"To be sure! I hear and understand all about it. No need of your winking. Poor fellow! he was the support of his mother."
"Alas! yes, sir—and it is the more distressing, as his father has but just returned from Russia, and his mother—"
"Here," said Sleepinbuff, interrupting, and giving Mother Bunch a purse; "take this—all the expenses here have been paid beforehand—this is what remains of my last bag. You will find here some twenty-five or thirty Napoleons, and I cannot make a better use of them than to serve a comrade in distress. Give them to Agricola's father; he will take the necessary steps, and to-morrow Agricola will be at his forge, where I had much rather he should be than myself."
"Jacques, give me a kiss!" said the Bacchanal Queen.
"Now, and afterwards, and again and again!" said Jacques, joyously embracing the queen.
Mother Bunch hesitated for a moment; but reflecting that, after all, this sum of money, which was about to be spent in follies, would restore life and happiness to the family of Agricola, and that hereafter these very five hundred francs, when returned to Jacques, might be of the greatest use to him, she resolved to accept this offer. She took the purse, and with tearful eyes, said to him: "I will not refuse your kindness M. Jacques; you are so good and generous, Agricola's father will thus at least have one consolation, in the midst of heavy sorrows. Thanks! many thanks!"
"There is no need to thank me; money was made for others as well as ourselves."
Here, without, the noise recommenced more furiously than ever, and Ninny Moulin's rattle sent forth the most doleful sounds.
"Cephyse," said Sleepinbuff, "they will break everything to pieces, if you do not return to them, and I have nothing left to pay for the damage. Excuse us," added he, laughing, "but you see that royalty has its duties."
Cephyse deeply moved, extended her arms to Mother Bunch, who threw herself into them, shedding sweet tears.
"And now," said she, to her sister, "when shall I see you again?"
"Soon—though nothing grieves me more than to see you in want, out of which I am not allowed to help you."
"You will come, then, to see me? It is a promise?"
"I promise you in her name," said Jacques; "we will pay a visit to you and your neighbor Agricola."
"Return to the company, Cephyse, and amuse yourself with a light heart, for M. Jacques has made a whole family happy."
So saying, and after Sleepinbuff had ascertained that she could go down without being seen by his noisy and joyous companions, Mother Bunch quietly withdrew, eager to carry one piece of good news at least to Dagobert; but intending, first of all, to go to the Rue de Babylone, to the garden-house formerly occupied by Adrienne de Cardoville. We shall explain hereafter the cause of this determination.
As the girl quitted the eating-house, three men plainly and comfortably dressed, were watching before it, and talking in a low voice. Soon after, they were joined by a fourth person, who rapidly descended the stairs of the tavern.
"Well?" said the three first, with anxiety.
"He is there."
"Are you sure of it?"
"Are there two Sleepers-in-buff on earth?" replied the other. "I have just seen him; he is togged out like one of the swell mob. They will be at table for three hours at least."
"Then wait for me, you others. Keep as quiet as possible. I will go and fetch the captain, and the game is bagged." So saying, one of the three men walked off quickly, and disappeared in a street leading from the square.
At this same instant the Bacchanal Queen entered the banqueting-room, accompanied by Jacques, and was received with the most frenzied acclamations from all sides.
"Now then," cried Cephyse, with a sort of feverish excitement, as if she wished to stun herself; "now then, friends—noise and tumult, hurricane and tempest, thunder and earthquake—as much as you please!" Then, holding out her glass to Ninny Moulin, she added: "Pour out! pour out!"
"Long live the Queen!" cried they all, with one voice.
CHAPTER III. THE CAROUSE.
The Bacchanal Queen, having Sleepinbuff and Rose-Pompon opposite her, and Ninny Moulin on her right hand, presided at the repast, called a reveille-matin (wake-morning), generously offered by Jacques to his companions in pleasure.
Both young men and girls seemed to have forgotten the fatigues of a ball, begun at eleven o'clock in the evening, and finished at six in the morning; and all these couples, joyous as they were amorous and indefatigable, laughed, ate, and drank, with youthful and Pantagruelian ardor, so that, during the first part of the feast, there was less chatter than clatter of plates and glasses.
The Bacchanal Queen's countenance was less gay, but much more animated than usual; her flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes announced a feverish excitement; she wished to drown reflection, cost what it might. Her conversation with her sister often recurred to her, and she tried to escape from such sad remembrances.
Jacques regarded Cephyse from time to time with passionate adoration; for, thanks to the singular conformity of character, mind, and taste between him and the Bacchanal Queen, their attachment had deeper and stronger roots than generally belong to ephemeral connections founded upon pleasure. Cephyse and Jacques were themselves not aware of all the power of a passion which till now had been surrounded only by joys and festivities, and not yet been tried by any untoward event.
Little Rose-Pompon, left a widow a few days before by a student, who, in order to end the carnival in style, had gone into the country to raise supplies from his family, under one of those fabulous pretences which tradition carefully preserves in colleges of law and medicine—Rose Pompon, we repeat, an example of rare fidelity, determined not to compromise herself, had taken for a chaperon the inoffensive Ninny Moulin.
This latter, having doffed his helmet, exhibited a bald head, encircled by a border of black, curling hair, pretty long at the back of the head. By a remarkable Bacchic phenomenon, in proportion as intoxication gained upon him, a sort of zone, as purple as his jovial face, crept by degrees over his brow, till it obscured even the shining whiteness of his crown. Rose-Pompon, who knew the meaning of this symptom, pointed it out to the company, and exclaimed with a loud burst of laughter: "Take care, Ninny Moulin! the tide of the wine is coming in."
"When it rises above his head he will be drowned," added the Bacchanal Queen.
"Oh, Queen! don't disturb me; I am meditating, answered Dumoulin, who was getting tipsy. He held in his hand, in the fashion of an antique goblet, a punch-bowl filled with wine, for he despised the ordinary glasses, because of their small size.
"Meditating," echoed Rose-Pompon, "Ninny Moulin is meditating. Be attentive!"
"He is meditating; he must be ill then!"
"What is he meditating? an illegal dance?"
"A forbidden Anacreontic attitude?"
"Yes, I am meditating," returned Dumoulin, gravely; "I am meditating upon wine, generally and in particular—wine, of which the immortal Bossuet"—Dumoulin had the very bad habit of quoting Bossuet when he was drunk—"of which the immortal Bossuet says (and he was a judge of good liquor): 'In wine is courage, strength joy, and spiritual fervor'—when one has any brains," added Ninny Moulin, by way of parenthesis.
"Oh, my! how I adore your Bossuet!" said Rose-Pompon.
"As for my particular meditation, it concerns the question, whether the wine at the marriage of Cana was red or white. Sometimes I incline to one side, sometimes to the other—and sometimes to both at once."
"That is going to the bottom of the question," said Sleepinbuff.
"And, above all, to the bottom of the bottles," added the Bacchanal Queen.
"As your majesty is pleased to observe; and already, by dint of reflection and research, I have made a great discovery—namely, that, if the wine at the marriage of Cana was red—"
"It couldn't 'a' been white," said Rose-Pompon, judiciously.
"And if I had arrived at the conviction that it was neither white nor red?" asked Dumoulin, with a magisterial air.
"That could only be when you had drunk till all was blue," observed Sleepinbuff.
"The partner of the Queen says well. One may be too athirst for science; but never mind! From all my studies on this question, to which I have devoted my life—I shall await the end of my respectable career with the sense of having emptied tuns with a historical—theological—and archeological tone!"
It is impossible to describe the jovial grimace and tone with which Dumoulin pronounced and accentuated these last words, which provoked a general laugh.
"Archieolopically?" said Rose-Pompon. "What sawnee is that? Has he a tail? does he live in the water?"
"Never mind," observed the Bacchanal Queen; "these are words of wise men and conjurers; they are like horsehair bustles—they serve for filling out—that's all. I like better to drink; so fill the glasses, Ninny Moulin; some champagne, Rose-Pompon; here's to the health of your Philemon and his speedy return!"
"And to the success of his plant upon his stupid and stingy family!" added Rose-Pompon.
The toast was received with unanimous applause.
"With the permission of her majesty and her court," said Dumoulin, "I propose a toast to the success of a project which greatly interests me, and has some resemblance to Philemon's jockeying. I fancy that the toast will bring me luck."
"Let's have it, by all means!"
"Well, then—success to my marriage!" said Dumoulin, rising.
These words provoked an explosion of shouts, applause, and laughter. Ninny Moulin shouted, applauded, laughed even louder than the rest, opening wide his enormous mouth, and adding to the stunning noise the harsh springing of his rattle, which he had taken up from under his chair.
When the storm had somewhat subsided, the Bacchanal Queen rose and said: "I drink to the health of the future Madame Ninny Moulin."
"Oh, Queen! your courtesy touches me so sensibly that I must allow you to read in the depths of my heart the name of my future spouse," exclaimed Dumoulin. "She is called Madame Honoree-Modeste-Messaline-Angele de la Sainte-Colombe, widow."
"She is sixty years old, and has more thousands of francs-a-year than she has hair in her gray moustache or wrinkles on her face; she is so superbly fat that one of her gowns would serve as a tent for this honorable company. I hope to present my future spouse to you on Shrove Tuesday, in the costume of a shepherdess that has just devoured her flock. Some of them wish to convert her—but I have undertaken to divert her, which she will like better. You must help me to plunge her headlong into all sorts of skylarking jollity."
"We will plunge her into anything you please."
"She shall dance like sixty!" said Rose-Pompon, humming a popular tune.
"She will overawe the police."
"We can say to them: 'Respect this lady; your mother will perhaps be as old some day!'"
