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by George Sand
The original, squashed down to read in about 25 minutes
Armandine Lucile Aurore Dupin was born at Paris in July. At eighteen she married Casimir Dudevant the son of a colonel and baron of the empire, but after nine years they separated. She made her way to Paris, quickly gained literary success under the pen-name of George Sand and scandalised some by her very public love affairs.
For more works by George Sand, see The Index
I. - Bernard Mauprat's Childhood
In the district of Varenne, within a gloomy ravine, stands the ruined castle of Roche-Mauprat. It is a place I never pass at night without some feeling of uneasiness; and now I have just learnt its history from Bernard Mauprat, the last of the line.
Bernard Mauprat is eighty-four and no man is more represented in the province. Passing his house with a friend who knew the old man, we ventured to call, and were received with stately welcome. Later Mauprat told us his story in the following words:
There were formerly two branches of the Mauprat family and I belonged to the elder. My grandfather was that Tristan de Mauprat whose crimes are still remembered. My father was his eldest son, and on his death, which occurred at a shooting party, the only living member of the younger branch, the chevalier, Hubert de Mauprat, a widower with an infant daughter, begged that he might be allowed to adopt me, promising to make me his heir. My grandfather refused the offer, and when I was seven years old and my mother died - poisoned some said by my grandfather - I was carried off by that terrible man to his house at Roche-Mauprat. I only knew afterwards that my father was the only son of Tristan's who had married and that consequently I was the heir to the property.
It was a terrible journey I made with my grandfather but more terrible still was the life led at Roche-Mauprat by Tristan and his eight sons. Beset by creditors, the Mauprats with a dozen peasants and poachers defied the civil laws as they had already broken all moral laws. They formed themselves into a body of adventurers, levying blackmail on the small farms of the neighbourhood, intimidating the tax-collectors and at times not hesitating from petty thefts at fairs. Masters and servants were united in bonds of infamy. Debauchery, extortion, fraud, and cruelty were the precept and example of my youth. All notions of justice were scoffed at, and the civilisation, the light of education, and the philosophy of social equality, then spreading in France and preparing the way for the convulsion of the Revolution, found no entrance at Roche-Mauprat.
The eight sons, the pride and strength of old Mauprat, all resembled him in physical vigour, brutality of manners, and in a cunning ill-nature. They gave themselves the airs of knights of the twelfth century. What elsewhere was called assassination and robbery I was taught to call battle and conquest. The frightful tortures heaped upon prisoners by my uncles gave me a horrible uneasiness, but what kept me from admiring the savagery that surrounded me was the ill-usage I received myself. I grew up without conceiving any liking for vice, but a tendency to hatred was fostered. Of virtue or simple human affection I knew nothing, and a blind and brutal anger was nourished in my breast.
As the years went by Roche-Mauprat became more and more isolated. People left the neighbourhood to escape our violent depredations, and in consequence we had to go farther afield for plunder. I joined in the robberies as a soldier serves in a campaign, but on more than one occasion I helped some unfortunate man who had been knocked down to get up and escape.
My grandfather died when I was fifteen. A year later and so threatened were we by crown officers, private creditors and infuriated peasants, that it was a question of either fleeing the country or bracing ourselves for a decisive struggle, and if needs be finding a grave under the ruins of the castle.
II. - Meet my Cousin Edmée
One night, when wind and rain beat fiercely against the old walls of the castle and I sat at supper with my uncles, a horn was heard at the portcullis. I had been drinking heavily, and boasting that I would make a conquest of the first woman brought to Roche-Mauprat - for I had been rallied on my modesty - when a second blast of the horn announced that it was my Uncle Lawrence bringing in a prize.
"If it is a woman," cried my Uncle Antony, as he went out to the portcullis, "I swear by the soul of my father that she shall be yours, and we'll see if your courage is equal to your conceit."
When the door opened again a woman entered, and one of the Mauprats whispered to me that the young lady had lost her way at a wolf hunt and that Lawrence, meeting her in the forest, had promised to escort her to Rochemaure where she had friends. Never having seen the face of one of my uncles, and little dreaming she was near their haunt, for she had never had a glimpse of Roche-Mauprat, she was led into the castle without having the least suspicion of the trap into which she had fallen. When I beheld this woman, so young and so beautiful, with her expression of calm sincerity and goodness, it seemed to me I was dreaming.
