The Baron of Beauguard
THE BARON OF BEAUGUARD
BY GILBERT PARKER
THE Manor House at Beaugard, Monsieur? Ah, bien sûr, "I mind it very well. It was the first in Quebec, and there are many tales. It had a chapel and a gallows. Its baron, he had the power of life and death, and the right of the seigneur—you understand? which he used only once; and then what trouble it made for him and the woman, and the seigneury, and the parish, and all the country!"
"What is the whole story, Pierre?" said Tybalt, who had spent months in the French half-breed's company, stalking game, and tales, and legends of the North.
"Mais, I do not know for sure; but the Abbé Frontone, he and I were snowed up together in that same house which now belongs to the Church, and in the big fireplace, where we sat on a bench toasting our knees and our bacon, he told me the tale as he knew it. He was a great scholar—there is none greater. He had found papers in the wall of the house, and from the Government chest he got more. Then there were the tales handed down, and the records of the Church—for she knows the true story of every man that has come to New France from first to last. So, because I have a taste for tales, and gave him some, he told me of the Baron of Beaugard and that time he took the right of the seigneur, and the end of it all.
"Of course it was a hundred and fifty years ago, when Bigot was Intendant—ah, what a rascal was that Bigot, robber and deceiver! He never stood by a friend, and never fought fair a foe—so the Abbé said. Well, Beaugard was no longer young. He had built the Manor House, he had put up his gallows, he had his vassals, he had been made a lord, he had quarrelled with Bigot and had conquered, but at great cost; for Bigot had such power, and the Governor had trouble enough to care for himself against Bigot, though he was Beaugard'*s friend.
"Well, there was a good lump of a fellow who had been a soldier, and he picked out a girl in the Seigneury of Beaugard to make his wife. It is said the girl herself was not set for the man, for she was of finer stuff than the peasants around her, and showed it. But her father and mother had a dozen other children, and what was the girl, this Falise, to do? She said yes to the man, the time was fixed for the marriage, and it came along.
"So. At the very hour of the wedding Beaugard came by, for the Church was in mending, and he had given leave it should be in his own chapel. Well, he rode by just as the bride was coming out with the man—Garoche. When he saw Falise he gave a whistle, then spoke in his throat, reined up his horse, and got down. He fastened his eyes on the girl's. A strange look passed between them—he had never seen her before, but she had seen him often, and when he was gone, had helped the housekeeper with his rooms. She had carried away with her a stray glove of his. Of course it sounds droll, and they said of her when all came out it was wicked; but evil is according to a man's own heart, and the girl had hid this glove as she hid whatever was in her soul—hid it even from the priest....
"Bien, the Baron looked and she looked, and he took off his hat, stepped forward,' and kissed her on the cheek. She turned pale as a ghost, and her eyes took on the colour that her cheeks lost. When he stepped back he looked close at the husband. 'What is your name?' he said. 'Garoche, Monsieur le Baron," was the reply. 'Garoche! Garoche!' he said, eyeing him up and down. 'You have been a soldier?' 'Yes, Monsieur le Baron?' 'You have served with me?' 'Against you, Monsieur le Baron .... when Bigot came fighting.' 'Better against me than for me,' said the Baron speaking to himself, though he had so strong a voice that what he said could be heard by those near him—that is, those who were tall, for he was six and a half feet, with legs and shoulders like a bull.
"He stooped and stroked the head of his hound for a moment, and all the people stood and watched him, wondering what next. At last he said: 'And what part played you in that siege, Garoche?' Garoche looked troubled, but answered: 'It was in the way of duty, Monsieur le Baron—I with five others captured the relief-party sent from your cousin the Seigneur of Vadrome.' 'Oh,' said the Baron looking sharply, 'you were in that, were you? Then you know what happened to the young Marmette?' Garoche trembled a little, but drew himself up and said: 'Monsieur le Baron, he tried to kill the Intendant—there was no other way.' 'What part played you in that, Garoche?' Some gasped, for they knew the truth, and they feared the wild temper of the Baron. 'I ordered the firing-party. Monsieur le Baron,' he answered.
