as first published in
Scribner's Magazine, March 1916
"You ought to buy it," said my host; "it's just the place for a
solitary-minded devil like you. And it would be rather worth
while to own the most romantic house in Brittany. The present
people are dead broke, and it's going for a song--you ought to
It was not with the least idea of living up to the character my
friend Lanrivain ascribed to me (as a matter of fact, under my
unsociable exterior I have always had secret yearnings for
domesticity) that I took his hint one autumn afternoon and went
to Kerfol. My friend was motoring over to Quimper on business:
he dropped me on the way, at a cross-road on a heath, and said:
"First turn to the right and second to the left. Then straight
ahead till you see an avenue. If you meet any peasants, don't
ask your way. They don't understand French, and they would
pretend they did and mix you up. I'll be back for you here by
sunset--and don't forget the tombs in the chapel."
I followed Lanrivain's directions with the hesitation occasioned
by the usual difficulty of remembering whether he had said the
first turn to the right and second to the left, or the contrary.
If I had met a peasant I should certainly have asked, and
probably been sent astray; but I had the desert landscape to
myself, and so stumbled on the right turn and walked on across
the heath till I came to an avenue. It was so unlike any other
avenue I have ever seen that I instantly knew it must be THE
avenue. The grey-trunked trees sprang up straight to a great
height and then interwove their pale-grey branches in a long
tunnel through which the autumn light fell faintly. I know most
trees by name, but I haven't to this day been able to decide what
those trees were. They had the tall curve of elms, the tenuity
of poplars, the ashen colour of olives under a rainy sky; and
they stretched ahead of me for half a mile or more without a
break in their arch. If ever I saw an avenue that unmistakeably
led to something, it was the avenue at Kerfol. My heart beat a
little as I began to walk down it.
Presently the trees ended and I came to a fortified gate in a
long wall. Between me and the wall was an open space of grass,
with other grey avenues radiating from it. Behind the wall were
tall slate roofs mossed with silver, a chapel belfry, the top of
a keep. A moat filled with wild shrubs and brambles surrounded
the place; the drawbridge had been replaced by a stone arch, and
the portcullis by an iron gate. I stood for a long time on the
hither side of the moat, gazing about me, and letting the
influence of the place sink in. I said to myself: "If I wait
long enough, the guardian will turn up and show me the tombs--"
and I rather hoped he wouldn't turn up too soon.
I sat down on a stone and lit a cigarette. As soon as I had done
it, it struck me as a puerile and portentous thing to do, with
that great blind house looking down at me, and all the empty
avenues converging on me. It may have been the depth of the
silence that made me so conscious of my gesture. The squeak of
my match sounded as loud as the scraping of a brake, and I almost
fancied I heard it fall when I tossed it onto the grass. But
there was more than that: a sense of irrelevance, of littleness,
of childish bravado, in sitting there puffing my cigarette-smoke
into the face of such a past.
I knew nothing of the history of Kerfol--I was new to Brittany,
and Lanrivain had never mentioned the name to me till the day
before--but one couldn't as much as glance at that pile without
feeling in it a long accumulation of history. What kind of
history I was not prepared to guess: perhaps only the sheer
weight of many associated lives and deaths which gives a kind of
majesty to all old houses. But the aspect of Kerfol suggested
something more--a perspective of stern and cruel memories
stretching away, like its own grey avenues, into a blur of
Certainly no house had ever more completely and finally broken
with the present. As it stood there, lifting its proud roofs and
gables to the sky, it might have been its own funeral monument.
"Tombs in the chapel? The whole place is a tomb!" I reflected.
I hoped more and more that the guardian would not come. The
details of the place, however striking, would seem trivial
compared with its collective impressiveness; and I wanted only to
sit there and be penetrated by the weight of its silence.
"It's the very place for you!" Lanrivain had said; and I was
overcome by the almost blasphemous frivolity of suggesting to any
living being that Kerfol was the place for him. "Is it possible
that any one could NOT see--?" I wondered. I did not finish the
thought: what I meant was undefinable. I stood up and wandered
toward the gate. I was beginning to want to know more; not to
SEE more--I was by now so sure it was not a question of seeing--
but to feel more: feel all the place had to communicate. "But to
get in one will have to rout out the keeper," I thought
reluctantly, and hesitated. Finally I crossed the bridge and
tried the iron gate. It yielded, and I walked under the tunnel
formed by the thickness of the chemin de ronde. At the farther
end, a wooden barricade had been laid across the entrance, and
beyond it I saw a court enclosed in noble architecture. The main
building faced me; and I now discovered that one half was a mere
ruined front, with gaping windows through which the wild growths
of the moat and the trees of the park were visible. The rest of
the house was still in its robust beauty. One end abutted on the
round tower, the other on the small traceried chapel, and in an
angle of the building stood a graceful well-head adorned with
mossy urns. A few roses grew against the walls, and on an upper
window-sill I remember noticing a pot of fuchsias.
