"'Le Bon Pasteur?'" repeated Fouchette.
"Yes, my child. Didn't you really know——"
Sister Agnes pondered.
"Then why should you remain here?" pursued the curious child. "Can't you go away if you want to?"
"But I do not wish to go now,—not now."
"But if you had wished it at any time."
Sister Agnes was silent.
"Then what is this place, madame?"
"A retreat for the poor,—an orphan asylum,—where little girls who have neither father nor mother, and no home, are sent. And where they are brought up to be good and industrious young women."
"D-don't they ever get out again?" asked Fouchette, somewhat doubtfully.
"Oh, yes. They are set free at twenty-one years of age if they wish to go, and even sooner if their friends come for them. If they don't wish to go, they can remain and become members of the order, if they are suitable. I was brought here at ten years of age by my aunt and left temporarily, but my uncle died and she was too poor, or else did not want me, so I was compelled to remain. When I became twenty-one I owed the institution so much from failure to do my tasks and fines, and what my aunt had promised to pay and didn't pay, that I had to stay a long time and work it out, and by that time I had become so accustomed to living here that I was afraid to leave the institution and begged them to let me become one of the community.
"Sometimes girls are bad and so lazy they won't work, and then they are punished. And when they prove incorrigible they are put in the other building, which is a house of correction. But if a girl is good and obedient and industrious she has no trouble, and may save up money against the day when she is set at liberty, besides receives the good recommendation of the Superieure, on which she may find honest employment."
While the good Sister Agnes spoke truly, she dared not tell this child the whole truth.
She dared not say that Le Bon Pasteur,—The Good Shepherd,—although ostensibly a charitable institution, under religious auspices and subsidized by the State, for the protection and education of orphan girls during their minority, was practically a great factory which did not come under the legal restrictions governing free labor in France, and where several hundred girls and young women, whose only offence against society had been to lose their natural protectors, were subjected to all the rigors of the most benighted penal institutions.
She dared not warn this poor little novice that her commitment to The Good Shepherd was equivalent to a sentence of nine years at hard labor; that good conduct and industry would not earn a day from that term, but that bad conduct, neglect, or inability to perform allotted tasks would result not only in severe punishments but an extension of imprisonment indefinitely, at the pleasure of those who reaped the financial reward from the product of the sweat of the orphans.
She dared not notify this frail waif that these tasks of the needle were measured by the ability of the most expert, and that the majority of girls were obliged to work overtime in order to accomplish them; that to many this was an impossibility, and to some death.
She dared not add to her recital of the money that might be earned and saved up against the day of liberty that comparatively few were able to perform the extra work necessary; that fines and charges of all kinds were resorted to in order to reduce such earnings to minimum; and that at the close of her nine years of hard labor for Le Bon Pasteur the most she could expect was to be thrust into the street in the clothes she wore, without a cent, without a friend, without a shelter.
She dared not more than hint at the terrible alternatives placed before these young women from their long isolation from the world,—to remain here prisoners for life, or to cast themselves into the seething hell of Paris.
More than all, she dared not add that all of this was done in a so-called republic, in the name of Civilization, to the glory of modern Religion, in love of the Redeemer.
Fouchette would learn all of this quite soon enough through her own observation and experience. Why needlessly embitter her present?
And this was well. Besides, the religieuse was ashamed to admit these things, as she would have been afraid to deny them, being divided between the vows of her order and her own private conscience.
Sister Agnes was a plain, honest woman of little sentiment, but this little had been curiously awakened in her breast by the coincidence of the time and place which had recalled minutely the circumstances of her own entrance to the institution.
She had unconsciously adopted Fouchette from that moment. She mentally resolved that she would keep an eye on this child. If it could be so managed, Fouchette should come into her section. And, since the child was ignorant and ambitious, she should receive whatever advantages of instruction were to be had.
Quick to respond to this sympathy, Fouchette, on her part, mentally resolved to deserve it. She would be good and obedient, so that the sweet lady would love her and continue to kiss her. How could girls be wicked if all the women of the community of Le Bon Pasteur were like Sister Agnes?
And it would have been quite unnatural and unchildlike, owing to the marked improvement in her condition, if Fouchette had not gone to sleep forgetting her earlier disappointment.
* * * * *
Five years in such a place are as one year,—the same monotonous daily grind in oblivion of the great world outside,—and need not be dwelt upon here beyond a brief reference to its results upon Fouchette's character, when we must hurry the reader on to more eventful scenes.
In this life of seclusion there were three saving features in Fouchette's case. First, its worst conditions were very much better than those under which she had formerly lived; second, she had been torn from no family or friendly ties which might have weighed upon her fancy; third, but not least, there was the love of Sister Agnes.
The petite chiffonniere's ideas of life had been cast in a lowly and humble mould, so that from the beginning these new surroundings seemed highly satisfactory, if not in many respects absolutely joyous. For instance, the beds were prison beds, but they were clean and the dormitories fairly well ventilated,—luxury to one who was accustomed to sleep in a noisome cellar on filthy and envermined straw. The food was coarse and frugal, but it was regular and almost prodigal to one habituated to disputing her breakfast with vagrant dogs. The clothes were coarse and cheap and often shabby, but to the child of rags they were equivalent to royal gowns. The discipline was severe, but it was unadulterated kindness by the side of the brutality of the Podvin.
The society of respectable young girls of her own age, and constant contact with those who were older and of superior birth and breeding, opened up a new world to Fouchette. That these companions were more or less partakers of similar misfortunes engendered ready sympathies, though the feeling of caste was as powerful among these orphans of the State as in the Boulevard St. Germain. Tacitly acknowledging the lowly origin of the rag-heap, Fouchette was content to fag, to go and come, fetch and carry, and to patiently endure the multitude of petty tyrannies put upon her. She accepted this position from the start as a matter of course.
But it was chiefly in the daily intercourse with the cheerful, ruddy-faced, and rather worldly as well as womanly Sister Agnes that Fouchette found life worth living. It was Sister Agnes who patiently instructed her in the mysteries of reading and writing and spelling and the simple rudiments of language and figures. Sister Agnes smoothed her young protegee's pathway through a sea of new difficulties. Sister Agnes had secret struggles of her own, and had worn away considerable stone before the image of the Virgin in the course of her seclusion; though precisely what the nature of her private troubles was must have been known to nobody else. Sister Agnes was not a favorite with the Superieure, apparently, since every time she was called before that dreaded female functionary she seemed much agitated and held longer conferences with the image of the Virgin in the little bare chapel. Whatever her mental and moral disturbances, however, Sister Agnes never faltered in her attention to Fouchette.
For the most part these were surreptitious, though to the recipient there did not appear to be any reason for this concealment. As one year followed another Fouchette saw more clearly, and it caused her to redouble her exertions to please the good woman who risked the ill will of her superiors to shower kindnesses upon the otherwise friendless.
Five years to a girl of twelve brings considerable change physically as well as otherwise. The change in Fouchette was really wonderful. She remained still rather stunted and undersized at seventeen, though face and figure had developed to her advantage. The hardness of the first had not wholly disappeared, but it was much modified, while the bones no longer showed through her dress. Her blonde hair had become abundant, and, being of peculiar fineness and sheen, lent an attractiveness to features that only a slightly tigerish fulness of cheeks prevented from being almost classical. This feline expression of jaws became more marked when she smiled, when a rather large mouth displayed two rows of formidable teeth. The pussy-cat and monkey-faces are too common among the French to be called peculiar.
Her hands and feet were small, her frail body and limbs straight and supple as those of a young dancer. While she excelled at lively games in the great playground under the trees, her complexion was extremely delicate, even to paleness. Being naturally a clever imitator and always desirous of the good opinion of Sister Agnes, Fouchette had acquired graceful and lady-like manners that would have been creditable to any fashionable pension of Paris. Continuous happiness had left her light-hearted even to shallowness.
Fouchette latterly was not popular. She had been first a fag and drudge, then had been withdrawn from the work-room to serve in the kitchen; from scullery-maid she had been promoted to the chambers of Sister Angelique, who was the stern right arm of the Superieure; and, finally, was transferred to the holy of holies of the Superieure herself.
All through her tractability and adaptability. She was quick to see what was wanted, and lent herself energetically to the task of performance. The good sisters encouraged her. Especially in bringing to them any stray ideas she had picked up among her companions. Sister Angelique, severe to fanaticism in all the forms of religion, early impressed upon the child the importance and imperative duty of the truth. It was not only a service to the community, but a service to the Church and to God for her to keep her superiors posted as to what was going on among the inmates of the institution.
It was a very trivial thing at first, then more trivial things,—mere gossip of children. Then her information resulted in the cell and paddle for the unfortunate and began to be talked about on the playground and in the work-room. When she heard what had happened, Fouchette was conscience-stricken and ran to Sister Agnes for consolation. The latter was so confused and contradictory in her definition of right and wrong, as to how far one might go for Christ's sake, that Fouchette was left in doubt. And when Sister Angelique asked her for the name of the girl who committed an offence in the dormitory, Fouchette hesitated and wanted to consult Sister Agnes.
The result was that Sister Agnes was called before the Superieure, and was compelled to instruct Fouchette that whatever was required of her by those in authority was right and should be done. It is a doctrine as universal as the Christian religion.
So Fouchette told, and the tale brought to the offender five days' diet of bread and water in a cell.
As a tale-bearer who was not afraid to tell the truth Fouchette had in the course of time ingratiated herself into the favor of Sister Angelique, and finally, as has been shown by her transfer to the governing regions, became the factotum of the Superieure. These services carried privileges.
They also brought unpopularity. On the playground Fouchette began to be avoided. In the work-room voices suddenly became hushed as she passed. In the dormitory she began to experience coldness and hostile demonstrations.
Yet up to the present she had been suspected only. When the growing suspicion became a certainty she was assaulted in the dormitory in the presence of a matron. The biggest and stoutest girl of the section pulled her from her bed in the dark and began to beat her. There was no outcry at first,—only a silent struggle on the floor.
