked in every direction. She would have flown from her
chamber, but she saw below the flickering of a light which
appeared to come from Master Zacharius's retreat, and in one of
those momentary calms during which the elements keep a sudden
silence, her ear caught plaintive sounds. She tried to shut her
window, but could not. The wind violently repelled her, like a
thief who was breaking into a dwelling.
Gerande thought she would go mad with terror. What was her father
doing? She opened the door, and it escaped from her hands, and
slammed loudly with the force of the tempest. Gerande then found
herself in the dark supper-room, succeeded in gaining, on tiptoe,
the staircase which led to her father's shop, and pale and
fainting, glided down.
The old watchmaker was upright in the middle of the room, which
resounded with the roaring of the river. His bristling hair gave
him a sinister aspect. He was talking and gesticulating, without
seeing or hearing anything. Gerande stood still on the threshold.
"It is death!" said Master Zacharius, in a hollow voice; "it is
death! Why should I live longer, now that I have dispersed my
existence over the earth? For I, Master, Zacharius, am really the
creator of all the watches that I have fashioned! It is a part of
my very soul that I have shut up in each of these cases of iron,
silver, or gold! Every time that one of these accursed watches
stops, I feel my heart cease beating, for I have regulated them
with its pulsations!"
As he spoke in this strange way, the old man cast his eyes on his
bench. There lay all the pieces of a watch that he had carefully
taken apart. He took up a sort of hollow cylinder, called a
barrel, in which the spring is enclosed, and removed the steel
spiral, but instead of relaxing itself, according to the laws of
its elasticity, it remained coiled on itself like a sleeping
viper. It seemed knotted, like impotent old men whose blood has
long been congealed. Master Zacharius vainly essayed to uncoil it
with his thin fingers, the outlines of which were exaggerated on
the wall; but he tried in vain, and soon, with a terrible cry of
anguish and rage, he threw it through the trap-door into the
Gerande, her feet riveted to the floor, stood breathless and
motionless. She wished to approach her father, but could not.
Giddy hallucinations took possession of her. Suddenly she heard,
in the shade, a voice murmur in her ears,--
"Gerande, dear Gerande! grief still keeps you awake. Go in again,
I beg of you; the night is cold."
"Aubert!" whispered the young girl. "You!"
"Ought I not to be troubled by what troubles you?"
These soft words sent the blood back into the young girl's heart.
She leaned on Aubert's arm, and said to him,--
"My father is very ill, Aubert! You alone can cure him, for this
disorder of the mind would not yield to his daughter's consolings.
His mind is attacked by a very natural delusion, and in working with
him, repairing the watches, you will bring him back to reason.
Aubert," she continued, "it is not true, is it, that his life is
mixed up with that of his watches?"
Aubert did not reply.
"But is my father's a trade condemned by God?" asked Gerande,
"I know not," returned the apprentice, warming the cold hands of
the girl with his own. "But go back to your room, my poor
Gerande, and with sleep recover hope!"
Gerande slowly returned to her chamber, and remained there till
daylight, without sleep closing her eyelids. Meanwhile, Master
Zacharius, always mute and motionless, gazed at the river as it
rolled turbulently at his feet.
THE PRIDE OF SCIENCE.
The severity of the Geneva merchant in business matters has
become proverbial. He is rigidly honourable, and excessively
just. What must, then, have been the shame of Master Zacharius,
when he saw these watches, which he had so carefully constructed,
returning to him from every direction?
It was certain that these watches had suddenly stopped, and
without any apparent reason. The wheels were in a good condition
and firmly fixed, but the springs had lost all elasticity. Vainly
did the watchmaker try to replace them; the wheels remained
motionless. These unaccountable derangements were greatly to the
old man's discredit. His noble inventions had many times brought
upon him suspicions of sorcery, which now seemed confirmed. These
rumours reached Gerande, and she often trembled for her father,
when she saw malicious glances directed towards him.
Yet on the morning after this night of anguish, Master Zacharius
seemed to resume work with some confidence. The morning sun
inspired him with some courage. Aubert hastened to join him in
the shop, and received an affable "Good-day."
"I am better," said the old man. "I don't know what strange pains
in the head attacked me yesterday, but the sun has quite chased
them away, with the clouds of the night."
"In faith, master," returned Aubert, "I don't like the night for
either of us!"
"And thou art right, Aubert. If you ever become a great man, you
will understand that day is as necessary to you as food. A great
savant should be always ready to receive the homage of his
"Master, it seems to me that the pride of science has possessed
"Pride, Aubert! Destroy my past, annihilate my present, dissipate
my future, and then it will be permitted to me to live in
obscurity! Poor boy, who comprehends not the sublime things to
which my art is wholly devoted! Art thou not but a tool in my
"Yet. Master Zacharius," resumed Aubert, "I have more than once
merited your praise for the manner in which I adjusted the most
delicate parts of your watches and clocks."
"No doubt, Aubert; thou art a good workman, such as I love; but
when thou workest, thou thinkest thou hast in thy hands but
copper, silver, gold; thou dost not perceive these metals, which
my genius animates, palpitating like living flesh! So that thou
wilt not die, with the death of thy works!"
Master Zacharius remained silent after these words; but Aubert
essayed to keep up the conversation.
"Indeed, master," said he, "I love to see you work so
unceasingly! You will be ready for the festival of our
corporation, for I see that the work on this crystal watch is
going forward famously."
"No doubt, Aubert," cried the old watchmaker, "and it will be no
slight honour for me to have been able to cut and shape the
crystal to the durability of a diamond! Ah, Louis Berghem did
well to perfect the art of diamond-cutting, which has enabled me
to polish and pierce the hardest stones!"
Master Zacharius was holding several small watch pieces of cut
crystal, and of exquisite workmanship. The wheels, pivots, and
case of the watch were of the same material, and he had employed
remarkable skill in this very difficult task.
"Would it not be fine," said he, his face flushing, "to see this
watch palpitating beneath its transparent envelope, and to be
able to count the beatings of its heart?"
"I will wager, sir," replied the young apprentice, "that it will
not vary a second in a year."
"And you would wager on a certainty! Have I not imparted to it
all that is purest of myself? And does my heart vary? My heart, I
Aubert did not dare to lift his eyes to his master's face.
"Tell me frankly," said the old man sadly. "Have you never taken
me for a madman? Do you not think me sometimes subject to
dangerous folly? Yes; is it not so? In my daughter's eyes and
yours, I have often read my condemnation. Oh!" he cried, as if in
pain, "to be misunderstood by those whom one most loves in the
world! But I will prove victoriously to thee, Aubert, that I am
right! Do not shake thy head, for thou wilt be astounded. The day
on which thou understandest how to listen to and comprehend me,
thou wilt see that I have discovered the secrets of existence,
the secrets of the mysterious union of the soul with the body!"
As he spoke thus, Master Zacharius appeared superb in his vanity.
His eyes glittered with a supernatural fire, and his pride
illumined every feature. And truly, if ever vanity was excusable,
it was that of Master Zacharius!
The watchmaking art, indeed, down to his time, had remained
almost in its infancy. From the day when Plato, four centuries
before the Christian era, invented the night watch, a sort of
clepsydra which indicated the hours of the night by the sound and
playing of a flute, the science had continued nearly stationary.
The masters paid more attention to the arts than to mechanics,
and it was the period of beautiful watches of iron, copper, wood,
silver, which were richly engraved, like one of Cellini's ewers.
They made a masterpiece of chasing, which measured time
imperfectly, but was still a masterpiece. When the artist's
imagination was not directed to the perfection of modelling, it
set to work to create clocks with moving figures and melodious
sounds, whose appearance took all attention. Besides, who
troubled himself, in those days, with regulating the advance of
time? The delays of the law were not as yet invented; the
physical and astronomical sciences had not as yet established
their calculations on scrupulously exact measurements; there were
neither establishments which were shut at a given hour, nor
trains which departed at a precise moment. In the evening the
curfew bell sounded; and at night the hours were cried amid the
universal silence. Certainly people did not live so long, if
existence is measured by the amount of business done; but they
lived better. The mind was enriched with the noble sentiments
born of the contemplation of chefs-d'oeuvré. They built a church
in two centuries, a painter painted but few pictures in the
course of his life, a poet only composed one great work; but
these were so many masterpieces for after-ages to appreciate.
When the exact sciences began at last to make some progress,
watch and clock making followed in their path, though it was
always arrested by an insurmountable difficulty,--the regular and
continuous measurement of time.
It was in the midst of this stagnation that Master Zacharius
invented the escapement, which enabled him to obtain a mathematical
regularity by submitting the movement of the pendulum to a sustained
force. This invention had turned the old man's head. Pride, swelling
in his heart, like mercury in the thermometer, had attained the
height of transcendent folly. By analogy he had allowed himself to
be drawn to materialistic conclusions, and as he constructed his
watches, he fancied that he had discovered the secrets of the union
of the soul with the body.
Thus, on this day, perceiving that Aubert listened to him
attentively, he said to him in a tone of simple conviction,--
"Dost thou know what life is, my child? Hast thou comprehended
the action of those springs which produce existence? Hast thou
examined thyself? No. And yet, with the eyes of science, thou
mightest have seen the intimate relation which exists between
God's work and my own; for it is from his creature that I have
copied the combinations of the wheels of my clocks."
"Master," replied Aubert eagerly, "can you compare a copper or
steel machine with that breath of God which is called the soul,
which animates our bodies as the breeze stirs the flowers? What
mechanism could be so adjusted as to inspire us with thought?"
"That is not the question," responded Master Zacharius gently,
but with all the obstinacy of a blind man walking towards an
abyss. "In order to understand me, thou must recall the purpose
of the escapement which I have invented. When I saw the irregular
working of clocks, I understood that the movements shut up in
them did not suffice, and that it was necessary to submit them to
the regularity of some independent force. I then thought that the
balance-wheel might accomplish this, and I succeeded in
regulating the movement! Now, was it not a sublime idea that came
to me, to return to it its lost force by the action of the clock
itself, which it was charged with regulating?"
Aubert made a sign of assent.
"Now, Aubert," continued the old man, growing animated, "cast
thine eyes upon thyself! Dost thou not understand that there are
two distinct forces in us, that of the soul and that of the
body--that is, a movement and a regulator? The soul is the
principle of life; that is, then, the movement. Whether it is
produced by a weight, by a spring, or by an immaterial influence,
it is none the less in the heart. But without the body this
movement would be unequal, irregular, impossible! Thus the body
regulates the soul, and, like the balance-wheel, it is submitted
to regular oscillations. And this is so true, that one falls ill
when one's drink, food, sleep--in a word, the functions of the
body--are not properly regulated; just as in my watches the soul
renders to the body the force lost by its oscillations. Well, what
produces this intimate union between soul and body, if not a
marvellous escapement, by which the wheels of the one work into the
wheels of the other? This is what I have discovered and applied;
and there are no longer any secrets for me in this life, which is,
after all, only an ingenious mechanism!"
Master Zacharius looked sublime in this hallucination, which
carried him to the ultimate mysteries of the Infinite. But his
daughter Gerande, standing on the threshold of the door, had
heard all. She rushed into her father's arms, and he pressed her
convulsively to his breast.
"What is the matter with thee, my daughter?" he asked.
"If I had only a spring here," said she, putting her hand on her
heart, "I would not love you as I do, father."
Master Zacharius looked intently at Gerande, and did not reply.
Suddenly he uttered a cry, carried his hand eagerly to his heart,
and fell fainting on his old leathern chair.
"Father, what is the matter?"
"Help!" cried Aubert. "Scholastique!"
But Scholastique did not come at once. Some one was knocking at
the front door; she had gone to open it, and when she returned to
the shop, before she could open her mouth, the old watchmaker,
having recovered his senses, spoke:--
"I divine, my old Scholastique, that you bring me still another
of those accursed watches which have stopped."
"Lord, it is true enough!" replied Scholastique, handing a watch
"My heart could not be mistaken!" said the old man, with a sigh.
Meanwhile Aubert carefully wound up the watch, but it would not
A STRANGE VISIT.
Poor Gerande would have lost her life with that of her father,
had it not been for the thought of Aubert, who still attached her
to the world.
The old watchmaker was, little by little, passing away. His
faculties evidently grew more feeble, as he concentrated them on
a single thought. By a sad association of ideas, he referred
everything to his monomania, and a human existence seemed to have
departed from him, to give place to the extra-natural existence
of the intermediate powers. Moreover, certain malicious rivals
revived the sinister rumours which had spread concerning his
The news of the strange derangements which his watches betrayed
had a prodigious effect upon the master clockmakers of Geneva.
What signified this sudden paralysis of their wheels, and why
these strange relations which they seemed to have with the old
man's life? These were the kind of mysteries which people never
contemplate without a secret terror. In the various classes of
the town, from the apprentice to the great lord who used the
watches of the old horologist, there was no one who could not
himself judge of the singularity of the fact. The citizens
wished, but in vain, to get to see Master Zacharius. He fell very
ill; and this enabled his daughter to withdraw him from those
incessant visits which had degenerated into reproaches and
Medicines and physicians were powerless in presence of this
organic wasting away, the cause of which could not be discovered.
It sometimes seemed as if the old man's heart had ceased to beat;
then the pulsations were resumed with an alarming irregularity.
A custom existed in those days of publicly exhibiting the works
of the masters. The heads of the various corporations sought to
distinguish themselves by the novelty or the perfection of their
productions; and it was among these that the condition of Master
Zacharius excited the most lively, because most interested,
commiseration. His rivals pitied him the more willingly because
they feared him the less. They never forgot the old man's
success, when he exhibited his magnificent clocks with moving
figures, his repeaters, which provoked general admiration, and
commanded such high prices in the cities of France, Switzerland,
Meanwhile, thanks to the constant and tender care of Gerande and
Aubert, his strength seemed to return a little; and in the
tranquillity in which his convalescence left him, he succeeded in
detaching himself from the thoughts which had absorbed him. As
soon as he could walk, his daughter lured him away from the
house, which was still besieged with dissatisfied customers.
Aubert remained in the shop, vainly adjusting and readjusting the
rebel watches; and the poor boy, completely mystified, sometimes
covered his face with his hands, fearful that he, like his
master, might go mad.
Gerande led her father towards the more pleasant promenades of
the town. With his arm resting on hers, she conducted him
sometimes through the quarter of Saint Antoine, the view from
which extends towards the Cologny hill, and over the lake; on
fine mornings they caught sight of the gigantic peaks of Mount
Buet against the horizon. Gerande pointed out these spots to her
father, who had well-nigh forgotten even their names. His memory
wandered; and he took a childish interest in learning anew what
had passed from his mind. Master Zacharius leaned upon his
daughter; and the two heads, one white as snow and the other
covered with rich golden tresses, met in the same ray of
So it came about that the old watchmaker at last perceived that
he was not alone in the world. As he looked upon his young and
lovely daughter, and on himself old and broken, he reflected that
after his death she would be left alone without support. Many of
the young mechanics of Geneva had already sought to win Gerande's
love; but none of them had succeeded in gaining access to the
impenetrable retreat of the watchmaker's household. It was
natural, then, that during this lucid interval, the old man's
choice should fall on Aubert Thun. Once struck with this thought,
he remarked to himself that this young couple had been brought up
with the same ideas and the same beliefs; and the oscillations of
their hearts seemed to him, as he said one day to Scholastique,
The old servant, literally delighted with the word, though she
did not understand it, swore by her holy patron saint that the
whole town should hear it within a quarter of an hour. Master
Zacharius found it difficult to calm her; but made her promise to
keep on this subject a silence which she never was known to
So, though Gerande and Aubert were ignorant of it, all Geneva was
soon talking of their speedy union. But it happened also that,
while the worthy folk were gossiping, a strange chuckle was often
heard, and a voice saying, "Gerande will not wed Aubert."
If the talkers turned round, they found themselves facing a
little old man who was quite a stranger to them.
How old was this singular being? No one could have told. People
conjectured that he must have existed for several centuries, and
that was all. His big flat head rested upon shoulders the width
of which was equal to the height of his body; this was not above
three feet. This personage would have made a good figure to
support a pendulum, for the dial would have naturally been placed
on his face, and the balance-wheel would have oscillated at its
ease in his chest. His nose might readily have been taken for the
style of a sun-dial, for it was narrow and sharp; his teeth, far
apart, resembled the cogs of a wheel, and ground themselves
between his lips; his voice had the metallic sound of a bell, and
you could hear his heart beat like the tick of a clock. This
little man, whose arms moved like the hands on a dial, walked
with jerks, without ever turning round. If any one followed him,
it was found that he walked a league an hour, and that his course
was nearly circular.
This strange being had not long been seen wandering, or rather
circulating, around the town; but it had already been observed
that, every day, at the moment when the sun passed the meridian,
he stopped before the Cathedral of Saint Pierre, and resumed his
course after the twelve strokes of noon had sounded. Excepting at
this precise moment, he seemed to become a part of all the
conversations in which the old watchmaker was talked of; and
people asked each other, in terror, what relation could exist
between him and Master Zacharius. It was remarked, too, that he
never lost sight of the old man and his daughter while they were
taking their promenades.
One day Gerande perceived this monster looking at her with a
hideous smile. She clung to her father with a frightened motion.
"What is the matter, my Gerande?" asked Master Zacharius.
"I do not know," replied the young girl.
"But thou art changed, my child. Art thou going to fall ill in
thy turn? Ah, well," he added, with a sad smile, "then I must
take care of thee, and I will do it tenderly."
"O father, it will be nothing. I am cold, and I imagine that it
"The presence of that man, who always follows us," she replied in
a low tone.
Master Zacharius turned towards the little old man.
"Faith, he goes well," said he, with a satisfied air, "for it is
just four o'clock. Fear nothing, my child; it is not a man, it
is a clock!"
Gerande looked at her father in terror. How could Master
Zacharius read the hour on this strange creature's visage?
"By-the-bye," continued the old watchmaker, paying no further
attention to the matter, "I have not seen Aubert for several
"He has not left us, however, father," said Gerande, whose
thoughts turned into a gentler channel.
"What is he doing then?"
"He is working."
"Ah!" cried the old man. "He is at work repairing my watches, is
he not? But he will never succeed; for it is not repair they
need, but a resurrection!"
Gerande remained silent.
"I must know," added the old man, "if they have brought back any
more of those accursed watches upon which the Devil has sent this
After these words Master Zacharius fell into complete silence,
till he knocked at the door of his house, and for the first time
since his convalescence descended to his shop, while Gerande
sadly repaired to her chamber.
Just as Master Zacharius crossed the threshold of his shop, one
of the many clocks suspended on the wall struck five o'clock.
Usually the bells of these clocks--admirably regulated as they
were--struck simultaneously, and this rejoiced the old man's
heart; but on this day the bells struck one after another, so
that for a quarter of an hour the ear was deafened by the
successive noises. Master Zacharius suffered acutely; he could
not remain still, but went from one clock to the other, and beat
the time to them, like a conductor who no longer has control over
When the last had ceased striking, the door of the shop opened,
and Master Zacharius shuddered from head to foot to see before
him the little old man, who looked fixedly at him and said,--
"Master, may I not speak with you a few moments?"
"Who are you?" asked the watchmaker abruptly.
"A colleague. It is my business to regulate the sun."
"Ah, you regulate the sun?" replied Master Zacharius eagerly,
without wincing. "I can scarcely compliment you upon it. Your sun
goes badly, and in order to make ourselves agree with it, we have
to keep putting our clocks forward so much or back so much."
"And by the cloven foot," cried this weird personage, "you are
right, my master! My sun does not always mark noon at the same
moment as your clocks; but some day it will be known that this is
because of the inequality of the earth's transfer, and a mean
noon will be invented which will regulate this irregularity!"
"Shall I live till then?" asked the old man, with glistening
"Without doubt," replied the little old man, laughing. "Can you
believe that you will ever die?"
"Alas! I am very ill now."
"Ah, let us talk of that. By Beelzebub! that will lead to just
what I wish to speak to you about."
Saying this, the strange being leaped upon the old leather chair,
and carried his legs one under the other, after the fashion of
the bones which the painters of funeral hangings cross beneath
death's heads. Then he resumed, in an ironical tone,--
"Let us see, Master Zacharius, what is going on in this good town
of Geneva? They say that your health is failing, that your
watches have need of a doctor!"
"Ah, do you believe that there is an intimate relation between
their existence and mine?" cried Master Zacharius.
"Why, I imagine that these watches have faults, even vices. If
these wantons do not preserve a regular conduct, it is right that
they should bear the consequences of their irregularity. It seems
to me that they have need of reforming a little!"
"What do you call faults?" asked Master Zacharius, reddening at
the sarcastic tone in which these words were uttered. "Have they
not a right to be proud of their origin?"
"Not too proud, not too proud," replied the little old man. "They
bear a celebrated name, and an illustrious signature is graven on
their cases, it is true, and theirs is the exclusive privilege of
being introduced among the noblest families; but for some time
they have got out of order, and you can do nothing in the matter,
Master Zacharius; and the stupidest apprentice in Geneva could
prove it to you!"
"To me, to me,--Master Zacharius!" cried the old man, with a
flush of outraged pride.
"To you, Master Zacharius,--you, who cannot restore life to your
"But it is because I have a fever, and so have they also!"
replied the old man, as a cold sweat broke out upon him.
"Very well, they will die with you, since you cannot impart a
little elasticity to their springs."
"Die! No, for you yourself have said it! I cannot die,--I, the
first watchmaker in the world; I, who, by means of these pieces
and diverse wheels, have been able to regulate the movement with
absolute precision! Have I not subjected time to exact laws, and
can I not dispose of it like a despot? Before a sublime genius
had arranged these wandering hours regularly, in what vast
uncertainty was human destiny plunged? At what certain moment
could the acts of life be connected with each other? But you, man
or devil, whatever you may be, have never considered the
magnificence of my art, which calls every science to its aid! No,
no! I, Master Zacharius, cannot die, for, as I have regulated
time, time would end with me! It would return to the infinite,
whence my genius has rescued it, and it would lose itself
irreparably in the abyss of nothingness! No, I can no more die
than the Creator of this universe, that submitted to His laws! I
have become His equal, and I have partaken of His power! If God
has created eternity, Master Zacharius has created time!"
The old watchmaker now resembled the fallen angel, defiant in the
presence of the Creator. The little old man gazed at him, and
even seemed to breathe into him this impious transport.
"Well said, master," he replied. "Beelzebub had less right than
you to compare himself with God! Your glory must not perish! So
your servant here desires to give you the method of controlling
these rebellious watches."
"What is it? what is it?" cried Master Zacharius.
"You shall know on the day after that on which you have given me
your daughter's hand."
"My daughter's heart is not free," replied Master Zacharius, who
seemed neither astonished nor shocked at the strange demand.
"Bah! She is not the least beautiful of watches; but she will end
by stopping also--"
"My daughter,--my Gerande! No!"
"Well, return to your watches, Master Zacharius. Adjust and
readjust them. Get ready the marriage of your daughter and your
apprentice. Temper your springs with your best steel. Bless
Aubert and the pretty Gerande. But remember, your watches will
never go, and Gerande will not wed Aubert!"
Thereupon the little old man disappeared, but not so quickly that
Master Zacharius could not hear six o'clock strike in his breast.
THE CHURCH OF SAINT PIERRE.
Meanwhile Master Zacharius became more feeble in mind and body
every day. An unusual excitement, indeed, impelled him to
continue his work more eagerly than ever, nor could his daughter
entice him from it.
His pride was still more aroused after the crisis to which his
strange visitor had hurried him so treacherously, and he resolved
to overcome, by the force of genius, the malign influence which
weighed upon his work and himself. He first repaired to the
various clocks of the town which were confided to his care. He
made sure, by a scrupulous examination, that the wheels were in
good condition, the pivots firm, the weights exactly balanced.
Every part, even to the bells, was examined with the minute
attention of a physician studying the breast of a patient.
Nothing indicated that these clocks were on the point of being
affected by inactivity.
Gerande and Aubert often accompanied the old man on these visits.
He would no doubt have been pleased to see them eager to go with
him, and certainly he would not have been so much absorbed in his
approaching end, had he thought that his existence was to be
prolonged by that of these cherished ones, and had he understood
that something of the life of a father always remains in his
The old watchmaker, on returning home, resumed his labours with
feverish zeal. Though persuaded that he would not succeed, it yet
seemed to him impossible that this could be so, and he unceasingly
took to pieces the watches which were brought to his shop, and put
them together again.
Aubert tortured his mind in vain to discover the causes of the
"Master," said he, "this can only come from the wear of the
pivots and gearing."
"Do you want, then, to kill me, little by little?" replied Master
Zacharius passionately. "Are these watches child's work? Was it
lest I should hurt my fingers that I worked the surface of these
copper pieces in the lathe? Have I not forged these pieces of
copper myself, so as to obtain a greater strength? Are not these
springs tempered to a rare perfection? Could anybody have used
finer oils than mine? You must yourself agree that it is
impossible, and you avow, in short, that the devil is in it!"
From morning till night discontented purchasers besieged the
house, and they got access to the old watchmaker himself, who
knew not which of them to listen to.
"This watch loses, and I cannot succeed in regulating it," said
"This," said another, "is absolutely obstinate, and stands still,
as did Joshua's sun."
"If it is true," said most of them, "that your health has an
influence on that of your watches, Master Zacharius, get well as
soon as possible."
The old man gazed at these people with haggard eyes, and only
replied by shaking his head, or by a few sad words,--
"Wait till the first fine weather, my friends. The season is
coming which revives existence in wearied bodies. We want the sun
to warm us all!"
"A fine thing, if my watches are to be ill through the winter!"
said one of the most angry. "Do you know, Master Zacharius, that
your name is inscribed in full on their faces? By the Virgin, you
do little honour to your signature!"
It happened at last that the old man, abashed by these
reproaches, took some pieces of gold from his old trunk, and
began to buy back the damaged watches. At news of this, the
customers came in a crowd, and the poor watchmaker's money fast
melted away; but his honesty remained intact. Gerande warmly
praised his delicacy, which was leading him straight towards
ruin; and Aubert soon offered his own savings to his master.
"What will become of my daughter?" said Master Zacharius,
clinging now and then in the shipwreck to his paternal love.
Aubert dared not answer that he was full of hope for the future,
and of deep devotion to Gerande. Master Zacharius would have that
day called him his son-in-law, and thus refuted the sad prophecy,
which still buzzed in his ears,--
"Gerande will not wed Aubert."
By this plan the watchmaker at last succeeded in entirely
despoiling himself. His antique vases passed into the hands of
strangers; he deprived himself of the richly-carved panels which
adorned the walls of his house; some primitive pictures of the
early Flemish painters soon ceased to please his daughter's eyes,
and everything, even the precious tools that his genius had
invented, were sold to indemnify the clamorous customers.
