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    Ch. 8: A Committee-Man of 'The Terror'

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    Chapter 8
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    We had been talking of the Georgian glories of our old-fashioned watering-
    place, which now, with its substantial russet-red and dun brick buildings
    in the style of the year eighteen hundred, looks like one side of a Soho
    or Bloomsbury Street transported to the shore, and draws a smile from the
    modern tourist who has no eye for solidity of build. The writer, quite a
    youth, was present merely as a listener. The conversation proceeded from
    general subjects to particular, until old Mrs. H--, whose memory was as
    perfect at eighty as it had ever been in her life, interested us all by
    the obvious fidelity with which she repeated a story many times related
    to her by her mother when our aged friend was a girl--a domestic drama
    much affecting the life of an acquaintance of her said parent, one
    Mademoiselle V--, a teacher of French. The incidents occurred in the
    town during the heyday of its fortunes, at the time of our brief peace
    with France in 1802-3.

    'I wrote it down in the shape of a story some years ago, just after my
    mother's death,' said Mrs. H--. 'It is locked up in my desk there now.'

    'Read it!' said we.

    'No,' said she; 'the light is bad, and I can remember it well enough,
    word for word, flourishes and all.' We could not be choosers in the
    circumstances, and she began.

    * * * * *

    'There are two in it, of course, the man and the woman, and it was on an
    evening in September that she first got to know him. There had not been
    such a grand gathering on the Esplanade all the season. His Majesty King
    George the Third was present, with all the princesses and royal dukes,
    while upwards of three hundred of the general nobility and other persons
    of distinction were also in the town at the time. Carriages and other
    conveyances were arriving every minute from London and elsewhere; and
    when among the rest a shabby stage-coach came in by a by-route along the
    coast from Havenpool, and drew up at a second-rate tavern, it attracted
    comparatively little notice.

    'From this dusty vehicle a man alighted, left his small quantity of
    luggage temporarily at the office, and walked along the street as if to
    look for lodgings.

    'He was about forty-five--possibly fifty--and wore a long coat of faded
    superfine cloth, with a heavy collar, and a hunched-up neckcloth. He
    seemed to desire obscurity.

    'But the display appeared presently to strike him, and he asked of a
    rustic he met in the street what was going on; his accent being that of
    one to whom English pronunciation was difficult.

    'The countryman looked at him with a slight surprise, and said, "King
    Jarge is here and his royal Cwort."

    'The stranger inquired if they were going to stay long.

    '"Don't know, Sir. Same as they always do, I suppose."

    '"How long is that?"

    '"Till some time in October. They've come here every summer since eighty-
    nine."

    'The stranger moved onward down St. Thomas Street, and approached the
    bridge over the harbour backwater, that then, as now, connected the old
    town with the more modern portion. The spot was swept with the rays of a
    low sun, which lit up the harbour lengthwise, and shone under the brim of
    the man's hat and into his eyes as he looked westward. Against the
    radiance figures were crossing in the opposite direction to his own;
    among them this lady of my mother's later acquaintance, Mademoiselle V--.
    She was the daughter of a good old French family, and at that date a pale
    woman, twenty-eight or thirty years of age, tall and elegant in figure,
    but plainly dressed and wearing that evening (she said) a small muslin
    shawl crossed over the bosom in the fashion of the time, and tied behind.

    'At sight of his face, which, as she used to tell us, was unusually
    distinct in the peering sunlight, she could not help giving a little
    shriek of horror, for a terrible reason connected with her history, and
    after walking a few steps further, she sank down against the parapet of
    the bridge in a fainting fit.

    'In his preoccupation the foreign gentleman had hardly noticed her, but
    her strange collapse immediately attracted his attention. He quickly
    crossed the carriageway, picked her up, and carried her into the first
    shop adjoining the bridge, explaining that she was a lady who had been
    taken ill outside.

    'She soon revived; but, clearly much puzzled, her helper perceived that
    she still had a dread of him which was sufficient to hinder her complete
    recovery of self-command. She spoke in a quick and nervous way to the
    shopkeeper, asking him to call a coach.

    'This the shopkeeper did, Mademoiselle V--- and the stranger remaining in
    constrained silence while he was gone. The coach came up, and giving the
    man the address, she entered it and drove away.