"The Seigneur's eyes got fierce and his face hardened, but he stooped and drew the ears of the hound through his hand softly. 'Marmette was my cousin's son, and had lived with me,' he said; 'A brave lad, and he had a nice hatred of vileness—else he had not died.' A strange smile played on his lips for a moment, then he looked at Falise steadily. Who can tell what was working in his mind? 'War is war,' he went on, 'and Bigot was your master, Garoche; but the man pays for his master's sins this way or that. Yet I would not have it different, no, not a jot.' Then he turned round to the crowd, raised his hat to the Curé, who stood on the chapel steps, once more looked steadily at Falise, and said: 'You shall all come to the Manor House, and have your feastings there, and we will drink to the homecoming of the fairest woman in my seigneury. Your company also. Monsieur le Curé,' he said, as he saw the priest gazing at him, and with that he turned round, bowed to Falise, put on his hat, caught the bridle through his arm, and led his horse to the Manor House, the big hound following.
"That was in the afternoon. Of course, whether they wished or not, Graroche and Falise could not refuse, and the people were glad enough, for they would have a free hand at meat and wine, the Baron being bountiful of table. And it was as they guessed, for though the time was so short, the people at Beaugard soon had the tables heavy with food and drink. It was just at the time of candle-lighting the Baron came in, and gave a toast. 'To the dwellers in Eden to-night,' he said—'Eden against the time of the Angel and the Sword.' I do not think that any except the Curé and the woman understood, and she, maybe, only because a woman feels a thing, and knows from that, even when her brain does not. After they had done shouting to his toast, he said a good-night to all, and they began to leave, the Curé among the first to go, with a troubled look in his face. He could not have prevented what came after, and so he held his peace. Then, too, he had been with the Baron before the feasting, and what passed between them who can tell?
"As the people left, the Baron said to Garoche and Falise, 'A moment with me before you go.' The woman started, for she thought of one thing, and Garoche started, for he thought of another—the siege of Beaugard and the killing of young Marmette. But they followed the Seigneur to his chamber. Coming in he shut the door on them. Then he turned to Garoche. 'You will accept the roof and bed of Beaugard to-night, my man,' he said, 'and come to me here at nine to-morrow morning.' Garoche stared hard for an instant. 'Stay here,' he said, 'Falise and me stay here in the manor, Monsieur le Baron!' 'Here, even here, Garoche; so good-night to you,' said the Baron. Garoche turned towards the girl. 'Then come, Falise,' he said, and reached out his hand. 'Your room shall be shown you at once,' the Seigneur added softly, 'the lady's at her pleasure.'
"Then a cry burst from Garoche, and he sprang forward, but the Baron waved him back. 'Stand off,' he said, 'and let the lady choose between us.' 'She is my wife,' said Garoche. 'I am your Seigneur,' said the other. 'And there is more than that,' he went on; 'for damn me, she is too fine stuff for you, and the Church shall untie what she has tied to-day.' At that Falise fainted, and the Baron caught her as she fell. He laid her on a couch, keeping an eye on Garoche the while. 'Loose her gown,' he said, 'while I get brandy.' Then he turned to a cupboard, poured liquor, and came over. Garoche had her dress open at the neck and bosom, and was staring at something on her breast. The Baron saw also, stooped, with a strange sound in his throat, and picked it up. 'My glove,' he said. 'And on her wedding day! Here is its mate, fished this morning from my hunting coats, a pair the Governor gave me. You see, man, you see her choice.'
"At that he stooped and put some brandy to her lips, Garoche drew back sick and numb, and did nothing, only stared. Falise came to herself soon, and when she felt her dress open, gave a cry. Garoche could have killed her then, when he saw her shudder from him, as if afraid, over towards the Baron, who held the glove in his hand, and said: 'Voilá Garoche, you had better go. In the next room they will tell you where to sleep. To-morrow, as I said, you will meet me here. We shall have things to say, you and I.' Ah, that Baron, he had a droll mind, but in truth he loved the woman, as you shall see.
