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Produced by John Bickers, and Dagny





The Exiles


By Honore de Balzac



Translated by Clara Bell and James Waring





ALMAE SORORI


In the year 1308 few houses were yet standing on the Island formed by
the alluvium and sand deposited by the Seine above the Cite, behind the
Church of Notre-Dame. The first man who was so bold as to build on this
strand, then liable to frequent floods, was a constable of the watch
of the City of Paris, who had been able to do some service to their
Reverences the Chapter of the Cathedral; and in return the Bishop leased
him twenty-five perches of land, with exemptions from all feudal dues or
taxes on the buildings he might erect.

Seven years before the beginning of this narrative, Joseph Tirechair,
one of the sternest of Paris constables, as his name (Tear Flesh) would
indicate, had, thanks to his share of the fines collected by him for
delinquencies committed within the precincts of the Cite, had been able
to build a house on the bank of the Seine just at the end of the Rue du
Port-Saint-Landry. To protect the merchandise landed on the strand, the
municipality had constructed a sort of break-water of masonry, which may
still be seen on some old plans of Paris, and which preserved the piles
of the landing-place by meeting the rush of water and ice at the upper
end of the Island. The constable had taken advantage of this for the
foundation of his house, so that there were several steps up to his
door.

Like all the houses of that date, this cottage was crowned by a peaked
roof, forming a gable-end to the front, or half a diamond. To the great
regret of historians, but two or three examples of such roofs survive in
Paris. A round opening gave light to a loft, where the constable's wife
dried the linen of the Chapter, for she had the honor of washing for the
Cathedral - which was certainly not a bad customer. On the first floor
were two rooms, let to lodgers at a rent, one year with another, of
forty sous _Parisis_ each, an exorbitant sum, that was however justified
by the luxury Tirechair had lavished on their adornment. Flanders
tapestry hung on the walls, and a large bed with a top valance of green
serge, like a peasant's bed, was amply furnished with mattresses, and
covered with good sheets of fine linen. Each room had a stove called
a _chauffe-doux_; the floor, carefully polished by Dame Tirechair's
apprentices, shone like the woodwork of a shrine. Instead of stools, the
lodgers had deep chairs of carved walnut, the spoils probably of some
raided castle. Two chests with pewter mouldings, and tables on
twisted legs, completed the fittings, worthy of the most fastidious
knights-banneret whom business might bring to Paris.

The windows of those two rooms looked out on the river. From one you
could only see the shores of the Seine, and the three barren islands, of
which two were subsequently joined together to form the Ile Saint-Louis;
the third was the Ile de Louviers. From the other could be seen, down a
vista of the Port-Saint-Landry, the buildings on the Greve, the Bridge
of Notre-Dame, with its houses, and the tall towers of the Louvre, but
lately built by Philippe-Auguste to overlook the then poor and squalid
town of Paris, which suggests so many imaginary marvels to the fancy of
modern romancers.

The ground floor of Tirechair's house consisted of a large hall, where
his wife's business was carried on, through which the lodgers were
obliged to pass on their way to their own rooms up a stairway like a
mill-ladder. Behind this were a kitchen and a bedroom, with a view over
the Seine. A tiny garden, reclaimed from the waters, displayed at the
foot of this modest dwelling its beds of cabbages and onions, and a few
rose-bushes, sheltered by palings, forming a sort of hedge. A little
structure of lath and mud served as a kennel for a big dog, the
indispensable guardian of so lonely a dwelling. Beyond this kennel was a
little plot, where the hens cackled whose eggs were sold to the Canons.
Here and there on this patch of earth, muddy or dry according to the
whimsical Parisian weather, a few trees grew, constantly lashed by the
wind, and teased and broken by the passer-by - willows, reeds, and tall
grasses.

The Eyot, the Seine, the landing-place, the house, were all overshadowed
on the west by the huge basilica of Notre-Dame casting its cold gloom
over the whole plot as the sun moved. Then, as now, there was not in all
Paris a more deserted spot, a more solemn or more melancholy prospect.
The noise of waters, the chanting of priests, or the piping of the wind,
were the only sounds that disturbed this wilderness, where lovers would
sometimes meet to discuss their secrets when the church-folds and clergy
were safe in church at the services.



