"Yes," said Frances; "it was Mother Bunch, an excellent, worthy creature."
"I thought as much, madame; well, you shall hear what has happened. As you did not come in, I resolved to pay a visit in the neighborhood. I go out, and get as far as the Rue St. Mery, when—Oh, madame!"
"Well?" said Dagobert, "what then?"
"I see a crowd—I inquire what is the matter—I learn that a policeman has just arrested a young girl as a thief, because she had been seen carrying a bundle, composed of different articles which did not appear to belong to her—I approached—what do I behold?—the same young woman that I had met just before in this room."
"Oh! the poor child!" exclaimed Frances, growing pale, and clasping her hands together. "What a dreadful thing!"
"Explain, then," said Dagobert to his wife. "What was in this bundle?"
"Well, my dear—to confess the truth—I was a little short, and I asked our poor friend to take some things for me to the pawnbroker's—"
"What! and they thought she had robbed us!" cried Dagobert; "she, the most honest girl in the world! it is dreadful—you ought to have interfered, madame; you ought to have said that you knew her."
"I tried to do so, sir; but, unfortunately, they would not hear me. The crowd increased every moment, till the guard came up, and carried her off."
"She might die of it, she is so sensitive and timid!" exclaimed Frances.
"Ah, good Mother Bunch! so gentle! so considerate!" said Blanche, turning with tearful eyes towards her sister.
"Not being able to help her," resumed Mrs. Grivois "I hastened hither to inform you of this misadventure—which may, indeed, easily be repaired—as it will only be necessary to go and claim the young girl as soon as possible."
At these words, Dagobert hastily seized his hat, and said abruptly to Mrs. Grivois: "Zounds, madame! you should have begun by telling us that. Where is the poor child? Do you know?"
"I do not, sir; but there are still so many excited people in the street that, if you will have the kindness to step out, you will be sure to learn."
"Why the devil do you talk of kindness? It is my duty, madame. Poor child!" repeated Dagobert. "Taken up as a thief!—it is really horrible. I will go to the guard-house, and to the commissary of police for this neighborhood, and, by hook or crook, I will find her, and have her out, and bring her home with me."
So saying, Dagobert hastily departed. Frances, now that she felt more tranquil as to the fate of Mother Bunch, thanked the Lord that this circumstance had obliged her husband to go out, for his presence at this juncture caused her a terrible embarrassment.
Mrs. Grivois had left My Lord in the coach below, for the moments were precious. Casting a significant glance at Frances she handed her Abbe Dubois' letter, and said to her, with strong emphasis on every word: "You will see by this letter, madame, what was the object of my visit, which I have not before been able to explain to you, but on which I truly congratulate myself, as it brings me into connection with these two charming young ladies." Rose and Blanche looked at each other in surprise. Frances took the letter with a trembling hand. It required all the pressing and threatening injunctions of her confessor to conquer the last scruples of the poor woman, for she shuddered at the thought of Dagobert's terrible indignation. Moreover, in her simplicity, she knew not how to announce to the young girls that they were to accompany this lady.
Mrs. Grivois guessed her embarrassment, made a sign to her to be at her ease, and said to Rose, whilst Frances was reading the letter of her confessor: "How happy your relation will be to see you, my dear young lady!'
"Our relation, madame?" said Rose, more and more astonished.
"Certainly. She knew of your arrival here, but, as she is still suffering from the effects of a long illness, she was not able to come herself to-day, and has sent me to fetch you to her. Unfortunately," added Mrs. Grivois, perceiving a movement of uneasiness on the part of the two sisters, "it will not be in her power, as she tells Mrs. Baudoin in her letter, to see you for more than a very short time—so you may be back here in about an hour. But to-morrow or the next day after, she will be well enough to leave home, and then she will come and make arrangements with Mrs. Baudoin and her husband, to take you into her house—for she could not bear to leave you at the charge of the worthy people who have been so kind to you."
These last words of Mrs. Grivois made a favorable impression upon the two sisters, and banished their fears of becoming a heavy burden to Dagobert's family. If it had been proposed to them to quit altogether the house in the Rue Bris-Miche, without first asking the consent of their old friend, they would certainly have hesitated; but Mrs. Grivois had only spoken of an hour's visit. They felt no suspicion, therefore, and Rose said to Frances: "We may go and see our relation, I suppose, madame, without waiting for Dagobert's return?"
"Certainly," said Frances, in a feeble voice, "since you are to be back almost directly."
"Then, madame, I would beg these dear young ladies to come with me as soon as possible, as I should like to bring them back before noon.
"We are ready, madame," said Rose.
"Well then, young ladies, embrace your second mother, and come," said Mrs. Grivois, who was hardly able to control her uneasiness, for she trembled lest Dagobert should return from one moment to the other.
Rose and Blanche embraced Frances, who, clasping in her arms the two charming and innocent creatures that she was about to deliver up, could with difficulty restrain her tears, though she was fully convinced that she was acting for their salvation.
"Come, young ladies," said Mrs. Grivois, in the most affable tone, "let us make haste—you will excuse my impatience, I am sure—but it is in the name of your relation that I speak."
Having once more tenderly kissed the wife of Dagobert, the sisters quitted the room hand in hand, and descended the staircase close behind Mrs. Grivois, followed (without their being aware of it), by Spoil-sport. The intelligent animal cautiously watched their movements, for, in the absence of his master, he never let them out of his sight.
For greater security, no doubt, the waiting-woman of Madame de Saint Dizier had ordered the hackney-coach to wait for her at a little distance from the Rue Brise-Miche, in the cloister square. In a few seconds, the orphans and their conductress reached the carriage.
"Oh, missus!" said the coachman, opening the door; "no offence, I hope—but you have the most ill-tempered rascal of a dog! Since you put him into my coach, he has never ceased howling like a roasted cat, and looks as if he would eat us all up alive!" In fact, My Lord, who detested solitude, was yelling in the most deplorable manner.
"Be quiet, My Lord! here I am," said Mrs. Grivois; then addressing the two sisters, she added: "Pray, get in, my dear young ladies."
Rose and Blanche got into the coach. Before she followed them, Mrs. Grivois was giving to the coachman in a low voice the direction to St. Mary's Convent, and was adding other instructions, when suddenly the pug dog, who had growled savagely when the sisters took their seats in the coach, began to bark with fury. The cause of this anger was clear enough; Spoil-sport, until now unperceived, had with one bound entered the carriage.
The pug, exasperated by this boldness, forgetting his ordinary prudence, and excited to the utmost by rage and ugliness of temper, sprang at his muzzle, and bit him so cruelly, that, in his turn, the brave Siberian dog, maddened by the pain, threw himself upon the teaser, seized him by the throat, and fairly strangled him with two grips of his powerful jaws—as appeared by one stifled groan of the pug, previously half suffocated with fat.
All this took place in less time than is occupied by the description. Rose and Blanche had hardly opportunity to exclaim twice: "Here, Spoil sport! down!"
"Oh, good gracious!" said Mrs. Grivois, turning round at the noise. "There again is that monster of a dog—he will certainly hurt my love. Send him away, young ladies—make him get down—it is impossible to take him with us."
Ignorant of the degree of Spoil-sport's criminality, for his paltry foe was stretched lifeless under a seat, the young girls yet felt that it would be improper to take the dog with them, and they therefore said to him in an angry tone, at the same time slightly touching him with their feet: "Get down, Spoil-sport! go away!"
The faithful animal hesitated at first to obey this order. Sad and supplicatingly looked he at the orphans, and with an air of mild reproach, as if blaming them for sending away their only defender. But, upon the stern repetition of the command, he got down from the coach, with his tail between his legs, feeling perhaps that he had been somewhat over-hasty with regard to the pug.
Mrs. Grivois, who was in a great hurry to leave that quarter of the town, seated herself with precipitation in the carriage; the coachman closed the door, and mounted his box; and then the coach started at a rapid rate, whilst Mrs. Grivois prudently let down the blinds, for fear of meeting Dagobert by the way.
Having taken these indispensable precautions, she was able to turn her attention to her pet, whom she loved with all that deep, exaggerated affection, which people of a bad disposition sometimes entertain for animals, as if then concentrated and lavished upon them all those feelings in which they are deficient with regard to their fellow creatures. In a word. Mrs. Grivois was passionately attached to this peevish, cowardly, spiteful dog, partly perhaps from a secret sympathy with his vices. This attachment had lasted for six years, and only seemed to increase as My Lord advanced in age.
We have laid some stress on this apparently puerile detail, because the most trifling causes have often disastrous effects, and because we wish the reader to understand what must have been the despair, fury, and exasperation of this woman, when she discovered the death of her dog—a despair, a fury, and an exasperation, of which the orphans might yet feel the cruel consequences.
The hackney-coach had proceeded rapidly for some seconds, when Mrs. Grivois, who was seated with her back to the horses, called My Lord. The dog had very good reasons for not replying.
"Well, you sulky beauty!" said Mrs. Grivois, soothingly; "you have taken offence, have you? It was not my fault if that great ugly dog came into the coach, was it, young ladies? Come and kiss your mistress, and let us make peace, old obstinate!"
The same obstinate silence continued on the part of the canine noble. Rose and Blanche began to look anxiously at each other, for they knew that Spoil-sport was somewhat rough in his ways, though they were far from suspecting what had really happened. But Mrs. Grivois, rather surprised than uneasy at her pug-log's insensibility to her affectionate appeals, and believing him to be sullenly crouching beneath the seat, stooped clown to take him up, and feeling one of his paws, drew it impatiently towards her whilst she said to him in a half-jesting, half angry tone: "Come, naughty fellow! you will give a pretty notion of your temper to these young ladies."
So saying, she took up the dog, much astonished at his unresisting torpor; but what was her fright, when, having placed him upon her lap, she saw that he was quite motionless.
"An apoplexy!" cried she. "The dear creature ate too much—I was always afraid of it."
Turning round hastily, she exclaimed: "Stop, coachman! stop!" without reflecting that the coachman could not hear her. Then raising the cur's head, still thinking that he was only in a fit, she perceived with horror the bloody holes imprinted by five or six sharp fangs, which left no doubt of the cause of his deplorable end.