But the stout young woman had counted too much on her physical strength and upon the supposed weakness of her frail antagonist. For Fouchette was like a cat in another respect,—she fought best on her back, where she was all hands and feet and teeth. Before the fat matron could find them between the beds the big girl was yelling for mercy and the whole section of a hundred girls was in an uproar.
"Help! help!" screamed the girl. "She's murdering me!"
"Quick! Help! She's killing me! Fouchette! It's Mademoiselle Fouchette!"
The matron was thus guided to Fouchette's bed, where she found the latter tearing the big girl's ear with her teeth, and with her hands clawing the big girl's face.
To this moment Fouchette had not uttered a word. Then she let flow a torrent of language such as had never before been heard within the sacred precincts of Le Bon Pasteur. She could no more be stopped than an avalanche.
The girls of the dormitory closed their ears in their fright at this flood of profanity.
"Stop! stop! stop!" cried the matron, now overcome with horror. "You belong in the Reformatory! You shall go to the Reformatory! You shall have the bath and the paddle, you vile vixen!"
And Fouchette's vocabulary having been exhausted for the time being, she ceased.
Meanwhile, a light was brought, and attendants came running in from the other parts of the building.
Notwithstanding the confused explanation, and the fact that the aggressor's bed was at some distance from the spot where the two were discovered, which sustained the charge of Fouchette that the latter had been first attacked, the terrible condition of the big girl was such that Fouchette was sent to a cell and held in close confinement till the next evening.
She was then taken to Sister Angelique, where she was examined as to her version of the occurrence. The victim of her nails and teeth also had a hearing.
Between the two, and considering all the circumstances, Sister Angelique came to the proper conclusion, and so reported the case to the Superieure.
The latter had Fouchette brought before her. She was a very flabby and masculine woman, of great brains and keen penetration, and invariably had an oleaginous Jesuit priest at her elbow on important occasions to strengthen her religious standing and to give her decisions the force and effect of ecclesiastical law.
"Father Sebastien," said the Superieure, "this is a grievous case. What are we to do with these girls that fight like tigers,—that set the whole blessed institution of Le Bon Pasteur by the ears?"
The Jesuit rubbed his hands, eying the slender figure before them curiously.
"A sad case,—a very sad case," he muttered; "and yet——"
"Mademoiselle Fouchette has been of good service to us, and——"
"And has invited this attack by her friendliness for the institution. No doubt,—no doubt at all," said the priest.
"But it is necessary to punish somebody," persisted the Superieure, "else we shall lose control of these hot-heads."
"How about the other one? Mademoiselle——"
"She's pretty well punished as it is. She looks as if she had been through a threshing-machine. How such a chit could——"
Father Sebastien laughed, in his low, gurgling way, and rubbed his hands some more, still eying Fouchette.
"She's been a good girl for five years, you say?"
"Yes, Father; we could not complain."
"Five years is a very long time to—to—for a girl like her to be good. Is it not so?"
"And yet they say her language was dreadfully—er—ah—improper."
"If you were pulled out of bed in the night and beaten because you spoke the truth to the Superieure," broke in Fouchette at this point, "you'd probably use bad language too!"
"Chut! child," said the Superieure, smiling in spite of herself.
"La, la! Father." The Superieure now laughed.
"Quite possibly," he added,—"quite possibly. But in a demoiselle like you——"
"I'm afraid to send her back to the dormitory. Are you afraid to go back there, Fouchette?"
"No, madame," replied Fouchette.
"I think they'll leave her alone after this," said the priest.
"They'd better," said Fouchette.
"But you must not quarrel, my dear,—remember that. And if they—well, you come to me or to Sister——"
"Sister Agnes, yes——"
"No, no; Sister Angelique," interrupted the Superieure, tartly. "Sister Agnes has nothing to do with you hereafter."
"Wh-at? But Sister Agnes——"
"Now don't stand there and argue. I repeat that Sister Agnes is to have nothing to do with you hereafter. Sister Agnes has gone——"
It was the worst blow—the only blow she had received in these five years. Her swollen lips quivered.
"I say Sister Agnes has gone. You will never see her again. And it's a good riddance! I never could bear that woman!"
"Oh, madame! madame!"
Fouchette sank to her knees appealingly.
"Get up! Not another word!"
"There, my child," put in the priest. "You hear?"
"But Sister Agnes was my only friend here. Where has she gone? Tell me why she has gone. Oh, mon Dieu! Gone! and left me here without a word! Oh! oh! madame!"
"She's gone because I sent her,—because it is her sworn duty to obey,—to go where she is sent. Where and why is none of her business, much less yours. Now let us hear no more from you on that point, or you will forfeit the leniency I was about to extend to you. Go!"
"But, madame," supplicated Fouchette, "hear me! Sister Agnes——"
The Superieure was now furious. She rang a little bell, waving Father Sebastien aside. Two sisters appeared,—her personal attendants, well known to those who had suffered punishment.
"Give this girl the douche!"
"Madame!" screamed Fouchette.
"Give her the douche—for fighting in the dormitory. In the refectory. Assemble everybody! And if she resists let her have the paddle. If that doesn't bring her to her senses, give her five days on bread and water. I'll take that rebellious spirit out of her or——"
The two women hustled the trembling Fouchette away from the Presence.
Fouchette knew the disgrace of the douche. She had seen grown young women stripped stark naked before five hundred girls and have a bucket of ice-cold water thrown over them. One of them had been ill and was unable to do her work. She had died from the effects.
Fouchette understood the terrible significance of the paddle. A girl was stripped and strung up by the wrists to a door and was beaten with a heavy leather strap soaked in brine until the blood ran down her thighs.
Fouchette comprehended the character of the five days on bread and water, wherein the victim was forced to remain in her own filth for five days with nothing to eat but a half-loaf of stale bread and a small pitcher of water per twenty-four hours.
Yet, dreadful as was this immediate prospect, and as cruel as was the injustice meted out to her, Fouchette thought only of Sister Agnes. She would have gone to punishment like a Stoic of old could somebody have assured her that what she had just heard was false and that Sister Agnes was yet in the institution. Everything else and all together seemed dwarfed by the side of this one great overwhelming calamity.
"How could you have so angered Madame?" said one of her conductors,—both of whom were aware that she was to be unjustly punished.
"Be good, now, Fouchette," whispered the other; "besides, it is nothing,—a little water,—bah!"
They were leading her along a dark corridor, the same through which she had been taken five years before. It rushed over her now,—dear Sister Agnes!
"I only wanted to know about Sister Agnes," protested Fouchette.
Her conductors stopped short.
"S-sh! Mademoiselle did not know that——"
"Better tell her, sister," encouraged the other woman.
"That Sister Agnes was—was suspected of being a creature of the Secret Police?"
"N-no, madame," faltered the girl,—"I don't understand. And if——"
"And we are for the restoration——"
"Of the throne of France."
"Is it Inspector Loup?" asked Fouchette, suddenly recalling that personage.
"Inspector Loup,—it is he who is responsible for the withdrawal of Sister Agnes, mademoiselle."
"Paris,—I will go to Paris!" said Fouchette, brightening up all at once.
To the two who heard her it was as if Fouchette had said, "I will go to the moon."
She slipped from between them and darted down the corridor. Before they had recovered from their astonishment she was out of the building and out of sight.
Nothing could have been more absurd.
But one girl had succeeded in scaling the high walls that surrounded the establishment of Le Bon Pasteur, and she had been pursued by savage dogs kept for such exigencies and brought back in mere shreds of clothing, with her flesh terribly lacerated. Even once outside, if the feat were possible and the dogs avoided, how was a bareheaded girl without a sou to get to Paris, three hundred kilometres? And, that surmounted, what would become of her in Paris?
It was absurd. It was impossible.
Meanwhile, Fouchette evaded the now lighted buildings in the rear and was skirting the high walls towards the north with the fleetness of a young deer.
The grounds of Le Bon Pasteur embraced about ten acres, a well-wooded section of an ancient park, the buildings, old and new, being on the side next to the town. By day one might easily see from wall to wall, the lowest branches of the trees being well clear of the ground, the latter being trampled grassless, hard, and smooth by thousands of youthful feet.
It was now growing too dark to see more than a few yards. This did not prevent Fouchette from making good speed. She knew every inch of the park. And as she ran her thoughts kept on well ahead.
She had started with the definite idea of leaving the place, but without the slightest idea of how that was to be accomplished. Like a frightened rabbit running an enclosure, she sought in vain for some unheard-of opening,—some breach in the wall, some projections by which she might scale the frowning barrier.
Now and then she paused to listen intently. There were no pursuers, apparently. Her heart sank rather than rose at the thought; for it implied that the chances of her escape were not considered worth an energetic effort,—that she must inevitably return of her own accord.
Fouchette was mistaken. It was only that the pursuers were not so sure of their route and were not so fleet of foot. They had called in re-enforcements and were approaching in extended order beneath the trees, with the moral certainty of rounding her up.
As soon as Fouchette realized this she felt that she was lost. There was no place to hide from such a search,—then they could let loose the dogs!
With a fresh energy born of desperation she sprang at the chestnut-tree in front of her and began to shin up the rough trunk, boy fashion. Like most generalizations, the statement that a woman cannot climb a tree is not an axiomatic truth. It depends wholly upon the woman and the occasion. Fouchette had often amused her playmates by going up trees, and was considered a valuable addition to any party of chestnut hunters. So in this instance the woman and the occasion met. She was securely perched in the foliage when the scouting party went by. One sister walked directly beneath the tree.
"We ought to have brought the dogs," she muttered.
Fouchette was breathless.
Immediate danger past, she began to think of what she should do next. She could not remain up there forever; and if she came down she would be just where she was before,—would probably be run down by the dogs.
Presently she saw a light glimmering through the trees. Cautiously pushing the leaves aside, she saw it more distinctly. It was bobbing up and down. It was a lantern. It was coming towards her. Being a lantern, it must be carried by somebody, and that this somebody was in search of her she had no doubt. All the world was out after her.