Scholastique alone refused to listen to reason on the subject;
but her efforts failed to prevent the unwelcome visitors from
reaching her master, and from soon departing with some valuable
object. Then her chattering was heard in all the streets of the
neighbourhood, where she had long been known. She eagerly denied
the rumours of sorcery and magic on the part of Master Zacharius,
which gained currency; but as at bottom she was persuaded of
their truth, she said her prayers over and over again to redeem
her pious falsehoods.
It had been noticed that for some time the old watchmaker had
neglected his religious duties. Time was, when he had accompanied
Gerande to church, and had seemed to find in prayer the
intellectual charm which it imparts to thoughtful minds, since it
is the most sublime exercise of the imagination. This voluntary
neglect of holy practices, added to the secret habits of his
life, had in some sort confirmed the accusations levelled against
his labours. So, with the double purpose of drawing her father
back to God, and to the world, Gerande resolved to call religion
to her aid. She thought that it might give some vitality to his
dying soul; but the dogmas of faith and humility had to combat,
in the soul of Master Zacharius, an insurmountable pride, and
came into collision with that vanity of science which connects
everything with itself, without rising to the infinite source
whence first principles flow.
It was under these circumstances that the young girl undertook
her father's conversion; and her influence was so effective that
the old watchmaker promised to attend high mass at the cathedral
on the following Sunday. Gerande was in an ecstasy, as if heaven
had opened to her view. Old Scholastique could not contain her
joy, and at last found irrefutable arguments' against the
gossiping tongues which accused her master of impiety. She spoke
of it to her neighbours, her friends, her enemies, to those whom
she knew not as well as to those whom she knew.
"In faith, we scarcely believe what you tell us, dame
Scholastique," they replied; "Master Zacharius has always acted
in concert with the devil!"
"You haven't counted, then," replied the old servant, "the fine
bells which strike for my master's clocks? How many times they
have struck the hours of prayer and the mass!"
"No doubt," they would reply. "But has he not invented machines
which go all by themselves, and which actually do the work of a
"Could a child of the devil," exclaimed dame Scholastique
wrathfully, "have executed the fine iron clock of the château of
Andernatt, which the town of Geneva was not rich enough to buy? A
pious motto appeared at each hour, and a Christian who obeyed
them, would have gone straight to Paradise! Is that the work of
This masterpiece, made twenty years before, had carried Master
Zacharius's fame to its acme; but even then there had been
accusations of sorcery against him. But at least the old man's
visit to the Cathedral ought to reduce malicious tongues to
Master Zacharius, having doubtless forgotten the promise made to
his daughter, had returned to his shop. After being convinced of
his powerlessness to give life to his watches, he resolved to try
if he could not make some new ones. He abandoned all those
useless works, and devoted himself to the completion of the
crystal watch, which he intended to be his masterpiece; but in
vain did he use his most perfect tools, and employ rubies and
diamonds for resisting friction. The watch fell from his hands
the first time that he attempted to wind it up!
The old man concealed this circumstance from every one, even from
his daughter; but from that time his health rapidly declined.
There were only the last oscillations of a pendulum, which goes
slower when nothing restores its original force. It seemed as if
the laws of gravity, acting directly upon him, were dragging him
irresistibly down to the grave.
The Sunday so ardently anticipated by Gerande at last arrived.
The weather was fine, and the temperature inspiriting. The people
of Geneva were passing quietly through the streets, gaily
chatting about the return of spring. Gerande, tenderly taking the
old man's arm, directed her steps towards the cathedral, while
Scholastique followed behind with the prayer-books. People looked
curiously at them as they passed. The old watchmaker permitted
himself to be led like a child, or rather like a blind man. The
faithful of Saint Pierre were almost frightened when they saw him
cross the threshold, and shrank back at his approach.
The chants of high mass were already resounding through the
church. Gerande went to her accustomed bench, and kneeled with
profound and simple reverence. Master Zacharius remained standing
upright beside her.
The ceremonies continued with the majestic solemnity of that
faithful age, but the old man had no faith. He did not implore
the pity of Heaven with cries of anguish of the "Kyrie;" he did
not, with the "Gloria in Excelsis," sing the splendours of the
heavenly heights; the reading of the Testament did not draw him
from his materialistic reverie, and he forgot to join in the
homage of the "Credo." This proud old man remained motionless, as
insensible and silent as a stone statue; and even at the solemn
moment when the bell announced the miracle of transubstantiation,
he did not bow his head, but gazed directly at the sacred host
which the priest raised above the heads of the faithful. Gerande
looked at her father, and a flood of tears moistened her missal.
At this moment the clock of Saint Pierre struck half-past eleven.
Master Zacharius turned quickly towards this ancient clock which
still spoke. It seemed to him as if its face was gazing steadily
at him; the figures of the hours shone as if they had been
engraved in lines of fire, and the hands shot forth electric
sparks from their sharp points.
The mass ended. It was customary for the "Angelus" to be said at
noon, and the priests, before leaving the altar, waited for the
clock to strike the hour of twelve. In a few moments this prayer
would ascend to the feet of the Virgin.
But suddenly a harsh noise was heard. Master Zacharius uttered a
The large hand of the clock, having reached twelve, had abruptly
stopped, and the clock did not strike the hour.
Gerande hastened to her father's aid. He had fallen down
motionless, and they carried him outside the church.
"It is the death-blow!" murmured Gerande, sobbing.
When he had been borne home, Master Zacharius lay upon his bed
utterly crushed. Life seemed only to still exist on the surface
of his body, like the last whiffs of smoke about a lamp just
extinguished. When he came to his senses, Aubert and Gerande were
leaning over him. In these last moments the future took in his
eyes the shape of the present. He saw his daughter alone, without
"My son," said he to Aubert, "I give my daughter to thee."
So saying, he stretched out his hands towards his two children,
who were thus united at his death-bed.
But soon Master Zacharius lifted himself up in a paroxysm of
rage. The words of the little old man recurred to his mind.
"I do not wish to die!" he cried; "I cannot die! I, Master
Zacharius, ought not to die! My books--my accounts!--"
With these words he sprang from his bed towards a book in which
the names of his customers and the articles which had been sold
to them were inscribed. He seized it and rapidly turned over its
leaves, and his emaciated finger fixed itself on one of the
"There!" he cried, "there! this old iron clock, sold to
Pittonaccio! It is the only one that has not been returned to me!
It still exists--it goes--it lives! Ah, I wish for it--I must
find it! I will take such care of it that death will no longer
And he fainted away.
Aubert and Gerande knelt by the old man's bed-side and prayed
THE HOUR OF DEATH.
Several days passed, and Master Zacharius, though almost dead,
rose from his bed and returned to active life under a supernatural
excitement. He lived by pride. But Gerande did not deceive
herself; her father's body and soul were for ever lost.
The old man got together his last remaining resources, without
thought of those who were dependent upon him. He betrayed an
incredible energy, walking, ferreting about, and mumbling
strange, incomprehensible words.
One morning Gerande went down to his shop. Master Zacharius was
not there. She waited for him all day. Master Zacharius did not
Gerande wept bitterly, but her father did not reappear.
Aubert searched everywhere through the town, and soon came to the
sad conviction that the old man had left it.
"Let us find my father!" cried Gerande, when the young apprentice
told her this sad news.
"Where can he be?" Aubert asked himself.
An inspiration suddenly came to his mind. He remembered the last
words which Master Zacharius had spoken. The old man only lived
now in the old iron clock that had not been returned! Master
Zacharius must have gone in search of it.
Aubert spoke of this to Gerande.
"Let us look at my father's book," she replied.
They descended to the shop. The book was open on the bench. All
the watches or clocks made by the old man, and which had been
returned to him because they were out of order, were stricken out
"Sold to M. Pittonaccio, an iron clock, with bell and moving
figures; sent to his château at Andernatt."
It was this "moral" clock of which Scholastique had spoken with
so much enthusiasm.
"My father is there!" cried Gerande.
"Let us hasten thither," replied Aubert. "We may still save him!"
"Not for this life," murmured Gerande, "but at least for the
"By the mercy of God, Gerande! The château of Andernatt stands in
the gorge of the 'Dents-du-Midi' twenty hours from Geneva. Let us
That very evening Aubert and Gerande, followed by the old
servant, set out on foot by the road which skirts Lake Leman.
They accomplished five leagues during the night, stopping neither
at Bessinge nor at Ermance, where rises the famous château of the
Mayors. They with difficulty forded the torrent of the Dranse,
and everywhere they went they inquired for Master Zacharius, and
were soon convinced that they were on his track.
The next morning, at daybreak, having passed Thonon, they reached
Evian, whence the Swiss territory may be seen extended over
twelve leagues. But the two betrothed did not even perceive the
enchanting prospect. They went straight forward, urged on by a
supernatural force. Aubert, leaning on a knotty stick, offered
his arm alternately to Gerande and to Scholastique, and he made
the greatest efforts to sustain his companions. All three talked
of their sorrow, of their hopes, and thus passed along the
beautiful road by the water-side, and across the narrow plateau
which unites the borders of the lake with the heights of the
Chalais. They soon reached Bouveret, where the Rhone enters the
Lake of Geneva.
On leaving this town they diverged from the lake, and their
weariness increased amid these mountain districts. Vionnaz,
Chesset, Collombay, half lost villages, were soon left behind.
Meanwhile their knees shook, their feet were lacerated by the
sharp points which covered the ground like a brushwood of
granite;--but no trace of Master Zacharius!
He must be found, however, and the two young people did not seek
repose either in the isolated hamlets or at the château of
Monthay, which, with its dependencies, formed the appanage of
Margaret of Savoy. At last, late in the day, and half dead with
fatigue, they reached the hermitage of Notre-Dame-du-Sex, which
is situated at the base of the Dents-du-Midi, six hundred feet
above the Rhone.
The hermit received the three wanderers as night was falling.
They could not have gone another step, and here they must needs
The hermit could give them no news of Master Zacharius. They
could scarcely hope to find him still living amid these sad
solitudes. The night was dark, the wind howled amid the
mountains, and the avalanches roared down from the summits of the
Aubert and Gerande, crouching before the hermit's hearth, told
him their melancholy tale. Their mantles, covered with snow, were
drying in a corner; and without, the hermit's dog barked
lugubriously, and mingled his voice with that of the tempest.
"Pride," said the hermit to his guests, "has destroyed an angel
created for good. It is the stumbling-block against which the
destinies of man strike. You cannot reason with pride, the
principal of all the vices, since, by its very nature, the proud
man refuses to listen to it. It only remains, then, to pray for
All four knelt down, when the barking of the dog redoubled, and
some one knocked at the door of the hermitage.
"Open, in the devil's name!"
The door yielded under the blows, and a dishevelled, haggard,
ill-clothed man appeared.
"My father!" cried Gerande.
It was Master Zacharius.
"Where am I?" said he. "In eternity! Time is ended--the hours no
longer strike--the hands have stopped!"
"Father!" returned Gerande, with so piteous an emotion that the
old man seemed to return to the world of the living.
"Thou here, Gerande?" he cried; "and thou, Aubert? Ah, my dear
betrothed ones, you are going to be married in our old church!"
"Father," said Gerande, seizing him by the arm, "come home to
Geneva,--come with us!"
The old man tore away from his daughter's embrace and hurried
towards the door, on the threshold of which the snow was falling
in large flakes.
"Do not abandon your children!" cried Aubert.
"Why return," replied the old man sadly, "to those places which
my life has already quitted, and where a part of myself is for
"Your soul is not dead," said the hermit solemnly.
"My soul? O no,--its wheels are good! I perceive it beating
"Your soul is immaterial,--your soul is immortal!" replied the
"Yes--like my glory! But it is shut up in the château of
Andernatt, and I wish to see it again!"
The hermit crossed himself; Scholastique became almost inanimate.
Aubert held Gerande in his arms.
"The château of Andernatt is inhabited by one who is lost," said
the hermit, "one who does not salute the cross of my hermitage."
"My father, go not thither!"
"I want my soul! My soul is mine--"
"Hold him! Hold my father!" cried Gerande.
But the old man had leaped across the threshold, and plunged into
the night, crying, "Mine, mine, my soul!"
Gerande, Aubert, and Scholastique hastened after him. They went
by difficult paths, across which Master Zacharius sped like a
tempest, urged by an irresistible force. The snow raged around
them, and mingled its white flakes with the froth of the swollen
As they passed the chapel erected in memory of the massacre of
the Theban legion, they hurriedly crossed themselves. Master
Zacharius was not to be seen.
At last the village of Evionnaz appeared in the midst of this
sterile region. The hardest heart would have been moved to see
this hamlet, lost among these horrible solitudes. The old man
sped on, and plunged into the deepest gorge of the Dents-du-Midi,
which pierce the sky with their sharp peaks.
Soon a ruin, old and gloomy as the rocks at its base, rose before
"It is there--there!" he cried, hastening his pace still more
The château of Andernatt was a ruin even then. A thick, crumbling
tower rose above it, and seemed to menace with its downfall the
old gables which reared themselves below. The vast piles of
jagged stones were gloomy to look on. Several dark halls appeared
amid the debris, with caved-in ceilings, now become the abode of
A low and narrow postern, opening upon a ditch choked with
rubbish, gave access to the château. Who had dwelt there none
knew. No doubt some margrave, half lord, half brigand, had
sojourned in it; to the margrave had succeeded bandits or
counterfeit coiners, who had been hanged on the scene of their
crime. The legend went that, on winter nights, Satan came to lead
his diabolical dances on the slope of the deep gorges in which
the shadow of these ruins was engulfed.
But Master Zacharius was not dismayed by their sinister aspect.
He reached the postern. No one forbade him to pass. A spacious
and gloomy court presented itself to his eyes; no one forbade him
to cross it. He passed along the kind of inclined plane which
conducted to one of the long corridors, whose arches seemed to
banish daylight from beneath their heavy springings. His advance
was unresisted. Gerande, Aubert, and Scholastique closely
Master Zacharius, as if guided by an irresistible hand, seemed
sure of his way, and strode along with rapid step. He reached an
old worm-eaten door, which fell before his blows, whilst the bats
described oblique circles around his head.
An immense hall, better preserved than the rest, was soon
reached. High sculptured panels, on which serpents, ghouls, and
other strange figures seemed to disport themselves confusedly,
covered its walls. Several long and narrow windows, like
loopholes, shivered beneath the bursts of the tempest.
Master Zacharius, on reaching the middle of this hall, uttered a
cry of joy.
On an iron support, fastened to the wall, stood the clock in
which now resided his entire life. This unequalled masterpiece
represented an ancient Roman church, with buttresses of wrought
iron, with its heavy bell-tower, where there was a complete chime
for the anthem of the day, the "Angelus," the mass, vespers,
compline, and the benediction. Above the church door, which
opened at the hour of the services, was placed a "rose," in the
centre of which two hands moved, and the archivault of which
reproduced the twelve hours of the face sculptured in relief.
Between the door and the rose, just as Scholastique had said, a
maxim, relative to the employment of every moment of the day,
appeared on a copper plate. Master Zacharius had once regulated
this succession of devices with a really Christian solicitude;
the hours of prayer, of work, of repast, of recreation, and of
repose, followed each other according to the religious discipline,
and were to infallibly insure salvation to him who scrupulously
observed their commands.
Master Zacharius, intoxicated with joy, went forward to take
possession of the clock, when a frightful roar of laughter
resounded behind him.
He turned, and by the light of a smoky lamp recognized the little
old man of Geneva.
"You here?" cried he.
Gerande was afraid. She drew closer to Aubert.
"Good-day, Master Zacharius," said the monster.
"Who are you?"
"Signor Pittonaccio, at your service! You have come to give me
your daughter! You have remembered my words, 'Gerande will not
The young apprentice rushed upon Pittonaccio, who escaped from
him like a shadow.
"Stop, Aubert!" cried Master Zacharius.
"Good-night," said Pittonaccio, and he disappeared.
"My father, let us fly from this hateful place!" cried Gerande.
Master Zacharius was no longer there. He was pursuing the phantom
of Pittonaccio across the rickety corridors. Scholastique,
Gerande, and Aubert remained, speechless and fainting, in the
large gloomy hall. The young girl had fallen upon a stone seat;
the old servant knelt beside her, and prayed; Aubert remained
erect, watching his betrothed. Pale lights wandered in the
darkness, and the silence was only broken by the movements of the
little animals which live in old wood, and the noise of which
marks the hours of "death watch."
When daylight came, they ventured upon the endless staircase
which wound beneath these ruined masses; for two hours they
wandered thus without meeting a living soul, and hearing only a
far-off echo responding to their cries. Sometimes they found
themselves buried a hundred feet below the ground, and sometimes
they reached places whence they could overlook the wild
Chance brought them at last back again to the vast hall, which
had sheltered them during this night of anguish. It was no longer
empty. Master Zacharius and Pittonaccio were talking there
together, the one upright and rigid as a corpse, the other
crouching over a marble table.
Master Zacharius, when he perceived Gerande, went forward and
took her by the hand, and led her towards Pittonaccio, saying,
"Behold your lord and master, my daughter. Gerande, behold your
Gerande shuddered from head to foot.
"Never!" cried Aubert, "for she is my betrothed."
"Never!" responded Gerande, like a plaintive echo.
Pittonaccio began to laugh.
"You wish me to die, then!" exclaimed the old man. "There, in
that clock, the last which goes of all which have gone from my
hands, my life is shut up; and this man tells me, 'When I have
thy daughter, this clock shall belong to thee.' And this man will
not rewind it. He can break it, and plunge me into chaos. Ah, my
daughter, you no longer love me!"
"My father!" murmured Gerande, recovering consciousness.
"If you knew what I have suffered, far away from this principle
of my existence!" resumed the old man. "Perhaps no one looked
after this timepiece. Perhaps its springs were left to wear out,
its wheels to get clogged. But now, in my own hands, I can
nourish this health so dear, for I must not die,--I, the great
watchmaker of Geneva. Look, my daughter, how these hands advance
with certain step. See, five o'clock is about to strike. Listen
well, and look at the maxim which is about to be revealed."
Five o'clock struck with a noise which resounded sadly in
Gerande's soul, and these words appeared in red letters:
"YOU MUST EAT OF THE FRUITS OF THE TREE OF SCIENCE."
Aubert and Gerande looked at each other stupefied. These were no
longer the pious sayings of the Catholic watchmaker. The breath
of Satan must have passed over it. But Zacharius paid no
attention to this, and resumed--
"Dost thou hear, my Gerande? I live, I still live! Listen to my
breathing,--see the blood circulating in my veins! No, thou
wouldst not kill thy father, and thou wilt accept this man for
thy husband, so that I may become immortal, and at last attain
the power of God!"
At these blasphemous words old Scholastique crossed herself, and
Pittonaccio laughed aloud with joy.
"And then, Gerande, thou wilt be happy with him. See this man,--he
is Time! Thy existence will be regulated with absolute
precision. Gerande, since I gave thee life, give life to thy
"Gerande," murmured Aubert, "I am thy betrothed."
"He is my father!" replied Gerande, fainting.
"She is thine!" said Master Zacharius. "Pittonaccio, them wilt
keep thy promise!"
"Here is the key of the clock," replied the horrible man.
Master Zacharius seized the long key, which resembled an uncoiled
snake, and ran to the clock, which he hastened to wind up with
fantastic rapidity. The creaking of the spring jarred upon the
nerves. The old watchmaker wound and wound the key, without
stopping a moment, and it seemed as if the movement were beyond
his control. He wound more and more quickly, with strange
contortions, until he fell from sheer weariness.
"There, it is wound up for a century!" he cried.
Aubert rushed from the hall as if he were mad. After long
wandering, he found the outlet of the hateful château, and
hastened into the open air. He returned to the hermitage of
Notre-Dame-du-Sex, and talked so despairingly to the holy
recluse, that the latter consented to return with him to the
château of Andernatt.
If, during these hours of anguish, Gerande had not wept, it was
because her tears were exhausted.
Master Zacharius had not left the hall. He ran every moment to
listen to the regular beating of the old clock.
Meanwhile the clock had struck, and to Scholastique's great
terror, these words had appeared on the silver face:--"MAN OUGHT
TO BECOME THE EQUAL OF GOD."
The old man had not only not been shocked by these impious
maxims, but read them deliriously, and flattered himself with
thoughts of pride, whilst Pittonaccio kept close by him.
The marriage-contract was to be signed at midnight. Gerande,
almost unconscious, saw or heard nothing. The silence was only
broken by the old man's words, and the chuckling of Pittonaccio.
Eleven o'clock struck. Master Zacharius shuddered, and read in a
"MAN SHOULD BE THE SLAVE OF SCIENCE, AND
SACRIFICE TO IT RELATIVES AND FAMILY."
"Yes!" he cried, "there is nothing but science in this world!"
The hands slipped over the face of the clock with the hiss of a
serpent, and the pendulum beat with accelerated strokes.
Master Zacharius no longer spoke. He had fallen to the floor, his
throat rattled, and from his oppressed bosom came only these
half-broken words: "Life--science!"
The scene had now two new witnesses, the hermit and Aubert.
Master Zacharius lay upon the floor; Gerande was praying beside
him, more dead than alive.
Of a sudden a dry, hard noise was heard, which preceded the
Master Zacharius sprang up.
"Midnight!" he cried.
The hermit stretched out his hand towards the old clock,--and
midnight did not sound.
Master Zacharius uttered a terrible cry, which must have been
heard in hell, when these words appeared:--
"WHO EVER SHALL ATTEMPT TO MAKE HIMSELF THE EQUAL OF GOD,
BE FOR EVER DAMNED!"
The old clock burst with a noise like thunder, and the spring,
escaping, leaped across the hall with a thousand fantastic
contortions; the old man rose, ran after it, trying in vain to
seize it, and exclaiming, "My soul,--my soul!"
The spring bounded before him, first on one side, then on the
other, and he could not reach it.
At last Pittonaccio seized it, and, uttering a horrible
blasphemy, ingulfed himself in the earth.
Master Zacharius fell backwards. He was dead.
The old watchmaker was buried in the midst of the peaks of
Then Aubert and Gerande returned to Geneva, and during the long
life which God accorded to them, they made it a duty to redeem by
prayer the soul of the castaway of science.
A DRAMA IN THE AIR.
In the month of September, 185--, I arrived at Frankfort-on-the-Maine.
My passage through the principal German cities had been brilliantly
marked by balloon ascents; but as yet no German had accompanied me in
my car, and the fine experiments made at Paris by MM. Green, Eugene
Godard, and Poitevin had not tempted the grave Teutons to essay
But scarcely had the news of my approaching ascent spread through
Frankfort, than three of the principal citizens begged the favour
of being allowed to ascend with me. Two days afterwards we were
to start from the Place de la Comédie. I began at once to get my
balloon ready. It was of silk, prepared with gutta percha, a
substance impermeable by acids or gasses; and its volume, which
was three thousand cubic yards, enabled it to ascend to the
The day of the ascent was that of the great September fair, which
attracts so many people to Frankfort. Lighting gas, of a perfect
quality and of great lifting power, had been furnished to me in
excellent condition, and about eleven o'clock the balloon was
filled; but only three-quarters filled,--an indispensable
precaution, for, as one rises, the atmosphere diminishes in
density, and the fluid enclosed within the balloon, acquiring
more elasticity, might burst its sides. My calculations had
furnished me with exactly the quantity of gas necessary to carry
up my companions and myself.
We were to start at noon. The impatient crowd which pressed
around the enclosed space, filling the enclosed square,
overflowing into the contiguous streets, and covering the houses
from the ground-floor to the slated gables, presented a striking
scene. The high winds of the preceding days had subsided. An
oppressive heat fell from the cloudless sky. Scarcely a breath
animated the atmosphere. In such weather, one might descend again
upon the very spot whence he had risen.
I carried three hundred pounds of ballast in bags; the car, quite
round, four feet in diameter, was comfortably arranged; the
hempen cords which supported it stretched symmetrically over the
upper hemisphere of the balloon; the compass was in place, the
barometer suspended in the circle which united the supporting
cords, and the anchor carefully put in order. All was now ready
for the ascent.
Among those who pressed around the enclosure, I remarked a young
man with a pale face and agitated features. The sight of him
impressed me. He was an eager spectator of my ascents, whom I had
already met in several German cities. With an uneasy air, he
closely watched the curious machine, as it lay motionless a few
feet above the ground; and he remained silent among those about
Twelve o'clock came. The moment had arrived, but my travelling
companions did not appear.
I sent to their houses, and learnt that one had left for Hamburg,
another for Vienna, and the third for London. Their courage had
failed them at the moment of undertaking one of those excursions
which, thanks to the ability of living aeronauts, are free from
all danger. As they formed, in some sort, a part of the programme
of the day, the fear had seized them that they might be forced to
execute it faithfully, and they had fled far from the scene at
the instant when the balloon was being filled. Their courage was
evidently the inverse ratio of their speed--in decamping.
The multitude, half deceived, showed not a little ill-humour. I
did not hesitate to ascend alone. In order to re-establish the
equilibrium between the specific gravity of the balloon and the
weight which had thus proved wanting, I replaced my companions by
more sacks of sand, and got into the car. The twelve men who held
the balloon by twelve cords fastened to the equatorial circle,
let them slip a little between their fingers, and the balloon
rose several feet higher. There was not a breath of wind, and the
atmosphere was so leaden that it seemed to forbid the ascent.
"Is everything ready?" I cried.
The men put themselves in readiness. A last glance told me that I
There was a movement in the crowd, which seemed to be invading
The balloon rose slowly, but I experienced a shock which threw me
to the bottom of the car.
When I got up, I found myself face to face with an unexpected
fellow-voyager,--the pale young man.
"Monsieur, I salute you," said he, with the utmost coolness.
"By what right--"
"Am I here? By the right which the impossibility of your getting
rid of me confers."
I was amazed! His calmness put me out of countenance, and I had
nothing to reply. I looked at the intruder, but he took no notice
of my astonishment.
"Does my weight disarrange your equilibrium, monsieur?" he asked.
"You will permit me--"
And without waiting for my consent, he relieved the balloon of
two bags, which he threw into space.
"Monsieur," said I, taking the only course now possible, "you
have come; very well, you will remain; but to me alone belongs
the management of the balloon."
"Monsieur," said he, "your urbanity is French all over: it comes
from my own country. I morally press the hand you refuse me. Make
all precautions, and act as seems best to you. I will wait till
you have done--"
"To talk with you."
The barometer had fallen to twenty-six inches. We were nearly six
hundred yards above the city; but nothing betrayed the horizontal
displacement of the balloon, for the mass of air in which it is
enclosed goes forward with it. A sort of confused glow enveloped
the objects spread out under us, and unfortunately obscured their
I examined my companion afresh.
