When he and the hermit were alone in their apartment, they spent a long time praising their host. At break of day the old man awakened his companion. "We must now depart," said he, "but while all the family are still asleep, I will leave this man a mark of my esteem and affection." So saying, he took a candle and set fire to the house.
Zadig, struck with horror, cried aloud, and endeavored to hinder him from committing such a barbarous action; but the hermit drew him away by a superior force, and the house was soon in flames. The hermit, who, with his companion, was already at a considerable distance, looked back to the conflagration with great tranquillity.
"Thanks be to God," said he, "the house of my dear host is entirely destroyed! Happy man!"
At these words Zadig was at once tempted to burst out a-laughing, to reproach the reverend father, to beat him, and to run away. But he did none of all of these, for still subdued by the powerful ascendancy of the hermit, he followed him, in spite of himself, to the next stage.
This was at the house of a charitable and virtuous widow, who had a nephew fourteen years of age, a handsome and promising youth, and her only hope. She performed the honors of her house as well as she could. Next day, she ordered her nephew to accompany the strangers to a bridge, which being lately broken down, was become extremely dangerous in passing. The young man walked before them with great alacrity. As they were crossing the bridge, "Come" said the hermit to the youth, "I must show my gratitude to thy aunt." He then took him by the hair and plunged him into the river. The boy sunk, appeared again on the surface of the water, and was swallowed up by the current.
"O monster! O thou most wicked of mankind!" cried Zadig.
"Thou promisedst to behave with greater patience," said the hermit, interrupting him. "Know that under the ruins of that house which Providence hath set on fire the master hath found an immense treasure. Know that this young, man, whose life Providence hath shortened, would have assassinated his aunt in the space of a year, and thee in that of two."
"Who told thee so, barbarian?" cried Zadig; "and though thou hadst read this event in thy Book of Destinies, art thou permitted to drown a youth who never did thee any harm?"
While the Babylonian was thus exclaiming, he observed that the old man had no longer a beard, and that his countenance assumed the features and complexion of youth. The hermit's habit disappeared, and four beautiful wings covered a majestic body resplendent with light.
"O sent of heaven! O divine angel!" cried Zadig, humbly prostrating himself on the ground, "hast thou then descended from the Empyrean to teach a weak mortal to submit to the eternal decrees of Providence?"
"Men," said the angel Jesrad, "judge of all without knowing anything; and, of all men, thou best deservest to be enlightened."
Zadig begged to be permitted to speak. "I distrust myself," said he, "but may I presume to ask the favor of thee to clear up one doubt that still remains in my mind? Would it not have been better to have corrected this youth, and made him virtuous, than to have drowned him?"
"Had he been virtuous," replied Jesrad, "and enjoyed a longer life, it would have been his fate to be assassinated himself, together with the wife he would have married, and the child he would have had by her."
"But why," said Zadig, "is it necessary that there should be crimes and misfortunes, and that these misfortunes should fall on the good?"
"The wicked," replied Jesrad, "are always unhappy; they serve to prove and try the small number of the just that are scattered through the earth; and there is no evil that is not productive of some good."
"But," said Zadig, "suppose there were nothing but good and no evil at all."
"Then," replied Jesrad, "this earth would be another earth. The chain of events would be ranged in another order and directed by wisdom; but this other order, which would be perfect, can exist only in the eternal abode of the Supreme Being, to which no evil can approach. The Deity hath created millions of worlds among which there is not one that resembles another. This immense variety is the effect of His immense power. There are not two leaves among the trees of the earth, nor two globes in the unlimited expanse of heaven that are exactly similar; and all that thou seest on the little atom in which thou art born, ought to be in its proper time and place, according to the immutable decree of Him who comprehends all. Men think that this child who hath just perished is fallen into the water by chance; and that it is by the same chance that this house is burned; but there is no such thing as chance; all is either a trial, or a punishment, or a reward, or a foresight. Remember the fisherman who thought himself the most wretched of mankind. Oromazes sent thee to change his fate. Cease, then, frail mortal, to dispute against what thou oughtest to adore."
"But," said Zadig—as he pronounced the word "But," the angel took his flight toward the tenth sphere. Zadig on his knees adored Providence, and submitted. The angel cried to him from on high, "Direct thy course toward Babylon."
Zadig, entranced, as it were, and like a man about whose head the thunder had burst, walked at random. He entered Babylon on the very day when those who had fought at the tournaments were assembled in the grand vestibule of the palace to explain the enigmas and to answer the questions of the grand magi. All the knights were already arrived, except the knight in green armor. As soon as Zadig appeared in the city the people crowded round him; every eye was fixed on him; every mouth blessed him, and every heart wished him the empire. The envious man saw him pass; he frowned and turned aside. The people conducted him to the place where the assembly was held. The queen, who was informed of his arrival, became a prey to the most violent agitations of hope and fear. She was filled with anxiety and apprehension. She could not comprehend why Zadig was without arms, nor why Itobad wore the white armor. A confused murmur arose at the sight of Zadig. They were equally surprised and charmed to see him; but none but the knights who had fought were permitted to appear in the assembly.
"I have fought as well as the other knights," said Zadig, "but another here wears my arms; and while I wait for the honor of proving the truth of my assertion, I demand the liberty of presenting myself to explain the enigmas." The question was put to the vote, and his reputation for probity was still so deeply impressed in their minds, that they admitted him without scruple.
The first question proposed by the grand magi was: "What, of all things in the world, is the longest and the shortest, the swiftest and the slowest, the most divisible and the most extended the most neglected and the most regretted, without which nothing can be done, which devours all that is little, and enlivens all that is great?"
Itobad was to speak. He replied that so great a man as he did not understand enigmas, and that it was sufficient for him to have conquered by his strength and valor. Some said that the meaning of the enigma was Fortune; some, the Earth; and others the Light. Zadig said that it was Time. "Nothing," added he, "is longer, since it is the measure of eternity; nothing is shorter, since it is insufficient for the accomplishment of our projects; nothing more slow to him that expects, nothing more rapid to him that enjoys; in greatness, it extends to infinity; in smallness, it is infinitely divisible; all men neglect it; all regret the loss of it; nothing can be done without it; it consigns to oblivion whatever is unworthy of being transmitted to posterity, and it immortalizes such actions as are truly great." The assembly acknowledged that Zadig was in the right.
The next question was: "What is the thing which we receive without thanks, which we enjoy without knowing how, which we give to others when we know not where we are, and which we lose without perceiving it?"
Everyone gave his own explanation. Zadig alone guessed that it was Life, and explained all the other enigmas with the same facility. Itobad always said that nothing was more easy, and that he could have answered them with the same readiness had he chosen to have given himself the trouble. Questions were then proposed on justice, on the sovereign good, and on the art of government. Zadig's answers were judged to be the most solid. "What a pity is it," said they, "that such a great genius should be so bad a knight!"
"Illustrious lords," said Zadig, "I have had the honor of conquering in the tournaments. It is to me that the white armor belongs. Lord Itobad took possession of it during my sleep. He probably thought that it would fit him better than the green. I am now ready to prove in your presence, with my gown and sword, against all that beautiful white armor which he took from me, that it is I who have had the honor of conquering the brave Otamus."
Itobad accepted the challenge with the greatest confidence. He never doubted but that, armed as he was, with a helmet, a cuirass, and brassarts, he would obtain an easy victory over a champion in a cap and nightgown. Zadig drew his sword, saluting the queen, who looked at him with a mixture of fear and joy. Itobad drew his without saluting anyone. He rushed upon Zadig, like a man who had nothing to fear; he was ready to cleave him in two. Zadig knew how to ward off his blows, by opposing the strongest part of his sword to the weakest of that of his adversary, in such a manner that Itobad's sword was broken. Upon which Zadig, seizing his enemy by the waist, threw him on the ground; and firing the point of his sword at the breastplate, "Suffer thyself to be disarmed," said he, "or thou art a dead man."
Itobad, always surprised at the disgraces that happened to such a man as he, was obliged to yield to Zadig, who took from him with great composure his magnificent helmet, his superb cuirass, his fine brassarts, his shining cuishes; clothed himself with them, and in this dress ran to throw himself at the feet of Astarte. Cador easily proved that the armor belonged to Zadig. He was acknowledged king by the unanimous consent of the whole nation, and especially by that of Astarte, who, after so many calamities, now tasted the exquisite pleasure of seeing her lover worthy, in the eyes of all the world, to be her husband. Itobad went home to be called lord in his own house. Zadig was king, and was happy. The queen and Zadig adored Providence. He sent in search of the robber Arbogad, to whom he gave an honorable post in his army, promising to advance him to the first dignities if he behaved like a true warrior, and threatening to hang him if he followed the profession of a robber.