Suddenly, the Bacchanal Queen rose; her countenance wore a singular expression of bitter and sardonic delight. In one hand she held a glass full to the brim. "I hear the Cholera is approaching in his seven-league boots," she cried. "I drink luck to the Cholera!" And she emptied the bumper.
Notwithstanding the general gayety, these words made a gloomy impression; a sort of electric shudder ran through the assemblage, and nearly every countenance became suddenly serious.
"Oh, Cephyse!" said Jacques, in a tone of reproach.
"Luck to the Cholera," repeated the Queen, fearlessly. "Let him spare those who wish to live, and kill together those who dread to part!"
Jacques and Cephyse exchanged a rapid glance, unnoticed by their joyous companions, and for some time the Bacchanal Queen remained silent and thoughtful.
"If you put it that way, it is different," cried Rose-Pompon, boldly. "To the Cholera! may none but good fellows be left on earth!"
In spite of this variation, the impression was still painfully impressive. Dumoulin, wishing to cut short this gloomy subject, exclaimed: "Devil take the dead, and long live the living! And, talking of chaps who both live and live well, I ask you to drink a health most dear to our joyous queen, the health of our Amphitryon. Unfortunately, I do not know his respectable name, having only had the advantage of making his acquaintance this night; he will excuse me, then, if I confine myself to proposing the health of Sleepinbuff—a name by no means offensive to my modesty, as Adam never slept in any other manner. I drink to Sleepinbuff."
"Thanks, old son!" said Jacques, gayly; "were I to forget your name, I should call you 'Have-a-sip?' and I am sure that you would answer: 'I will.'"
"I will directly!" said Dumoulin, making the military salute with one hand, and holding out the bowl with the other.
"As we have drunk together," resumed Sleepinbuff, cordially, "we ought to know each other thoroughly. I am Jacques Rennepont?"
"Rennepont!" cried Dumoulin, who appeared struck by the name, in spite of his half-drunkenness; "you are Rennepont?"
"Rennepont in the fullest sense of the word. Does that astonish you?"
"There is a very ancient family of that name—the Counts of Rennepont."
"The deuce there is!" said the other, laughing.
"The Counts of Rennepont are also Dukes of Cardoville," added Dumoulin.
"Now, come, old fellow! do I look as if I belonged to such a family?—I, a workman out for a spree?"
"You a workman? why, we are getting into the Arabian Nights!" cried Dumoulin, more and more surprised. "You give us a Belshazzar's banquet, with accompaniment of carriages and four, and yet are a workman? Only tell me your trade, and I will join you, leaving the Vine of the Divine to take care of itself."
"Come, I say! don't think that I am a printer of flimsies, and a smasher!" replied Jacques, laughing.
"Oh, comrade! no such suspicion—"
"It would be excusable, seeing the rigs I run. But I'll make you easy on that point. I am spending an inheritance."
"Eating and drinking an uncle, no doubt?" said Dumoulin, benevolently.
"Faith, I don't know."
"What! you don't know whom you are eating and drinking?"
"Why, you see, in the first place, my father was a bone-grubber."
"The devil he was!" said Dumoulin, somewhat out of countenance, though in general not over-scrupulous in the choice of his bottle-companions: but, after the first surprise, he resumed, with the most charming amenity: "There are some rag-pickers very high by scent—I mean descent!"
"To be sure! you may think to laugh at me," said Jacques, "but you are right in this respect, for my father was a man of very great merit. He spoke Greek and Latin like a scholar, and often told me that he had not his equal in mathematics; besides, he had travelled a good deal."
"Well, then," resumed Dumoulin, whom surprise had partly sobered, "you may belong to the family of the Counts of Rennepont, after all."
"In which case," said Rose-Pompon, laughing, "your father was not a gutter-snipe by trade, but only for the honor of the thing."
"No, no—worse luck! it was to earn his living," replied Jacques; "but, in his youth, he had been well off. By what appeared, or rather by what did not appear, he had applied to some rich relation, and the rich relation had said to him: 'Much obliged! try the work'us.' Then he wished to make use of his Greek, and Latin, and mathematics. Impossible to do anything—Paris, it seems, being choke-full of learned men—so my father had to look for his bread at the end of a hooked stick, and there, too, he must have found it, for I ate of it during two years, when I came to live with him after the death of an aunt, with whom I had been staying in the country."
"Your respectable father must have been a sort of philosopher," said Dumoulin; "but, unless he found an inheritance in a dustbin, I don't see how you came into your property."
"Wait for the end of the song. At twelve years of age I was an apprentice at the factory of M. Tripeaud; two years afterwards, my father died of an accident, leaving me the furniture of our garret—a mattress, a chair, and a table—and, moreover, in an old Eau de Cologne box, some papers (written, it seems, in English), and a bronze medal, worth about ten sous, chain and all. He had never spoken to me of these papers, so, not knowing if they were good for anything, I left them at the bottom of an old trunk, instead of burning them—which was well for me, since it is upon these papers that I have had money advanced."
"What a godsend!" said Dumoulin. "But somebody must have known that you had them?"
"Yes; one of those people that are always looking out for old debts came to Cephyse, who told me all about it; and, after he had read the papers, he said that the affair was doubtful, but that he would lend me ten thousand francs on it, if I liked. Ten thousand francs was a large sum, so I snapped him up!"
"But you must have supposed that these old papers were of great value."
"Faith, no! since my father, who ought to have known their value, had never realized on them—and then, you see, ten thousand francs in good, bright coin, falling as it were from the clouds, are not to be sneezed at—so I took them—only the man made me do a bit of stiff as guarantee, or something of that kind."
"Did you sign it?"
"Of course—what did I care about it? The man told me it was only a matter of form. He spoke the truth, for the bill fell due a fortnight ago, and I have heard nothing of it. I have still about a thousand francs in his hands, for I have taken him for my banker. And that's the way, old pal, that I'm able to flourish and be jolly all day long, as pleased as Punch to have left my old grinder of a master, M. Tripeaud."
As he pronounced this name, the joyous countenance of Jacques became suddenly overcast. Cephyse, no longer under the influence of the painful impression she had felt for a moment, looked uneasily at Jacques, for she knew the irritation which the name of M. Tripeaud produced within him.
"M. Tripeaud," resumed Sleepinbuff, "is one that would make the good bad, and the bad worse. They say that a good rider makes a good horse; they ought to say that a good master makes a good workman. Zounds! when I think of that fellow!" cried Sleepinbuff, striking his hand violently on the table.
"Come, Jacques—think of something else!" said the Bacchanal Queen. "Make him laugh, Rose-Pompon."
"I am not in a humor to laugh," replied Jacques, abruptly, for he was getting excited from the effects of the wine; "it is more than I can bear to think of that man. It exasperates me! it drives me mad! You should have heard him saying: 'Beggarly workmen! rascally workmen! they grumble that they have no food in their bellies; well, then, we'll give them bayonets to stop their hunger.'(11) And there's the children in his factory—you should see them, poor little creatures!—working as long as the men—wasting away, and dying by the dozen—what odds? as soon as they were dead plenty of others came to take their places—not like horses, which can only be replaced with money."
"Well, it is clear, that you do not like your old master," said Dumoulin, more and more surprised at his Amphitryon's gloomy and thoughtful air, and, regretting that the conversation had taken this serious turn, he whispered a few words in the ear of the Bacchanal Queen, who answered by a sign of intelligence.
"I don't like M. Tripeaud!" exclaimed Jacques. "I hate him—and shall I tell you why? Because it is as much his fault as mine, that I have become a good-for-nothing loafer. I don't say it to screen myself; but it is the truth. When I was 'prenticed to him as a lad, I was all heart and ardor, and so bent upon work, that I used to take my shirt off to my task, which, by the way, was the reason that I was first called Sleepinbuff. Well! I might have toiled myself to death; not one word of encouragement did I receive. I came first to my work, and was the last to leave off; what matter? it was not even noticed. One day, I was injured by the machinery. I was taken to the hospital. When I came out, weak as I was, I went straight to my work; I was not to be frightened; the others, who knew their master well, would often say to me: 'What a muff you must be, little one! What good will you get by working so hard?'—still I went on. But, one day, a worthy old man, called Father Arsene, who had worked in the house many years, and was a model of good conduct, was suddenly turned away, because he was getting too feeble. It was a death-blow to him; his wife was infirm, and, at his age, he could not get another place. When the foreman told him he was dismissed, he could not believe it, and he began to cry for grief. At that moment, M. Tripeaud passes; Father Arsene begs him with clasped hands to keep him at half-wages. 'What!' says M. Tripeaud, shrugging his shoulders; 'do you think that I will turn my factory into a house of invalids? You are no longer able to work—so be off!' 'But I have worked forty years of my life; what is to become of me?' cried poor Father Arsene. 'That is not my business,' answered M. Tripeaud; and, addressing his clerk, he added: 'Pay what is due for the week, and let him cut his stick.' Father Arsene did cut his stick; that evening, he and his old wife suffocated themselves with charcoal. Now, you see, I was then a lad; but that story of Father Arsene taught me, that, however hard you might work, it would only profit your master, who would not even thank you for it, and leave you to die on the flags in your old age. So all my fire was damped, and I said to myself: 'What's the use of doing more than I just need? If I gain heaps of gold for M. Tripeaud, shall I get an atom of it?' Therefore, finding neither pride nor profit in my work, I took a disgust for it—just did barely enough to earn my wages—became an idler and a rake—and said to myself: 'When I get too tired of labor, I can always follow the example of Father Arsene and his wife."'
Whilst Jacques resigned himself to the current of these bitter thoughts, the other guests, incited by the expressive pantomime of Dumoulin and the Bacchanal Queen, had tacitly agreed together; and, on a signal from the Queen, who leaped upon the table, and threw down the bottles and glasses with her foot, all rose and shouted, with the accompaniment of Ninny Moulin's rattle "The storm blown Tulip! the quadrille of the Storm-blown Tulip!"