My uncles withdrew, for Antony had pledged his word, and I was left alone with the stranger. For a moment I felt more bewildered and stupefied than pleased. With the fumes of wine in my head I could only suppose this lady was some acquaintance of Lawrence's, and that she had been told of my drunken boast and was willing to put my gallantry to the proof. I got up and bolted and double-locked the door.
She was sitting close to the fire, drying her wet garments, without noticing what I had done. I made up my mind to kiss her, but no sooner had she raised her eyes to mine than this familiarity became impossible. All I could say, was:
"Upon my word, mademoiselle, you are a charming creature, and I love you - as true as my name is Bernard Mauprat."
"Bernard Mauprat!" she cried, springing up; "you are Bernard Mauprat, you? In that case learn to whom you are speaking, and change your manners."
"Really!" I said with a grin, "but let my lips meet yours, and you shall see if I am not as nicely mannered as those uncles of mine."
Her lips grew white. Her agony was manifest in every gesture. I shuddered myself, and was in a state of great perplexity.
This woman was beautiful as the day. I do not believe that there has ever lived a woman as lovely as she. And this was the first trial of her life.
She was my young cousin, Edmée de Mauprat, daughter of M. Hubert de Mauprat, the chevalier. She was of my age, for we were both seventeen, and I ought to have protected her against the world at the peril of my life.
"I swear by Christ," she said, taking my hands in hers, "that I am Edmée, your cousin, your prisoner - yes, and your friend, for I have always felt an interest in you."
Her words were cut short by the report of a gun outside; more shots were heard and the alarm trumpet sounded.
I heard my Uncle Lawrence shouting violently at the door. "Where is that coward? Where is that wretched boy? Bernard, the mounted police are attacking us, and you are amusing yourself by making love while our throats are being cut. Come and help us, Bernard."
"May the devil take the lot of you," I cried, "if I believe a single word of all this."
But the shots rang out louder and for half an hour the fighting was most desperate. Our band amounted to twenty-four all told, and the enemy were fifty soldiers in addition to a score of peasants.
As soon as I learnt that we were really being attacked, I had taken my weapons and done what I called my duty, after leaving Edmée locked in the room.
After three assaults had been repulsed there was a long lull, and I returned to my captive. The fear lest my uncles should get possession of Edmée made me mad. I kept on telling her I loved her and wanted her for myself, and seeing what an animal it was she had to deal with, my cousin made up her mind accordingly. She threw her arms round me, and let me kiss her. "Do you love me?" she asked.
From this moment the victory was hers. The wolf in me was conquered, and the man rose in its place.
"Yes, I love you! Yes, I love you!"
"Well, then," she said distractedly, "let us love each other and escape together."
"Yes; let us escape," I answered. "I loathe this house, and I loathe my uncles. I have long wanted to escape. And yet I shall only be hanged, you know." For I knew I had as much to fear from the besiegers as from the besieged.
"They won't hang you," she rejoined with a laugh; "my betrothed is a lieutenant-general."
"Your betrothed!" I burst out in a fit of jealousy. "You are going to be married?"
"And why not?"
"Swear that you will not marry before I die. Swear that you will be mine sooner than this lieutenant-general's," I cried.
Edmée swore as I asked her, and she made me swear in return that her promise should be a secret. Then I clasped her in my arms, and we remained motionless until fresh shots announced that the fight had begun again. Every moment of delay was dangerous now. I seized a torch, and lifting a trap door made her descend with me to the cellar. Thence we passed into a subterranean passage, and finally hurried forth into the open, holding each other's hands as a sign of mutual trust. I found a horse that had belonged to my grandfather in the forest, and this animal carried us some miles from Roche-Mauprat, before it stumbled and threw us. Edmée was unhurt but my ankle was badly sprained. Fortunately we were near a lonely building called Gayeau Tower, the dwelling place of a remarkable man called Patience, a peasant who was both a hermit and a philosopher, and who, like Edmée, was filled with the new social gospel of Rousseau. Between these two a warm friendship existed.
"The lamb in the company of the wolf," cried Patience when he saw us.
"My friend," replied Edmée, "welcome him as you welcome me. I was a prisoner at Roche-Mauprat, and it was he who rescued me."
