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even supposing silence to be among their virtues'? Can
anything more senseless be imagined than to seize a
man on an open road and drag him into a house known
to be suspicious? Why all this elaborate plot? Did
no better occasion offer itself to me? Could I not have
enticed the old man to the estate, shot him and buried him
in the woods? It is claimed that I forced him to sign


bills, — where are they, these bills? They would be bound
to turn up and expose me. You say yourself that the Ban-
cal house is dilapidated, that one can look into Bancal's
room from the Spaniards' dwelling through the rotten
boards; why, then, did Monsieur Saavedra hear nothing!
Aha, he slept ! A sound sleep, that. Or is he likewise, in
the conspiracy, like my mother, my sister, my sweetheart,
my faithful servants? And admitting all, were not the
Bancal couple sufficient to help kill a feeble old man and
dispose of his body; did I have to fetch half a dozen sus-
picious fellow^s, besides, from the taverns? Why did not
my uncle cry out ? He was gagged ; well and good ; but the
gag was found in the yard. Then he did scream, after all,
when the gag was removed, and I had the organ-grinders
play. But such organs are noisy and draw people to the
windows and into the street. And why butcher the victim,
since so many strong men could easily have strangled him ?
Show me the medical report. Monsieur, does it not speak
of a gash rather than a stab? And what twaddle, that
about the funeral train, wiiat betraying arrangements in a
country where every sign-post has eyes ! I am accused of
having rushed into my uncle 's house the following day and
stolen some papers. Where are those papers? My uncle
died almost poor. His claim against me was transferred
to President Seguret. Why, then, the deed? What do they
want with me ? Who that has eyes sees my hands stained ? ' '
This language w^as defiant. It aroused the displeasure
of the court and increased the hatred of the multitude,
whom it reached in garbled shape. Through fear of the
people, no lawyer dared undertake Bastide Grammont's
defense. Monsieur Pinaud, who alone had the courage to
point out the improbabilities and the fantastic origin of
most of the testimony, came near paying with his life for
his zeal for truth. One night a mob, including some peas-
ants, marched to his house, smashed his windows, demol-
ished the gate, and set fire to the steps. The terrified
man made his escape with difficulty, and fled to Toulouse.


Bastide Grammont clearly recognized that, for the pres-
ent, it was useless to offer any resistance; he determined,
therefore, to transform all his valor into patience and keep
his lips closed as if they were doors through which his
hopes might take flight. He, the freest of men, had to pass
the radiant spring days, the fragrant summer nights, in a
damp hole which rendered one 's own breath offensive ; he,
to whom animals spoke, for whom flowers had eyes, the
the earth at times a semblance of the glow of love, who
walked, strode, roamed, rode, as artists produce enchanting
creations — he was condemned by the perverse play of in-
comprehensible circumstances to a foretaste of the grave
and deprived of what he held dearest and most precious.
Frequent grew the nights of sullenness when his eyes, brim-
ming over with tears, were dulled at the thought of dis-
grace; more frequent the days of irrepressible longing,
when every grain of sand that crumbled from the moist
walls was a reminder of the wondrous being and working
of the earth, the meadow, the wood. From the events which
had overshadowed his life he turned away his thoughts in
disgust, and he scarcely heard the keeper when he appeared
one morning and exultingly informed him that the mys-
terious unknown, who was destined to become the chief
witness, the lady with the green feathers, had finally been
found; she had come forward of her own accord, and she
was the daughter of President Seguret, Clarissa Mirabel.

Bastide Grammont gazed gloomily before him. But from
that hour that name hovered about his ears like the flutter-
ing of the wings of inevitable Fate.

This is what took place : Madame Mirabel confessed that
on the night of the murder she had been in the Bancal house.
This confession, however, was made under a peculiar
stress, and in less time than it took swift Rumor to make
it public, she retracted everything. But the word had
fallen and bred deed upon deed.

Clarissa Mirabel was the only child of President Seguret.