At these joyous cries, which burst suddenly, like shell, Jacques started; then gazing with astonishment at his guests, he drew his hand across his brow, as if to chase away the painful ideas that oppressed him, and exclaimed: "You are right. Forward the first couple! Let us be merry!"
In a moment, the table, lifted by vigorous arms, was removed to the extremity of the banqueting-room; the spectators, mounted upon chairs, benches, and window-ledges, began to sing in chorus the well-known air of les Etudiants, so as to serve instead of orchestra, and accompany the quadrille formed by Sleepinbuff, the Queen, Ninny Moulin, and Rose Pompon.
Dumoulin, having entrusted his rattle to one of the guests, resumed his extravagant Roman helmet and plume; he had taken off his great-coat at the commencement of the feast, so that he now appeared in all the splendor of his costume. His cuirass of bright scales ended in a tunic of feathers, not unlike those worn by the savages, who form the oxen's escort on Mardi Gras. Ninny Moulin had a huge paunch and thin legs, so that the latter moved about at pleasure in the gaping mouths of his large top boots.
Little Rose-Pompon, with her pinched-up cocked-hat stuck on one side, her hands in the pockets of her trousers, her bust a little inclined forward, and undulating from right to left, advanced to meet Ninny-Moulin; the latter danced, or rather leaped towards her, his left leg bent under him, his right leg stretched forward, with the toe raised, and the heel gliding on the floor; moreover, he struck his neck with his left hand, and by a simultaneous movement, stretched forth his right, as if he would have thrown dust in the eyes of his opposite partner.
This first figure met with great success, and the applause was vociferous, though it was only the innocent prelude to the step of the Storm-blown Tulip—when suddenly the door opened, and one of the waiters, after looking about for an instant, in search of Sleepinbuff, ran to him, and whispered some words in his ear.
"Me!" cried Jacques, laughing; "here's a go!"
The waiter added a few more words, when Sleepinbuff's face assumed an expression of uneasiness, as he answered. "Very well! I come directly,"—and he made a step towards the door.
"What's the matter, Jacques?" asked the Bacchanal Queen, in some surprise.
"I'll be back immediately. Some one take my place. Go on with the dance," said Sleepinbuff, as he hastily left the room.
"Something, that was not put down in the bill," said Dumoulin; "he will soon be back."
"That's it," said Cephyse. "Now cavalier suel!" she added, as she took Jacques's place, and the dance continued.
Ninny Moulin had just taken hold of Rose Pompon with his right hand, and of the Queen with his left, in order to advance between the two, in which figure he showed off his buffoonery to the utmost extent, when the door again opened, and the same waiter, who had called out Jacques, approached Cephyse with an air of consternation, and whispered in her ear, as he had before done to Sleepinbuff.
The Bacchanal Queen grew pale, uttered a piercing scream, and rushed out of the room without a word, leaving her guests in stupefaction.
(11) These atrocious words were actually spoken during the Lyons Riots.
CHAPTER IV. THE FAREWELL
The Bacchanal Queen, following the waiter, arrived at the bottom of the staircase. A coach was standing before the door of the house. In it she saw Sleepinbuff, with one of the men who, two hours before, had been waiting on the Place du Chatelet.
On the arrival of Cephyse, the man got down, and said to Jacques, as he drew out his watch: "I give you a quarter of an hour; it is all that I can do for you, my good fellow; after that we must start. Do not try to escape, for we'll be watching at the coach doors."
With one spring, Cephyse was in the coach. Too much overcome to speak before, she now exclaimed, as she took her seat by Jacques, and remarked the paleness of his countenance: "What is it? What do they want with you?"
"I am arrested for debt," said Jacques, in a mournful voice.
"You!" exclaimed Cephyse, with a heart-rending sob.
"Yes, for that bill, or guarantee, they made me sign. And yet the man said it was only a form—the rascal!"
"But you have money in his hands; let him take that on account."
"I have not a copper; he sends me word by the bailiff, that not having paid the bill, I shall not have the last thousand francs."
"Then let us go to him, and entreat him to leave you at liberty. It was he who came to propose to lend you this money. I know it well, as he first addressed himself to me. He will have pity on you."
"Pity?—a money broker pity? No! no!"
"Is there then no hope? none?" cried Cephyse clasping her hands in anguish. "But there must be something done," she resumed. "He promised you!"
"You can see how he keeps his promises," answered Jacques, with bitterness. "I signed, without even knowing what I signed. The bill is over-due; everything is in order, it would be vain to resist. They have just explained all that to me."
"But they cannot keep you long in prison. It is impossible."
"Five years, if I do not pay. As I'll never be able to do so, my fate is certain."
"Oh! what a misfortune! and not to be able to do anything!" said Cephyse, hiding her face in her hands.
"Listen to me, Cephyse," resumed Jacques, in a voice of mournful emotion; "since I am here, I have thought only of one thing—what is to become of you?"
"Never mind me!"
"Not mind you?—art mad? What will you do? The furniture of our two rooms is not worth two hundred francs. We have squandered our money so foolishly, that we have not even paid our rent. We owe three quarters, and we must not therefore count upon the furniture. I leave you without a coin. At least I shall be fed in prison—but how will you manage to live?
"What is the use of grieving beforehand?"
"I ask you how you will live to-morrow?" cried Jacques.
"I will sell my costume, and some other clothes. I will send you half the money, and keep the rest. That will last some days."
"Afterwards?—why, then—I don't know—how can I tell you! Afterwards—I'll look about me."
"Hear me, Cephyse," resumed Jacques, with bitter agony. "It is now that I first know how mach I love you. My heart is pressed as in a vise at the thought of leaving you and I shudder to thinly what is to become of you." Then—drawing his hand across his forehead, Jacques added: "You see we have been ruined by saying—'To-morrow will never come!'—for to morrow has come. When I am no longer with you, and you have spent the last penny of the money gained by the sale of your clothes—unfit for work as you have become—what will you do next? Must I tell you what you will do!—you will forget me and—" Then, as if he recoiled from his own thoughts, Jacques exclaimed, with a burst of rage and despair—"Great Heaven! if that were to happen, I should dash my brains out against the stones!"
Cephyse guessed the half-told meaning of Jacques, and throwing her arms around his neck, she said to him: "I take another lover?—never! I am like you, for I now first know how much I love you."
"But, my poor Cephyse—how will you live?"
"Well, I shall take courage. I will go back and dwell, with my sister, as in old times; we will work together, and so earn our bread. I'll never go out, except to visit you. In a few days your creditor will reflect, that, as you can't pay him ten thousand francs, he may as well set you free. By that time I shall have once more acquired the habit of working. You shall see, you shall see!—and you also will again acquire this habit. We shall live poor, but content. After all, we have had plenty of amusement for six month, while so many others have never known pleasure all their lives. And believe me, my dear Jacques, when I say to you—I shall profit by this lesson. If you love me, do not feel the least uneasiness; I tell you, that I would rather die a hundred times, than have another lover."
"Kiss me," said Jacques, with eyes full of tears. "I believe you—yes, I believe you—and you give me back my courage, both for now and hereafter. You are right; we must try and get to work again, or else nothing remains but Father Arsene's bushel of charcoal; for, my girl," added Jacques, in a low and trembling voice, "I have been like a drunken man these six months, and now I am getting sober, and see whither we are going. Our means once exhausted, I might perhaps have become a robber, and you—"
"Oh, Jacques! don't talk so—it is frightful," interrupted Cephyse; "I swear to you that I will return to my sister—that I will work—that I will have courage!"
Thus saying, the Bacchanal Queen was very sincere; she fully intended to keep her word, for her heart was not yet completely corrupted. Misery and want had been with her, as with so many others, the cause and the excuse of her worst errors. Until now, she had at least followed the instincts of her heart, without regard to any base or venal motive. The cruel position in which she beheld Jacques had so far exalted her love, that she believed herself capable of resuming, along with Mother Bunch, that life of sterile and incessant toil, full of painful sacrifices and privations, which once had been impossible for her to bear, and which the habits of a life of leisure and dissipation would now render still more difficult.
Still, the assurances which she had just given Jacques calmed his grief and anxiety a little; he had sense and feeling enough to perceive that the fatal track which he had hitherto so blindly followed was leading both him and Cephyse directly to infamy.
One of the bailiffs, having knocked at the coach-door, said to Jacques: "My lad, you have only five minutes left—so make haste."
"So, courage, my girl—courage!" said Jacques.
"I will; you may rely upon me."
"Are you going upstairs again?"
"No—oh no!" said Cephyse. "I have now a horror of this festivity."
"Everything is paid for, and the waiter will tell them not to expect us back. They will be much astonished," continued Jacques, "but it's all the same now."
"If you could only go with me to our lodging," said Cephyse, "this man would perhaps permit it, so as not to enter Sainte-Pelagie in that dress."
"Oh! he will not forbid you to accompany me; but, as he will be with us in the coach, we shall not be able to talk freely in his presence. Therefore, let me speak reason to you for the first time in my life. Remember what I say, my dear Cephyse—and the counsel will apply to me as well as to yourself," continued Jacques, in a grave and feeling tone—"resume from to-day the habit of labor. It may be painful, unprofitable—never mind—do not hesitate, for too soon will the influence of this lesson be forgotten. By-and-bye it will be too late, and then you will end like so many unfortunate creatures—"
"I understand," said Cephyse, blushing; "but I will rather die than lead such a life."
"And there you will do well—for in that case," added Jacques, in a deep and hollow voice, "I will myself show you how to die."
"I count upon you, Jacques," answered Cephyse, embracing her lover with excited feeling; then she added, sorrowfully: "It was a kind of presentiment, when just now I felt so sad, without knowing why, in the midst of all our gayety—and drank to the Cholera, so that we might die together."
