+ ~ -
 
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
 
Report an Error
Go!
 
Go!
 
TOC
 

mender of roads to say it this time, after
observing these operations. They again joined
hands.

"To-night?" said the mender of roads.

"To-night," said the man, putting the pipe
in his mouth.

"Where?"

"Here."

He and the mender of roads sat on the heap
of stones looking silently at one another, with
the hail driving in between them like a pigmy
charge of bayonets, until the sky began to clear
over the village.

"Show me!" said the traveller then, moving
to the brow of the hill.

"See!" returned the mender of roads, with
extended finger. "You go down here, and.
straight through the street, and past the
fountain——"

"To the Devil with all that!" interrupted
the other, rolling his eye over the landscape.
"/ go through no streets and past no
fountains. Well?"

"Well! About two leagues beyond the
summit of that hill above the village."

"Good. When do you cease to work?"

"At sunset."

"Will you wake me, before departing? I
have walked two nights without resting. Let
me finish my pipe, and I shall sleep like a child.
Will you wake me?"

"Surely."

The wayfarer smoked his pipe out, put it in
his breast, slipped off his great wooden shoes,
and lay down on his back on the heap of stones.
He was fast asleep directly.

As the road-mender plied his dusty labour,
and the hail-clouds, rolling away, revealed bright
bars and streaks of sky which were responded
to by silver gleams upon the landscape, the little
man (who wore a red cap now, in place of his
blue one) seemed fascinated by the figure on
the heap of stones. His eyes were so often
turned towards it, that he used his tools
mechanically, and, one would have said, to very poor
account. The bronze face, the shaggy black
hair and beard, the coarse woollen red cap, the
rough medley dress of homespun stuff and hairy
skins of beasts, the powerful frame attenuated by
spare living, and the sullen and desperate
compression of the lips in sleep, inspired the mender
of roads with awe. The traveller had travelled
far, and his feet were footsore, and his ankles
chafed and bleeding; his great shoes, stuffed
with leaves and grass, had been heavy to drag
over the many long leagues, and his clothes were
chafed into holes, as he himself was into sores.
Stooping down beside him, the road-mender
tried to get a peep at secret weapons in his
breast or where not; but, in vain, for he slept
with his arms crossed upon him, and set as
resolutely as his lips. Fortified towns with their
stockades, guard-houses, gates, trenches, and
drawbridges, seemed, to the mender of roads, to
be so much air as against tliis figure. And when
he lifted his eyes from it to the horizon and
looked around, he saw in his small fancy similar
figures, stopped by no obstacle, tending to
centres all over France.

The man slept on, indifferent to showers of
hail and intervals of brightness, to sunshine on
his face and shadow, to the pattering lumps of
dull ice on his body and the diamonds into
which the sun changed them, until the sun was
low in the west, and the sky was glowing. Then,
the mender of roads having got his tools together
and all things ready to go down into the
village, roused him.

"Good!" said the sleeper, rising on his elbow.
"Two leagues beyond the summit of the hill?"

"About."

"About. Good!"

The mender of roads went home, with the dust
going on before him according to the set of the
wind, and was soon at the fountain, squeezing
himself in among the lean kine brought there to
drink, and appearing even to whisper to them
in his whispering to all the village. When the
village had taken its poor supper, it did not
creep to bed, as it usually did, out came out of
doors again, and remained there. A curious
contagion of whispering was upon it, and also,
when it gathered together at the fountain in the
dark, another curious contagion of looking
expectantly at the sky in one direction only.
Monsieur Gabelle, chief functionary of the
place, became uneasy; went out on his house-
top alone, and looked in that direction too;
glanced down from behind his chimneys at the
darkening faces by the fountain below, and sent
word to the sacristan who kept the keys of the
church, that there might be need to ring the
tocsin by-and-by.

The night deepened. The trees environing
the old ch√Ęteau, keeping its solitary state apart,
moved in a rising wind, as though they threatened
the pile of building massive and dark in
the gloom. Up the two terrace flights of steps
the rain ran wildly, and beat at the great door,
like a swift messenger rousing those within;
uneasy rushes of wind went through the hall,
among the old spears and knives, and passed
lamenting up the stairs, and shook the curtains
of the bed where the last Marquis had slept.
East, West, North, and South, through the
woods, four heavy-treading, unkempt figures
crushed the high grass and cracked the branches,
striding on cautiously to come together in the
court-yard. Four lights broke out there, and
moved away in different directions, and all was
black again.

But, not for long. Presently, the ch√Ęteau
began to make itself strangely visible by some
light of its own, as though it were growing
luminous. Then, a flickering streak played
behind the architecture of the front, picking out
transparent places, and showing where
balustrades, arches, and windows were. Then it
soared higher, and grew broader and brighter.
Soon, from a score of the great windows, flames
burst forth, and the stone faces, awakened,
stared out of fire.

A faint murmur arose about the house from
the few people who were left there, and there