    '"Who is that lady?" said the newly arrived gentleman.

    '"She's of your nation, as I should make bold to suppose," said the
    shopkeeper. And he told the other that she was Mademoiselle V--,
    governess at General Newbold's, in the same town.

    '"You have many foreigners here?" the stranger inquired.

    '"Yes, though mostly Hanoverians. But since the peace they are learning
    French a good deal in genteel society, and French instructors are rather
    in demand."

    '"Yes, I teach it," said the visitor. "I am looking for a tutorship in
    an academy."

    'The information given by the burgess to the Frenchman seemed to explain
    to the latter nothing of his countrywoman's conduct--which, indeed, was
    the case--and he left the shop, taking his course again over the bridge
    and along the south quay to the Old Rooms Inn, where he engaged a
    bedchamber.

    'Thoughts of the woman who had betrayed such agitation at sight of him
    lingered naturally enough with the newcomer. Though, as I stated, not
    much less than thirty years of age, Mademoiselle V--, one of his own
    nation, and of highly refined and delicate appearance, had kindled a
    singular interest in the middle-aged gentleman's breast, and her large
    dark eyes, as they had opened and shrunk from him, exhibited a pathetic
    beauty to which hardly any man could have been insensible.

    'The next day, having written some letters, he went out and made known at
    the office of the town "Guide" and of the newspaper, that a teacher of
    French and calligraphy had arrived, leaving a card at the bookseller's to
    the same effect. He then walked on aimlessly, but at length inquired the
    way to General Newbold's. At the door, without giving his name, he asked
    to see Mademoiselle V--, and was shown into a little back parlour, where
    she came to him with a gaze of surprise.

    '"My God! Why do you intrude here, Monsieur?" she gasped in French as
    soon as she saw his face.

    '"You were taken ill yesterday. I helped you. You might have been run
    over if I had not picked you up. It was an act of simple humanity
    certainly; but I thought I might come to ask if you had recovered?"

    'She had turned aside, and had scarcely heard a word of his speech. "I
    hate you, infamous man!" she said. "I cannot bear your helping me. Go
    away!"

    '"But you are a stranger to me."

    '"I know you too well!"

    '"You have the advantage then, Mademoiselle. I am a newcomer here. I
    never have seen you before to my knowledge; and I certainly do not, could
    not, hate you."

    '"Are you not Monsieur B--?"

    'He flinched. "I am--in Paris," he said. "But here I am Monsieur G--."

    '"That is trivial. You are the man I say you are."

    '"How did you know my real name, Mademoiselle?"

    '"I saw you in years gone by, when you did not see me. You were formerly
    Member of the Committee of Public Safety, under the Convention."

    "I was."

    '"You guillotined my father, my brother, my uncle--all my family, nearly,
    and broke my mother's heart. They had done nothing but keep silence.
    Their sentiments were only guessed. Their headless corpses were thrown
    indiscriminately into the ditch of the Mousseaux Cemetery, and destroyed
    with lime."

    'He nodded.

    '"You left me without a friend, and here I am now, alone in a foreign
    land."

    '"I am sorry for you," said be. "Sorry for the consequence, not for the
    intent. What I did was a matter of conscience, and, from a point of view
    indiscernible by you, I did right. I profited not a farthing. But I
    shall not argue this. You have the satisfaction of seeing me here an
    exile also, in poverty, betrayed by comrades, as friendless as yourself."

    '"It is no satisfaction to me, Monsieur."

    '"Well, things done cannot be altered. Now the question: are you quite
    recovered?"

    '"Not from dislike and dread of you--otherwise, yes."

    '"Good morning, Mademoiselle."

    '"Good morning."

    'They did not meet again till one evening at the theatre (which my
    mother's friend was with great difficulty induced to frequent, to perfect
    herself in English pronunciation, the idea she entertained at that time
    being to become a teacher of English in her own country later on). She
    found him sitting next to her, and it made her pale and restless.

    '"You are still afraid of me?"

    '"I am. O cannot you understand!"

    'He signified the affirmative.

    '"I follow the play with difficulty," he said, presently.

    '"So do I--now," said she.