"Well! perhaps the Cholera will come," resumed Jacques, with a gloomy air; "that would save us the charcoal, which we may not even be able to buy."
"I can only tell you one thing, Jacques, that to live and die together, you will always find me ready."
"Come, dry your eyes," said he, with profound emotion. "Do not let us play the children before these men."
Some minutes after, the coach took the direction to Jacques's lodging, where he was to change his clothes, before proceeding to the debtors' prison.
Let us repeat, with regard to the hunchback's sister—for there are things which cannot be too often repeated—that one of the most fatal consequences of the Inorganization of Labor is the Insufficiency of Wages.
The insufficiency of wages forces inevitably the greater number of young girls, thus badly paid, to seek their means of subsistence in connections which deprave them.
Sometimes they receive a small allowance from their lovers, which, joined to the produce of their labor, enables them to live. Sometimes like the sempstress's sister, they throw aside their work altogether, and take up their abode with the man of their choice, should he be able to support the expense. It is during this season of pleasure and idleness that the incurable leprosy of sloth takes lasting possession of these unfortunate creatures.
This is the first phase of degradation that the guilty carelessness of Society imposes on an immense number of workwomen, born with instincts of modesty, and honesty, and uprightness.
After a certain time they are deserted by their seducers—perhaps when they are mothers. Or, it may be, that foolish extravagance consigns the imprudent lover to prison, and the young girl finds herself alone, abandoned, without the means of subsistence.
Those who have still preserved courage and energy go back to their work—but the examples are very rare. The others, impelled by misery, and by habits of indolence, fall into the lowest depths.
And yet we must pity, rather than blame them, for the first and virtual cause of their fall has been the insufficient remuneration of labor and sudden reduction of pay.
Another deplorable consequence of this inorganization is the disgust which workmen feel for their employment, in addition to the insufficiency of their wages. And this is quite conceivable, for nothing is done to render their labor attractive, either by variety of occupations, or by honorary rewards, or by proper care, or by remuneration proportionate to the benefits which their toil provides, or by the hope of rest after long years of industry. No—the country thinks not, cares not, either for their wants or their rights.
And yet, to take only one example, machinists and workers in foundries, exposed to boiler explosions, and the contact of formidable engines, run every day greater dangers than soldiers in time of war, display rare practical sagacity, and render to industry—and, consequently, to their country—the most incontestable service, during a long and honorable career, if they do not perish by the bursting of a boiler, or have not their limbs crushed by the iron teeth of a machine.
In this last case, does the workman receive a recompense equal to that which awaits the soldier's praiseworthy, but sterile courage—a place in an asylum for invalids? No.
What does the country care about it? And if the master should happen to be ungrateful, the mutilated workman, incapable of further service, may die of want in some corner.
Finally, in our pompous festivals of commerce, do we ever assemble any of the skillful workmen who alone have woven those admirable stuffs, forged and damascened those shining weapons, chiselled those goblets of gold and silver, carved the wood and ivory of that costly furniture, and set those dazzling jewels with such exquisite art? No.
In the obscurity of their garrets, in the midst of a miserable and starving family, hardly able to subsist on their scanty wages, these workmen have contributed, at least, one half to bestow those wonders upon their country, which make its wealth, its glory, and its pride.
A minister of commerce, who had the least intelligence of his high functions and duties, would require of every factory that exhibits on these occasions, the selection by vote of a certain number of candidates, amongst whom the manufacturer would point out the one that appeared most worthy to represent the working classes in these great industrial solemnities.
Would it not be a noble and encouraging example to see the master propose for public recompense and distinction the workman, deputed by his peers, as amongst the most honest, laborious, and intelligent of his profession? Then one most grievous injustice would disappear, and the virtues of the workman would be stimulated by a generous and noble ambition—he would have an interest in doing well.
Doubtless, the manufacturer himself, because of the intelligence he displays, the capital he risks, the establishment he founds, and the good he sometimes does, has a legitimate right to the prizes bestowed upon him. But why is the workman to be rigorously excluded from these rewards, which have so powerful an influence upon the people? Are generals and officers the only ones that receive rewards in the army? And when we have remunerated the captains of this great and powerful army of industry, why should we neglect the privates?
Why for them is there no sign of public gratitude? no kind or consoling word from august lips? Why do we not see in France, a single workman wearing a medal as a reward for his courageous industry, his long and laborious career? The token and the little pension attached to it, would be to him a double recompense, justly deserved. But, no! for humble labor that sustains the State, there is only forgetfulness, injustice, indifference, and disdain!
By this neglect of the public, often aggravated by individual selfishness and ingratitude, our workmen are placed in a deplorable situation.
Some of them, notwithstanding their incessant toil, lead a life of privations, and die before their time cursing the social system that rides over them. Others find a temporary oblivion of their ills in destructive intoxication. Others again—in great number—having no interest, no advantage, no moral or physical inducement to do more or better, confine themselves strictly to just that amount of labor which will suffice to earn their wages. Nothing attaches them to their work, because nothing elevates, honors, glorifies it in their eyes. They have no defence against the reductions of indolence; and if, by some chance, they find means of living awhile in repose, they give way by degrees to habits of laziness and debauchery, and sometimes the worst passions soil forever natures originally willing, healthy and honest—and all for want of that protecting and equitable superintendence which should have sustained, encouraged, and recompensed their first worthy and laborious tendencies.
We now follow Mother Bunch, who after seeking for work from the person that usually employed her, went to the Rue de Babylone, to the lodge lately occupied by Adrienne de Cardoville.
CHAPTER V. FLORINE.
While the Bacchanal Queen and Sleepinbuff terminated so sadly the most joyous portion of their existence, the sempstress arrived at the door of the summer-house in the Rue de Babylone.
Before ringing she dried her tears; a new grief weighed upon her spirits. On quitting the tavern, she had gone to the house of the person who usually found her in work; but she was told that she could not have any because it could be done a third more cheaply by women in prison. Mother Bunch, rather than lose her last resource, offered to take it at the third less; but the linen had been already sent out; and the girl could not hope for employment for a fortnight to come, even if submitting to this reduction of wages. One may conceive the anguish of the poor creature; the prospect before her was to die of hunger, if she would not beg or steal. As for her visit to the lodge in the Rue de Babylone, it will be explained presently.
She rang the bell timidly; a few minutes after, Florine opened the door to her. The waiting-maid was no longer adorned after the charming taste of Adrienne; on the contrary, she was dressed with an affectation of austere simplicity. She wore a high-necked dress of a dark color, made full enough to conceal the light elegance of her figure. Her bands of jet-black hair were hardly visible beneath the flat border of a starched white cap, very much resembling the head-dress of a nun. Yet, in spite of this unornamental costume, Florine's pale countenance was still admirably beautiful.
We have said that, placed by former misconduct at the mercy of Rodin and M. d'Aigrigny, Florine had served them as a spy upon her mistress, notwithstanding the marks of kindness and confidence she had received from her. Yet Florine was not entirely corrupted; and she often suffered painful, but vain, remorse at the thought of the infamous part she was thus obliged to perform.
At the sight of Mother Bunch, whom she recognized—for she had told her, the day before, of Agricola's arrest and Mdlle. de Cardoville's madness—Florine recoiled a step, so much was she moved with pity at the appearance of the young sempstress. In fact, the idea of being thrown out of work, in the midst of so many other painful circumstances, had made a terrible impression upon the young workwoman, the traces of recent tears furrowed her cheeks—without her knowing it, her features expressed the deepest despair—and she appeared so exhausted, so weak, so overcome, that Florine offered her arm to support her, and said to her kindly: "Pray walk in and rest yourself; you are very pale, and seem to be ill and fatigued."
So saying, Florine led her into a small room; with fireplace and carpet, and made her sit down in a tapestried armchair by the side of a good fire. Georgette and Hebe had been dismissed, and Florine was left alone in care of the house.
When her guest was seated, Florine said to her with an air of interest: "Will you not take anything? A little orange flower-water and sugar, warm."
"I thank you, mademoiselle," said Mother Bunch, with emotion, so easily was her gratitude excited by the least mark of kindness; she felt, too, a pleasing surprise, that her poor garments had not been the cause of repugnance or disdain on the part of Florine.
"I thank you, mademoiselle," said she, "but I only require a little rest, for I come from a great distance. If you will permit me—"
"Pray rest yourself as long as you like, mademoiselle; I am alone in this pavilion since the departure of my poor mistress,"—here Florine blushed and sighed;—"so, pray make yourself quite at home. Draw near the fire—you wilt be more comfortable—and, gracious! how wet your feet are!—place them upon this stool."
The cordial reception given by Florine, her handsome face and agreeable manners, which were not those of an ordinary waiting-maid, forcibly struck Mother Bunch, who, notwithstanding her humble condition, was peculiarly susceptible to the influence of everything graceful and delicate. Yielding, therefore, to these attractions, the young sempstress, generally so timid and sensitive, felt herself almost at her ease with Florine.
"How obliging you are, mademoiselle!" said she in a grateful tone. "I am quite confused with your kindness."
"I wish I could do you some greater service than offer you a place at the fire, mademoiselle. Your appearance is so good and interesting."
"Oh, mademoiselle!" said the other, with simplicity, almost in spite of herself; "it does one so much good to sit by a warm fire!" Then, fearing, in her extreme delicacy, that she might be thought capable of abusing the hospitality of her entertainer, by unreasonably prolonging her visit, she added: "the motive that has brought me here is this. Yesterday, you informed me that a young workman, named Agricola Baudoin, had been arrested in this house."
"Alas! yes, mademoiselle. At the moment, too, when my poor mistress was about to render him assistance."