The lantern came closer. And then she saw the barbed iron wall immediately below her, between her and the lantern. It was outside, then; and the tree she was in seemed to overhang the wall.
A desperate hope arose within her,—scarcely a hope yet,—rather a vague fancy. They could not have spread the alarm outside so quickly,—the lantern and its bearer could have no reference to her escape.
It was now almost immediately beneath her, and she saw that it was borne by a stalwart young man. It was a chance,—a mere chance,—but she at once resolved to risk it.
The bearer of the lantern stopped, raised it high, and peered about in every direction.
"S-sh!" repeated Fouchette.
"S-sh yourself!" said the young man, evidently suspecting some trick.
"Not so loud if you please, monsieur."
"Not so—but where the devil are you, anyhow?" He had looked in every direction except the right one.
"Here," whispered Fouchette. "Up in the tree."
"Tonnerre! And what are you doing up there in the tree, mademoiselle?" he inquired with astonishment, elevating his lantern so as to get a glimpse of the owner of the voice.
"Nothing," said Fouchette.
"Well, if this don't—say, mademoiselle."
"Please don't talk so loud, monsieur. They will hear you, and I will be lost."
"Indeed! So you're running away, eh?"
"Because they are going to give me the douche, the paddle, and prison."
"The wretches!" whispered the young man through his half-set teeth.
"Then you'll help me, monsieur?" asked Fouchette, in a tone of entreaty.
"That I will," said he, promptly, "if I can. If you could swing yourself over the wall, now; but, dame! no girl can do that," he added half to himself.
"I'll try it," said Fouchette.
"Don't do it, mademoiselle; you'll break your neck."
For answer to this, Fouchette, who had been working her dangerous way out on the uncertain branches, holding tenaciously to those above, so as to wisely distribute her weight, only said,—
"Look out, now!"
There was no time to parley,—it was her only hope,—and if she fell inside the wall——
A splash among the leaves and a violent reversal of branches relieved of her weight and—and a ripping sound.
"Oh, mon Dieu!" she gasped.
She had swung clear, but her skirts had caught the iron spikes as she came down and now held her firmly, head downward,—a very embarrassing predicament.
"Put out the light, monsieur, please!"
He gallantly closed the slide and sprang to her assistance.
"Don't be afraid, mademoiselle. Let go,—I'll catch you. Let go!"
"Oh, but I——"
"Sacre bleu! I can't, monsieur! I'm stuck like a fish on a gaff! My skirts——"
This startling intelligence, while it relieved his immediate anxiety, involved the young man in a painful quandary. He dared not call for help; he was likely to be arrested in any case; he could not go away and leave the girl dangling there. She was at least three feet beyond his extreme reach.
"Let's see," he said, hastily grabbing his lantern to make an examination.
"Oh, put out that light!" exclaimed the girl.
"But, mademoiselle, I can't see——"
"Mon Dieu! monsieur, I don't wish you to see! No! I should—put down the lantern!"
Having complied with this request, he stood under her in despair.
"Can't you tear the—the—what-you-may-call-it loose?"
"No; it's my skirt,—my dress,—I'm slipping out of it. Look out, monsieur, for—I'm—coming—oh!"
And come she did, head first, minus the dress skirt, plump into the startled young man's arms.
"Me voila!" said Fouchette, gaining her feet and lightly shaking her ruffled remains together, as if she were a young pullet that had calmly fluttered down from the roost.
"Well, you're a bird!" he ejaculated, the more embarrassed of the two.
"Mon Dieu! monsieur, but for you I'd soon have been a dead bird! I thank you ever so much."
She reached up at him and succeeded in pecking a little kiss on his chin. It was her first attempt at the masculine mouth and she could scarcely be censured if she missed it.
"It certainly was a lucky chance that I came this way at the moment," he said.
"It was, indeed," she assented.
He was surveying her now by the light of his lantern; and he smiled at her slight figure in the short petticoat. Her blind confidence in him and her general assurance amused him.
"Where were you thinking of going, mademoiselle?"
The young man almost dropped his lantern. Paris seemed out of reach to him.
"And why not, monsieur?"
"Er—well, mademoiselle, climbing a tree and throwing one's self head over heels over a wall—er—and——"
"And leaving ones skirt hanging on the spikes——"
"Yes,—is not the customary way for young ladies to start for Paris. But I suppose you know what you are about."
"If I only had my skirt."
Fouchette glanced up at the offending member of her attire which she had cast from her.
"Never mind that,—I'll return and get it. Come with me, mademoiselle. I live near by, and my mother and sisters will protect you for the time being. Come! Where's your hat?"
"I didn't have time——"
"You didn't stop to pack your bundle, eh?"
"Not exactly, monsieur."
They walked along silently for a few yards, following the wall.
"You have relatives in Paris, mademoiselle?" he finally asked.
"It is good. Paris is no place for a young girl alone. Besides, it is just now a scene of riot and bloodshed. It is in a state bordering on revolution. All France is roused. Royalists and Bonapartists have combined against the life of the republic. Paris is swarming with troops. There will be barricades and fighting in the streets, mademoiselle."
Fouchette recalled the fragments of conversations overheard,—conversations between the Superieure and Father Sebastien and certain visitors. Beyond this casual information she knew absolutely nothing of what was going on in the outer world. He misconstrued her silence.
"Whom do you know in Paris, mademoiselle?—somebody powerful enough to protect you?"
"Oh, yes, monsieur," she promptly answered. "I know one man,—one who sent me here,—who is powerful——"
"May I ask——"
"The Chief of the Secret Police," she said, lowering her tone to a confidential scale,—"Inspector Loup."
"Oh, pardon, mademoiselle!" quickly responded the young man. "Pardon! I meant it for your welfare, not to inquire into your business. Oh, no; do not think me capable of that!"
He appeared to be somewhat frightened at what he had done, but became reassured when she passed it with easy good nature.
"It is important, then, mademoiselle, that you reach Paris at once?"
"It is very important, monsieur."
"The royalist scoundrels are very active," he said. "They must be headed off—exposed!"
He spoke enthusiastically, seizing Fouchette's hand warmly. That demoiselle, who was floundering around in a position she did not understand, walked along resolved to keep her peace. He assured her that she might fully rely upon him and his in this emergency. Let her put him to the test.
The enigmatical situation was more confounding to Fouchette when she was being overwhelmed with the subservient attentions of the young man's family; but the less she comprehended the more she held her tongue. They were of the class moderately well-to-do and steeped in politics up to the neck.
Fouchette knew next to nothing about politics. Only that France was a republic and that many were dissatisfied with that form of government; that some wanted the empire, and others the restoration of the kings, and still others anything but existing things. Having never been called upon to form an opinion, Fouchette had no opinion on the subject. She did not care a snap what kind of a government ruled,—it could make no difference to her.
Coming in contact with all of this enthusiasm, she now knew that Le Bon Pasteur was royalist for some reason; and she shrewdly guessed, without the assistance of this family conviction, that all Jesuits, whatever they might otherwise be, were also royalists. And, as Inspector Loup was a part of the existing government, he must be a republican,—which was not so shrewd as it was logical; therefore that if Sister Agnes was suspected of being friendly to Inspector Loup, the good sister was a republican and naturally the political enemy of the managers of Le Bon Pasteur. Whatever Sister Agnes was it must be right.
But in holding her tongue Fouchette was most clever of all,—whereas, usually, the less people know about government the more persistently they talk politics.
The young man went back to the wall with a fish-pole and rescued the recalcitrant skirt, much to her delight. His mother mended the rents in it and his sisters fitted her out with a smart hat.
It was soon developed that Fouchette had no money. This brought about a family consultation.
"I must go to Paris," said Fouchette, determinedly, "if I have to walk!"
"Nonsense!" said the young man.
"Nonsense!" chimed in mother and sisters.
"I'll fix you all right," finally declared the young man, "on a single condition,—that you carry a letter from me to Inspector Loup and deliver it into his own hands, mademoiselle. Is it a bargain?"
"Oh, yes, monsieur,—very sure!" cried the girl, almost overcome by this last good fortune. "You are very good,—it would be a pleasure, monsieur, I assure you."
"And if you were to tell him the part I have taken to-night in your case it would be of great service,—if you would be so good, mademoiselle. Not that it is anything, but——"
"You may be assured of that, too," said Fouchette, who, however, did not understand what possible interest lay in this direction.
They were all so effusive and apparently grateful that she was made to believe herself a very important personage.
As the letter was brought out immediately, she saw that it was already prepared, and wondered why it was not sent by post.
Another family consultation, and it was decided that Fouchette might lose the letter by some accident; so, on the suggestion of the mother, it was carefully sewn in the bosom of their emissary's dress.
It was also suggested that, since an effort for Fouchette's recapture might include the careful scrutiny of the trains for Paris the next day, she should be accompanied at once to a suburban town where she could take the midnight express.
All of these details were not settled without considerable discussion, in which Fouchette came to the private conclusion that they were even more anxious for her to get to Paris than she was herself, if such a thing were possible.
* * * * *
Fouchette arrived in Paris and alighted at the Gare de l'Est at a very early hour in the morning. Her idea had been to go direct to the Prefecture and demand the whereabouts of Sister Agnes. Incidentally she would deliver the mysterious letter intrusted to her.
But during her journey Fouchette had enjoyed ample time for reflection. She was not absolutely certain of her reception at the hands of Inspector Loup; could not satisfy her own mind that he would receive her at all. Besides, would he really know anything about Sister Agnes?
Fouchette's self-confidence had been oozing away in the same ratio as she was nearing her journey's end. When she had finally arrived she was almost frightened at the notion of meeting Inspector Loup. He had threatened her with prison. He might regard her now as an escaped convict. On the whole, Fouchette was really sorry she had run away. Back again in Paris, where she had suffered so much, she realized again that there were worse places for a girl than Le Bon Pasteur. Anyhow, it was early,—there was plenty of time,—she would consider.
She took the tramway of the Boulevards Strausbourg and Sebastopol, climbing to the imperial, where a seat was to be had for three sous.
What crowds of people!