    'He regarded her long, and she was conscious of his look; and while she
    kept her eyes on the stage they filled with tears. Still she would not
    move, and the tears ran visibly down her cheek, though the play was a
    merry one, being no other than Mr. Sheridan's comedy of "The Rivals,"
    with Mr. S. Kemble as Captain Absolute. He saw her distress, and that
    her mind was elsewhere; and abruptly rising from his seat at
    candle-snuffing time he left the theatre.

    'Though he lived in the old town, and she in the new, they frequently saw
    each other at a distance. One of these occasions was when she was on the
    north side of the harbour, by the ferry, waiting for the boat to take her
    across. He was standing by Cove Row, on the quay opposite. Instead of
    entering the boat when it arrived she stepped back from the quay; but
    looking to see if he remained she beheld him pointing with his finger to
    the ferry-boat.

    '"Enter!" he said, in a voice loud enough to reach her.

    'Mademoiselle V--- stood still.

    '"Enter!" he said, and, as she did not move, he repeated the word a third
    time.

    'She had really been going to cross, and now approached and stepped down
    into the boat. Though she did not raise her eyes she knew that he was
    watching her over. At the landing steps she saw from under the brim of
    her hat a hand stretched down. The steps were steep and slippery.

    '"No, Monsieur," she said. "Unless, indeed, you believe in God, and
    repent of your evil past!"

    '"I am sorry you were made to suffer. But I only believe in the god
    called Reason, and I do not repent. I was the instrument of a national
    principle. Your friends were not sacrificed for any ends of mine."

    'She thereupon withheld her hand, and clambered up unassisted. He went
    on, ascending the Look-out Hill, and disappearing over the brow. Her way
    was in the same direction, her errand being to bring home the two young
    girls under her charge, who had gone to the cliff for an airing. When
    she joined them at the top she saw his solitary figure at the further
    edge, standing motionless against the sea. All the while that she
    remained with her pupils he stood without turning, as if looking at the
    frigates in the roadstead, but more probably in meditation, unconscious
    where he was. In leaving the spot one of the children threw away half a
    sponge-biscuit that she had been eating. Passing near it he stooped,
    picked it up carefully, and put it in his pocket.

    'Mademoiselle V--- came homeward, asking herself, "Can he be starving?"

    'From that day he was invisible for so long a time that she thought he
    had gone away altogether. But one evening a note came to her, and she
    opened it trembling.

    '"I am here ill," it said, "and, as you know, alone. There are one or
    two little things I want done, in case my death should occur,--and I
    should prefer not to ask the people here, if it could be avoided. Have
    you enough of the gift of charity to come and carry out my wishes
    before it is too late?"

    'Now so it was that, since seeing him possess himself of the broken cake,
    she had insensibly begun to feel something that was more than curiosity,
    though perhaps less than anxiety, about this fellow-countryman of hers;
    and it was not in her nervous and sensitive heart to resist his appeal.
    She found his lodging (to which he had removed from the Old Rooms inn for
    economy) to be a room over a shop, half-way up the steep and narrow
    street of the old town, to which the fashionable visitors seldom
    penetrated. With some misgiving she entered the house, and was admitted
    to the chamber where he lay.

    '"You are too good, too good," he murmured. And presently, "You need not
    shut the door. You will feel safer, and they will not understand what we
    say."

    '"Are you in want, Monsieur? Can I give you--"

    '"No, no. I merely want you to do a trifling thing or two that I have
    not strength enough to do myself. Nobody in the town but you knows who I
    really am--unless you have told?"

    '"I have not told . . . I thought you might have acted from principle in
    those sad days, even--"

    '"You are kind to concede that much. However, to the present. I was
    able to destroy my few papers before I became so weak . . . But in the
    drawer there you will find some pieces of linen clothing--only two or
    three--marked with initials that may be recognized. Will you rip them
    out with a penknife?"

    'She searched as bidden, found the garments, cut out the stitches of the
    lettering, and replaced the linen as before. A promise to post, in the
    event of his death, a letter he put in her hand, completed all that he
    required of her.

    'He thanked her. "I think you seem sorry for me," he murmured. "And I
    am surprised. You are sorry?"