"I am Agricola's adopted sister," resumed Mother Bunch, with a slight blush; "he wrote to me yesterday evening from prison. He begged me to tell his father to come here as soon as possible, in order to inform Mdlle. de Cardoville that he, Agricola, had important matters to communicate to her, or to any person that she might send; but that he could not venture to mention them in a letter, as he did not know if the correspondence of prisoners might not be read by the governor of the prison."
"What!" said Florine, with surprise; "to my mistress, M. Agricola has something of importance to communicate?"
"Yes, mademoiselle; for, up to this time, Agricola is ignorant of the great calamity that has befallen Mdlle. de Cardoville."
"True; the attack was indeed so sudden," said Florine, casting down her eyes, "that no one could have foreseen it."
"It must have been so," answered Mother Bunch; "for, when Agricola saw Mdlle. de Cardoville for the first time, he returned home, struck with her grace, and delicacy, and goodness."
"As were all who approached my mistress," said Florine, sorrowfully.
"This morning," resumed the sewing-girl, "when, according to Agricola's instructions, I wished to speak to his father on the subject, I found him already gone out, for he also is a prey to great anxieties; but my adopted brother's letter appeared to me so pressing, and to involve something of such consequence to Mdlle. de Cardoville, who had shown herself so generous towards him, that I came here immediately."
"Unfortunately, as you already know, my mistress is no longer here."
"But is there no member of her family to whom, if I could not speak myself, I might at least send word by you, that Agricola has something to communicate of importance to this young lady?"
"It is strange!" said Florine, reflecting, and without replying. Then, turning towards the sempstress, she added: "You are quite ignorant of the nature of these revelations?"
"Completely so, mademoiselle; but I know Agricola. He is all honor and truth, and you may believe whatever he affirms. Besides, he would have no interest—"
"Good gracious!" interrupted Florine, suddenly, as if struck with a sadden light; "I have just remembered something. When he was arrested in a hiding-place where my mistress had concealed him, I happened to be close at hand, and M. Agricola said to me, in a quick whisper: 'Tell your generous mistress that her goodness to me will not go unrewarded, and that my stay in that hiding-place may not be useless to her.' That was all he could say to me, for they hurried him off instantly. I confess that I saw in those words only the expression of his gratitude, and his hope of proving it one day to my mistress; but now that I connect them with the letter he has written you—" said Florine, reflecting.
"Indeed!" remarked Mother Bunch, "there is certainly some connection between his hiding-place here and the important secrets which he wishes to communicate to your mistress, or one of her family."
"The hiding-place had neither been inhabited nor visited for some time," said Florine, with a thoughtful air; "M. Agricola may have found therein something of interest to my mistress."
"If his letter had not appeared to me so pressing," resumed the other, "I should not have come hither; but have left him to do so himself, on his release from prison, which now, thanks to the generosity of one of his old fellow-workmen, cannot be very distant. But, not knowing if bail would be accepted to-day, I have wished faithfully to perform his instructions. The generous kindness of your mistress made it my first duty."
Like all persons whose better instincts are still roused from time to time, Florine felt a sort of consolation in doing good whenever she could with impunity—that is to say, without exposing herself to the inexorable resentments of those on whom she depended. Thanks to Mother Bunch, she might now have an opportunity of rendering a great service to her mistress. She knew enough of the Princess de Saint-Dizier's hatred of her niece, to feel certain that Agricola's communication could not, from its very importance, be made with safety to any but Mdlle. de Cardoville herself. She therefore said very gravely: "Listen to me, mademoiselle! I will give you a piece of advice which will, I think, be useful to my poor mistress—but which would be very fatal to me if you did not attend to my recommendations."
"How so, mademoiselle?" said the hunchback, looking at Florine with extreme surprise.
"For the sake of my mistress, M. Agricola must confide to no one, except herself, the important things he has to communicate."
"But, if he cannot see Mdlle. Adrienne, may he not address himself to some of her family?"
"It is from her family, above all, that he must conceal whatever he knows. Mdlle. Adrienne may recover, and then M. Agricola can speak to her. But should she never get well again, tell your adopted brother that it is better for him to keep his secret than to place it (which would infallibly happen) at the disposal of the enemies of my mistress."
"I understand you, mademoiselle," said Mother Bunch, sadly. "The family of your generous mistress do not love her, and perhaps persecute her?"
"I cannot tell you more on this subject now; and, as regards myself, let me conjure you to obtain M. Agricola's promise that he will not mention to any one in the world the step you have taken, or the advice I have given you. The happiness—no, not the happiness," resumed Florine bitterly, as if that were a lost hope, "not the happiness—but the peace of my life depends upon your discretion."
"Oh! be satisfied!" said the sewing-girl, both affected and amazed by the sorrowful expression of Florine's countenance; "I will not be ungrateful. No one in the world but Agricola shall know that I have seen you."
"Thank you—thank you, mademoiselle," cried Florine, with emotion.
"Do you thank me?" said the other, astonished to see the large tears roll down her cheeks.
"Yes! I am indebted to you for a moment of pure, unmixed happiness; for I have perhaps rendered a service to my dear mistress, without risking the increase of the troubles that already overwhelm me."
"You are not happy, then?"
"That astonishes you; but, believe me, whatever may be, your fate, I would gladly change with you."
"Alas, mademoiselle!" said the sempstress: "you appear to have too good a heart, for me to let you entertain such a wish—particularly now."
"What do you mean?"
"I hope sincerely, mademoiselle," proceeded Mother Bunch, with deep sadness, "that you may never know what it is to want work, when labor is your only resource."
"Are you reduced to that extremity?" cried Florine, looking anxiously at the young sempstress, who hung her head, and made no answer. She reproached herself, in her excessive delicacy, with having made a communication which resembled a complaint, though it had only been wrung from her by the thought of her dreadful situation.
"If it is so," went on Florine, "I pity you with all my heart; and yet I know not, if my misfortunes are not still greater than yours."
Then, after a moment's reflection, Florine exclaimed, suddenly: "But let me see! If you are really in that position, I think I can procure you some work."
"Is it possible, mademoiselle?" cried Mother Bunch. "I should never have dared to ask you such a service; but your generous offer commands my confidence, and may save me from destruction. I will confess to you, that, only this morning, I was thrown out of an employment which enabled me to earn four francs a week."
"Four francs a week!" exclaimed Florine, hardly able to believe what she heard.
"It was little, doubtless," replied the other; "but enough for me. Unfortunately, the person who employed me, has found out where it can be done still cheaper."
"Four francs a week!" repeated Florine, deeply touched by so much misery and resignation. "Well! I think I can introduce you to persons, who will secure you wages of at least two francs a day."
"I could earn two francs a day? Is it possible?"
"Yes, there is no doubt of it; only, you will have to go out by the day, unless you chose to take a pace as servant."
"In my position," said Mother Bunch, with a mixture of timidity and pride, "one has no right, I know, to be overnice; yet I should prefer to go out by the day, and still more to remain at home, if possible, even though I were to gain less."
"To go out is unfortunately an indispensable condition," said Florine.
"Then I must renounce this hope," answered Mother Bunch, timidly; "not that I refuse to go out to work—but those who do so, are expected to be decently clad—and I confess without shame, because there is no disgrace in honest poverty, that I have no better clothes than these."
"If that be all," said Florine, hastily, "they will find you the means of dressing yourself properly."
Mother Bunch looked at Florine with increasing surprise. These offers were so much above what she could have hoped, and what indeed was generally earned by needlewomen, that she could hardly credit them.
"But," resumed she, with hesitation, "why should any one be so generous to me, mademoiselle? How should I deserve such high wages?"
Florine started. A natural impulse of the heart, a desire to be useful to the sempstress, whose mildness and resignation greatly interested her, had led her to make a hasty proposition; she knew at what price would have to be purchased the advantages she proposed, and she now asked herself, if the hunchback would ever accept them on such terms. But Florine had gone too far to recede, and she durst not tell all. She resolved, therefore, to leave the future to chance and as those, who have themselves fallen, are little disposed to believe in the infallibility of others, Florine said to herself, that perhaps in the desperate position in which she was, Mother Bunch would not be so scrupulous after all. Therefore she said: "I see, mademoiselle, that you are astonished at offers so much above what you usually gain; but I must tell you, that I am now speaking of a pious institution, founded to procure work for deserving young women. This establishment, which is called St. Mary's Society, undertakes to place them out as servants, or by the day as needlewomen. Now this institution is managed by such charitable persons, that they themselves undertake to supply an outfit, when the young women, received under their protection are not sufficiently well clothed to accept the places destined for them."
This plausible explanation of Florine's magnificent offers appeared to satisfy the hearer. "I can now understand the high wages of which you speak, mademoiselle," resumed she; "only I have no claim to be patronized by the charitable persons who direct this establishment."
"You suffer—you are laborious and honest—those are sufficient claims; only, I must tell you, they will ask if you perform regularly your religious duties."
"No one loves and blesses God more fervently than I do, mademoiselle," said the hunchback, with mild firmness; "but certain duties are an affair of conscience, and I would rather renounce this patronage, than be compelled—"
"Not the least in the world. Only, as I told you, there are very pious persons at the head of this institution, and you must not be astonished at their questions on such a subject. Make the trial, at all events; what do you risk? If the propositions are suitable—accept them; if, on the contrary, they should appear to touch your liberty of conscience, you can always refuse—your position will not be the worse for it."
Mother Bunch had nothing to object to this reasoning which left her at perfect freedom, and disarmed her of all suspicion. "On these terms, mademoiselle," said she, "I accept your offer, and thank you with all my heart. But who will introduce me?"
"I will—to-morrow, if you please."
"But they will perhaps desire to make some inquiries about me."