She was brought up in the country, in the old Chateau
Perrie, which her father had bought at the outbreak of the
Revolution. Owing to the political upheavals, and the un-
certain condition of things, she did not enjoy the benefit
of any regular instruction in her childhood. The profound
isolation in which she grew up favored her inclination to
romanticism. She idolized her parents; in the agitated
period of anarchy, the girl, scarcely fourteen years old,
exhibited at her father's side such a spirit of self-sacrifice
and such devotion that she aroused the attention of Colonel
Mirabel, who, five years later, came and sued for her hand.
She did not love him, — she had shortly before entered into
a singularly romantic relationship with a shepherd, — yet
she married him, because her father bade her. The union
was not happy ; after three months she separated from her
husband ; the Colonel went with the army to Spain. At the
conclusion of the war he returned, and Clarissa received
an intimation of his desire that she should live with him;
she refused, however, and declared her refusal, moreover,
in writing, incensed that he should have sent strangers to
negotiate with her. But she learned that he was wounded,
and this caused a revulsion of feeling. In the night, by
secret passages, with ceremonious formalities, the Colonel
was carried into the chateau, and Clarissa tended him, in
a remote chamber, with faithful care. As long as it re-
mained secret, the new sort of relationship to the man as
a lover fascinated her, but her mother discovered every-
thing and believed that nothing stood in the way of a com-
plete reconciliation between the pair. Clarissa succeeded
in removing him; in a thicket near the village she had
nightly rendezvous with him. Colonel Mirabel, however,
grew weary of these singular doings ; he obtained a position
in Lyons, but died soon after from the consequences of his

Years passed; her mother, too, died, and Clarissa's grief
was so overwhelming that she would spend entire days at
the grave, and the influence of her more readily consoled


father alone succeeded in inducing her to reconcile herself
to her lonely, empty existence. Left completely to herself,
she indulged in the pleasure of indiscriminate reading, and
her wishes turned, with hidden passion, toward great expe-
riences. Her peculiar tastes and habits made her a subject
of gossip in the little town ; she had children and half -grown
boys and girls come to the chateau, and recited poems to
them and trained them for acting. Her frank nature created
enemies; she said what she thought, offended with no ill
intention, caused confusion and gossip in all innocence,
exaggerated petty things and overlooked great ones, took
pleasure at times in masking, appearing in disguise, and
impersonating imaginary characters, and captivated the
susceptible by the charm of her speech, the bright versatility
of her spirit, the winning heartiness of her manner.

She was now thirty-five years old ; but not only because
she was so exceedingly slender, small, and dainty, did she
seem like a girl of eighteen — her nature, too, was per-
meated by a rare spirit of youth ; and when her eye rested,
absorbed and contemplative, upon an object, it had the
clearness and dreamy sweetness of the gaze of a child. She
was a product of the border : southern vivacity and north-
ern gravity had resulted in a restless mixture ; she was fond
of musing, and, playful as a young animal, was capable of
arousing in men of all sorts desire mingled with shyness.

The flood of reports concerning the death of the lawyer
Fualdes left her, at first, unmoved, although her father, by
his purchase of the domain of La Morne, seemed directly
interested in the happenings, and new accounts were
brought to the chateau daily. The occurrence was too com-
plicated for her, and everything connected with it smelt
too much of the unclean. Only when the name of Bastide
Grammont w^as first mentioned did she prick up her ears,
follow the affair, and have her father or the servants report
to her the supposed course of events, displaying more inter-
est than astonishment.


She knew nothing about Bastide Grammont. Neverthe-
less, his name, as soon as she heard it, fell like a weight
upon her watchful soul. She began to make inquiries about
him, ventured upon secret rides to La Morne, and led one or
another of his servants to talk about him; nay, once she
even succeeded in speaking with Charlotte Arlabosse, who
was free again at that time. What she learned aroused
a strange, pained astonishment ; she had a feeling of having
missed an important meeting.

In addition, she suddenly remembered having seen him.
It must have been he, if she but half comprehended the
confused descriptions of his person. It was a year ago,
one early morning in the first days of spring. Seized by
the general unrest with which the vernal season stirs the
blood and rouses the sleeper sooner than his wont, she had
wandered from the chateau, over the vine-clad hills, into
the woody vale of Rolx. And as she strode through the
dewy underbrush glistening with sunshine, above her the
warbling of birds and the glowing blue of the celestial
dome, beneath her the earth breathing like a sentient being,
she caught sight of a man of powerful build who was stand-
ing erect, bareheaded, with nose in the air, and was enjoy-
ing with a preternatural eagerness, with distended gaze, all
that lay open for enjoyment — the scents, the sun, the
intoxicating dewiness, the splendor of the heavens. He
seemed to scent it all, sniffing like a dog or a deer, and while
his upturned face bore an expression of unfettered, smiling
satisfaction, his arms, hanging by his side, trembled as in
a spasm.