    'She evaded the question. "Do you repent and believe?" she asked.

    '"No."

    'Contrary to her expectations and his own he recovered, though very
    slowly; and her manner grew more distant thenceforward, though his
    influence upon her was deeper than she knew. Weeks passed away, and the
    month of May arrived. One day at this time she met him walking slowly
    along the beach to the northward.

    '"You know the news?" he said.

    '"You mean of the rupture between France and England again?"

    '"Yes; and the feeling of antagonism is stronger than it was in the last
    war, owing to Bonaparte's high-handed arrest of the innocent English who
    were travelling in our country for pleasure. I feel that the war will be
    long and bitter; and that my wish to live unknown in England will be
    frustrated. See here."

    'He took from his pocket a piece of the single newspaper which circulated
    in the county in those days, and she read--

    "The magistrates acting under the Alien Act have been requested to
    direct a very scrutinizing eye to the Academies in our towns and other
    places, in which French tutors are employed, and to all of that
    nationality who profess to be teachers in this country. Many of them
    are known to be inveterate Enemies and Traitors to the nation among
    whose people they have found a livelihood and a home."

    'He continued: "I have observed since the declaration of war a marked
    difference in the conduct of the rougher class of people here towards me.
    If a great battle were to occur--as it soon will, no doubt--feeling would
    grow to a pitch that would make it impossible for me, a disguised man of
    no known occupation, to stay here. With you, whose duties and
    antecedents are known, it may be less difficult, but still unpleasant.
    Now I propose this. You have probably seen how my deep sympathy with you
    has quickened to a warm feeling; and what I say is, will you agree to
    give me a title to protect you by honouring me with your hand? I am
    older than you, it is true, but as husband and wife we can leave England
    together, and make the whole world our country. Though I would propose
    Quebec, in Canada, as the place which offers the best promise of a home."

    '"My God! You surprise me!" said she.

    '"But you accept my proposal?"

    '"No, no!"

    '"And yet I think you will, Mademoiselle, some day!"

    '"I think not."

    '"I won't distress you further now."

    '"Much thanks . . . I am glad to see you looking better, Monsieur; I mean
    you are looking better."

    '"Ah, yes. I am improving. I walk in the sun every day."

    'And almost every day she saw him--sometimes nodding stiffly only,
    sometimes exchanging formal civilities. "You are not gone yet," she said
    on one of these occasions.

    '"No. At present I don't think of going without you."

    '"But you find it uncomfortable here?"

    '"Somewhat. So when will you have pity on me?"

    'She shook her head and went on her way. Yet she was a little moved. "He
    did it on principle," she would murmur. "He had no animosity towards
    them, and profited nothing!"

    'She wondered how he lived. It was evident that he could not be so poor
    as she had thought; his pretended poverty might be to escape notice. She
    could not tell, but she knew that she was dangerously interested in him.

    'And he still mended, till his thin, pale face became more full and firm.
    As he mended she had to meet that request of his, advanced with even
    stronger insistency.

    'The arrival of the King and Court for the season as usual brought
    matters to a climax for these two lonely exiles and fellow
    country-people. The King's awkward preference for a part of the coast in
    such dangerous proximity to France made it necessary that a strict
    military vigilance should be exercised to guard the royal residents. Half-
    a-dozen frigates were every night posted in a line across the bay, and
    two lines of sentinels, one at the water's edge and another behind the
    Esplanade, occupied the whole sea-front after eight every night. The
    watering-place was growing an inconvenient residence even for
    Mademoiselle V--- herself, her friendship for this strange French tutor
    and writing-master who never had any pupils having been observed by many
    who slightly knew her. The General's wife, whose dependent she was,
    repeatedly warned her against the acquaintance; while the Hanoverian and
    other soldiers of the Foreign Legion, who had discovered the nationality
    of her friend, were more aggressive than the English military gallants
    who made it their business to notice her.

    'In this tense state of affairs her answers became more agitated. "O
    Heaven, how can I marry you!" she would say.

    '"You will; surely you will!" he answered again. "I don't leave without
    you. And I shall soon be interrogated before the magistrates if I stay
    here; probably imprisoned. You will come?"