Setoc, with the fair Almona, was called from the heart of Arabia and placed at the head of the commerce of Babylon. Cador was preferred and distinguished according to his great services. He was the friend of the king; and the king was then the only monarch on earth that had a friend. The little mute was not forgotten.
But neither could the beautiful Semira be comforted for having believed that Zadig would be blind of an eye; nor did Azora cease to lament her having attempted to cut off his nose. Their griefs, however, he softened by his presents. The envious man died of rage and shame. The empire enjoyed peace, glory, and plenty. This was the happiest age of the earth; it was governed by love and justice. The people blessed Zadig, and Zadig blessed Heaven.
BY GUY DE MAUPASSANT
"I really think you must be mad, my dear, to go for a country walk in such weather as this. You have had some very strange notions for the last two months. You drag me to the seaside in spite of myself, when you have never once had such a whim during all the forty-four years that we have been married. You chose Fecamp, which is a very dull town, without consulting me in the matter, and now you are seized with such a rage for walking, you who hardly ever stir out on foot, that you want to take a country walk on the hottest day of the year. Ask d'Apreval to go with you, as he is ready to gratify all your whims. As for me, I am going back to have a nap."
Madame de Cadour turned to her old friend and said:
"Will you come with me, Monsieur d'Apreval?"
He bowed with a smile, and with all the gallantry of former years:
"I will go wherever you go," he replied.
"Very well, then, go and get a sunstroke," Monsieur de Cadour said; and he went back to the Hotel des Bains to lie down for an hour or two.
As soon as they were alone, the old lady and her old companion set off, and she said to him in a low voice, squeezing his hand:
"At last! at last!"
"You are mad," he said in a whisper. "I assure you that you are mad. Think of the risk you are running. If that man—"
"Oh! Henri, do not say that man, when you are speaking of him."
"Very well," he said abruptly, "if our son guesses anything, if he has any suspicions, he will have you, he will have us both in his power. You have got on without seeing him for the last forty years. What is the matter with you to-day?"
They had been going up the long street that leads from the sea to the town, and now they turned to the right, to go to Etretat. The white road stretched in front of them under a blaze of brilliant sunshine, so they went on slowly in the burning heat. She had taken her old friend's arm, and was looking straight in front of her, with a fixed and haunted gaze, and at last she said:
"And so you have not seen him again, either?"
"Is it possible?"
"My dear friend, do not let us begin that discussion again. I have a wife and children and you have a husband, so we both of us have much to fear from other people's opinion."
She did not reply; she was thinking of her long past youth and of many sad things that had occurred. How well she recalled all the details of their early friendship, his smiles, the way he used to linger, in order to watch her until she was indoors. What happy days they were, the only really delicious days she had ever enjoyed, and how quickly they were over!
And then—her discovery—of the penalty she paid! What anguish!
Of that journey to the South, that long journey, her sufferings, her constant terror, that secluded life in the small, solitary house on the shores of the Mediterranean, at the bottom of a garden, which she did not venture to leave. How well she remembered those long days which she spent lying under an orange tree, looking up at the round, red fruit, amid the green leaves. How she used to long to go out, as far as the sea, whose fresh breezes came to her over the wall, and whose small waves she could hear lapping on the beach. She dreamed of its immense blue expanse sparkling under the sun, with the white sails of the small vessels, and a mountain on the horizon. But she did not dare to go outside the gate. Suppose anybody had recognized her!
And those days of waiting, those last days of misery and expectation! The impending suffering, and then that terrible night! What misery she had endured, and what a night it was! How she had groaned and screamed! She could still see the pale face of her lover, who kissed her hand every moment, and the clean-shaven face of the doctor and the nurse's white cap.
And what she felt when she heard the child's feeble cries, that wail, that first effort of a human's voice!
And the next day! the next day! the only day of her life on which she had seen and kissed her son; for, from that time, she had never even caught a glimpse of him.
And what a long, void existence hers had been since then, with the thought of that child always, always floating before her. She had never seen her son, that little creature that had been part of herself, even once since then; they had taken him from her, carried him away, and had hidden him. All she knew was that he had been brought up by some peasants in Normandy, that he had become a peasant himself, had married well, and that his father, whose name he did not know, had settled a handsome sum of money on him.
How often during the last forty years had she wished to go and see him and to embrace him! She could not imagine to herself that he had grown! She always thought of that small human atom which she had held in her arms and pressed to her bosom for a day.
How often she had said to M. d'Apreval: "I cannot bear it any longer; I must go and see him."
But he had always stopped her and kept her from going. She would be unable to restrain and to master herself; their son would guess it and take advantage of her, blackmail her; she would be lost.
"What is he like?" she said.
"I do not know. I have not seen him again, either."
"Is it possible? To have a son and not to know him; to be afraid of him and to reject him as if he were a disgrace! It is horrible."
They went along the dusty road, overcome by the scorching sun, and continually ascending that interminable hill.
"One might take it for a punishment," she continued; "I have never had another child, and I could no longer resist the longing to see him, which has possessed me for forty years. You men cannot understand that. You must remember that I shall not live much longer, and suppose I should never see him, never have seen him! ... Is it possible? How could I wait so long? I have thought about him every day since, and what a terrible existence mine has been! I have never awakened, never, do you understand, without my first thoughts being of him, of my child. How is he? Oh, how guilty I feel toward him! Ought one to fear what the world may say in a case like this? I ought to have left everything to go after him, to bring him up and to show my love for him. I should certainly have been much happier, but I did not dare, I was a coward. How I have suffered! Oh, how those poor, abandoned children must hate their mothers!"
She stopped suddenly, for she was choked by her sobs. The whole valley was deserted and silent in the dazzling light and the overwhelming heat, and only the grasshoppers uttered their shrill, continuous chirp among the sparse yellow grass on both sides of the road.
"Sit down a little," he said.
She allowed herself to be led to the side of the ditch and sank down with her face in her hands. Her white hair, which hung in curls on both sides of her face, had become tangled. She wept, overcome by profound grief, while he stood facing her, uneasy and not knowing what to say, and he merely murmured: "Come, take courage."
She got up.
"I will," she said, and wiping her eyes, she began to walk again with the uncertain step of an elderly woman.
A little farther on the road passed beneath a clump of trees, which hid a few houses, and they could distinguish the vibrating and regular blows of a blacksmith's hammer on the anvil; and presently they saw a wagon standing on the right side of the road in front of a low cottage, and two men shoeing a horse under a shed.
Monsieur d'Apreval went up to them.
"Where is Pierre Benedict's farm?" he asked.
"Take the road to the left, close to the inn, and then go straight on; it is the third house past Poret's. There is a small spruce fir close to the gate; you cannot make a mistake."
They turned to the left. She was walking very slowly now, her legs threatened to give way, and her heart was beating so violently that she felt as if she should suffocate, while at every step she murmured, as if in prayer:
"Oh! Heaven! Heaven!"
Monsieur d'Apreval, who was also nervous and rather pale, said to her somewhat gruffly:
"If you cannot manage to control your feelings, you will betray yourself at once. Do try and restrain yourself."
"How can I?" she replied. "My child! When I think that I am going to see my child."
They were going along one of those narrow country lanes between farmyards, that are concealed beneath a double row of beech trees at either side of the ditches, and suddenly they found themselves in front of a gate, beside which there was a young spruce fir.
"This is it," he said.
She stopped suddenly and looked about her. The courtyard, which was planted with apple trees, was large and extended as far as the small thatched dwelling house. On the opposite side were the stable, the barn, the cow house and the poultry house, while the gig, the wagon and the manure cart were under a slated outhouse. Four calves were grazing under the shade of the trees and black hens were wandering all about the enclosure.
All was perfectly still; the house door was open, but nobody was to be seen, and so they went in, when immediately a large black dog came out of a barrel that was standing under a pear tree, and began to bark furiously.
There were four bee-hives on boards against the wall of the house.
Monsieur d'Apreval stood outside and called out:
"Is anybody at home?"
Then a child appeared, a little girl of about ten, dressed in a chemise and a linen petticoat, with dirty, bare legs and a timid and cunning look. She remained standing in the doorway, as if to prevent any one going in.
"What do you want?" she asked.