She was frightened then ; she fled without his perceiving
her, without his hearing the sound of her footsteps. Now
the picture assumed a different significance. Often when
she was alone she would abandon herself to a fancied image
of that hour : how she had gone forward to meet the singu-
lar being, and by skilfully planned questions beguiled
answer upon answer from his stubborn lips, and how, un-
able to disguise his feelings any longer, he had spontane-


ously opened his heart to her. And one night he came
riding on a wild steed, forced his way into the castle, took
her and rode away with her so swiftly that it seemed as if
the storm was his servant, and lent wings to his steed.
When the talk at table or in company turned upon Bastide
Grammont and his murderous crime, of which no one sto-od
in doubt, Clarissa never occupied herself with the enormity
of the deed, which must forever separate such a man from
the fellowship of the good. Enveloped in a voluptuous
mist, she was sensible of the influence of his compelling
force, of the heroic soul that spoke in his gestures, of the
reality of his existence and the possibility of a close
approach to the figure which persisted in haunting her
troubled dreams. She was frightened at herself ; she gazed
into the dreaded depths of her soul, and she often felt as
if she herself were lying in prison and Bastide were walk-
ing back and forth outside, planning means for forcing the
door, while his swift steed was neighing in triumph.

Now she was entangled in all the talk, whisperings, and
tales, and the whole mass of abominations, too, in which
design and arbitrariness were hopelessly mingled, passed,
steadily growing, before her. The thing had an increas-
ingly strange effect upon her, and she felt as if she were
breathing poisoned air ; she would walk through one of the
streets of Rodez and fancy that all eyes were fastened upon
her in accusation, so that she hastened her steps, hurried
home, pale and confused, and gazed at herself in the mirror
with faltering pulse.

She had recently been entertained at the estate of a
family on terms of friendship with her father. One day
the master of the house, a scholar, was thrown into great
agitation over the loss of a valuable manuscript. The
servants were ordered to ransack every room, but no one
was suspected of theft. Clarissa fell by and by into a
painful state; she imagined that she was suspected; in
every word she felt a sting, in every look a question ; she
took part in the search with anxious zeal, fevered visions


of prison and disgrace already floated before her, she
longed to hasten to her father, to assert her innocence —
when suddenly the manuscript was found under some old
books; Clarissa breathed again as if saved from peril of
death, and never before had she been as witty, talkative,
and captivatingly lovable as in the hours that followed.

When in the imagination of the multitude the lady with
the green feathers grew steadily more distinct, along with
the other figures implicated in the brutal slaughter of poor
Fualdes, Clarissa was thrown into a consternation with
which she only trifled at first, as if to test herself in a prob-
ability or balance herself upon a possibility, like a lad who
with a pleasing shudder ventures upon the frozen surface
of a stream to test its firmness. She devoured the reports
in the newspapers. The timorous dallying grew into a
haunting idea, chiefly owing to the fact that she really was
the possessor of a hat with green feathers. That circum-
stance could not be regarded as remarkable. Fashion per-
mitted the use of green, yellow, or red feathers ; neverthe-
less, the possession of the hat became a torment to Clarissa.
She dared no longer touch it; it seemed to her as if the
feathers were enveloped in a bloody lustre, and she finally
hid it in a lumber-room under the roof. She busied her-
self with plans of travel, and meant to visit Paris ; but her
resolution grew more shaky every day. Meanwhile June
set in. A traveling theatrical company gave a number of
performances in Rodez, and an officer by the name of Clem-
endot, who had long been pursuing Clarissa with declara-
tions of love, but who had always, on account of his com-
monplaceness and evident crudity, been coolly, nay, at times
ignominiously repulsed, brought her a ticket and invited
her to accompany him to the theatre. She declined, but at
the last moment she felt a desire to go, and had to suffer
Captain Clemcndot's taking the vacant seat to her right,
after the rise of the curtain.