He was a man of thirty years, simply clad. The sharpness of his
features betrayed an indomitable energy, and he seemed very
muscular. Indifferent to the astonishment he created, he remained
motionless, trying to distinguish the objects which were vaguely
confused below us.
"Miserable mist!" said he, after a few moments.
I did not reply.
"You owe me a grudge?" he went on. "Bah! I could not pay for my
journey, and it was necessary to take you by surprise."
"Nobody asks you to descend, monsieur!"
"Eh, do you not know, then, that the same thing happened to the
Counts of Laurencin and Dampierre, when they ascended at Lyons,
on the 15th of January, 1784? A young merchant, named Fontaine,
scaled the gallery, at the risk of capsizing the machine. He
accomplished the journey, and nobody died of it!"
"Once on the ground, we will have an explanation," replied I,
piqued at the light tone in which he spoke.
"Bah! Do not let us think of our return."
"Do you think, then, that I shall not hasten to descend?"
"Descend!" said he, in surprise. "Descend? Let us begin by first
And before I could prevent it, two more bags had been thrown over
the car, without even having been emptied.
"Monsieur!" cried I, in a rage.
"I know your ability," replied the unknown quietly, "and your
fine ascents are famous. But if Experience is the sister of
Practice, she is also a cousin of Theory, and I have studied the
aerial art long. It has got into my head!" he added sadly,
falling into a silent reverie.
The balloon, having risen some distance farther, now became
stationary. The unknown consulted the barometer, and said,--
"Here we are, at eight hundred yards. Men are like insects. See!
I think we should always contemplate them from this height, to
judge correctly of their proportions. The Place de la Comédie is
transformed into an immense ant-hill. Observe the crowd which is
gathered on the quays; and the mountains also get smaller and
smaller. We are over the Cathedral. The Main is only a line,
cutting the city in two, and the bridge seems a thread thrown
between the two banks of the river."
The atmosphere became somewhat chilly.
"There is nothing I would not do for you, my host," said the
unknown. "If you are cold, I will take off my coat and lend it to
"Thanks," said I dryly.
"Bah! Necessity makes law. Give me your hand. I am your
fellow-countryman; you will learn something in my company, and my
conversation will indemnify you for the trouble I have given
I sat down, without replying, at the opposite extremity of the
car. The young man had taken a voluminous manuscript from his
great-coat. It was an essay on ballooning.
"I possess," said he, "the most curious collection of engravings
and caricatures extant concerning aerial manias. How people
admired and scoffed at the same time at this precious discovery!
We are happily no longer in the age in which Montgolfier tried to
make artificial clouds with steam, or a gas having electrical
properties, produced by the combustion of moist straw and
"Do you wish to depreciate the talent of the inventors?" I asked,
for I had resolved to enter into the adventure. "Was it not good
to have proved by experience the possibility of rising in the
"Ah, monsieur, who denies the glory of the first aerial
navigators? It required immense courage to rise by means of those
frail envelopes which only contained heated air. But I ask you,
has the aerial science made great progress since Blanchard's
ascensions, that is, since nearly a century ago? Look here,
The unknown took an engraving from his portfolio.
"Here," said he, "is the first aerial voyage undertaken by
Pilâtre des Rosiers and the Marquis d'Arlandes, four months after
the discovery of balloons. Louis XVI. refused to consent to the
venture, and two men who were condemned to death were the first
to attempt the aerial ascent. Pilâtre des Rosiers became
indignant at this injustice, and, by means of intrigues, obtained
permission to make the experiment. The car, which renders the
management easy, had not then been invented, and a circular
gallery was placed around the lower and contracted part of the
Montgolfier balloon. The two aeronauts must then remain
motionless at each extremity of this gallery, for the moist straw
which filled it forbade them all motion. A chafing-dish with fire
was suspended below the orifice of the balloon; when the
aeronauts wished to rise, they threw straw upon this brazier, at
the risk of setting fire to the balloon, and the air, more
heated, gave it fresh ascending power. The two bold travellers
rose, on the 21st of November, 1783, from the Muette Gardens,
which the dauphin had put at their disposal. The balloon went up
majestically, passed over the Isle of Swans, crossed the Seine at
the Conference barrier, and, drifting between the dome of the
Invalides and the Military School, approached the Church of Saint
Sulpice. Then the aeronauts added to the fire, crossed the
Boulevard, and descended beyond the Enfer barrier. As it touched
the soil, the balloon collapsed, and for a few moments buried
Pilâtre des Rosiers under its folds."
"Unlucky augury," I said, interested in the story, which affected
"An augury of the catastrophe which was later to cost this
unfortunate man his life," replied the unknown sadly. "Have you
never experienced anything like it?"
"Bah! Misfortunes sometimes occur unforeshadowed!" added my
He then remained silent.
Meanwhile we were advancing southward, and Frankfort had already
passed from beneath us.
"Perhaps we shall have a storm," said the young man.
"We shall descend before that," I replied.
"Indeed! It is better to ascend. We shall escape it more surely."
And two more bags of sand were hurled into space.
The balloon rose rapidly, and stopped at twelve hundred yards. I
became colder; and yet the sun's rays, falling upon the surface,
expanded the gas within, and gave it a greater ascending force.
"Fear nothing," said the unknown. "We have still three thousand
five hundred fathoms of breathing air. Besides, do not trouble
yourself about what I do."
I would have risen, but a vigorous hand held me to my seat.
"Your name?" I asked.
"My name? What matters it to you?"
"I demand your name!"
"My name is Erostratus or Empedocles, whichever you choose!"
This reply was far from reassuring.
The unknown, besides, talked with such strange coolness that I
anxiously asked myself whom I had to deal with.
"Monsieur," he continued, "nothing original has been imagined
since the physicist Charles. Four months after the discovery of
balloons, this able man had invented the valve, which permits the
gas to escape when the balloon is too full, or when you wish to
descend; the car, which aids the management of the machine; the
netting, which holds the envelope of the balloon, and divides the
weight over its whole surface; the ballast, which enables you to
ascend, and to choose the place of your landing; the india-rubber
coating, which renders the tissue impermeable; the barometer,
which shows the height attained. Lastly, Charles used hydrogen,
which, fourteen times lighter than air, permits you to penetrate
to the highest atmospheric regions, and does not expose you to
the dangers of a combustion in the air. On the 1st of December,
1783, three hundred thousand spectators were crowded around the
Tuileries. Charles rose, and the soldiers presented arms to him.
He travelled nine leagues in the air, conducting his balloon with
an ability not surpassed by modern aeronauts. The king awarded
him a pension of two thousand livres; for then they encouraged
The unknown now seemed to be under the influence of considerable
"Monsieur," he resumed, "I have studied this, and I am convinced
that the first aeronauts guided their balloons. Without speaking
of Blanchard, whose assertions may be received with doubt,
Guyton-Morveaux, by the aid of oars and rudder, made his machine
answer to the helm, and take the direction he determined on. More
recently, M. Julien, a watchmaker, made some convincing
experiments at the Hippodrome, in Paris; for, by a special
mechanism, his aerial apparatus, oblong in form, went visibly
against the wind. It occurred to M. Petin to place four hydrogen
balloons together; and, by means of sails hung horizontally and
partly folded, he hopes to be able to disturb the equilibrium,
and, thus inclining the apparatus, to convey it in an oblique
direction. They speak, also, of forces to overcome the resistance
of currents,--for instance, the screw; but the screw, working on
a moveable centre, will give no result. I, monsieur, have
discovered the only means of guiding balloons; and no academy has
come to my aid, no city has filled up subscriptions for me, no
government has thought fit to listen to me! It is infamous!"
The unknown gesticulated fiercely, and the car underwent violent
oscillations. I had much trouble in calming him.
Meanwhile the balloon had entered a more rapid current, and we
advanced south, at fifteen hundred yards above the earth.
"See, there is Darmstadt," said my companion, leaning over the
car. "Do you perceive the château? Not very distinctly, eh? What
would you have? The heat of the storm makes the outline of
objects waver, and you must have a skilled eye to recognize
"Are you certain it is Darmstadt?" I asked.
"I am sure of it. We are now six leagues from Frankfort."
"Then we must descend."
"Descend! You would not go down, on the steeples," said the
unknown, with a chuckle.
"No, but in the suburbs of the city."
"Well, let us avoid the steeples!"
So speaking, my companion seized some bags of ballast. I hastened
to prevent him; but he overthrew me with one hand, and the
unballasted balloon ascended to two thousand yards.
"Rest easy," said he, "and do not forget that Brioschi, Biot,
Gay-Lussac, Bixio, and Barral ascended to still greater heights
to make their scientific experiments."
"Monsieur, we must descend," I resumed, trying to persuade him by
gentleness. "The storm is gathering around us. It would be more
"Bah! We will mount higher than the storm, and then we shall no
longer fear it!" cried my companion. "What is nobler than to
overlook the clouds which oppress the earth? Is it not an honour
thus to navigate on aerial billows? The greatest men have
travelled as we are doing. The Marchioness and Countess de
Montalembert, the Countess of Podenas, Mademoiselle la Garde, the
Marquis de Montalembert, rose from the Faubourg Saint-Antoine for
these unknown regions, and the Duke de Chartres exhibited much
skill and presence of mind in his ascent on the 15th of July,
1784. At Lyons, the Counts of Laurencin and Dampierre; at Nantes,
M. de Luynes; at Bordeaux, D'Arbelet des Granges; in Italy, the
Chevalier Andreani; in our own time, the Duke of Brunswick,--have
all left the traces of their glory in the air. To equal these
great personages, we must penetrate still higher than they into
the celestial depths! To approach the infinite is to comprehend
The rarefaction of the air was fast expanding the hydrogen in the
balloon, and I saw its lower part, purposely left empty, swell
out, so that it was absolutely necessary to open the valve; but
my companion did not seem to intend that I should manage the
balloon as I wished. I then resolved to pull the valve cord
secretly, as he was excitedly talking; for I feared to guess with
whom I had to deal. It would have been too horrible! It was
nearly a quarter before one. We had been gone forty minutes from
Frankfort; heavy clouds were coming against the wind from the
south, and seemed about to burst upon us.
"Have you lost all hope of succeeding in your project?" I asked
with anxious interest.
"All hope!" exclaimed the unknown in a low voice. "Wounded by
slights and caricatures, these asses' kicks have finished me! It
is the eternal punishment reserved for innovators! Look at these
caricatures of all periods, of which my portfolio is full."
While my companion was fumbling with his papers, I had seized the
valve-cord without his perceiving it. I feared, however, that he
might hear the hissing noise, like a water-course, which the gas
makes in escaping.
"How many jokes were made about the Abbé Miolan!" said he. "He
was to go up with Janninet and Bredin. During the filling their
balloon caught fire, and the ignorant populace tore it in pieces!
Then this caricature of 'curious animals' appeared, giving each
of them a punning nickname."
I pulled the valve-cord, and the barometer began to ascend. It
was time. Some far-off rumblings were heard in the south.
"Here is another engraving," resumed the unknown, not suspecting
what I was doing. "It is an immense balloon carrying a ship,
strong castles, houses, and so on. The caricaturists did not
suspect that their follies would one day become truths. It is
complete, this large vessel. On the left is its helm, with the
pilot's box; at the prow are pleasure-houses, an immense organ,
and a cannon to call the attention of the inhabitants of the
earth or the moon; above the poop there are the observatory and
the balloon long-boat; in the equatorial circle, the army
barrack; on the left, the funnel; then the upper galleries for
promenading, sails, pinions; below, the cafés and general
storehouse. Observe this pompous announcement: 'Invented for the
happiness of the human race, this globe will depart at once for
the ports of the Levant, and on its return the programme of its
voyages to the two poles and the extreme west will be announced.
No one need furnish himself with anything; everything is
foreseen, and all will prosper. There will be a uniform price for
all places of destination, but it will be the same for the most
distant countries of our hemisphere--that is to say, a thousand
louis for one of any of the said journeys. And it must be
confessed that this sum is very moderate, when the speed,
comfort, and arrangements which will be enjoyed on the balloon
are considered--arrangements which are not to be found on land,
while on the balloon each passenger may consult his own habits
and tastes. This is so true that in the same place some will be
dancing, others standing; some will be enjoying delicacies;
others fasting. Whoever desires the society of wits may satisfy
himself; whoever is stupid may find stupid people to keep him
company. Thus pleasure will be the soul of the aerial company.'
All this provoked laughter; but before long, if I am not cut off,
they will see it all realized."
We were visibly descending. He did not perceive it!
"This kind of 'game at balloons,'" he resumed, spreading out
before me some of the engravings of his valuable collection,
"this game contains the entire history of the aerostatic art. It
is used by elevated minds, and is played with dice and counters,
with whatever stakes you like, to be paid or received according
to where the player arrives."
"Why," said I, "you seem to have studied the science of
"Yes, monsieur, yes! From Phaethon, Icarus, Architas, I have
searched for, examined, learnt everything. I could render immense
services to the world in this art, if God granted me life. But
that will not be!"
"Because my name is Empedocles, or Erostratus."
Meanwhile, the balloon was happily approaching the earth; but
when one is falling, the danger is as great at a hundred feet as
at five thousand.
"Do you recall the battle of Fleurus?" resumed my companion,
whose face became more and more animated. "It was at that battle
that Contello, by order of the Government, organized a company of
balloonists. At the siege of Manbenge General Jourdan derived so
much service from this new method of observation that Contello
ascended twice a day with the general himself. The communications
between the aeronaut and his agents who held the balloon were
made by means of small white, red, and yellow flags. Often the
gun and cannon shot were directed upon the balloon when he
ascended, but without result. When General Jourdan was preparing
to invest Charleroi, Contello went into the vicinity, ascended
from the plain of Jumet, and continued his observations for seven
or eight hours with General Morlot, and this no doubt aided in
giving us the victory of Fleurus. General Jourdan publicly
acknowledged the help which the aeronautical observations had
afforded him. Well, despite the services rendered on that
occasion and during the Belgian campaign, the year which had seen
the beginning of the military career of balloons saw also its
end. The school of Meudon, founded by the Government, was closed
by Buonaparte on his return from Egypt. And now, what can you
expect from the new-born infant? as Franklin said. The infant was
born alive; it should not be stifled!"
The unknown bowed his head in his hands, and reflected for some
moments; then raising his head, he said,--
"Despite my prohibition, monsieur, you have opened the valve."
I dropped the cord.
"Happily," he resumed, "we have still three hundred pounds of
"What is your purpose?" said I.
"Have you ever crossed the seas?" he asked.
I turned pale.
"It is unfortunate," he went on, "that we are being driven
towards the Adriatic. That is only a stream; but higher up we may
find other currents."
And, without taking any notice of me, he threw over several bags
of sand; then, in a menacing voice, he said,--
"I let you open the valve because the expansion of the gas
threatened to burst the balloon; but do not do it again!"
Then he went on as follows:--
"You remember the voyage of Blanchard and Jeffries from Dover to
Calais? It was magnificent! On the 7th of January, 1785, there
being a north-west wind, their balloon was inflated with gas on
the Dover coast. A mistake of equilibrium, just as they were
ascending, forced them to throw out their ballast so that they
might not go down again, and they only kept thirty pounds. It was
too little; for, as the wind did not freshen, they only advanced
very slowly towards the French coast. Besides, the permeability
of the tissue served to reduce the inflation little by little,
and in an hour and a half the aeronauts perceived that they were
"'What shall we do?' said Jeffries.
"'We are only one quarter of the way over,' replied Blanchard,
'and very low down. On rising, we shall perhaps meet more
"'Let us throw out the rest of the sand.'
"The balloon acquired some ascending force, but it soon began to
descend again. Towards the middle of the transit the aeronauts
threw over their books and tools. A quarter of an hour after,
Blanchard said to Jeffries,--
"'It is going up! We are lost, and yet there is the French
"A loud noise was heard.
"'Has the balloon burst?' asked Jeffries.
"'No. The loss of the gas has reduced the inflation of the lower
part of the balloon. But we are still descending. We are lost!
Out with everything useless!'
"Provisions, oars, and rudder were thrown into the sea. The
aeronauts were only one hundred yards high.
"'We are going up again,' said the doctor.
"'No. It is the spurt caused by the diminution of the weight, and
not a ship in sight, not a bark on the horizon! To the sea with
"The unfortunates stripped themselves, but the balloon continued
"'Blanchard,' said Jeffries, 'you should have made this voyage
alone; you consented to take me; I will sacrifice myself! I am
going to throw myself into the water, and the balloon, relieved
of my weight, will mount again.'
"'No, no! It is frightful!'
"The balloon became less and less inflated, and as it doubled up
its concavity pressed the gas against the sides, and hastened its
"'Adieu, my friend," said the doctor. 'God preserve you!'
"He was about to throw himself over, when Blanchard held him
"'There is one more chance,' said he. 'We can cut the cords which
hold the car, and cling to the net! Perhaps the balloon will
rise. Let us hold ourselves ready. But--the barometer is going
down! The wind is freshening! We are saved!'
"The aeronauts perceived Calais. Their joy was delirious. A few
moments more, and they had fallen in the forest of Guines. I do
not doubt," added the unknown, "that, under similar circumstances,
you would have followed Doctor Jeffries' example!"
The clouds rolled in glittering masses beneath us. The balloon
threw large shadows on this heap of clouds, and was surrounded as
by an aureola. The thunder rumbled below the car. All this was
"Let us descend!" I cried.
"Descend, when the sun is up there, waiting for us? Out with more
And more than fifty pounds of ballast were cast over.
At a height of three thousand five hundred yards we remained
The unknown talked unceasingly. I was in a state of complete
prostration, while he seemed to be in his element.
"With a good wind, we shall go far," he cried. "In the Antilles
there are currents of air which have a speed of a hundred leagues
an hour. When Napoleon was crowned, Garnerin sent up a balloon
with coloured lamps, at eleven o'clock at night. The wind was
blowing north-north-west. The next morning, at daybreak, the
inhabitants of Rome greeted its passage over the dome of St.
Peter's. We shall go farther and higher!"
I scarcely heard him. Everything whirled around me. An opening
appeared in the clouds.
"See that city," said the unknown. "It is Spires!"
I leaned over the car and perceived a small blackish mass. It was
Spires. The Rhine, which is so large, seemed an unrolled ribbon.
The sky was a deep blue over our heads. The birds had long
abandoned us, for in that rarefied air they could not have flown.
We were alone in space, and I in presence of this unknown!
"It is useless for you to know whither I am leading you," he
said, as he threw the compass among the clouds. "Ah! a fall is a
grand thing! You know that but few victims of ballooning are to
be reckoned, from Pilâtre des Rosiers to Lieutenant Gale, and
that the accidents have always been the result of imprudence.
Pilâtre des Rosiers set out with Romain of Boulogne, on the 13th
of June, 1785. To his gas balloon he had affixed a Montgolfier
apparatus of hot air, so as to dispense, no doubt, with the
necessity of losing gas or throwing out ballast. It was putting a
torch under a powder-barrel. When they had ascended four hundred
yards, and were taken by opposing winds, they were driven over
the open sea. Pilâtre, in order to descend, essayed to open the
valve, but the valve-cord became entangled in the balloon, and
tore it so badly that it became empty in an instant. It fell upon
the Montgolfier apparatus, overturned it, and dragged down the
unfortunates, who were soon shattered to pieces! It is frightful,
is it not?"
I could only reply, "For pity's sake, let us descend!"
The clouds gathered around us on every side, and dreadful
detonations, which reverberated in the cavity of the balloon,
took place beneath us.
"You provoke me," cried the unknown, "and you shall no longer
know whether we are rising or falling!"
The barometer went the way of the compass, accompanied by several
more bags of sand. We must have been 5000 yards high. Some
icicles had already attached themselves to the sides of the car,
and a kind of fine snow seemed to penetrate to my very bones.
Meanwhile a frightful tempest was raging under us, but we were
"Do not be afraid," said the unknown. "It is only the imprudent
who are lost. Olivari, who perished at Orleans, rose in a paper
'Montgolfier;' his car, suspended below the chafing-dish, and
ballasted with combustible materials, caught fire; Olivari fell,
and was killed! Mosment rose, at Lille, on a light tray; an
oscillation disturbed his equilibrium; Mosment fell, and was
killed! Bittorf, at Mannheim, saw his balloon catch fire in the
air; and he, too, fell, and was killed! Harris rose in a badly
constructed balloon, the valve of which was too large and would
not shut; Harris fell, and was killed! Sadler, deprived of
ballast by his long sojourn in the air, was dragged over the town
of Boston and dashed against the chimneys; Sadler fell, and was
killed! Cokling descended with a convex parachute which he
pretended to have perfected; Cokling fell, and was killed! Well,
I love them, these victims of their own imprudence, and I shall
die as they did. Higher! still higher!"
All the phantoms of this necrology passed before my eyes. The
rarefaction of the air and the sun's rays added to the expansion
of the gas, and the balloon continued to mount. I tried
mechanically to open the valve, but the unknown cut the cord
several feet above my head. I was lost!
"Did you see Madame Blanchard fall?" said he. "I saw her; yes, I!
I was at Tivoli on the 6th of July, 1819. Madame Blanchard rose
in a small sized balloon, to avoid the expense of filling, and
she was forced to entirely inflate it. The gas leaked out below,
and left a regular train of hydrogen in its path. She carried
with her a sort of pyrotechnic aureola, suspended below her car
by a wire, which she was to set off in the air. This she had done
many times before. On this day she also carried up a small
parachute ballasted by a firework contrivance, that would go off
in a shower of silver. She was to start this contrivance after
having lighted it with a port-fire made on purpose. She set out;
the night was gloomy. At the moment of lighting her fireworks she
was so imprudent as to pass the taper under the column of
hydrogen which was leaking from the balloon. My eyes were fixed
upon her. Suddenly an unexpected gleam lit up the darkness. I
thought she was preparing a surprise. The light flashed out,
suddenly disappeared and reappeared, and gave the summit of the
balloon the shape of an immense jet of ignited gas. This sinister
glow shed itself over the Boulevard and the whole Montmartre
quarter. Then I saw the unhappy woman rise, try twice to close
the appendage of the balloon, so as to put out the fire, then sit
down in her car and try to guide her descent; for she did not
fall. The combustion of the gas lasted for several minutes. The
balloon, becoming gradually less, continued to descend, but it
was not a fall. The wind blew from the north-west and drove it
towards Paris. There were then some large gardens just by the
house No. 16, Rue de Provence. Madame Blanchard essayed to fall
there without danger: but the balloon and the car struck on the
roof of the house with a light shock. 'Save me!' cried the
wretched woman. I got into the street at this moment. The car
slid along the roof, and encountered an iron cramp. At this
concussion, Madame Blanchard was thrown out of her car and
precipitated upon the pavement. She was killed!"
These stories froze me with horror. The unknown was standing with
bare head, dishevelled hair, haggard eyes!
There was no longer any illusion possible. I at last recognized
the horrible truth. I was in the presence of a madman!
He threw out the rest of the ballast, and we must have now
reached a height of at least nine thousand yards. Blood spurted
from my nose and mouth!
"Who are nobler than the martyrs of science?" cried the lunatic.
"They are canonized by posterity."
But I no longer heard him. He looked about him, and, bending down
to my ear, muttered,--
"And have you forgotten Zambecarri's catastrophe? Listen. On the
7th of October, 1804, the clouds seemed to lift a little. On the
preceding days, the wind and rain had not ceased; but the
announced ascension of Zambecarri could not be postponed. His
enemies were already bantering him. It was necessary to ascend,
to save the science and himself from becoming a public jest. It
was at Boulogne. No one helped him to inflate his balloon.
"He rose at midnight, accompanied by Andreoli and Grossetti. The
balloon mounted slowly, for it had been perforated by the rain,
and the gas was leaking out. The three intrepid aeronauts could
only observe the state of the barometer by aid of a dark lantern.
Zambecarri had eaten nothing for twenty-four hours. Grossetti was
"'My friends,' said Zambecarri, 'I am overcome by cold, and
exhausted. I am dying.'
"He fell inanimate in the gallery. It was the same with
Grossetti. Andreoli alone remained conscious. After long efforts,
he succeeded in reviving Zambecarri.
"'What news? Whither are we going? How is the wind? What time is
"'It is two o'clock.'
"'Where is the compass?'
"'Great God! The lantern has gone out!'
"'It cannot burn in this rarefied air,' said Zambecarri.
"The moon had not risen, and the atmosphere was plunged in murky
"'I am cold, Andreoli. What shall I do?'
"They slowly descended through a layer of whitish clouds.
"'Sh!' said Andreoli. 'Do you hear?'
"'What?' asked Zambecarri.
"'A strange noise.'
"'You are mistaken.'
"Consider these travellers, in the middle of the night, listening
to that unaccountable noise! Are they going to knock against a
tower? Are they about to be precipitated on the roofs?
"'Do you hear? One would say it was the noise of the sea.'
"'It is the groaning of the waves!'
"'It is true.'
"After five fruitless attempts, Andreoli succeeded in obtaining
light. It was three o'clock.
"The voice of violent waves was heard. They were almost touching
the surface of the sea!
"'We are lost!' cried Zambecarri, seizing a large bag of sand.
"'Help!' cried Andreoli.
"The car touched the water, and the waves came up to their
"'Throw out the instruments, clothes, money!'
"The aeronauts completely stripped themselves. The balloon,
relieved, rose with frightful rapidity. Zambecarri was taken with
vomiting. Grossetti bled profusely. The unfortunate men could not
speak, so short was their breathing. They were taken with cold,
and they were soon crusted over with ice. The moon looked as red
"After traversing the high regions for a half-hour, the balloon
again fell into the sea. It was four in the morning. They were
half submerged in the water, and the balloon dragged them along,
as if under sail, for several hours.
"At daybreak they found themselves opposite Pesaro, four miles
from the coast. They were about to reach it, when a gale blew
them back into the open sea. They were lost! The frightened boats
fled at their approach. Happily, a more intelligent boatman
accosted them, hoisted them on board, and they landed at Ferrada.
"A frightful journey, was it not? But Zambecarri was a brave and
energetic man. Scarcely recovered from his sufferings, he resumed
his ascensions. During one of them he struck against a tree; his
spirit-lamp was broken on his clothes; he was enveloped in fire,
his balloon began to catch the flames, and he came down half
"At last, on the 21st of September, 1812, he made another
ascension at Boulogne. The balloon clung to a tree, and his lamp
again set it on fire. Zambecarri fell, and was killed! And in
presence of these facts, we would still hesitate! No. The higher
we go, the more glorious will be our death!"
The balloon being now entirely relieved of ballast and of all it
contained, we were carried to an enormous height. It vibrated in
the atmosphere. The least noise resounded in the vaults of
heaven. Our globe, the only object which caught my view in
immensity, seemed ready to be annihilated, and above us the
depths of the starry skies were lost in thick darkness.