"Is your father in?"
"Where is he?"
"I don't know."
"And your mother?"
"Gone after the cows."
"Will she be back soon?"
"I don't know."
Then suddenly the lady, as if she feared that her companion might force her to return, said quickly:
"I shall not go without having seen him."
"We will wait for him, my dear friend."
As they turned away, they saw a peasant woman coming toward the house, carrying two tin pails, which appeared to be heavy and which glistened brightly in the sunlight.
She limped with her right leg, and in her brown knitted jacket, that was faded by the sun and washed out by the rain, she looked like a poor, wretched, dirty servant.
"Here is mamma." the child said.
When she got close to the house, she looked at the strangers angrily and suspiciously, and then she went in, as if she had not seen them. She looked old and had a hard, yellow, wrinkled face, one of those wooden faces that country people so often have.
Monsieur d'Apreval called her back.
"I beg your pardon, madame, but we came in to know whether you could sell us two glasses of milk."
She was grumbling when she reappeared in the door, after putting down her pails.
"I don't sell milk," she replied.
"We are very thirsty," he said, "and madame is very tired. Can we not get something to drink?"
The peasant woman gave them an uneasy and cunning glance and then she made up her mind.
"As you are here, I will give you some," she said, going into the house, and almost immediately the child came out and brought two chairs, which she placed under an apple tree, and then the mother, in turn brought out two bowls of foaming milk, which she gave to the visitors. She did not return to the house, however, but remained standing near them, as if to watch them and to find out for what purpose they had come there.
"You have come from Fecamp?" she said.
"Yes," Monsieur d'Apreval replied, "we are staying at Fecamp for the summer."
And then, after a short silence he continued:
"Have you any fowls you could sell us every week?"
The woman hesitated for a moment and then replied:
"Yes, I think I have. I suppose you want young ones?"
"Yes, of course."
"What do you pay for them in the market?"
D'Apreval, who had not the least idea, turned to his companion:
"What are you paying for poultry in Fecamp, my dear lady?"
"Four francs and four francs fifty centimes," she said, her eyes full of tears, while the farmer's wife, who was looking at her askance, asked in much surprise:
"Is the lady ill, as she is crying?"
He did not know what to say, and replied with some hesitation:
"No—no—but she lost her watch as we came along, a very handsome watch, and that troubles her. If anybody should find it, please let us know."
Mother Benedict did not reply, as she thought it a very equivocal sort of answer, but suddenly she exclaimed:
"Oh, here is my husband!"
She was the only one who had seen him, as she was facing the gate. D'Apreval started and Madame de Cadour nearly fell as she turned round suddenly on her chair.
A man bent nearly double, and out of breath, stood there, ten yards from them, dragging a cow at the end of a rope. Without taking any notice of the visitors, he said:
"Confound it! What a brute!"
And he went past them and disappeared in the cow house.
Her tears had dried quickly as she sat there startled, without a word and with the one thought in her mind, that this was her son, and D'Apreval, whom the same thought had struck very unpleasantly, said in an agitated voice:
"Is this Monsieur Benedict?"
"Who told you his name?" the wife asked, still rather suspiciously.
"The blacksmith at the corner of the highroad," he replied, and then they were all silent, with their eyes fixed on the door of the cow house, which formed a sort of black hole in the wall of the building. Nothing could be seen inside, but they heard a vague noise, movements and footsteps and the sound of hoofs, which were deadened by the straw on the floor, and soon the man reappeared in the door, wiping his forehead, and came toward the house with long, slow strides. He passed the strangers without seeming to notice them and said to his wife:
"Go and draw me a jug of cider; I am very thirsty."
Then he went back into the house, while his wife went into the cellar and left the two Parisians alone.
"Let us go, let us go, Henri," Madame de Cadour said, nearly distracted with grief, and so d'Apreval took her by the arm, helped her to rise, and sustaining her with all his strength, for he felt that she was nearly fainting, he led her out, after throwing five francs on one of the chairs.
As soon as they were outside the gate, she began to sob and said, shaking with grief:
"Oh! oh! is that what you have made of him?"
He was very pale and replied coldly:
"I did what I could. His farm is worth eighty thousand francs, and that is more than most of the sons of the middle classes have."
They returned slowly, without speaking a word. She was still crying; the tears ran down her cheeks continually for a time, but by degrees they stopped, and they went back to Fecamp, where they found Monsieur de Cadour waiting dinner for them. As soon as he saw them, he began to laugh and exclaimed:
"So my wife has had a sunstroke, and I am very glad of it. I really think she has lost her head for some time past!"
Neither of them replied, and when the husband asked them, rubbing his hands:
"Well, I hope that, at least, you have had a pleasant walk?"
Monsieur d'Apreval replied:
"A delightful walk, I assure you; perfectly delightful."
THE GUILTY SECRET
BY PAUL DE KOCK
Nathalie De Hauteville was twenty-two years old, and had been a widow for three years. She was one of the prettiest women in Paris; her large dark eyes shone with remarkable brilliancy, and she united the sparkling vivacity of an Italian and the depth of feeling of a Spaniard to the grace which always distinguishes a Parisian born and bred. Considering herself too young to be entirely alone, she had long ago invited M. d'Ablaincourt, an old uncle of hers, to come and live with her.
M. d'Ablaincourt was an old bachelor; he had never loved anything in this world but himself. He was an egotist, too lazy to do any one an ill turn, but at the same time too selfish to do any one a kindness, unless it would tend directly to his own advantage. And yet, with an air of complaisance, as if he desired nothing so much as the comfort of those around him, he consented to his niece's proposal, in the hope that she would do many little kind offices for him, which would add materially to his comfort.
M. d'Ablaincourt accompanied his niece when she resumed her place in society; but sometimes, when he felt inclined to stay at home, he would say to her: "My dear Nathalie, I am afraid you will not be much amused this evening. They will only play cards; besides, I don't think any of your friends will be there. Of course, I am ready to take you, if you wish to go."
And Nathalie, who had great confidence in all her uncle said, would stay at home.
In the same manner, M. d'Ablaincourt, who was a great gourmand, said to his niece: "My dear, you know that I am not at all fond of eating, and am satisfied with the simplest fare; but I must tell you that your cook puts too much salt in everything! It is very unwholesome."
So they changed the cook.
Again, the garden was out of order; the trees before the old gentleman's window must be cut down, because their shade would doubtless cause a dampness in the house prejudicial to Nathalie's health; or the surrey was to be changed for a landau.
Nathalie was a coquette. Accustomed to charm, she listened with smiles to the numerous protestations of admiration which she received. She sent all who aspired to her hand to her uncle, saying: "Before I give you any hope, I must know my uncle's opinion."
It is likely that Nathalie would have answered differently if she had ever felt a real preference for any one; but heretofore she seemed to have preferred her liberty.
The old uncle, for his part, being now master in his niece's house, was very anxious for her to remain as she was. A nephew might be somewhat less submissive than Nathalie. Therefore, he never failed to discover some great fault in each of those who sought an alliance with the pretty widow.
Besides his egotism and his epicureanism, the dear uncle had another passion—to play backgammon. The game amused him very much; but the difficulty was to find any one to play with. If, by accident, any of Nathalie's visitors understood it, there was no escape from a long siege with the old gentleman; but most people preferred cards.
In order to please her uncle, Nathalie tried to learn this game; but it was almost impossible. She could not give her attention to one thing for so long a time. Her uncle scolded. Nathalie gave up in despair.
"It was only for your own amusement that I wished to teach it to you," said the good M. d'Ablaincourt.
Things were at this crisis when, at a ball one evening, Nathalie was introduced to a M. d'Apremont, a captain in the navy.
Nathalie raised her eyes, expecting to see a great sailor, with a wooden leg and a bandage over one eye; when to her great surprise, she beheld a man of about thirty, tall and finely formed, with two sound legs and two good eyes.
Armand d'Apremont had entered the navy at a very early age, and had arrived, although very young, to the dignity of a captain. He had amassed a large fortune, in addition to his patrimonial estates, and he had now come home to rest after his labors. As yet, however, he was a single man, and, moreover, had always laughed at love.
But when he saw Nathalie, his opinions underwent a change. For the first time in his life he regretted that he had never learned to dance, and he kept his eyes fixed on her constantly.
His attentions to the young widow soon became a subject of general conversation, and, at last, the report reached the ears of M. d'Ablaincourt. When Nathalie mentioned, one evening, that she expected the captain to spend the evening with her, the old man grew almost angry.
