The House of the Combrays
By G. LE NOTRE
Translated from the French by
Mrs. JOSEPH B. GILDER
Dodd, Mead, & Company
||THE TREACHERY OF JEAN-PIERRE QUERELLE
||THE CAPTURE OF GEORGES CADOUDAL
||THE ADVENTURES OF D'ACHÉ
||THE AFFAIR OF QUESNAY
||THE YELLOW HORSE
||PAYING THE PENALTY
||THE FATE OF D'ACHÉ
||THE CHOUANS SET FREE
AN OLD TOWER
One evening in the winter of 1868 or 1869, my father-in-law, Moisson, with whom I was chatting after dinner, took up a book that was lying on the table, open at the page where I had stopped reading, and said:
"Ah! you are reading Mme. de la Chanterie?"
"Yes," I replied. "A fine book; do you know it?"
"Of course! I even know the heroine."
"Mme. de la Chanterie!"
"—— By her real name Mme. de Combray. I lived three months in her house."
"No, not in the Rue Chanoinesse, where she did not live, any more than she was the saintly woman of Balzac's novel;—but at her Château of Tournebut d'Aubevoye near Gaillon!"
"Gracious, Moisson, tell me about it;" and without further solicitation, Moisson told me the following story:
"My mother was a Brécourt, whose ancestor was a bastard of Gaston d'Orleans, and she was on this account a royalist, and very proud of her nobility. The Brécourts, who were fighting people, had never become rich, and the Revolution ruined them completely. During the Terror my mother married Moisson, my father, a painter and engraver, a plebeian but also an ardent royalist, participating in all the plots for the deliverance of the royal family. This explains the mésalliance. She hoped, besides, that the monarchy, of whose reestablishment she had no doubt, would recognise my father's services by ennobling him and reviving the name of Brécourt, which was now represented only in the female line. She always called herself Moisson de Brécourt, and bore me a grudge for using only my father's name.
"In 1804, when I was eight years old, we were living on the island of Saint-Louis, and I remember very well the excitement in the quarter, and above all in our house, caused by the arrest of Georges Cadoudal. I can see my mother anxiously sending our faithful servant for news; my father came home less and less often; and at last, one night, he woke me up suddenly, kissed me, kissed my mother hastily, and I can still hear the noise of the street door closing behind him. We never saw him again!"
"No, we should have known that, but probably killed in flight, or dead of fatigue and want, or drowned in crossing some river—like many other fugitives, whose names I used to know. He was to have sent us news as soon as he was in safety. After a month's waiting, my mother's despair became alarming. She seemed mad, committed the most compromising acts, spoke aloud and with so little reserve about Bonaparte, that each time the bell rang, our servant and I expected to see the police.
"A very different kind of visitor appeared one fine morning. He was, he said, the business man of Mme. de Combray, a worthy woman who lived in her Château of Tournebut d'Aubevoye near Gaillon. She was a fervent royalist, and had heard through common friends of my father's disappearance, and compassionating our misfortune placed a house near her own at the disposal of my mother, who would there find the safety and peace that she needed, after her cruel sorrows. As my mother hesitated, Mme. de Combray's messenger urged the benefit to my health, the exercise and the good air indispensable at my age, and finally she consented. Having obtained all necessary information, my mother, the servant and I took the boat two days after, at Saint-Germain, and arrived by sunset the same evening at Roule, near Aubevoye. A gardener was waiting with a cart for us and our luggage. A few moments later we entered the court of the château.
"Mme. de Combray received us in a large room overlooking the Seine. She had one of her sons with her, and two intimate friends, who welcomed my mother with the consideration due to the widow of one who had served the good cause. Supper was served; I was drooping with sleep, and the only remembrance I have of this meal is the voice of my mother, passionate and excitable as ever. Next morning, after breakfast, the gardener appeared with his cart, to take us to the house we were to occupy; the road was so steep and rough that my mother preferred to go on foot, leading her horse by the bridle. We were in a thick wood, climbing all the time, and surprised at having to go so far and so high to reach the habitation that had been offered to us near the château. We came to a clearing in the wood, and the gardener cried, 'Here we are!' and pointed to our dwelling. 'Oh!' cried my mother, 'it is a donjon!' It was an old round