One evening in April in the year 1308, Tirechair came home in a
remarkably bad temper. For three days past everything had been in good
order on the King's highway. Now, as an officer of the peace, nothing
annoyed him so much as to feel himself useless. He flung down his
halbert in a rage, muttered inarticulate words as he pulled off his
doublet, half red and half blue, and slipped on a shabby camlet jerkin.
After helping himself from the bread-box to a hunch of bread, and
spreading it with butter, he seated himself on a bench, looked round
at his four whitewashed walls, counted the beams of the ceiling, made a
mental inventory of the household goods hanging from the nails, scowled
at the neatness which left him nothing to complain of, and looked at his
wife, who said not a word as she ironed the albs and surplices from the
sacristy.

"By my halidom," he said, to open the conversation, "I cannot think,
Jacqueline, where you go to catch your apprenticed maids. Now, here is
one," he went on, pointing to a girl who was folding an altar-cloth,
clumsily enough, it must be owned, "who looks to me more like a damsel
rather free of her person than a sturdy country wench. Her hands are as
white as a fine lady's! By the Mass! and her hair smells of essences, I
verily believe, and her hose are as find as a queen's. By the two horns
of Old Nick, matters please me but ill as I find them here."

The girl colored, and stole a look at Jacqueline, full of alarm not
unmixed with pride. The mistress answered her glance with a smile, laid
down her work, and turned to her husband.

"Come now," said she, in a sharp tone, "you need not harry me. Are you
going to accuse me next of some underhand tricks? Patrol your roads
as much as you please, but do not meddle here with anything but what
concerns your sleeping in peace, drinking your wine, and eating what
I set before you, or else, I warn you, I will have no more to do with
keeping you healthy and happy. Let any one find me a happier man in all
the town," she went on, with a scolding grimace. "He has silver in his
purse, a gable over the Seine, a stout halbert on one hand, an honest
wife on the other, a house as clean and smart as a new pin! And he
growls like a pilgrim smarting from Saint Anthony's fire!"

"Hey day!" exclaimed the sergeant of the watch, "do you fancy,
Jacqueline, that I have any wish to see my house razed down, my halbert
given to another, and my wife standing in the pillory?"

Jacqueline and the dainty journeywoman turned pale.

"Just tell me what you are driving at," said the washerwoman sharply,
"and make a clean breast of it. For some days, my man, I have observed
that you have some maggot twisting in your poor brain. Come up, then,
and have it all out. You must be a pretty coward indeed if you fear any
harm when you have only to guard the common council and live under the
protection of the Chapter! Their Reverences the Canons would lay the
whole bishopric under an interdict if Jacqueline brought a complaint of
the smallest damage."

As she spoke, she went straight up to her husband and took him by the
arm.

"Come with me," she added, pulling him up and out on to the steps.

When they were down by the water in their little garden, Jacqueline
looked saucily in her husband's face.

"I would have you to know, you old gaby, that when my lady fair goes
out, a piece of gold comes into our savings-box."

"Oh, ho!" said the constable, who stood silent and meditative before his
wife. But he presently said, "Any way, we are done for. - What brings the
dame to our house?"

"She comes to see the well-favored young clerk who lives overhead,"
replied Jacqueline, looking up at the window that opened on to the vast
landscape of the Seine valley.

"The Devil's in it!" cried the man. "For a few base crowns you have
ruined me, Jacqueline. Is that an honest trade for a sergeant's decent
wife to ply? And, be she Countess or Baroness, the lady will not be able
to get us out of the trap in which we shall find ourselves caught sooner
or later. Shall we not have to square accounts with some puissant and
offended husband? for, by the Mass, she is fair to look upon!"

"But she is a widow, I tell you, gray gander! How dare you accuse your
wife of foul play and folly? And the lady has never spoken a word to yon
gentle clerk, she is content to look on him and think of him. Poor lad!
he would be dead of starvation by now but for her, for she is as good as
a mother to him. And he, the sweet cherub! it is as easy to cheat him as
to rock a new-born babe. He believes his pence will last for ever, and
he has eaten them through twice over in the past six months."

"Woman," said the sergeant, solemnly pointing to the Place de Greve, "do
you remember seeing, even from this spot, the fire in which they burnt
the Danish woman the other day?"

"What then?" said Jacqueline, in a fright.