    'She felt her defences breaking down. Contrary to all reason and sense
    of family honour she was, by some abnormal craving, inclining to a
    tenderness for him that was founded on its opposite. Sometimes her warm
    sentiments burnt lower than at others, and then the enormity of her
    conduct showed itself in more staring hues.

    'Shortly after this he came with a resigned look on his face. "It is as
    I expected," he said. "I have received a hint to go. In good sooth, I
    am no Bonapartist--I am no enemy to England; but the presence of the King
    made it impossible for a foreigner with no visible occupation, and who
    may be a spy, to remain at large in the town. The authorities are civil,
    but firm. They are no more than reasonable. Good. I must go. You must
    come also."

    'She did not speak. But she nodded assent, her eyes drooping.

    'On her way back to the house on the Esplanade she said to herself, "I am
    glad, I am glad! I could not do otherwise. It is rendering good for
    evil!" But she knew how she mocked herself in this, and that the moral
    principle had not operated one jot in her acceptance of him. In truth
    she had not realized till now the full presence of the emotion which had
    unconsciously grown up in her for this lonely and severe man, who, in her
    tradition, was vengeance and irreligion personified. He seemed to absorb
    her whole nature, and, absorbing, to control it.

    'A day or two before the one fixed for the wedding there chanced to come
    to her a letter from the only acquaintance of her own sex and country she
    possessed in England, one to whom she had sent intelligence of her
    approaching marriage, without mentioning with whom. This friend's
    misfortunes had been somewhat similar to her own, which fact had been one
    cause of their intimacy; her friend's sister, a nun of the Abbey of
    Montmartre, having perished on the scaffold at the hands of the same
    Comite de Salut Public which had numbered Mademoiselle V--'s affianced
    among its members. The writer had felt her position much again of late,
    since the renewal of the war, she said; and the letter wound up with a
    fresh denunciation of the authors of their mutual bereavement and
    subsequent troubles.

    'Coming just then, its contents produced upon Mademoiselle V--- the
    effect of a pail of water upon a somnambulist. What had she been doing
    in betrothing herself to this man! Was she not making herself a
    parricide after the event? At this crisis in her feelings her lover
    called. He beheld her trembling, and, in reply to his question, she told
    him of her scruples with impulsive candour.

    'She had not intended to do this, but his attitude of tender command
    coerced her into frankness. Thereupon he exhibited an agitation never
    before apparent in him. He said, "But all that is past. You are the
    symbol of Charity, and we are pledged to let bygones be."

    'His words soothed her for the moment, but she was sadly silent, and he
    went away.

    'That night she saw (as she firmly believed to the end of her life) a
    divinely sent vision. A procession of her lost relatives--father,
    brother, uncle, cousin--seemed to cross her chamber between her bed and
    the window, and when she endeavoured to trace their features she
    perceived them to be headless, and that she had recognized them by their
    familiar clothes only. In the morning she could not shake off the
    effects of this appearance on her nerves. All that day she saw nothing
    of her wooer, he being occupied in making arrangements for their
    departure. It grew towards evening--the marriage eve; but, in spite of
    his re-assuring visit, her sense of family duty waxed stronger now that
    she was left alone. Yet, she asked herself, how could she, alone and
    unprotected, go at this eleventh hour and reassert to an affianced
    husband that she could not and would not marry him while admitting at the
    same time that she loved him? The situation dismayed her. She had
    relinquished her post as governess, and was staying temporarily in a room
    near the coach-office, where she expected him to call in the morning to
    carry out the business of their union and departure.

    'Wisely or foolishly, Mademoiselle V--- came to a resolution: that her
    only safety lay in flight. His contiguity influenced her too sensibly;
    she could not reason. So packing up her few possessions and placing on
    the table the small sum she owed, she went out privately, secured a last
    available seat in the London coach, and, almost before she had fully
    weighed her action, she was rolling out of the town in the dusk of the
    September evening.

    'Having taken this startling step she began to reflect upon her reasons.
    He had been one of that tragic Committee the sound of whose name was a
    horror to the civilized world; yet he had been only one of several
    members, and, it seemed, not the most active. He had marked down names
    on principle, had felt no personal enmity against his victims, and had
    enriched himself not a sou out of the office he had held. Nothing could
    change the past. Meanwhile he loved her, and her heart inclined to as
    much of him as she could detach from that past. Why not, as he had
    suggested, bury memories, and inaugurate a new era by this union? In
    other words, why not indulge her tenderness, since its nullification
    could do no good.