The troupe presented a melodrama, whose action dragged
out at great length and with great gusto the misfortune


and gruesome murder of an innocent youth. At the close
of the last act a woman disguised as a man appeared upon
the scene ; she wore a pointed round hat, and a mask cov-
ered her face. A hurried love-scene, carried on in whispers,
by the light of the dismal lamp of a criminal quarter, with
the chief of the band of murderers, sealed the fate of the
unhappy victim, who was kneeling in prayer. In the house
an eager silence reigned, all eyes were burning. Clarissa
seemed to hear the hundred hearts beat like so many ham-
mers; she grew hot and cold, every feeling of the real
present vanished, and when, in the ensuing interval. Cap-
tain Clemendot in his half humble, half impudent way
became importunate, a shudder ran through her body, and
at the fumes of wine which he exhaled she came near faint-
ing. Suddenly she threw back her head, fixed her gaze
upon his muddled, besotted countenance and asked in a
low, sharp, hurried tone : ' ' What would you say, Captain,
if it were I — I — who was present at the Bancal house? "

Captain Clemendot turned pale. His mouth opened
slowly, his cheeks quivered, his eyes glistened with fear,
and when Clarissa broke into a soft, mocking, but not quite
natural, laugh, he rose and, with an embarrassed farewell,
left her. He was a simple man, as illiterate as a drummer,
and, like everybody else in Eodez, completely under the
sway of the blood-curdling reports. When the perform-
ance was at an end, he approached Clarissa, who, with an
impassive air, was making her way to the exit, and asked
whether she had been trying to jest with him, and she, her
lips dry, and something like a prying hatred in her eyes,
answered, laughing again: "No, no, Captain." After
that her face resumed its earnest, almost sad, expression
and her head dropped on her breast.

Clemendot went home with a disturbed mind, thoroughly
convinced that he had received an important confession.
He felt in duty bound to speak out, and unbosomed himself
next morning to a comrade. The latter drew a second
friend into the secret, they deliberated together, and by


noon the magistrate had been informed. Monsieur Jausion
had the Captain and Madame Mirabel summoned. After
long and singular reflection Clarissa declared that the
whole thing was a joke, and the magistrate was obliged to
dismiss her for the present.

It was not joking, however, that the gentlemen wanted,
but earnest. The Prefect, advised of what had happened,
called in the evening on President SegTiret and had a brief
interview with the worthy man, who, shaken to his inmost
soul, had to learn what a disgrace, to himself and her, his
daughter had conjured up, menacing thus the peace of his
old age. Clarissa was called in; she stood as if deprived
of life before the two aged men, and the grief which spoke
in her father's every motion and feature struck her heart
with sorrow. She pleaded the thoughtlessness of the
moment, the mad humor and confusion of her mind;
in vain, the Prefect openly showed his incredulity. Mon-
sieur Seguret, who in spite of his fondness for a jovial
life, was of an exceedingly suspicious disposition, lacking,
too, a firm and clear judgment of men, could not help
regarding the depressed spirits of his daughter as a proof
of guilt, and he explained to her, with cutting severity, that
the truth alone would keep him from thrusting her from
his heart. Clarissa ceased speaking; words rushed in upon
her like destroying demons. The President grew sleepless
and agitated, and wandered, distracted, about the castle all
night long. His reflections consisted in fathoming Clar-
issa's nature on the side of its awful possibilities, and he
very soon saw her impenetrable character covered with the
blots and stigmas of the vice of romanticism. He, too, was
completely under the spell of the general fanatical opinion,
his experience could not hold out against the poisoned
breath of calumny; the fear of being connected with the
monstrous deed was stronger than the voice of his heart;
suspicion became certainty, denial a lie. When he reflected
upon Clarissa's past, her ungovernable desire to desert the
beaten paths — a quality which appeared to him now as the


gate to crime — no assumption was too daring, and her
image interwove itself in the dismal web.

Sleep was banished from Clarissa, too. She surprised
her father in the gray morning hours in his disturbed
wanderings through the rooms, and threw herself sobbing
at his feet. He made no attempt to console her or raise her ;
to her despairing question as to what she could be seeking
in the Bancal house, since as a widow she was perfectly
free to come and go as she pleased and could dispense with
secrecy, the President's reply was a significant shrug; and
so firmly was his sinister conjecture imbedded, that upon
her dignified demand for a just consideration, he only flung
back the retort: *' Tell the truth."

