"He sleeps, sister," said Rose in a low voice.
"So much the better," replied Blanche, also in a whisper, making a sign of caution; "we shall now be able to observe him well."
"Yes, for we durst not do so, in coming from the sea hither."
"Look! what a sweet countenance!"
"He is just the same as we saw him in our dreams."
"When he promised he would protect us."
"And he has not failed us."
"But here, at least, he is visible."
"Not as it was in the prison at Leipsic, during that dark night."
"And so—he has again rescued us."
"Without him, we should have perished this morning."
"And yet, sister, it seems to me, that in our dreams his countenance shone with light."
"Yes, you know it dazzled us to look at him."
"And then he had not so sad a mien."
"That was because he came then from heaven; now he is upon earth."
"But, sister, had he then that bright red scar round his forehead?"
"Oh, no! we should have certainly perceived it."
"And these other marks on his hands?"
"If he has been wounded, how can he be an archangel?"
"Why not, sister? If he received those wounds in preventing evil, or in helping the unfortunate, who, like us, were about to perish?"
"You are right. If he did not run any danger for those he protects, it would be less noble."
"What a pity that he does not open his eye!"
"Their expression is so good, so tender!"
"Why did he not speak of our mother, by the way?"
"We were not alone with him; he did not like to do so."
"But now we are alone."
"If we were to pray to him to speak to us?"
The orphans looked doubtingly at each other, with charming simplicity; a bright glow suffused their cheeks, and their young bosoms heaved gently beneath their black dresses.
"You are right. Let us kneel down to him."
"Oh, sister! our hearts beat so!" said Blanche, believing rightly, that Rose felt exactly as she did. "And yet it seems to do us good. It is as if some happiness were going to befall us."
The sisters, having approached the arm-chair on tip-toe, knelt down with clasped hands, one to the right the other to the left of the young priest. It was a charming picture. Turning their lovely faces towards him, they said in a low whisper, with a soft, sweet voice, well suited to their youthful appearance: "Gabriel! speak to us of our mother!"
On this appeal, the missionary gave a slight start, half-opened his eyes, and, still in a state of semi-consciousness, between sleep and waking, beheld those two beauteous faces turned towards him, and heard two gentle voices repeat his name.
"Who calls me?" said he, rousing himself, and raising his head.
"It is Blanche and Rose."
It was now Gabriel's turn to blush, for he recognized the young girls he had saved. "Rise, my sisters!" said he to them; "you should kneel only unto God."
The orphans obeyed, and were soon beside him, holding each other by the hand. "You know my name, it seems," said the missionary with a smile.
"Oh, we have not forgotten it!"
"Who told it you?"
"Yes—when you came from our mother."
"I, my sisters?" said the missionary, unable to comprehend the words of the orphans. "You are mistaken. I saw you to-day for the first time."
"But in our dreams?"
"Yes—do you not remember?—in our dreams."
"In Germany—three months ago, for the first time. Look at us well."
Gabriel could not help smiling at the simplicity of Rose and Blanche, who expected him to remember a dream of theirs; growing more and more perplexed, he repeated: "In your dreams?"
"Certainly; when you gave us such good advice."
"And when we were so sorrowful in prison, your words, which we remembered, consoled us, and gave us courage."
"Was it not you, who delivered us from the prison at Leipsic, in that dark night, when we were not able to see you?"
"What other but you would thus have come to our help, and to that of our old friend?"
"We told him, that you would love him, because he loved us, although he would not believe in angels."
"And this morning, during the tempest, we had hardly any fear."
"Because we expected you."
"This morning—yes, my sisters—it pleased heaven to send me to your assistance. I was coming from America, but I have never been in Leipsic. I could not, therefore, have let you out of prison. Tell me, my sisters," added he, with a benevolent smile, "for whom do you take me?"
"For a good angel whom we have seen already in dreams, sent by our mother from heaven to protect us."
"My dear sisters, I am only a poor priest. It is by mere chance, no doubt, that I bear some resemblance to the angel you have seen in your dreams, and whom you could not see in any other manner—for angels are not visible to mortal eye.
"Angels are not visible?" said the orphans, looking sorrowfully at each other.
"No matter, my dear sisters," said Gabriel, taking them affectionately by the hand; "dreams, like everything else, come from above. Since the remembrance of your mother was mixed up with this dream, it is twice blessed."
At this moment a door opened, and Dagobert made his appearance. Up to this time, the orphans, in their innocent ambition to be protected by an archangel, had quite forgotten the circumstance that Dagobert's wife had adopted a forsaken child, who was called Gabriel, and who was now a priest and missionary.