She was surprised to see the great human flood pouring down the boulevards and side streets at such an early hour in the morning. But her volatile nature rose to the touch of excitement. She at once forgot everything else but the street. Fouchette was a true Parisienne.
"Paris!" she murmured; "dear Paris!"
As if Paris had blessed her childhood with pleasure, instead of having starved and beaten her and degraded her to the level of beasts!
"Where on earth are all of these people going?" she asked herself.
There were now and then cries of "Vive l'armee!" "Vive la republique!" and "Vive la France!" while the excitement seemed to grow as they reached the Porte St. Denis.
"What is it, monsieur?" she finally asked the man at her side.
"It is the 25th of October," said he.
"But, monsieur, what is the matter?"
He looked over his shoulder at the young girl rather resentfully, though his doubts as to her sincerity vanished in a smile.
"It is the rentree of the Chambers," he answered.
"Oh," she said, "is that it?"
But she knew no more now than she had known before. Presently her curiosity again got the better of her timidity.
"Where are they going, monsieur?"
"They don't know, mademoiselle. Palais Bourbon, Place de la Concorde,—anywhere it happens to be lively enough to suit. But where have you been, mademoiselle, to not know,—in the country?"
"And where are you going?"
"Place de la Concorde."
"Don't do it, little one,—don't you do it! It is not a place for a mite like you on such a day. Take my advice,—go anywhere else."
"I'm going to the Place de la Concorde, monsieur," she responded, quite stiffly.
When she reached the great plaza, however, she found it practically deserted. The usual throngs of carriages were passing to and fro. Immense black crowds blocked the Rue Royale at the Madeleine and in the opposite direction in the vicinity of the Palais Bourbon across the river. These crowds appeared to be held at bay by the cordons of police agents, who kept the Place de la Concorde clear and pedestrians moving lively in the intersecting streets.
Fouchette hopped nimbly off the steps of the omnibus she had taken at le Chatelet, to the amusement of a gang of hilarious students from the Latin Quarter, who recognized in her the "tenderfoot."
The Parisienne always leaves the omnibus steps with her back to the horses. This keeps American visitors standing around looking for a mishap which never happens; for the Parisienne is an expert equilibrist and can perform this feat while the vehicle is at full speed, not only with safety but with an airy grace that is often charming.
But Fouchette did not mind the laughter; she had found a good place from which to view whatever was to be seen. She did not have to wait long.
"A bas le sabre!" shouted a man.
"A bas les traitres!" yelled the students in unison.
One of the latter leaped at the man and felled him with a blow.
The frantic crowd of young men attempted to jump upon this victim of public opinion, but as others rushed at the same time to his rescue, all came together in a tumultuous, struggling heap.
The angry combatants surged this way and that,—the score soon became an hundred, the hundred became a thousand. It was a mystery whence these turbulent elements sprang, so quickly did the mob gather strength.
The original offender got away in the confusion. But the struggle went on, accompanied by shouts, curses, and groans. One platoon of police agents charged down upon the fighters, then another platoon.
Friends struck friends in sheer excess of fury. The momentarily swelling roar of the combat reverberated in the Rue Royale and echoed and re-echoed from the garden of the Tuileries.
The police agents struggled in vain. They were unable to penetrate beyond the outer rows of the mob. And these turned and savagely assaulted the agents.
Then the massive grilles of the Tuileries swung upon their hinges and a squadron of cuirassiers slowly trotted into the Place de la Concorde. They swept gracefully into line. A harsh, rasping sound of steel, a rattle of breastplates as the sabres twinkled in the sunshine, and the column moved down upon the snarling horde of human tigers.
Brave when it was a single unarmed man, the mob broke and ran like frightened sheep at the sight of the advancing cavalry.
In the mean time myriads of omnibuses, vans, carriages, and vehicles of all descriptions, having been blocked by a similar mob in the narrow Rue Royale and at the Pont de la Concorde in the other direction, now became tangled in an apparently inextricable mass in the middle square.
The individual members of the crowd broke for this cover, while the agents dashed among them to make arrests. Men scrambled under omnibuses and wagons, leaped through carriages, dodged between wheels, climbed over horses, crept on their hands and knees beneath vans.
Fouchette ran like a rabbit, but between the rush of police and scattering of the mob she was sorely hustled. She finally sprang into an open voiture in the jam, and wisely remained there in spite of the driver's furious gesticulations.
"This way!" cried a stalwart young student to his fleeing companions.
The agents were hot upon them.
Fouchette saw that they were covered with dirt, and one was hatless. And this one glared at her as he dodged beneath the horse.
The next vehicle was pulled up short, as if to close the narrow passage, whereat the hatless man shook his fist at the driver and cursed him.
"Vive la liberte!" retorted the driver.
"So! We'll give you liberty, you cur!" and the hatless man called to his nearest companion, "Over with him!"
The two seized the light vehicle and overturned it as if it were an empty basket. The driver pitched forward, sprawling, to the asphalt. Seeing which the wary driver of the voiture in which Fouchette was seated turned and called to her behind his hand,—
"Keep your seat, mademoiselle! It's all right!"
He was terrified lest his carriage should follow the fate of his neighbor's. But the young men merely compelled him to whip up and keep the lines closed, and with this moving barricade they trotted along secure from present assault. Fouchette could have touched the nearest student. She was so frightened that the coachman's admonition was quite unnecessary. She could not have stirred.
"Jean!" said the hatless man to the other, who was so close, "you saw Lerouge there?"
"See him! I was near enough to punch him!"
"Ah!" There was a quaver in his voice.
"I understand, my friend."
"But I can't understand Lerouge," said the young man called Jean. "Don't be afraid, mademoiselle," he added, speaking to Fouchette reassuringly. "Our friends the agents——"
"Oh, there they come, monsieur!" she cried.
"Pardieu!" exclaimed the hatless. "We're caught!"
A big van loaded with straw blocked the way. Behind it skulked a whole platoon of blue uniforms. The fugitives hesitated for a second or two.
"Over with it!" shouted the hatless young man, at the same moment appropriating a deserted headpiece.
"Down with the agents!"
A dozen stalwart young men seized the big wheels. The top-heavy load wavered an instant, then went over with a simultaneous swish and a yell.
The latter came from the police agents, now half buried in the straw.
A second squadron of cavalry, Garde de Paris, drawn up near by, witnessed this incident and smiled. These little pleasantries amuse all good Parisians.
Safety now lay in separation. Jean kept on towards the Rue Royale; his friends broke off, scattering towards the Rue de Rivoli.
"Que diable!" he muttered.
He stopped and looked hastily about him.
"Well, devil take her anyhow,—she's gone. And I'm here."
He saw himself, with many others out of the line of blocked vehicles, hemmed in by agents, Gardes de Paris, and cuirassiers to the right and left, now driven into the Rue Royale as stray animals into a pound.
Double lines of police agents supported by infantry and cavalry held both ends of this short street; here, where it opened into the Place de la Concorde and there where it led at the Madeleine into the grand boulevards.
The roar of the mob came down upon him from the Madeleine, where the rioters had forced the defensive line from time to time only to be driven back by the fists and feet of the police agents and with the flat of the cavalry sabre.
The authorities knew their ground. The Rue Royale was the key to the military position.
But in the attempt to clear the Place de la Concorde the nearest fugitives were thrust into the Rue Royale and driven by horse and foot towards the Madeleine, where they were mercilessly kicked outside the lines to shift for themselves, an unwilling part of a frenzied mob.
"I'm a rat in a trap here," growled the young man, having been literally thrown through the lower cordon by two stalwart agents.
The shopkeepers had put up their heavy shutters. The grilles were closed. People looked down from window and balcony upon a street sealed as tight as wax.
Having witnessed the infantry reserves ambushed behind the Ministry of Marine filling their magazines, and being confronted by a fresh emeute above, Jean Marot began to feel queer for the first time of a day of brawls.
He recalled the historical fact that here in this narrow street a thousand people were slain in a panic on the occasion of the celebration of the marriage of Marie Antoinette.
A horseman with drawn sabre rode at him and ordered him to move on more quickly.
"But where to, Monsieur le Caporal?"
"Anywhere, mon enfant! Out of this, now! Circulate!"
"There is no 'but!' What business have you here? You are not a Deputy!" The man urged him with his sabre.
"Hold, Monsieur le Caporal! Has, then, a citizen of Paris no longer any right to go home without insult from the uniform?"
"Where do you live, monsieur?"
"Just around the corner in the Faubourg St. Honore," replied the young man.
"Ah!" growled the cavalryman, doubtfully, "and there is another route."
All of this time the soldier's horse, trained by much service of this sort during the preceding year, was pushing Jean along of his own accord,—now with his breast, now with his impatient nose,—to the considerable sacrifice of that young man's dignity. The latter edged up to the wall, but the horse followed him, shoving him along gently but firmly under a loose rein.
Jean flattened himself against a doorway to escape the pressure. But the horse paused also and leaned against him.
"Oh, say, then!"
"Hello! Here they come again!" exclaimed the corporal, reining in his horse, with his eyes bent towards the Madeleine.
At this juncture the door was suddenly opened and Jean, who was fast having the breath squeezed out of him, fell inside.
The door was as suddenly closed again and barred.
The cavalryman, who had not seen this movement, glanced around on either side, behind, then beneath his horse, finally up in the sky, and shrugged his shoulders and rode on along the walk.
"Oho, Monsieur Jean!" roared a friendly voice as the young man caught his breath; "trying to break into my house, eh? By my saint, young man, you were in a mighty tight place! Oh, this dreadful day! No business at all, and——"
"Business!" gasped Jean,—"business, man! Never had a more busy day in my life!"
"You? Yes! it is such wild young blades as you and that serious-looking Lerouge who raise all the row in Paris.—I say, monsieur," broke off the garrulous old restaurateur, and, running to the window behind the bar, "they're putting the sand!"
Men with barrows from the Ministry of Marine were hastily strewing the smooth asphalt with sand. It meant cavalry operations.
"But, Monsieur Jean, where's your double? Where's the other Marot to-day?"