My sense of the pressure of the invisible began to yield to my
architectural interest. The building was so fine that I felt a
desire to explore it for its own sake. I looked about the court,
wondering in which corner the guardian lodged. Then I pushed
open the barrier and went in. As I did so, a little dog barred
my way. He was such a remarkably beautiful little dog that for a
moment he made me forget the splendid place he was defending. I
was not sure of his breed at the time, but have since learned
that it was Chinese, and that he was of a rare variety called the
"Sleeve-dog." He was very small and golden brown, with large
brown eyes and a ruffled throat: he looked rather like a large
tawny chrysanthemum. I said to myself: "These little beasts
always snap and scream, and somebody will be out in a minute."
The little animal stood before me, forbidding, almost menacing:
there was anger in his large brown eyes. But he made no sound,
he came no nearer. Instead, as I advanced, he gradually fell
back, and I noticed that another dog, a vague rough brindled
thing, had limped up. "There'll be a hubbub now," I thought; for
at the same moment a third dog, a long-haired white mongrel,
slipped out of a doorway and joined the others. All three stood
looking at me with grave eyes; but not a sound came from them.
As I advanced they continued to fall back on muffled paws, still
watching me. "At a given point, they'll all charge at my ankles:
it's one of the dodges that dogs who live together put up on
one," I thought. I was not much alarmed, for they were neither
large nor formidable. But they let me wander about the court as
I pleased, following me at a little distance--always the same
distance--and always keeping their eyes on me. Presently I
looked across at the ruined facade, and saw that in one of its
window-frames another dog stood: a large white pointer with one
brown ear. He was an old grave dog, much more experienced than
the others; and he seemed to be observing me with a deeper
"I'll hear from HIM," I said to myself; but he stood in the empty
window-frame, against the trees of the park, and continued to
watch me without moving. I looked back at him for a time, to see
if the sense that he was being watched would not rouse him. Half
the width of the court lay between us, and we stared at each
other silently across it. But he did not stir, and at last I
turned away. Behind me I found the rest of the pack, with a
newcomer added: a small black greyhound with pale agate-coloured
eyes. He was shivering a little, and his expression was more
timid than that of the others. I noticed that he kept a little
behind them. And still there was not a sound.
I stood there for fully five minutes, the circle about me--
waiting, as they seemed to be waiting. At last I went up to the
little golden-brown dog and stooped to pat him. As I did so, I
heard myself laugh. The little dog did not start, or growl, or
take his eyes from me--he simply slipped back about a yard, and
then paused and continued to look at me. "Oh, hang it!" I
exclaimed aloud, and walked across the court toward the well.
As I advanced, the dogs separated and slid away into different
corners of the court. I examined the urns on the well, tried a
locked door or two, and up and down the dumb facade; then I faced
about toward the chapel. When I turned I perceived that all the
dogs had disappeared except the old pointer, who still watched me
from the empty window-frame. It was rather a relief to be rid of
that cloud of witnesses; and I began to look about me for a way
to the back of the house. "Perhaps there'll be somebody in the
garden," I thought. I found a way across the moat, scrambled
over a wall smothered in brambles, and got into the garden. A
few lean hydrangeas and geraniums pined in the flower-beds, and
the ancient house looked down on them indifferently. Its garden
side was plainer and severer than the other: the long granite
front, with its few windows and steep roof, looked like a
fortress-prison. I walked around the farther wing, went up some
disjointed steps, and entered the deep twilight of a narrow and
incredibly old box-walk. The walk was just wide enough for one
person to slip through, and its branches met overhead. It was
like the ghost of a box-walk, its lustrous green all turning to
the shadowy greyness of the avenues. I walked on and on, the
branches hitting me in the face and springing back with a dry
rattle; and at length I came out on the grassy top of the chemin
de ronde. I walked along it to the gate-tower, looking down into
the court, which was just below me. Not a human being was in
sight; and neither were the dogs. I found a flight of steps in
the thickness of the wall and went down them; and when I emerged
again into the court, there stood the circle of dogs, the golden-
brown one a little ahead of the others, the black greyhound
shivering in the rear.
"Oh, hang it--you uncomfortable beasts, you!" I exclaimed, my
voice startling me with a sudden echo. The dogs stood
motionless, watching me. I knew by this time that they would not
try to prevent my approaching the house, and the knowledge left
me free to examine them. I had a feeling that they must be
horribly cowed to be so silent and inert. Yet they did not look
hungry or ill-treated. Their coats were smooth and they were not
thin, except the shivering greyhound. It was more as if they had
lived a long time with people who never spoke to them or looked
at them: as though the silence of the place had gradually
benumbed their busy inquisitive natures. And this strange
passivity, this almost human lassitude, seemed to me sadder than
the misery of starved and beaten animals. I should have liked to
rouse them for a minute, to coax them into a game or a scamper;
but the longer I looked into their fixed and weary eyes the more
preposterous the idea became. With the windows of that house
looking down on us, how could I have imagined such a thing? The
dogs knew better: THEY knew what the house would tolerate and
what it would not. I even fancied that they knew what was
passing through my mind, and pitied me for my frivolity. But
even that feeling probably reached them through a thick fog of
listlessness. I had an idea that their distance from me was as
nothing to my remoteness from them. In the last analysis, the
impression they produced was that of having in common one memory
so deep and dark that nothing that had happened since was worth
either a growl or a wag.
"I say," I broke out abruptly, addressing myself to the dumb
circle, "do you know what you look like, the whole lot of you?