Her first impulse was one of grief and despair. "Dead!" she exclaimed; "dead! and already cold! Oh, goodness!" And this woman burst into tears.
The tears of the wicked are ominous. For a bad man to weep, he must have suffered much; and, with him, the reaction of suffering, instead of softening the soul, inflames it to a dangerous anger.
Thus, after yielding to that first painful emotion, the mistress of My Lord felt herself transported with rage and hate—yes, hate—violent hate for the young girls, who had been the involuntary cause of the dog's death. Her countenance so plainly betrayed her resentment, that Blanche and Rose were frightened at the expression of her face, which had now grown purple with fury, as with agitated voice and wrathful glance she exclaimed: "It was your dog that killed him!"
"Oh, madame!" said Rose; "we had nothing to do with it."
"It was your dog that bit Spoil-sport first," added Blanche, in a plaintive voice.
The look of terror impressed on the features of the orphans recalled Mrs. Grivois to herself. She saw the fatal consequences that might arise from yielding imprudently to her anger. For the very sake of vengeance, she had to restrain herself, in order not to awaken suspicion in the minds of Marshal Simon's daughters. But not to appear to recover too soon from her first impression, she continued for some minutes to cast irritated glances at the young girls; then, little by little, her anger seemed to give way to violent grief; she covered her face with her hands, heaved a long sigh, and appeared to weep bitterly.
"Poor lady!" whispered Rose to Blanche. "How she weeps!—No doubt, she loved her dog as much as we love Spoil-sport."
"Alas! yes," replied Blanche. "We also wept when our old Jovial was killed."
After a few minutes, Mrs. Grivois raised her head, dried her eyes definitively, and said in a gentle, and almost affectionate voice: "Forgive me, young ladies! I was unable to repress the first movement of irritation, or rather of deep sorrow—for I was tenderly attached to this poor dog he has never left me for six years."
"We are very sorry for this misfortune, madame," resumed Rose; "and we regret it the more, that it seems to be irreparable."
"I was just saying to my sister, that we can the better fancy your grief, as we have had to mourn the death of our old horse, that carried us all the way from Siberia."
"Well, my dear young ladies, let us think no more about it. It was my fault; I should not have brought him with me; but he was always so miserable, whenever I left him. You will make allowance for my weakness. A good heart feels for animals as well as people; so I must trust to your sensibility to excuse my hastiness."
"Do not think of it, madame; it is only your grief that afflicts us."
"I shall get over it, my dear young ladies—I shall get over it. The joy of the meeting between you and your relation will help to console me. She will be so happy. You are so charming! and then the singular circumstance of your exact likeness to each other adds to the interest you inspire."
"You are too kind to us, madame."
"Oh, no—I am sure you resemble each other as much in disposition as in face."
"That is quite natural, madame," said Rose, "for since our birth we have never left each other a minute, whether by night or day. It would be strange, if we were not like in character."
"Really, my dear young ladies! you have never left each other a minute?"
"Never, madame." The sisters joined hands with an expressive smile.
"Then, how unhappy you would be, and how much to be pitied, if ever you were separated."
"Oh, madame! it is impossible," said Blanche, smiling.
"Who would have the heart to separate us?"
"No doubt, my dear young ladies, it would be very cruel."
"Oh, madame," resumed Blanche, "even very wicked people would not think of separating us."
"So much the better, my dear young ladies—pray, why?"
"Because it would cause us too much grief."
"Because it would kill us."
"Poor little dears!"
"Three months ago, we were shut up in prison. Well when the governor of the prison saw us, though he looked a very stern man, he could not help saying: 'It would be killing these children to separate them;' and so we remained together, and were as happy as one can be in prison."
"It shows your excellent heart, and also that of the persons who knew how to appreciate it."
The carriage stopped, and they heard the coachman call out "Any one at the gate there?"
"Oh! here we are at your relation's," said Mrs. Grivois. Two wings of a gate flew open, and the carriage rolled over the gravel of a court-yard.
Mrs. Grivois having drawn up one of the blinds, they found themselves in a vast court, across the centre of which ran a high wall, with a kind of porch upon columns, under which was a little door. Behind this wall, they could see the upper part of a very large building in freestone. Compared with the house in the Rue Brise-Miche, this building appeared a palace; so Blanche said to Mrs. Grivois, with an expression of artless admiration: "Dear me, madame, what a fine residence!"
"That is nothing," replied Madame Grivois; "wait till you see the interior, which is much finer."
When the coachman opened the door of the carriage, what was the rage of Mrs. Grivois, and the surprise of the girls, to see Spoil-sport, who had been clever enough to follow the coach. Pricking up his ears, and wagging his tail, he seemed to have forgotten his late offences, and to expect to be praised for his intelligent fidelity.
"What!" cried Mrs. Grivois, whose sorrows were renewed at the sight; "has that abominable dog followed the coach?"
"A famous dog, mum," answered the coachman "he never once left the heels of my horses. He must have been trained to it. He's a powerful beast, and two men couldn't scare him. Look at the throat of him now!"
The mistress of the deceased pug, enraged at the somewhat unseasonable praises bestowed upon the Siberian, said to the orphans, "I will announce your arrival, wait for me an instant in the coach."
So saying, she went with a rapid step towards the porch, and rang the bell. A woman, clad in a monastic garb, appeared at the door, and bowed respectfully to Mrs. Grivois, who addressed her in these few words, "I have brought you the two young girls; the orders of Abbe d'Aigrigny and the princess are, that they be instantly separated, and kept apart in solitary cells—you understand, sister—and subjected to the rule for impenitents."
"I will go and inform the superior, and it will be done," said the portress, with another bend.
"Now, will you come, my dear young ladies?" resumed Mrs. Grivois, addressing the two girls, who had secretly bestowed a few caresses upon Spoil sport, so deeply were they touched by his instinctive attachment; "you will be introduced to your relation, and I will return and fetch you in half an hour. Coachman keep that dog back."
Rose and Blanche, in getting out of the coach, were so much occupied with Spoil-sport, that they did not perceive the portress, who was half hidden behind the little door. Neither did they remark, that the person who was to introduce them was dressed as a nun, till, taking them by the hand, she had led them across the threshold, when the door was immediately closed behind them.
As soon as Mrs. Grivois had seen the orphans safe into the convent, she told the coachman to leave the court-yard, and wait for her at the outer gate. The coachman obeyed; but Spoil-sport, who had seen Rose and Blanche enter by the little door, ran to it, and remained there.
Mrs. Grivois then called the porter of the main entrance, a tall, vigorous fellow and said to him: "Here are ten francs for you, Nicholas, if you will beat out the brains of that great dog, who is crouching under the porch."
Nicholas shook his head, as he observed Spoil-sport's size and strength. "Devil take me, madame!" said he; "'tis not so easy to tackle a dog of that build."
"I will give you twenty francs; only kill him before me."
"One ought to have a gun, and I have only an iron hammer."
"That will do; you can knock him down at a blow."
"Well, madame—I will try—but I have my doubts." And Nicholas went to fetch his mallet.
"Oh! if I had the strength!" said Mrs. Grivois.
The porter returned with his weapon, and advanced slowly and treacherously towards Spoil-sport, who was still crouching beneath the porch. "Here, old fellow! here, my good dog!" said Nicholas striking his left hand on his thigh, and keeping his right behind him, with the crowbar grasped in it.
Spoil-sport rose, examined Nicholas attentively, and no doubt perceiving by his manner that the porter meditated some evil design, bounded away from him, outflanked the enemy, saw clearly what was intended, and kept himself at a respectful distance.
"He smells a rat," said Nicholas; "the rascal's on his guard. He will not let me come near him. It's no go."
"You are an awkward fellow," said Mrs. Grivois in a passion, as she threw a five-franc piece to Nicholas: "at all events, drive him away."
"That will be easier than to kill him, madame," said the porter. Indeed, finding himself pursued, and conscious probably that it would be useless to attempt an open resistance, Spoil-sport fled from the court-yard into the street; but once there, he felt himself, as it were, upon neutral ground, and notwithstanding all the threats of Nicholas, refused to withdraw an inch further than just sufficient to keep out of reach of the sledge-hammer. So that when Mrs. Grivois, pale with rage, again stepped into her hackney-coach, in which were My Lord's lifeless remains, she saw with the utmost vexation that Spoil-sport was lying at a few steps from the gate, which Nicholas had just closed, having given up the chase in despair.
The Siberian dog, sure of finding his way back to the Rue Brise-Miche, had determined, with the sagacity peculiar to his race, to wait for the orphans on the spot where he then was.
Thus were the two sisters confined in St. Mary's Convent, which, as we have already said, was next door to the lunatic asylum in which Adrienne de Cardoville was immured.
We now conduct the reader to the dwelling of Dagobert's wife, who was waiting with dreadful anxiety for the return of her husband, knowing that he would call her to account for the disappearance of Marshal Simon's daughters.
CHAPTER LII. THE INFLUENCE OF A CONFESSOR.
Hardly had the orphans quitted Dagobert's wife, when the poor woman, kneeling down, began to pray with fervor. Her tears, long restrained, now flowed abundantly; notwithstanding her sincere conviction that she had performed a religious duty in delivering up the girl's she waited with extreme fear her husband's return. Though blinded by her pious zeal, she could not hide from herself, that Dagobert would have good reason to be angry; and then this poor mother had also, under these untoward circumstances, to tell him of Agricola's arrest.
Every noise upon the stairs made Frances start with trembling anxiety; after which, she would resume her fervent prayers, supplicating strength to support this new and arduous trial. At length, she heard a step upon the landing-place below, and, feeling sure this time that it was Dagobert, she hastily seated herself, dried her tears, and taking a sack of coarse cloth upon her lap, appeared to be occupied with sewing—though her aged hands trembled so much, that she could hardly hold the needle.
After some minutes the door opened, and Dagobert appeared. The soldier's rough countenance was stern and sad; as he entered, he flung his hat violently upon the table, so full of painful thought, that he did not at first perceive the absence of the orphans.
"Poor girl!" cried he. "It is really terrible!"
"Didst see Mother Bunch? didst claim her?" said Frances hastily, forgetting for a moment her own fears.