"Nathalie," said he, "you act entirely without consulting me. I have heard that the captain is very rude and unpolished in his manners. To be sure, I have only seen him standing behind your chair; but he has never even asked after my health. I only speak for your interest, as you are so giddy."
Nathalie begged her uncle's pardon, and even offered not to receive the captain's visit; but this he forbore to require—secretly resolving not to allow these visits to become too frequent.
But how frail are all human resolutions—overturned by the merest trifle! In this case, the game of backgammon was the unconscious cause of Nathalie's becoming Mme. d'Apremont. The captain was an excellent hand at backgammon. When the uncle heard this, he proposed a game; and the captain, who understood that it was important to gain the uncle's favor, readily acceded.
This did not please Nathalie. She preferred that he should be occupied with herself. When all the company were gone, she turned to her uncle, saying: "You were right, uncle, after all. I do not admire the captain's manners; I see now that I should not have invited him."
"On the contrary, niece, he is a very well-behaved man. I have invited him to come here very often, and play backgammon with me—that is, to pay his addresses to you."
Nathalie saw that the captain had gained her uncle's heart, and she forgave him for having been less attentive to her. He soon came again, and, thanks to the backgammon, increased in favor with the uncle.
He soon captivated the heart of the pretty widow, also. One morning, Nathalie came blushing to her uncle.
"The captain has asked me to marry him. What do you advise me to do?"
He reflected for a few moments. "If she refuses him, D'Apremont will come here no longer, and then no more backgammon. But if she marries him, he will be here always, and I shall have my games." And the answer was: "You had better marry him."
Nathalie loved Armand; but she would not yield too easily. She sent for the captain.
"If you really love me—"
"Ah, can you doubt it?"
"Hush! do not interrupt me. If you really love me, you will give me one proof of it."
"Anything you ask. I swear—"
"No, you must never swear any more; and, one thing more, you must never smoke. I detest the smell of tobacco, and I will not have a husband who smokes."
Armand sighed, and promised.
The first months of their marriage passed smoothly, but sometimes Armand became thoughtful, restless, and grave. After some time, these fits of sadness became more frequent.
"What is the matter?" asked Nathalie one day, on seeing him stamp with impatience. "Why are you so irritable?"
"Nothing—nothing at all!" replied the captain, as if ashamed of his ill humor.
"Tell me," Nathalie insisted, "have I displeased you in anything?"
The captain assured her that he had no reason to be anything but delighted with her conduct on all occasions, and for a time he was all right. Then soon he was worse than before.
Nathalie was distressed beyond measure. She imparted her anxiety to her uncle, who replied: "Yes, my dear, I know what you mean; I have often remarked it myself, at backgammon. He is very inattentive, and often passes his hand over his forehead, and starts up as if something agitated him."
And one day, when his old habits of impatience and irritability reappeared, more marked than ever, the captain said to his wife: "My dear, an evening walk will do me a world of good; an old sailor like myself cannot bear to sit around the house after dinner. Nevertheless, if you have any objection—"
"Oh, no! What objection can I have?"
He went out, and continued to do so, day after day, at the same hour. Invariably he returned in the best of good humor.
Nathalie was now unhappy indeed. "He loves some other woman, perhaps," she thought, "and he must see her every day. Oh, how wretched I am! But I must let him know that his perfidy is discovered. No, I will wait until I shall have some certain proof wherewith to confront him."
And she went to seek her uncle. "Ah, I am the most unhappy creature in the world!" she sobbed.
"What is the matter?" cried the old man, leaning back in his armchair.
"Armand leaves the house for two hours every evening, after dinner, and comes back in high spirits and as anxious to please me as on the day of our marriage. Oh, uncle, I cannot bear it any longer! If you do not assist me to discover where he goes, I will seek a separation."
"But, my dear niece—"
"My dear uncle, you who are so good and obliging, grant me this one favor. I am sure there is some woman in the secret."
M. d'Ablaincourt wished to prevent a rupture between his niece and nephew, which would interfere very much with the quiet, peaceable life which he led at their house. He pretended to follow Armand; but came back very soon, saying he had lost sight of him.
"But in what direction does he go?"
"Sometimes one way, and sometimes another, but always alone; so your suspicions are unfounded. Be assured, he only walks for exercise."
But Nathalie was not to be duped in this way. She sent for a little errand boy, of whose intelligence she had heard a great deal.
"M. d'Apremont goes out every evening."
"To-morrow, you will follow him; observe where he goes, and come and tell me privately. Do you understand?"
Nathalie waited impatiently for the next day, and for the hour of her husband's departure. At last, the time came—the pursuit is going on—Nathalie counted the moments. After three-quarters of an hour, the messenger arrived, covered with dust.
"Well," exclaimed Nathalie, "speak! Tell me everything that you have seen!"
"Madame, I followed M. d'Apremont, at a distance, as far as the Rue Vieille du Temple, where he entered a small house, in an alley. There was no servant to let him in."
"An alley! No servant! Dreadful!"
"I went in directly after him, and heard him go up-stairs and unlock a door."
"Open the door himself, without knocking! Are you sure of that?"
"The wretch! So he has a key! But, go on."
"When the door shut after him, I stole softly up-stairs, and peeped through the keyhole."
"You shall have twenty francs more."
"I peeped through the keyhole, and saw him drag a trunk along the floor."
"Then he undressed himself, and—"
"Then, for a few seconds, I could not see him, and directly he appeared again, in a sort of gray blouse, and a cap on his Lead."
"A blouse! What in the world does he want with a blouse? What next?"
"I came away, then, madame, and made haste to tell you; but he is there still."
"Well, now run to the corner and get me a cab, and direct the coachman to the house where you have been."
While the messenger went for the cab, Nathalie hurried on her hat and cloak, and ran into her uncle's room.
"I have found him out—he loves another. He's at her house now, in a gray blouse. But I will go and confront him, and then you will see me no more."
The old man had no time to reply. She was gone, with her messenger, in the cab. They stopped at last.
"Here is the house."
Nathalie got out, pale and trembling.
"Shall I go up-stairs with you, madame?" asked the boy.
"No, I will go alone. The third story, isn't it?"
"Yes, madame; the left-hand door, at the head of the stairs."
It seemed that now, indeed, the end of all things was at hand.
Nathalie mounted the dark, narrow stairs, and arrived at the door, and, almost fainting, she cried: "Open the door, or I shall die!"
The door was opened, and Nathalie fell into her husband's arms. He was alone in the room, clad in a gray blouse, and—smoking a Turkish pipe.
"My wife!" exclaimed Armand, in surprise.
"Your wife—who, suspecting your perfidy, has followed you, to discover the cause of your mysterious conduct!"
"How, Nathalie, my mysterious conduct? Look, here it is!" (Showing his pipe.) "Before our marriage, you forbade me to smoke, and I promised to obey you. For some months I kept my promise; but you know what it cost me; you remember how irritable and sad I became. It was my pipe, my beloved pipe, that I regretted. One day, in the country, I discovered a little cottage, where a peasant was smoking. I asked him if he could lend me a blouse and cap; for I should like to smoke with him, but it was necessary to conceal it from you, as the smell of smoke, remaining in my clothes, would have betrayed me. It was soon settled between us. I returned thither every afternoon, to indulge in my favorite occupation; and, with the precaution of a cap to keep the smoke from remaining in my hair, I contrived to deceive you. This is all the mystery. Forgive me."
Nathalie kissed him, crying: "I might have known it could not be! I am happy now, and you shall smoke as much as you please, at home."
And Nathalie returned to her uncle, saying: "Uncle, he loves me! He was only smoking, but hereafter he is to smoke at home."
"I can arrange it all," said D'Ablaincourt; "he shall smoke while he plays backgammon."
"In that way," thought the old man, "I shall be sure of my game."
BY EUGENE FRANCOIS VIDOCQ
At the time when I first became commissary of police, my arrondissement was in that part of Paris which includes the Rue St. Antoine—a street which has a great number of courts, alleys, and culs-de-sac issuing from it in all directions. The houses in these alleys and courts are, for the most part, inhabited by wretches wavering betwixt the last shade of poverty and actual starvation, ready to take part in any disturbance, or assist in any act of rapine or violence.
