‘C’est que, voyez-vous, il fait noir,’ said he.
I told him that was just my reason for requiring help.
‘I understand that,’ said he, looking uncomfortable; ‘mais—c’est—de la peine.’
I was willing to pay, I said. He shook his head. I rose as high as ten francs; but he continued to shake his head. ‘Name your own price, then,’ said I.
‘Ce n’est pas ça,’ he said at length, and with evident difficulty; ‘but I am not going to cross the door—mais je ne sortirai pas de la porte.’
I grew a little warm, and asked him what he proposed that I should do.
‘Where are you going beyond Cheylard?’ he asked by way of answer.
‘That is no affair of yours,’ I returned, for I was not going to indulge his bestial curiosity; ‘it changes nothing in my present predicament.’
‘C’est vrai, ça,’ he acknowledged, with a laugh; ‘oui, c’est vrai. Et d’où venez-vous?’
A better man than I might have felt nettled.
‘Oh,’ said I, ‘I am not going to answer any of your questions, so you may spare yourself the trouble of putting them. I am late enough already; I want help. If you will not guide me yourself, at least help me to find some one else who will.’
‘Hold on,’ he cried suddenly. ‘Was it not you who passed in the meadow while it was still day?’
‘Yes, yes,’ said the girl, whom I had not hitherto recognised; ‘it was monsieur; I told him to follow the cow.’
‘As for you, mademoiselle,’ said I, ‘you are a farceuse.’
‘And,’ added the man, ‘what the devil have you done to be still here?’
What the devil, indeed! But there I was.
‘The great thing,’ said I, ‘is to make an end of it’; and once more proposed that he should help me to find a guide.
‘C’est que,’ he said again, ‘c’est que—il fait noir.’
‘Very well,’ said I; ‘take one of your lanterns.’
‘No,’ he cried, drawing a thought backward, and again intrenching himself behind one of his former phrases; ‘I will not cross the door.’
I looked at him. I saw unaffected terror struggling on his face with unaffected shame; he was smiling pitifully and wetting his lip with his tongue, like a detected schoolboy. I drew a brief picture of my state, and asked him what I was to do.
‘I don’t know,’ he said; ‘I will not cross the door.’
Here was the Beast of Gévaudan, and no mistake.
‘Sir,’ said I, with my most commanding manners, ‘you are a coward.’
And with that I turned my back upon the family party, who hastened to retire within their fortifications; and the famous door was closed again, but not till I had overheard the sound of laughter. Filia barbara pater barbarior. Let me say it in the plural: the Beasts of Gévaudan.
The lanterns had somewhat dazzled me, and I ploughed distressfully among stones and rubbish-heaps. All the other houses in the village were both dark and silent; and though I knocked at here and there a door, my knocking was unanswered. It was a bad business; I gave up Fouzilhac with my curses. The rain had stopped, and the wind, which still kept rising, began to dry my coat and trousers. ‘Very well,’ thought I, ‘water or no water, I must camp.’ But the first thing was to return to Modestine. I am pretty sure I was twenty minutes groping for my lady in the dark; and if it had not been for the unkindly services of the bog, into which I once more stumbled, I might have still been groping for her at the dawn. My next business was to gain the shelter of a wood, for the wind was cold as well as boisterous. How, in this well-wooded district, I should have been so long in finding one, is another of the insoluble mysteries of this day’s adventures; but I will take my oath that I put near an hour to the discovery.Share It