I saw my companion rise up before me.
"The hour is come!" he said. "We must die. We are rejected of
men. They despise us. Let us crush them!"
"Mercy!" I cried.
"Let us cut these cords! Let this car be abandoned in space. The
attractive force will change its direction, and we shall approach
Despair galvanized me. I threw myself upon the madman, we
struggled together, and a terrible conflict took place. But I was
thrown down, and while he held me under his knee, the madman was
cutting the cords of the car.
"One!" he cried.
I made a superhuman effort, rose up, and violently repulsed the
The car fell, but I instinctively clung to the cords and hoisted
myself into the meshes of the netting.
The madman disappeared in space!
The balloon was raised to an immeasurable height. A horrible
cracking was heard. The gas, too much dilated, had burst the
balloon. I shut my eyes--
Some instants after, a damp warmth revived me. I was in the midst
of clouds on fire. The balloon turned over with dizzy velocity.
Taken by the wind, it made a hundred leagues an hour in a
horizontal course, the lightning flashing around it.
Meanwhile my fall was not a very rapid one. When I opened my
eyes, I saw the country. I was two miles from the sea, and the
tempest was driving me violently towards it, when an abrupt shock
forced me to loosen my hold. My hands opened, a cord slipped
swiftly between my fingers, and I found myself on the solid
It was the cord of the anchor, which, sweeping along the surface
of the ground, was caught in a crevice; and my balloon,
unballasted for the last time, careered off to lose itself beyond
When I came to myself, I was in bed in a peasant's cottage, at
Harderwick, a village of La Gueldre, fifteen leagues from
Amsterdam, on the shores of the Zuyder-Zee.
A miracle had saved my life, but my voyage had been a series of
imprudences, committed by a lunatic, and I had not been able to
May this terrible narrative, though instructing those who read
it, not discourage the explorers of the air.
A WINTER AMID THE ICE.
THE BLACK FLAG.
The curé of the ancient church of Dunkirk rose at five o'clock on
the 12th of May, 18--, to perform, according to his custom, low
mass for the benefit of a few pious sinners.
Attired in his priestly robes, he was about to proceed to the
altar, when a man entered the sacristy, at once joyous and
frightened. He was a sailor of some sixty years, but still
vigorous and sturdy, with, an open, honest countenance.
"Monsieur the curé," said he, "stop a moment, if you please."
"What do you want so early in the morning, Jean Cornbutte?" asked
"What do I want? Why, to embrace you in my arms, i' faith!"
"Well, after the mass at which you are going to be present--"
"The mass?" returned the old sailor, laughing. "Do you think you
are going to say your mass now, and that I will let you do so?"
"And why should I not say my mass?" asked the curé. "Explain
yourself. The third bell has sounded--"
"Whether it has or not," replied Jean Cornbutte, "it will sound
many more times to-day, monsieur the curé, for you have promised
me that you will bless, with your own hands, the marriage of my
son Louis and my niece Marie!"
"He has arrived, then," said the curé "joyfully.
"It is nearly the same thing," replied Cornbutte, rubbing his
hands. "Our brig was signalled from the look out at sunrise,--our
brig, which you yourself christened by the good name of the
"I congratulate you with all my heart, Cornbutte," said the curé,
taking off his chasuble and stole. "I remember our agreement. The
vicar will take my place, and I will put myself at your disposal
against your dear son's arrival."
"And I promise you that he will not make you fast long," replied
the sailor. "You have already published the banns, and you will
only have to absolve him from the sins he may have committed
between sky and water, in the Northern Ocean. I had a good idea,
that the marriage should be celebrated the very day he arrived,
and that my son Louis should leave his ship to repair at once to
"Go, then, and arrange everything, Cornbutte."
"I fly, monsieur the curé. Good morning!"
The sailor hastened with rapid steps to his house, which stood on
the quay, whence could be seen the Northern Ocean, of which he
seemed so proud.
Jean Cornbutte had amassed a comfortable sum at his calling.
After having long commanded the vessels of a rich shipowner of
Havre, he had settled down in his native town, where he had
caused the brig "Jeune-Hardie" to be constructed at his own
expense. Several successful voyages had been made in the North,
and the ship always found a good sale for its cargoes of wood,
iron, and tar. Jean Cornbutte then gave up the command of her to
his son Louis, a fine sailor of thirty, who, according to all the
coasting captains, was the boldest mariner in Dunkirk.
Louis Cornbutte had gone away deeply attached to Marie, his
father's niece, who found the time of his absence very long and
weary. Marie was scarcely twenty. She was a pretty Flemish girl,
with some Dutch blood in her veins. Her mother, when she was
dying, had confided her to her brother, Jean Cornbutte. The brave
old sailor loved her as a daughter, and saw in her proposed union
with Louis a source of real and durable happiness.
The arrival of the ship, already signalled off the coast,
completed an important business operation, from which Jean
Cornbutte expected large profits. The "Jeune-Hardie," which had
left three months before, came last from Bodoë, on the west coast
of Norway, and had made a quick voyage thence.
On returning home, Jean Cornbutte found the whole house alive.
Marie, with radiant face, had assumed her wedding-dress.
"I hope the ship will not arrive before we are ready!" she said.
"Hurry, little one," replied Jean Cornbutte, "for the wind is
north, and she sails well, you know, when she goes freely."
"Have our friends been told, uncle?" asked Marie.
"The notary, and the curé?"
"Rest easy. You alone are keeping us waiting."
At this moment Clerbaut, an old crony, came in.
"Well, old Cornbutte," cried he, "here's luck! Your ship has
arrived at the very moment that the government has decided to
contract for a large quantity of wood for the navy!"
"What is that to me?" replied Jean Cornbutte. "What care I for
"You see, Monsieur Clerbaut," said Marie, "one thing only absorbs
"I don't dispute that," replied Clerbaut. "But--in short--this
purchase of wood--"
"And you shall be at the wedding," replied Jean Cornbutte,
interrupting the merchant, and shaking his hand as if he would
"This purchase of wood--"
"And with all our friends, landsmen and seamen, Clerbaut. I have
already informed everybody, and I shall invite the whole crew of
"And shall we go and await them on the pier?" asked Marie.
"Indeed we will," replied Jean Cornbutte. "We will defile, two by
two, with the violins at the head."
Jean Cornbutte's invited guests soon arrived. Though it was very
early, not a single one failed to appear. All congratulated the
honest old sailor whom they loved. Meanwhile Marie, kneeling
down, changed her prayers to God into thanksgivings. She soon
returned, lovely and decked out, to the company; and all the
women kissed her on the check, while the men vigorously grasped
her by the hand. Then Jean Cornbutte gave the signal of
It was a curious sight to see this joyous group taking its way,
at sunrise, towards the sea. The news of the ship's arrival had
spread through the port, and many heads, in nightcaps, appeared
at the windows and at the half-opened doors. Sincere compliments
and pleasant nods came from every side.
The party reached the pier in the midst of a concert of praise
and blessings. The weather was magnificent, and the sun seemed to
take part in the festivity. A fresh north wind made the waves
foam; and some fishing-smacks, their sails trimmed for leaving
port, streaked the sea with their rapid wakes between the
The two piers of Dunkirk stretch far out into the sea. The
wedding-party occupied the whole width of the northern pier, and
soon reached a small house situated at its extremity, inhabited
by the harbour-master. The wind freshened, and the "Jeune-Hardie"
ran swiftly under her topsails, mizzen, brigantine, gallant, and
royal. There was evidently rejoicing on board as well as on land.
Jean Cornbutte, spy-glass in hand, responded merrily to the
questions of his friends.
"See my ship!" he cried; "clean and steady as if she had been
rigged at Dunkirk! Not a bit of damage done,--not a rope
"Do you see your son, the captain?" asked one.
"No, not yet. Why, he's at his business!"
"Why doesn't he run up his flag?" asked Clerbaut.
"I scarcely know, old friend. He has a reason for it, no doubt."
"Your spy-glass, uncle?" said Marie, taking it from him. "I want
to be the first to see him."
"But he is my son, mademoiselle!"
"He has been your son for thirty years," answered the young girl,
laughing, "and he has only been my betrothed for two!"
The "Jeune-Hardie" was now entirely visible. Already the crew
were preparing to cast anchor. The upper sails had been reefed.
The sailors who were among the rigging might be recognized. But
neither Marie nor Jean Cornbutte had yet been able to wave their
hands at the captain of the ship.
"Faith! there's the first mate, André Vasling," cried Clerbaut.
"And there's Fidèle Misonne, the carpenter," said another.
"And our friend Penellan," said a third, saluting the sailor
The "Jeune-Hardie" was only three cables' lengths from the shore,
when a black flag ascended to the gaff of the brigantine. There
was mourning on board!
A shudder of terror seized the party and the heart of the young
The ship sadly swayed into port, and an icy silence reigned on
its deck. Soon it had passed the end of the pier. Marie, Jean
Cornbutte, and all their friends hurried towards the quay at
which she was to anchor, and in a moment found themselves on
"My son!" said Jean Cornbutte, who could only articulate these
The sailors, with uncovered heads, pointed to the mourning flag.
Marie uttered a cry of anguish, and fell into old Cornbutte's
André Vasling had brought back the "Jeune-Hardie," but Louis
Cornbutte, Marie's betrothed, was not on board.
Jean Cornbutte's Project.
As soon as the young girl, confided to the care of the
sympathizing friends, had left the ship, André Vasling, the mate,
apprised Jean Cornbutte of the dreadful event which had deprived
him of his son, narrated in the ship's journal as follows:--
"At the height of the Maëlstrom, on the 26th of April, the ship,
putting for the cape, by reason of bad weather and south-west
winds, perceived signals of distress made by a schooner to the
leeward. This schooner, deprived of its mizzen-mast, was running
towards the whirlpool, under bare poles. Captain Louis Cornbutte,
seeing that this vessel was hastening into imminent danger,
resolved to go on board her. Despite the remonstrances of his
crew, he had the long-boat lowered into the sea, and got into it,
with the sailor Courtois and the helmsman Pierre Nouquet. The
crew watched them until they disappeared in the fog. Night came
on. The sea became more and more boisterous. The "Jeune-Hardie",
drawn by the currents in those parts, was in danger of being
engulfed by the Maëlstrom. She was obliged to fly before the
wind. For several days she hovered near the place of the
disaster, but in vain. The long-boat, the schooner, Captain
Louis, and the two sailors did not reappear. André Vasling then
called the crew together, took command of the ship, and set sail
After reading this dry narrative, Jean Cornbutte wept for a long
time; and if he had any consolation, it was the thought that his
son had died in attempting to save his fellow-men. Then the poor
father left the ship, the sight of which made him wretched, and
returned to his desolate home.
The sad news soon spread throughout Dunkirk. The many friends of
the old sailor came to bring him their cordial and sincere
sympathy. Then the sailors of the "Jeune-Hardie" gave a more
particular account of the event, and André Vasling told Marie, at
great length, of the devotion of her betrothed to the last.
When he ceased weeping, Jean Cornbutte thought over the matter,
and the next day after the ship's arrival, when Andre came to see
"Are you very sure, André, that my son has perished?"
"Alas, yes, Monsieur Jean," replied the mate.
"And you made all possible search for him?"
"All, Monsieur Cornbutte. But it is unhappily but too certain
that he and the two sailors were sucked down in the whirlpool of
"Would you like, André, to keep the second command of the ship?"
"That will depend upon the captain, Monsieur Cornbutte."
"I shall be the captain," replied the old sailor. "I am going to
discharge the cargo with all speed, make up my crew, and sail in
search of my son."
"Your son is dead!" said André obstinately.
"It is possible, Andre," replied Jean Cornbutte sharply, "but it
is also possible that he saved himself. I am going to rummage all
the ports of Norway whither he might have been driven, and when I
am fully convinced that I shall never see him again, I will
return here to die!"
André Vasling, seeing that this decision was irrevocable, did not
insist further, but went away.
Jean Cornbutte at once apprised his niece of his intention, and
he saw a few rays of hope glisten across her tears. It had not
seemed to the young girl that her lover's death might be
doubtful; but scarcely had this new hope entered her heart, than
she embraced it without reserve.
The old sailor determined that the "Jeune-Hardie" should put to
sea without delay. The solidly built ship had no need of repairs.
Jean Cornbutte gave his sailors notice that if they wished to
re-embark, no change in the crew would be made. He alone replaced
his son in the command of the brig. None of the comrades of Louis
Cornbutte failed to respond to his call, and there were hardy
tars among them,--Alaine Turquiette, Fidèle Misonne the
carpenter, Penellan the Breton, who replaced Pierre Nouquet as
helmsman, and Gradlin, Aupic, and Gervique, courageous and well-tried
Jean Cornbutte again offered André Vasling his old rank on board.
The first mate was an able officer, who had proved his skill in
bringing the "Jeune-Hardie" into port. Yet, from what motive
could not be told, André made some difficulties and asked time
"As you will, André Vasling," replied Cornbutte. "Only remember
that if you accept, you will be welcome among us."
Jean had a devoted sailor in Penellan the Breton, who had long
been his fellow-voyager. In times gone by, little Marie was wont
to pass the long winter evenings in the helmsman's arms, when he
was on shore. He felt a fatherly friendship for her, and she had
for him ah affection quite filial. Penellan hastened the fitting
out of the ship with all his energy, all the more because,
according to his opinion, André Vasling had not perhaps made
every effort possible to find the castaways, although he was
excusable from the responsibility which weighed upon him as
Within a week the "Jeune-Hardie" was ready to put to sea. Instead
of merchandise, she was completely provided with salt meats,
biscuits, barrels of flour, potatoes, pork, wine, brandy, coffee,
tea, and tobacco.
The departure was fixed for the 22nd of May. On the evening
before, André Vasling, who had not yet given his answer to Jean
Cornbutte, came to his house. He was still undecided, and did not
know which course to take.
Jean was not at home, though the house-door was open. André went
into the passage, next to Marie's chamber, where the sound of an
animated conversation struck his ear. He listened attentively,
and recognized the voices of Penellan and Marie.
The discussion had no doubt been going on for some time, for the
young girl seemed to be stoutly opposing what the Breton sailor
"How old is my uncle Cornbutte?" said Marie.
"Something about sixty years," replied Penellan.
"Well, is he not going to brave danger to find his son?"
"Our captain is still a sturdy man," returned the sailor. "He has
a body of oak and muscles as hard as a spare spar. So I am not
afraid to have him go to sea again!'"
"My good Penellan," said Marie, "one is strong when one loves!
Besides, I have full confidence in the aid of Heaven. You
understand me, and will help me."
"No!" said Penellan. "It is impossible, Marie. Who knows whither
we shall drift, or what we must suffer? How many vigorous men
have I seen lose their lives in these seas!"
"Penellan," returned the young girl, "if you refuse me, I shall
believe that you do not love me any longer."
André Vasling understood the young girl's resolution. He
reflected a moment, and his course was determined on.
"Jean Cornbutte," said he, advancing towards the old sailor, who
now entered, "I will go with you. The cause of my hesitation has
disappeared, and you may count upon my devotion."
"I have never doubted you, André Vasling," replied Jean
Cornbutte, grasping him by the hand. "Marie, my child!" he added,
calling in a loud voice.
Marie and Penellan made their appearance.
"We shall set sail to-morrow at daybreak, with the outgoing
tide," said Jean. "My poor Marie, this is the last evening that
we shall pass together.
"Uncle!" cried Marie, throwing herself into his arms.
"Marie, by the help of God, I will bring your lover back to you!"
"Yes, we will find Louis," added André Vasling.
"You are going with us, then?" asked Penellan quickly.
"Yes, Penellan, André Vasling is to be my first mate," answered
"Oh, oh!" ejaculated the Breton, in a singular tone.
"And his advice will be useful to us, for he is able and
"And yourself, captain," said André. "You will set us all a good
example, for you have still as much vigour as experience."
"Well, my friends, good-bye till to-morrow. Go on board and make
the final arrangements. Good-bye, André; good-bye, Penellan."
The mate and the sailor went out together, and Jean and Marie
remained alone. Many bitter tears were shed during that sad
evening. Jean Cornbutte, seeing Marie so wretched, resolved to
spare her the pain of separation by leaving the house on the
morrow without her knowledge. So he gave her a last kiss that
evening, and at three o'clock next morning was up and away.
The departure of the brig had attracted all the old sailor's
friends to the pier. The curé, who was to have blessed Marie's
union with Louis, came to give a last benediction on the ship.
Rough grasps of the hand were silently exchanged, and Jean went
The crew were all there. André Vasling gave the last orders. The
sails were spread, and the brig rapidly passed out under a stiff
north-west breeze, whilst the cure, upright in the midst of the
kneeling spectators, committed the vessel to the hands of God.
Whither goes this ship? She follows the perilous route upon which
so many castaways have been lost! She has no certain destination.
She must expect every peril, and be able to brave them without
hesitating. God alone knows where it will be her fate to anchor.
May God guide her!
A RAY OF HOPE.
At that time of the year the season was favourable, and the crew
might hope promptly to reach the scene of the shipwreck.
Jean Cornbutte's plan was naturally traced out. He counted on
stopping at the Feroë Islands, whither the north wind might have
carried the castaways; then, if he was convinced that they had
not been received in any of the ports of that locality, he would
continue his search beyond the Northern Ocean, ransack the whole
western coast of Norway as far as Bodoë, the place nearest the
scene of the shipwreck; and, if necessary, farther still.
André Vasling thought, contrary to the captain's opinion, that
the coast of Iceland should be explored; but Penellan observed
that, at the time of the catastrophe, the gale came from the
west; which, while it gave hope that the unfortunates had not
been forced towards the gulf of the Maëlstrom, gave ground for
supposing that they might have been thrown on the Norwegian
It was determined, then, that this coast should be followed as
closely as possible, so as to recognize any traces of them that
The day after sailing, Jean Cornbutte, intent upon a map, was
absorbed in reflection, when a small hand touched his shoulder,
and a soft voice said in his ear,--
"Have good courage, uncle."
He turned, and was stupefied. Marie embraced him.
"Marie, my daughter, on board!" he cried.
"The wife may well go in search of her husband, when the father
embarks to save his child."
"Unhappy Marie! How wilt thou support our fatigues! Dost thou
know that thy presence may be injurious to our search?"
"No, uncle, for I am strong."
"Who knows whither we shall be forced to go, Marie? Look at this
map. We are approaching places dangerous even for us sailors,
hardened though we are to the difficulties of the sea. And thou,
"But, uncle, I come from a family of sailors. I am used to
stories of combats and tempests. I am with you and my old friend
"Penellan! It was he who concealed you on board?"
"Yes, uncle; but only when he saw that I was determined to come
without his help."
"Penellan!" cried Jean.
"It is not possible to undo what you have done, Penellan; but
remember that you are responsible for Marie's life."
"Rest easy, captain," replied Penellan. "The little one has force
and courage, and will be our guardian angel. And then, captain,
you know it is my theory, that all in this world happens for the
The young girl was installed in a cabin, which the sailors soon
got ready for her, and which they made as comfortable as
A week later the "Jeune-Hardie" stopped at the Feroë Islands, but
the most minute search was fruitless. Mo wreck, or fragments of a
ship had come upon these coasts. Even the news of the event was
quite unknown. The brig resumed its voyage, after a stay of ten
days, about the 10th of June. The sea was calm, and the winds
were favourable. The ship sped rapidly towards the Norwegian
coast, which it explored without better result.
Jean Cornbutte determined to proceed to Bodoë. Perhaps he would
there learn the name of the shipwrecked schooner to succour which
Louis and the sailors had sacrificed themselves.
On the 30th of June the brig cast anchor in that port.
The authorities of Bodoë gave Jean Cornbutte a bottle found on
the coast, which contained a document bearing these words:--
"This 26th April, on board the 'Froöern,' after being accosted by
the long-boat of the 'Jeune-Hardie,' we were drawn by the
currents towards the ice. God have pity on us!"
Jean Cornbutte's first impulse was to thank Heaven. He thought
himself on his son's track. The "Froöern" was a Norwegian sloop
of which there had been no news, but which had evidently been
Not a day was to be lost. The "Jeune-Hardie" was at once put in
condition to brave the perils of the polar seas. Fidèle Misonne,
the carpenter, carefully examined her, and assured himself that
her solid construction might resist the shock of the ice-masses.
Penellan, who had already engaged in whale-fishing in the arctic
waters, took care that woollen and fur coverings, many sealskin
moccassins, and wood for the making of sledges with which to
cross the ice-fields were put on board. The amount of provisions
was increased, and spirits and charcoal were added; for it might
be that they would have to winter at some point on the Greenland
coast. They also procured, with much difficulty and at a high
price, a quantity of lemons, for preventing or curing the scurvy,
that terrible disease which decimates crews in the icy regions.
The ship's hold was filled with salt meat, biscuits, brandy, &c.,
as the steward's room no longer sufficed. They provided
themselves, moreover, with a large quantity of "pemmican," an
Indian preparation which concentrates a great deal of nutrition
within a small volume.
By order of the captain, some saws were put on board for cutting
the ice-fields, as well as picks and wedges for separating them.
The captain determined to procure some dogs for drawing the
sledges on the Greenland coast.
The whole crew was engaged in these preparations, and displayed
great activity. The sailors Aupic, Gervique, and Gradlin
zealously obeyed Penellan's orders; and he admonished them not to
accustom themselves to woollen garments, though the temperature
in this latitude, situated just beyond the polar circle, was very
Penellan, though he said nothing, narrowly watched every action
of André Vasling. This man was Dutch by birth, came from no one
knew whither, but was at least a good sailor, having made two
voyages on board the "Jeune-Hardie". Penellan would not as yet
accuse him of anything, unless it was that he kept near Marie too
constantly, but he did not let him out of his sight.
Thanks to the energy of the crew, the brig was equipped by the
16th of July, a fortnight after its arrival at Bodoë. It was then
the favourable season for attempting explorations in the Arctic
Seas. The thaw had been going on for two months, and the search
might be carried farther north. The "Jeune-Hardie" set sail, and
directed her way towards Cape Brewster, on the eastern coast of
Greenland, near the 70th degree of latitude.
IN THE PASSES.
About the 23rd of July a reflection, raised above the sea,
announced the presence of the first icebergs, which, emerging
from Davis' Straits, advanced into the ocean. From this moment a
vigilant watch was ordered to the look-out men, for it was
important not to come into collision with these enormous masses.
The crew was divided into two watches. The first was composed of
Fidèle Misonne, Gradlin, and Gervique; and the second of Andre
Vasling, Aupic, and Penellan. These watches were to last only two
hours, for in those cold regions a man's strength is diminished
one-half. Though the "Jeune-Hardie" was not yet beyond the 63rd
degree of latitude, the thermometer already stood at nine degrees
centigrade below zero.
Rain and snow often fell abundantly. On fair days, when the wind
was not too violent, Marie remained on deck, and her eyes became
accustomed to the uncouth scenes of the Polar Seas.
On the 1st of August she was promenading aft, and talking with
her uncle, Penellan, and André Vasling. The ship was then
entering a channel three miles wide, across which broken masses
of ice were rapidly descending southwards.
"When shall we see land?" asked the young girl.
"In three or four days at the latest," replied Jean Cornbutte.
"But shall we find there fresh traces of my poor Louis?"
"Perhaps so, my daughter; but I fear that we are still far from
the end of our voyage. It is to be feared that the 'Froöern' was
driven farther northward."
"That may be," added André Vasling, "for the squall which
separated us from the Norwegian boat lasted three days, and in
three days a ship makes good headway when it is no longer able to
resist the wind."
"Permit me to tell you, Monsieur Vasling." replied Penellan,
"that that was in April, that the thaw had not then begun, and
that therefore the 'Froöern' must have been soon arrested by the
"And no doubt dashed into a thousand pieces," said the mate, "as
her crew could not manage her."
"But these ice-fields," returned Penellan, "gave her an easy
means of reaching land, from which she could not have been far
"Let us hope so," said Jean Cornbutte, interrupting the
discussion, which was daily renewed between the mate and the
helmsman. "I think we shall see land before long."
"There it is!" cried Marie. "See those mountains!"
"No, my child," replied her uncle. "Those are mountains of ice,
the first we have met with. They would shatter us like glass if
we got entangled between them. Penellan and Vasling, overlook the
These floating masses, more than fifty of which now appeared at
the horizon, came nearer and nearer to the brig. Penellan took
the helm, and Jean Cornbutte, mounted on the gallant, indicated
the route to take.
Towards evening the brig was entirely surrounded by these moving
rocks, the crushing force of which is irresistible. It was
necessary, then, to cross this fleet of mountains, for prudence
prompted them to keep straight ahead. Another difficulty was
added to these perils. The direction of the ship could not be
accurately determined, as all the surrounding points constantly
changed position, and thus failed to afford a fixed perspective.
The darkness soon increased with the fog. Marie descended to her
cabin, and the whole crew, by the captain's orders, remained on
deck. They were armed with long boat-poles, with iron spikes, to
preserve the ship from collision with the ice.
The ship soon entered a strait so narrow that often the ends of
her yards were grazed by the drifting mountains, and her booms
seemed about to be driven in. They were even forced to trim the
mainyard so as to touch the shrouds. Happily these precautions
did not deprive, the vessel of any of its speed, for the wind
could only reach the upper sails, and these sufficed to carry her
forward rapidly. Thanks to her slender hull, she passed through
these valleys, which were filled with whirlpools of rain, whilst
the icebergs crushed against each other with sharp cracking and
Jean Cornbutte returned to the deck. His eyes could not penetrate
the surrounding darkness. It became necessary to furl the upper
sails, for the ship threatened to ground, and if she did so she
"Cursed voyage!" growled André Vasling among the sailors, who,
forward, were avoiding the most menacing ice-blocks with their
"Truly, if we escape we shall owe a fine candle to Our Lady of
the Ice!" replied Aupic.
"Who knows how many floating mountains we have got to pass
through yet?" added the mate.
"And who can guess what we shall find beyond them?" replied the
"Don't talk so much, prattler," said Gervique, "and look out on
your side. When we have got by them, it'll be time to grumble.
Look out for your boat-hook!"
At this moment an enormous block of ice, in the narrow strait
through which the brig was passing, came rapidly down upon her,
and it seemed impossible to avoid it, for it barred the whole
width of the channel, and the brig could not heave-to.
"Do you feel the tiller?" asked Cornbutte of Penellan.
"No, captain. The ship does not answer the helm any longer."
"Ohé, boys!" cried the captain to the crew; "don't be afraid,
and buttress your hooks against the gunwale."