In one of these alleys, there lived at that time a man named Jean Monette, who was tolerably well stricken in years, but still a hearty man. He was a widower, and, with an only daughter, occupied a floor, au quatrieme, in one of the courts; people said he had been in business and grown rich, but that he had not the heart to spend his money, which year after year accumulated, and would make a splendid fortune for his daughter at his death. With this advantage, Emma, who was really a handsome girl, did not want for suitors, and thought that, being an heiress, she might wait till she really felt a reciprocal passion for some one, and not throw herself away upon the first tolerable match that presented itself. It was on a Sunday, the first in the month of June, that Emma had, as an especial treat, obtained sufficient money from her father for an excursion with some friends to see the fountains of Versailles.
It was a beautiful day, and the basin was thronged around with thousands and thousands of persons, looking, from the variety of their dresses, more like the colors of a splendid rainbow than aught besides; and when, at four o'clock, Triton and his satellites threw up their immense volumes of water, all was wonder, astonishment, and delight; but none were more delighted than Emma, to whom the scene was quite new.
And, then, it was so pleasant to have found a gentleman who could explain everything and everybody; point out the duke of this, and the count that, and the other lions of Paris; besides, such an agreeable and well-dressed man; it was really quite condescending in him to notice them! And then, toward evening, he would insist they should all go home together in a fiacre, and that he alone should pay all the expenses, and when, with a gentle pressure of the hand and a low whisper, he begged her to say where he might come and throw himself at her feet, she thought her feelings were different to what they had ever been before. But how could she give her address—tell so dashing a man that she lived in such a place? No, she could not do that, but she would meet him at the Jardin d'Ete next Sunday evening, and dance with no one else all night.
She met him on the Sunday, and again and again, until her father began to suspect, from her frequent absence of an evening—which was formerly an unusual circumstance with her—that something must be wrong. The old man loved his money, but he loved his daughter more. She was the only link in life that kept together the chain of his affections. He had been passionately fond of his wife, and when she died, Emma had filled up the void in his heart. They were all, save his money, that he had ever loved. The world had cried out against him as a hard-hearted, rapacious man, and he, in return, despised the world.
He was, therefore, much grieved at her conduct, and questioned Emma as to where her frequent visits led her, but could only obtain for answer that she was not aware she had been absent so much as to give him uneasiness. This was unsatisfactory, and so confirmed the old man in his suspicions that he determined to have his daughter watched.
This he effected through the means of an ancien ami, then in the profession of what he called an "inspector," though his enemies (and all men have such) called him a mouchard, or spy. However, by whatever name he called himself, or others called him, he understood his business, and so effectually watched the young lady that he discovered her frequent absences to be for the purpose of meeting a man who, after walking some distance with her, managed, despite the inspector's boasted abilities, to give him the slip.
This naturally puzzled him, and so it would any man in his situation. Fancy the feelings of one of the government's employees in the argus line of business, a man renowned for his success in almost all the arduous and intricate affairs that had been committed to his care, to find himself baffled in a paltry private intrigue, and one which he had merely undertaken for the sake of friendship!
For a second time, he tried the plan of fancying himself to be well paid, thinking this would stimulate his dormant energies, knowing well that a thing done for friendship's sake is always badly done; but even here he failed. He watched them to a certain corner, but, before he could get around it, they were nowhere to be seen. This was not to be borne. It was setting him at defiance. Should he call in the assistance of a brother in the line? No, that would be to acknowledge himself beaten, and the disgrace he could not bear—his honor was concerned, and he would achieve it single handed; but, then, it was very perplexing.
The man, to his experienced eye, seemed not, as he had done to Emma, a dashing gentleman, but more like a foul bird in fine feathers. Something must be wrong, and he must find it out—but, then, again came that confounded question, how?
He would go and consult old Monette—he could, perhaps, suggest something; and, musing on the strangeness of the adventure, he walked slowly toward the house of the old man to hold a council with him on the situation.
On the road, his attention was attracted by a disturbance in the street, and mingling with the crowd, in hope of seizing some of his enemies exercising their illegal functions on whom the whole weight of his official vengeance might fall, he for the time forgot his adventure. The crowd had been drawn together by a difference of opinion between two gentlemen of the vehicular profession, respecting some right of way, and, after all the usual expressions of esteem common on such occasions had been exhausted, one of them drove off, leaving the other at least master of the field, if he had not got the expected job.
The crowd began to disperse, and with them also was going our friend, the detective, when, on turning round, he came in contact with Mlle. Monette, leaning on the arm of her mysterious lover. The light from a lamp above his head shone immediately on the face of Emma and her admirer, showing them both as clear as noonday, so that when his glance turned from the lady to the gentleman, and he obtained a full view of his face, he expressed his joy at the discovery by a loud "Whew!" which, though a short sound and soon pronounced, meant a great deal.
For first, it meant that he had made a great discovery; secondly, that he was not now astonished because he had not succeeded before in his watchfulness; thirdly—but perhaps the two mentioned may be sufficient; for, turning sharply round, he made the greatest haste to reach Monette and inform him, this time, of the result of his espionage.
After a long prelude, stating how fortunate Monette was to have such a friend as himself, a man who knew everybody and everything, he proceeded to inform him of the pleasing intelligence that his daughter was in the habit of meeting, and going to some place (he forgot to say where) with the most desperate and abandoned character in Paris—one who was so extremely dexterous in all his schemes that the police, though perfectly aware of his intentions, had not been able to fix upon him the commission of any one of his criminal acts, for he changed his appearance so often as to set at naught all the assiduous exertions of the Corps des Espions.
The unhappy father received from his friend at parting the assurance that they would catch him yet, and give him an invitation to pass the rest of his days in the seclusion of a prison.
On Emma's return, he told her the information he had received, wisely withholding the means from which his knowledge came, saying that he knew she had that moment parted from a man who would lead her to the brink of destruction, and then cast her off like a child's broken play-thing. He begged, nay, he besought her, with tears in his eyes, to promise she would never again see him. Emma was thunderstruck, not only at the accuracy of her father's information, but at hearing such a character of one whom she had painted as perfection's self; and, calling to her aid those never-failing woman's arguments, a copious flood of tears, fell on her father's neck and promised never again to see her admirer and, if possible, to banish all thoughts of him from her mind.
"My child," said the old man, "I believe you from my heart—I believe you. I love you, but the world says I am rich—why, I know not. You know I live in a dangerous neighborhood, and all my care will be necessary to prevent my losing either my child or my reputed wealth; therefore, to avoid all accidents, I will take care you do not leave this house for the next six months to come, and in that time your lover will have forgotten you, or what will amount to the same thing, you will have forgotten him; but I am much mistaken if the man's intentions are not to rob me of my money, rather than my child."
The old man kept his word, and Emma was not allowed for several days to leave the rooms on the fourth floor.
She tried, during the time, if it were possible to forget the object of her affections, and thought if she could but see him once more, to bid him a long and last farewell, she might in time wear out his remembrance from her heart; but in order to do that, she must see him once more; and having made up her mind that this interview would be an essential requisite to the desired end, she took counsel with herself how it was to be accomplished. There was only one great obstacle presenting itself to her view, which was that "she couldn't get out."
Now women's invention never fails them, when they have set their hearts upon any desired object; and it occurred to her, that although she could not get out, yet it was not quite so apparent that he could not get in; and this point being settled, it was no very difficult matter to persuade the old woman who occasionally assisted her in the household arrangements, to be the bearer of a short note, purporting to say that her father having been unwell for the last few days, usually retired early to rest, and that if her dear Despreau would come about eleven o'clock on the following evening, her father would be asleep, and she would be on the watch for a signal, which was to be three gentle taps on the door.
The old woman executed her commission so well that she brought back an answer vowing eternal fidelity, and promising a punctual attendance at the rendezvous. Nor was it likely that he meant to fail—seeing it was the object he had had for months in view, and he reasoned with himself that if he once got there, he would make such good use of his time as to render a second visit perfectly unnecessary.
Therefore it would be a pity to disappoint any one, and he immediately communicated his plans to two of his confederates, promising them a good share of the booty, and also the girl herself, if either of them felt that way inclined, as a reward for their assistance.
His plans were very well managed, and would have gone on exceedingly well, but for one small accident which happened through the officious interference of the inspector, who, the moment he had discovered who the Lothario was, had taken all the steps he could to catch him, and gain the honor of having caught so accomplished a gentleman. He rightly judged that it would not be long before he would pay a visit to Monette's rooms, and the letters, before their delivery by the old woman, had been read by him, and met with his full approbation.