Jean's face clouded. He did not reply.
"I never saw two men look so much alike," continued the restaurateur.
"So the medics all say, and that I do all the deviltry and Henri gets sent to depot for it." He had called for something to eat, and looked up from the distant table in continuation,—
"Lerouge has turned out to be the most rabid Dreyfusarde. We met in the fun to-day——"
"There certainly was fun for a while. George Villeroy, when I last saw him, was being chased to the Rue de Rivoli. Hope he gets back this evening at Le Petit Rouge."
"Le Petit Rouge! Faugh! Nest of red republicans, royalists——"
"Yes, I'll admit that——"
"And bloody bones——"
"Bloody noses to-day, monsieur."
"And this Lerouge and you?"
"Yes, this is George's night to carve," said Jean, changing the subject back to surgery.
"Yes,—certes! Cut into something fresh, if it turns up."
"Why, Monsieur Bibbolet, you're as clever as a parrot! Yes, turns up. Subject, stiff, cadaver,—see?—Le cafe, garcon!"
"Ah! you medical——"
"You see, George has a new arterial theory to demonstrate. I tell you, he can pick up an artery as easily as your cook can pick a chicken. If you'd care to let him try——"
"How! Pick up my arteries? Not if I——"
They again ran to the window.
"It's the cuirassiers, Monsieur Jean! Ah! if it came to blows they'd pot 'em like rabbits here! You're out of it just in time."
So closely was the squadron of cuirassiers wedged in the street that Jean could have put his hand upon the jack-boots of the nearest soldier. There had been a fresh break in the Madeleine guard, and this was the reserve. They slowly pricked their resistless way, and one by one the exhausted agents slipped between them to the rear. Some of the latter dragged prisoners, some supported bruised and bleeding victims. Some persons had been trampled or beaten into insensibility, and these were being carried towards the Place de la Concorde. Among them were women. There are always women in the Paris mob.
And this particular mob was a mere political "manifestation." That was all. It was the 25th of October, 1898, and the day on which the French Parliament met. So the Parisian patriots lined the route to the Palais Bourbon and "manifested" their devotion to liberty French fashion, by clubbing everybody who disagreed with them.
"Well!" said Jean, "they have pushed beyond St. Honore. I can get home now."
"Not yet, monsieur. Do not go yet. It is still dangerous. A bottle of old Barsac with me."
* * * * *
Night had fallen. Jean Marot was cautiously let out of a side door.
The Ministry had also fallen.
Hoarse-lunged venders of the evening papers announced the fact in continuous cries. Travel had been resumed in the Rue Royale. Here and there the shops began to take in their shutters and resume business. Timid shopkeepers came out on the walk and discussed the situation with each other.
The ministerial journals sold by wholesale. The angry manifestants burned them in the streets. Which rendered the camelots more insistent and obnoxious with fresh bundles to be sold and destroyed in the same way.
Jean Marot, refreshed by rest and food, lingered a moment at Rue St. Honore, uncertain whether to return to his rooms or join a mob of patriots howling the Marseillaise in front of the Cafe de Londres.
"Enough," he finally concluded, and turned up towards the Rue Boissy d'Anglais.
There were evidences of a fierce struggle in the narrow but aristocratic faubourg. Usually a blaze of light at this hour, it was closed from street to street and practically deserted. Scared milliners and dress-makers and fashionable jewellers peered out from upper windows, still afraid to open up. Fragments of broken canes, battered hats, and torn vestments told an eloquent story of political differences.
"We certainly missed the fun here," thought Jean. "Hello! What's this?"
He had tripped on a woman's skirt in the shadow of the wall.
"Peste! Why can't our fair dames and demoiselles let us fight it out? There really isn't enough to go round!"
He paused, then returned impulsively and looked at the dark bundle,—stirred it with his foot. It was certainly the figure of a woman.
"Last round," he muttered; "next, the Seine!"
His budding professional instincts prompted him to search for the pulse.
It was still.
And when he took his hand away it was covered with blood.
He placed his hand over the heart, then uncovered a young but bruised and swollen face.
"The cavalry," he murmured. "She's dead; she—well, perhaps it was better."
He glanced up and down the street, as if considering whether to go his way or to call the police. There was nobody in sight near enough to attract by cries. The police were busy elsewhere. Then his face all at once lighted up.
"A good idea!" he ejaculated,—"a very good idea!"
He saw two cabs approaching.
Calling the first, he began to carry the good idea into immediate execution.
"What is it, monsieur?" inquired the cabman, seeing the body.
"An accident. Quick, cocher!"
With his usual decision Jean thrust the body into the cab and followed it.
"Allez!" he commanded.
"But, monsieur,—the—the—where to?"
"Pont de Solferino, to Boulevard St. Germain. An extra franc, my lad!"
Having vaguely started the cabby, Jean had time to think. He knew the prejudices most people entertain concerning the dead. Especially the prejudices of Paris police agents and cabmen. To give the Rue de Medecine would set the man to speculating. To mention Le Petit Rouge would be to have him hail the first man in uniform.
As to Jean Marot, medical student, du Quartier Latin, in his fourth year, a lifeless body was no more than a bag of sand. It was merely a "subject."
"The chief benefit conferred upon society and humanity by a large proportion of our population," he would have cynically observed to any caviller, "is by dying and becoming useful 'subjects.'"
He considered himself fortunate, however, in having a close cab, out of deference to those who might differ with him. They crossed the Pont de Solferino, where a momentary halt gave a couple of alert agents a chance to scrutinize him a little more sharply than was comfortable, and turned down Boulevard St. Germain.
At the Ecole de Medecine Jean stopped the cab, as if struck with a new idea.
"Drive to 12 Rue Antoine Dubois."
"I said—drive—to—No. 12—Rue Antoine Dubois! You know where that is?"
"Oh, yes, monsieur,—only—er—it is right over there opposite the——"
The man was so excited he found difficulty in expressing himself.
"Ecole Pratique,—that's right," said Jean.
Hardened sinner that he was, the old Paris coachman crossed himself and, as he entered the uncanny neighborhood, felt around for the sacred amulet that every good Frenchman wears next to the skin.
"I must get some instruments there before taking this lady home," Jean added.
The Rue Antoine Dubois is a short street connecting the Rue et Place de l'Ecole de Medecine with the Rue de Monsieur le Prince. One side of it is formed by the gloomy wall of the Ecole Pratique, where more "subjects" are disposed of annually than in any other dozen similar institutions in the world; the other by various medical shops and libraries, over which are "clubs," "laboratories," "cliniques," and student lodgings. At the Rue de Monsieur le Prince the street ends in a great flight of steps. It therefore forms an impasse, or a pocket for carriages, and is little used. It was now deserted.
The coachman drew up before a dark court entrance, a sickly light shining upon him through the surgical appliances, articulated skeletons, skulls, and other professional exhibits of the nearest window.
"Let us see; I'll take her up-stairs and make a more careful examination."
"You—you're a doctor, monsieur?"
"Yes,—there!" He gave the man a five-franc piece. "No,—never mind the change."
"Better wait—till I see how she is, you know."
Jean bore his burden very carefully till out of sight; then threw it over his shoulder and felt his way up the half-lighted stairs. He knew quite well that the man would not wait; believed that the overpayment would induce him to get away as quickly and as far as possible.
"It's a stiff, sure!" growled the nervous cabman, and he drove out of the place at a furious rate.
Jean threw his "subject" on the floor and hunted around for a light.
"Le Petit Rouge"—its frequenters were medical students and political extremists—was replete with books, bones, and anatomical drawings, black-and-white and in colors. Two complete skeletons mounted guard,—one in the farther corner, one behind the door. There were tables and instrument-cases, and surgical saws and things in racks. There were easy-chairs, pipes, etc. A skull, with the top neatly sawed off to serve as cover, formed a tobacco receptacle.
But the chef-d'oeuvre was from Jean's ingenious hand. It was the bow-backed skeleton behind the door, which had been cleverly arranged as and was called "Madame la Concierge." The skeleton had been arrayed in a short conventional ballet skirt and scanty lace cap, and held a candle in one hand and a bottle marked "Absinthe" in the other. The skirt was to indicate her earlier career, the cap and candle gave an inkling of her later life, while the bottle told the probable cause of her decease. This skeleton was so controlled by wires and cords that it could be made to move out in front of the open door and raise the candle above the head, as if to see who asked for admission. When the room was in semi-darkness Madame la Concierge of Le Petit Rouge was charmingly effective, and had been known to throw some people into spasms.
Placing his lamp in a favorable position, Jean Marot pulled off his coat, removed his cuffs, rolled up his sleeves, and proceeded to extend his subject upon what young Armand Massard facetiously called "the dressing-table."
"Good God!" he exclaimed, falling back a step. "Why, it's the demoiselle of the Place de la Concorde!"
And so it was.
Fouchette had been thrown from the voiture in the conflict, and had been run over by the mob and trampled into the mud of the gutter. So covered with the filth of the street was she, so torn and bruised and bedraggled, that she would have been unrecognizable even to one who had seen her more often than had her present examiner.
There was something in the girl's face, however, that had left an impression on the mind of Jean Marot not easily effaced. It was too indistinct and unemotional, this impression, to inspire analysis, but it was there, so that, under the lamp, Jean had at once recognized the young woman of the carriage.
"It's murder, that's what it is," he soliloquized,—"victim of 'Vive l'armee.'"
A most careful examination showed there were no bones broken, though the young body was literally black and blue.
The face was that of a prize-fighter's after a stubborn battle.
Inspection of the clothing developed no marks of recognition. Her pocket lining showed that she had been robbed of anything she may have possessed. The coarse character and general appearance of the clothing indicated her lowly condition of charity scholar.
Although rigor mortis had not yet set in, the medical student, armed with a basin and sponge, proceeded to prepare the body for the scalpel.
"This ought to suit George Villeroy," he mused. "And George has always said I was no good except on a lark. He has always pined for a fresh subject——"
He was attracted by the quality and peculiar color of the hair, and washing the stains from the head, examined the latter attentively.