The soldier, though obstinate in maintaining that his hurt was only a blank wound (to use a term of General Simon's), had allowed it to be carefully dressed by the surgeon of the village, and now wore a black bandage, which concealed one half of his forehead, and added to the natural grimness of his features. On entering the room, he was not a little surprised to see a stranger holding the hands of Rose and Blanche familiarly in his own. This surprise was natural, for Dagobert did not know that the missionary had saved the lives of the orphans, and had attempted to save his also.
In the midst of the storm, tossed about by the waves, and vainly striving to cling to the rocks, the soldier had only seen Gabriel very imperfectly, at the moment when, having snatched the sisters from certain death, the young priest had fruitlessly endeavored to come to his aid. And when, after the shipwreck, Dagobert had found the orphans in safety beneath the roof of the Manor House, he fell, as we have already stated, into a swoon, caused by fatigue, emotion, and the effects of his wound—so that he had again no opportunity of observing the features of the missionary.
The veteran began to frown from beneath his black bandage and thick, gray brows, at beholding a stranger so familiar with Rose and Blanche; but the sisters ran to throw themselves into his arms, and to cover him with filial caresses. His anger was soon dissipated by these marks of affection, though he continued, from time to time, to cast a suspicious glance at the missionary, who had risen from his seat, but whose countenance he could not well distinguish.
"How is your wound?" asked Rose, anxiously. "They told us it was not dangerous."
"Does it still pain?" added Blanche.
"No, children; the surgeon of the village would bandage me up in this manner. If my head was carbonadoes with sabre cuts, I could not have more wrappings. They will take me for an old milksop; it is only a blank wound, and I have a good mind to—" And therewith the soldier raised one of his hands to the bandage.
"Will you leave that alone?" cried Rose catching his arm. "How can you be so unreasonable—at your age?"
"Well, well! don't scold! I will do what you wish, and keep it on." Then, drawing the sisters to one end of the room, he said to them in a low voice, whilst he looked at the young priest from the corner of his eye: "Who is that gentleman who was holding your hands when I came in? He has very much the look of a curate. You see, my children, you must be on your guard; because—"
"He?" cried both sisters at once, turning towards Gabriel. "Without him, we should not now be here to kiss you."
"What's that?" cried the soldier, suddenly drawing up his tall figure, and gazing full at the missionary.
"It is our guardian angel," resumed Blanche.
"Without him," said Rose, "we must have perished this morning in the shipwreck."
"Ah! it is he, who—" Dagobert could say no more. With swelling heart, and tears in his eyes, he ran to the missionary, offered him both his hands, and exclaimed in a tone of gratitude impossible to describe: "Sir, I owe you the lives of these two children. I feel what a debt that service lays upon me. I will not say more—because it includes everything!"
Then, as if struck with a sudden recollection, he cried: "Stop! when I was trying to cling to a rock, so as not to be carried away by the waves, was it not you that held out your hand to me? Yes—that light hair—that youthful countenance—yes—it was certainly you—now I am sure of it!"
"Unhappily, sir, my strength failed me, and I had the anguish to see you fall back into the sea."
"I can say nothing more in the way of thanks than what I have already said," answered Dagobert, with touching simplicity: "in preserving these children you have done more for me than if you had saved my own life. But what heart and courage!" added the soldier, with admiration; "and so young, with such a girlish look!"
"And so," cried Blanche, joyfully, "our Gabriel came to your aid also?"
"Gabriel!" said Dagobert interrupting Blanche, and addressing himself to the priest. "Is your name Gabriel?"
"Gabriel!" repeated the soldier, more and more surprised. "And a priest!" added he.
"A priest of the foreign missions."
"Who—who brought you up?" asked the soldier, with increasing astonishment.
"An excellent and generous woman, whom I revere as the best of mothers: for she had pity on me, a deserted infant, and treated me ever as her son."
"Frances Baudoin—was it not?" said the soldier, with deep emotion.
"It was, sir," answered Gabriel, astonished in his turn. "But how do you know this?"
"The wife of a soldier, eh?" continued Dagobert.
"Yes, of a brave soldier—who, from the most admirable devotion, is even now passing his life in exile—far from his wife—far from his son, my dear brother—for I am proud to call him by that name—"
"My Agricola!—my wife!—when did you leave them?"
"What! is it possible! You the father of Agricola?—Oh! I knew not, until now," cried Gabriel, clasping his hands together, "I knew not all the gratitude that I owed to heaven!"
"And my wife! my child!" resumed Dagobert, in a trembling voice; "how are they? have you news of them?"