"Garoche got up without a word, went to the door and opened it, the eyes of the Baron and the woman following him, for there was a devil in his eye. In the other room there were men waiting, and he was taken to a chamber and locked in. You can guess what that night must have been to him—oui alors'
"What was it to the Baron and Falise?"
"Monsieur, what do you think? Beaugard had never had an eye for women; loving his hounds, fighting, quarrelling, doing wild strong things. So, all at once he was face to face with a woman who has the look of love in her face, who was young, rich, and fine of body, so the Abbé said, and was walking to marriage, at her father's will, and against her own, carrying his glove in her bosom. What should he do? But no, ah, no, Monsieur, not as you think, not quite. Wild, with the bit in his teeth, yes; but at heart—well, here was the one woman for him, he knew it all in a minute, and he would have her once and for all, and till death should come their way. And so he said to her as he raised her, she drawing back afraid, her heart hungering for him, yet fear in her eyes, and her fingers trembling as she softly pushed him from her. You see, she did not know quite what was in his heart. She was the daughter of a tenant vassal, who had lived in the family of a grand seigneur in her youth, the friend of his child—that was all, and that was where she got her manners and her mind.
"She got on her feet and said: 'Monsieur le Baron, you will let me go—to my husband. 'I cannot stay here. Oh, you are great, you are noble, you would not make me sorry, make me to hate myself—and you. I have only one thing in the world of any price—you would not steal my happiness?' He looked at her steadily in the eyes, and said: 'Will it make you happy to go to Garoche?' She raised her hands and wrung them. 'God knows, God knows, I am his wife,' she said helplessly, 'and he loves me.' 'And God knows, God knows,' said the Baron, 'it is all a question of whether one shall feed and two go hungry, or two gather and one have the stubble. Shall not he stand in the stubble? What has he done to merit you? What would he do? You are for the master, not the man; for love, not the feeding on; for the manor-house and the hunt, not the cottage and the loom.'
"She broke into tears, her heart thumping in her throat. 'I am for what the Church did for me this day,' she said. 'Oh, sir, I pray you, forgive me and let me go. Do not punish me, but forgive me—and let me go. I was wicked to wear your glove—wicked, wicked.' 'But no,' was his reply, 'I shall not forgive you so good a deed, and you shall not go. And what the Church did for you this day, she shall undo—by all the saints, she shall! You came sailing into my heart this hour past on a strong wind, and you shall not slide out on an ebb-tide. I have you here, as your Seigneur, but I have you here as a man who will——'
"He sat down by her at that point, and whispered softly in her ear: at which she gave a cry which had both gladness and pain. 'Surely, even that,' he said, catching her to his breast. 'And the Baron of Beaugard never broke his word.' What should be her reply? Does not a woman when she truly loves, always believe? That is the great sign. She slid to her knees, and dropped her head into the hollow of his arm. 'I do not understand these things,' she said, 'but I know that the other was death, and this is life. And yet I know too, for my heart says so, that the end—the end, will be death.'
" 'Tut, tut, my flower, my wild-rose,' he said, 'of course the end of all is death, but we will go a-Maying first, come October and the breaking of the world when it must. We are for Maying now, my rose of all the world!' It was as if he meant more than what he said, as if he saw what would come in that October which all New France never forgot, when as he said, the world broke over them.
"The next morning the Baron called Garoche to him. The man was like some mad buck harried by the hounds, and he gnashed his teeth behind his shut lips. The seigneur eyed him curiously yet kindly too, as well he might, for when was ever man to hear such a speech as came to Garoche the morning after his marriage. 'Garoche,' the Baron said, having waved his men away, 'as you see, the lady made her choice—and for ever. You and she have said your last farewell in this world—for the wife of the Baron of Beaugard can have nothing to say to Garoche the soldier.' At that Garoche snarled out, 'The wife of Baron Beaugard! That is a lie to shame all hell.' The Baron wound the lash of a riding-whip round and round his fingers quietly, and said: 'It is no lie, my man, but the truth.' Garoche eyed him savagely, and growled: 'The Church made her my wife yesterday. And you!—you!—you!—ah, you who had all—you with your money and place, which could get all easy, you take the one thing I have. You, the grand seigneur are only a common robber! Ah! Jésu—if you would but fight me!'
