AT the foot of the hill, where the bridge crossed
the Blanche, stood one of the oldest houses in
Viger. It was built of massive timbers.
The roof curved and projected beyond the eaves,
forming the top of a narrow veranda. The
whole house was painted a dazzling white except
the window-frames, which were green. There
was a low stone fence between the road the garden,
where a few simple flowers grew. Beyond
the fence was a row of Lombardy poplars, some
of which had commenced to die out. On the
opposite side of the road was a marshy field,
where by day the marsh marigolds shone, and by
night, the fire-flies. There were places
in this field where you could thrust down a long
pole and not touch bottom. In the fall a
few musk-rats built a house there, in remembrance
of the time when it was a favourite wintering-ground.
In the spring the Blanche came up and flowed over
it. Beyond that again the hill curved round,
with a scarped, yellowish slope. [Page
In this house lived Adèle Desjardin
with her two brothers, Charles and Philippe.
Their father was dead, and when he died there
was hardly a person in the whole parish who was
sorry. They could remember him as a tall,
dark, forbidding-looking man, with long arms out
of all proportion to his body. He had inherited
his fine farm from his father, and had added to
and improved it. He had always been prosperous,
and was considered the wealthiest man in the parish.
He was inhospitable, and became more taciturn
and morose after his wife died. His pride
was excessive and kept him from associating with
his neighbours, although he was in no way above
them. Very little was known about his manner
of life, and there was a mystery about his father's
death. For some time the old man had not
been seen about the place, when one day he came
from the city, dead, and in his coffin, which
was thought strange. This gave rise to all
sorts of rumour and gossip; but the generally
accredited story was, that there was insanity
in the family and that he had died crazy.
However cold Isidore Desjardin
was to his neighbours, no one could have charged
him with being unkind or harsh with his children,
and as they grew up he gave them all the advantages
which it was possible for them to have.
Adèle went for a year to the Convent of the Sacré
Cœur in the city, and could play tunes on the
piano when she came back; so that she had to have
a piano of her own, which was the first one ever
heard in Viger. She was a slight, angular
girl, with a dark, thin face and black hair [Page
18] and eyes. She looked like her
father, and took after him in many ways.
Charles, the elder son, was like his grandfather,
tall and muscular, with a fine head and a handsome
face. He was studious and read a great deal,
and was always talking to the curé about studying
the law. Philippe did not care about books;
his father could never keep him at school.
He was short and thick-set and had merry eyes,
set deep in his head. "Someone must
learn to look after things," he said, and
when his father died he took sole charge of everything.
If the Desjardins were unsociable
with others, they were happy among themselves.
Almost every evening during the winter, when the
work was done, they would light up the front room
with candles, and Adèle would play on the piano
and sing. Charles would pace to and fro
behind her, and Philippe would thrust his feet
far under the stove, that projected from the next
room through the partition, and fall fast asleep.
Her songs were mostly old French songs, and she
could sing "Partant pour la Syrie" and
"La Marseillaise." This last was
a favourite with Charles; he could not sing himself,
but he accompanied the music by making wild movements
with his arms, tramping heavily up and down before
the piano, and shouting out so loudly as to wake
Philippe, "Aux armes, citoyens!"
On fine summer evenings Philippe and Adèle would
walk up and down the road, watching the marsh
fire-flies, and pausing on the bridge to hear
the fish jump in the pool, and the deep, vibrant
croak of the distant frogs. It was not always
Philippe who walked [Page 19] there
with Adèle; he sometimes sat on the veranda and
watched her walk with someone else. He would
have waking dreams, as he smoked, that the two
figures moving before him were himself and someone
into whose eyes he was looking.
At last it came to be reality
for him, and then he could not sit quietly and
watch the lovers; he would let his pipe go out,
and stride impatiently up and down the veranda.
And on Sunday afternoons he would harness his
horse, dress himself carefully, and drive off
with short laughs, and twinklings of the eyes,
and wavings of the hands. They were evidently
planning the future, and it seemed a distance
of vague happiness.
Charles kept on his wonted
way; if they talked in the parlour, they could
hear him stirring upstairs; if they strolled in
the road, they could see his light in the window.
Philippe humoured his studious habits; he only
worked in the mornings; in the afternoons he read,
history principally. His favourite study
was the "Life of Napoleon Buonaparte,"
which seemed to absorb him completely. He
was growing more retired and preoccupied every
day—lost in deep reveries, swallowed of ambitious
It had been a somewhat longer
day than usual in the harvest-field, and it was
late when the last meal was ready. Philippe,
as he called Charles, from the foot of the stair,
could hear him walking up and down, seemingly
reading out loud, and when he received no response
to his demand he went up the stairs. Pushing
open the door, he saw his brother striding up
and down the room, with his hands [Page
20] clasped behind him and his head bent,
muttering to himself.