You look as if you'd seen a ghost--that's how you look! I wonder
if there IS a ghost here, and nobody but you left for it to
appear to?" The dogs continued to gaze at me without moving. . .
It was dark when I saw Lanrivain's motor lamps at the cross-
roads--and I wasn't exactly sorry to see them. I had the sense
of having escaped from the loneliest place in the whole world,
and of not liking loneliness--to that degree--as much as I had
imagined I should. My friend had brought his solicitor back from
Quimper for the night, and seated beside a fat and affable
stranger I felt no inclination to talk of Kerfol. . .
But that evening, when Lanrivain and the solicitor were closeted
in the study, Madame de Lanrivain began to question me in the
"Well--are you going to buy Kerfol?" she asked, tilting up her
gay chin from her embroidery.
"I haven't decided yet. The fact is, I couldn't get into the
house," I said, as if I had simply postponed my decision, and
meant to go back for another look.
"You couldn't get in? Why, what happened? The family are mad to
sell the place, and the old guardian has orders--"
"Very likely. But the old guardian wasn't there."
"What a pity! He must have gone to market. But his daughter--?"
"There was nobody about. At least I saw no one."
"How extraordinary! Literally nobody?"
"Nobody but a lot of dogs--a whole pack of them--who seemed to
have the place to themselves."
Madame de Lanrivain let the embroidery slip to her knee and
folded her hands on it. For several minutes she looked at me
"A pack of dogs--you SAW them?"
"Saw them? I saw nothing else!"
"How many?" She dropped her voice a little. "I've always
I looked at her with surprise: I had supposed the place to be
familiar to her. "Have you never been to Kerfol?" I asked.
"Oh, yes: often. But never on that day."
"I'd quite forgotten--and so had Herve, I'm sure. If we'd
remembered, we never should have sent you today--but then, after
all, one doesn't half believe that sort of thing, does one?"
"What sort of thing?" I asked, involuntarily sinking my voice to
the level of hers. Inwardly I was thinking: "I KNEW there was
something. . ."
Madame de Lanrivain cleared her throat and produced a reassuring
smile. "Didn't Herve tell you the story of Kerfol? An ancestor
of his was mixed up in it. You know every Breton house has its
ghost-story; and some of them are rather unpleasant."
"Yes--but those dogs?" I insisted.
"Well, those dogs are the ghosts of Kerfol. At least, the
peasants say there's one day in the year when a lot of dogs
appear there; and that day the keeper and his daughter go off to
Morlaix and get drunk. The women in Brittany drink dreadfully."
She stooped to match a silk; then she lifted her charming
inquisitive Parisian face: "Did you REALLY see a lot of dogs?
There isn't one at Kerfol," she said.
Lanrivain, the next day, hunted out a shabby calf volume from the
back of an upper shelf of his library.
"Yes--here it is. What does it call itself? A History of the
Assizes of the Duchy of Brittany. Quimper, 1702. The book was
written about a hundred years later than the Kerfol affair; but I
believe the account is transcribed pretty literally from the
judicial records. Anyhow, it's queer reading. And there's a
Herve de Lanrivain mixed up in it--not exactly MY style, as
you'll see. But then he's only a collateral. Here, take the
book up to bed with you. I don't exactly remember the details;
but after you've read it I'll bet anything you'll leave your
light burning all night!"
I left my light burning all night, as he had predicted; but it
was chiefly because, till near dawn, I was absorbed in my
reading. The account of the trial of Anne de Cornault, wife of
the lord of Kerfol, was long and closely printed. It was, as my
friend had said, probably an almost literal transcription of what
took place in the court-room; and the trial lasted nearly a
month. Besides, the type of the book was detestable. . .
At first I thought of translating the old record literally. But
it is full of wearisome repetitions, and the main lines of the
story are forever straying off into side issues. So I have tried
to disentangle it, and give it here in a simpler form. At times,
however, I have reverted to the text because no other words could
have conveyed so exactly the sense of what I felt at Kerfol; and
nowhere have I added anything of my own.
It was in the year 16-- that Yves de Cornault, lord of the domain
of Kerfol, went to the pardon of Locronan to perform his
religious duties. He was a rich and powerful noble, then in his
sixty-second year, but hale and sturdy, a great horseman and
hunter and a pious man. So all his neighbours attested. In
appearance he seems to have been short and broad, with a swarthy
face, legs slightly bowed from the saddle, a hanging nose and
broad hands with black hairs on them. He had married young and
lost his wife and son soon after, and since then had lived alone
at Kerfol. Twice a year he went to Morlaix, where he had a
handsome house by the river, and spent a week or ten days there;
and occasionally he rode to Rennes on business. Witnesses were
found to declare that during these absences he led a life
different from the one he was known to lead at Kerfol, where he
busied himself with his estate, attended mass daily, and found
his only amusement in hunting the wild boar and water-fowl. But
these rumours are not particularly relevant, and it is certain
that among people of his own class in the neighbourhood he passed
for a stern and even austere man, observant of his religious
obligations, and keeping strictly to himself. There was no talk
of any familiarity with the women on his estate, though at that
time the nobility were very free with their peasants. Some
people said he had never looked at a woman since his wife's
death; but such things are hard to prove, and the evidence on
this point was not worth much.