The block was nearly sixty feet high, and if it threw itself upon
the brig she would be crushed. There was an undefinable moment of
suspense, and the crew retreated backward, abandoning their posts
despite the captain's orders.
But at the instant when the block was not more than half a
cable's length from the "Jeune-Hardie," a dull sound was heard,
and a veritable waterspout fell upon the bow of the vessel, which
then rose on the back of an enormous billow.
The sailors uttered a cry of terror; but when they looked before
them the block had disappeared, the passage was free, and beyond
an immense plain of water, illumined by the rays of the declining
sun, assured them of an easy navigation.
"All's well!" cried Penellan. "Let's trim our topsails and
An incident very common in those parts had just occurred. When
these masses are detached from one another in the thawing season,
they float in a perfect equilibrium; but on reaching the ocean,
where the water is relatively warmer, they are speedily
undermined at the base, which melts little by little, and which
is also shaken by the shock of other ice-masses. A moment comes
when the centre of gravity of these masses is displaced, and then
they are completely overturned. Only, if this block had turned
over two minutes later, it would have fallen on the brig and
carried her down in its fall.
The brig now sailed in a sea which was almost entirely open. At
the horizon only, a whitish light, this time motionless,
indicated the presence of fixed plains of ice.
Jean Cornbutte now directed the "Jeune-Hardie" towards Cape
Brewster. They were already approaching the regions where the
temperature is excessively cold, for the sun's rays, owing to
their obliquity when they reach them, are very feeble.
On the 3rd of August the brig confronted immoveable and united
ice-masses. The passages were seldom more than a cable's length
in width, and the ship was forced to make many turnings, which
sometimes placed her heading the wind.
Penellan watched over Marie with paternal care, and, despite the
cold, prevailed upon her to spend two or three hours every day on
deck, for exercise had become one of the indispensable conditions
Marie's courage did not falter. She even comforted the sailors
with her cheerful talk, and all of them became warmly attached to
her. André Vasling showed himself more attentive than ever, and
seized every occasion to be in her company; but the young girl,
with a sort of presentiment, accepted his services with some
coldness. It may be easily conjectured that André's conversation
referred more to the future than to the present, and that he did
not conceal the slight probability there was of saving the
castaways. He was convinced that they were lost, and the young
girl ought thenceforth to confide her existence to some one else.
Marie had not as yet comprehended André's designs, for, to his
great disgust, he could never find an opportunity to talk long
with her alone. Penellan had always an excuse for interfering,
and destroying the effect of Andre's words by the hopeful
opinions he expressed.
Marie, meanwhile, did not remain idle. Acting on the helmsman's
advice, she set to work on her winter garments; for it was
necessary that she should completely change her clothing. The cut
of her dresses was not suitable for these cold latitudes. She
made, therefore, a sort of furred pantaloons, the ends of which
were lined with seal-skin; and her narrow skirts came only to her
knees, so as not to be in contact with the layers of snow with
which the winter would cover the ice-fields. A fur mantle,
fitting closely to the figure and supplied with a hood, protected
the upper part of her body.
In the intervals of their work, the sailors, too, prepared
clothing with which to shelter themselves from the cold. They
made a quantity of high seal-skin boots, with which to cross the
snow during their explorations. They worked thus all the time
that the navigation in the straits lasted.
André Vasling, who was an excellent shot, several times brought
down aquatic birds with his gun; innumerable flocks of these were
always careering about the ship. A kind of eider-duck provided
the crew with very palatable food, which relieved the monotony of
the salt meat.
At last the brig, after many turnings, came in sight of Cape
Brewster. A long-boat was put to sea. Jean Cornbutte and Penellan
reached the coast, which was entirely deserted.
The ship at once directed its course towards Liverpool Island,
discovered in 1821 by Captain Scoresby, and the crew gave a
hearty cheer when they saw the natives running along the shore.
Communication was speedily established with them, thanks to
Penellan's knowledge of a few words of their language, and some
phrases which we natives themselves had learnt of the whalers who
frequented those parts.
These Greenlanders were small and squat; they were not more than
four feet ten inches high; they had red, round faces, and low
foreheads; their hair, flat and black, fell over their shoulders;
their teeth were decayed, and they seemed to be affected by the
sort of leprosy which is peculiar to ichthyophagous tribes.
In exchange for pieces of iron and brass, of which they are
extremely covetous, these poor creatures brought bear furs, the
skins of sea-calves, sea-dogs, sea-wolves, and all the animals
generally known as seals. Jean Cornbutte obtained these at a low
price, and they were certain to become most useful.
The captain then made the natives understand that he was in
search of a shipwrecked vessel, and asked them if they had heard
of it. One of them immediately drew something like a ship on the
snow, and indicated that a vessel of that sort had been carried
northward three months before: he also managed to make it
understood that the thaw and breaking up of the ice-fields had
prevented the Greenlanders from going in search of it; and,
indeed, their very light canoes, which they managed with paddles,
could not go to sea at that time.
This news, though meagre, restored hope to the hearts of the
sailors, and Jean Cornbutte had no difficulty in persuading them
to advance farther in the polar seas.
Before quitting Liverpool Island, the captain purchased a pack of
six Esquimaux dogs, which were soon acclimatised on board. The
ship weighed anchor on the morning of the 10th of August, and
entered the northern straits under a brisk wind.
The longest days of the year had now arrived; that is, the sun,
in these high latitudes, did not set, and reached the highest
point of the spirals which it described above the horizon.
This total absence of night was not, however, very apparent, for
the fog, rain, and snow sometimes enveloped the ship in real
Jean Cornbutte, who was resolved to advance as far as possible,
began to take measures of health. The space between decks was
securely enclosed, and every morning care was taken to ventilate
it with fresh air. The stoves were installed, and the pipes so
disposed as to yield as much heat as possible. The sailors were
advised to wear only one woollen shirt over their cotton shirts,
and to hermetically close their seal cloaks. The fires were not
yet lighted, for it was important to reserve the wood and
charcoal for the most intense cold.
Warm beverages, such as coffee and tea, were regularly
distributed to the sailors morning and evening; and as it was
important to live on meat, they shot ducks and teal, which
abounded in these parts.
Jean Cornbutte also placed at the summit of the mainmast a
"crow's nest," a sort of cask staved in at one end, in which a
look-out remained constantly, to observe the icefields.
Two days after the brig had lost sight of Liverpool Island the
temperature became suddenly colder under the influence of a dry
wind. Some indications of winter were perceived. The ship had not
a moment to lose, for soon the way would be entirely closed to
her. She advanced across the straits, among which lay ice-plains
thirty feet thick.
On the morning of the 3rd of September the "Jeune-Hardie" reached
the head of Gaël-Hamkes Bay. Land was then thirty miles to the
leeward. It was the first time that the brig had stopped before a
mass of ice which offered no outlet, and which was at least a
mile wide. The saws must now be used to cut the ice. Penellan,
Aupic, Gradlin, and Turquiette were chosen to work the saws,
which had been carried outside the ship. The direction of the
cutting was so determined that the current might carry off the
pieces detached from the mass. The whole crew worked at this task
for nearly twenty hours. They found it very painful to remain on
the ice, and were often obliged to plunge into the water up to
their middle; their seal-skin garments protected them but
imperfectly from the damp.
Moreover all excessive toil in those high latitudes is soon
followed by an overwhelming weariness; for the breath soon fails,
and the strongest are forced to rest at frequent intervals.
At last the navigation became free, and the brig was towed beyond
the mass which had so long obstructed her course.
THE QUAKING OF THE ICE.
For several days the "Jeune-Hardie" struggled against formidable
obstacles. The crew were almost all the time at work with the
saws, and often powder had to be used to blow up the enormous
blocks of ice which closed the way.
On the 12th of September the sea consisted of one solid plain,
without outlet or passage, surrounding the vessel on all sides,
so that she could neither advance nor retreat. The temperature
remained at an average of sixteen degrees below zero. The winter
season had come on, with its sufferings and dangers.
The "Jeune-Hardie" was then near the 21st degree of longitude
west and the 76th degree of latitude north, at the entrance of
Jean Cornbutte made his preliminary preparations for wintering.
He first searched for a creek whose position would shelter the
ship from the wind and breaking up of the ice. Land, which was
probably thirty miles west, could alone offer him secure shelter,
and he resolved to attempt to reach it.
He set out on the 12th of September, accompanied by André
Vasling, Penellan, and the two sailors Gradlin and Turquiette.
Each man carried provisions for two days, for it was not likely
that their expedition would occupy a longer time, and they were
supplied with skins on which to sleep.
Snow had fallen in great abundance and was not yet frozen over;
and this delayed them seriously. They often sank to their waists,
and could only advance very cautiously, for fear of falling into
crevices. Penellan, who walked in front, carefully sounded each
depression with his iron-pointed staff.
About five in the evening the fog began to thicken, and the
little band were forced to stop. Penellan looked about for an
iceberg which might shelter them from the wind, and after
refreshing themselves, with regrets that they had no warm drink,
they spread their skins on the snow, wrapped themselves up, lay
close to each other, and soon dropped asleep from sheer fatigue.
The next morning Jean Cornbutte and his companions were buried
beneath a bed of snow more than a foot deep. Happily their skins,
perfectly impermeable, had preserved them, and the snow itself
had aided in retaining their heat, which it prevented from
The captain gave the signal of departure, and about noon they at
last descried the coast, which at first they could scarcely
distinguish. High ledges of ice, cut perpendicularly, rose on the
shore; their variegated summits, of all forms and shapes,
reproduced on a large scale the phenomena of crystallization.
Myriads of aquatic fowl flew about at the approach of the party,
and the seals, lazily lying on the ice, plunged hurriedly into
"I' faith!" said Penellan, "we shall not want for either furs or
"Those animals," returned Cornbutte, "give every evidence of
having been already visited by men; for in places totally
uninhabited they would not be so wild."
"None but Greenlanders frequent these parts," said André Vasling.
"I see no trace of their passage, however; neither any encampment
nor the smallest hut," said Penellan, who had climbed up a high
peak. "O captain!" he continued, "come here! I see a point of
land which will shelter us splendidly from the north-east wind."
"Come along, boys!" said Jean Cornbutte.
His companions followed him, and they soon rejoined Penellan. The
sailor had said what was true. An elevated point of land jutted
out like a promontory, and curving towards the coast, formed a
little inlet of a mile in width at most. Some moving ice-blocks,
broken by this point, floated in the midst, and the sea,
sheltered from the colder winds, was not yet entirely frozen
This was an excellent spot for wintering, and it only remained to
get the ship thither. Jean Cornbutte remarked that the neighbouring
ice-field was very thick, and it seemed very difficult to cut a canal
to bring the brig to its destination. Some other creek, then, must be
found; it was in vain that he explored northward. The coast remained
steep and abrupt for a long distance, and beyond the point it was
directly exposed to the attacks of the east-wind. The circumstance
disconcerted the captain all the more because André Vasling used
strong arguments to show how bad the situation was. Penellan, in
this dilemma, found it difficult to convince himself that all was
for the best.
But one chance remained--to seek a shelter on the southern side
of the coast. This was to return on their path, but hesitation
was useless. The little band returned rapidly in the direction of
the ship, as their provisions had begun to run short. Jean
Cornbutte searched for some practicable passage, or at least some
fissure by which a canal might be cut across the ice-fields, all
along the route, but in vain.
Towards evening the sailors came to the same place where they had
encamped over night. There had been no snow during the day, and
they could recognize the imprint of their bodies on the ice. They
again disposed themselves to sleep with their furs.
Penellan, much disturbed by the bad success of the expedition,
was sleeping restlessly, when, at a waking moment, his attention
was attracted by a dull rumbling. He listened attentively, and
the rumbling seemed so strange that he nudged Jean Cornbutte with
"What is that?" said the latter, whose mind, according to a
sailor's habit, was awake as soon as his body.
The noise increased, with perceptible violence.
"It cannot be thunder, in so high a latitude," said Cornbutte,
"I think we have come across some white bears," replied Penellan.
"The devil! We have not seen any yet."
"Sooner or later, we must have expected a visit from them. Let us
give them a good reception."
Penellan, armed with a gun, lightly crossed the ledge which
sheltered them. The darkness was very dense; he could discover
nothing; but a new incident soon showed him that the cause of the
noise did not proceed from around them.
Jean Cornbutte rejoined him, and they observed with terror that
this rumbling, which awakened their companions, came from beneath
A new kind of peril menaced them. To the noise, which resembled
peals of thunder, was added a distinct undulating motion of the
ice-field. Several of the party lost their balance and fell.
"Attention!" cried Penellan.
"Yes!" some one responded.
"Turquiette! Gradlin! where are you?"
"Here I am!" responded Turquiette, shaking off the snow with
which he was covered.
"This way, Vasling," cried Cornbutte to the mate. "And Gradlin?"
"Present, captain. But we are lost!" shouted Gradlin, in fright.
"No!" said Penellan. "Perhaps we are saved!"
Hardly had he uttered these words when a frightful cracking noise
was heard. The ice-field broke clear through, and the sailors
were forced to cling to the block which was quivering just by
them. Despite the helmsman's words, they found themselves in a
most perilous position, for an ice-quake had occurred. The ice
masses had just "weighed anchor," as the sailors say. The
movement lasted nearly two minutes, and it was to be feared that
the crevice would yawn at the very feet of the unhappy sailors.
They anxiously awaited daylight in the midst of continuous
shocks, for they could not, without risk of death, move a step,
and had to remain stretched out at full length to avoid being
As soon as it was daylight a very different aspect presented
itself to their eyes. The vast plain, a compact mass the evening
before, was now separated in a thousand places, and the waves,
raised by some submarine commotion, had broken the thick layer
which sheltered them.
The thought of his ship occurred to Jean Cornbutte's mind.
"My poor brig!" he cried. "It must have perished!"
The deepest despair began to overcast the faces of his
companions. The loss of the ship inevitably preceded their own
"Courage, friends," said Penellan. "Reflect that this night's
disaster has opened us a path across the ice, which will enable
us to bring our ship to the bay for wintering! And, stop! I am
not mistaken. There is the 'Jeune-Hardie,' a mile nearer to us!"
All hurried forward, and so imprudently, that Turquiette slipped
into a fissure, and would have certainly perished, had not Jean
Cornbutte seized him by his hood. He got off with a rather cold
The brig was indeed floating two miles away. After infinite
trouble, the little band reached her. She was in good condition;
but her rudder, which they had neglected to lift, had been broken
by the ice.
SETTLING FOR THE WINTER.
Penellan was once more right; all was for the best, and this ice-quake
had opened a practicable channel for the ship to the bay.
The sailors had only to make skilful use of the currents to
conduct her thither.
On the 19th of September the brig was at last moored in her bay
for wintering, two cables' lengths from the shore, securely
anchored on a good bottom. The ice began the next day to form
around her hull; it soon became strong enough to bear a man's
weight, and they could establish a communication with land.
The rigging, as is customary in arctic navigation, remained as it
was; the sails were carefully furled on the yards and covered
with their casings, and the "crow's-nest" remained in place, as
much to enable them to make distant observations as to attract
attention to the ship.
The sun now scarcely rose above the horizon. Since the June
solstice, the spirals which it had described descended lower and
lower; and it would soon disappear altogether.
The crew hastened to make the necessary preparations. Penellan
supervised the whole. The ice was soon thick around the ship, and
it was to be feared that its pressure might become dangerous; but
Penellan waited until, by reason of the going and coming of the
floating ice-masses and their adherence, it had reached a
thickness of twenty feet; he then had it cut around the hull, so
that it united under the ship, the form of which it assumed;
thus enclosed in a mould, the brig had no longer to fear the
pressure of the ice, which could make no movement.
The sailors then elevated along the wales, to the height of the
nettings, a snow wall five or six feet thick, which soon froze as
hard as a rock. This envelope did not allow the interior heat to
escape outside. A canvas tent, covered with skins and hermetically
closed, was stretched aver the whole length of the deck, and formed
a sort of walk for the sailors.
They also constructed on the ice a storehouse of snow, in which
articles which embarrassed the ship were stowed away. The
partitions of the cabins were taken down, so as to form a single
vast apartment forward, as well as aft. This single room,
besides, was more easy to warm, as the ice and damp found fewer
corners in which to take refuge. It was also less difficult to
ventilate it, by means of canvas funnels which opened without.
Each sailor exerted great energy in these preparations, and about
the 25th of September they were completed. André Vasling had not
shown himself the least active in this task. He devoted himself
with especial zeal to the young girl's comfort, and if she,
absorbed in thoughts of her poor Louis, did not perceive this,
Jean Cornbutte did not fail soon to remark it. He spoke of it to
Penellan; he recalled several incidents which completely
enlightened him regarding his mate's intentions; André Vasling
loved Marie, and reckoned on asking her uncle for her hand, as
soon as it was proved beyond doubt that the castaways were
irrevocably lost; they would return then to Dunkirk, and André
Vasling would be well satisfied to wed a rich and pretty girl,
who would then be the sole heiress of Jean Cornbutte.
But André, in his impatience, was often imprudent. He had several
times declared that the search for the castaways was useless,
when some new trace contradicted him, and enabled Penellan to
exult over him. The mate, therefore, cordially detested the
helmsman, who returned his dislike heartily. Penellan only feared
that André might sow seeds of dissension among the crew, and
persuaded Jean Cornbutte to answer him evasively on the first
When the preparations for the winter were completed, the captain
took measures to preserve the health of the crew. Every morning
the men were ordered to air their berths, and carefully clean the
interior walls, to get rid of the night's dampness. They received
boiling tea or coffee, which are excellent cordials to use
against the cold, morning and evening; then they were divided
into hunting-parties, who should procure as much fresh nourishment
as possible for every day.
Each one also took healthy exercise every day, so as not to
expose himself without motion to the cold; for in a temperature
thirty degrees below zero, some part of the body might suddenly
become frozen. In such cases friction of the snow was used, which
alone could heal the affected part.
Penellan also strongly advised cold ablutions every morning. It
required some courage to plunge the hands and face in the snow,
which had to be melted within. But Penellan bravely set the
example, and Marie was not the last to imitate him.
Jean Cornbutte did not forget to have readings and prayers, for
it was needful that the hearts of his comrades should not give
way to despair or weariness. Nothing is more dangerous in these
The sky, always gloomy, filled the soul with sadness. A thick
snow, lashed by violent winds, added to the horrors of their
situation. The sun would soon altogether disappear. Had the
clouds not gathered in masses above their heads, they might have
enjoyed the moonlight, which was about to become really their sun
during the long polar night; but, with the west winds, the snow
did not cease to fall. Every morning it was necessary to clear
off the sides of the ship, and to cut a new stairway in the ice
to enable them to reach the ice-field. They easily succeeded in
doing this with snow-knives; the steps once cut, a little water
was thrown over them, and they at once hardened.
Penellan had a hole cut in the ice, not far from the ship. Every
day the new crust which formed over its top was broken, and the
water which was drawn thence, from a certain depth, was less cold
than that at the surface.
All these preparations occupied about three weeks. It was then
time to go forward with the search. The ship was imprisoned for
six or seven months, and only the next thaw could open a new
route across the ice. It was wise, then, to profit by this delay,
and extend their explorations northward.
PLAN OF THE EXPLORATIONS.
On the 9th of October, Jean Cornbutte held a council to settle
the plan of his operations, to which, that there might be union,
zeal, and courage on the part of every one, he admitted the whole
crew. Map in hand, he clearly explained their situation.
The eastern coast of Greenland advances perpendicularly
northward. The discoveries of the navigators have given the exact
boundaries of those parts. In the extent of five hundred leagues,
which separates Greenland from Spitzbergen, no land has been
found. An island (Shannon Island) lay a hundred miles north of
Gaël-Hamkes Bay, where the "Jeune-Hardie" was wintering.
If the Norwegian schooner, as was most probable, had been driven
in this direction, supposing that she could not reach Shannon
Island, it was here that Louis Cornbutte and his comrades must
have sought for a winter asylum.
This opinion prevailed, despite André Vasling's opposition; and
it was decided to direct the explorations on the side towards
Arrangements for this were at once begun. A sledge like that used
by the Esquimaux had been procured on the Norwegian coast. This
was constructed of planks curved before and behind, and was made
to slide over the snow and ice. It was twelve feet long and four
wide, and could therefore carry provisions, if need were, for
several weeks. Fidèle Misonne soon put it in order, working upon
it in the snow storehouse, whither his tools had been carried.
For the first time a coal-stove was set up in this storehouse,
without which all labour there would have been impossible. The
pipe was carried out through one of the lateral walls, by a hole
pierced in the snow; but a grave inconvenience resulted from
this,--for the heat of the stove, little by little, melted the
snow where it came in contact with it; and the opening visibly
increased. Jean Cornbutte contrived to surround this part of the
pipe with some metallic canvas, which is impermeable by heat.
This succeeded completely.
While Misonne was at work upon the sledge, Penellan, aided by
Marie, was preparing the clothing necessary for the expedition.
Seal-skin boots they had, fortunately, in plenty. Jean Cornbutte
and André Vasling occupied themselves with the provisions. They
chose a small barrel of spirits-of-wine for heating a portable
chafing-dish; reserves of coffee and tea in ample quantity were
packed; a small box of biscuits, two hundred pounds of pemmican,
and some gourds of brandy completed the stock of viands. The guns
would bring down some fresh game every day. A quantity of powder
was divided between several bags; the compass, sextant, and spy-glass
were put carefully out of the way of injury.
On the 11th of October the sun no longer appeared above the
horizon. They were obliged to keep a lighted lamp in the lodgings
of the crew all the time. There was no time to lose; the
explorations must be begun. For this reason: in the month of
January it would become so cold that it would be impossible to
venture out without peril of life. For two months at least the
crew would be condemned to the most complete imprisonment; then
the thaw would begin, and continue till the time when the ship
should quit the ice. This thaw would, of course, prevent any
explorations. On the other hand, if Louis Cornbutte and his
comrades were still in existence, it was not probable that they
would be able to resist the severities of the arctic winter. They
must therefore be saved beforehand, or all hope would be lost.
André Vasling knew all this better than any one. He therefore
resolved to put every possible obstacle in the way of the
The preparations for the journey were completed about the 20th of
October. It remained to select the men who should compose the
party. The young girl could not be deprived of the protection of
Jean Cornbutte or of Penellan; neither of these could, on the
other hand, be spared from the expedition.
The question, then, was whether Marie could bear the fatigues of
such a journey. She had already passed through rough experiences
without seeming to suffer from them, for she was a sailor's
daughter, used from infancy to the fatigues of the sea, and even
Penellan was not dismayed to see her struggling in the midst of
this severe climate, against the dangers of the polar seas.
It was decided, therefore, after a long discussion, that she
should go with them, and that a place should be reserved for her,
at need, on the sledge, on which a little wooden hut was
constructed, closed in hermetically. As for Marie, she was
delighted, for she dreaded to be left alone without her two
The expedition was thus formed: Marie, Jean Cornbutte, Penellan,
André Vasling, Aupic, and Fidèle Misonne were to go. Alaine
Turquiette remained in charge of the brig, and Gervique and
Gradlin stayed behind with him. New provisions of all kinds were
carried; for Jean Cornbutte, in order to carry the exploration as
far as possible, had resolved to establish depôts along the
route, at each seven or eight days' march. When the sledge was
ready it was at once fitted up, and covered with a skin tent. The
whole weighed some seven hundred pounds, which a pack of five
dogs might easily carry over the ice.
On the 22nd of October, as the captain had foretold, a sudden
change took place in the temperature. The sky cleared, the stars
emitted an extraordinary light, and the moon shone above the
horizon, no longer to leave the heavens for a fortnight. The
thermometer descended to twenty-five degrees below zero.
The departure was fixed for the following day.
THE HOUSE OF SNOW.
On the 23rd of October, at eleven in the morning, in a fine
moonlight, the caravan set out. Precautions were this time taken
that the journey might be a long one, if necessary. Jean
Cornbutte followed the coast, and ascended northward. The steps
of the travellers made no impression on the hard ice. Jean was
forced to guide himself by points which he selected at a
distance; sometimes he fixed upon a hill bristling with peaks;
sometimes on a vast iceberg which pressure had raised above the
At the first halt, after going fifteen miles, Penellan prepared
to encamp. The tent was erected against an ice-block. Marie had
not suffered seriously with the extreme cold, for luckily the
breeze had subsided, and was much more bearable; but the young
girl had several times been obliged to descend from her sledge to
avert numbness from impeding the circulation of her blood.
Otherwise, her little hut, hung with skins, afforded her all the
comfort possible under the circumstances.
When night, or rather sleeping-time, came, the little hut was
carried under the tent, where it served as a bed-room for Marie.
The evening repast was composed of fresh meat, pemmican, and hot
tea. Jean Cornbutte, to avert danger of the scurvy, distributed
to each of the party a few drops of lemon-juice. Then all slept
under God's protection.
After eight hours of repose, they got ready to resume their
march. A substantial breakfast was provided to the men and the
dogs; then they set out. The ice, exceedingly compact, enabled
these animals to draw the sledge easily. The party sometimes
found it difficult to keep up with them.
But the sailors soon began to suffer one discomfort--that of
being dazzled. Ophthalmia betrayed itself in Aupic and Misonne.
The moon's light, striking on these vast white plains, burnt the
eyesight, and gave the eyes insupportable pain.
There was thus produced a very singular effect of refraction. As
they walked, when they thought they were about to put foot on a
hillock, they stepped down lower, which often occasioned falls,
happily so little serious that Penellan made them occasions for
bantering. Still, he told them never to take a step without
sounding the ground with the ferruled staff with which each was
About the 1st of November, ten days after they had set out, the
caravan had gone fifty leagues to the northward. Weariness
pressed heavily on all. Jean Cornbutte was painfully dazzled, and
his sight sensibly changed. Aupic and Misonne had to feel their
way: for their eyes, rimmed with red, seemed burnt by the white
reflection. Marie had been preserved from this misfortune by
remaining within her hut, to which she confined herself as much
as possible. Penellan, sustained by an indomitable courage,
resisted all fatigue. But it was André Vasling who bore himself
best, and upon whom the cold and dazzling seemed to produce no
effect. His iron frame was equal to every hardship; and he was
secretly pleased to see the most robust of his companions
becoming discouraged, and already foresaw the moment when they
would be forced to retreat to the ship again.
On the 1st of November it became absolutely necessary to halt for
a day or two. As soon as the place for the encampment had been
selected, they proceeded to arrange it. It was determined to
erect a house of snow, which should be supported against one of
the rocks of the promontory. Misonne at once marked out the
foundations, which measured fifteen feet long by five wide.