I was much pleased on being informed by the inspector that he wanted my assistance, one evening, to apprehend the celebrated Despreau, who had planned a robbery near the Rue St. Antoine, and make me acquainted with nearly all the circumstances. So, about half past ten o'clock, I posted myself with the inspector and four men where I could see Despreau pass, and at eleven o'clock, punctual to the moment, he and his two associates began to ascend the stairs.
The two confederates were to wait some time, when he was to come to the door on some pretext and let them in.
After the lapse of half an hour they were let in, when we ascended after them, and the inspector, having a duplicate key, we let ourselves gently in, standing in the passage, so as to prevent our being seen; in a few minutes we heard a loud shriek from Emma, and old Monette's voice most vociferously crying "Murder!" and "Thieves!" On entering the rooms, we perceived that the poor girl was lying on the ground, while one of the men was endeavoring to stifle her cries by either gagging or suffocating her, though in the way he was doing it, the latter would have soon been the case.
The old man had been dragged from his bed, and Despreau stood over him with a knife, swearing that unless he showed him the place where his money and valuables were deposited, it should be the last hour of his existence.
Despreau, on seeing us, seemed inclined to make a most desperate resistance, but not being seconded by his associates, submitted to be pinioned, expressing his regret that we had not come half an hour later, when we might have been saved the trouble.
Despreau was shortly after tried for the offense, which was too clearly proved to admit of any doubt. He was sentenced to the galleys for life, and is now at Brest, undergoing his sentence. Emma, soon afterward, married a respectable man, and old Monette behaved on the occasion much more liberally than was expected.
DR. LEDRU'S STORY OF THE REIGN OF TERROR
BY ALEXANDRE DUMAS
Leaving l'Abbaye, I walked straight across the Place Turenne to the Rue Tournon, where I had lodgings, when I heard a woman scream for help.
It could not be an assault to commit robbery, for it was hardly ten o'clock in the evening. I ran to the corner of the place whence the sounds proceeded, and by the light of the moon, just then breaking through the clouds, I beheld a woman in the midst of a patrol of sans-culottes.
The lady observed me at the same instant, and seeing, by the character of my dress, that I did not belong to the common order of people, she ran toward me, exclaiming:
"There is M. Albert! He knows me! He will tell you that I am the daughter of Mme. Ledieu, the laundress."
With these words the poor creature, pale and trembling with excitement, seized my arm and clung to me as a shipwrecked sailor to a spar.
"No matter whether you are the daughter of Mme. Ledieu or some one else, as you have no pass, you must go with us to the guard-house."
The young girl pressed my arm. I perceived in this pressure the expression of her great distress of mind. I understood it.
"So it is you, my poor Solange?" I said. "What are you doing here?"
"There, messieurs!" she exclaimed in tones of deep anxiety; "do you believe me now?"
"You might at least say 'citizens!'"
"Ah, sergeant, do not blame me for speaking that way," said the pretty young girl; "my mother has many customers among the great people, and taught me to be polite. That's how I acquired this bad habit—the habit of the aristocrats; and, you know, sergeant, it's so hard to shake off old habits!"
This answer, delivered in trembling accents, concealed a delicate irony that was lost on all save me. I asked myself, who is this young woman? The mystery seemed complete. This alone was clear; she was not the daughter of a laundress.
"How did I come here, Citizen Albert?" she asked. "Well, I will tell you. I went to deliver some washing. The lady was not at home, and so I waited; for in these hard times every one needs what little money is coming to him. In that way it grew dark, and so I fell among these gentlemen—beg pardon, I would say citizens. They asked for my pass. As I did not have it with me, they were going to take me to the guard-house. I cried out in terror, which brought you to the scene; and as luck would have it, you are a friend. I said to myself, as M. Albert knows my name to be Solange Ledieu, he will vouch for me; and that you will, will you not, M. Albert?"
"Certainly, I will vouch for you."
"Very well," said the leader of the patrol; "and who, pray, will vouch for you, my friend?"
"Danton! Do you know him? Is he a good patriot?"
"Oh, if Danton will vouch for you, I have nothing to say."
"Well, there is a session of the Cordeliers to-day. Let us go there."
"Good," said the leader. "Citizens, let us go to the Cordeliers."
The club of the Cordeliers met at the old Cordelier monastery in the Rue l'Observance. We arrived there after scarce a minute's walk. At the door I tore a page from my note-book, wrote a few words upon it with a lead pencil, gave it to the sergeant, and requested him to hand it to Danton, while I waited outside with the men.
The sergeant entered the clubhouse and returned with Danton.
"What!" said he to me; "they have arrested you, my friend? You, the friend of Camilles—you, one of the most loyal republicans? Citizens," he continued, addressing the sergeant, "I vouch for him. Is that sufficient?"
"You vouch for him. Do you also vouch for her?" asked the stubborn sergeant.
"For her? To whom do you refer?"
"For everything; for everybody who may be in his company. Does that satisfy you?"
"Yes," said the man; "especially since I have had the privilege of seeing you."
With a cheer for Danton, the patrol marched away. I was about to thank Danton, when his name was called repeatedly within.
"Pardon me, my friend," he said; "you hear? There is my hand; I must leave you—the left. I gave my right to the sergeant. Who knows, the good patriot may have scrofula?"
"I'm coming!" he exclaimed, addressing those within in his mighty voice with which he could pacify or arouse the masses. He hastened into the house.
I remained standing at the door, alone with my unknown.
"And now, my lady," I said, "whither would you have me escort you? I am at your disposal."
"Why, to Mme. Ledieu," she said with a laugh. "I told you she was my mother."
"And where does Mme. Ledieu reside?"
"Rue Ferou, 24."
"Then, let us proceed to Rue Ferou, 24."
On the way neither of us spoke a word. But by the light of the moon, enthroned in serene glory in the sky, I was able to observe her at my leisure. She was a charming girl of twenty or twenty-two—brunette, with large blue eyes, more expressive of intelligence than melancholy—a finely chiseled nose, mocking lips, teeth of pearl, hands like a queen's, and feet like a child's; and all these, in spite of her costume of a laundress, betokened an aristocratic air that had aroused the sergeant's suspicions not without justice.
Arrived at the door of the house, we looked at each other a moment in silence.
"Well, my dear M. Albert, what do you wish?" my fair unknown asked with a smile.
"I was about to say, my dear Mlle. Solange, that it was hardly worth while to meet if we are to part so soon."
"Oh, I beg ten thousand pardons! I find it was well worth the while; for if I had not met you, I should have been dragged to the guard-house, and there it would have been discovered that I am not the daughter of Mme. Ledieu—in fact, it would have developed that I am an aristocrat, and in all likelihood they would have cut off my head."
"You admit, then, that you are an aristocrat?"
"I admit nothing."
"At least you might tell me your name."
"I know very well that this name, which I gave you on the inspiration of the moment, is not your right name."
"No matter; I like it, and I am going to keep it—at least for you."
"Why should you keep it for me? if we are not to meet again?"
"I did not say that. I only said that if we should meet again it will not be necessary for you to know my name any more than that I should know yours. To me you will be known as Albert, and to you I shall always be Solange."
"So be it, then; but I say, Solange," I began.
"I am listening, Albert," she replied.
"You are an aristocrat—that you admit."
"If I did not admit it, you would surmise it, and so my admission would be divested of half its merit."
"And you were pursued because you were suspected of being an aristocrat?"
"I fear so."
"And you are hiding to escape persecution?"
"In the Rue Ferou, No. 24, with Mme. Ledieu, whose husband was my father's coachman. You see, I have no secret from you."
"And your father?"
"I shall make no concealment, my dear Albert, of anything that relates to me. But my fathers secrets are not my own. My father is in hiding, hoping to make his escape. That is all I can tell you."
"And what are you going to do?"
"Go with my father, if that be possible. If not, allow him to depart without me until the opportunity offers itself to me to join him."
"Were you coming from your father when the guard arrested you to-night?"
"Listen, dearest Solange."
"I am all attention."
"You observed all that took place to-night?"
"Yes. I saw that you had powerful influence."
"I regret my power is not very great. However, I have friends."
"I made the acquaintance of one of them."
"And you know he is not one of the least powerful men of the times."
"Do you intend to enlist his influence to enable my father to escape?"
"No, I reserve him for you."
"But my father?"
"I have other ways of helping your father."
"Other ways?" exclaimed Solange, seizing my hands and studying me with an anxious expression.
"If I serve your father, will you then sometimes think kindly of me?"
"Oh, I shall all my life hold you in grateful remembrance!"