"Yes, I have seen her—but in what a state—twas enough to break one's heart. I claimed her, and pretty loud too, I can tell you; but they said to me, that the commissary must first come to our place in order—" here Dagobert paused, threw a glance of surprise round the room, and exclaimed abruptly: "Where are the children?"
Frances felt herself seized with an icy shudder. "My dear," she began in a feeble voice—but she was unable to continue.
"Where are Rose and Blanche! Answer me then! And Spoil-sport, who is not here either!"
"Do not be angry."
"Come," said Dagobert, abruptly, "I see you have let them go out with a neighbor—why not have accompanied them yourself, or let them wait for me, if they wished to take a walk; which is natural enough, this room being so dull. But I am astonished that they should have gone out before they had news of good Mother Bunch—they have such kind hearts. But how pale you are?" added the soldier looking nearer at Frances; "what is the matter, my poor wife? Are you ill?"
Dagobert took Frances's hand affectionately in his own but the latter, painfully agitated by these words, pronounced with touching goodness, bowed her head and wept as she kissed her husband's hand. The soldier, growing more and more uneasy as he felt the scalding tears of his wife, exclaimed: "You weep, you do not answer—tell me, then, the cause of your grief, poor wife! Is it because I spoke a little loud, in asking you how you could let the dear children go out with a neighbor? Remember their dying mother entrusted them to my care—'tis sacred, you see—and with them, I am like an old hen after her chickens," added he, laughing to enliven Frances.
"Yes, you are right in loving them!"
"Come, then—becalm—you know me of old. With my great, hoarse voice, I am not so bad a fellow at bottom. As you can trust to this neighbor, there is no great harm done; but, in future, my good Frances, do not take any step with regard to the children without consulting me. They asked, I suppose, to go out for a little stroll with Spoil-sport?"
"No, my dear!"
"No! Who is this neighbor, to whom you have entrusted them? Where has she taken them? What time will she bring them back?"
"I do not know," murmured Frances, in a failing voice.
"You do not know!" cried Dagobert, with indignation; but restraining himself, he added, in a tone of friendly reproach: "You do not know? You cannot even fix an hour, or, better still, not entrust them to any one? The children must have been very anxious to go out. They knew that I should return at any moment, so why not wait for me—eh, Frances? I ask you, why did they not wait for me? Answer me, will you!—Zounds! you would make a saint swear!" cried Dagobert, stamping his foot; "answer me, I say!"
The courage of Frances was fast failing. These pressing and reiterated questions, which might end by the discovery of the truth, made her endure a thousand slow and poignant tortures. She preferred coming at once to the point, and determined to bear the full weight of her husband's anger, like a humble and resigned victim, obstinately faithful to the promise she had sworn to her confessor.
Not having the strength to rise, she bowed her head, allowed her arms to fall on either side of the chair, and said to her husband in a tone of the deepest despondency: "Do with me what you will—but do not ask what is become of the children—I cannot answer you."
If a thunderbolt had fallen at the feet of the soldier, he would not have been more violently, more deeply moved; he became deadly pale; his bald forehead was covered with cold sweat; with fixed and staring look, he remained for some moments motionless, mute, and petrified. Then, as if roused with a start from this momentary torpor, and filled with a terrific energy, he seized his wife by the shoulders, lifted her like a feather, placed her on her feet before him, and, leaning over her, exclaimed in a tone of mingled fury and despair: "The children!"
"Mercy! mercy!" gasped Frances, in a faint voice.
"Where are the children?" repeated Dagobert, as he shook with his powerful hands that poor frail body, and added in a voice of thunder: "Will you answer? the children!"
"Kill me, or forgive me, I cannot answer you," replied the unhappy woman, with that inflexible, yet mild obstinacy, peculiar to timid characters, when they act from convictions of doing right.
"Wretch!" cried the soldier; wild with rage, grief, despair, he lifted up his wife as if he would have dashed her upon the floor—but he was too brave a man to commit such cowardly cruelty, and, after that first burst of involuntary fury, he let her go.
Overpowered, Frances sank upon her knees, clasped her hands, and, by the faint motion of her lips, it was clear that she was praying. Dagobert had then a moment of stunning giddiness; his thoughts wandered; what had just happened was so sudden, so incomprehensible that it required some minutes to convince himself that his wife (that angel of goodness, whose life had been one course of heroic self-devotion, and who knew what the daughters of Marshal Simon were to him) should say to him: "Do not ask me about them—I cannot answer you."
The firmest, the strongest mind would have been shaken by this inexplicable fact. But, when the soldier had a little recovered himself, he began to look coolly at the circumstances, and reasoned thus sensibly with himself: "My wife alone can explain to me this inconceivable mystery—I do not mean either to beat or kill her—let us try every possibly method, therefore, to induce her to speak, and above all, let me try to control myself."
He took a chair, handed another to his wife, who was still on her knees, and said to her: "Sit down." With an air of the utmost dejection, Frances obeyed.
"Listen to me, wife," resumed Dagobert in a broken voice, interrupted by involuntary starts, which betrayed the boiling impatience he could hardly restrain. "Understand me—this cannot pass over in this manner—you know. I will never use violence towards you—just now, I gave way to a first moment of hastiness—I am sorry for it. Be sure, I shall not do so again: but, after all, I must know what has become of these children. Their mother entrusted them to my care, and I did not bring them all the way from Siberia, for you to say to me: 'Do not ask me—I cannot tell you what I have done with them.' There is no reason in that. Suppose Marshal Simon were to arrive, and say to me, 'Dagobert, my children?' what answer am I to give him? See, I am calm—judge for yourself—I am calm—but just put yourself in my place, and tell me—what answer am I to give to the marshal? Well—what say you! Will you speak!"
"Alas! my dear—"
"It is of no use crying alas!" said the soldier wiping his forehead, on which the veins were swollen as if they would burst; "what am I to answer to the marshal?"
"Accuse me to him—I will bear it all—I will say—"
"What will you say?"
"That, on going out, you entrusted the two girls to me, and that not finding them on return you asked be about them—and that my answer was, that I could not tell you what had become of them."
"And you think the marshal will be satisfied with such reasons?" cried Dagobert, clinching his fists convulsively upon his knees.
"Unfortunately, I can give no other—either to him or you—no—not if I were to die for it."
Dagobert bounded from his chair at this answer, which was given with hopeless resignation. His patience was exhausted; but determined not to yield to new bursts of anger, or to spend his breath in useless menaces, he abruptly opened one of the windows, and exposed his burning forehead to the cool air. A little calmer, he walked up and down for a few moments, and then returned to seat himself beside his wife. She, with her eyes bathed in tears, fixed her gaze upon the crucifix, thinking that she also had to bear a heavy cross.
Dagobert resumed: "By the manner in which you speak, I see that no accident has happened, which might endanger the health of the children."
"No, oh no! thank God, they are quite well—that is all I can say to you."
"Did they go out alone?"
"I cannot answer you."
"Has any one taken them away?"
"Alas, my dear! why ask me these questions? I cannot answer you."
"Will they come back here?"
"I do not know."
Dagobert started up; his patience was once more exhausted. But, after taking a few turns in the room, he again seated himself as before.
"After all," said he to his wife, "you have no interest to conceal from me what is become of the children. Why refuse to let me know?"
"I cannot do otherwise."
"I think you will change your opinion, when you know something that I am now forced to tell you. Listen to me well!" added Dagobert, in an agitated voice; "if these children are not restored to me before the 13th of February—a day close at hand—I am in the position of a man that would rob the daughters of Marshal Simon—rob them, d'ye understand?" said the soldier, becoming more and more agitated. Then, with an accent of despair which pierced Frances's heart, he continued: "And yet I have done all that an honest man could do for those poor children—you cannot tell what I have had to suffer on the road—my cares, my anxieties—I, a soldier, with the charge of two girls. It was only by strength of heart, by devotion, that I could go through with it—and when, for my reward, I hoped to be able to say to their father: 'Here are your children!—'" The soldier paused. To the violence of his first emotions had succeeded a mournful tenderness; he wept.
At sight of the tears rolling slowly down Dagobert's gray moustache, Frances felt for a moment her resolution give way; but, recalling the oath which she had made to her confessor, and reflecting that the eternal salvation of the orphans was at stake, she reproached herself inwardly with this evil temptation, which would no doubt be severely blamed by Abbe Dubois. She answered, therefore, in a trembling voice: "How can they accuse you of robbing these children?"
"Know," resumed Dagobert, drawing his hand across his eyes, "that if these young girls have braved so many dangers, to come hither, all the way from Siberia, it is that great interests are concerned—perhaps an immense fortune—and that, if they are not present on the 13th February—here, in Paris, Rue Saint Francois—all will be lost—and through my fault—for I am responsible for your actions."
"The 13th February? Rue Saint Francois?" cried Frances, looking at her husband with surprise. "Like Gabriel!"
"What do you say about Gabriel?"
"When I took him in (poor deserted child!), he wore a bronze medal about his neck."
"A bronze medal!" cried the soldier, struck with amazement; "a bronze medal with these words, 'At Paris you will be, the 13th of February, 1832, Rue Saint Francois?"
"Yes—how do you know?"
"Gabriel, too!" said the soldier speaking to himself. Then he added hastily: "Does Gabriel know that this medal was found upon him?"
"I spoke to him of it at some time. He had also about him a portfolio, filled with papers in a foreign tongue. I gave them to Abbe Dubois, my confessor, to look over. He told me afterwards, that they were of little consequence; and, at a later period, when a charitable person named M. Rodin, undertook the education of Gabriel, and to get him into the seminary, Abbe Dubois handed both papers and medal to him. Since then, I have heard nothing of them."
When Frances spoke of her confessor a sudden light flashed across the mind of the soldier, though he was far from suspecting the machinations which had so long been at work with regard to Gabriel and the orphans. But he had a vague feeling that his wife was acting in obedience to some secret influence of the confessional—an influence of which he could not understand the aim or object, but which explained, in part at least, Frances's inconceivable obstinacy with regard to the disappearance of the orphans.
After a moment's reflection, he rose, and said sternly to his wife, looking fixedly at her: "There is a priest at the bottom of all this."
"What do you mean, my dear?"