"What then?" echoed Tirechair. "Why, the two men who lodge with us smell
of scorching. Neither Chapter nor Countess or Protector can serve them.
Here is Easter come round; the year is ending; we must turn our company
out of doors, and that at once. Do you think you can teach an old
constable how to know a gallows-bird? Our two lodgers were on terms with
la Porette, that heretic jade from Denmark or Norway, whose last cries
you heard from here. She was a brave witch; she never blenched at the
stake, which was proof enough of her compact with the Devil. I saw her
as plain as I see you; she preached to the throng, and declared she was
in heaven and could see God.

"And since that, I tell you, I have never slept quietly in my bed.
My lord, who lodges over us, is of a surety more of a wizard than a
Christian. On my word as an officer, I shiver when that old man passes
near me; he never sleeps of nights; if I wake, his voice is ringing
like a bourdon of bells, and I hear him muttering incantations in the
language of hell. Have you ever seen him eat an honest crust of bread
or a hearth-cake made by a good Catholic baker? His brown skin has been
scorched and tanned by hell-fires. Marry, and I tell you his eyes hold
a spell like that of serpents. Jacqueline, I will have none of those two
men under my roof. I see too much of the law not to know that it is well
to have nothing to do with it. - You must get rid of our two lodgers; the
elder because I suspect him; the youngster, because he is too pretty.
They neither of them seem to me to keep Christian company. The boy
is ever staring at the moon, the stars, and the clouds, like a wizard
watching for the hour when he shall mount his broomstick; the other old
rogue certainly makes some use of the poor boy for his black art. My
house stands too close to the river as it is, and that risk of ruin is
bad enough without bringing down fire from heaven, or the love affairs
of a countess. I have spoken. Do not rebel."

In spite of her sway in the house, Jacqueline stood stupefied as she
listened to the edict fulminated against his lodgers by the sergeant
of the watch. She mechanically looked up at the window of the room
inhabited by the old man, and shivered with horror as she suddenly
caught sight of the gloomy, melancholy face, and the piercing eye that
so affected her husband, accustomed as he was to dealing with criminals.

At that period, great and small, priests and laymen, all trembled before
the idea of any supernatural power. The word "magic" was as powerful as
leprosy to root up feelings, break social ties, and freeze piety in the
most generous soul. It suddenly struck the constable's wife that she
had never, in fact, seen either of her lodgers exercising any human
function. Though the younger man's voice was as sweet and melodious as
the tones of a flute, she so rarely heard it that she was tempted to
think his silence the result of a spell. As she recalled the strange
beauty of that pink-and-white face, and saw in memory the fine hair and
moist brilliancy of those eyes, she believed that they were indeed the
artifices of the Devil. She remembered that for days at a time she
had never heard the slightest sound from either room. Where were the
strangers during all those hours?

Suddenly the most singular circumstances recurred to her mind. She was
completely overmastered by fear, and could even discern witchcraft in
the rich lady's interest in the young Godefroid, a poor orphan who had
come from Flanders to study at the University of Paris. She hastily put
her hand into one of her pockets, pulled out four livres of Tournay in
large silver coinage, and looked at the pieces with an expression of
avarice mingled with terror.

"That, at any rate, is not false coin," said she, showing the silver
to her husband. "Besides," she went on, "how can I turn them out after
taking next year's rent paid in advance?"

"You had better inquire of the Dean of the Chapter," replied Tirechair.
"Is not it his business to tell us how we should deal with these
extraordinary persons?"

"Ay, truly extraordinary," cried Jacqueline. "To think of their cunning;
coming here under the very shadow of Notre-Dame! Still," she went on,
"or ever I ask the Dean, why not warn that fair and noble lady of the
risk she runs?"

As she spoke, Jacqueline went into the house with her husband, who had
not missed a mouthful. Tirechair, as a man grown old in the tricks
of his trade, affected to believe that the strange lady was in fact a
work-girl; still, this assumed indifference could not altogether cloak
the timidity of a courtier who respects a royal incognity. At this
moment six was striking by the clock of Saint-Denis du Pas, a small
church that stood between Notre-Dame and the Port-Saint-Landry - the
first church erected in Paris, on the very spot where Saint-Denis was
laid on the gridiron, as chronicles tell. The hour flew from steeple to
tower all over the city. Then suddenly confused shouts were heard on
the left bank of the Seine, behind Notre-Dame, in the quarter where the
schools of the University harbored their swarms.