Well, in his sixty-second year, Yves de Cornault went to the
pardon at Locronan, and saw there a young lady of Douarnenez, who
had ridden over pillion behind her father to do her duty to the
saint. Her name was Anne de Barrigan, and she came of good old
Breton stock, but much less great and powerful than that of Yves
de Cornault; and her father had squandered his fortune at cards,
and lived almost like a peasant in his little granite manor on
the moors. . . I have said I would add nothing of my own to this
bald statement of a strange case; but I must interrupt myself
here to describe the young lady who rode up to the lych-gate of
Locronan at the very moment when the Baron de Cornault was also
dismounting there. I take my description from a rather rare
thing: a faded drawing in red crayon, sober and truthful enough
to be by a late pupil of the Clouets, which hangs in Lanrivain's
study, and is said to be a portrait of Anne de Barrigan. It is
unsigned and has no mark of identity but the initials A. B., and
the date 16--, the year after her marriage. It represents a
young woman with a small oval face, almost pointed, yet wide
enough for a full mouth with a tender depression at the corners.
The nose is small, and the eyebrows are set rather high, far
apart, and as lightly pencilled as the eyebrows in a Chinese
painting. The forehead is high and serious, and the hair, which
one feels to be fine and thick and fair, drawn off it and lying
close like a cap. The eyes are neither large nor small, hazel
probably, with a look at once shy and steady. A pair of
beautiful long hands are crossed below the lady's breast. . .
The chaplain of Kerfol, and other witnesses, averred that when
the Baron came back from Locronan he jumped from his horse,
ordered another to be instantly saddled, called to a young page
come with him, and rode away that same evening to the south. His
steward followed the next morning with coffers laden on a pair of
pack mules. The following week Yves de Cornault rode back to
Kerfol, sent for his vassals and tenants, and told them he was to
be married at All Saints to Anne de Barrigan of Douarnenez. And
on All Saints' Day the marriage took place.
As to the next few years, the evidence on both sides seems to
show that they passed happily for the couple. No one was found
to say that Yves de Cornault had been unkind to his wife, and it
was plain to all that he was content with his bargain. Indeed,
it was admitted by the chaplain and other witnesses for the
prosecution that the young lady had a softening influence on her
husband, and that he became less exacting with his tenants, less
harsh to peasants and dependents, and less subject to the fits of
gloomy silence which had darkened his widow-hood. As to his
wife, the only grievance her champions could call up in her
behalf was that Kerfol was a lonely place, and that when her
husband was away on business at Rennes or Morlaix--whither she
was never taken--she was not allowed so much as to walk in the
park unaccompanied. But no one asserted that she was unhappy,
though one servant-woman said she had surprised her crying, and
had heard her say that she was a woman accursed to have no child,
and nothing in life to call her own. But that was a natural
enough feeling in a wife attached to her husband; and certainly
it must have been a great grief to Yves de Cornault that she gave
him no son. Yet he never made her feel her childlessness as a
reproach--she herself admits this in her evidence--but seemed to
try to make her forget it by showering gifts and favours on her.
Rich though he was, he had never been open-handed; but nothing
was too fine for his wife, in the way of silks or gems or linen,
or whatever else she fancied. Every wandering merchant was
welcome at Kerfol, and when the master was called away he never
came back without bringing his wife a handsome present--something
curious and particular--from Morlaix or Rennes or Quimper. One
of the waiting-women gave, in cross-examination, an interesting
list of one year's gifts, which I copy. From Morlaix, a carved
ivory junk, with Chinamen at the oars, that a strange sailor had
brought back as a votive offering for Notre Dame de la Clarte,
above Ploumanac'h; from Quimper, an embroidered gown, worked by
the nuns of the Assumption; from Rennes, a silver rose that
opened and showed an amber Virgin with a crown of garnets; from
Morlaix, again, a length of Damascus velvet shot with gold,
bought of a Jew from Syria; and for Michaelmas that same year,
from Rennes, a necklet or bracelet of round stones--emeralds and
pearls and rubies--strung like beads on a gold wire. This was
the present that pleased the lady best, the woman said. Later
on, as it happened, it was produced at the trial, and appears to
have struck the Judges and the public as a curious and valuable
The very same winter, the Baron absented himself again, this time
as far as Bordeaux, and on his return he brought his wife
something even odder and prettier than the bracelet. It was a
winter evening when he rode up to Kerfol and, walking into the
hall, found her sitting listlessly by the fire, her chin on her
hand, looking into the fire. He carried a velvet box in his hand
and, setting it down on the hearth, lifted the lid and let out a
little golden-brown dog.
Anne de Cornault exclaimed with pleasure as the little creature
bounded toward her. "Oh, it looks like a bird or a butterfly!"
she cried as she picked it up; and the dog put its paws on her
shoulders and looked at her with eyes "like a Christian's."