"The venerable Mother Sainte-Perpetue, Superior of St, Mary's Convent, where the institution is established, will, I am sure, appreciate your good qualities without inquiry; but if otherwise, she will tell you, and you can easily satisfy her. It is then agreed—to-morrow."
"Shall I call upon you here, mademoiselle?"
"No; as I told you before, they must not know that you came here on the part of M. Agricola, and a second visit might be discovered, and excite suspicion. I will come and fetch you in a coach; where do you live?"
"At No. 3, Rue Brise-Miche; as you are pleased to give yourself so much trouble, mademoiselle, you have only to ask the dyer, who acts as porter, to call down Mother Bunch."
"Mother Bunch?" said Florine, with surprise.
"Yes, mademoiselle," answered the sempstress, with a sad smile; "it is the name every one gives me. And you see," added the hunchback, unable to restrain a tear, "it is because of my ridiculous infirmity, to which this name alludes, that I dread going out to work among strangers, because there are so many people who laugh at one, without knowing the pain they occasion. But," continued she, drying her eyes, "I have no choice, and must make up my mind to it."
Florine, deeply affected, took the speaker's hand, and said to her: "Do not fear. Misfortunes like yours must inspire compassion, not ridicule. May I not inquire for you by your real name?"
"It is Magdalen Soliveau; but I repeat, mademoiselle, that you had better ask for Mother Bunch, as I am hardly known by any other name."
"I will, then, be in the Rue Brise-Miche to-morrow, at twelve o'clock."
"Oh, mademoiselle! How can I ever requite your goodness?"
"Don't speak of it: I only hope my interference may be of use to you. But of this you must judge for yourself. As for M. Agricola, do not answer his letter; wait till he is out of prison, and then tell him to keep his secret till he can see my poor mistress."
"And where is the dear young lady now?"
"I cannot tell you. I do not know where they took her, when she was attacked with this frenzy. You will expect me to-morrow?"
"Yes—to-morrow," said Mother Bunch.
The convent whither Florine was to conduct the hunchback contained the daughters of Marshal Simon, and was next door to the lunatic asylum of Dr. Baleinier, in which Adrienne de Cardoville was confined.
CHAPTER VI. MOTHER SAINTE-PERPETUE.
St. Mary's Convent, whither the daughters of Marshal Simon had been conveyed, was a large old building, the vast garden of which was on the Boulevard de l'Hopital, one of the most retired places in Paris, particularly at this period. The following scenes took place on the 12th February, the eve of the fatal day, on which the members of the family of Rennepont, the last descendants of the sister of the Wandering Jew, were to meet together in the Rue St. Francois. St. Mary's Convent was a model of perfect regularity. A superior council, composed of influential ecclesiastics, with Father d'Aigrigny for president, and of women of great reputed piety, at the head of whom was the Princess de Saint Dizier, frequently assembled in deliberation, to consult on the means of extending and strengthening the secret and powerful influence of this establishment, which had already made remarkable progress.
Skillful combinations and deep foresight had presided at the foundation of St. Mary's Convent, which, in consequence of numerous donations, possessed already real estate to a great extent, and was daily augmenting its acquisitions. The religious community was only a pretext; but, thanks to an extensive connection, kept up by means of the most decided members of the ultramontane (i. e. high-church) party, a great number of rich orphans were placed in the convent, there to receive a solid, austere, religious education, very preferable, it was said, to the frivolous instruction which might be had in the fashionable boarding schools, infected by the corruption of the age. To widows also, and lone women who happened moreover to be rich, the convent offered a sure asylum from the dangers and temptations of the world; in this peaceful retreat, they enjoyed a delightful calm, and secured their salvation, whilst surrounded by the most tender and affectionate attentions. Nor was this all. Mother Sainte-Perpetue, the superior of the convent, undertook in the name of the institution to procure for the faithful, who wished to preserve the interior of their houses from the depravity of the age, companions for aged ladies, domestic servants, or needlewomen working by the day, all selected persons whose morality could be warranted. Nothing would seem more worthy of sympathy and encouragement than such an institution; but we shall presently unveil the vast and dangerous network of intrigue concealed under these charitable and holy appearances. The lady Superior, Mother Sainte-Perpetue, was a tall woman of about forty years of age, clad in a stuff dress of the Carmelite tan color, and wearing a long rosary at her waist; a white cap tied under the chin, and a long black veil, closely encircled her thin, sallow face. A number of deep wrinkles had impressed their transverse furrows in her forehead of yellow ivory; her marked and prominent nose was bent like the beak of a bird of prey; her black eye was knowing and piercing; the expression of her countenance was at once intelligent, cold and firm.
In the general management of the pecuniary affairs of the community, Mother Sainte-Perpetue would have been a match for the most cunning attorney. When women are possessed of what is called a talent for business, and apply to it their keen penetration, their indefatigable perseverance, their prudent dissimulation, and, above all, that quick and exact insight, which is natural to them, the results are often prodigious. To Mother Sainte-Perpetue, a woman of the coolest and strongest intellect, the management of the vast transactions of the community was mere child's play. No one knew better how to purchase a depreciated property, to restore it to its former value, and then sell it with advantage; the price of stock, the rate of exchange, the current value of the shares in the different companies, were all familiar to her; she had yet never been known to make bad speculation, when the question was to invest any of the funds which were given by pious souls for the purposes of the convent. She had established in the house the utmost order and discipline, and, above all, an extreme economy. The constant aim of all her efforts was to enrich, not herself, but the community she directed; for the spirit of association, when become a collective egotism, gives to corporations the faults and vices of an individual. Thus a congregation may dote upon power and money, just as a miser loves them for their own sake. But it is chiefly with regard to estates that congregations act like a single man. They dream of landed property; it is their fixed idea, their fruitful monomania. They pursue it with their most sincere, and warm, and tender wishes.
The first estate is to a rising little community what the wedding trousseau is to a young bride, his first horse to a youth, his first success to a poet, to a gay girl her first fifty-guinea shawl; because, after all, in this material age, an estate gives a certain rank to a society on the Religious Exchange, and has so much the more effect upon the simple-minded, that all these partnerships in the work of salvation, which end by becoming immensely rich, begin with modest poverty as social stock-in-trade, and charity towards their neighbors as security reserve fund. We may therefore imagine what bitter and ardent rivalry must exist between the different congregations with regard to the various estates that each can lay claim to; with what ineffable satisfaction the richer society crushes the poorer beneath its inventory of houses, and farms and paper securities! Envy and hateful jealousy, rendered still more irritable by the leisure of a cloistered life, are the necessary consequences of such a comparison; and yet nothing is less Christian—in the adorable acceptation of that divine word—nothing has less in common with the true, essential, and religiously social spirit of the gospel, than this insatiable ardor to acquire wealth by every possible means—this dangerous avidity, which is far from being atoned for, in the eyes of public opinion, by a few paltry alms, bestowed in the narrow spirit of exclusion and intolerance.
Mother Sainte-Perpetue was seated before a large cylindrical-fronted desk in the centre of an apartment simply but comfortably furnished. An excellent fire burned within the marble chimney, and a soft carpet covered the floor. The superior, to whom all letters addressed to the sisters or the boarders were every day delivered, had just been opening she first, according to her acknowledged right, and carefully unsealing the second, without their knowing it, according to a right that she ascribed to herself, of course, with a view to the salvation of those dear creatures; and partly, perhaps, a little to make herself acquainted with their correspondence, for she also had imposed on herself the duty of reading all letters that were sent from the convent, before they were put into the post. The traces of this pious and innocent inquisition were easily effaced, for the good mother possessed a whole arsenal of steel tools, some very sharp, to cut the pager imperceptibly round the seal—others, pretty little rods, to be slightly heated and rolled round the edge of the seal, when the letter had been read and replaced in its envelope, so that the wax, spreading as it melted, might cover the first incision. Moreover, from a praiseworthy feeling of justice and equality, there was in the arsenal of the good mother a little fumigator of the most ingenious construction, the damp and dissolving vapor of which was reserved for the letters humbly and modestly secured with wafers, thus softened, they yielded to the least efforts, without any tearing of the paper. According to the importance of the revelations, which she thus gleaned from the writers of the letters, the superior took notes more or less extensive. She was interrupted in this investigation by two gentle taps at the bolted door. Mother Sainte-Perpetue immediately let down the sliding cylinder of her cabinet, so as to cover the secret arsenal, and went to open the door with a grave and solemn air. A lay sister came to announce to her that the Princess de Saint-Dizier was waiting for her in the parlor, and that Mdlle. Florine, accompanied by a young girl, deformed and badly dressed, was waiting at the door of the little corridor.
"Introduce the princess first," said Mother Sainte Perpetue. And, with charming forethought, she drew an armchair to the fire. Mme. de Saint Dizier entered.
Without pretensions to juvenile coquetry, still the princess was tastefully and elegantly dressed. She wore a black velvet bonnet of the most fashionable make, a large blue cashmere shawl, and a black satin dress, trimmed with sable, to match the fur of her muff.
"To what good fortune am I again to-day indebted for the honor of your visit, my dear daughter?" said the superior, graciously.
"A very important recommendation, my dear mother, though I am in a great hurry. I am expected at the house of his Eminence, and have, unfortunately, only a few minutes to spare. I have again to speak of the two orphans who occupied our attention so long yesterday."
"They continue to be kept separate, according to your wish; and this separation has had such an effect upon them that I have been obliged to send this morning for Dr. Baleinier, from his asylum. He found much fever joined to great depression, and, singular enough, absolutely the same symptoms in both cases. I have again questioned these unfortunate creatures, and have been quite confounded and terrified to find them perfect heathens."