"You have no interest to conceal these children. You are one of the best of women. You see that I suffer; if you only were concerned, you would have pity upon me."
"I tell you, all this smacks of the confessional," resumed Dagobert. "You would sacrifice me and these children to your confessor; but take care—I shall find out where he lives—and a thousand thunders! I will go and ask him who is master in my house, he or I—and if he does not answer," added the soldier, with a threatening expression of countenance, "I shall know how to make him speak."
"Gracious heaven!" cried Frances, clasping her hands in horror at these sacrilegious words; "remember he is a priest!"
"A priest, who causes discord, treachery, and misfortune in my house, is as much of a wretch as any other; whom I have a right to call to account for the evil he does to me and mine. Therefore, tell me immediately where are the children—or else, I give you fair warning, I will go and demand them of the confessor. Some crime is here hatching, of which you are an accomplice without knowing it, unhappy woman! Well, I prefer having to do with another than you."
"My dear," said Frances, in a mild, firm voice, "you cannot think to impose by violence on a venerable man, who for twenty years has had the care of my soul. His age alone should be respected."
"No age shall prevent me!"
"Heavens! where are you going? You alarm me!"
"I am going to your church. They must know you there—I will ask for your confessor—and we shall see!"
"I entreat you, my dear," cried Frances, throwing herself in a fright before Dagobert, who was hastening towards the door; "only think, to what you will expose yourself! Heavens! insult a priest? Why, it is one of the reserved cases!"
These last words, which appeared most alarming to the simplicity of Dagobert's wife, did not make any impression upon the soldier. He disengaged himself from her grasp, and was going to rush out bareheaded, so high was his exasperation, when the door opened, and the commissary of police entered, followed by Mother Bunch and a policeman, carrying the bundle which he had taken from the young girl.
"The commissary!" cried Dagobert, who recognized him by his official scarf. "Ah! so much the better—he could not have come at a fitter moment."
CHAPTER LIII. THE EXAMINATION.
"Mistress Frances Baudoin?" asked the magistrate.
"Yes, sir—it is I," said Frances. Then, perceiving the pale and trembling sewing-girl, who did not dare to come forward, she stretched out her arms to her. "Oh, my poor child!" she exclaimed, bursting into tears; "forgive—forgive us—since it is for our sake you have suffered this humiliation!"
When Dagobert's wife had tenderly embraced the young sempstress, the latter, turning towards the commissary, said to him with an expression of sad and touching dignity: "You see, sir, that I am not a thief."
"Madame," said the magistrate, addressing Frances, "am I to understand that the silver mug, the shawl, the sheets contained in this bundle—"
"Belong to me, sir. It was to render me a service that this dear girl, who is the best and most honest creature in the world, undertook to carry these articles to the pawnbroker's."
"Sir," said the magistrate sternly to the policeman, "you have committed a deplorable error. I shall take care to report you, and see that you are punished. You may go, sir." Then, addressing Mother Bunch, with an air of real regret, he added: "I can only express my sorrow for what has happened. Believe me, I deeply feel for the cruel position in which you have been placed."
"I believe it, sir," said Mother Bunch, "and I thank you." Overcome by so many emotions, she sank upon a chair.
The magistrate was about to retire, when Dagobert, who had been seriously reflecting for some minutes, said to him in a firm voice: "Please to hear me, Sir; I have a deposition to make."
"What I am about to say is very important; it is to you, in your quality of a magistrate, that I make this declaration."
"And as a magistrate I will hear you, sir."
"I arrived here two days ago, bringing with me from Russia two girls who had been entrusted to me by their mother—the wife of Marshal Simon."
"Of Marshal Simon, Duke de Ligny?" said the commissary, very much surprised.
"Yes, Sir. Well, I left them here, being obliged to get out on pressing business. This morning, during my absence, they disappeared—and I am certain I know the man who has been the cause of it."
"Now, my dear," said Frances, much alarmed.
"Sir," said the magistrate, "your declaration is a very serious one. Disappearance of persons—sequestration, perhaps. But are you quite sure?"
"These young ladies were here an hour ago; I repeat, sir, that during my absence, they have been taken away."
"I do not doubt the sincerity of your declaration, sir; but still it is difficult to explain so strange an abduction. Who tells you that these young girls will not return? Besides, whom do you suspect? One word, before you make your accusation. Remember, it is the magistrate who hears you. On leaving this place, the law will take its course in this affair."
"That is what I wish, Sir; I am responsible for those young ladies to their father. He may arrive at any moment, and I must be prepared to justify myself."
"I understand all these reasons, sir; but still have a care you are not deceived by unfounded suspicions. Your denunciation once made, I may have to act provisionally against the person accused. Now, if you should be under a mistake, the consequences would be very serious for you; and, without going further," said the magistrate, pointing to Mother Bunch, with emotion, "you see what are the results of a false accusation."
"You hear, my dear," cried Frances, terrified at the resolution of Dagobert to accuse Abbe Dubois; "do not say a word more, I entreat you."
But the more the soldier reflected, the more he felt convinced that nothing but the influence of her confessor could have induced Frances to act as she had done; so he resumed, with assurance: "I accuse my wife's confessor of being the principal or the accomplice in the abduction of Marshal Simon's daughters."
Frances uttered a deep groan, and hid her face in her hands; while Mother Bunch, who had drawn nigh, endeavored to console her. The magistrate had listened to Dagobert with extreme astonishment, and he now said to him with some severity: "Pray, sir, do not accuse unjustly a man whose position is in the highest degree respectable—a priest, sir?—yes, a priest? I warned you beforehand to reflect upon what you advanced. All this becomes very serious, and, at your age, any levity in such matters would be unpardonable."
"Bless me, sir!" said Dagobert, with impatience; "at my age, one has common sense. These are the facts. My wife is one of the best and most honorable of human creatures—ask any one in the neighborhood, and they will tell you so—but she is a devotee; and, for twenty years, she has always seen with her confessor's eyes. She adores her son, she loves me also; but she puts the confessor before us both."
"Sir," said the commissary, "these family details—"
"Are indispensable, as you shall see. I go out an hour ago, to look after this poor girl here. When I come back, the young ladies have disappeared. I ask my wife to whom she has entrusted them, and where they are; she falls at my feet weeping, and says: 'Do what you will with me, but do not ask me what has become of the children. I cannot answer you.'"
"Is thus true, madame?" cried the commissary, looking at Frances with surprise.
"Anger, threats, entreaties, had no effect," resumed Dagobert; "to everything she answered as mildly as a saint: 'I can tell you nothing!' Now, sir, I maintain that my wife has no interest to take away these children; she is under the absolute dominion of her confessor; she has acted by his orders and for his purposes; he is the guilty party."
Whilst Dagobert spoke, the commissary looked more and more attentively at Frances, who, supported by the hunchback, continued to weep bitterly. After a moment's reflection, the magistrate advanced towards Dagobert's wife, and said to her: "Madame, you have heard what your husband has just declared."
"What have you to say in your justification?"
"But, sir," cried Dagobert, "it is not my wife that I accuse—I do not mean that; it is her confessor."
"Sir, you have applied to a magistrate; and the magistrate must act as he thinks best for the discovery of the truth. Once more, madame," he resumed, addressing Frances, "what have you to say in your justification?"
"Alas! nothing, sir."
"Is it true that your husband left these young girls in your charge when he went out?"
"Is it true that, on his return, they were no longer to be found?"
"Is it true that, when he asked you where they were, you told him that you could give him no information on the subject?"
The commissary appeared to wait for Frances' reply with kind of anxious curiosity.
"Yes, sir," said she, with the utmost simplicity, "that was the answer I made my husband."
"What, madame!" said the magistrate, with an air of painful astonishment; "that was your only answer to all the prayers and commands of your husband? What! you refused to give him the least information? It is neither probable nor possible."
"It is the truth, sir."
"Well, but, after all, madame, what have you done with the young ladies that were entrusted to your care?"
"I can tell you nothing about it, sir. If I would not answer my poor husband, I certainly will not answer any one else."
"Well, sir," resumed Dagobert, "was I wrong? An honest, excellent woman like that, who was always full of good sense and affection, to talk in this way—is it natural? I repeat to you, sir that it is the work of her confessor; act against him promptly and decidedly, we shall soon know all, and my poor children will be restored to me."
"Madame," continued the commissary, without being able to repress a certain degree of emotion, "I am about to speak to you very severely. My duty obliges me to do so. This affair becomes so serious and complicated, that I must instantly commence judicial proceedings on the subject. You acknowledge that these young ladies have been left in your charge, and that you cannot produce them. Now, listen to me: if you refuse to give any explanation in the matter, it is you alone that will be accused of their disappearance. I shall be obliged, though with great regret, to take you into custody."
"Me!" cried Frances, with the utmost alarm.
"Her!" exclaimed Dagobert; "never! It is her confessor that I accuse, not my poor wife. Take her into custody, indeed!" He ran towards her, as if he would protect her.
"It is too late, sir," said the commissary. "You have made your charge for the abduction of these two young ladies. According to your wife's own declaration, she alone is compromised up to this point. I must take her before the Public Prosecutor, who will decide what course to pursue."
"And I say, sir," cried Dagobert, in a menacing tone, "that my wife shall not stir from this room."
"Sir," said the commissary coolly, "I can appreciate your feelings; but, in the interest of justice, I would beg you not to oppose a necessary measure—a measure which, moreover, in ten minutes it would be quite impossible for you to prevent."
These words, spoken with calmness, recalled the soldier to himself. "But, sir," said he, "I do not accuse my wife."'
"Never mind, my dear—do not think of me!" said Frances, with the angelic resignation of a martyr. "The Lord is still pleased to try me sorely; but I am His unworthy servant, and must gratefully resign myself to His will. Let them arrest me, if they choose; I will say no more in prison than I have said already on the subject of those poor children."
"But, sir," cried Dagobert, "you see that my wife is out of her head. You cannot arrest her."
"There is no charge, proof, or indication against the other person whom you accuse, and whose character should be his protection. If I take your wife, she may perhaps be restored to you after a preliminary examination. I regret," added the commissary, in a tone of pity, "to have to execute such a mission, at the very moment when your son's arrest—"
"What!" cried Dagobert, looking with speechless astonishment at his wife and Mother Bunch; "what does he say? my son?"