She uttered these words with an enchanting expression of devotion. Then she looked at me beseechingly and said:
"But will that satisfy you?"
"Yes," I said.
"Ah, I was not mistaken. You are kind, generous. I thank you for my father and myself. Even if you should fail, I shall be grateful for what you have already done!"
"When shall we meet again, Solange?"
"When do you think it necessary to see me again?"
"To-morrow, when I hope to have good news for you."
"Well, then, to-morrow."
"Here in the street?"
"Well, mon Dieu!" she exclaimed. "You see, it is the safest place. For thirty minutes, while we have been talking here, not a soul has passed."
"Why may I not go to you, or you come to me?"
"Because it would compromise the good people if you should come to me, and you would incur serious risk if I should go to you."
"Oh, I would give you the pass of one of my relatives."
"And send your relative to the guillotine if I should be accidentally arrested!"
"True. I will bring you a pass made out in the name of Solange."
"Charming! You observe Solange is my real name."
"And the hour?"
"The same at which we met to-night—ten o'clock, if you please."
"All right; ten o'clock. And how shall we meet?"
"That is very simple. Be at the door at five minutes of ten, and at ten I will come down."
"Then, at ten to-morrow, dear Solange."
"To-morrow at ten, dear Albert."
I wanted to kiss her hand; she offered me her brow.
The next day I was in the street at half past nine. At a quarter of ten Solange opened the door. We were both ahead of time.
With one leap I was by her side.
"I see you have good news," she said.
"Excellent! First, here is a pass for you."
"First my father!"
She repelled my hand.
"Your father is saved, if he wishes."
"Wishes, you say? What is required of him?"
"He must trust me."
"That is assured."
"Have you seen him?"
"You have discussed the situation with him?"
"It was unavoidable. Heaven will help us."
"Did you tell your father all?"
"I told him you had saved my life yesterday, and that you would perhaps save his to-morrow."
"To-morrow! Yes, quite right; to-morrow I shall save his life, if it is his will."
"How? What? Speak! Speak! If that were possible, how fortunately all things have come to pass!"
"However—" I began hesitatingly.
"It will be impossible for you to accompany him."
"I told you I was resolute."
"I am quite confident, however, that I shall be able later to procure a passport for you."
"First tell me about my father; my own distress is less important."
"Well, I told you I had friends, did I not?"
"To-day I sought out one of them."
"A man whose name is familiar to you; whose name is a guarantee of courage and honor."
"And this man is?"
"True, he will keep a promise."
"Well, he has promised."
"Mon Dieu! How happy you make me! What has he promised? Tell me all."
"He has promised to help us."
"In what manner?"
"In a very simple manner. Kleber has just had him promoted to the command of the western army. He departs to-morrow night."
"To-morrow night! We shall have no time to make the smallest preparation."
"There are no preparations to make."
"I do not understand."
"He will take your father with him."
"Yes, as his secretary. Arrived in the Vendee, your father will pledge his word to the general to undertake nothing against France. From there he will escape to Brittany, and from Brittany to England. When he arrives in London, he will inform you; I shall obtain a passport for you, and you will join him in London."
"To-morrow," exclaimed Solange; "my father departs tomorrow!"
"There is no time to waste."
"My father has not been informed."
"But how, at this hour?"
"You have a pass and my arm."
"True. My pass."
I gave it to her. She thrust it into her bosom.
"Now? your arm?"
I gave her my arm, and we walked away. When we arrived at the Place Turenne—that is, the spot where we had met the night before—she said: "Await me here."
I bowed and waited.
She disappeared around the corner of what was formerly the Hotel Malignon. After a lapse of fifteen minutes she returned.
"Come," she said, "my father wishes to receive and thank you."
She took my arm and led me up to the Rue St. Guillaume, opposite the Hotel Mortemart. Arrived here, she took a bunch of keys from her pocket, opened a small, concealed door, took me by the hand, conducted me up two flights of steps, and knocked in a peculiar manner.
A man of forty-eight or fifty years opened the door. He was dressed as a working man and appeared to be a bookbinder. But at the first utterance that burst from his lips, the evidence of the seigneur was unmistakable.
"Monsieur," he said, "Providence has sent you to us. I regard you an emissary of fate. Is it true that you can save me, or, what is more, that you wish to save me?"
I admitted him completely to my confidence. I informed him that Marceau would take him as his secretary, and would exact no promise other than that he would not take up arms against France.
"I cheerfully promise it now, and will repeat it to him."
"I thank you in his name as well as in my own."
"But when does Marceau depart?"
"Shall I go to him to-night?"
"Whenever you please; he expects you."
Father and daughter looked at each other.
"I think it would be wise to go this very night," said Solange.
"I am ready; but if I should be arrested, seeing that I have no permit?"
"Here is mine."
"Oh, I am known."
"Where does Marceau reside?"
"Rue de l'Universite, 40, with his sister, Mlle. Degraviers-Marceau."
"Will you accompany me?"
"I shall follow you at a distance, to accompany mademoiselle home when you are gone."
"How will Marceau know that I am the man of whom you spoke to him?"
"You will hand him this tri-colored cockade; that is the sign of identification."
"And how shall I reward my liberator?"
"By allowing him to save your daughter also."
He put on his hat and extinguished the lights, and we descended by the gleam of the moon which penetrated the stair-windows.
At the foot of the steps he took his daughter's arm, and by way of the Rue des Saints Peres we reached Rue de l'Universite. I followed them at a distance of ten paces. We arrived at No. 40 without having met any one. I rejoined them there.
"That is a good omen," I said; "do you wish me to go up with you?"
"No. Do not compromise yourself any further. Await my daughter here."
"And now, once more, thanks and farewell," he said, giving me his hand. "Language has no words to express my gratitude. I pray that heaven may some day grant me the opportunity of giving fuller expression to my feelings."
I answered him with a pressure of the hand.
He entered the house. Solange followed him; but she, too, pressed my hand before she entered.
In ten minutes the door was reopened.
"Well?" I asked.
"Your friend," she said, "is worthy of his name; he is as kind and considerate as yourself. He knows that it will contribute to my happiness to remain with my father until the moment of departure. His sister has ordered a bed placed in her room. To-morrow at three o'clock my father will be out of danger. To-morrow evening at ten I shall expect you in the Rue Ferou, if the gratitude of a daughter who owes her father's life to you is worth the trouble."
"Oh, be sure I shall come. Did your father charge you with any message for me?"
"He thanks you for your pass, which he returns to you, and begs you to join him as soon as possible."
"Whenever it may be your desire to go," I said, with a strange sensation at my heart.
"At least, I must know where I am to join him," she said. "Ah, you are not yet rid of me!"
I seized her hand and pressed it against my heart, but she offered me her brow, as on the previous evening, and said: "Until to-morrow."
I kissed her on the brow; but now I no longer strained her hand against my breast, but her heaving bosom, her throbbing heart.
I went home in a state of delirious ecstasy such as I had never experienced. Was it the consciousness of a generous action, or was it love for this adorable creature? I know not whether I slept or woke. I only know that all the harmonies of nature were singing within me; that the night seemed endless, and the day eternal; I know that though I wished to speed the time, I did not wish to lose a moment of the days still to come.
The next day I was in the Rue Ferou at nine o'clock. At half-past nine Solange made her appearance.
She approached me and threw her arms around my neck.
"Saved!" she said; "my father is saved! And this I owe you. Oh, how I love you!"
Two weeks later Solange received a letter announcing her father's safe arrival in England.
The next day I brought her a passport.
When Solange received it she burst into tears.
"You do not love me!" she exclaimed.
"I love you better than my life," I replied; "but I pledged your father my word, and I must keep it."
"Then, I will break mine," she said. "Yes, Albert; if you have the heart to let me go, I have not the courage to leave you."
Alas, she remained!
Three months had passed since that night on which we talked of her escape, and in all that time not a word of parting had passed her lips.
Solange had taken lodgings in the Rue Turenne. I had rented them in her name. I knew no other, while she always addressed me as Albert. I had found her a place as teacher in a young ladies' seminary solely to withdraw her from the espionage of the revolutionary police, which had become more scrutinizing than ever.
Sundays we passed together in the small dwelling, from the bedroom of which we could see the spot where we had first met. We exchanged letters daily, she writing to me under the name of Solange, and I to her under that of Albert.
Those three months were the happiest of my life.