"The Baron, very calm, said, 'First, Garoche, the lady was only your wife by a form which the Church shall set aside—it could never have been a true marriage. Second, it is no stealing to take from you what you did not have. I took what was mine—remember the glove! For the rest—to fight you? No, my churl, you know that's impossible. You may shoot me from behind a tree or a rock, but swording with you?—Come, come, a pretty gossip for the Court! Then, why wish a fight? Where would you be, as you stood before me—you?' The Baron stretched himself up, and smiled down at Garoche. 'You have your life, man; take it and go—to the farthest corner of New France, and show not your face here again. If I find you ever again in Beaugard, I will have you whipped from parish to parish. Here is money for you—^good gold coins. Take them, and go.'
"Garoche got still and cold as stone. He said in a low, harsh voice, 'Monsieur le Baron, you are a common thief, a wolf, a snake. Such men as you come lower than Judas. As God has an eye to see, you shall pay all one day. I do not fear you nor your men, nor your gallows. You are a jackal, and the woman has a filthy heart—a ditch of shame.'
"The Baron drew up his arm like lightning, and the lash of his whip came singing across Garoche's pale face. Where it passed a welt rose at once, but the man never stirred. The arm came up again, but a voice behind the Baron said, 'Ah, no, no, not again!' There stood Falise. Both men looked at her. 'I have heard Garoche,' she said. 'He does not judge me right. My heart is no filthy ditch of shame. But it was breaking when I came from the altar with him yesterday. Yet I would have been a true wife to him after all. A ditch of shame—ah, Garoche—Garoche! And you said you loved me, and that nothing could change you!'
"The Baron said to her, 'Why have you come, Falise? I forbade you.' 'Oh, my lord,' she answered, 'I feared—for you both. When men go mad they know not what they do. When they slander and hate, a devil has gone into them.' The Baron, taking her by the hand, said, 'Permit me,' and he led her to the door for her to pass out. She looked back sadly at Garoche, standing for a minute very still. Then (Jaroche said, 'I command you, come with me; you are my wife.' She did not reply, but shook her head at him. Then he spoke out high and fierce: 'May no child be born to you. May a curse fall on you. May your fields be barren, and your horses and cattle die. May you never see nor hear good things. May the waters leave their courses to drown you, and the hills their bases to bury you, and no hand lay you in decent graves!'
"The woman put her hands to her ears, and gave a little cry, and the Baron pushed her gently on, and closed the door after her. Then he turned on Garoche. 'Have you said all you wish?' he asked. 'For, if not, say on, and then go; and go so far you cannot see the sky that covers Beaugard. We are even now—we can cry quits. But that I have a little injured you, you should be done for instantly. But hear me: if I ever see you again, my gallows shall end you straight. Your tongue has been gross before the mistress of this manor; I will have it torn out, if it so much as syllables her name to me or to the world again. She is dead to you. Go, and go for ever!' He put a bag of money on the table, but Garoche turned away from it, and without a word left the room, and the house, and the parish, and said nothing to no man of the evil that had come to him.
