Led Astray and The Sphinx by Octave Feuillet


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Page 1

He invited me to dinner, and in the evening, Madame Valton, after the
usual struggles of expiring modesty, showed me, in her album, some
views of the famous ruins sketched with considerable taste. She became
mildly excited while speaking to me of these venerable remains, situated,
if she is to be believed, in the midst of an enchanting site, and, above
all, particularly well suited for picnics and country excursions. A
beseeching and corrupting look terminated her harangue. It seems
evident to me that this worthy lady is the only person in the department
who takes any real interest in that poor old abbey, and that the
conscript fathers of the general council have passed their resolution
authorizing an investigation out of pure gallantry. It is impossible for
me, however, not to concur in their opinion; the abbey has beautiful
eyes; she deserves to be classed--she shall be classed.

My decision was therefore settled, from that moment, but it was still
necessary to write it down and back it with some documentary evidence.
Unfortunately, the local archives and libraries do not abound in
traditions relative to my subject; after two days of conscientious
rummaging, I had collected but a few rare and insignificant documents,
which may be summed up in these two lines; "Rozel Abbey, in Rozel
township, was inhabited from time immemorial by monks, who left it when it
fell in ruins."

That is why I resolved to go, without further delay, and ask their secret
of these mysterious ruins, and to multiply, if need be, the artifices of
my pencil, to make up for the compulsory conciseness of my pen. I left
on Wednesday morning for the town of Vitry, which is only two or three
leagues distant from the abbey. A Norman coach, complemented with
a Norman coachman, jogged me about all day, like an indolent monarch,
along the Norman hedges. When night came, I had traveled twelve miles
and my coachman had taken twelve meals.

The country is fine, though of a character somewhat uniformly rustic.
Under everlasting groves is displayed an opulent and monotonous verdure,
in the thickness of which contented-looking oxen ruminate. I can
understand my coachman's twelve meals; the idea of eating must occur
frequently and almost exclusively to the imagination of any man who spends
his life in the midst of this rich nature, the very grass of which gives
an appetite.

Toward evening, however, the aspect of the landscape changed; we entered a
rolling prairie, quite low, marshy, bare as a Russian steppe, and
extending on both sides of the road; the sound of the wheels on the
causeway assumed a hollow and vibrating sonority; dark-colored reeds and
tall, unhealthy-looking grass covered, as far as the eye could reach, the
blackish surface of the marsh. I noticed in the distance, through the
deepening twilight, and behind a cloud of rain, two or three horsemen
running at full speed, and as if demented, through these boundless spaces;
they disappeared at intervals in the depressions of the meadows, and
suddenly came to sight again, still galloping with the same frenzy. I
could not imagine toward what imaginary goal these equestrian phantoms
were thus madly rushing. I took good care not to inquire; mystery is a
sweet and sacred thing.

The next morning, I started for the abbey, taking with me in my cabriolet
a tall young peasant who had yellow hair, like Ceres. He was a farm-boy
who had lived since his birth within a rod of my monument; he had heard me
in the morning asking for information in the court-yard of the inn, and
had obligingly volunteered to show me the way to the ruins, which were the
first thing he had seen on coming into the world. I had no need whatever
of a guide; I accepted, nevertheless, the fellow's offer, his officious
chattering seeming to promise a well-sustained conversation, in the course
of which I hoped to detect some interesting legend; but as soon as he had
taken his seat by my side, the rascal became dumb; my questions seemed
even, I know not why, to inspire him with a deep mistrust, almost akin to
anger. I had to deal with the genius of the ruins, the faithful guardian
of their treasures. On the other hand, I had the gratification of taking
him home in my carriage; it was apparently all he wished, and he had every
reason to be satisfied with my accommodating spirit.

After landing this agreeable companion at his own door, it became
necessary for me to alight also; a rocky path, or rather a rude flight of
stone steps, winding down the side of a steep declivity, led me to the
bottom of a narrow valley which spreads and stretches between a double
chain of high wooded hills. A small river flows lazily through it under
the shade of alder-bushes, dividing two strips of meadows as fine and
velvety as the lawns of a park; it is crossed over by an old bridge with a
single arch, which reflects in the placid water the outlines of its
graceful ogive. On the right, the hills stand close together in the form
of a circus, and seemed to join their verdure-clad curves; on the left,
they spread out until they become merged in the deep and somber masses of
a vast forest. The valley is thus closed on all sides, and offers a
picture of which the calm, the freshness, and the isolation penetrate the
soul.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Sun 22nd Sep 2019, 16:37