    'Thus she held self-communion in her seat in the coach, passing through
    Casterbridge, and Shottsford, and on to the White Hart at Melchester, at
    which place the whole fabric of her recent intentions crumbled down.
    Better be staunch having got so far; let things take their course, and
    marry boldly the man who had so impressed her. How great he was; how
    small was she! And she had presumed to judge him! Abandoning her place
    in the coach with the precipitancy that had characterized her taking it,
    she waited till the vehicle had driven off, something in the departing
    shapes of the outside passengers against the starlit sky giving her a
    start, as she afterwards remembered. Presently the down coach, "The
    Morning Herald," entered the city, and she hastily obtained a place on
    the top.

    '"I'll be firm--I'll be his--if it cost me my immortal soul!" she said.
    And with troubled breathings she journeyed back over the road she had
    just traced.

    'She reached our royal watering-place by the time the day broke, and her
    first aim was to get back to the hired room in which her last few days
    had been spent. When the landlady appeared at the door in response to
    Mademoiselle V--'s nervous summons, she explained her sudden departure
    and return as best she could; and no objection being offered to her re-
    engagement of the room for one day longer she ascended to the chamber and
    sat down panting. She was back once more, and her wild tergiversations
    were a secret from him whom alone they concerned.

    'A sealed letter was on the mantelpiece. "Yes, it is directed to you,
    Mademoiselle," said the woman who had followed her. "But we were
    wondering what to do with it. A town messenger brought it after you had
    gone last night."

    'When the landlady had left, Mademoiselle V--- opened the letter and
    read--

    "MY DEAR AND HONOURED FRIEND.--You have been throughout our
    acquaintance absolutely candid concerning your misgivings. But I have
    been reserved concerning mine. That is the difference between us. You
    probably have not guessed that every qualm you have felt on the
    subject of our marriage has been paralleled in my heart to the full.
    Thus it happened that your involuntary outburst of remorse yesterday,
    though mechanically deprecated by me in your presence, was a last item
    in my own doubts on the wisdom of our union, giving them a force that
    I could no longer withstand. I came home; and, on reflection, much as
    I honour and adore you, I decide to set you free.

    "As one whose life has been devoted, and I may say sacrificed, to the
    cause of Liberty, I cannot allow your judgment (probably a permanent
    one) to be fettered beyond release by a feeling which may be transient
    only.

    "It would be no less than excruciating to both that I should announce
    this decision to you by word of mouth. I have therefore taken the
    less painful course of writing. Before you receive this I shall have
    left the town by the evening coach for London, on reaching which city
    my movements will be revealed to none.

    "Regard me, Mademoiselle, as dead, and accept my renewed assurances of
    respect, remembrance, and affection."

    'When she had recovered from her shock of surprise and grief, she
    remembered that at the starting of the coach out of Melchester before
    dawn, the shape of a figure among the outside passengers against the
    starlit sky had caused her a momentary start, from its resemblance to
    that of her friend. Knowing nothing of each other's intentions, and
    screened from each other by the darkness, they had left the town by the
    same conveyance. "He, the greater, persevered; I, the smaller,
    returned!" she said.

    'Recovering from her stupor, Mademoiselle V--- bethought herself again of
    her employer, Mrs. Newbold, whom recent events had estranged. To that
    lady she went with a full heart, and explained everything. Mrs. Newbold
    kept to herself her opinion of the episode, and reinstalled the deserted
    bride in her old position as governess to the family.

    'A governess she remained to the end of her days. After the final peace
    with France she became acquainted with my mother, to whom by degrees she
    imparted these experiences of hers. As her hair grew white, and her
    features pinched, Mademoiselle V--- would wonder what nook of the world
    contained her lover, if he lived, and if by any chance she might see him
    again. But when, some time in the 'twenties, death came to her, at no
    great age, that outline against the stars of the morning remained as the
    last glimpse she ever obtained of her family's foe and her once affianced
    husband.'

    1895.
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