"But what talk was there, and what dreadful things were said at first!—that Garoche had sold his wife to the Baron; that he had been killed and his wife taken; that the Baron kept him a prisoner in a cellar under the Manor House. And all the time there was Falise with the Baron—very quiet and sweet and fine to see, and going to Chapel every day, and to Mass on Sundays—which no one could understand, any more than they could see why she should be called the Baroness of Beaugard; for had they all not seen her married to Garoche? And there were many people who thought her vile. Yet truly, at heart, she was not so—not at all. Then it was said that there was to be a new marriage; that the Church would let it be so, doing and undoing, and doing again. But the weeks and the months went by, and it was never done. For, powerful as the Baron was, Bigot, the Intendant, was powerful also, and fought the thing with all his might. The Baron went to Quebec to see the Bishop and the Governor, and though promises were made, nothing was done. It must go to the King and then to the Pope, and from the Pope to the King again, and so on. And the months and the years went by, as they waited, and with them came no child to the Manor House of Beaugard. That was the only sad thing—that and the waiting, so far as man could see. For never were man and woman truer to each other than these, and never was a lady of the manor kinder to the poor, or a lord freer of hand to his vassals. He would bluster sometimes, and string a peasant up by the heels, but his gallows was never used, and, what was much in the minds of the people, the Curé did not refuse the woman the sacrament.
"At last, the Baron, fierce because he knew that Bigot was the cause of the great delay, so that he might not call Falise his wife, seized a transport on the river, which had been sent to brutally levy upon a poor gentleman, and when Bigot's men resisted, shot them down. Then Bigot sent against Beaugard a company of artillery and some soldiers of the line. The guns were placed on a hill looking down on the Manor House across the little river. In the evening the cannons arrived, and in the morning the fight was to begin. The guns were loaded and everything was ready. At the Manor all was making ready also, and the Baron had no fear.
"But Falise's heart was heavy, she knew not why. 'Eugene,' she said, 'if anything should happen!' 'Nonsense, my Falise,' he answered; 'what should happen?' 'If—if you were taken—were killed!' she said. 'Nonsense, my rose,' he said again, 'I shall not be killed. But if I were, you should be at peace here.' 'Ah, no, no,' said she. 'Never. Life to me is only possible with you. I have had nothing but you—none of those things which give peace to other women—none. But I have been happy—oh, yes, very happy. And, God forgive me, Eugene, I cannot regret, and I never have. But it has been always and always my prayer that, when you die, I may die with you—at the same moment. For I cannot live without you, and, besides, I would like to go to the good God with you to speak for us both; for oh, I loved you, I loved you, and I love you still, my husband, my adored.'
"He stooped—he was so big, and she but of middle height—kissed her, and said, 'See, my Falise, I am of the same mind. We have been happy in life, and we could well be happy in death together.' So they sat long, long into the night and talked to each other—of the days they had passed together, of cheerful things, she trying to comfort herself, and he trying to bring smiles to her lips. At last they said good-night, and he lay down in his clothes; and after a few moments she was sleeping like a child. But he could not sleep, for he lay thinking of her and of her life—how she had come from humble things and fitted in with the highest; At last, at break of day, he arose and went outside. He looked up at the hill where Bigot's two guns were. Men were already stirring there. One man was standing beside the gun, and another not far behind. Of course the Baron could not know that the man behind the gunner said: 'Yes, you may open the dance with an early salute'; and he smiled up boldly at the hill and went into the house, and stole to the bed of his wife to kiss her before he began the day's fighting. He looked at her a moment, standing over her, and then stooped and softly put his lips to hers.
"At that moment the gunner up on the hill used the match, and an awful thing happened. With the loud roar the whole hillside of rock and gravel and sand split down, not ten feet in front of the gun, moved with horrible swiftness upon the river, filled its bed, and turned it from its course, and, sweeping on, swallowed the Manor House of Beaugard. There had been a crack in the hill, the water of the river had sapped its foundations, and it needed only this shock to send it down. And twice since that day this same river has been shifted from its course by breaking banks and hills: the last time, but two years ago, as all remember.
"And so, as the woman wished: the same hour for herself and the man. And when at last their prison was opened by the willing hands of Bigot's men, they were found cheek by cheek, free for ever from all mortal bonds, but bound in the sacred marriage of Death.
"But another had gone the same road, for, at the awful moment, beside the bursted gun, the dying gunner, Garoche, lifted up his head, saw the loose travelling hill, and said with his last breath: 'The waters drown them, and the hills bury them, and——'. He had his way with them, and after that perhaps the great God had His way with him—eh?—eh?"