Penellan, Aupic, and Misonne, by aid of their knives, cut out
great blocks of ice, which they carried to the chosen spot and
set up, as masons would have built stone walls. The sides of the
foundation were soon raised to a height and thickness of about
five feet; for the materials were abundant, and the structure was
intended to be sufficiently solid to last several days. The four
walls were completed in eight hours; an opening had been left on
the southern side, and the canvas of the tent, placed on these
four walls, fell over the opening and sheltered it. It only
remained to cover the whole with large blocks, to form the roof
of this temporary structure.
After three more hours of hard work, the house was done; and they
all went into it, overcome with weariness and discouragement.
Jean Cornbutte suffered so much that he could not walk, and André
Vasling so skilfully aggravated his gloomy feelings, that he
forced from him a promise not to pursue his search farther in
those frightful solitudes. Penellan did not know which saint to
invoke. He thought it unworthy and craven to give up his
companions for reasons which had little weight, and tried to
upset them; but in vain.
Meanwhile, though it had been decided to return, rest had become
so necessary that for three days no preparations for departure
On the 4th of November, Jean Cornbutte began to bury on a point
of the coast the provisions for which there was no use. A stake
indicated the place of the deposit, in the improbable event that
new explorations should be made in that direction. Every day
since they had set out similar deposits had been made, so that
they were assured of ample sustenance on the return, without the
trouble of carrying them on the sledge.
The departure was fixed for ten in the morning, on the 5th. The
most profound sadness filled the little band. Marie with
difficulty restrained her tears, when she saw her uncle so
completely discouraged. So many useless sufferings! so much
labour lost! Penellan himself became ferocious in his ill-humour;
he consigned everybody to the nether regions, and did not cease
to wax angry at the weakness and cowardice of his comrades, who
were more timid and tired, he said, than Marie, who would have
gone to the end of the world without complaint.
André Vasling could not disguise the pleasure which this decision
gave him. He showed himself more attentive than ever to the young
girl, to whom he even held out hopes that a new search should be
made when the winter was over; knowing well that it would then be
The evening before the departure, just as they were about to take
supper, Penellan was breaking up some empty casks for firewood,
when he was suddenly suffocated by a thick smoke. At the same
instant the snow-house was shaken as if by an earthquake. The
party uttered a cry of terror, and Penellan hurried outside.
It was entirely dark. A frightful tempest--for it was not a
thaw--was raging, whirlwinds of snow careered around, and it was
so exceedingly cold that the helmsman felt his hands rapidly
freezing. He was obliged to go in again, after rubbing himself
violently with snow.
"It is a tempest," said he. "May heaven grant that our house may
withstand it, for, if the storm should destroy it, we should be
At the same time with the gusts of wind a noise was heard beneath
the frozen soil; icebergs, broken from the promontory, dashed
away noisily, and fell upon one another; the wind blew with such
violence that it seemed sometimes as if the whole house moved
from its foundation; phosphorescent lights, inexplicable in that
latitude, flashed across the whirlwinds of the snow.
"Marie! Marie!" cried Penellan, seizing the young girl's hands.
"We are in a bad case!" said Misonne.
"And I know not whether we shall escape," replied Aupic.
"Let us quit this snow-house!" said André Vasling.
"Impossible!" returned Penellan. "The cold outside is terrible;
perhaps we can bear it by staying here."
"Give me the thermometer," demanded Vasling.
Aupic handed it to him. It showed ten degrees below zero inside
the house, though the fire was lighted. Vasling raised the canvas
which covered the opening, and pushed it aside hastily; for he
would have been lacerated by the fall of ice which the wind
hurled around, and which fell in a perfect hail-storm.
"Well, Vasling," said Penellan, "will you go out, then? You see
that we are more safe here."
"Yes," said Jean Cornbutte; "and we must use every effort to
strengthen the house in the interior."
"But a still more terrible danger menaces us," said Vasling.
"What?" asked Jean.
"The wind is breaking the ice against which we are propped, just
as it has that of the promontory, and we shall be either driven
out or buried!"
"That seems doubtful," said Penellan, "for it is freezing hard
enough to ice over all liquid surfaces. Let us see what the
He raised the canvas so as to pass out his arm, and with
difficulty found the thermometer again, in the midst of the snow;
but he at last succeeded in seizing it, and, holding the lamp to
"Thirty-two degrees below zero! It is the coldest we have seen
"Ten degrees more," said Vasling, "and the mercury will freeze!"
A mournful silence followed this remark.
About eight in the morning Penellan essayed a second time to go
out to judge of their situation. It was necessary to give an
escape to the smoke, which the wind had several times repelled
into the hut. The sailor wrapped his cloak tightly about him,
made sure of his hood by fastening it to his head with a
handkerchief, and raised the canvas.
The opening was entirely obstructed by a resisting snow. Penellan
took his staff, and succeeded in plunging it into the compact
mass; but terror froze his blood when he perceived that the end
of the staff was not free, and was checked by a hard body!
"Cornbutte," said he to the captain, who had come up to him, "we
are buried under this snow!"
"What say you?" cried Jean Cornbutte.
"I say that the snow is massed and frozen around us and over us,
and that we are buried alive!"
"Let us try to clear this mass of snow away," replied the
The two friends buttressed themselves against the obstacle which
obstructed the opening, but they could not move it. The snow
formed an iceberg more than five feet thick, and had become
literally a part of the house. Jean could not suppress a cry,
which awoke Misonne and Vasling. An oath burst from the latter,
whose features contracted. At this moment the smoke, thicker than
ever, poured into the house, for it could not find an issue.
"Malediction!" cried Misonne. "The pipe of the stove is sealed up
by the ice!"
Penellan resumed his staff, and took down the pipe, after
throwing snow on the embers to extinguish them, which produced
such a smoke that the light of the lamp could scarcely be seen;
then he tried with his staff to clear out the orifice, but he
only encountered a rock of ice! A frightful end, preceded by a
terrible agony, seemed to be their doom! The smoke, penetrating
the throats of the unfortunate party, caused an insufferable
pain, and air would soon fail them altogether!
Marie here rose, and her presence, which inspired Cornbutte with
despair, imparted some courage to Penellan. He said to himself
that it could not be that the poor girl was destined to so
horrible a death.
"Ah!" said she, "you have made too much fire. The room is full of
"Yes, yes," stammered Penellan.
"It is evident," resumed Marie, "for it is not cold, and it is
long since we have felt too much heat."
No one dared to tell her the truth.
"See, Marie," said Penellan bluntly, "help us get breakfast
ready. It is too cold to go out. Here is the chafing-dish, the
spirit, and the coffee. Come, you others, a little pemmican
first, as this wretched storm forbids us from hunting."
These words stirred up his comrades.
"Let us first eat," added Penellan, "and then we shall see about
Penellan set the example and devoured his share of the breakfast.
His comrades imitated him, and then drank a cup of boiling
coffee, which somewhat restored their spirits. Then Jean
Cornbutte decided energetically that they should at once set
about devising means of safety.
André Vasling now said,--
"If the storm is still raging, which is probable, we must be
buried ten feet under the ice, for we can hear no noise outside."
Penellan looked at Marie, who now understood the truth, and did
not tremble. The helmsman first heated, by the flame of the
spirit, the iron point of his staff, and successfully introduced
it into the four walls of ice, but he could find no issue in
either. Cornbutte then resolved to cut out an opening in the door
itself. The ice was so hard that it was difficult for the knives
to make the least impression on it. The pieces which were cut off
soon encumbered the hut. After working hard for two hours, they
had only hollowed out a space three feet deep.
Some more rapid method, and one which was less likely to demolish
the house, must be thought of; for the farther they advanced the
more violent became the effort to break off the compact ice. It
occurred to Penellan to make use of the chafing-dish to melt the
ice in the direction they wanted. It was a hazardous method, for,
if their imprisonment lasted long, the spirit, of which they had
but little, would be wanting when needed to prepare the meals.
Nevertheless, the idea was welcomed on all hands, and was put in
execution. They first cut a hole three feet deep by one in
diameter, to receive the water which would result from the
melting of the ice; and it was well that they took this
precaution, for the water soon dripped under the action of the
flames, which Penellan moved about under the mass of ice. The
opening widened little by little, but this kind of work could not
be continued long, for the water, covering their clothes,
penetrated to their bodies here and there. Penellan was obliged
to pause in a quarter of an hour, and to withdraw the chafing-dish
in order to dry himself. Misonne then took his place, and worked
sturdily at the task.
In two hours, though the opening was five feet deep, the points
of the staffs could not yet find an issue without.
"It is not possible," said Jean Cornbutte, "that snow could have
fallen in such abundance. It must have been gathered on this
point by the wind. Perhaps we had better think of escaping in
some other direction."
"I don't know," replied Penellan; "but if it were only for the
sake of not discouraging our comrades, we ought to continue to
pierce the wall where we have begun. We must find an issue ere
"Will not the spirit fail us?" asked the captain.
"I hope not. But let us, if necessary, dispense with coffee and
hot drinks. Besides, that is not what most alarms me."
"What is it, then, Penellan?"
"Our lamp is going out, for want of oil, and we are fast
exhausting our provisions.--At last, thank God!"
Penellan went to replace André Vasling, who was vigorously
working for the common deliverance.
"Monsieur Vasling," said he, "I am going to take your place; but
look out well, I beg of you, for every tendency of the house to
fall, so that we may have time to prevent it."
The time for rest had come, and when Penellan had added one more
foot to the opening, he lay down beside his comrades.
A CLOUD OF SMOKE.
The next day, when the sailors awoke, they were surrounded by
complete darkness. The lamp had gone out. Jean Cornbutte roused
Penellan to ask him for the tinder-box, which was passed to him.
Penellan rose to light the fire, but in getting up, his head
struck against the ice ceiling. He was horrified, for on the
evening before he could still stand upright. The chafing-dish
being lighted up by the dim rays of the spirit, he perceived that
the ceiling was a foot lower than before.
Penellan resumed work with desperation.
At this moment the young girl observed, by the light which the
chafing-dish cast upon Penellan's face, that despair and
determination were struggling in his rough features for the
mastery. She went to him, took his hands, and tenderly pressed
"She cannot, must not die thus!" he cried.
He took his chafing-dish, and once more attacked the narrow
opening. He plunged in his staff, and felt no resistance. Had he
reached the soft layers of the snow? He drew out his staff, and a
bright ray penetrated to the house of ice!
"Here, my friends!" he shouted.
He pushed back the snow with his hands and feet, but the exterior
surface was not thawed, as he had thought. With the ray of light,
a violent cold entered the cabin and seized upon everything
moist, to freeze it in an instant. Penellan enlarged the opening
with his cutlass, and at last was able to breathe the free air.
He fell on his knees to thank God, and was soon joined by Marie
and his comrades.
A magnificent moon lit up the sky, but the cold was so extreme
that they could not bear it. They re-entered their retreat; but
Penellan first looked about him. The promontory was no longer
there, and the hut was now in the midst of a vast plain of ice.
Penellan thought he would go to the sledge, where the provisions
were. The sledge had disappeared!
The cold forced him to return. He said nothing to his companions.
It was necessary, before all, to dry their clothing, which was
done with the chafing-dish. The thermometer, held for an instant
in the air, descended to thirty degrees below zero.
An hour after, Vasling and Penellan resolved to venture outside.
They wrapped themselves up in their still wet garments, and went
out by the opening, the sides of which had become as hard as a
"We have been driven towards the north-east," said Vasling,
reckoning by the stars, which shone with wonderful brilliancy.
"That would not be bad," said Penellan, "if our sledge had come
"Is not the sledge there?" cried Vasling. "Then we are lost!"
"Let us look for it," replied Penellan.
They went around the hut, which formed a block more than fifteen
feet high. An immense quantity of snow had fallen during the
whole of the storm, and the wind had massed it against the only
elevation which the plain presented. The entire block had been
driven by the wind, in the midst of the broken icebergs, more
than twenty-five miles to the north-east, and the prisoners had
suffered the same fate as their floating prison. The sledge,
supported by another iceberg, had been turned another way, for no
trace of it was to be seen, and the dogs must have perished amid
the frightful tempest.
André Vasling and Penellan felt despair taking possession of
them. They did not dare to return to their companions. They did
not dare to announce this fatal news to their comrades in
misfortune. They climbed upon the block of ice in which the hut
was hollowed, and could perceive nothing but the white immensity
which encompassed them on all sides. Already the cold was
beginning to stiffen their limbs, and the damp of their garments
was being transformed into icicles which hung about them.
Just as Penellan was about to descend, he looked towards André.
He saw him suddenly gaze in one direction, then shudder and turn
"What is the matter, Vasling?" he asked.
"Nothing," replied the other. "Let us go down and urge the
captain to leave these parts, where we ought never to have come,
Instead of obeying, Penellan ascended again, and looked in the
direction which had drawn the mate's attention. A very different
effect was produced on him, for he uttered a shout of joy, and
"Blessed be God!"
A light smoke was rising in the north-east. There was no
possibility of deception. It indicated the presence of human
beings. Penellan's cries of joy reached the rest below, and all
were able to convince themselves with their eyes that he was not
Without thinking of their want of provisions or the severity of
the temperature, wrapped in their hoods, they were all soon
advancing towards the spot whence the smoke arose in the north-east.
This was evidently five or six miles off, and it was very
difficult to take exactly the right direction. The smoke now
disappeared, and no elevation served as a guiding mark, for the
ice-plain was one united level. It was important, nevertheless,
not to diverge from a straight line.
"Since we cannot guide ourselves by distant objects," said Jean
Cornbutte, "we must use this method. Penellan will go ahead,
Vasling twenty steps behind him, and I twenty steps behind
Vasling. I can then judge whether or not Penellan diverges from
the straight line."
They had gone on thus for half an hour, when Penellan suddenly
stopped and listened. The party hurried up to him.
"Did you hear nothing?" he asked.
"Nothing!" replied Misonne.
"It is strange," said Penellan. "It seemed to me I heard cries
from this direction."
"Cries?" replied Marie. "Perhaps we are near our destination,
"That is no reason," said André Vasling. "In these high latitudes
and cold regions sounds may be heard to a great distance."
"However that may be," replied Jean Cornbutte, "let us go
forward, or we shall be frozen."
"No!" cried Penellan. "Listen!"
Some feeble sounds--quite perceptible, however--were heard. They
seemed to be cries of distress. They were twice repeated. They
seemed like cries for help. Then all became silent again.
"I was not mistaken," said Penellan. "Forward!"
He began to run in the direction whence the cries had proceeded.
He went thus two miles, when, to his utter stupefaction, he saw a
man lying on the ice. He went up to him, raised him, and lifted
his arms to heaven in despair.
André Vasling, who was following close behind with the rest of
the sailors, ran up and cried,--
"It is one of the castaways! It is our sailor Courtois!"
"He is dead!" replied Penellan. "Frozen to death!"
Jean Cornbutte and Marie came up beside the corpse, which was
already stiffened by the ice. Despair was written on every face.
The dead man was one of the comrades of Louis Cornbutte!
"Forward!" cried Penellan.
They went on for half an hour in perfect silence, and perceived
an elevation which seemed without doubt to be land.
"It is Shannon Island," said Jean Cornbutte.
A mile farther on they distinctly perceived smoke escaping from a
snow-hut, closed by a wooden door. They shouted. Two men rushed
out of the hut, and Penellan recognized one of them as Pierre
"Pierre!" he cried.
Pierre stood still as if stunned, and unconscious of what was
going on around him. André Vasling looked at Pierre Nouquet's
companion with anxiety mingled with a cruel joy, for he did not
recognize Louis Cornbutte in him.
"Pierre! it is I!" cried Penellan. "These are all your friends!"
Pierre Nouquet recovered his senses, and fell into his old
"And my son--and Louis!" cried Jean Cornbutte, in an accent of the
most profound despair.
THE RETURN TO THE SHIP.
At this moment a man, almost dead, dragged himself out of the hut
and along the ice.
It was Louis Cornbutte.
These two cries were uttered at the same time, and Louis
Cornbutte fell fainting into the arms of his father and Marie,
who drew him towards the hut, where their tender care soon
"My father! Marie!" cried Louis; "I shall not die without having
"You will not die!" replied Penellan, "for all your friends are
André Vasling must have hated Louis Cornbutte bitterly not to
extend his hand to him, but he did not.
Pierre Nouquet was wild with joy. He embraced every body; then he
threw some wood into the stove, and soon a comfortable temperature
was felt in the cabin.
There were two men there whom neither Jean Cornbutte nor Penellan
They were Jocki and Herming, the only two sailors of the crew of
the Norwegian schooner who were left.
"My friends, we are saved!" said Louis. "My father! Marie! You
have exposed yourselves to so many perils!"
"We do not regret it, my Louis," replied the father. "Your brig,
the 'Jeune-Hardie,' is securely anchored in the ice sixty leagues
from here. We will rejoin her all together."
"When Courtois comes back he'll be mightily pleased," said Pierre
A mournful silence followed this, and Penellan apprised Pierre
and Louis of their comrade's death by cold.
"My friends," said Penellan, "we will wait here until the cold
decreases. Have you provisions and wood?"
"Yes; and we will burn what is left of the 'Froöern.'"
The "Froöern" had indeed been driven to a place forty miles from
where Louis Cornbutte had taken up his winter quarters. There she
was broken up by the icebergs floated by the thaw, and the
castaways were carried, with a part of the débris of their
cabin, on the southern shores of Shannon Island.
They were then five in number--Louis Cornbutte, Courtois, Pierre
Nouquet, Jocki, and Herming. As for the rest of the Norwegian
crew, they had been submerged with the long-boat at the moment of
When Louis Cornbutte, shut in among the ice, realized what must
happen, he took every precaution for passing the winter. He was
an energetic man, very active and courageous; but, despite his
firmness, he had been subdued by this horrible climate, and when
his father found him he had given up all hope of life. He had not
only had to contend with the elements, but with the ugly temper
of the two Norwegian sailors, who owed him their existence. They
were like savages, almost inaccessible to the most natural
emotions. When Louis had the opportunity to talk to Penellan, he
advised him to watch them carefully. In return, Penellan told him
of André Vasling's conduct. Louis could not believe it, but
Penellan convinced him that after his disappearance Vasling had
always acted so as to secure Marie's hand.
The whole day was employed in rest and the pleasures of reunion.
Misonne and Pierre Nouquet killed some sea-birds near the hut,
whence it was not prudent to stray far. These fresh provisions
and the replenished fire raised the spirits of the weakest. Louis
Cornbutte got visibly better. It was the first moment of
happiness these brave people had experienced. They celebrated it
with enthusiasm in this wretched hut, six hundred leagues from
the North Sea, in a temperature of thirty degrees below zero!
This temperature lasted till the end of the moon, and it was not
until about the 17th of November, a week after their meeting,
that Jean Cornbutte and his party could think of setting out.
They only had the light of the stars to guide them; but the cold
was less extreme, and even some snow fell.
Before quitting this place a grave was dug for poor Courtois. It
was a sad ceremony, which deeply affected his comrades. He was
the first of them who would not again see his native land.
Misonne had constructed, with the planks of the cabin, a sort of
sledge for carrying the provisions, and the sailors drew it by
turns. Jean Cornbutte led the expedition by the ways already
traversed. Camps were established with great promptness when the
times for repose came. Jean Cornbutte hoped to find his deposits
of provisions again, as they had become well-nigh indispensable
by the addition of four persons to the party. He was therefore
very careful not to diverge from the route by which he had come.
By good fortune he recovered his sledge, which had stranded near
the promontory where they had all run so many dangers. The dogs,
after eating their straps to satisfy their hunger, had attacked
the provisions in the sledge. These had sustained them, and they
served to guide the party to the sledge, where there was a
considerable quantity of provisions left. The little band resumed
its march towards the bay. The dogs were harnessed to the sleigh,
and no event of interest attended the return.
It was observed that Aupic, André Vasling, and the Norwegians
kept aloof, and did not mingle with the others; but, unbeknown to
themselves, they were narrowly watched. This germ of dissension
more than once aroused the fears of Louis Cornbutte and Penellan.
About the 7th of December, twenty days after the discovery of the
castaways, they perceived the bay where the "Jeune-Hardie" was
lying. What was their astonishment to see the brig perched four
yards in the air on blocks of ice! They hurried forward, much
alarmed for their companions, and were received with joyous cries
by Gervique, Turquiette, and Gradlin. All of them were in good
health, though they too had been subjected to formidable dangers.
The tempest had made itself felt throughout the polar sea. The
ice had been broken and displaced, crushed one piece against
another, and had seized the bed on which the ship rested. Though
its specific weight tended to carry it under water, the ice had
acquired an incalculable force, and the brig had been suddenly
raised up out of the sea.
The first moments were given up to the happiness inspired by the
safe return. The exploring party were rejoiced to find everything
in good condition, which assured them a supportable though it
might be a rough winter. The ship had not been shaken by her
sudden elevation, and was perfectly tight. When the season of
thawing came, they would only have to slide her down an inclined
plane, to launch her, in a word, in the once more open sea.
But a bad piece of news spread gloom on the faces of Jean
Cornbutte and his comrades. During the terrible gale the snow
storehouse on the coast had been quite demolished; the provisions
which it contained were scattered, and it had not been possible
to save a morsel of them. When Jean and Louis Cornbutte learnt
this, they visited the hold and steward's room, to ascertain the
quantity of provisions which still remained.
The thaw would not come until May, and the brig could not leave
the bay before that period. They had therefore five winter months
before them to pass amid the ice, during which fourteen persons
were to be fed. Having made his calculations, Jean Cornbutte
found that he would at most be able to keep them alive till the
time for departure, by putting each and all on half rations.
Hunting for game became compulsory to procure food in larger
For fear that they might again run short of provisions, it was
decided to deposit them no longer in the ground. All of them were
kept on board, and beds were disposed for the new comers in the
common lodging. Turquiette, Gervique, and Gradlin, during the
absence of the others, had hollowed out a flight of steps in the
ice, which enabled them easily to reach the ship's deck.
THE TWO RIVALS.
André Vasling had been cultivating the good-will of the two
Norwegian sailors. Aupic also made one of their band, and held
himself apart, with loud disapproval of all the new measures
taken; but Louis Cornbutte, to whom his father had transferred
the command of the ship, and who had become once more master on
board, would listen to no objections from that quarter, and in
spite of Marie's advice to act gently, made it known that he
intended to be obeyed on all points.
Nevertheless, the two Norwegians succeeded, two days after, in
getting possession of a box of salt meat. Louis ordered them to
return it to him on the spot, but Aupic took their part, and
André Vasling declared that the precautions about the food could
not be any longer enforced.
It was useless to attempt to show these men that these measures
were for the common interest, for they knew it well, and only
sought a pretext to revolt.
Penellan advanced towards the Norwegians, who drew their
cutlasses; but, aided by Misonne and Turquiette, he succeeded in
snatching the weapons from their hands, and gained possession of
the salt meat. André Vasling and Aupic, seeing that matters were
going against them, did not interfere. Louis Cornbutte, however,
took the mate aside, and said to him,--
"André Vasling, you are a wretch! I know your whole conduct, and
I know what you are aiming at, but as the safety of the whole
crew is confided to me, if any man of you thinks of conspiring to
destroy them, I will stab him with my own hand!"
"Louis Cornbutte," replied the mate, "it is allowable for you to
act the master; but remember that absolute obedience does not
exist here, and that here the strongest alone makes the law."
Marie had never trembled before the dangers of the polar seas;
but she was terrified by this hatred, of which she was the cause,
and the captain's vigour hardly reassured her.
Despite this declaration of war, the meals were partaken of in
common and at the same hours. Hunting furnished some ptarmigans
and white hares; but this resource would soon fail them, with the
approach of the terrible cold weather. This began at the
solstice, on the 22nd of December, on which day the thermometer
fell to thirty-five degrees below zero. The men experienced pain
in their ears, noses, and the extremities of their bodies. They
were seized with a mortal torpor combined with headache, and
their breathing became more and more difficult.
In this state they had no longer any courage to go hunting or to
take any exercise. They remained crouched around the stove, which
gave them but a meagre heat; and when they went away from it,
they perceived that their blood suddenly cooled.
Jean Cornbutte's health was seriously impaired, and he could no
longer quit his lodging. Symptoms of scurvy manifested themselves
in him, and his legs were soon covered with white spots. Marie
was well, however, and occupied herself tending the sick ones
with the zeal of a sister of charity. The honest fellows blessed
her from the bottom of their hearts.
The 1st of January was one of the gloomiest of these winter days.
The wind was violent, and the cold insupportable. They could not
go out, except at the risk of being frozen. The most courageous
were fain to limit themselves to walking on deck, sheltered by
the tent. Jean Cornbutte, Gervique, and Gradlin did not leave
their beds. The two Norwegians, Aupic, and André Vasling, whose
health was good, cast ferocious looks at their companions, whom
they saw wasting away.
Louis Cornbutte led Penellan on deck, and asked him how much
firing was left.
"The coal was exhausted long ago," replied Penellan, "and we are
about to burn our last pieces of wood."
"If we are not able to keep off this cold, we are lost," said
"There still remains a way--" said Penellan, "to burn what we can
of the brig, from the barricading to the water-line; and we can
even, if need be, demolish her entirely, and rebuild a smaller
"That is an extreme means," replied Louis, "which it will be full
time to employ when our men are well. For," he added in a low
voice, "our force is diminishing, and that of our enemies seems
to be increasing. That is extraordinary."
"It is true," said Penellan; "and unless we took the precaution
to watch night and day, I know not what would happen to us."
"Let us take our hatchets," returned Louis, "and make our harvest
Despite the cold, they mounted on the forward barricading, and
cut off all the wood which was not indispensably necessary to the
ship; then they returned with this new provision. The fire was
started afresh, and a man remained on guard to prevent it from
Meanwhile Louis Cornbutte and his friends were soon tired out.
They could not confide any detail of the life in common to their
enemies. Charged with all the domestic cares, their powers were
soon exhausted. The scurvy betrayed itself in Jean Cornbutte, who
suffered intolerable pain. Gervique and Gradlin showed symptoms
of the same disease. Had it not been for the lemon-juice with
which they were abundantly furnished, they would have speedily
succumbed to their sufferings. This remedy was not spared in
But one day, the 15th of January, when Louis Cornbutte was going
down into the steward's room to get some lemons, he was stupefied
to find that the barrels in which they were kept had disappeared.
He hurried up and told Penellan of this misfortune. A theft had
been committed, and it was easy to recognize its authors. Louis
Cornbutte then understood why the health of his enemies continued
so good! His friends were no longer strong enough to take the
lemons away from them, though his life and that of his comrades
depended on the fruit; and he now sank, for the first time, into
a gloomy state of despair.
On the 20th of January most of the crew had not the strength to
leave their beds. Each, independently of his woollen coverings,
had a buffalo-skin to protect him against the cold; but as soon
as he put his arms outside the clothes, he felt a pain which
obliged him quickly to cover them again.
