(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Denis de Beaulieu, a young cavalier, is precocious in the arts of chivalry and war. Not yet twenty-two years old, he has already killed a man in battle and is confident as he goes about his affairs. One dark, unsettled September night in 1429, Denis finds himself alone in a territory jointly occupied by Burgundian and English troops. Although he is there under safe conduct, that means little in the brutal realities of the Hundred Years’ War. His situation is perilous and, after visiting a friend, he becomes lost in the unfamiliar surroundings on his return to his inn. The streets are narrow and pitch dark; he is filled with claustrophobic terror and fears being assaulted as he tries to find his way back to the security of his lodgings.

In the silent darkness of his ominous journey, Denis comes on an impressive house of some great family, ornamented by pinnacles and turrets with a chapel projecting from the main structure. The door is sheltered within a deep porch and overhung by two gargoyles. The house reminds Denis of his own house at Bourges. As he seeks to retrace his steps, he encounters a party of men-at-arms who would think nothing of killing him and leaving him where he falls. Discovered by the drunken soldiers, Denis beats a frantic retreat, taking refuge within the porch of the great house that he has just left, ready to defend himself to the death. As he draws his sword and leans against the great door, it opens before his weight and he enters as if rescued by Providence. No sooner is he within the great house than the door closes of its own accord, leaving him in absolute darkness. Saved from the marauding soldiers, Denis now faces a new fear: being trapped within a strange house.

Following a thin shaft of light up a staircase, Denis finds himself in a large apartment. Directly facing him as he enters the strongly lighted room, seated on a high chair beside the chimney, is the Sire de Malétroit, who resembles a bull, goat, or domestic boar rather than a human being. His...

(The entire section is 824 words.)