At this signal, Jacqueline's elder lodger began to move about his room.
The sergeant, his wife, and the strange lady listened while he opened
and shut his door, and the old man's heavy step was heard on the steep
stair. The constable's suspicions gave such interest to the advent of
this personage, that the lady was startled as she observed the strange
expression of the two countenances before her. Referring the terrors
of this couple to the youth she was protecting - as was natural in a
lover - the young lady awaited, with some uneasiness, the event thus
heralded by the fears of her so-called master and mistress.

The old man paused for a moment on the threshold to scrutinize the three
persons in the room, and seemed to be looking for his young companion.
This glance of inquiry, unsuspicious as it was, agitated the three.
Indeed, nobody, not even the stoutest man, could deny that Nature
had bestowed exceptional powers on this being, who seemed almost
supernatural. Though his eyes were somewhat deeply shaded by the wide
sockets fringed with long eyebrows, they were set, like a kite's eyes,
in eyelids so broad, and bordered by so dark a circle sharply defined on
his cheek, that they seemed rather prominent. These singular eyes had
in them something indescribably domineering and piercing, which took
possession of the soul by a grave and thoughtful look, a look as bright
and lucid as that of a serpent or a bird, but which held one fascinated
and crushed by the swift communication of some tremendous sorrow, or of
some super-human power.

Every feature was in harmony with this eye of lead and of fire, at once
rigid and flashing, stern and calm. While in this eagle eye earthly
emotions seemed in some sort extinct, the lean, parched face also bore
traces of unhappy passions and great deeds done. The nose, which was
narrow and aquiline, was so long that it seemed to hang on by the
nostrils. The bones of the face were strongly marked by the long,
straight wrinkles that furrowed the hollow cheeks. Every line in the
countenance looked dark. It would suggest the bed of a torrent where
the violence of former floods was recorded in the depth of the
water-courses, which testified to some terrible, unceasing turmoil.
Like the ripples left by the oars of a boat on the waters, deep lines,
starting from each side of his nose, marked his face strongly, and
gave an expression of bitter sadness to his mouth, which was firm and
straight-lipped. Above the storm thus stamped on his countenance, his
calm brow rose with what may be called boldness, and crowned it as with
a marble dome.

The stranger preserved that intrepid and dignified manner that is
frequently habitual with men inured to disaster, and fitted by nature to
stand unmoved before a furious mob and to face the greatest dangers. He
seemed to move in a sphere apart, where he poised above humanity. His
gestures, no less than his look, were full of irresistible power; his
lean hands were those of a soldier; and if your own eyes were forced to
fall before his piercing gaze, you were no less sure to tremble when by
word or action he spoke to your soul. He moved in silent majesty that
made him seem a king without his guard, a god without his rays.

His dress emphasized the ideas suggested by the peculiarities of his
mien and face. Soul, body, and garb were in harmony, and calculated to
impress the coldest imagination. He wore a sort of sleeveless gown of
black cloth, fastened in front, and falling to the calf, leaving the
neck bare with no collar. His doublet and boots were likewise black.
On his head was a black velvet cap like a priest's, sitting in a close
circle above his forehead, and not showing a single hair. It was the
strictest mourning, the gloomiest habit a man could wear. But for a
long sword that hung by his side from a leather belt which could be
seen where his surcoat hung open, a priest would have hailed him as a
brother. Though of no more than middle height, he appeared tall; and,
looking him in the face he seemed a giant.

"The clock has struck, the boat is waiting; will you not come?"

At these words, spoken in bad French, but distinctly audible in the
silence, a little noise was heard in the other top room, and the young
man came down as lightly as a bird.

When Godefroid appeared, the lady's face turned crimson; she trembled,
started, and covered her face with her white hands.