"It was, you see, very urgent to place them in your care. But to the subject of my visit, my dear mother: we have just learned the unexpected return of the soldier who brought these girls to France, and was thought to be absent for some days; but he is in Paris, and, notwithstanding his age, a man of extraordinary boldness, enterprise and energy. Should he discover that the girls are here (which, however, is fortunately almost impossible), in his rage at seeing them removed from his impious influence, he would be capable of anything. Therefore let me entreat you, my dear mother, to redouble your precautions, that no one may effect an entrance by night. This quarter of the town is so deserted!"
"Be satisfied, my dear daughter; we are sufficiently guarded. Our porter and gardeners, all well armed, make a round every night on the side of the Boulevard de l'Hopital. The walls are high, and furnished with spikes at the more accessible places. But I thank you, my dear daughter, for having warned me. We will redouble our precautions."
"Particularly this night, my dear mother."
"Because if this infernal soldier has the audacity to attempt such a thing, it will be this very night."
"How do you know, my dear daughter?"
"We have information which makes us certain of it," replied the princess, with a slight embarrassment, which did not escape the notice of the Superior, though she was too crafty and reserved to appear to see it; only she suspected that many things were concealed from her.
"This night, then," resumed Mother Sainte-Perpetue, "we will be more than ever on our guard. But as I have the pleasure of seeing you, my dear daughter, I will take the opportunity to say a word or two on the subject of that marriage we mentioned."
"Yes, my dear mother," said the princess, hastily, "for it is very important. The young Baron de Brisville is a man full of ardent devotion in these times of revolutionary impiety; he practises openly, and is able to render us great services. He is listened to in the Chamber, and does not want for a sort of aggressive and provoking eloquence; I know not any one whose tone is more insolent with regard to his faith, and the plan is a good one, for this cavalier and open manner of speaking of sacred things raises and excites the curiosity of the indifferent. Circumstances are happily such that he may show the most audacious violence towards our enemies, without the least danger to himself, which, of course, redoubles his ardor as a would-be martyr. In a word, he is altogether ours, and we, in return, must bring about this marriage. You know, besides, my dear mother, that he proposes to offer a donation of a hundred thousand francs to St. Mary's the day he gains possession of the fortune of Mdlle. Baudricourt."
"I have never doubted the excellent intentions of M. de Brisville with regard to an institution which merits the sympathy of all pious persons," answered the superior, discreetly; "but I did not expect to meet with so many obstacles on the part of the young lady."
"How is that?"
"This girl, whom I always believed a most simple, submissive, timid, almost idiotic person—instead of being delighted with this proposal of marriage, asks time to consider!"
"It is really pitiable!"
"She opposes to me an inert resistance. It is in vain for me to speak severely, and tell her that, having no parents or friends, and being absolutely confided to my care, she ought to see with my eyes, hear with my ears, and when I affirm that this union is suitable in all respects, give her adhesion to it without delay or reflection."
"No doubt. It would be impossible to speak more sensibly."
"She answers that she wishes to see M. de Brisville, and know his character before being engaged."
"It is absurd—since you undertake to answer for his morality, and esteem this a proper marriage."
"Therefore, I remarked to Mdlle. Baudricourt, this morning, that till now I had only employed gentle persuasion, but that, if she forced me to it, I should be obliged, in her own interest, to act with rigor, to conquer so much obstinacy that I should have to separate her from her companions, and to confine her closely in a cell, until she made up her mind, after all, to consult her own happiness, and—marry an honorable man."
"And these menaces, my dear mother?"
"Will, I hope, have a good effect. She kept up a correspondence with an old school-friend in the country. I have put a stop to this, for it appeared to me dangerous. She is now under my sole influence, and I hope we shall attain our ends; but you see, my dear daughter, it is never without crosses and difficulties that we succeed in doing good!"
"And I feel certain that M. de Brisville will even go beyond his first promise, and I will pledge myself for him, that, should he marry Mdlle. Baudricourt—"
"You know, my dear daughter," said the superior, interrupting the princess, "that if I were myself concerned, I would refuse everything; but to give to this institution is to give to Heaven, and I cannot prevent M. de Brisville from augmenting the amount of his good works. Then, you see, we are exposed to a sad disappointment."
"What is that, my dear mother?"
"The Sacred Heart Convent disputes an estate with us that would have suited us exactly. Really, some people are quite insatiable! I gave the lady superior my opinion upon it pretty freely."
"She told me as much," answered Madame de Saint-Dizier, "and laid the blame on the steward."
"Oh! so you see her, my dear daughter?" exclaimed the superior, with an air of great surprise.
"I met her at the bishop's," answered Madame de Saint-Dizier, with a slight degree of hesitation, that Mother Sainte-Perpetue did not appear to notice.
"I really do not know," resumed the latter, "why our establishment should excite so violently the jealousy of the Sacred Heart. There is not an evil report that they have not spread with regard to St. Mary's Convent. Certain persons are always offended by the success of their neighbors!"
"Come, my dear mother," said the princess, in a conciliating tone, "we must hope that the donation of M. de Brisville will enable you to outbid the Sacred Heart. This marriage will have a double advantage, you see, my dear mother; it will place a large fortune at the disposal of a man who is devoted to us, and who will employ it as we wish; and it will also greatly increase the importance of his position as our defender, by the addition to his income of 100,000 francs a year. We shall have at length an organ worthy of our cause, and shall no longer be obliged to look for defenders amongst such people as that Dumoulin."
"There is great power and much learning in the writings of the man you name. It is the style of a Saint Bernard, in wrath at the impiety of the age."
"Alas, my dear mother! if you only knew what a strange Saint Bernard this Dumoulin is! But I will not offend your ears; all I can tell you is, that such defenders would compromise the most sacred cause. Adieu, my dear mother! pray redouble your precautions to-night—the return of this soldier is alarming."
"Be quite satisfied, my dear daughter! Oh! I forgot. Mdlle. Florine begged me to ask you a favor. It is to let her enter your service. You know the fidelity she displayed in watching your unfortunate niece; I think that, by rewarding her in this way, you will attach her to you completely, and I shall feel grateful on her account."
"If you interest yourself the least in the world in Florine, my dear mother, the thing is done. I will take her into my service. And now it strikes me, she may be more useful to me than I thought."
"A thousand thanks, my dear daughter, for such obliging attention to my request. I hope we shall soon meet again. The day after to-morrow, at two o'clock, we have a long conference with his Eminence and the Bishop; do not forget!"
"No, my dear mother; I shall take care to be exact. Only, pray, redouble your precautions to-night for fear of a great scandal!"
After respectfully kissing the hand of the superior, the princess went out by the great door, which led to an apartment opening on the principal staircase. Some minutes after, Florine entered the room by another way. The superior was seated and Florine approached her with timid humility.
"Did you meet the Princess de Saint-Dizier?" asked Mother Sainte Perpetue.
"No, mother; I was waiting in the passage, where the windows look out on the garden."
"The princess takes you into her service from to-day," said the superior.
Florine made a movement of sorrowful surprise, and exclaimed: "Me, mother! but—"
"I asked her in your name, and you have only to accept," answered the other imperiously.
"But, mother, I had entreated you—"
"I tell you, that you accept the offer," said the superior, in so firm and positive a tone that Florine cast down her eyes, and replied in a low voice: "I accept."
"It is in M. Rodin's name that I give you this order."
"I thought so, mother," replied Florine, sadly; "on what conditions am I to serve the princess?"
"On the same conditions as those on which you served her niece."
Florine shuddered and said: "I am, then, to make frequent secret reports with regard to the princess?"
"You will observe, you will remember, and you will give an account."
"Yes, my mother."
"You will above all direct your attention to the visits that the princess may receive from the lady superior of the Sacred Heart. You must try and listen—for we have to preserve the princess from evil influences."
"I will obey, my mother."
"You will also try and discover why two young orphans have been brought hither, and recommended to be severely treated, by Madame Grivois, the confidential waiting-woman of the princess."
"Which must not prevent you from remembering anything else that may be worthy of remark. To-morrow I will give you particular instructions upon another subject."
"It is well, mother."
"If you conduct yourself in a satisfactory manner, and execute faithfully the instructions of which I speak, you will soon leave the princess to enter the service of a young bride; it will be an excellent and lasting situation always on the same conditions. It is, therefore, perfectly understood that you have asked me to recommend you to Madame de Saint Dizier."
"Yes, mother; I shall remember."
"Who is this deformed young girl that accompanies you?"
"A poor creature without any resources, very intelligent, and with an education above her class; she works at her needle, but is at present without employment, and reduced to the last extremity. I have made inquiries about her this morning; she has an excellent character."
"She is ugly and deformed, you say?"
"She has an interesting countenance, but she is deformed."
The superior appeared pleased at this information, and added, after a moment's reflection: "She appears intelligent?"
"And is absolutely without resources?"
"Yes, without any."
"Is she pious?"
"She does not practice."
"No matter," said the superior to herself; "if she be intelligent, that will suffice." Then she resumed aloud. "Do you know if she is a good workwoman?"
"I believe so, mother."
The superior rose, took a register from a shelf, appeared to be looking into it attentively for some time, and then said, as she replaced it: "Fetch in this young girl, and go and wait for me in the press-room."
"Deformed—intelligent—clever at her needle," said the superior, reflecting; "she will excite no suspicion. We must see."
In about a minute, Florine returned with Mother Bunch, whom she introduced to the superior, and then discreetly withdrew. The young sempstress was agitated, trembling, and much troubled, for she could, as it were, hardly believe a discovery which she had chanced to make during Florine's absence. It was not without a vague sense of terror that the hunchback remained alone with the lady superior.
CHAPTER VII. THE TEMPTATION.