"I never saw but one woman with hair like that, and she—wonder what the devil is in Lerouge, anyhow!—I suppose—hold on here! Let us see."
He had found a terrible gash in the scalp. Hastily obtaining his instruments, he skilfully lifted a bit of crushed skull.
As he did so he fancied there was a slight tremor in the slender body. He nervously tested the heart, the nostrils, the pulse, then breathed once more.
"Dame! It is imagination. That break would have killed an ox!"
Yet he took another careful look at the wound, cutting away some of the fair hair in order to get at the fracture. Then he made another experiment.
"Pardieu! she's alive," he whispered, hoarsely. "What's to be done? They're right. Jean! Jean! you'll never be a doctor! Never be anything but a d——d fool!"
But Jean Marot, if not a doctor, was a young man of action and resources. Even as he spoke he grabbed a sheet and a blanket from a cot in the corner, snatched a hat belonging to Massard's grisette from the wall, bundled the girl's clothes around the body the best he could, and ran to the window.
As he had anticipated would be the case, the cabman had disappeared.
He was fully aware of the risk he now ran; but above his sense of personal danger rose his sympathy and anxiety for the young girl.
He realized that his first step must be to get her out of this place; next to get her under the care of a regular practitioner. French law is severe in such a contingency. Without hesitation he again shouldered his burden,—this time with infinite gentleness.
At first he had thought of depositing it in the court below until he had secured a cab in the Rue et Place de l'Ecole de Medecine; but he saw an open voiture passing along the elevated horizon of the Rue de Monsieur le Prince and gave a shrill whistle.
The cab stopped.
Jean bounded up the steps as one endowed with superhuman strength. Placing his charge within, he mounted by her side.
"Faubourg St. Honore!" he commanded. "And good speed and safe arrival is worth ten francs to you, my man!"
* * * * *
If Jean had followed his first idea and turned to the left instead of to the right he would have met some of his late revolutionary comrades returning, in boisterous spirits, to Le Petit Rouge.
"Parbleu!" exclaimed Villeroy, throwing himself into a chair, "but I believe every police agent in Paris has trodden on my corns this day!"
"For my part," said young Massard, a thin, pale, indolent young man scarcely turned twenty-one, "I don't see much fun in being hustled, shoved, kicked, pounded——"
"But, Armand," interrupted the third man, "think of the fun you have afforded the other fellow!"
This speaker was known as the double of Jean Marot, only some people could not see the slightest resemblance when the two were together,—Lerouge being taller, darker, more athletic in appearance, and more serious of temper.
"I say, Lerouge, I don't think your crowd of Dreyfusardes got much pleasure out of us to-day," put in Villeroy, dryly.
"We got some of it out of the police, it is true," said Lerouge. Henri Lerouge was half anarchist, socialist, and an extremist generally, of whom French politics presents a formidable contingent.
Armand Massard thoughtfully helped himself to a pipe of tobacco from the grim tabatiere on the table. Politics was barred at Le Petit Rouge, and Lerouge was known to be rather irritable. On the subject of the police these young fellows were unanimous. The agents were considered fair game in the Quartier Latin.
"I've had enough of them for this once, George," yawned Massard.
"And they've had enough of us probably," suggested Villeroy.
"It is lively,—too much,—this continued dodging the police——"
"Together with one's creditors——"
A loud double rap startled them.
"Mordieu!" exclaimed that young man, leaping to his feet, "that's one now! Don't open!"
Again the peremptory raps, louder than before. There was also a clank of steel.
"Police agents or I'm a German!" said Villeroy.
Henri Lerouge, a contemptuous smile on his handsome face, arose to admit the callers.
"Wait!" whispered Massard,—"one moment! Madame la Concierge shall receive them."
This idea tickled the young men exceedingly. They had little to fear from the police, unless it was the chance identification on the Place de la Concorde. But these things are rarely pushed.
Madame la Concierge was quickly arranged, her candle lighted. Then the other light was turned down.
When the door was slowly opened four police officers, headed by the commissary of the quarter, entered.
But they stopped abruptly on the threshold. The hideous skeleton with the candle confronted them. A sepulchral voice demanded,—
"Who knocks so loudly at an honest door?"
It is no impeachment of the courage and efficiency of the Paris police to say that the men recoiled in terror from this horrible apparition. So suddenly, in fact, that the two agents in the rear were precipitated headlong down the short flight. The other two vanished scarcely less hastily. A fifth man, who had evidently been following the agents at a respectful distance, received the full impact of the falling bodies, and with one terrified yell sank almost senseless on the stair.
This man was the cabman who had brought Jean Marot to Le Petit Rouge.
The veteran commissary, however, flinched only for an instant. Having served many years in the Quartier Latin, he was no stranger to the pranks and customs of medical students. The next instant he had his foot in the doorway, to retain his advantage, and was calling his men a choice assortment of Parisian names. To emphasize this he entered and gave Madame la Concierge a kick that caused her poor old bones to rattle.
"For shame!" cried young Massard, laughingly, turning up the light. "To kick an old woman!"
"Now here, gentlemen, students,—you are a nice lot!"
"Thanks! Monsieur le Commissaire," replied Lerouge, with a polite bow.
"You are quite aware, gentlemen," continued the stern official, "that you are responsible at this moment for any injury to my men?"
"No, monsieur," retorted Lerouge in his dry fashion; "but, if any bones are broken we'll set 'em."
"Free of charge," added Villeroy.
"I want none of your impudence, monsieur! What's your name?"
"George Villeroy, 7 Rue du Pot de Fer, medical student, aged twenty-four, single, born at Tours."
Well these young roysterers knew the police formula! Armand Massard gave in his record at a nod. The veteran commissary wrote the replies down.
"And what is your name, monsieur?"
"Henri Lerouge, Monsieur le Commissaire."
"Ah! I think we have had the pleasure of meeting before this," observed the official. "A hundred francs that this is our man," he added under his breath. Then, turning to his men, who had stolen in, shamefaced, one by one,—
"Yes, monsieur." A keen-eyed agent stepped forward and saluted military fashion.
"Do you recognize one of these gentlemen as the man who crossed the Pont de Solferino this evening with something——"
"Yes, Monsieur le Commissaire,"—pointing promptly to Henri Lerouge,—"that's the man!"
"So. You may step aside, Dubat. Now where is that—oh! Monsieur Perriot?"
"Monsieur le Commissaire," responded the unhappy cabman, who had scarcely recovered from his mishap in the stairway. He limped painfully to the front.
"Now, Perriot, do you——"
"There he is, Monsieur le Commissaire," anticipated the cabman. "I'd know him among a thousand."
"Ah! And there we are. I thought so!" said the police official. "Now, Monsieur Lerouge," facing the latter with a catlike eye, "where's the body?"
The young man looked puzzled, very naturally, while his companions were speechless with astonishment.
The veteran police officer took in every detail of this and mentally admitted that it was clever, deucedly clever, acting.
"I say, where is the body?" he repeated.
"And I say," retorted Lerouge, with a calmness of tone and steadiness of eye that almost staggered the old criminal catcher, "that I do not understand you, and am very patiently awaiting your explanation."
"Search the place!" curtly commanded the officer.
A clamorous protest arose from all three of the students. But the commissary of police waved them aside.
"It means that this man, Henri Lerouge, between six and seven o'clock this evening, carried a dead body from the Rue St. Honore——"
"Faubourg St. Honore, Monsieur le Commissaire," interrupted the cabman, feebly.
"——Faubourg St. Honore, crossed the Pont de Solferino, where he was seen by Agent Dubat, and was brought here in a voiture of place, No. 37,420, driven by Jacques Perriot. That, arriving in front of this building, the said Lerouge paid the cabman and dismissed——"
"Pardon, Monsieur le Commissaire," again put in the coachman,—who was evidently trying to do his duty under unfavorable circumstances,—"pardon, monsieur, but he told me to wait."
"Oh, he told you to wait, did he? And why didn't you say that at the Commissariat, you stupid brute?" The officer was furious. "But he paid you, then?"
"He paid you five francs and expected you to wait!" sarcastically.
"He said he might want me, monsieur."
"Might want you. And why didn't you wait, you old fool?"
"Here? In the Rue Antoine Dubois, after dark, monsieur? And for a—a—'stiff'? Not for a hundred francs!"
The students roared with laughter. As the agents had returned a report meanwhile to the effect that there were no signs of any "subject" immediately in hand, the commissary was deeply chagrined.
"Now, gentlemen," he began, in a fatherly tone, "it is evident that a body has been taken from the street and brought here instead of being turned over to the police for the morgue and usual forms of identification. That body is possibly unimportant in itself, and would probably fall to your admirable institution eventually. But the law prescribes the proper course in such cases. We have traced that body to this place and to one of your number. Far be it from me to find fault with the desire of young gentlemen seeking to perfect their knowledge of anatomy for the benefit of humanity; but we must know where that body went from here."
The last very emphatically, with a stern gaze at Henri Lerouge.
"And on our part," answered the latter, with ill-subdued passion, "we say there is no body here, that none has been brought here to-night, that we have been together all day, and that we had but just arrived here before this unwarrantable intrusion; in short, that your petits mouchards there have lied!"
It was impossible not to believe him. Yet the evidence of the cabman, corroborated circumstantially in part by Agent Dubat, seemed equally positive and irresistible.
The commissary was nonplussed for a minute. He looked sternly at Monsieur Perriot. The latter was nervously fumbling his glazed hat. Somebody had lied. The commissary decided that it was the unlucky cabman.
"Y-yes, Monsieur le Commissaire."
"Have you got a five-franc piece about you?"
"Let me see it."
Now, the poor cabman had lost no time fortifying himself with an absinthe or two upon leaving his fare in the terrible Rue Antoine Dubois. He had changed the piece given him by Jean Marot.
"I haven't got——"
"You said this man gave you a five-franc piece, didn't you? Now, did you, or did you not? Answer!"