He seemed to collect himself, and looked up.
"Come down to supper!" They went
downstairs together. Adèle and Philippe
kept up a conversation throughout the meal, but
Charles hardly spoke. Suddenly he pushed
his plate away and stood upright, to his full
height; a look of calm, severe dignity came over
"I!" said he; "I
am the Great Napoleon!"
Adèle, "what is the matter?"
"The prosperity of the
nation depends upon the execution of my plans.
Go!" said he, dismissing some imaginary person
with an imperious gesture.
They sat as if stunned, and
between them stood this majestic figure with outstretched
hand. Then Charles turned away and commenced
to pace the room.
"It has come!" sobbed
Adèle, as she sank on her knees beside the table.
"There is only one thing
to do," said Philippe, after some hours of
silence. "It is hard; but there is
only one thing to do." The room was
perfectly dark; he stood in the window, where
he had seen the light die out of the sky, and
now in the marshy field he saw the fire-flies
gleam. He knew that Adèle was in the dark
somewhere beside him, for he could hear her breathe.
"We must cut ourselves off; we must be the
last of our race." In those words,
which in after years were often on his lips, he
seemed to find some comfort, and he continued
to repeat them to himself. [Page 21]
Charles lay in a bed in a sort
of stupor for three days. On Sunday morning
he rose. The church bells were ringing.
He met Philippe in the hall.
"Is this Sunday?"
They went into the front room.
"This is Sunday, you say.
The last thing I remember was you telling me to
go in—that was Wednesday. What has happened?"
Philippe dropped his head in his hands.
"Tell me, Philippe, what
"I must know, Philippe;
where have I been?"
"On Wednesday night,"
said he, as if the words were choking him, "you
said, 'I am the Great Napoleon!' Then you
said something about the nation, and you have
not spoken since."
Charles dropped on his knees
beside the table against which Philippe was leaning.
He hid his face in his arms. Philippe, reaching
across, thrust his fingers into his brother's
brown hair. The warm grasp came as an answer
to all Charles's unasked questions; he knew that,
whatever might happen, his brother would guard
For a month or two he lay wavering
between two worlds; but when he saw the first
snow, and lost sight of the brown earth, he at
once commenced to order supplies, to write despatches,
and to make preparations for the gigantic expedition
which was to end in the overthrow of the Emperor
of all the Russias. And the snow continues
to bring him this activity; during the summer
he is engaged, [Page 22] with
no very definite operations, in the field, but
when winter comes he always prepares for the invasion
of Russia. With the exception of certain
days of dejection and trouble, which Adèle calls
the Waterloo days, in the summer he is triumphant
with perpetual victory. On a little bare
hill, about a mile from the house, from which
you can get an extensive view of the sloping country,
he watches the movements of the enemy. The
blasts at the distant quarries sound in his ears
like the roar of guns. Beside him the old
grey horse, that Philippe has set apart for his
service, crops the grass or stands for hours patiently.
Down in the shadow valley the Blanche runs, glistening;
the mowers sway and bend; on the horizon shafts
of smoke rise, little clouds break away from the
masses and drop their quiet shadows on the fields.
And through his glass Charles watches the moving
shadows, the shafts of smoke, and the swaying
mowers, watches the distant hills fringed with
beech-groves. He despatches his aides-de-camp
with important orders, or rides down the slope
to oversee the fording of the Blanche. Half-frightened
village boys hide in the long grass to hear him
go muttering by. In the autumn he comes
sadly up out of the valley, leading his horse,
the rein through his arm and his hands in his
coat-sleeves. The sleet dashes around him,
and the wind rushes and screams around him, as
he ascends the little knoll. But whatever
the weather, Philippe waits in the road for him
and helps him dismount. There is something
heroic in his short figure.
"Sire, my brother!"
he says;—"Sire, let us go in!" [Page
"Is the King of Rome better?"
"And the Empress?"
"She is well."
Only once has a gleam of light
pierced these mists. It was in the year
when, as Adèle said, he had had two Waterloos
and had taken to his bed in consequence.
One evening Adèle brought him a bowl of gruel.
He stared like a child awakened from sleep when
she carried in the lamp. She approached
the bed, and he started up.
"Adèle!" he said,
hoarsely, and pulling her face down, kissed her
lips. For a moment she had hope, but with
the next week came winter; and he commenced his
annual preparations for the invasion of Russia.