"You were not then aware of it? Oh, sir, a thousand pardons!" said the magistrate, with painful emotion. "It is distressing to make you such a communication."
"My son!" repeated Dagobert, pressing his two hands to his forehead. "My son! arrested!"
"For a political offence of no great moment," said the commissary.
"Oh! this is too much. All comes on me at once!" cried the soldier, falling overpowered into a chair, and hiding his face with his hands.
After a touching farewell, during which, in spite of her terror, Frances remained faithful to the vow she had made to the Abbe Dubois—Dagobert, who had refused to give evidence against his wife, was left leaning upon a table, exhausted by contending emotions, and could not help explaining: "Yesterday, I had with me my wife, my son, my two poor orphans—and now—I am alone—alone!"
The moment he pronounced these words, in a despairing tone, a mild sad voice was heard close behind him, saying timidly: "M. Dagobert, I am here; if you will allow me, I will remain and wait upon you."
It was Mother Bunch!
Trusting that the reader's sympathy is with the old soldier thus left desolate, with Agricola in his prison, Adrienne in hers, the madhouse, and Rose and Blanche Simon in theirs, the nunnery; we hasten to assure him (or her, as the case may be), that not only will their future steps be traced, but the dark machinations of the Jesuits, and the thrilling scenes in which new characters will perform their varied parts, pervaded by the watching spirit of the Wandering Jew, will be revealed in Part Second of this work, entitled: THE CHASTISEMENT.
PART SECOND.—THE CHASTISEMENT.
PROLOGUE.—THE BIRD'S-EYE VIEW OF TWO WORLDS.
I. The Masquerade II. The Contrast III. The Carouse IV. The Farewell V. The Florine VI. Mother Sainte-Perpetue VII. The Temptation VIII. Mother Bunch and Mdlle. De Cardoville IX. The Encounters—The Meeting XI. Discoveries XII. The Penal Code XIII. Burglary
As the eagle, perched upon the cliff, commands an all-comprehensive view—not only of what happens on the plains and in the woodlands, but of matters occurring upon the heights, which its aerie overlooks, so may the reader have sights pointed out to him, which lie below the level of the unassisted eye.
In the year 1831, the powerful Order of the Jesuits saw fit to begin to act upon information which had for some time been digesting in their hands.
As it related to a sum estimated at no less than thirty or forty millions of francs, it is no wonder that they should redouble all exertions to obtain it from the rightful owners.
These were, presumably, the descendants of Marius, Count of Rennepont, in the reign of Louis XIV. of France.
They were distinguished from other men by a simple token, which all, in the year above named, had in their hands.
It was a bronze medal, bearing these legends on reverse and obverse:
VICTIM of L. C. D. J. Pray for me!
PARIS, February the 13th, 1682.
IN PARIS Rue St Francois, No. 3, In a century and a half you will be.
February the 13th, 1832. PRAY FOR ME!
Those who had this token were descendants of a family whom, a hundred and fifty years ago, persecution scattered through the world, in emigration and exile; in changes of religion, fortune and name. For this family—what grandeur, what reverses, what obscurity, what lustre, what penury, what glory! How many crimes sullied, how many virtues honored it! The history of this single family is the history of humanity! Passing through many generations, throbbing in the veins of the poor and the rich, the sovereign and the bandit, the wise and the simple, the coward and the brave, the saint and the atheist, the blood flowed on to the year we have named.
Seven representatives summed up the virtue, courage, degradation, splendor, and poverty of the race. Seven: two orphan twin daughters of exiled parents, a dethroned prince, a humble missionary priest, a man of the middle class, a young lady of high name and large fortune, and a working man.
Fate scattered them in Russia, India, France, and America.
The orphans, Rose and Blanche Simon, had left their dead mother's grave in Siberia, under charge of a trooper named Francis Baudoin, alias Dagobert, who was as much attached to them as he had been devoted to their father, his commanding general.
On the road to France, this little party had met the first check, in the only tavern of Mockern village. Not only had a wild beast showman, known as Morok the lion-tamer, sought to pick a quarrel with the inoffensive veteran, but that failing, had let a panther of his menagerie loose upon the soldier's horse. That horse had carried Dagobert, under General Simon's and the Great Napoleon's eyes, through many battles; had borne the General's wife (a Polish lady under the Czar's ban) to her home of exile in Siberia, and their children now across Russia and Germany, but only to perish thus cruelly. An unseen hand appeared in a manifestation of spite otherwise unaccountable. Dagobert, denounced as a French spy, and his fair young companions accused of being adventuresses to help his designs, had so kindled at the insult, not less to him than to his old commander's daughters, that he had taught the pompous burgomaster of Mockern a lesson, which, however, resulted in the imprisonment of the three in Leipsic jail.
General Simon, who had vainly sought to share his master's St. Helena captivity, had gone to fight the English in India. But notwithstanding his drilling of Radja-sings sepoys, they had been beaten by the troops taught by Clive, and not only was the old king of Mundi slain, and the realm added to the Company's land, but his son, Prince Djalma, taken prisoner. However, at length released, he had gone to Batavia, with General Simon. The prince's mother was a Frenchwoman, and among the property she left him in the capital of Java, the general was delighted to find just such another medal as he knew was in his wife's possession.
The unseen hand of enmity had reached to him, for letters miscarried, and he did not know either his wife's decease or that he had twin daughters.
By a trick, on the eve of the steamship leaving Batavia for the Isthmus of Suez, Djalma was separated from his friend, and sailing for Europe alone, the latter had to follow in another vessel.
The missionary priest trod the war trails of the wilderness, with that faith and fearlessness which true soldiers of the cross should evince. In one of these heroic undertakings, Indians had captured him, and dragging him to their village under the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, they had nailed him in derision to a cross, and prepared to scalp him.
But if an unseen hand of a foe smote or stabbed at the sons of Rennepont, a visible interpositor had often shielded them, in various parts of the globe.
A man, seeming of thirty years of age, very tall, with a countenance as lofty as mournful, marked by the black eyebrows meeting, had thrown himself—during a battle's height—between a gun of a park which General Simon was charging and that officer. The cannon vomited its hail of death, but when the flame and smoke had passed, the tall man stood erect as before, smiling pityingly on the gunner, who fell on his knees as frightened as if he beheld Satan himself. Again, as General Simon lay upon the lost field of Waterloo, raging with his wounds, eager to die after such a defeat, this same man staunched his hurts, and bade him live for his wife's sake.
Years after, wearing the same unalterable look, this man accosted Dagobert in Siberia, and gave him for General Simon's wife, the diary and letters of her husband, written in India, in little hope of them ever reaching her hands. And at the year our story opens, this man unbarred the cell-door of Leipsic jail, and let Dagobert and the orphans out, free to continue their way into France.
On the other hand, when the scalping-knife had traced its mark around the head of Gabriel the missionary, and when only the dexterous turn and tug would have removed the trophy, a sudden apparition had terrified the superstitious savages. It was a woman of thirty, whose brown tresses formed a rich frame around a royal face, toned down by endless sorrowing. The red-skins shrank from her steady advance, and when her hand was stretched out between them and their young victim, they uttered a howl of alarm, and fled as if a host of their foemen were on their track. Gabriel was saved, but all his life he was doomed to bear that halo of martyrdom, the circling sweep of the scalper's knife.
He was a Jesuit. By the orders of his society he embarked for Europe. We should say here, that he, though owning a medal of the seven described, was unaware that he should have worn it. His vessel was driven by storms to refit at the Azores, where he had changed ship into the same as was bearing Prince Djalma to France, via Portsmouth.
But the gales followed him, and sated their fury by wrecking the "Black Eagle" on the Picardy coast. This was at the same point as were a disabled Hamburg steamer, among whose passengers where Dagobert and his two charges, was destroyed the same night. Happily the tempest did not annihilate them all. There were saved, Prince Djalma and a countryman of his, one Faringhea, a Thuggee chief, hunted out of British India; Dagobert, and Rose and Blanche Simon, whom Gabriel had rescued. These survivors had recovered, thanks to the care they had received in Cardoville House, a country mansion which had sheltered them, and except the prince and the Strangler chief, the others were speedily able to go on to Paris.
The old grenadier and the orphans—until General Simon should be heard from—dwelt in the former's house. His son had kept it, from his mother's love for the life-long home. It was such a mean habitation as a workman like Agricola Baudoin could afford to pay the rent of, and far from the fit abode of the daughters of the Duke de Ligny and Marshal of France, which Napoleon had created General Simon, though the rank had only recently been approved by the restoration.
But in Paris the unknown hostile hand showed itself more malignant than ever.
The young lady of high name and large fortune was Adrienne de Cardoville, whose aunt, the Princess de Saint-Dizier, was a Jesuit. Through her and her accomplices' machinations, the young lady's forward yet virtuous, wildly aspiring but sensible, romantic but just, character was twisted into a passable reason for her immurement in a mad-house.
This asylum adjoined St. Mary's Convent, into which Rose and Blanche Simon were deceitfully conducted. To secure their removal, Dagobert had been decoyed into the country, under pretence of showing some of General Simon's document's to a lawyer; his son Agricola arrested for treason, on account of some idle verses the blacksmith poet was guilty of, and his wife rendered powerless, or, rather, a passive assistant, by the influence of the confessional! When Dagobert hurried back from his wild goose chase, he found the orphans gone: Mother Bunch (a fellow-tenant of the house, who had been brought up in the family) ignorant, and his wife stubbornly refusing to break the promise she had given her confessor, and acquaint a single soul where she had permitted the girls to be taken. In his rage, the soldier rashly accused that confessor, but instead of arresting the Abbe Dubois, it was Mrs. Baudoin whom the magistrate felt compelled to arrest, as the person whom alone he ventured to commit for examination in regard to the orphans' disappearance. Thus triumphs, for the time being, the unseen foe.
The orphans in a nunnery; the dethroned prince a poor castaway in a foreign land; the noble young lady in a madhouse; the missionary priest under the thumb of his superiors.
As for the man of the middle class, and the working man, who concluded the list of this family, we are to read of them, as well as of the others, in the pages which now succeed these.