After that she would never have it out of her sight, and petted
and talked to it as if it had been a child--as indeed it was the
nearest thing to a child she was to know. Yves de Cornault was
much pleased with his purchase. The dog had been brought to him
by a sailor from an East India merchantman, and the sailor had
bought it of a pilgrim in a bazaar at Jaffa, who had stolen it
from a nobleman's wife in China: a perfectly permissible thing to
do, since the pilgrim was a Christian and the nobleman a heathen
doomed to hellfire. Yves de Cornault had paid a long price for
the dog, for they were beginning to be in demand at the French
court, and the sailor knew he had got hold of a good thing; but
Anne's pleasure was so great that, to see her laugh and play with
the little animal, her husband would doubtless have given twice
So far, all the evidence is at one, and the narrative plain
sailing; but now the steering becomes difficult. I will try to
keep as nearly as possible to Anne's own statements; though
toward the end, poor thing . . .
Well, to go back. The very year after the little brown dog was
brought to Kerfol, Yves de Cornault, one winter night, was found
dead at the head of a narrow flight of stairs leading down from
his wife's rooms to a door opening on the court. It was his wife
who found him and gave the alarm, so distracted, poor wretch,
with fear and horror--for his blood was all over her--that at
first the roused household could not make out what she was
saying, and thought she had gone suddenly mad. But there, sure
enough, at the top of the stairs lay her husband, stone dead, and
head foremost, the blood from his wounds dripping down to the
steps below him. He had been dreadfully scratched and gashed
about the face and throat, as if with a dull weapon; and one of
his legs had a deep tear in it which had cut an artery, and
probably caused his death. But how did he come there, and who
had murdered him?
His wife declared that she had been asleep in her bed, and
hearing his cry had rushed out to find him lying on the stairs;
but this was immediately questioned. In the first place, it was
proved that from her room she could not have heard the struggle
on the stairs, owing to the thickness of the walls and the length
of the intervening passage; then it was evident that she had not
been in bed and asleep, since she was dressed when she roused the
house, and her bed had not been slept in. Moreover, the door at
the bottom of the stairs was ajar, and the key in the lock; and
it was noticed by the chaplain (an observant man) that the dress
she wore was stained with blood about the knees, and that there
were traces of small blood-stained hands low down on the
staircase walls, so that it was conjectured that she had really
been at the postern-door when her husband fell and, feeling her
way up to him in the darkness on her hands and knees, had been
stained by his blood dripping down on her. Of course it was
argued on the other side that the blood-marks on her dress might
have been caused by her kneeling down by her husband when she
rushed out of her room; but there was the open door below, and
the fact that the fingermarks in the staircase all pointed
The accused held to her statement for the first two days, in
spite of its improbability; but on the third day word was brought
to her that Herve de Lanrivain, a young nobleman of the
neighbourhood, had been arrested for complicity in the crime.
Two or three witnesses thereupon came forward to say that it was
known throughout the country that Lanrivain had formerly been on
good terms with the lady of Cornault; but that he had been absent
from Brittany for over a year, and people had ceased to associate
their names. The witnesses who made this statement were not of a
very reputable sort. One was an old herb-gatherer suspected of
witch-craft, another a drunken clerk from a neighbouring parish,
the third a half-witted shepherd who could be made to say
anything; and it was clear that the prosecution was not satisfied
with its case, and would have liked to find more definite proof
of Lanrivain's complicity than the statement of the herb-
gatherer, who swore to having seen him climbing the wall of the
park on the night of the murder. One way of patching out
incomplete proofs in those days was to put some sort of pressure,
moral or physical, on the accused person. It is not clear what
pressure was put on Anne de Cornault; but on the third day, when
she was brought into court, she "appeared weak and wandering,"
and after being encouraged to collect herself and speak the
truth, on her honour and the wounds of her Blessed Redeemer, she
confessed that she had in fact gone down the stairs to speak with
Herve de Lanrivain (who denied everything), and had been
surprised there by the sound of her husband's fall. That was
better; and the prosecution rubbed its hands with satisfaction.
The satisfaction increased when various dependents living at
Kerfol were induced to say--with apparent sincerity--that during
the year or two preceding his death their master had once more
grown uncertain and irascible, and subject to the fits of
brooding silence which his household had learned to dread before
his second marriage. This seemed to show that things had not
been going well at Kerfol; though no one could be found to say
that there had been any signs of open disagreement between
husband and wife.
Anne de Cornault, when questioned as to her reason for going down
at night to open the door to Herve de Lanrivain, made an answer
which must have sent a smile around the court. She said it was
because she was lonely and wanted to talk with the young man.
Was this the only reason? she was asked; and replied: "Yes, by
the Cross over your Lordships' heads." "But why at midnight?"
the court asked. "Because I could see him in no other way." I
can see the exchange of glances across the ermine collars under
Anne de Cornault, further questioned, said that her married life
had been extremely lonely: "desolate" was the word she used. It
was true that her husband seldom spoke harshly to her; but there
were days when he did not speak at all. It was true that he had
never struck or threatened her; but he kept her like a prisoner
at Kerfol, and when he rode away to Morlaix or Quimper or Rennes
he set so close a watch on her that she could not pick a flower
in the garden without having a waiting-woman at her heels. "I am
no Queen, to need such honours," she once said to him; and he had
answered that a man who has a treasure does not leave the key in
the lock when he goes out. "Then take me with you," she urged;
but to this he said that towns were pernicious places, and young
wives better off at their own firesides.
"But what did you want to say to Herve de Lanrivain?" the court
asked; and she answered: "To ask him to take me away."
"Ah--you confess that you went down to him with adulterous
"Then why did you want him to take you away?"