The news was not slow to travel. Relatives and friends
of the President made their appearance: amazed, excited,
eager, malicious. To see the impenetrably peculiar, elusively
unapproachable Clarissa cast into the mire was a sight they
were all anxious to enjoy. A few of the older ladies at-
tempted a hypocritically gentle persuasion, and Clarissa's
contemptuous silence and the pained look of her eyes seemed
to imply avowals. The Prefect came once more, accom-
panied by two officials. For the Government and the local
functionaries everything was at stake ; the cry for revenge
of the citizens, anxious for their safety, the defiance and
rancor of the Bonapartists, grew more ^dolent every day,
the papers demanded the conviction of the guilty persons,
the rural population was on the point of a revolt. A wit-
ness who had no share in the deed itself, like Madame
Mirabel, could quickly change and terniinate everything;
persuasion was brought to bear, she was promised, as far
as the oath to which she subscribed in the Bancal house was
concerned, a written dispensation from Rome, and a Jesuit
priest whom the Mayor brought to the chateau expressly
confirmed this. When everything proved vain and Clarissa
began to oppose the cruel pressure by a stony calm, she
was threatened with imprisonment, with having her dis-
grace and depravity made public through all France. And


at these words of the Prefect her father fell upon his knees
before her, as she had done that morning before him, and
conjured her to speak. This was too much; with a shriek,
she fell fainting to the floor.

Clarissa believed she remembered having spent the even-
ing of the nineteenth of March with the Pal family, in
Rodez; she believed she remembered that Madame Pal
herself remarked to her the following day : '■ ' We were
so merry yesterday, and perhaps at that very time poor
Fualdes was being murdered." Upon referring to this,
the Pals made a positive denial of everything; they denied
that Clarissa had paid them a visit; nay, in their vague,
cowardly fright, they even declared that they had been on
bad terms with Madame Mirabel for years.

To human pity spirits blinded by fear and delusion were
no longer accessible. Even had the sound sense of a single
individual attempted resistance, it w^ould have been useless ;
the giant avalanche could not be stayed. A diabolical plot
was concocted, and it was the Prefect, Count d'Estournel,
who perfected it in such wdse that it promised the best
success. Toward one o'clock at night a carriage drove into
the castle grounds; Clarissa was compelled to enter it;
the President, the Magistrate, the Prefect, were her com-
panions. The carriage stopped in front of the Bancal
house. Monsieur Segiiret led his daughter into the ground
floor room on the left, a cave-like chamber, gloomy as a bad
conscience. On the shelf over the stove there stood a miser-
able little lamp whose light fell on two sheriff's officers and a
lawyer's clerk, with stern countenances, leaning against the
wall. The windows were hung with rags, the alcoves were
pitchy dark, a mute silence reigned throughout the house.

''Do you know this place?" asked the Prefect with
solemn deliberation. All turned their gaze upon Clarissa.
In order to soften the frightful tension of her breast, she
listened to the rain, which was beating against the wall
outside ; all her senses seemed to have gathered in her ear
to that end. Her body grew limp, her tongue refused to

Vol. XX — 3.


utter more than " no " or *' yes," and since the first prom-
ised new torment and agony, but the latter perchance peace,
she breathed a "yes:" a little word, born of fear and
exhaustion, and, scarce alive, winged with a mysterious
power. Her mind, confused and consumed with longing,
turned a phantom image, the creation of a thousand effer-
vescent brains, into an actual experience. The half con-
sciously heard, half distractedly read, became a burning
reality. Her existence seemed strangely entangled in that
of the man of the wood and dale, who had fervently lifted
his head to heaven, and sniffed in the air with the expres-
sion of a thirsting animal. Now she stood upon the bridge
which led to his domain; she beheld herself sitting at his
feet, drops of blood from his outstretched hand fell upon
her bowed head. Consternation on the one hand, and the
most radiant hope on the other, seized her heart, while
between there flamed like a torch, there rang out exultant

Online LibraryKuno FranckeThe German classics : masterpieces of German literature translated into English (Volume 20) → online text (page 3 of 34)