"Yes, Monsieur le——"
"Where is it? You said you came straight to the Commissariat,—you haven't had time to get drunk. Show me the piece! Come!"
"I drove to—I——"
"Come! Out with it!"
"But, Monsieur le Commissaire——"
"You haven't got a five-franc piece. Come, now; say!"
"No, monsieur. I——"
"Lie No. 2."
"But, monsieur, I stopped at the wine-shop of——"
"Then you didn't drive straight to the Commissariat?"
"Did you, or did you not? Yes or no!"
"So! Lie No. 3."
The commissary got up full of wrath, and grasping the unfortunate cabby by the shoulder, spun him around with such force as to make the man's head swim.
"Take this idiot to the post. I'll enter a complaint against him before the Correctionnelle in the morning. He shall forfeit his license for this amusement. Gentlemen, pardon me for this unnecessary intrusion. Either this fool Perriot has lied or has led us to the wrong number. I'll give him time to decide which. Allons!"
Led by the irate official the squad departed, Monsieur Perriot being hustled unceremoniously between two agents.
The young men left behind looked at each other for a minute without speaking, then broke into a chorus of laughter.
It was such a good one on the police.
"Ah!" exclaimed Villeroy, "if we only had that stiff here for a fact!"
"This joke on the agents must be got into the newspapers," said Lerouge. "It's too good to keep all to ourselves."
"Fact!" cried Massard, who had thrown himself on the cot.
"The joke is on Monsieur Perriot, I think," observed Villeroy.
"Whoever it is on," put in young Massard, "it is a better joke than you fellows imagine." And Massard went off into a paroxysm of laughter by himself.
"Oh! oh! oh!" roared Massard.
He had discovered the missing sheet and blanket and the grisette's hat. His companions regarded him attentively. But the young man merely went into fresh convulsions of merriment.
Lerouge suddenly raised his hand for silence. There was a low, half-timid rap at the door. It created the impression of some woman of the street.
"Come in!" cried Villeroy.
"Let her in," said Lerouge.
By which time the door had been opened and a tall, thin gentleman entered and immediately closed the door behind him.
"In-Inspector Loup!" ejaculated Lerouge.
"What! more police?" inquired Villeroy, sarcastically. "We are too much honored to-night."
"Excuse me, young gentlemen," observed the official, somewhat stiffly, but with a polite inclination of his lank body, "but I must be permitted to make an examination here—yes, I know; but Monsieur le Commissaire is rather—rather—you know—they will wait until I see for myself where the error is. Yes, error, I'm sure."
During this introduction the keen little fishy eyes searched the table, the floor, the walls, the cot in the corner whereon Massard now sat seriously erect, and, incidentally, every person in the room. They wound up this lightning tour of inspection by resting with the last equivocal sentence upon some object on the floor under the table.
"Pardon me," he added, stepping briskly forward and grasping the lamp.
He brought the light to bear upon the object which had appeared to fascinate him, the wondering eyes of the three students becoming riveted to the same spot.
It was a wisp of light flaxen hair just tinted with gold.
The inspector replaced the lamp upon the dissecting-table and examined the lock of hair. It was still moist, and there were distinct traces of blood where it had been cut off from the head.
The world of satisfaction in that ejaculation was not communicated to the students, who were speechless with astonishment.
"Yes," said the inspector, as if he were continuing an unimportant conversation, "Monsieur le Commissaire is rather—rather—show me the rest of the place, please," and without waiting for formal permission proceeded, lamp in hand, on his own account.
"So! One sleeps here?"
He looked under the cot.
"Then you must have the rest of the bed; where is it?"
His quick eye had discovered the inconsistency of the mattress,—as, indeed, Massard himself had already done,—and his fertile brain jumped at once from cause to effect.
"Probably to wrap the body in. Where's the sink?"
In the little antechamber, redolent with the peculiar and indescribable odor of human flesh and its preservatives, was a long ice-chest, a big iron sink, an old-fashioned range, pots, pans, shelves with bottles, etc.
Massard hurriedly opened the chest, as if half expecting to see a human body there.
But Inspector Loup scarcely glanced at this receptacle for "subjects." His eyes sought and found the metal basin such as doctors use during operations.
The basin was still wet, and minute spots of red appeared upon its rim. A sponge lay near. It had recently been soaked. The inspector squeezed the sponge over the basin and obtained water stained with red.
"Blood," said he.
"Blood!" echoed the alarmed students.
"She's alive," said the inspector, more to himself than to his dumfounded auditors,—"alive, probably, else whoever brought her here would have kept her here."
He returned abruptly to the other room, and depositing the lamp, turned to Lerouge,—
"Were you expecting anybody else here to-night, monsieur?"
"Why, yes; Jean Marot——"
The possibility flashed upon the three young men at once, but it seemed too preposterous. The inspector had turned to the window and blown a shrill whistle.
"Pardon me, young gentlemen, but I'll not disturb you any longer than I can help. What is Jean Marot's address? Good! I will leave you company. You will not mind? Dubat will entertain you. It is better than resting in the station-house, eh?"
With this pleasantry Inspector Loup hurried away, snatched a cab, and was driven rapidly to the address in the Faubourg St. Honore.
* * * * *
Jean Marot was the son of a rich silk manufacturer of Lyon, and therefore lived in more comfortable quarters than most students, in a fashionable neighborhood on the right bank of the Seine. He had reached his lodgings scarcely three-quarters of an hour before Inspector Loup. But in that time he had stampeded the venerable concierge, got his still unconscious burden to bed and fetched a surgeon. The concierge had protested against turning the house into a hospital for vagrant women; but Jean was of an impetuous nature, and wilful besides, and when he was told that the last vacant chamber had been taken that day, he boldly carried the girl to his own rooms and placed her in his own bed. And when the concierge had reported this fact to Madame Goutran, that excellent lady, who had officiated as Jean's landlady for the past four years, shrugged her shoulders in such an equivocal way that the concierge concluded that her best interests lay in assisting the young man as much as possible.
Dr. Cardiac was not only one of the best surgeon-professors of the Ecole de Medecine but Jean's father's personal friend. The young man felt that he could turn to the great surgeon in this emergency, though the latter was an expert not in regular practice.
The appearance of Inspector Loup threw the Goutran establishment into a fever of excitement. The wrinkled old concierge who had declined to admit the stranger was ready to fall upon her knees before the director of the Secret Service. Madame Goutran hastened to explain why she had not reported the affair to the police department as the law required. She had not had time. It was so short a time ago that the case had been brought into her house,—in a few minutes she would have sent in the facts,—then, they expected every moment to ascertain the name of the young woman, which would be necessary to make the report complete.
Madame Goutran hoped that it would not involve her lodger, Monsieur Jean Marot, who was an excellent young man, though impulsive. He should have had the girl sent to the hospital. It was so absurd to bring her there, where she might die, and in any case would involve everybody in no end of difficulties, anyhow.
To a flood of such excuses and running observations Inspector Loup listened with immobile face, tightly closed lips, and wandering fishy eyes, standing in the corridor of the concierge lodge. He had not uttered a word, nor had he hurried the good landlady in her explanations and excuses. It was Inspector Loup's custom. He assumed the attitude of a professional listener. Seldom any one had ever resisted the subtle power of that silent interrogation. Even the most stubborn and recalcitrant were compelled to yield after a time; and those who had sullenly withstood the most searching and brutal interrogatories had broken down under the calm, patient, philosophical, crushing contemplation. Questions too often merely serve to put people on their guard,—to furnish a cue to what should be withheld.
"And your lodger, madame?" he inquired, after Madame Goutran had run down, "can I see him?"
"Certainly, Monsieur l'Inspecteur. Pardon! I have detained you too long."
"Not at all, madame. One does not think of time in the presence of a charming conversationalist."
"Oh, thank you, monsieur! This way, Monsieur l'Inspecteur."
Inspector Loup gained the apartment of Jean Marot shortly after the united efforts of Dr. Cardiac and his amateur assistants had succeeded in producing decided signs of returning consciousness. The patient was breathing irregularly.
The police official entered the chamber, and, after a silent recognition of those present, looked long and steadily at the slight figure on the bed.
He then retired, beckoning Jean to follow him. Once in the petit salon, the inspector motioned the young man to a chair and looked him over for about half a minute. Whereupon Jean made a clean breast of what his listener practically already knew, and what he did not know had guessed.
"Bring me her clothing," said the inspector, when Jean had finished.
The young man brought the torn and soiled garments which had been removed from the girl.
Inspector Loup examined them in a perfunctory way, but apparently discovered nothing beyond the fact that they were typical charity clothes, which Jean had already decided for himself.
"Be good enough to ask Monsieur le Docteur to step in here a few moments at his leisure," he finally said.
As soon as Jean had his back turned the inspector whipped out a knife, slit the lining of the bosom of the little dress, and taking therefrom the letter addressed to himself, noted at a glance that the seal was intact, tore it open, saw its contents and as quickly transferred the missive to his pocket.
"Well, doctor," he gravely inquired, "how about your young patient?"
"Uncertain, monsieur, but hopeful."
"She will recover, then?"
"I think so, but it will be some time. She must be removed to a hospital."
"Yes, of course,—of course. But you will report to me where she is taken from here, Monsieur le Docteur?"
"Oh, yes,—certainly. Though perhaps the girl's friends——"
"She has no friends," said the inspector.
"What! You know her, then?"
"It is Mademoiselle Fouchette."
"A nobody's child, eh?" asked the doctor.
"Mademoiselle Fouchette is the child of the police," said Inspector Loup.
He slowly retired down-stairs, through the court and passage-way, reaching the street. Then as he walked away he drew from his pocket the letter he had extracted from the little dress.
"So! Sister Agnes is prompt and to the point. These Jesuitical associations are hotbeds of treason and intrigue! They are inconsistent with civil and religious liberty. We'll see!"
When Fouchette opened her eyes it was to see three strange faces at her bedside,—the faces of Dr. Cardiac, Jean Marot, and a professional nurse.
But she had regained consciousness long before she could see, her eyes being in bandages, and had passively listened to the soft goings and comings and low conversations and whispered directions, without saying anything herself or betraying her growing curiosity.