Meanwhile, Louis having lit the stove fire, Penellan, Misonne,
and André Vasling left their beds and crouched around it.
Penellan prepared some boiling coffee, which gave them some
strength, as well as Marie, who joined them in partaking of it.
Louis Cornbutte approached his father's bedside; the old man was
almost motionless, and his limbs were helpless from disease. He
muttered some disconnected words, which carried grief to his
"Louis," said he, "I am dying. O, how I suffer! Save me!"
Louis took a decisive resolution. He went up to the mate, and,
controlling himself with difficulty, said,--
"Do you know where the lemons are, Vasling?"
"In the steward's room, I suppose," returned the mate, without
"You know they are not there, as you have stolen them!"
"You are master, Louis Cornbutte, and may say and do anything."
"For pity's sake, André Vasling, my father is dying! You can save
"I have nothing to answer," replied André Vasling.
"Wretch!" cried Penellan, throwing himself, cutlass in hand, on
"Help, friends!" shouted Vasling, retreating.
Aupic and the two Norwegian sailors jumped from their beds and
placed themselves behind him. Turquiette, Penellan, and Louis
prepared to defend themselves. Pierre Nouquet and Gradlin, though
suffering much, rose to second them.
"You are still too strong for us," said Vasling. "We do not wish
to fight on an uncertainty."
The sailors were so weak that they dared not attack the four
rebels, for, had they failed, they would have been lost.
"André Vasling!" said Louis Cornbutte, in a gloomy tone, "if my
father dies, you will have murdered him; and I will kill you like
Vasling and his confederates retired to the other end of the
cabin, and did not reply.
It was then necessary to renew the supply of wood, and, in spite
of the cold, Louis went on deck and began to cut away a part of
the barricading, but was obliged to retreat in a quarter of an
hour, for he was in danger of falling, overcome by the freezing
air. As he passed, he cast a glance at the thermometer left
outside, and saw that the mercury was frozen. The cold, then,
exceeded forty-two degrees below zero. The weather was dry, and
the wind blew from the north.
On the 26th the wind changed to the north-east, and the
thermometer outside stood at thirty-five degrees. Jean Cornbutte
was in agony, and his son had searched in vain for some remedy
with which to relieve his pain. On this day, however, throwing
himself suddenly on Vasling, he managed to snatch a lemon from
him which he was about to suck.
Vasling made no attempt to recover it. He seemed to be awaiting
an opportunity to accomplish his wicked designs.
The lemon-juice somewhat relieved old Cornbutte, but it was
necessary to continue the remedy. Marie begged Vasling on her
knees to produce the lemons, but he did not reply, and soon
Penellan heard the wretch say to his accomplices,--
"The old fellow is dying. Gervique, Gradlin, and Nouquet are not
much better. The others are daily losing their strength. The time
is near when their lives will belong to us!"
It was then resolved by Louis Cornbutte and his adherents not to
wait, and to profit by the little strength which still remained
to them. They determined to act the next night, and to kill these
wretches, so as not to be killed by them.
The temperature rose a little. Louis Cornbutte ventured to go out
with his gun in search of some game.
He proceeded some three miles from the ship, and often, deceived
by the effects of the mirage and refraction, he went farther away
than he intended. It was imprudent, for recent tracts of
ferocious animals were to be seen. He did not wish, however, to
return without some fresh meat, and continued on his route; but
he then experienced a strange feeling, which turned his head. It
was what is called "white vertigo."
The reflection of the ice hillocks and fields affected him from
head to foot, and it seemed to him that the dazzling colour
penetrated him and caused an irresistible nausea. His eye was
attacked. His sight became uncertain. He thought he should go mad
with the glare. Without fully understanding this terrible effect,
he advanced on his way, and soon put up a ptarmigan, which he
eagerly pursued. The bird soon fell, and in order to reach it
Louis leaped from an ice-block and fell heavily; for the leap was
at least ten feet, and the refraction made him think it was only
two. The vertigo then seized him, and, without knowing why, he
began to call for help, though he had not been injured by the
fall. The cold began to take him, and he rose with pain, urged by
the sense of self-preservation.
Suddenly, without being able to account for it, he smelt an odour
of boiling fat. As the ship was between him and the wind, he
supposed that this odour proceeded from her, and could not
imagine why they should be cooking fat, this being a dangerous
thing to do, as it was likely to attract the white bears.
Louis returned towards the ship, absorbed in reflections which
soon inspired his excited mind with terror. It seemed to him as
if colossal masses were moving on the horizon, and he asked
himself if there was not another ice-quake. Several of these
masses interposed themselves between him and the ship, and
appeared to rise about its sides. He stopped to gaze at them more
attentively, when to his horror he recognized a herd of gigantic
These animals had been attracted by the odour of grease which had
surprised Lonis. He sheltered himself behind a hillock, and
counted three, which were scaling the blocks on which the
"Jeune-Hardie" was resting.
Nothing led him to suppose that this danger was known in the
interior of the ship, and a terrible anguish oppressed his heart.
How resist these redoubtable enemies? Would André Vasling and his
confederates unite with the rest on board in the common peril?
Could Penellan and the others, half starved, benumbed with cold,
resist these formidable animals, made wild by unassuaged hunger?
Would they not be surprised by an unlooked-for attack?
Louis made these reflections rapidly. The bears had crossed the
blocks, and were mounting to the assault of the ship. He might
then quit the block which protected him; he went nearer, clinging
to the ice, and could soon see the enormous animals tearing the
tent with their paws, and leaping on the deck. He thought of
firing his gun to give his comrades notice; but if these came up
without arms, they would inevitably be torn in pieces, and
nothing showed as yet that they were even aware of their new
THE WHITE BEARS.
After Louis Cornbutte's departure, Penellan had carefully shut
the cabin door, which opened at the foot of the deck steps. He
returned to the stove, which he took it upon himself to watch,
whilst his companions regained their berths in search of a little
It was then six in the evening, and Penellan set about preparing
supper. He went down into the steward's room for some salt meat,
which he wished to soak in the boiling water. When he returned,
he found André Vasling in his place, cooking some pieces of
grease in a basin.
"I was there before you," said Penellan roughly; "why have you
taken my place?"
"For the same reason that you claim it," returned Vasling:
"because I want to cook my supper."
"You will take that off at once, or we shall see!"
"We shall see nothing," said Vasling; "my supper shall be cooked
in spite of you."
"You shall not eat it, then," cried Penellan, rushing upon
Vasling, who seized his cutlass, crying,--
"Help, Norwegians! Help, Aupic!"
These, in the twinkling of an eye, sprang to their feet, armed
with pistols and daggers. The crisis had come.
Penellan precipitated himself upon Vasling, to whom, no doubt,
was confided the task to fight him alone; for his accomplices
rushed to the beds where lay Misonne, Turquiette, and Nouquet.
The latter, ill and defenceless, was delivered over to Herming's
ferocity. The carpenter seized a hatchet, and, leaving his berth,
hurried up to encounter Aupic. Turquiette and Jocki, the
Norwegian, struggled fiercely. Gervique and Gradlin, suffering
horribly, were not even conscious of what was passing around
Nouquet soon received a stab in the side, and Herming turned to
Penellan, who was fighting desperately. André Vasling had seized
him round the body.
At the beginning of the affray the basin had been upset on the
stove, and the grease running over the burning coals, impregnated
the atmosphere with its odour. Marie rose with cries of despair,
and hurried to the bed of old Jean Cornbutte.
Vasling, less strong than Penellan, soon perceived that the
latter was getting the better of him. They were too close
together to make use of their weapons. The mate, seeing Herming,
"Help, Misonne!" shouted Penellan, in his turn.
But Misonne was rolling on the ground with Aupic, who was trying
to stab him with his cutlass. The carpenter's hatchet was of
little use to him, for he could not wield it, and it was with the
greatest difficulty that he parried the lunges which Aupic made
with his knife.
Meanwhile blood flowed amid the groans and cries. Turquiette,
thrown down by Jocki, a man of immense strength, had received a
wound in the shoulder, and he tried in vain to clutch a pistol
which hung in the Norwegian's belt. The latter held him as in a
vice, and it was impossible for him to move.
At Vasling's cry for help, who was being held by Penellan close
against the door, Herming rushed up. As he was about to stab the
Breton's back with his cutlass, the latter felled him to the
earth with a vigorous kick. His effort to do this enabled Vasling
to disengage his right arm; but the door, against which they
pressed with all their weight, suddenly yielded, and Vasling fell
Of a sudden a terrible growl was heard, and a gigantic bear
appeared on the steps. Vasling saw him first. He was not four
feet away from him. At the same moment a shot was heard, and the
bear, wounded or frightened, retreated. Vasling, who had
succeeded in regaining his feet, set-out in pursuit of him,
Penellan then replaced the door, and looked around him. Misonne
and Turquiette, tightly garrotted by their antagonists, had been
thrown into a corner, and made vain efforts to break loose.
Penellan rushed to their assistance, but was overturned by the
two Norwegians and Aupic. His exhausted strength did not permit
him to resist these three men, who so clung to him as to hold him
motionless Then, at the cries of the mate, they hurried on deck,
thinking that Louis Cornbutte was to be encountered.
André Vasling was struggling with a bear, which he had already
twice stabbed with his knife. The animal, beating the air with
his heavy paws, was trying to clutch Vasling; he retiring little
by little on the barricading, was apparently doomed, when a
second shot was heard. The bear fell. André Vasling raised his
head and saw Louis Cornbutte in the ratlines of the mizen-mast,
his gun in his hand. Louis had shot the bear in the heart, and he
Hate overcame gratitude in Vasling's breast; but before
satisfying it, he looked around him. Aupic's head was broken by a
paw-stroke, and he lay lifeless on deck. Jocki, hatchet in hand,
was with difficulty parrying the blows of the second bear which
had just killed Aupic. The animal had received two wounds, and
still struggled desperately. A third bear was directing his way
towards the ship's prow. Vasling paid no attention to him, but,
followed by Herming, went to the aid of Jocki; but Jocki, seized
by the beast's paws, was crushed, and when the bear fell under
the shots of the other two men, he held only a corpse in his
"We are only two, now" said Vasling, with gloomy ferocity, "but
if we yield, it will not be without vengeance!"
Herming reloaded his pistol without replying. Before all, the
third bear must be got rid of. Vasling looked forward, but did
not see him. On raising his eyes, he perceived him erect on the
barricading, clinging to the ratlines and trying to reach Louis.
Vasling let his gun fall, which he had aimed at the animal, while
a fierce joy glittered in his eyes.
"Ah," he cried, "you owe me that vengeance!"
Louis took refuge in the top of the mast. The bear kept mounting,
and was not more than six feet from Louis, when he raised his gun
and pointed it at the animal's heart.
Vasling raised his weapon to shoot Louis if the bear fell.
Louis fired, but the bear did not appear to be hit, for he leaped
with a bound towards the top. The whole mast shook.
Vasling uttered a shout of exultation.
"Herming," he cried, "go and find Marie! Go and find my
Herming descended the cabin stairs.
Meanwhile the furious beast had thrown himself upon Louis, who
was trying to shelter himself on the other side of the mast; but
at the moment that his enormous paw was raised to break his head,
Louis, seizing one of the backstays, let himself slip down to the
deck, not without danger, for a ball hissed by his ear when he
was half-way down. Vasling had shot at him, and missed him. The
two adversaries now confronted each other, cutlass in hand.
The combat was about to become decisive. To entirely glut his
vengeance, and to have the young girl witness her lover's death,
Vasling had deprived himself of Herming's aid. He could now
reckon only on himself.
Louis and Vasling seized each other by the collar, and held each
other with iron grip. One of them must fall. They struck each
other violently. The blows were only half parried, for blood soon
flowed from both. Vasling tried to clasp his adversary about the
neck with his arm, to bring him to the ground. Louis, knowing
that he who fell was lost, prevented him, and succeeded in
grasping his two arms; but in doing this he let fall his cutlass.
Piteous cries now assailed his ears; it was Marie's voice.
Herming was trying to drag her up. Louis was seized with a
desperate rage. He stiffened himself to bend Vasling's loins; but
at this moment the combatants felt themselves seized in a
powerful embrace. The bear, having descended from the mast, had
fallen upon the two men. Vasling was pressed against the animal's
body. Louis felt his claws entering his flesh. The bear, was
strangling both of them.
"Help! help! Herming!" cried the mate.
"Help! Penellan!" cried Louis.
Steps were heard on the stairs. Penellan appeared, loaded his
pistol, and discharged it in the bear's ear; he roared; the pain
made him relax his paws for a moment, and Louis, exhausted, fell
motionless on the deck; but the bear, closing his paws tightly
in a supreme agony, fell, dragging down the wretched Vasling,
whose body was crushed under him.
Penellan hurried to Louis Cornbutte's assistance. No serious
wound endangered his life: he had only lost his breath for a
"Marie!" he said, opening his eyes.
"Saved!" replied Perfellan. "Herming is lying there with a knife-wound
in his stomach."
"And the bears--"
"Dead, Louis; dead, like our enemies! But for those beasts we
should have been lost. Truly, they came to our succour. Let us
Louis and Penellan descended to the cabin, and Marie fell into
Herming, mortally wounded, had been carried to a berth by Misonne
and Turquiette, who had succeeded in getting free. He was already
at the last gasp of death; and the two sailors occupied themselves
with Nouquet, whose wound was not, happily, a serious one.
But a greater misfortune had overtaken Louis Cornbutte. His
father no longer gave any signs of life. Had he died of anxiety
for his son, delivered over to his enemies? Had he succumbed in
presence of these terrible events? They could not tell. But the
poor old sailor, broken by disease, had ceased to live!
At this unexpected blow, Louis and Marie fell into a sad despair;
then they knelt at the bedside and wept, as they prayed for Jean
Cornbutte's soul, Penellan, Misonne, and Turquiette left them
alone in the cabin, and went on deck. The bodies of the three
bears were carried forward. Penellan decided to keep their skins,
which would be of no little use; but he did not think for a
moment of eating their flesh. Besides, the number of men to feed
was now much decreased. The bodies of Vasling, Aupic, and Jocki,
thrown into a hole dug on the coast, were soon rejoined by that
of Herming. The Norwegian died during the night, without
repentance or remorse, foaming at the mouth with rage.
The three sailors repaired the tent, which, torn in several
places, permitted the snow to fall on the deck. The temperature
was exceedingly cold, and kept so till the return of the sun,
which did not reappear above the horizon till the 8th of January.
Jean Cornbutte was buried on the coast. He had left his native
land to find his son, and had died in these terrible regions! His
grave was dug on an eminence, and the sailors placed over it a
simple wooden cross.
From that day, Louis Cornbutte and his comrades passed through
many other trials; but the lemons, which they found, restored
them to health.
Gervique, Gradlin, and Nouquet were able to rise from their
berths a fortnight after these terrible events, and to take a
Soon hunting for game became more easy and its results more
abundant. The water-birds returned in large numbers. They often
brought down a kind of wild duck which made excellent food. The
hunters had no other deprivation to deplore than that of two
dogs, which they lost in an expedition to reconnoitre the state
of the icefields, twenty-five miles to the southward.
The month of February was signalized by violent tempests and
abundant snows. The mean temperature was still twenty-five
degrees below zero, but they did not suffer in comparison with
past hardships. Besides, the sight of the sun, which rose higher
and higher above the horizon, rejoiced them, as it forecast the
end of their torments. Heaven had pity on them, for warmth came
sooner than usual that year. The ravens appeared in March,
careering about the ship. Louis Cornbutte captured some cranes
which had wandered thus far northward. Flocks of wild birds were
also seen in the south.
The return of the birds indicated a diminution of the cold; but
it was not safe to rely upon this, for with a change of wind, or
in the new or full moons, the temperature suddenly fell; and the
sailors were forced to resort to their most careful precautions
to protect themselves against it. They had already burned all the
barricading, the bulkheads, and a large portion of the bridge. It
was time, then, that their wintering was over. Happily, the mean
temperature of March was not over sixteen degrees below zero.
Marie occupied herself with preparing new clothing for the
advanced season of the year.
After the equinox, the sun had remained constantly above the
horizon. The eight months of perpetual daylight had begun. This
continual sunlight, with the increasing though still quite feeble
heat, soon began to act upon the ice.
Great precautions were necessary in launching the ship from the
lofty layer of ice which surrounded her. She was therefore
securely propped up, and it seemed best to await the breaking up
of the ice; but the lower mass, resting on a bed of already warm
water, detached itself little by little, and the ship gradually
descended with it. Early in April she had reached her natural
Torrents of rain came with April, which, extending in waves over
the ice-plain, hastened still more its breaking up. The
thermometer rose to ten degrees below zero. Some of the men took
off their seal-skin clothes, and it was no longer necessary to
keep a fire in the cabin stove day and night. The provision of
spirit, which was not exhausted, was used only for cooking the
Soon the ice began to break up rapidly, and it became imprudent
to venture upon the plain without a staff to sound the passages;
for fissures wound in spirals here and there. Some of the sailors
fell into the water, with no worse result, however, than a pretty
The seals returned, and they were often hunted, and their grease
The health of the crew was fully restored, and the time was
employed in hunting and preparations for departure. Louis Cornbutte
often examined the channels, and decided, in consequence of the shape
of the southern coast, to attempt a passage in that direction. The
breaking up had already begun here and there, and the floating ice
began to pass off towards the high seas. On the 25th of April the
ship was put in readiness. The sails, taken from their sheaths, were
found to be perfectly preserved, and it was with real delight that
the sailors saw them once more swaying in the wind. The ship gave a
lurch, for she had found her floating line, and though she would not
yet move forward, she lay quietly and easily in her natural element.
In May the thaw became very rapid. The snow which covered the
coast melted on every hand, and formed a thick mud, which made it
well-nigh impossible to land. Small heathers, rosy and white,
peeped out timidly above the lingering snow, and seemed to smile
at the little heat they received. The thermometer at last rose
Twenty miles off, the ice masses, entirely separated, floated
towards the Atlantic Ocean. Though the sea was not quite free
around the ship, channels opened by which Louis Cornbutte wished
On the 21st of May, after a parting visit to his father's grave,
Louis at last set out from the bay. The hearts of the honest
sailors were filled at once with joy and sadness, for one does
not leave without regret a place where a friend has died. The
wind blew from the north, and favoured their departure. The ship
was often arrested by ice-banks, which were cut with the saws;
icebergs not seldom confronted her, and it was necessary to blow
them up with powder. For a month the way was full of perils,
which sometimes brought the ship to the verge of destruction; but
the crew were sturdy, and used to these dangerous exigencies.
Penellan, Pierre Nouquet, Turquiette, Fidèle Misonne, did the
work of ten sailors, and Marie had smiles of gratitude for each.
The "Jeune-Hardie" at last passed beyond the ice in the latitude
of Jean-Mayer Island. About the 25th of June she met ships going
northward for seals and whales. She had been nearly a month
emerging from the Polar Sea.
On the 16th of August she came in view of Dunkirk. She had been
signalled by the look-out, and the whole population flocked to
the jetty. The sailors of the ship were soon clasped in the arms
of their friends. The old curé received Louis Cornbutte and Marie
with patriarchal arms, and of the two masses which he said on the
following day, the first was for the repose of Jean Cornbutte's
soul, and the second to bless these two lovers, so long united in
THE FORTIETH FRENCH ASCENT OF MONT BLANC
BY PAUL VERNE.
I arrived at Chamonix on the 18th of August, 1871, fully decided
to make the ascent of Mont Blanc, cost what it might. My first
attempt in August, 1869, was not successful. Bad weather had
prevented me from mounting beyond the Grands-Mulets. This time
circumstances seemed scarcely more favourable, for the weather,
which had promised to be fine on the morning of the 18th,
suddenly changed towards noon. Mont Blanc, as they say in its
neighbourhood, "put on its cap and began to smoke its pipe,"
which, to speak more plainly, means that it is covered with
clouds, and that the snow, driven upon it by a south-west wind,
formed a long crest on its summit in the direction of the
unfathomable precipices of the Brenva glaciers. This crest
betrayed to imprudent tourists the route they would have taken,
had they had the temerity to venture upon the mountain.
The next night was very inclement. The rain and wind were
violent, and the barometer, below the "change," remained
Towards daybreak, however, several thunder-claps announced a
change in the state of the atmosphere. Soon the clouds broke. The
chain of the Brevent and the Aiguilles-Rouges betrayed itself.
The wind, turning to the north-west, brought into view above the
Col de Balme, which shuts in the valley of Chamonix on the north,
some light, isolated, fleecy clouds, which I hailed as the
heralds of fine weather.
Despite this happy augury and a slight rise in the barometer, M.
Balmat, chief guide of Chamonix, declared to me that I must not
yet think of attempting the ascent.
"If the barometer continues to rise," he added, "and the weather
holds good, I promise you guides for the day after to-morrow--
perhaps for to-morrow. Meanwhile, have patience and stretch your
legs; I will take you up the Brevent. The clouds are clearing
away, and you will be able to exactly distinguish the path you
will have to go over to reach the summit of Mont Blanc. If, in
spite of this, you are determined to go, you may try it!"
This speech, uttered in a certain tone, was not very reassuring,
and gave food for reflection. Still, I accepted his proposition,
and he chose as my companion the guide Edward Ravanel, a very
sedate and devoted fellow, who perfectly knew his business.
M. Donatien Levesque, an enthusiastic tourist and an intrepid
pedestrian, who had made early in the previous year an interesting
and difficult trip in North America, was with me. He had already
visited the greater part of America, and was about to descend the
Mississippi to New Orleans, when the war cut short his projects and
recalled him to France. We had met at Aix-les-Bains, and we had
determined to make an excursion together in Savoy and Switzerland.
Donatien Levesque knew my intentions, and, as he thought that his
health would not permit him to attempt so long a journey over the
glaciers, it had been agreed that he should await my return from
Mont Blanc at Chamonix, and should make the traditional visit to
the Mer-de-Glace by the Montanvers during my absence.
On learning that I was going to ascend the Brevent, my friend did
not hesitate to accompany me thither. The ascent of the Brevent
is one of the most interesting trips that can be made from
Chamonix. This mountain, about seven thousand six hundred feet
high, is only the prolongation of the chain for the Aiguilles-Rouges,
which runs from the south-west to the north-east, parallel with that
of Mont Blanc, and forms with it the narrow valley of Chamonix. The
Brevent, by its central position, exactly opposite the Bossons
glacier, enables one to watch the parties which undertake the ascent
of the giant of the Alps nearly throughout their journey. It is
therefore much frequented.
We started about seven o'clock in the morning. As we went along,
I thought of the mysterious words of the master-guide; they
annoyed me a little. Addressing Ravanel, I said,--
"Have you made the ascent of Mont Blanc?"
"Yes, monsieur," he replied, "once; and that's enough. I am not
anxious to do it again."
"The deuce!" said I. "I am going to try it."
"You are free, monsieur; but I shall not go with you. The
mountain is not good this year. Several attempts have already
been made; two only have succeeded. As for the second, the party
tried the ascent twice. Besides, the accident last year has
rather cooled the amateurs."
"An accident! What accident?"
"Did not monsieur hear of it? This is how it happened. A party,
consisting of ten guides and porters and two Englishmen, started
about the middle of September for Mont Blanc. They were seen to
reach the summit; then, some minutes after, they disappeared in a
cloud. When the cloud passed over no one was visible. The two
travellers, with seven guides and porters, had been blown off by
the wind and precipitated on the Cormayeur side, doubtless into
the Brenva glacier. Despite the most vigilant search, their
bodies could not be found. The other three were found one hundred
and fifty yards below the summit, near the Petits-Mulets. They
had become blocks of ice."
"But these travellers must have been imprudent," said I to
Ravanel. "What folly it was to start off so late in the year on
such an expedition! They should have gone up in August."
I vainly tried to keep up my courage; this lugubrious story would
haunt me in spite of myself. Happily the weather soon cleared,
and the rays of a bright sun dissipated the clouds which still
veiled Mont Blanc, and, at the same time, those which overshadowed
Our ascent was satisfactorily accomplished. On leaving the
chalets of Planpraz, situated at a height of two thousand and
sixty-two yards, you ascend, on ragged masses of rock and pools
of snow, to the foot of a rock called "The Chimney," which is
scaled with the feet and hands. Twenty minutes after, you reach
the summit of the Brevent, whence the view is very fine. The
chain of Mont Blanc appears in all its majesty. The gigantic
mountain, firmly established on its powerful strata, seems to
defy the tempests which sweep across its icy shield without ever
impairing it; whilst the crowd of icy needles, peaks, mountains,
which form its cortege and rise everywhere around it, without
equalling its noble height, carry the evident traces of a slow
From the excellent look-out which we occupied, we could reckon,
though still imperfectly, the distance to be gone over in order
to attain the summit. This summit, which from Chamonix appears so
near the dome of the Goûter, now took its true position. The
various plateaus which form so many degrees which must be
crossed, and which are not visible from below, appeared from the
Brevent, and threw the so-much-desired summit, by the laws of
perspective, still farther in the background. The Bossons
glacier, in all its splendour, bristled with icy needles and
blocks (blocks sometimes ten yards square), which seemed, like
the waves of an angry sea, to beat against the sides of the rocks
of the Grands-Mulets, the base of which disappeared in their
This marvellous spectacle was not likely to cool my impatience,
and I more eagerly than ever promised myself to explore this
hitherto unknown world.
My companion was equally inspired by the scene, and from this
moment I began to think that I should not have to ascend Mont
We descended again to Chamonix; the weather became milder every
hour; the barometer continued to ascend; everything seemed to
The next day at sunrise I hastened to the master-guide. The sky
was cloudless; the wind, almost imperceptible, was north-east.
The chain of Mont Blanc, the higher summits of which were gilded
by the rising sun, seemed to invite the many tourists to ascend
it. One could not, in all politeness, refuse so kindly an
M. Balmat, after consulting his barometer, declared the ascent to
be practicable, and promised me the two guides and the porter
prescribed in our agreement. I left the selection of these to
him. But an unexpected incident disturbed my preparations for
As I came out of M. Balmat's office, I met Ravanel, my guide of
the day before.
"Is monsieur going to Mont Blanc?" he asked.
"Yes, certainly," said I. "Is it not a favourable time logo?"
He reflected a few moments, and then said with an embarrassed
"Monsieur, you are my traveller; I accompanied you yesterday to
the Brevent, so I cannot leave you now; and, since you are going
up, I will go with you, if you will kindly accept my services. It
is your right, for on all dangerous journeys the traveller can
choose his own guides. Only, if you accept my offer, I ask that
you will also take my brother, Ambrose Ravanel, and my cousin,
Gaspard Simon. These are young, vigorous fellows; they do not
like the ascent of Mont Blanc better than I do; but they will not
shirk it, and I answer for them to you as I would for myself."