Any woman might have shared her agitation at the sight of this youth of
about twenty, of a form and stature so slender that at a first glance he
might have been taken for a mere boy, or a young girl in disguise. His
black cap - like the _beret_ worn by the Basque people - showed a brow
as white as snow, where grace and innocence shone with an expression
of divine sweetness - the light of a soul full of faith. A poet's
fancy would have seen there the star which, in some old tale, a mother
entreats the fairy godmother to set on the forehead of an infant
abandoned, like Moses, to the waves. Love lurked in the thousand fair
curls that fell over his shoulders. His throat, truly a swan's throat,
was white and exquisitely round. His blue eyes, bright and liquid,
mirrored the sky. His features and the mould of his brow were refined
and delicate enough to enchant a painter. The bloom of beauty, which
in a woman's face causes men such indescribable delight, the exquisite
purity of outline, the halo of light that bathes the features we love,
were here combined with a masculine complexion, and with strength as
yet but half developed, in the most enchanting contrast. His was one of
those melodious countenances which even when silent speak and attract
us. And yet, on marking it attentively, the incipient blight might have
been detected which comes of a great thought or a passion, the faint
yellow tinge that made him seem like a young leaf opening to the sun.

No contrast could be greater or more startling than that seen in the
companionship of these two men. It was like seeing a frail and graceful
shrub that has grown from the hollow trunk of some gnarled willow,
withered by age, blasted by lightning, standing decrepit; one of those
majestic trees that painters love; the trembling sapling takes shelter
there from storms. One was a god, the other was an angel; one the poet
that feels, the other the poet that expresses - a prophet in sorrow, a
levite in prayer.

They went out together without speaking.

"Did you mark how he called him to him?" cried the sergeant of the watch
when the footsteps of the couple were no longer audible on the strand.
"Are not they a demon and his familiar?"

"Phooh!" puffed Jacqueline. "I felt smothered! I never marked our two
lodgers so carefully. 'Tis a bad thing for us women that the Devil can
wear so fair a mien!"

"Ay, cast some holy water on him," said Tirechair, "and you will see him
turn into a toad. - I am off to tell the office all about them."

On hearing this speech, the lady roused herself from the reverie into
which she had sunk, and looked at the constable, who was donning his
red-and-blue jacket.

"Whither are you off to?" she asked.

"To tell the justices that wizards are lodging in our house very much
against our will."

The lady smiled.

"I," said she, "am the Comtesse de Mahaut," and she rose with a dignity
that took the man's breath away. "Beware of bringing the smallest
trouble on your guests. Above all, respect the old man; I have seen him
in the company of your Lord the King, who entreated him courteously;
you will be ill advised to trouble him in any way. As to my having been
here - never breathe a word of it, as you value your life."

She said no more, but relapsed into thought.

Presently she looked up, signed to Jacqueline, and together they went up
into Godefroid's room. The fair Countess looked at the bed, the carved
chairs, the chest, the tapestry, the table, with a joy like that of
the exile who sees on his return the crowded roofs of his native town
nestling at the foot of a hill.

"If you have not deceived me," she said to Jacqueline, "I promise you a
hundred crowns in gold."

"Behold, madame," said the woman, "the poor angel is confiding - here is
all his treasure."

As she spoke, Jacqueline opened a drawer in the table and showed some
parchments.

"God of mercy!" cried the Countess, snatching up a document that caught
her eye, on which she read, _Gothofredus Comes Gantiacus_ (Godefroid,
Count of Ghent).

She dropped the parchment, and passed her hand over her brow; then,
feeling, no doubt, that she had compromised herself by showing so much
emotion, she recovered her cold demeanor.

"I am satisfied," said she.

She went downstairs and out of the house. The constable and his wife
stood in their doorway, and saw her take the path to the landing-place.

A boat was moored hard by. When the rustle of the Countess' approach was
audible, a boatman suddenly stood up, helped the fair laundress to take
her seat in it, and rowed with such strength as to make the boat fly
like a swallow down the stream.

"You are a sorry fellow," said Jacqueline, giving the officer's shoulder
a familiar slap. "We have earned a hundred gold crowns this morning."

"I like harboring lords no better than harboring wizards. And I know
not, of the two, which is the more like to bring us to the gallows,"
replied Tirechair, taking up his halbert. "I will go my rounds over by
Champfleuri; God protect us, and send me to meet some pert jade out in
her bravery of gold rings to glitter in the shade like a glow-worm!"

Jacqueline, alone in the house, hastily went up to the unknown lord's
room to discover, if she could, some clue to this mysterious business.
Like some learned men who give themselves infinite pains to complicate
the clear and simple laws of nature, she had already invented a chaotic


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