"Because I was afraid for my life."
"Of whom were you afraid?"
"Of my husband."
"Why were you afraid of your husband?"
"Because he had strangled my little dog."
Another smile must have passed around the court-room: in days
when any nobleman had a right to hang his peasants--and most of
them exercised it--pinching a pet animal's wind-pipe was nothing
to make a fuss about.
At this point one of the Judges, who appears to have had a
certain sympathy for the accused, suggested that she should be
allowed to explain herself in her own way; and she thereupon made
the following statement.
The first years of her marriage had been lonely; but her husband
had not been unkind to her. If she had had a child she would not
have been unhappy; but the days were long, and it rained too
It was true that her husband, whenever he went away and left her,
brought her a handsome present on his return; but this did not
make up for the loneliness. At least nothing had, till he
brought her the little brown dog from the East: after that she
was much less unhappy. Her husband seemed pleased that she was
so fond of the dog; he gave her leave to put her jewelled
bracelet around its neck, and to keep it always with her.
One day she had fallen asleep in her room, with the dog at her
feet, as his habit was. Her feet were bare and resting on his
back. Suddenly she was waked by her husband: he stood beside
her, smiling not unkindly.
"You look like my great-grandmother, Juliane de Cornault, lying
in the chapel with her feet on a little dog," he said.
The analogy sent a chill through her, but she laughed and
answered: "Well, when I am dead you must put me beside her,
carved in marble, with my dog at my feet."
"Oho--we'll wait and see," he said, laughing also, but with his
black brows close together. "The dog is the emblem of fidelity."
"And do you doubt my right to lie with mine at my feet?"
"When I'm in doubt I find out," he answered. "I am an old man,"
he added, "and people say I make you lead a lonely life. But I
swear you shall have your monument if you earn it."
"And I swear to be faithful," she returned, "if only for the sake
of having my little dog at my feet."
Not long afterward he went on business to the Quimper Assizes;
and while he was away his aunt, the widow of a great nobleman of
the duchy, came to spend a night at Kerfol on her way to the
pardon of Ste. Barbe. She was a woman of great piety and
consequence, and much respected by Yves de Cornault, and when she
proposed to Anne to go with her to Ste. Barbe no one could
object, and even the chaplain declared himself in favour of the
pilgrimage. So Anne set out for Ste. Barbe, and there for the
first time she talked with Herve de Lanrivain. He had come once
or twice to Kerfol with his father, but she had never before
exchanged a dozen words with him. They did not talk for more
than five minutes now: it was under the chestnuts, as the
procession was coming out of the chapel. He said: "I pity you,"
and she was surprised, for she had not supposed that any one
thought her an object of pity. He added: "Call for me when you
need me," and she smiled a little, but was glad afterward, and
thought often of the meeting.
She confessed to having seen him three times afterward: not more.
How or where she would not say--one had the impression that she
feared to implicate some one. Their meetings had been rare and
brief; and at the last he had told her that he was starting the
next day for a foreign country, on a mission which was not
without peril and might keep him for many months absent. He
asked her for a remembrance, and she had none to give him but the
collar about the little dog's neck. She was sorry afterward that
she had given it, but he was so unhappy at going that she had not
had the courage to refuse.
Her husband was away at the time. When he returned a few days
later he picked up the little dog to pet it, and noticed that its
collar was missing. His wife told him that the dog had lost it
in the undergrowth of the park, and that she and her maids had
hunted a whole day for it. It was true, she explained to the
court, that she had made the maids search for the necklet--they
all believed the dog had lost it in the park. . .
Her husband made no comment, and that evening at supper he was in
his usual mood, between good and bad: you could never tell which.
He talked a good deal, describing what he had seen and done at
Rennes; but now and then he stopped and looked hard at her; and
when she went to bed she found her little dog strangled on her
pillow. The little thing was dead, but still warm; she stooped
to lift it, and her distress turned to horror when she discovered
that it had been strangled by twisting twice round its throat the
necklet she had given to Lanrivain.
The next morning at dawn she buried the dog in the garden, and
hid the necklet in her breast. She said nothing to her husband,
then or later, and he said nothing to her; but that day he had a
peasant hanged for stealing a faggot in the park, and the next
day he nearly beat to death a young horse he was breaking.
Winter set in, and the short days passed, and the long nights,
one by one; and she heard nothing of Herve de Lanrivain. It
might be that her husband had killed him; or merely that he had
been robbed of the necklet. Day after day by the hearth among
the spinning maids, night after night alone on her bed, she
wondered and trembled. Sometimes at table her husband looked
across at her and smiled; and then she felt sure that Lanrivain
was dead. She dared not try to get news of him, for she was sure
her husband would find out if she did: she had an idea that he
could find out anything. Even when a witch-woman who was a noted
seer, and could show you the whole world in her crystal, came to
the castle for a night's shelter, and the maids flocked to her,
Anne held back. The winter was long and black and rainy. One
day, in Yves de Cornault's absence, some gypsies came to Kerfol
with a troop of performing dogs. Anne bought the smallest and
cleverest, a white dog with a feathery coat and one blue and one
brown eye. It seemed to have been ill-treated by the gypsies,
and clung to her plaintively when she took it from them. That
evening her husband came back, and when she went to bed she found
the dog strangled on her pillow.