At that Patience took me by the arm and led me in. A few days later I was carried to the chateau of the chevalier, M. Hubert de Mauprat, at Sainte-Sévère, and there I learnt that Roche-Mauprat had been taken, that five of my uncles were dead, and that two, John and Antony, had disappeared.
"Bernard," added the chevalier, "I owe to you the life I hold dearest in the world. All my own life shall be devoted to giving you proofs of my gratitude and esteem. Bernard, we are both of us victims of a vicious family. The wrong that has been done you shall be repaired. They have deprived you of education, but your soul has remained pure. Bernard, you will restore the honour of your family, promise me this."
III. - I Go to America and Return
For a long time I am sure my presence was a source of utter discomfort to the kind and venerable chevalier, and to his daughter. I was boorish and illiterate and Edmée was one of the most perfect women to be found in France. She found her happiness in her own family, and the sweetest simplicity crowned her mental powers and lofty virtues. Brute like, at that time I saw her only with the eyes of the body, and believed I loved her because she was beautiful. Her fiance, M. de la Marche, the lieutenant-general, a shallow and frigid Voltairean, understood her but little better. A day came when I could understand her - the day when M. de la Marche could have understood her would never have come.
The first step was taken on my part when I realised that I was ignorant and savage, and I applied to the Abbé Aubert, the chaplain, whose offices I had hitherto despised, to instruct me. I learnt quickly, and soon vanity at my rapid progress became the bane of my life.
With Edmée I was so passionately in love that jealousy would awaken the old brutality that I thought dead, and I would gladly have killed de la Marche in a duel. Then after an outburst remorse would overtake me.
My cousin at last told me plainly that while she would be true to her word, and not marry anyone before me, she would not marry me, and that on her father's death a convent should be her refuge. I knew my boorishness was responsible for this, and resolved to leave her.
Lafayette was taking out volunteers to help the United States in their war of independence. I told him I would go with him, and crossed hastily into Spain, whence he was going to sail to America.
I left a note to my uncle, and wrote to Edmée that, as far as I was concerned, she was free, and that, while I would not thwart a wish of hers, it was impossible for me to witness a rival's triumph.
Before we sailed came the following reply from Edmée:
"You have done well, Bernard. Go where honour and love of truth call you. Return when your mission is accomplished; you will find me neither married nor in a convent."
I cannot describe the American war. I stayed till peace was declared, and then chafing at my long absence from France, for I was away six years - and more in love with Edmée than ever, at last set sail and in due time landed at Brest.
I had not sent any letter to announce my coming, and when I reached the Château of Sainte-Sévère I almost feared to cross the threshold. Then I rushed forward and entered the drawing room. The chevalier was asleep and did not wake. Edmée, bending over her tapestry, did not hear my steps.
For a few seconds I stood looking at her, then I fell at her feet without being able to say a word. She uttered no cry, no exclamation of surprise, but took my head in her two arms, and held it for sometime pressed to her bosom. The good chevalier, who had waked with a start, stared at us in astonishment; then he said:
"Well, well! what is the meaning of this?"
He could not see my face, hidden as it was in Edmée's breast. She pushed me towards him, and the old man clasped me in his feeble arms with a burst of generous affection.
Never shall I forget the welcome they gave me. An immense change had taken place in me during those years of the war. I had learnt to bring my instincts and desires into harmony with my affections, my reason, and I had greatly developed my power of acquiring learning.
Edmée was not surprised at my intellectual progress, but she rejoiced at it. I had shown it in my letters, she said.
My good uncle, the chevalier, now took a real liking for me, and where formerly natural generosity and family pride had made him adopt me, a genuine sympathy made him give me his friendship. He did not disguise from me that his great desire, before falling into the sleep that knows no waking, was to see me married to Edmée; and when I told him this was the one wish of my soul, the one thought of my life, he said:
"I know, I know. Everything depends on her, and I think she can no longer have any reasons for hesitation.... At all events," he added, "I cannot see any that she could allege at present."
From these words I concluded that he himself had long been favourable to my suit, and that any obstacle which might exist lay with Edmée. But so much did I stand in awe of Edmée's sensitive pride and her unspeakable goodness that I dared not ask her point-blank to decide my fate. M. de la Marche I knew had left France, and all thought of an engagement on his part with Edmée was at an end. In a proud struggle to conceal the poverty of his estate, all his fortune had gone, and he had not been long in following me to America.