This was the cause of Mother Bunch's emotion. Florine, when she went to see the superior, had left the young sempstress in a passage supplied with benches, and forming a sort of ante-chamber on the first story. Being alone, the girl had mechanically approached a window which looked upon the convent garden, shut in by a half demolished wall, and terminating at one end in an open paling. This wall was connected with a chapel that was still building, and bordered on the garden of a neighboring house. The sewing-girl, at one of the windows on the ground floor of this house—a grated window, still more remarkable by the sort of tent-like awning above it—beheld a young female, with her eyes fixed upon the convent, making signs with her hand, at once encouraging and affectionate. From the window where she stood, Mother Bunch could not see to whom these signs were addressed; but she admired the rare beauty of the telegrapher, the brilliancy of her complexion, the shining blackness of her large eyes, the sweet and benevolent smile which lingered on her lips. There was, no doubt, some answer to her graceful and expressive pantomime, for, by a movement full of elegance, the girl laid her left hand on her bosom, and waved her right, which seemed to indicate that her heart flew towards the place on which she kept her eyes. One faint sunbeam, piercing the clouds, came at this moment to play with the tresses of the pale countenance, which, now held close to the bars of the window, was suddenly, as it were, illuminated by the dazzling reflection of her splendid golden hair. At sight of that charming face, set in its admirable frame of red curls, Mother Bunch started involuntarily; the thought of Mdlle. de Cardoville crossed her mind, and she felt persuaded (nor was she, indeed, mistaken), that the protectress of Agricola was before her. On thus beholding, in that gloomy asylum, this young lady, so marvellously beautiful, and remembering the delicate kindness with which a few days before she had received Agricola in her luxurious little palace of dazzling splendor, the work-girl felt her heart sink within her. She believed Adrienne insane; and yet, as she looked attentively at her, it seemed as if intelligence and grace animated that adorable countenance. Suddenly, Mdlle. de Cardoville laid her fingers upon her lips, blew a couple of kisses in the direction towards which she had been looking, and all at once disappeared. Reflecting upon the important revelations which Agricola had to make to Mdlle. de Cardoville, Mother Bunch regretted bitterly that she had no means of approaching her; for she felt sure that, if the young lady were mad, the present was a lucid interval. She was yet absorbed in these uneasy reflections, when she saw Florine return, accompanied by one of the nuns. Mother Bunch was obliged, therefore, to keep silence with regard to the discovery she had made, and soon after she found herself in the superior's presence. This latter, after a rapid and searching examination of the countenance of the young workwoman, judged her appearance so timid, gentle and honest, that she thought she might repose full confidence in the information given by Florine.
"My dear daughter," said Mother Sainte-Perpetue, in an affectionate voice, "Florine has told me in what a cruel situation you are placed. Is it true that you are entirely without work?"
"Alas! yes, madame."
"Call me mother, my dear daughter; that name is dearer to me, and it is the rule of our house. I need not ask you what are your principles?"
"I have always lived honestly by my labor, mother," answered the girl, with a simplicity at once dignified and modest.
"I believe you, my dear daughter, and I have good reasons for so doing. We must thank the Lord, who has delivered you from temptation; but tell me—are you clever at your trade?"
"I do my best, mother, and have always satisfied my employers. If you please to try me, you will be able to judge."
"Your affirmation is sufficient, my dear daughter. You prefer, I think, to go out by the day?"
"Mdlle. Florine told me, mother, that I could not have work at home."
"Why, no—not for the present, my child. If hereafter an opportunity should offer, I will think of it. Just now I have this to propose to you. A very respectable old lady has asked me to recommend to her a needle-woman by the day; introduced by me, you will certainly suit her. The institution will undertake to clothe you becomingly, and this advance we shall retain by degrees out of your wages, for you will look to us for payment. We propose to give you two francs a day; does that appear to you sufficient?"
"Oh, mother! it is much more than I could have expected."
"You will, moreover, only be occupied from nine o'clock in the morning till six in the evening; you will thus have still some off hours, of which you might make use. You see, the situation is not a hard one."
"Oh! quite the contrary, mother."
"I must tell you, first of all, with whom the institution intends to place you. It is a widow lady, named Mme. de Bremant, a person of the most steadfast piety. In her house, I hope, you will meet with none but excellent examples. If it should be otherwise, you can come and inform me."
"How so, mother?" said the sewing-girl, with surprise.
"Listen to me, my dear daughter," said Mother Sainte-Perpetue, in a tone ever more and more affectionate; "the institution of St. Mary has a double end in view. You will perfectly understand that, if it is our duty to give to masters and mistresses every possible security as to the morality of the persons that we place in their families, we are likewise bound to give to the persons that we so place out every possible security as to the morality of their employers."
"Nothing can be more just and of a wiser foresight, mother."
"Naturally, my dear daughter; for even as a servant of bad morals may cause the utmost trouble in a respectable family, so the bad conduct of a master or mistress may have the most baneful influence on the persons who serve them, or who come to work in their houses. Now, it is to offer a mutual guarantee to good masters and honest servants, that we have founded this institution."
"Oh, madame!" cried Mother Bunch, with simplicity; "such designs merit the thanks and blessings of every one."
"And blessings do not fail us, my dear daughter, because we perform our promises. Thus, an interesting workwoman—such as you, for example—is placed with persons that we suppose irreproachable. Should she, however, perceive, on the part of her employers, or on that of the persons who frequent the house, any irregularity of morals, any tendency to what would offend her modesty, or shock her religious principles, she should immediately give us a detailed account of the circumstances that have caused her alarm. Nothing can be more proper—don't you think so?"
"Yes, mother," answered Mother Bunch, timidly, for she began to find this provision somewhat singular.
"Then," resumed the superior, "if the case appears a serious one, we exhort our befriended one to observe what passes more attentively, so as to convince herself whether she had really reason to be alarmed. She makes a new report to us, and should it confirm our first fears, faithful to our pious guardianship, we withdraw her instantly from the house. Moreover, as the majority of our young people, notwithstanding their innocence and virtue, have not always sufficient experience to distinguish what may be injurious to their soul's health, we think it greatly to their interest that they should confide to us once a week, as a child would to her mother, either in person or by letter, whatever has chanced to occur in the house in which we have placed them. Then we can judge for them, whether to withdraw them or not. We have already about a hundred persons, companions to ladies, young women in shops, servants, and needlewomen by the day, whom we have placed in a great number of families, and, for the interest of all, we have every reason to congratulate ourselves on this mode of proceeding. You understand me, do you not, my dear daughter?"
"Yes-yes, mother," said the sempstress, more and more embarrassed. She had too much uprightness and sagacity not to perceive that this plan of mutually insuring the morality of masters and servants resembled a vast spy system, brought home to the domestic hearth, and carried on by the members of the institution almost without their knowledge, for it would have been difficult to disguise more skillfully the employment for which they were trained.
"If I have entered into these long details my dear daughter," resumed Mother Sainte-Perpetue, taking the hearer's silence for consent, "it is that you may not suppose yourself obliged to remain in the house in question, if, against our expectation, you should not find there holy and pious examples. I believe Mme. de Bremont's house to be a pure and godly place; only I have heard (though I will not believe it) that Mme. de Bremont's daughter, Mme. de Noisy, who has lately come to reside with her, is not so exemplary in her conduct as could be desired, that she does not fulfil regularly her religious duties, and that, during the absence of her husband, who is now in America, she receives visits, unfortunately too frequent, from one M. Hardy, a rich manufacturer."
At the name of Agricola's master, Mother Bunch could not suppress a movement of surprise, and also blushed slightly. The superior naturally mistook this surprise and confusion for a proof of the modest susceptibility of the young sempstress, and added: "I have told you all this, my dear daughter, that you might be on your guard. I have even mentioned reports that I believe to be completely erroneous, for the daughter of Mme. de Bremont has always had such good examples before her that she cannot have so forgotten them. But, being in the house from morning to night, you will be able, better than any one, to discover if these reports have any foundation in truth. Should it unfortunately so turn out, my dear daughter, you would come and confide to me all the circumstances that have led you to such a conclusion; and, should I then agree in your opinion, I would withdraw you instantly from the house—for the piety of the mother would not compensate sufficiently for the deplorable example of the daughter's conduct. For, as soon as you form part of the institution, I am responsible for your salvation, and, in case your delicacy should oblige you to leave Mme. de Bremont's, as you might be some time without employment, the institution will allow you, if satisfied with your zeal and conduct, one franc a day till we could find you another place. You see, my dear daughter, that you have everything to gain with us. It is therefore agreed that the day after to-morrow you go to Mme. de Bremont's." Mother Bunch found herself in a very hard position. Sometimes she thought that her first suspicions were confirmed, and, notwithstanding her timidity, her pride felt hurt at the supposition, that, because they knew her poor, they should believe her capable of selling herself as a spy for the sake of high wages. Sometimes, on the contrary, her natural delicacy revolted at the idea that a woman of the age and condition of the superior could descend to make a proposition so disgraceful both to the accepter and the proposer, and she reproached herself with her first doubts and asked herself if the superior had not wished to try her, before employing her, to see if her probity would enable her to resist a comparatively brilliant offer. Mother Bunch was naturally so inclined to think well of every one, that she made up her mind to this last conclusion, saying to herself, that if, after all, she were deceived, it would be the least offensive mode of refusing these unworthy offers. With a movement, exempt from all haughtiness, but expressive of natural dignity, the young workman raised her head, which she had hitherto held humbly cast down, looked the superior full in the face, that the latter might read in her countenance the sincerity of her words, and said to her in a slightly agitated voice, forgetting this time to call her "mother": "Ah, madame! I cannot blame you for exposing me to such a trial. You see that I am very poor, and I have yet done nothing to command your confidence. But, believe me, poor as I am, I would never stoop to so despicable an action as that which you have thought fit to propose to me, no doubt to assure yourself, by my refusal, that I am worthy of your kindness. No, no, madame—I could never bring myself to be a spy at any price."