After that she said to herself that she would never have another
dog; but one bitter cold evening a poor lean greyhound was found
whining at the castle-gate, and she took him in and forbade the
maids to speak of him to her husband. She hid him in a room that
no one went to, smuggled food to him from her own plate, made him
a warm bed to lie on and petted him like a child.
Yves de Cornault came home, and the next day she found the
greyhound strangled on her pillow. She wept in secret, but said
nothing, and resolved that even if she met a dog dying of hunger
she would never bring him into the castle; but one day she found
a young sheep-dog, a brindled puppy with good blue eyes, lying
with a broken leg in the snow of the park. Yves de Cornault was
at Rennes, and she brought the dog in, warmed and fed it, tied up
its leg and hid it in the castle till her husband's return. The
day before, she gave it to a peasant woman who lived a long way
off, and paid her handsomely to care for it and say nothing; but
that night she heard a whining and scratching at her door, and
when she opened it the lame puppy, drenched and shivering, jumped
up on her with little sobbing barks. She hid him in her bed, and
the next morning was about to have him taken back to the peasant
woman when she heard her husband ride into the court. She shut
the dog in a chest and went down to receive him. An hour or two
later, when she returned to her room, the puppy lay strangled on
her pillow. . .
After that she dared not make a pet of any other dog; and her
loneliness became almost unendurable. Sometimes, when she
crossed the court of the castle, and thought no one was looking,
she stopped to pat the old pointer at the gate. But one day as
she was caressing him her husband came out of the chapel; and the
next day the old dog was gone. . .
This curious narrative was not told in one sitting of the court,
or received without impatience and incredulous comment. It was
plain that the Judges were surprised by its puerility, and that
it did not help the accused in the eyes of the public. It was an
odd tale, certainly; but what did it prove? That Yves de
Cornault disliked dogs, and that his wife, to gratify her own
fancy, persistently ignored this dislike. As for pleading this
trivial disagreement as an excuse for her relations--whatever
their nature--with her supposed accomplice, the argument was so
absurd that her own lawyer manifestly regretted having let her
make use of it, and tried several times to cut short her story.
But she went on to the end, with a kind of hypnotized insistence,
as though the scenes she evoked were so real to her that she had
forgotten where she was and imagined herself to be re-living
At length the Judge who had previously shown a certain kindness
to her said (leaning forward a little, one may suppose, from his
row of dozing colleagues): "Then you would have us believe that
you murdered your husband because he would not let you keep a pet
"I did not murder my husband."
"Who did, then? Herve de Lanrivain?"
"Who then? Can you tell us?"
"Yes, I can tell you. The dogs--" At that point she was carried
out of the court in a swoon.
. . . . . . . .
It was evident that her lawyer tried to get her to abandon this
line of defense. Possibly her explanation, whatever it was, had
seemed convincing when she poured it out to him in the heat of
their first private colloquy; but now that it was exposed to the
cold daylight of judicial scrutiny, and the banter of the town,
he was thoroughly ashamed of it, and would have sacrificed her
without a scruple to save his professional reputation. But the
obstinate Judge--who perhaps, after all, was more inquisitive
than kindly--evidently wanted to hear the story out, and she was
ordered, the next day, to continue her deposition.
She said that after the disappearance of the old watch-dog
nothing particular happened for a month or two. Her husband was
much as usual: she did not remember any special incident. But
one evening a pedlar woman came to the castle and was selling
trinkets to the maids. She had no heart for trinkets, but she
stood looking on while the women made their choice. And then,
she did not know how, but the pedlar coaxed her into buying for
herself an odd pear-shaped pomander with a strong scent in it--
she had once seen something of the kind on a gypsy woman. She
had no desire for the pomander, and did not know why she had
bought it. The pedlar said that whoever wore it had the power to
read the future; but she did not really believe that, or care
much either. However, she bought the thing and took it up to her
room, where she sat turning it about in her hand. Then the
strange scent attracted her and she began to wonder what kind of
spice was in the box. She opened it and found a grey bean rolled
in a strip of paper; and on the paper she saw a sign she knew,
and a message from Herve de Lanrivain, saying that he was at home
again and would be at the door in the court that night after the
moon had set. . .
She burned the paper and then sat down to think. It was
nightfall, and her husband was at home. . . She had no way of
warning Lanrivain, and there was nothing to do but to wait. . .
At this point I fancy the drowsy courtroom beginning to wake up.
Even to the oldest hand on the bench there must have been a
certain aesthetic relish in picturing the feelings of a woman on
receiving such a message at night-fall from a man living twenty
miles away, to whom she had no means of sending a warning. . .
She was not a clever woman, I imagine; and as the first result of
her cogitation she appears to have made the mistake of being,
that evening, too kind to her husband. She could not ply him
with wine, according to the traditional expedient, for though he
drank heavily at times he had a strong head; and when he drank
beyond its strength it was because he chose to, and not because a
woman coaxed him. Not his wife, at any rate--she was an old
story by now. As I read the case, I fancy there was no feeling
for her left in him but the hatred occasioned by his supposed
At any rate, she tried to call up her old graces; but early in
the evening he complained of pains and fever, and left the hall
to go up to his room. His servant carried him a cup of hot wine,
and brought back word that he was sleeping and not to be
disturbed; and an hour later, when Anne lifted the tapestry and
listened at his door, she heard his loud regular breathing. She
thought it might be a feint, and stayed a long time barefooted in
the cold passage, her ear to the crack; but the breathing went on
too steadily and naturally to be other than that of a man in a
sound sleep. She crept back to her room reassured, and stood in
the window watching the moon set through the trees of the park.