The chevalier insisted on my visiting my property of Roche-Mauprat. Thanks to my uncle, great improvements had been accomplished in my absence, and the land was being well cultivated by good tenants. I knew that I ought not to neglect my duty, and though I had not set foot on the accursed soil since the day I left it with Edmée, I set out and was away two days.
I stayed in the gloomy old house and the only remarkable thing about the visit was that I had a vision of my wicked uncle John Mauprat.
IV. - My Trial and Happiness
We had gone on a hunting party one day after my return, and Edmée and I were separated from the rest. Somehow the old unbridled passions rose up within me and I succeeded in affronting Edmée with my fierce speech. Then I hastened away, ashamed and fearful.
I had not gone more than thirty paces when I heard the report of a gun from the spot where I had left Edmée. I stopped, petrified with horror, and then retraced my steps. Edmée was lying on the ground, rigid and bathed in blood. Patience was standing by her side with his arms crossed on his breast, and his face livid. For myself, I could not understand what was taking place. I fancy that my brain, already bewildered by my previous emotions, must have been paralyzed. I sat down on the ground by Edmée's side. She had been shot in the breast in two places, and the Abbé Aubert was endeavouring to staunch the blood with his handkerchief.
"Dead, dead," said Patience, "and there is the murderer! She said so as she gave up her pure soul to God; and Patience will avenge her! It is very hard but it must be so! It is God's will, since I alone was here to learn the truth!"
"Horrible, horrible!" exclaimed the Abbé.
Edmée was carried away to the chateau, and I followed and for several days remained in a state of prostration. When strength and consciousness returned I learnt that she was not dead, but that everybody believed me guilty of attempted murder. Patience himself told me the only thing for me to do was to leave that part of the country. I swore I was innocent and would not be saddled with the crime.
Then, one evening, I saw mounted police in the courtyard.
"Good!" I said, "let my destiny take its course." But before quitting the house, perhaps forever, I wished to see Edmée again for the last time. I walked straight to her room, and there I found the Abbé and the doctor. I heard the latter declare that the wounds in themselves were not mortal, and the only danger was from a violent disturbance in the brain.
I approached the bed, and took Edmée's cold and lifeless hand. I kissed it a last time, and, without saying a single word to the others, went and gave myself up to the police.
I was immediately thrown into prison and in a few days my trial began at the assizes. I was convicted, but through the efforts of certain friends a revision of my sentence was granted, and I was allowed a new trial.
At this trial Patience appeared and declared that, while he had believed from what Edmée had said that I was guilty, it had come into his head that some other Mauprat might have fired the shot. It appeared that John Mauprat was now living in the neighbourhood, as a penitent Trappist monk, and he had been seen in company with another monk who was not to be found since the attack on Edmée. "So I put myself on the track of this wandering monk," Patience concluded, "and I have discovered who he is. He is the would-be murderer of Edmée de Mauprat, and his name is Antony Mauprat."
It then turned out that Antony's plot was to kill Edmée, get me hanged for the murder, and then, when the chevalier was dead, claim the estates. John Mauprat knew of his brother's intentions but denied all complicity and was eventually sent back to his monastery. Antony was subsequently convicted and broken on the wheel.
But before I was finally acquitted Edmée herself gave evidence for me. She was still far from well but answered clearly all the irritating and maddening questions that were put to her. When she said to the president of the court, "Everything which to you seems inexplicable in my conduct finds its justification in one word: I love him!" I could not help crying out, "Let them take me to the scaffold now; I am king of all the earth."
But as I have said, it was proved that Antony Mauprat was the criminal; and no sooner was I acquitted and set at liberty, with my character completely cleared, than I hastened to Edmée.
I arrived in time to witness my great-uncle's last moments. He recognised me, clasped me to his breast, blessed me at the same time as Edmée, and put my hand into his daughter's.
After we had paid the last tribute of affection to our noble and excellent relative, we left the province for sometime and paid a visit to Switzerland, Patience and the Abbé Aubert bearing us company.
At the end of Edmée's mourning we returned. This was the time that had been fixed for our marriage, which was duly celebrated in the village chapel.
The years of happiness with my wife beggar description. She was the only woman I ever loved, and though she has now been dead ten years I feel her loss as keenly as on the first day, and seek only to make myself worthy of rejoining her in a better world after I have completed my probation here.
● Copyright © 2014 Glyn Hughes.
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