These sounds came to her vaguely and brokenly at first, then forced themselves on her attention connectedly. Surely she was not at Le Bon Pasteur! Then where was she? And finally the recollection of recent events rushed upon her, and her poor little head seemed to be on the point of bursting.
Things finally appeared quite clear, until her eyes were free and she saw for the first time her new surroundings, when she involuntarily manifested her surprise.
It certainly was not a hospital, as she had imagined the place. The sunny chamber, with its tastefully decorated walls hung with pictures, the foils over the door,—through which she saw a still more lovely room,—the voluptuous divan and its soft cushions, the heavy Turkish rugs, the rich damask hangings of her bed,—no; it certainly was not a hospital.
It was the most beautiful room Fouchette had ever seen,—such as her fancy had allotted to royal blood,—at least to the nobility. To awaken in such a place was like the fairy tales Sister Agnes had read to her long ago.
"Well, mademoiselle," said the old surgeon, cheerily, "we're getting along,—getting along, eh, Monsieur Marot?"
"Admirably!" said Jean.
Fouchette glanced from one to the other. The doctor she had long recognized by voice and touch; but this young man, was he the prince of this palace?
The eyes of the pair rested upon each other for the moment inquiringly.
Both Fouchette and Jean concluded this examination with a sigh.
Fouchette had recognized in him the young man who marched by her side in the Place de la Concorde,—only a rioter. He could not live here.
Jean Marot, who thought he had seen something in this girl besides her hair to remind him of the woman he loved, acknowledged himself in error. It had been a mere fancy,—he dismissed it.
He turned away and stood looking gloomily into the street. But the young man saw nothing. He was thinking of the unfortunate turn of political events in France that had arrayed friend against friend, brother against brother.
It was social revolution—anarchy!
Now his friend Lerouge and he had quarrelled,—exchanged blows. They had wrangled before, but within the bounds of student friendship. Blows had now changed this friendship to hatred. Blows from those whom we love are hardest to forgive,—they are never forgotten.
Yet it was not this friendship in itself that particularly concerned Jean Marot. Through it he had calculated on reaching something more vital to his happiness.
Henri Lerouge had introduced him to Mlle. Remy. It was in the Jardin du Luxembourg. They had met but for a brief minute. The presentation had been coldly formal,—reluctant. Yet in that time, in the midst of the usual conventionalities, Jean had looked into a pair of soulful blue eyes that had smiled upon him, and Jean was lost.
His hope of meeting her again lay in and through Lerouge,—and now they had quarrelled; and about a Jew!
The fine blonde hair and slender figure of this girl—this "child of the police"—had reminded Jean of Mlle. Remy. She possessed the same kind of hair. It was this mental association that prompted him to carry the unknown to his own lodgings as described. This impulse of compassion and association was strengthened by his narrow escape from being her slayer. In fact, it was the best thing to have done under all the circumstances.
Now that the causes and the impulse had disappeared together, he began to feel bored. The "child of the police" was in his way,—the police might look after her. Jean Marot had troubles of his own.
As for Fouchette, she silently regarded the motionless figure at the window, wondering, thinking, on her part, of many things. When it had disappeared in the adjoining room she beckoned to the doctor.
"The young man, Monsieur Marot?" she asked, feebly. "Is this his——"
"It is his apartment, mademoiselle," the doctor anticipated.
"Monsieur Marot found you in the street near by, after the riot of the 25th of October, and brought you here,—temporarily, you know."
"Monsieur Marot is very good," she murmured.
"Excellent young man!" said the doctor. "A trifle obstinate, but still a very excellent young man, mademoiselle."
The girl was silent for a minute, as if lost in thought.
"Is this his—his bedchamber, doctor?"
"I must be moved," she said, promptly. "You understand? I must be removed at once. Take me to a hospital, please!"
"Oh, don't excite yourself about it, my child. Soon enough—when you are able."
"What day of the month is——"
"This? The 5th of November."
"Ten days! Ten days!"
"Yes,—you have had a narrow call, mademoiselle."
"And I owe my life to you, doctor."
"To Monsieur Marot, mademoiselle."
"Ah! but you——"
"If it hadn't been for him I would never have seen you, child."
He spoke very gently and in a subdued voice that reached only her ear. Another pause.
"It is all the more important that I should not trouble him,—disturb him any longer than necessary. You understand?"
"Very truly, mademoiselle," replied he; "very thoughtful of you,—very womanly. It does you credit, Mademoiselle Fouchette."
"What? You, then, know my name?"
"Certainly." The doctor observed her surprise with a genial smile.
"I am very grateful,"—that they should know her for what she was and yet have been so good to her moved her deeply,—"I am very grateful, monsieur. But how did you know it was me, Fouchette?"
"Well, there is one man in Paris who knows you——"
"Inspector Loup?" she asked, quickly.
"Inspector Loup," said he.
"And he knows where I am,—certainly, for he knows everything,—everything!"
"Not quite, possibly, but enough."
"I must see Inspector Loup, doctor; yes, I must see him at once. When was he here?"
"Within the hour in which you were brought," said the doctor.
He was not disposed to be communicative on the subject of the Secret Service, or about its director, having a healthy contempt for the system of official espionage deemed necessary to any sort of French government, Royalist, Napoleonic, or Republican. And he wondered what mysterious band could unite the interests of this charity child with the interests of the government of France.
"Where are my clothes, doctor?" she suddenly inquired, half raising herself on her elbow.
"Oh! la, la! Why, you can't go now! It is impossible! The inspector can come and see you here, can't he?"
"But where are my clothes? Are they——"
"They're here, all right."
"Let me see them, please."
"Very good; but don't get excited,—nobody will run away with them; bless my soul! Nobody has had them except—except the nurse and Inspector Loup."
"Yes, mademoiselle,—for identification."
Fouchette was nervous. She had been reminded of the letter by the first mention of the inspector's name. Had anybody found the letter? Was it there still? Supposing it had been lost! What was this letter, anyhow? It must be very important, or the senders would have mailed it in the regular way. She felt that she dared not betray its presence by pushing the demand for her clothing.
"It is very curious, too," added the doctor, "how that man could identify you by means of clothing he had never before seen. He probably had information from where you came, with your description."
Fouchette had never thought of that. It did not comfort her, as may well be imagined.
"I'll speak to the nurse about the clothes——"
"Pardon! but it is unnecessary, doctor. I only wanted to know if they were—were safe, you know. No; never mind. I thank you very much. I shall need them only when I am removed, which I hope will be soon."
* * * * *
In the Rue St. Jacques stands an old weather-stained, irregular pile of stone, inconspicuous in a narrow, crooked street lined with similar houses. The grim walls retreat from the first floor to the roof, in the monolithic style of the Egyptian tomb. Beneath the first floor is the usual shop,—a rotisserie patronized by the scholars of two centuries,—famed of Balzac, de Musset, Dumas, Hugo, and a myriad lesser pens.
The other houses of the neighborhood are equally oblivious to modern opinion. They consent to lean against each other while jointly turning an indifferent face to the world, like a man about whose ugliness there is no dispute. No two run consecutively with the walks, and all together present a sky-line that paralyzes calculation.
The historic street at this point is a lively market during the business day. Its sidewalks being only wide enough for the dogs to sun themselves without danger from passing vehicles, it is necessary for the passers to take that risk by walking in the roadway. Those who do not care to assume any risks go around by way of Rue Gay-Lussac,—especially after midnight, when the street enjoys its personal reputation. The Pantheon is just around the corner, and the ancient Sorbonne, Louis le Grand, and the College of France line the same street on the next block, and have stood there for some hundreds of years; but, all the same, timid people certainly prefer to reach them by a roundabout way rather than by this section of Rue St. Jacques.
Mlle. Fouchette had accepted a home in the Rue St. Jacques and in this particular building because other people did not wish to live there, which made rooms cheap.
If you had cared to see what Mlle. Fouchette proudly called "home" you might have raised and let fall an old-fashioned iron knocker that sent a long reverberating roar down the tunnel-like entrance, to be lost in some hidden court beyond. Then a slide would slyly uncover a little brass "judas," disclosing a little, black, hard eye. Assuming that this eye was satisfied with you, the slide would be closed with a snap, bolts unshot, bars swung clear, and the heavy, iron-clamped door opened by a rascally-looking man whose blouse, chiefly, distinguished him from the race orang-outang.
Once within, you would notice that the door mentioned was ribbed with wrought iron and that two lateral bars of heavy metal were used to secure it from within. It dates from the Reign of Terror.
Having passed this formidable barrier, you would follow the tunnel to a square court paved with worn granite, enter a rear passage, and mount a narrow stone stairway, the steps of which are so worn as to leave an uncertain footing. If it happens to be in the night or early morning, the brass knobs in the centre of the doors will be ornamented with milk-bottles. There are four of these doors on every landing, and consequently four "appartements" on each floor; but as each wing seems to have been built in a different age from the others, and no two architects were able to accurately figure on reaching the same level, the effect is as uncertain as the stairs.
Mlle. Fouchette's "home" consisted of but a single square room fronting on the court by two windows with bogus balconies. The daylight from these windows showed a fireplace of immense size, and out of all proportion to the room, a bed smothered in the usual alcove by heavy curtains, a divan improvised from some ancient article of furniture, a small round table, and an easy-chair, and two or three others not so easy. There was one distinguished exception to the general effect of old age and hard usage, and this was a modern combination bureau, washstand, and dressing-table with folding mirror attachment, which when shut down was as demure and dignified as an upright piano.
The effective feature of a place the entire contents of which might have been extravagantly valued at twenty-five dollars was the exquisite harmony of colors. This effect is common to French interiors, where there is also a common tendency to over-decoration. The harmony began in the cheap paper on the walls, extended to bed and window draperies, and ended in the tissue-paper lamp-shade that at night lent a softened, rhythmical tone to the whole. This genial color effect was a delicate suggestion of blue, and the result was a doll-like daintiness that was altogether charming.