"The accounts I received, three months ago, were excellent."
"No; it is too much," cried Dagobert; "it is too much!" The veteran was unable to proceed; his feelings stifled his words, and fell back exhausted in a chair.
And now Rose and Blanche recalled to mind that portion of their father's letter which related to the child named Gabriel, whom the wife of Dagobert had adopted; then they also yielded to transports of innocent joy.
"Our Gabriel is the same as yours—what happiness!" cried Rose.
"Yes, my children! he belongs to you as well as to me. We have all our part in him." Then, addressing Gabriel, the soldier added with affectionate warmth: "Your hand, my brave boy! give me your hand!"
"Oh, sir! you are too good to me."
"Yes—that's it—thank me!—after all thou has done for us!"
"Does my adopted mother know of your return?" asked Gabriel, anxious to escape from the praises of the soldier.
"I wrote to her five months since, but said that I should come alone; there was a reason for it, which I will explain by and by. Does she still live in the Rue Brise-Miche? It was there Agricola was born."
"She still lives there."
"In that case, she must have received my letter. I wished to write to her from the prison at Leipsic, but it was impossible."
"From prison! Have you just come out of prison?"
"Yes; I come straight from Germany, by the Elbe and Hamburg, and I should be still at Leipsic, but for an event which the Devil must have had a hand in—a good sort of devil, though."
"What do you mean? Pray explain to me."
"That would be difficult, for I cannot explain it to myself. These little ladies," he added, pointing with a smile to Rose and Blanche, "pretended to know more about it than I did, and were continually repeating: 'It was the angel that came to our assistance, Dagobert—the good angel we told thee of—though you said you would rather have Spoil sport to defend us—'"
"Gabriel, I am waiting for you," said a stern voice, which made the missionary start. They all turned round instantly, whilst the dog uttered a deep growl.
It was Rodin. He stood in the doorway leading to the corridor. His features were calm and impassive, but he darted a rapid, piercing glance at the soldier and sisters.
"Who is that man?" said Dagobert, very little prepossessed in favor of Rodin, whose countenance he found singularly repulsive. "What the mischief does he want?"
"I must go with him," answered Gabriel, in a tone of sorrowful constraint. Then, turning to Rodin, he added: "A thousand pardons! I shall be ready in a moment."
"What!" cried Dagobert, stupefied with amazement, "going the very instant we have just met? No, by my faith! you shall not go. I have too much to tell you, and to ask in return. We will make the journey together. It will be a real treat for me."
"It is impossible. He is my superior, and I must obey him."
"Your superior?—why, he's in citizen's dress."
"He is not obliged to wear the ecclesiastical garb."
"Rubbish! since he is not in uniform, and there is no provost-marshal in your troop, send him to the—"
"Believe me, I would not hesitate a minute, if it were possible to remain."
"I was right in disliking the phi of that man," muttered Dagobert between his teeth. Then he added, with an air of impatience and vexation: "Shall I tell him that he will much oblige us by marching off by himself?"
"I beg you not to do so," said Gabriel; "it would be useless; I know my duty, and have no will but my superior's. As soon as you arrive in Paris, I will come and see you, as also my adopted mother, and my dear brother, Agricola."
"Well—if it must be. I have been a soldier, and know what subordination is," said Dagobert, much annoyed. "One must put a good face on bad fortune. So, the day after to-morrow, in the Rue Brise-Miche, my boy; for they tell me I can be in Paris by to-morrow evening, and we set out almost immediately. But I say—there seems to be a strict discipline with you fellows!"
"Yes, it is strict and severe," answered Gabriel, with a shudder, and a stifled sigh.
"Come, shake hands—and let's say farewell for the present. After all, twenty-four hours will soon pass away."
"Adieu! adieu!" replied the missionary, much moved, whilst he returned the friendly pressure of the veteran's hand.
"Adieu, Gabriel!" added the orphans, sighing also, and with tears in their eyes.
"Adieu, my sisters!" said Gabriel—and he left the room with Rodin, who had not lost a word or an incident of this scene.
Two hours after, Dagobert and the orphans had quitted the Castle for Paris, not knowing that Djalma was left at Cardoville, being still too much injured to proceed on his journey. The half-caste, Faringhea, remained with the young prince, not wishing, he said, to desert a fellow countryman.
We now conduct the reader to the Rue Brise-Miche, the residence of Dagobert's wife.
CHAPTER XXVII. DAGOBERT'S WIFE.
The following scenes occur in Paris, on the morrow of the day when the shipwrecked travellers were received in Cardoville House.