CHAPTER I. THE MASQUERADE.
The following day to that on which Dagobert's wife (arrested for not accounting for the disappearance of General Simon's daughters) was led away before a magistrate, a noisy and animated scene was transpiring on the Place du Chatelet, in front of a building whose first floor and basement were used as the tap-rooms of the "Sucking Calf" public-house.
A carnival night was dying out.
Quite a number of maskers, grotesquely and shabbily bedecked, had rushed out of the low dance-houses in the Guildhall Ward, and were roaring out staves of songs as they crossed the square. But on catching sight of a second troop of mummers running about the water-side, the first party stopped to wait for the others to come up, rejoicing, with many a shout, in hopes of one of those verbal battles of slang and smutty talk which made Vade so illustrious.
This mob—nearly all its members half seas over, soon swollen by the many people who have to be up early to follow their crafts—suddenly concentrated in one of the corners of the square, so that a pale, deformed girl, who was going that way, was caught in the human tide. This was Mother Bunch. Up with the lark, she was hurrying to receive some work from her employer. Remembering how a mob had treated her when she had been arrested in the streets only the day before, by mistake, the poor work-girl's fears may be imagined when she was now surrounded by the revellers against her will. But, spite of all her efforts—very feeble, alas!—she could not stir a step, for the band of merry-makers, newly arriving, had rushed in among the others, shoving some of them aside, pushing far into the mass, and sweeping Mother Bunch—who was in their way—clear over to the crowd around the public-house.
The new-comers were much finer rigged out than the others, for they belonged to the gay, turbulent class which goes frequently to the Chaumiere, the Prado, the Colisee, and other more or less rowdyish haunts of waltzers, made up generally of students, shop-girls, and counter skippers, clerks, unfortunates, etc., etc.
This set, while retorting to the chaff of the other party, seemed to be very impatiently expecting some singularly desired person to put in her appearance.
The following snatches of conversation, passing between clowns and columbines, pantaloons and fairies, Turks and sultans, debardeurs and debardeuses, paired off more or less properly, will give an idea of the importance of the wished-for personage.
"They ordered the spread to be for seven in the morning, so their carriages ought to have come up afore now."
"Werry like, but the Bacchanal Queen has got to lead off the last dance in the Prado."
"I wish to thunder I'd 'a known that, and I'd 'a stayed there to see her—my beloved Queen!"
"Gobinet; if you call her your beloved Queen again, I'll scratch you! Here's a pinch for you, anyhow!"
"Ow, wow, Celeste! hands off! You are black-spotting the be-yutiful white satin jacket my mamma gave me when I first came out as Don Pasqually!"
"Why did you call the Bacchanal Queen your beloved, then? What am I, I'd like to know?"
"You are my beloved, but not my Queen, for there is only one moon in the nights of nature, and only one Bacchanal Queen in the nights at the Prado."
"That's a bit from a valentine! You can't come over me with such rubbish."
"Gobinet's right! the Queen was an out-and-outer tonight!"
"In prime feather!"
"I never saw her more on the go!"
"And, my eyes! wasn't her dress stunning?"
"Took your breath away!"
"The last kick!"
"No one but she can get up such dresses."
"And, then, the dance!"
"Oh, yes! it was at once bounding waving, twisting! There is not such another bayadere under the night-cap of the sky!"
"Gobinet, give me back my shawl directly. You have already spoilt it by rolling it round your great body. I don't choose to have my things ruined for hulking beasts who call other women bayaderes!"
"Celeste, simmer down. I am disguised as a Turk, and, when I talk of bayaderes, I am only in character."
"Your Celeste is like them all, Gobinet; she's jealous of the Bacchanal Queen."
"Jealous!—do you think me jealous? Well now! that's too bad. If I chose to be as showy as she is they would talk of me as much. After all, it's only a nickname that makes her reputation! nickname!"
"In that you have nothing to envy her—since you are called Celeste!"
"You know well enough, Gobinet, that Celeste is my real name."
"Yes; but it's fancied a nickname—when one looks in your face."
"Gobinet, I will put that down to your account."
"And Oscar will help you to add it up, eh?"
"Yes; and you shall see the total. When I carry one, the remainder will not be you."
"Celeste, you make me cry! I only meant to say that your celestial name does not go well with your charming little face, which is still more mischievous than that of the Bacchanal Queen."
"That's right; wheedle me now, wretch!"
"I swear by the accursed head of my landlord, that, if you liked, you could spread yourself as much as the Bacchanal Queen—which is saying a great deal."
"The fact is, that the Bacchanal had cheek enough, in all conscience."
"Not to speak of her fascinating the bobbies!"
"And magnetizing the beaks."
"They may get as angry as they please; she always finishes by making them laugh."
"And they all call her: Queen!"
"Last night she charmed a slop (as modest as a country girl) whose purity took up arms against the famous dance of the Storm-blown Tulip."
"What a quadrille! Sleepinbuff and the Bacchanal Queen, having opposite to them Rose-Pompon and Ninny Moulin!"
"And all four making tulips as full-blown as could be!"
"By-the-bye, is it true what they say of Ninny Moulin?"
"Why that he is a writer, and scribbles pamphlets on religion."
"Yes, it is true. I have often seen him at my employer's, with whom he deals; a bad paymaster, but a jolly fellow!"
"And pretends to be devout, eh?"
"I believe you, my boy—when it is necessary; then he is my Lord Dumoulin, as large as life. He rolls his eyes, walks with his head on one side, and his toes turned in; but, when the piece is played out, he slips away to the balls of which he is so fond. The girls christened him Ninny Moulin. Add, that he drinks like a fish, and you have the photo of the cove. All this doesn't prevent his writing for the religious newspapers; and the saints, whom he lets in even oftener than himself, are ready to swear by him. You should see his articles and his tracts—only see, not read!—every page is full of the devil and his horns, and the desperate fryings which await your impious revolutionists—and then the authority of the bishops, the power of the Pope—hang it! how could I know it all? This toper, Ninny Moulin, gives good measure enough for their money!"
"The fact is, that he is both a heavy drinker and a heavy swell. How he rattled on with little Rose-Pompon in the dance and the full-blown tulip!"
"And what a rum chap he looked in his Roman helmet and top-boots."
"Rose-Pompon dances divinely, too; she has the poetic twist."
"And don't show her heels a bit!"
"Yes; but the Bacchanal Queen is six thousand feet above the level of any common leg-shaker. I always come back to her step last night in the full-blown tulip."
"It was huge!"
"It was serene!"
"If I were father of a family, I would entrust her with the education of my sons!"
"It was that step, however, which offended the bobby's modesty."
"The fact is, it was a little free."
"Free as air—so the policeman comes up to her, and says: 'Well, my Queen, is your foot to keep on a-goin' up forever?' 'No, modest warrior!' replies the Queen; 'I practice the step only once every evening, to be able to dance it when I am old. I made a vow of it, that you might become an inspector.'"
"What a comic card!"
"I don't believe she will remain always with Sleepinbuff."
"Because he has been a workman?"
"What nonsense! it would preciously become us, students and shop-boys, to give ourselves airs! No; but I am astonished at the Queen's fidelity."
"Yes—they've been a team for three or four good months."
"She's wild upon him, and he on her."
"They must lead a gay life."
"Sometimes I ask myself where the devil Sleepinbuff gets all the money he spends. It appears that he pays all last night's expenses, three coaches-and-four, and a breakfast this morning for twenty, at ten francs a-head."
"They say he has come into some property. That's why Ninny Moulin, who has a good nose for eating and drinking, made acquaintance with him last night—leaving out of the question that he may have some designs on the Bacchanal Queen."
"He! In a lot! He's rather too ugly. The girls like to dance with him because he makes people laugh—but that's all. Little Rose-Pompon, who is such a pretty creature, has taken him as a harmless chap-her-own, in the absence of her student."
"The coaches! the coaches!" exclaimed the crowd, all with one voice.
Forced to stop in the midst of the maskers, Mother Bunch had not lost a word of this conversation, which was deeply painful to her, as it concerned her sister, whom she had not seen for a long time. Not that the Bacchanal Queen had a bad heart; but the sight of the wretched poverty of Mother Bunch—a poverty which she had herself shared, but which she had not had the strength of mind to bear any longer—caused such bitter grief to the gay, thoughtless girl, that she would no more expose herself to it, after she had in vain tried to induce her sister to accept assistance, which the latter always refused, knowing that its source could not be honorable.
"The coaches! the coaches!" once more exclaimed the crowd, as they pressed forward with enthusiasm, so that Mother Bunch, carried on against her will, was thrust into the foremost rank of the people assembled to see the show.
It was, indeed, a curious sight. A man on horseback, disguised as a postilion, his blue jacket embroidered with silver, and enormous tail from which the powder escaped in puffs, and a hat adorned with long ribbons, preceded the first carriage, cracking his whip, and crying with all his might: "Make way for the Bacchanal Queen and her court!"
In an open carriage, drawn by four lean horses, on which rode two old postilions dressed as devils, was raised a downright pyramid of men and women, sitting, standing, leaning, in every possible variety of odd, extravagant, and grotesque costume; altogether an indescribable mass of bright colors, flowers, ribbons, tinsel and spangles. Amid this heap of strange forms and dresses appeared wild or graceful countenances, ugly or handsome features—but all animated by the feverish excitement of a jovial frenzy—all turned with an expression of fanatical admiration towards the second carriage, in which the Queen was enthroned, whilst they united with the multitude in reiterated shouts of "Long live the Bacchanal Queen."
This second carriage, open like the first, contained only the four dancers of the famous step of the Storm-blown Tulip—Ninny Moulin, Rose Pompon, Sleepinbuff, and the Bacchanal Queen.
Dumoulin, the religious writer, who wished to dispute possession of Mme. de la Sainte-Colombe with his patron, M. Rodin—Dumoulin, surnamed Ninny Moulin, standing on the front cushions, would have presented a magnificent study for Callot or Gavarni, that eminent artist, who unites with the biting strength and marvellous fancy of an illustrious caricaturist, the grace, the poetry, and the depth of Hogarth.