The sky was misty and starless, and after the moon went down the
night was pitch black. She knew the time had come, and stole
along the passage, past her husband's door--where she stopped
again to listen to his breathing--to the top of the stairs.
There she paused a moment, and assured herself that no one was
following her; then she began to go down the stairs in the
darkness. They were so steep and winding that she had to go very
slowly, for fear of stumbling. Her one thought was to get the
door unbolted, tell Lanrivain to make his escape, and hasten back
to her room. She had tried the bolt earlier in the evening, and
managed to put a little grease on it; but nevertheless, when she
drew it, it gave a squeak . . . not loud, but it made her heart
stop; and the next minute, overhead, she heard a noise. . .
"What noise?" the prosecution interposed.
"My husband's voice calling out my name and cursing me."
"What did you hear after that?"
"A terrible scream and a fall."
"Where was Herve de Lanrivain at this time?"
"He was standing outside in the court. I just made him out in
the darkness. I told him for God's sake to go, and then I pushed
the door shut."
"What did you do next?"
"I stood at the foot of the stairs and listened."
"What did you hear?"
"I heard dogs snarling and panting." (Visible discouragement of
the bench, boredom of the public, and exasperation of the lawyer
for the defense. Dogs again--! But the inquisitive Judge
She bent her head and spoke so low that she had to be told to
repeat her answer: "I don't know."
"How do you mean--you don't know?"
"I don't know what dogs. . ."
The Judge again intervened: "Try to tell us exactly what
happened. How long did you remain at the foot of the stairs?"
"Only a few minutes."
"And what was going on meanwhile overhead?"
"The dogs kept on snarling and panting. Once or twice he cried
out. I think he moaned once. Then he was quiet."
"Then what happened?"
"Then I heard a sound like the noise of a pack when the wolf is
thrown to them--gulping and lapping."
(There was a groan of disgust and repulsion through the court,
and another attempted intervention by the distracted lawyer. But
the inquisitive Judge was still inquisitive.)
"And all the while you did not go up?"
"Yes--I went up then--to drive them off."
"When I got there it was quite dark. I found my husband's flint
and steel and struck a spark. I saw him lying there. He was
"And the dogs?"
"The dogs were gone."
"I don't know. There was no way out--and there were no dogs at
She straightened herself to her full height, threw her arms above
her head, and fell down on the stone floor with a long scream.
There was a moment of confusion in the court-room. Some one on
the bench was heard to say: "This is clearly a case for the
ecclesiastical authorities"--and the prisoner's lawyer doubtless
jumped at the suggestion.
After this, the trial loses itself in a maze of cross-questioning
and squabbling. Every witness who was called corroborated Anne
de Cornault's statement that there were no dogs at Kerfol: had
been none for several months. The master of the house had taken
a dislike to dogs, there was no denying it. But, on the other
hand, at the inquest, there had been long and bitter discussion
as to the nature of the dead man's wounds. One of the surgeons
called in had spoken of marks that looked like bites. The
suggestion of witchcraft was revived, and the opposing lawyers
hurled tomes of necromancy at each other.
At last Anne de Cornault was brought back into court--at the
instance of the same Judge--and asked if she knew where the dogs
she spoke of could have come from. On the body of her Redeemer
she swore that she did not. Then the Judge put his final
question: "If the dogs you think you heard had been known to you,
do you think you would have recognized them by their barking?"
"Did you recognize them?"
"What dogs do you take them to have been?"
"My dead dogs," she said in a whisper. . . She was taken out of
court, not to reappear there again. There was some kind of
ecclesiastical investigation, and the end of the business was
that the Judges disagreed with each other, and with the
ecclesiastical committee, and that Anne de Cornault was finally
handed over to the keeping of her husband's family, who shut her
up in the keep of Kerfol, where she is said to have died many
years later, a harmless madwoman.
So ends her story. As for that of Herve de Lanrivain, I had only
to apply to his collateral descendant for its subsequent details.
The evidence against the young man being insufficient, and his
family influence in the duchy considerable, he was set free, and
left soon afterward for Paris. He was probably in no mood for a
worldly life, and he appears to have come almost immediately
under the influence of the famous M. Arnauld d'Andilly and the
gentlemen of Port Royal. A year or two later he was received
into their Order, and without achieving any particular
distinction he followed its good and evil fortunes till his death
some twenty years later. Lanrivain showed me a portrait of him
by a pupil of Philippe de Champaigne: sad eyes, an impulsive
mouth and a narrow brow. Poor Herve de Lanrivain: it was a grey
ending. Yet as I looked at his stiff and sallow effigy, in the
dark dress of the Jansenists, I almost found myself envying his
fate. After all, in the course of his life two great things had
happened to him: he had loved romantically, and he must have
talked with Pascal. . .