This young man inspired me with all confidence. I accepted his
proposition, and hastened to apprise M. Balmat of the choice I
had made. But M. Balmat had meanwhile been selecting guides for
me according to their turn on his list. One only had accepted,
Edward Simon; the answer of another, Jean Carrier, had not yet
been received, though it was scarcely doubtful, as this man had
already made the ascent of Mont Blanc twenty-nine times. I thus
found myself in an embarrassing position. The guides I had chosen
were all from Argentière, a village six kilometres from Chamonix.
Those of Chamonix accused Ravanel of having influenced me in
favour of his family, which was contrary to the regulations.
To cut the discussion short, I took Edward Simon, who had already
made his preparations as a third guide. He would be useless if I
went up alone, but would become indispensable if my friend also
This settled, I went to tell Donatien Levesque. I found him
sleeping the sleep of the just, for he had walked over sixteen
kilometres on a mountain the evening before. I had some
difficulty in waking him; but on removing first his sheets, then
his pillows, and finally his mattress, I obtained some result,
and succeeded in making him understand that I was preparing for
the hazardous trip.
"Well," said he, yawning, "I will go with you as far as the
Grands-Mulets, and await your return there."
"Bravo!" I replied. "I have just one guide too many, and I will
attach him to your person."
We bought the various articles indispensable to a journey across
the glaciers. Iron-spiked alpenstocks, coarse cloth leggings,
green spectacles fitting tightly to the eyes, furred gloves,
green veils,--nothing was forgotten. We each had excellent
triple-soled shoes, which our guides roughed for the ice. This
last is an important detail, for there are moments in such an
expedition when the least slip is fatal, not only to yourself,
but to the whole party with you.
Our preparations and those of the guides occupied nearly two
hours. About eight o'clock our mules were brought; and we set out
at last for the chalet of the Pierre-Pointue, situated at a
height of six thousand five hundred feet, or three thousand above
the valley of Chamonix, not far from eight thousand five hundred
feet below the summit of Mont Blanc.
On reaching the Pierre-Pointue, about ten o'clock, we found there
a Spanish tourist, M. N----, accompanied by two guides and a
porter. His principal guide, Paccard, a relative of the Doctor
Paccard who made, with Jacques Balmat, the first ascent of Mont
Blanc, had already been to the summit eighteen times. M. N----
was also getting himself ready for the ascent. He had travelled
much in America, and had crossed the Cordilleras to Quito,
passing through snow at the highest points. He therefore thought
that he could, without great difficulty, carry through his new
enterprise; but in this he was mistaken. He had reckoned without
the steepness of the inclinations which he had to cross, and the
rarefaction of the air. I hasten to add, to his honour, that,
since he succeeded in reaching the summit of Mont Blanc, it was
due to a rare moral energy, for his physical energies had long
before deserted him.
We breakfasted as heartily as possible at the Pierre-Pointue;
this being a prudent precaution, as the appetite usually fails
higher up among the ice.
M. N---- set out at eleven, with his guides, for the Grands-Mulets.
We did not start until noon. The mule-road ceases at the
Pierre-Pointue. We had then to go up a very narrow zigzag path,
which follows the edge of the Bossons glacier, and along the base
of the Aiguille-du-Midi. After an hour of difficult climbing in
an intense heat, we reached a point called the Pierre-a-l'Echelle,
eight thousand one hundred feet high. The guides and travellers
were then bound together by a strong rope, with three or four yards
between each. We were about to advance upon the Bossons glacier.
This glacier, difficult at first, presents yawning and apparently
bottomless crevasses on every hand. The vertical sides of these
crevasses are of a glaucous and uncertain colour, but too seducing
to the eye; when, approaching closely, you succeed in looking into
their mysterious depths, you feel yourself irresistibly drawn
towards them, and nothing seems more natural than to go down into
You advance slowly, passing round the crevasses, or on the snow
bridges of dubious strength. Then the rope plays its part. It is
stretched out over these dangerous transits; if the snow bridge
yields, the guide or traveller remains hanging over the abyss. He
is drawn beyond it, and gets off with a few bruises. Sometimes,
if the crevasse is very wide but not deep, he descends to the
bottom and goes up on the other side. In this case it is
necessary to cut steps in the ice, and the two leading guides,
armed with a sort of hatchet, perform this difficult and perilous
task. A special circumstance makes the entrance on the Bossons
dangerous. You go upon the glacier at the base of the
Aiguille-du-Midi, opposite a passage whence stone avalanches often
descend. This passage is nearly six hundred feet wide. It must be
crossed quickly, and as you pass, a guide stands on guard to
avert the danger from you if it presents itself. In 1869 a guide
was killed on this spot, and his body, hurled into space by a
stone, was dashed to pieces on the rocks nine hundred feet below.
We were warned, and hastened our steps as fast as our
inexperience would permit; but on leaving this dangerous zone,
another, not less dangerous, awaited us. This was the region of
the "seracs,"--immense blocks of ice, the formation of which is
not as yet explained.
These are usually situated on the edge of a plateau, and menace
the whole valley beneath them. A slight movement of the glacier,
or even a light vibration of the temperature, impels their fall,
and occasions the most serious accidents.
"Messieurs, keep quiet, and let us pass over quickly." These
words, roughly spoken by one of the guides, checked our conversation.
We went across rapidly and in silence. We finally reached what is
called the "Junction" (which might more properly be called the
violent "Separation"), by the Côte Mountain, the Bossons and
Tacconay glaciers. At this point the scene assumes an indescribable
character; crevasses with changing colours, ice-needles with sharp
forms, seracs suspended and pierced with the light, little green
lakes compose a chaos which surpasses everything that one can
imagine. Added to this, the rush of the torrents at the foot of the
glaciers, the sinister and repeated crackings of the blocks which
detached themselves and fell in avalanches down the crevasses, the
trembling of the ground which opened beneath our feet, gave a
singular idea of those desolate places the existence of which only
betrays itself by destruction and death.
After passing the "Junction" you follow the Tacconay glacier for
awhile, and reach the side which leads to the Grands-Mulets. This
part, which is very sloping, is traversed in zigzags. The leading
guide takes care to trace them at an angle of thirty degrees,
when there is fresh snow, to avoid the avalanches.
After crossing for three hours on the ice and snow, we reach the
Grands-Mulets, rocks six hundred feet high, overlooking on one
side the Bossons glacier, and on the other the sloping plains
which extend to the base of the Goûter dome.
A small hut, constructed by the guides near the summit of the
first rock, gives a shelter to travellers, and enables them to
await a favourable moment for setting out for the summit of Mont
They dine there as well as they can, and sleep too; but the
proverb, "He who sleeps dines," does not apply to this elevation,
for one cannot seriously do the one or the other.
"Well," said I to Levesque, after a pretence of a meal, "did I
exaggerate the splendour of the landscape, and do you regret
having come thus far?"
"I regret it so little," he replied, "that I am determined to go
on to the summit. You may count on me."
"Very good," said I. "But you know the worst is yet to come."
"Nonsense!" he exclaimed, "we will go to the end. Meanwhile, let
us observe the sunset, which must be magnificent."
The heavens had remained wonderfully clear. The chain of the
Brevent and the Aiguilles-Rouges stretched out at our feet.
Beyond, the Fiz rocks and the Aiguille-de-Varan rose above the
Sallanche Valley, and the whole chains of Mont Fleury and the
Reposoir appeared in the background. More to the right we could
descry the snowy summit of the Buet, and farther off the
Dents-du-Midi, with its five tusks, overhanging the valley of the
Rhone. Behind us were the eternal snows of the Goûter, Mont
Maudit, and, lastly, Mont Blanc.
Little by little the shadows invaded the valley of Chamonix, and
gradually each of the summits which overlook it on the west. The
chain of Mont Blanc alone remained luminous, and seemed encircled
by a golden halo. Soon the shadows crept up the Goûter and Mont
Maudit. They still respected the giant of the Alps. We watched
this gradual disappearance of the light with admiration. It
lingered awhile on the highest summit, and gave us the foolish
hope that it would not depart thence. But in a few moments all
was shrouded in gloom, and the livid and ghastly colours of death
succeeded the living hues. I do not exaggerate. Those who love
mountains will comprehend me.
After witnessing this sublime scene, we had only to await the
moment of departure. We were to set out again at two in the
morning. Now, therefore, we stretched ourselves upon our
It was useless to think of sleeping, much more of talking. We
were absorbed by more or less gloomy thoughts. It was the night
before the battle, with the difference that nothing forced us to
engage in the struggle. Two sorts of ideas struggled in the mind.
It was the ebb and flow of the sea, each in its turn. Objections
to the venture were not wanting. Why run so much danger? If we
succeeded, of what advantage would it be? If an accident
happened, how we should regret it! Then the imagination set to
work; all the mountain catastrophes rose in the fancy. I dreamed
of snow bridges giving way under my feet, of being precipitated
in the yawning crevasses, of hearing the terrible noises of the
avalanches detaching themselves and burying me, of disappearing,
of cold and death seizing upon me, and of struggling with
desperate effort, but in vain!
A sharp, horrible noise is heard at this moment
"The avalanche! the avalanche!" I cry.
"What is the matter with you?" asks Levesque, starting up.
Alas! It is a piece of furniture which, in the struggles of my
nightmare, I have just broken. This very prosaic avalanche
recalls me to the reality. I laugh at my terrors, a contrary
current of thought gets the upper hand, and with it ambitious
ideas. I need only use a little effort to reach this summit, so
seldom attained. It is a victory, as others are. Accidents are
rare--very rare! Do they ever take place at all? The spectacle
from the summit must be so marvellous! And then what satisfaction
there would be in having accomplished what so many others dared
My courage was restored by these thoughts, and I calmly awaited
the moment of departure.
About one o'clock the steps and voices of the guides, and the
noise of opening doors, indicated that that moment was approaching.
Soon Ravanel came in and said, "Come, messieurs, get up; the weather
is magnificent. By ten o'clock we shall be at the summit."
At these words we leaped from our beds, and hurried to make our
toilet. Two of the guides, Ambrose Ravanel and his cousin Simon,
went on ahead to explore the road. They were provided with a
lantern, which was to show us the way to go, and with hatchets to
make the path and cut steps in the very difficult spots. At two
o'clock we tied ourselves one to another: the order of march was,
Edward Ravanel before me, and at the head; behind me Edward
Simon, then Donatien Levesque; after him our two porters (for we
took along with us the domestic of the Grands-Mulets hut as a
second), and M. N----'s party.
The guides and porters having distributed the provisions between
them, the signal for departure was given, and we set off in the
midst of profound darkness, directing ourselves according to the
lantern held up at some distance ahead.
There was something solemn in this setting out. But few words
were spoken; the vagueness of the unknown impressed us, but the
new and strange situation excited us, and rendered us insensible
to its dangers. The landscape around was fantastic. But few
outlines were distinguishable. Great white confused masses, with
blackish spots here and there, closed the horizon. The celestial
vault shone with remarkable brilliancy. We could perceive, at an
uncertain distance, the lantern of the guides who were ahead, and
the mournful silence of the night was only disturbed by the dry,
distant noise of the hatchet cutting steps in the ice.
We crept slowly and cautiously over the first ascent, going
towards the base of the Goûter. After ascending laboriously for
two hours, we reached the first plateau, called the "Petit-Plateau,"
at the foot of the Goûter, at a height of about eleven thousand feet.
We rested a few moments and then proceeded, turning now to the left
and going towards the edge which conducts to the "Grand-Plateau."
But our party had already lessened in number: M. N----, with his
guides, had stopped; his fatigue obliged him to take a longer
About half-past four dawn began to whiten the horizon. At this
moment we were ascending the slope which leads to the Grand-Plateau,
which we soon safely reached. We were eleven thousand eight hundred
feet high. We had well earned our breakfast. Wonderful to relate,
Levesque and I had a good appetite. It was a good sign. We therefore
installed ourselves on the snow, and made such a repast as we could.
Our guides joyfully declared that success was certain. As for me, I
thought they resumed work too quickly.
M. N---- rejoined us before long. We urged him to take some
nourishment. He peremptorily refused. He felt the contraction of
the stomach which is so common in those parts, and was almost
The Grand-Plateau deserves a special description. On the right
rises the dome of the Goûter. Opposite it is Mont Blanc, rearing
itself two thousand seven hundred feet above it. On the left are
the "Rouges" rocks and Mont Maudit. This immense circle is one
mass of glittering whiteness. On every side are vast crevasses.
It was in one of these that three of the guides who accompanied
Dr. Hamel and Colonel Anderson, in 1820, were swallowed up. In
1864 another guide met his death there.
This plateau must be crossed with great caution, as the crevasses
are often hidden by the snow; besides, it is often swept by
avalanches. On the 13th of October, 1866, an English traveller
and three of his guides were buried under a mass of ice that fell
from Mont Blanc. After a perilous search, the bodies of the three
guides were found. They were expecting every moment to find that
of the Englishman, when a fresh avalanche fell upon the first,
and forced the searchers to abandon their task.
Three routes presented themselves to us. The ordinary route,
which passes entirely to the left, by the base of Mont Maudit,
through a sort of valley called the "Corridor," leads by gentle
ascents to the top of the first escarpment of the Rouges rocks.
The second, less frequented, turns to the right by the Goûter,
and leads to the summit of Mont Blanc by the ridge which unites
these two mountains. You must pursue for three hours a giddy
path, and scale a height of moving ice, called the "Camel's
The third route consists in ascending directly to the summit of
the Corridor, crossing an ice-wall seven hundred and fifty feet
high, which extends along the first escarpment of the Rouges
The guides declared the first route impracticable, on account of
the recent crevasses which entirely obstructed it; the choice
between the two others remained. I thought the second, by the
"Camel's Hump," the best; but it was regarded as too dangerous,
and it was decided that we should attack the ice-wall conducting
to the summit of the Corridor.
When a decision is made, it is best to execute it without delay.
We crossed the Grand-Plateau, and reached the foot of this really
The nearer we approached the more nearly vertical became its
slope. Besides, several crevasses which we had not perceived
yawned at its base.
We nevertheless began the difficult ascent. Steps were begun by
the foremost guide, and completed by the next. We ascended two
steps a minute. The higher we went the more the steepness
increased. Our guides themselves discussed what route to follow;
they spoke in patois, and did not always agree, which was not a
good sign. At last the slope became such that our hats touched
the legs of the guide just before us.
A hailstorm of pieces of ice, produced by the cutting of the
steps, blinded us, and made our progress still more difficult.
Addressing one of the foremost guides, I said,--
"Ah, it's very well going up this way! It is not an open road, I
admit: still, it is practicable. Only how are you going to get us
"O monsieur," replied Ambrose Ravanel, "we will take another
route going back."
At last, after violent effort for two hours, and after having cut
more than four hundred steps in this terrible mass, we reached
the summit of the Corridor completely exhausted.
We then crossed a slightly sloping plateau of snow, and passed
along the side of an immense crevasse which obstructed our way.
We had scarcely turned it when we uttered a cry of admiration. On
the right, Piedmont and the plains of Lombardy were at our feet.
On the left, the Pennine Alps and the Oberland, crowned with
snow, raised their magnificent crests. Monte Rosa and the Cervin
alone still rose above us, but soon we should overlook them in
This reflection recalled us to the end of our expedition. We
turned our gaze towards Mont Blanc, and stood stupefied.
"Heavens! how far off it is still!" cried Levesque.
"And how high!" I added.
It was a discouraging sight. The famous wall of the ridge, so
much feared, but which must be crossed, was before us, with its
slope of fifty degrees. But after scaling the wall of the
Corridor, it did not terrify us. We rested for half an hour and
then continued our tramp; but we soon perceived that the
atmospheric conditions were no longer the same. The sun shed his
warm rays upon us; and their reflection on the snow added to our
discomfort. The rarefaction of the air began to be severely felt.
We advanced slowly, making frequent halts, and at last reached
the plateau which overlooks the second escarpment of the Rouges
rocks. We were at the foot of Mont Blanc. It rose, alone and
majestic, at a height of six hundred feet above us. Monte Rosa
itself had lowered its flag!
Levesque and I were completely exhausted. As for M. N----, who
had rejoined us at the summit of the Corridor, it might be said
that he was insensible to the rarefaction of the air, for he no
longer breathed, so to speak.
We began at last to scale the last stage. We made ten steps and
then stopped, finding it absolutely impossible to proceed. A
painful contraction of the throat made our breathing exceedingly
difficult. Our legs refused to carry us; and I then understood
the picturesque expression of Jacques Balmat, when, in narrating
his first ascent, he said that "his legs seemed only to be kept
up by his trousers!" But our mental was superior to our physical
force; and if the body faltered, the heart, responding "Excelsior!"
stifled its desperate complaint, and urged forward our poor worn-out
mechanism, despite itself. We thus passed the Petits-Mulets, and
after two hours of superhuman efforts finally overlooked the entire
chain. Mont Blanc was under our feet!
It was fifteen minutes after twelve.
The pride of success soon dissipated our fatigue. We had at last
conquered this formidable crest. We overlooked all the others,
and the thoughts which Mont Blanc alone can inspire affected us
with a deep emotion. It was ambition satisfied; and to me, at
least, a dream realized!
Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in Europe. Several mountains
in Asia and America are higher; but of what use would it be to
attempt them, if, in the absolute impossibility of reaching their
summit, you must be content to remain at a lesser height?
Others, such as Mont Cervin, are more difficult of access; but we
perceived the summit of Mont Cervin twelve hundred feet below us!
And then, what a view to reward us for our troubles and dangers!
The sky, still pure, had assumed a deep-blue tint. The sun,
despoiled of a part of his rays, had lost his brilliancy, as if
in a partial eclipse. This effect, due to the rarefaction of the
air, was all the more apparent as the surrounding eminences and
plains were inundated with light. No detail of the scene,
therefore, escaped our notice.
In the south-east, the mountains of Piedmont, and farther off the
plains of Lombardy, shut in our horizon. Towards the west, the
mountains of Savoy and Dauphiné; beyond, the valley of the Rhone.
In the north-west, the Lake of Geneva and the Jura; then,
descending towards the south, a chaos of mountains and glaciers,
beyond description, overlooked by the masses of Monte Rosa, the
Mischabelhoerner, the Cervin, the Weishorn--the most beautiful of
crests, as Tyndall calls it--and farther off by the Jungfrau, the
Monck, the Eiger, and the Finsteraarhorn.
The extent of our range of vision was not less than sixty
leagues. We therefore saw at least one hundred and twenty leagues
A special circumstance happened to enhance the beauty of the
scene. Clouds formed on the Italian side and invaded the valleys
of the Pennine Alps without veiling their summits. We soon had
under our eyes a second sky, a lower sky, a sea of clouds, whence
emerged a perfect archipelago of peaks and snow-wrapped
mountains. There was something magical in it, which the greatest
poets could scarcely describe.
The summit of Mont Blanc forms a ridge from southwest to north-east,
two hundred paces long and a yard wide at the culminating
point. It seemed like a ship's hull overturned, the keel in the
Strangely enough, the temperature was very high--ten degrees above
zero. The air was almost still. Sometimes we felt a light breeze.
The first care of our guides was to place us all in a line on the
crest opposite Chamonix, that we might be easily counted from
below, and thus make it known that no one of us had been lost.
Many of the tourists had ascended the Brevent and the Jardin to
watch our ascent. They might now be assured of its success.
But to ascend was not all; we must think also of going down. The
most difficult, if not most wearisome, task remained; and then
one quits with regret a summit attained at the price of so much
toil. The energy which urges you to ascend, the need, so natural
and imperious, of overcoming, now fails you. You go forward
listlessly, often looking behind you!
It was necessary, however, to decide, and, after a last
traditional libation of champagne, we put ourselves in motion. We
had remained on the summit an hour. The order of march was now
changed. M. N----'s party led off; and, at the suggestion of his
guide Paccard, we were all tied together with a rope. M. N----'s
fatigue, which his strength, but not his will, betrayed, made us
fear falls on his part which would require the help of the whole
party to arrest. The event justified our foreboding. On
descending the side of the wall, M. N---- made several false
steps. His guides, very vigorous and skilful, were happily able
to check him; but ours, feeling, with reason, that the whole
party might be dragged down, wished to detach us from the rope.
Levesque and I opposed this; and, by taking great precautions, we
safely reached the base of this giddy ledge. There was no room
for illusions. The almost bottomless abyss was before us, and the
pieces of detached ice, which bounded by us with the rapidity of
an arrow, clearly showed us the route which the party would take
if a slip were made.
Once this terrible gap crossed, I began to breathe again. We
descended the gradual slopes which led to the summit of the
Corridor. The snow, softened by the heat, yielded beneath our
feet; we sank in it to the knees, which made our progress very
fatiguing. We steadily followed the path by which we ascended in
the morning, and I was astonished when Gaspard Simon, turning
towards me, said,--
"Monsieur, we cannot take any other road, for the Corridor is
impracticable, and we must descend by the wall which we climbed
up this morning."
I told Levesque this disagreeable news.
"Only," added Gaspard Simon, "I do not think we can all remain
tied together. However, we will see how M. N---- bears it at
We advanced towards this terrible wall! M. N----'s party began to
descend, and we heard Paccard talking rapidly to him. The
inclination became so steep that we perceived neither him nor his
guides, though we were bound together by the same rope.
As soon as Gaspard Simon, who went before me, could comprehend
what was passing, he stopped, and after exchanging' some words in
patois with his comrades, declared that we must detach
ourselves from M. N----'s party.
"We are responsible for you," he added, "but we cannot be
responsible for others; and if they slip, they will drag us after
Saying this, he got loose from the rope. We were very unwilling
to take this step; but our guides were inflexible.
We then proposed to send two of them to help M. N----'s guides.
They eagerly consented; but having no rope they could not put
this plan into execution.
We then began this terrible descent. Only one of us moved at a
time, and when each took a step the others buttressed themselves
ready to sustain the shock if he slipped. The foremost guide,
Edward Ravanel, had the most perilous task; it was for him to
make the steps over again, now more or less worn away by the
We progressed slowly, taking the most careful precautions. Our
route led us in a right line to one of the crevasses which opened
at the base of the escarpment. When we were going up we could not
look at this crevasse, but in descending we were fascinated by
its green and yawning sides. All the blocks of ice detached by
our passage went the same way, and after two or three bounds,
ingulfed themselves in the crevasse, as in the jaws of the
minotaur, only the jaws of the minotaur closed after each morsel,
while the unsatiated crevasse yawned perpetually, and seemed to
await, before closing, a larger mouthful. It was for us to take
care that we should not be this mouthful, and all our efforts
were made for this end. In order to withdraw ourselves from this
fascination, this moral giddiness, if I may so express myself, we
tried to joke about the dangerous position in which we found
ourselves, and which even a chamois would not have envied us. We
even got so far as to hum one of Offenbach's couplets; but I must
confess that our jokes were feeble, and that we did not sing the
I even thought I discovered Levesque obstinately setting the
words of "Barbe-Bleue" to one of the airs in "Il Trovatore,"
which rather indicated some grave preoccupation of the mind. In
short, in order to keep up our spirits, we did as do those brave
cowards who sing in the dark to forget their fright.
We remained thus, suspended between life and death, for an hour,
which seemed an eternity; at last we reached the bottom of this
terrible escarpment. We there found M. N---- and his party, safe
After resting a little while, we continued our journey.
As we were approaching the Petit-Plateau, Edward Ravanel suddenly
stopped, and, turning towards us, said,--
"See what an avalanche! It has covered our tracks."
An immense avalanche of ice had indeed fallen from the Goûter,
and entirely buried the path we had followed in the morning
across the Petit-Plateau.
I estimated that the mass of this avalanche could not comprise
less than five hundred cubic yards. If it had fallen while we
were passing, one more catastrophe would no doubt have been added
to the list, already too long, of the necrology of Mont Blanc.
This fresh obstacle forced us to seek a new road, or to pass
around the foot of the avalanche. As we were much fatigued, the
latter course was assuredly the simplest; but it involved a
serious danger. A wall of ice more than sixty feet high, already
partly detached from the Goûter, to which it only clung by one of
its angles, overhung the path which we should follow. This great
mass seemed to hold itself in equilibrium. What if our passing,
by disturbing the air, should hasten its fall? Our guides held a
consultation. Each of them examined with a spy-glass the fissure
which had been formed between the mountain and this alarming ice-mass.
The sharp and clear edges of the cleft betrayed a recent breaking off,
evidently caused by the fall of the avalanche.
After a brief discussion, our guides, recognizing the
impossibility of finding another road, decided to attempt this
"We must walk very fast,--even run, if possible," said they, "and
we shall be in safety in five minutes. Come, messieurs, a last
A run of five minutes is a small matter for people who are only
tired; but for us, who were absolutely exhausted, to run even for
so short a time on soft snow, in which we sank up to the knees,
seemed an impossibility. Nevertheless, we made an urgent appeal
to our energies, and after two or three tumbles, drawn forward by
one, pushed by another, we finally reached a snow hillock, on
which we fell breathless. We were out of danger.
It required some time to recover ourselves. We stretched out on
the snow with a feeling of comfort which every one will
understand. The greatest difficulties had been surmounted, and
though there were still dangers to brave, we could confront them
with comparatively little apprehension.
We prolonged our halt in the hope of witnessing the fall of the
avalanche, but in vain. As the day was advancing, and it was not
prudent to tarry in these icy solitudes, we decided to continue
on our way, and about five o'clock we reached the hut of the
After a bad night, attended by fever caused by the sunstrokes
encountered in our expedition, we made ready to return to
Chamonix; but, before setting out, we inscribed the names of our
guides and the principal events of our journey, according to the
custom, on the register kept for this purpose at the Grands-Mulets.
About eight o'clock we started for Chamonix. The passage of the
Bossons was difficult, but we accomplished it without accident.
Half an hour before reaching Chamonix, we met, at the chalet of
the Dard falls, some English tourists, who seemed to be watching
our progress. When they perceived us, they hurried up eagerly to
congratulate us on our success. One of them presented us to his
wife, a charming person, with a well-bred air. After we had given
them a sketch of our perilous peregrinations, she said to us, in
"How much you are envied here by everybody! Let me touch your
These words seemed to interpret the general feeling.
The ascent of Mont Blanc is a very painful one. It is asserted
that the celebrated naturalist of Geneva, De Saussure, acquired
there the seeds of the disease of which he died in a few months
after his return from the summit. I cannot better close this
narrative than by quoting the words of M. Markham Sherwell:--
"However it may be," he says, in describing his ascent of Mont
Blanc, "I would not advise any one to undertake this ascent, the
rewards of which can never have an importance proportionate to
the dangers encountered by the tourist, and by those who