Ninny Moulin, who was about thirty-five years of age, wore very much back upon his head a Roman helmet of silver paper. A voluminous plume of black feathers, rising from a red wood holder, was stuck on one side of this headgear, breaking the too classic regularity of its outline. Beneath this casque, shone forth the most rubicund and jovial face, that ever was purpled by the fumes of generous wine. A prominent nose, with its primitive shape modestly concealed beneath a luxuriant growth of pimples, half red, half violet, gave a funny expression to a perfectly beardless face; while a large mouth, with thick lips turning their insides outwards, added to the air of mirth and jollity which beamed from his large gray eyes, set flat in his head.
On seeing this joyous fellow, with a paunch like Silenus, one could not help asking how it was, that he had not drowned in wine, a hundred times over, the gall, bile, and venom which flowed from his pamphlets against the enemies of Ultramontanism, and how his Catholic beliefs could float upwards in the midst of these mad excesses of drink and dancing. The question would have appeared insoluble, if one had not remembered how many actors, who play the blackest and most hateful first robbers on the stage, are, when off it, the best fellow in the world.
The weather being cold, Ninny Moulin wore a kind of box-coat, which, being half-open, displayed his cuirass of scales, and his flesh-colored pantaloons, finishing just below the calf in a pair of yellow tops to his boots. Leaning forward in front of the carriage, he uttered wild shouts of delight, mingled with the words: "Long live the Bacchanal Queen!"—after which, he shook and whirled the enormous rattle he held in his hand. Standing beside him, Sleepinbuff waved on high a banner of white silk, on which were the words: "Love and joy to the Bacchanal Queen!"
Sleepinbuff was about twenty-five years of age. His countenance was gay and intelligent, surrounded by a collar of chestnut-colored whiskers; but worn with late hours and excesses, it expressed a singular mixture of carelessness and hardihood, recklessness and mockery; still, no base or wicked passion had yet stamped there its fatal impress. He was the perfect type of the Parisian, as the term is generally applied, whether in the army, in the provinces, on board a king's ship, or a merchantman. It is not a compliment, and yet it is far from being an insult; it is an epithet which partakes at once of blame, admiration, and fear; for if, in this sense, the Parisian is often idle and rebellious, he is also quick at his work, resolute in danger, and always terribly satirical and fond of practical jokes.
He was dressed in a very flashy style. He wore a black velvet jacket with silver buttons, a scarlet waistcoat, trousers with broad blue stripes, a Cashmere shawl for a girdle with ends loosely floating, and a chimney-pot hat covered with flowers and streamers. This disguise set off his light, easy figure to great advantage.
At the back of the carriage, standing up on the cushions, were Rose Pompon and the Bacchanal Queen.
Rose-Pompon, formerly a fringe-maker, was about seventeen years old, and had the prettiest and most winning little face imaginable. She was gayly dressed in debardeur costume. Her powdered wig, over which was smartly cocked on one side an orange and green cap laced with silver, increased the effect of her bright black eyes, and of her round, carnation cheeks. She wore about her neck an orange-colored cravat, of the same material as her loose sash. Her tight jacket and narrow vest of light green velvet, with silver ornaments, displayed to the best advantage a charming figure, the pliancy of which must have well suited the evolutions of the Storm blown Tulip. Her large trousers, of the same stuff and color as the jacket, were not calculated to hide any of her attractions.
The Bacchanal Queen, being at the least a head taller, leaned with one hand on the shoulder of Rose-Pompon. Mother Bunch's sister ruled, like a true monarch, over this mad revelry, which her very presence seemed to inspire, such influence had her own mirth and animation over all that surrounded her.
She was a tall girl of about twenty years of age, light and graceful, with regular features, and a merry, racketing air. Like her sister, she had magnificent chestnut hair, and large blue eyes; but instead of being soft and timid, like those of the young sempstress, the latter shone with indefatigable ardor in the pursuit of pleasure. Such was the energy of her vivacious constitution, that, notwithstanding many nights and days passed in one continued revel, her complexion was as pure, her cheeks as rosy, her neck as fresh and fair, as if she had that morning issued from some peaceful home. Her costume, though singular and fantastic, suited her admirably. It was composed of a tight, long-waisted bodice in cloth of gold, trimmed with great bunches of scarlet ribbon, the ends of which streamed over her naked arms, and a short petticoat of scarlet velvet, ornamented with golden beads and spangles. This petticoat reached half way down a leg, at once trim and strong, in a white silk stocking, and red buskin with brass heel.
Never had any Spanish dancer a more supple, elastic, and tempting form, than this singular girl, who seemed possessed with the spirit of dancing and perpetual motion, for, almost every moment, a slight undulation of head, hips, and shoulders seemed to follow the music of an invisible orchestra; while the tip of her right foot, placed on the carriage door in the most alluring manner, continued to beat time—for the Bacchanal Queen stood proudly erect upon the cushions.
A sort of gilt diadem, the emblem of her noisy sovereignty, hung with little bells, adorned her forehead. Her long hair, in two thick braids, was drawn back from her rosy cheeks, and twisted behind her head. Her left hand rested on little Rose-Pompon's shoulder, and in her right she held an enormous nosegay, which she waved to the crowd, accompanying each salute with bursts of laughter.
It would be difficult to give a complete idea of this noisily animated and fantastic scene, which included also a third carriage, filled, like the first, with a pyramid of grotesque and extravagant masks. Amongst the delighted crowd, one person alone contemplated the picture with deep sorrow. It was Mother Bunch, who was still kept, in spite of herself, in the first rank of spectators.
Separated from her sister for a long time, she now beheld her in all the pomp of her singular triumph, in the midst of the cries of joy, and the applause of her companions in pleasure. Yet the eyes of the young sempstress grew dim with tears; for, though the Bacchanal Queen seemed to share in the stunning gayety of all around her—though her face was radiant with smiles, and she appeared fully to enjoy the splendors of her temporary elevation—yet she had the sincere pity of the poor workwoman, almost in rags, who was seeking, with the first dawn of morning, the means of earning her daily bread.
Mother Bunch had forgotten the crowd, to look only at her sister, whom she tenderly loved—only the more tenderly, that she thought her situation to be pitied. With her eyes fixed on the joyous and beautiful girl, her pale and gentle countenance expressed the most touching and painful interest.
All at once, as the brilliant glance of the Bacchanal Queen travelled along the crowd, it lighted on the sad features of Mother Bunch.
"My sister!" exclaimed Cephyse—such was the name of the Bacchanal Queen—"My sister!"—and with one bound, light as a ballet-dancer, she sprang from her movable throne (which fortunately just happened to be stopping), and, rushing up to the hunchback, embraced her affectionately.
All this had passed so rapidly, that the companions of the Bacchanal Queen, still stupefied by the boldness of her perilous leap, knew not how to account for it; whilst the masks who surrounded Mother Bunch drew back in surprise, and the latter, absorbed in the delight of embracing her sister, whose caresses she returned, did not even think of the singular contrast between them, which was sure to soon excite the astonishment and hilarity of the crowd.
Cephyse was the first to think of this, and wishing to save her sister at least one humiliation, she turned towards the carriage, and said: "Rose Pompon, throw me down my cloak; and, Ninny Moulin, open the door directly!"
Having received the cloak, the Bacchanal Queen hastily wrapped it round her sister, before the latter could speak or move. Then, taking her by the hand, she said to her: "Come! come!"
"I!" cried Mother Bunch, in alarm. "Do not think of it!"
"I must speak with you. I will get a private room, where we shall be alone. So make haste, dear little sister! Do not resist before all these people—but come!"
The fear of becoming a public sight decided Mother Bunch, who, confused moreover with the adventure, trembling and frightened, followed her sister almost mechanically, and was dragged by her into the carriage, of which Ninny Moulin had just opened the door. And so, with the cloak of the Bacchanal Queen covering Mother Bunch's poor garments and deformed figure, the crowd had nothing to laugh at, and only wondered what this meeting could mean, while the coaches pursued their way to the eating house in the Place du Chatelet.
CHAPTER II. THE CONTRAST.
Some minutes after the meeting of Mother Bunch with the Bacchanal Queen, the two sisters were alone together in a small room in the tavern.
"Let me kiss you again," said Cephyse to the young sempstress; "at least now we are alone, you will not be afraid?"
In the effort of the Bacchanal Queen to clasp Mother Bunch in her arms, the cloak fell from the form of the latter. At sight of those miserable garments, which she had hardly had time to observe on the Place du Chatelet, in the midst of the crowd, Cephyse clasped her hands, and could not repress an exclamation of painful surprise. Then, approaching her sister, that she might contemplate her more closely, she took her thin, icy palms between her own plump hands, and examined for some minutes, with increasing grief, the suffering, pale, unhappy creature, ground down by watching and privations, and half-clothed in a poor, patched cotton gown.
"Oh, sister! to see you thus!" Unable to articulate another word, the Bacchanal Queen threw herself on the other's neck, and burst into tears. Then, in the midst of her sobs, she added: "Pardon! pardon!"
"What is the matter, my dear Cephyse?" said the young sewing-girl, deeply moved, and gently disengaging herself from the embrace of her sister. "Why do you ask my pardon?"
"Why?" resumed Cephyse, raising her countenance, bathed in tears, and purple with shame; "is it not shameful of me to be dressed in all this frippery, and throwing away so much money in follies, while you are thus miserably clad, and in need of everything—perhaps dying of want, for I have never seen your poor face look so pale and worn."
"Be at ease, dear sister! I am not ill. I was up rather late last night, and that makes me a little pale—but pray do not cry—it grieves me."
The Bacchanal Queen had but just arrived, radiant in the midst of the intoxicated crowd, and yet it was Mother Bunch who was now employed in consoling her!
An incident occurred, which made the contrast still more striking. Joyous cries were heard suddenly in the next apartment, and these words were repeated with enthusiasm: "Long live the Bacchanal Queen!"
Mother Bunch trembled, and her eyes filled with tears, as she saw her sister with her face buried in her hands, as if overwhelmed with shame. "Cephyse," she said, "I entreat you not to grieve so. You will make me regret the delight of this meeting, which is indeed happiness to me! It is so long since I saw you! But tell me—what ails you?"