In the meantime I was making some interesting experiments suggested by one of the guillotiniers. I had obtained permission to make certain scientific tests with the bodies and heads of those who perished on the scaffold. Sad to say, available subjects were not wanting. Not a day passed but thirty or forty persons were guillotined, and blood flowed so copiously on the Place de la Revolution that it became necessary to dig a trench three feet deep around the scaffolding. This trench was covered with deals. One of them loosened under the feet of an eight-year-old lad, who fell into the abominable pit and was drowned.
For self-evident reasons I said nothing to Solange of the studies that occupied my attention during the day. In the beginning my occupation had inspired me with pity and loathing, but as time wore on I said: "These studies are for the good of humanity," for I hoped to convince the lawmakers of the wisdom of abolishing capital punishment.
The Cemetery of Clamart had been assigned to me, and all the heads and trunks of the victims of the executioner had been placed at my disposal. A small chapel in one corner of the cemetery had been converted into a kind of laboratory for my benefit. You know, when the queens were driven from the palaces, God was banished from the churches.
Every day at six the horrible procession filed in. The bodies were heaped together in a wagon, the heads in a sack. I chose some bodies and heads in a haphazard fashion, while the remainder were thrown into a common grave.
In the midst of this occupation with the dead, my love for Solange increased from day to day; while the poor child reciprocated my affection with the whole power of her pure soul.
Often I had thought of making her my wife; often we had mutually pictured to ourselves the happiness of such a union. But in order to become my wife, it would be necessary for Solange to reveal her name; and this name, which was that of an emigrant, an aristocrat, meant death.
Her father had repeatedly urged her by letter to hasten her departure, but she had informed him of our engagement. She had requested his consent, and he had given it, so that all had gone well to this extent.
The trial and execution of the queen, Marie Antoinette, had plunged me, too, into deepest sadness. Solange was all tears, and we could not rid ourselves of a strange feeling of despondency, a presentiment of approaching danger, that compressed our hearts. In vain I tried to whisper courage to Solange. Weeping, she reclined in my arms, and I could not comfort her, because my own words lacked the ring of confidence.
We passed the night together as usual, but the night was even more depressing than the day. I recall now that a dog, locked up in a room below us, howled till two o'clock in the morning. The next day we were told that the dog's master had gone away with the key in his pocket, had been arrested on the way, tried at three, and executed at four.
The time had come for us to part. Solange's duties at the school began at nine o'clock in the morning. Her school was in the vicinity of the Botanic Gardens. I hesitated long to let her go; she, too, was loath to part from me. But it must be. Solange was prone to be an object of unpleasant inquiries.
I called a conveyance and Accompanied her as far as the Rue des Fosses-Saint-Bernard, where I got out and left her to pursue her way alone. All the way we lay mutely wrapped in each other's arms, mingling tears with our kisses.
After leaving the carriage, I stood as if rooted to the ground. I heard Solange call me, but I dared not go to her, because her face, moist with tears, and her hysterical manner were calculated to attract attention.
Utterly wretched, I returned home, passing the entire day in writing to Solange. In the evening I sent her an entire volume of love-pledges.
My letter had hardly gone to the post when I received one from her.
She had been sharply reprimanded for coming late; had been subjected to a severe cross-examination, and threatened with forfeiture of her next holiday. But she vowed to join me even at the cost of her place. I thought I should go mad at the prospect of being parted from her a whole week. I was more depressed because a letter which had arrived from her father appeared to have been tampered with.
I passed a wretched night and a still more miserable day.
The next day the weather was appalling. Nature seemed to be dissolving in a cold, ceaseless rain—a rain like that which announces the approach of winter. All the way to the laboratory my ears were tortured with the criers announcing the names of the condemned, a large number of men, women, and children. The bloody harvest was over-rich. I should not lack subjects for my investigations that day.
The day ended early. At four o'clock I arrived at Clamart; it was almost night.
The view of the cemetery, with its large, new-made graves; the sparse, leafless trees that swayed in the wind, was desolate, almost appalling.
A large, open pit yawned before me. It was to receive to-day's harvest from the Place de la Revolution. An exceedingly large number of victims was expected, for the pit was deeper than usual.
Mechanically I approached the grave. At the bottom the water had gathered in a pool; my feet slipped; I came within an inch of falling in. My hair stood on end. The rain had drenched me to the skin. I shuddered and hastened into the laboratory.
It was, as I have said, an abandoned chapel. My eyes searched—I know not why—to discover if some traces of the holy purpose to which the edifice had once been devoted did not still adhere to the walls or to the altar; but the walls were bare, the altar empty.
I struck a light and deposited the candle on the operating-table on which lay scattered a miscellaneous assortment of the strange instruments I employed. I sat down and fell into a reverie. I thought of the poor queen, whom I had seen in her beauty, glory, and happiness, yesterday carted to the scaffold, pursued by the execrations of a people, to-day lying headless on the common sinners' bier—she who had slept beneath the gilded canopy of the throne of the Tuileries and St. Cloud.
As I sat thus, absorbed in gloomy meditation, wind and rain without redoubled in fury. The rain-drops dashed against the window-panes, the storm swept with melancholy moaning through the branches of the trees. Anon there mingled with the violence of the elements the sound of wheels.
It was the executioner's red hearse with its ghastly freight from the Place de la Revolution.
The door of the little chapel was pushed ajar, and two men, drenched with rain, entered, carrying a sack between them.
"There, M. Ledru," said the guillotinier; "there is what your heart longs for! Be in no hurry this night! We'll leave you to enjoy their society alone. Orders are not to cover them up till to-morrow, and so they'll not take cold."
With a horrible laugh, the two executioners deposited the sack in a corner, near the former altar, right in front of me. Thereupon they sauntered out, leaving open the door, which swung furiously on its hinges till my candle flashed and flared in the fierce draft.
I heard them unharness the horse, lock the cemetery, and go away.
I was strangely impelled to go with them, but an indefinable power fettered me in my place. I could not repress a shudder. I had no fear; but the violence of the storm, the splashing of the rain, the whistling sounds of the lashing branches, the shrill vibration of the atmosphere, which made my candle tremble—all this filled me with a vague terror that began at the roots of my hair and communicated itself to every part of my body.
Suddenly I fancied I heard a voice! A voice at once soft and plaintive; a voice within the chapel, pronouncing the name of "Albert!"
I was startled.
But one person in all the world addressed me by that name!
Slowly I directed my weeping eyes around the chapel, which, though small, was not completely lighted by the feeble rays of the candle, leaving the nooks and angles in darkness, and my look remained fixed on the blood-soaked sack near the altar with its hideous contents.
At this moment the same voice repeated the same name, only it sounded fainter and more plaintive.
I bolted out of my chair, frozen with horror.
The voice seemed to proceed from the sack!
I touched myself to make sure that I was awake; then I walked toward the sack with my arms extended before me, but stark and staring with horror. I thrust my hand into it. Then it seemed to me as if two lips, still warm, pressed a kiss upon my fingers!
I had reached that stage of boundless terror where the excess of fear turns into the audacity of despair. I seized the head and collapsing in my chair, placed it in front of me.
Then I gave vent to a fearful scream. This head, with its lips still warm, with the eyes half closed, was the head of Solange!
I thought I should go mad.
Three times I called:
"Solange! Solange! Solange!"
At the third time she opened her eyes and looked at me. Tears trickled down her cheeks; then a moist glow darted from her eyes, as if the soul were passing, and the eyes closed, never to open again.
I sprang to my feet a raving maniac, I wanted to fly; I knocked against the table; it fell. The candle was extinguished; the head rolled upon the floor, and I fell prostrate, as if a terrible fever had stricken me down—an icy-shudder convulsed me, and, with a deep sigh, I swooned.
The following morning at six the grave-diggers found me, cold as the flagstones on which I lay.
Solange, betrayed by her father's letter, had been arrested the same day, condemned, and executed.
The head that had called me, the eyes that had looked at me, were the head, the eyes, of Solange!
THE BIRDS IN THE LETTER-BOX
BY RENE BAZIN
Nothing can describe the peace that surrounded the country parsonage. The parish was small, moderately honest, prosperous, and was used to the old priest, who had ruled it for thirty years. The town ended at the parsonage, and there began meadows which sloped down to the river and were filled in summer with the perfume of flowers and all the music of the earth. Behind the great house a kitchen-garden encroached on the meadow. The first ray of the sun was for it, and so was the last. Here the cherries ripened in May, and the currants often earlier, and a week before Assumption, usually, you could not pass within a hundred feet without breathing among the hedges the heavy odor of the melons.