"You despise me perhaps—you are right," said the Bacchanal Queen, drying her tears.
"Despise you? for what?"
"Because I lead the life I do, instead of having the courage to support misery along with you."
The grief of Cephyse was so heart-breaking, that Mother Bunch, always good and indulgent, wishing to console her, and raise her a little in her own estimation, said to her tenderly: "In supporting it bravely for a whole year, my good Cephyse, you have had more merit and courage than I should have in bearing with it my whole life."
"Oh, sister! do not say that."
"In simple truth," returned Mother Bunch, "to what temptations is a creature like me exposed? Do I not naturally seek solitude, even as you seek a noisy life of pleasure? What wants have I? A very little suffices."
"But you have not always that little?"
"No—but, weak and sickly as I seem, I can endure some privations better than you could. Thus hunger produces in me a sort of numbness, which leaves me very feeble—but for you, robust and full of life, hunger is fury, is madness. Alas! you must remember how many times I have seen you suffering from those painful attacks, when work failed us in our wretched garret, and we could not even earn our four francs a week—so that we had nothing—absolutely nothing to eat—for our pride prevented us from applying to the neighbors."
"You have preserved the right to that honest pride."
"And you as well! Did you not struggle as much as a human creature could? But strength fails at last—I know you well, Cephyse—it was hunger that conquered you; and the painful necessity of constant labor, which was yet insufficient to supply our common wants."
"But you could endure those privations—you endure them still."
"Can you compare me with yourself? Look," said Mother Bunch, taking her sister by the hand, and leading her to a mirror placed above a couch, "look!—Dost think that God made you so beautiful, endowed you with such quick and ardent blood, with so joyous, animated, grasping a nature and with such taste and fondness for pleasure, that your youth might be spent in a freezing garret, hid from the sun, nailed constantly to your chair, clad almost in rags, and working without rest and without hope? No! for He has given us other wants than those of eating and drinking. Even in our humble condition, does not beauty require some little ornament? Does not youth require some movement, pleasure, gayety? Do not all ages call for relaxation and rest? Had you gained sufficient wages to satisfy hunger, to have a day or so's amusement in the week, after working every other day for twelve or fifteen hours, and to procure the neat and modest dress which so charming a face might naturally claim—you would never have asked for more, I am sure of it—you have told me as much a hundred times. You have yielded, therefore, to an irresistible necessity, because your wants are greater than mine."
"It is true," replied the Bacchanal Queen, with a pensive air; "if I could but have gained eighteenpence a day, my life would have been quite different; for, in the beginning, sister, I felt cruelly humiliated to live at a man's expense."
"Yes, yes—it was inevitable, my dear Cephyse; I must pity, but cannot blame you. You did not choose your destiny; but, like me, you have submitted to it."
"Poor sister!" said Cephyse, embracing the speaker tenderly; "you can encourage and console me in the midst of your own misfortunes, when I ought to be pitying you."
"Be satisfied!" said Mother Bunch; "God is just and good. If He has denied me many advantages, He has given me my joys, as you have yours."
"Yes, and great ones—without which life would be too burdensome, and I should not have the courage to go through with it."
"I understand you," said Cephyse, with emotion; "you still know how to devote yourself for others, and that lightens your own sorrows."
"I do what I can, but, alas! it is very little; yet when I succeed," added Mother Bunch, with a faint smile, "I am as proud and happy as a poor little ant, who, after a great deal of trouble, has brought a big straw to the common nest. But do not let us talk any more of me."
"Yes, but I must, even at the risk of making you angry," resumed the Bacchanal Queen, timidly; "I have something to propose to you which you once before refused. Jacques Rennepont has still, I think, some money left—we are spending it in follies—now and then giving a little to poor people we may happen to meet—I beg of you, let me come to your assistance—I see in your poor face, you cannot conceal it from me, that you are wearing yourself out with toil."
"Thanks, my dear Cephyse, I know your good heart; but I am not in want of anything. The little I gain is sufficient for me."
"You refuse me," said the Bacchanal Queen, sadly, "because you know that my claim to this money is not honorable—be it so—I respect your scruples. But you will not refuse a service from Jacques; he has been a workman, like ourselves, and comrades should help each other. Accept it I beseech you, or I shall think you despise me."
"And I shall think you despise me, if you insist any more upon it, my dear Cephyse," said Mother Bunch, in a tone at once so mild and firm that the Bacchanal Queen saw that all persuasion would be in vain. She hung her head sorrowfully, and a tear again trickled down her cheek.
"My refusal grieves you," said the other, taking her hand; "I am truly sorry—but reflect—and you will understand me."
"You are right," said the Bacchanal Queen, bitterly, after a moment's silence; "you cannot accept assistance from my lover—it was an insult to propose it to you. There are positions in life so humiliating, that they soil even the good one wishes to do."
"Cephyse, I did not mean to hurt you—you know it well."
"Oh! believe me," replied the Bacchanal Queen, "gay and giddy as I am, I have sometimes moments of reflection, even in the midst of my maddest joy. Happily, such moments are rare."
"And what do you think of, then?"
"Why, that the life I lead is hardly the thing; then resolve to ask Jacques for a small sum of money, just enough to subsist on for a year, and form the plan of joining you, and gradually getting to work again."
"The idea is a good one; why not act upon it?"
"Because, when about to execute this project, I examined myself sincerely, and my courage failed. I feel that I could never resume the habit of labor, and renounce this mode of life, sometimes rich, as to day, sometimes precarious,—but at least free and full of leisure, joyous and without care, and at worst a thousand times preferable to living upon four francs a week. Not that interest has guided me. Many times have I refused to exchange a lover, who had little or nothing, for a rich man, that I did not like. Nor have I ever asked anything for myself. Jacques has spent perhaps ten thousand francs the last three or four months, yet we only occupy two half-furnished rooms, because we always live out of doors, like the birds: fortunately, when I first loved him, he had nothing at all, and I had just sold some jewels that had been given me, for a hundred francs, and put this sum in the lottery. As mad people and fools are always lucky, I gained a prize of four thousand francs. Jacques was as gay, and light-headed, and full of fun as myself, so we said: 'We love each other very much, and, as long as this money lasts, we will keep up the racket; when we have no more, one of two things will happen—either we shall be tired of one another, and so part—or else we shall love each other still, and then, to remain together, we shall try and get work again; and, if we cannot do so, and yet will not part—a bushel of charcoal will do our business!'"
"Good heaven!" cried Mother Bunch, turning pale.
"Be satisfied! we have not come to that. We had still something left, when a kind of agent, who had paid court to me, but who was so ugly that I could not bear him for all his riches, knowing that I was living with Jacques asked me to—But why should I trouble you with all these details? In one word, he lent Jacques money, on some sort of a doubtful claim he had, as was thought, to inherit some property. It is with this money that we are amusing ourselves—as long as its lasts."
"But, my dear Cephyse, instead of spending this money so foolishly, why not put it out to interest, and marry Jacques, since you love him?"
"Oh! in the first place," replied the Bacchanal Queen, laughing, as her gay and thoughtless character resumed its ascendancy, "to put money out to interest gives one no pleasure. All the amusement one has is to look at a little bit of paper, which one gets in exchange for the nice little pieces of gold, with which one can purchase a thousand pleasures. As for marrying, I certainly like Jacques better than I ever liked any one; but it seems to me, that, if we were married, all our happiness would end—for while he is only my lover, he cannot reproach me with what has passed—but, as my husband, he would be stare to upbraid me, sooner or later, and if my conduct deserves blame, I prefer giving it to myself, because I shall do it more tenderly."
"Mad girl that you are! But this money will not last forever. What is to be done next?"
"Afterwards!—Oh! that's all in the moon. To-morrow seems to me as if it would not come for a hundred years. If we were always saying: 'We must die one day or the other'—would life be worth having?"
The conversation between Cephyse and her sister was here again interrupted by a terrible uproar, above which sounded the sharp, shrill noise of Ninny Moulin's rattle. To this tumult succeeded a chorus of barbarous cries, in the midst of which were distinguishable these words, which shook the very windows: "The Queen! the Bacchanal Queen!"
Mother Bunch started at this sudden noise.
"It is only my court, who are getting impatient," said Cephyse—and this time she could laugh.
"Heavens!" cried the sewing-girl, in alarm; "if they were to come here in search of you?"
"No, no—never fear."
"But listen! do you not hear those steps? they are coming along the passage—they are approaching. Pray, sister, let me go out alone, without being seen by all these people."
That moment the door was opened, and Cephyse, ran towards it. She saw in the passage a deputation headed by Ninny Moulin, who was armed with his formidable rattle, and followed by Rose-Pompon and Sleepinbuff.
"The Bacchanal Queen! or I poison myself with a glass of water;" cried Ninny Moulin.
"The Bacchanal Queen! or I publish my banns of marriage with Ninny Moulin!" cried little Rose-Pompon, with a determined air.
"The Bacchanal Queen! or the court will rise in arms, and carry her off by force!" said another voice.
"Yes, yes—let us carry her off!" repeated a formidable chorus.
"Jacques, enter alone!" said the Bacchanal Queen, notwithstanding these pressing summonses; then, addressing her court in a majestic tone, she added: "In ten minutes, I shall be at your service—and then for a—of a time!"
"Long live the Bacchanal Queen," cried Dumoulin, shaking his rattle as he retired, followed by the deputation, whilst Sleepinbuff entered the room alone.
"Jacques," said Cephyse, "this is my good sister."
"Enchanted to see you," said Jacques, cordially; "the more so as you will give me some news of my friend Agricola. Since I began to play the rich man, we have not seen each other, but I like him as much as ever, and think him a good and worthy fellow. You live in the same house. How is he?"
"Alas, sir! he and his family have had many misfortunes. He is in prison."
"In prison!" cried Cephyse.
"Agricola in prison! what for?" said Sleepinbuff.
"For a trifling political offence. We had hoped to get him out on bail."
"Certainly; for five hundred francs it could be done," said Sleepinbuff.
"Unfortunately, we have not been able; the person upon whom we relied—"
The Bacchanal Queen interrupted the speaker by saying to her lover: "Do you hear, Jacques? Agricola in prison, for want of five hundred francs!"