Nothing can be more gloomy than the aspect of the Rue Brise-Miche, one end of which leads into the Rue Saint-Merry, and the other into the little square of the Cloister, near the church. At this end, the street, or rather alley—for it is not more than eight feet wide—is shut in between immense black, muddy dilapidated walls, the excessive height of which excludes both air and light; hardly, during the longest days of the year, is the sun able to throw into it a few straggling beams; whilst, during the cold damps of winter, a chilling fog, which seems to penetrate everything, hangs constantly above the miry pavement of this species of oblong well.
It was about eight o'clock in the evening; by the faint, reddish light of the street lamp, hardly visible through the haze, two men, stopping at the angle of one of those enormous walls, exchanged a few words together.
"So," said one, "you understand all about it. You are to watch in the street, till you see them enter No. 5."
"All right!" answered the other.
"And when you see 'em enter so as to make quite sure of the game, go up to Frances Baudoin's room—"
"Under the cloak of asking where the little humpbacked workwoman lives—the sister of that gay girl, the Queen of the Bacchanals."
"Yes—and you must try and find out her address also—from her humpbacked sister, if possible—for it is very important. Women of her feather change their nests like birds, and we have lost track of her."
"Make yourself easy; I will do my best with Hump, to learn where her sister hangs out."
"And, to give you steam, I'll wait for you at the tavern opposite the Cloister, and we'll have a go of hot wine on your return."
"I'll not refuse, for the night is deucedly cold."
"Don't mention it! This morning the water friz on my sprinkling-brush, and I turned as stiff as a mummy in my chair at the church-door. Ah, my boy! a distributor of holy water is not always upon roses!"
"Luckily, you have the pickings—"
"Well, well—good luck to you! Don't forget the Fiver, the little passage next to the dyer's shop."
"Yes, yes—all right!" and the two men separated.
One proceeded to the Cloister Square; the other towards the further end of the street, where it led into the Rue Saint-Merry. This latter soon found the number of the house he sought—a tall, narrow building, having, like all the other houses in the street, a poor and wretched appearance. When he saw he was right, the man commenced walking backwards and forwards in front of the door of No. 5.
If the exterior of these buildings was uninviting, the gloom and squalor of the interior cannot be described. The house No. 5 was, in a special degree, dirty and dilapidated. The water, which oozed from the wall, trickled down the dark and filthy staircase. On the second floor, a wisp of straw had been laid on the narrow landing-place, for wiping the feet on; but this straw, being now quite rotten, only served to augment the sickening odor, which arose from want of air, from damp, and from the putrid exhalations of the drains. The few openings, cut at rare intervals in the walls of the staircase, could hardly admit more than some faint rays of glimmering light.
In this quarter, one of the most populous in Paris, such houses as these, poor, cheerless, and unhealthy, are generally inhabited by the working classes. The house in question was of the number. A dyer occupied the ground floor; the deleterious vapors arising from his vats added to the stench of the whole building. On the upper stories, several artisans lodged with their families, or carried on their different trades. Up four flights of stairs was the lodging of Frances Baudoin, wife of Dagobert. It consisted of one room, with a closet adjoining, and was now lighted by a single candle. Agricola occupied a garret in the roof.
Old grayish paper, broken here and there by the cracks covered the crazy wall, against which rested the bed; scanty curtains, running upon an iron rod, concealed the windows; the brick floor, not polished, but often washed, had preserved its natural color. At one end of this room was a round iron stove, with a large pot for culinary purposes. On the wooden table, painted yellow, marbled with brown, stood a miniature house made of iron—a masterpiece of patience and skill, the work of Agricola Baudoin, Dagobert's son.
A plaster crucifix hung up against the wall, surrounded by several branches of consecrated box-tree, and various images of saints, very coarsely colored, bore witness to the habits of the soldier's wife. Between the windows stood one of those old walnut-wood presses, curiously fashioned, and almost black with time; an old arm-chair, covered with green cotton velvet (Agricola's first present to his mother), a few rush bottomed chairs, and a worktable on which lay several bags of coarse, brown cloth, completed the furniture of this room, badly secured by a worm-eaten door. The adjoining closet contained a few kitchen and household utensils.
Mean and poor as this interior may perhaps appear, it would not seem so to the greater number of artisans; for the bed was supplied with two mattresses, clean sheets, and a warm counterpane; the old-fashioned press contained linen; and, moreover, Dagobert's wife occupied all to herself a room as large as those in which numerous families, belonging to honest and laborious workmen, often live and sleep huddled together—only too happy if the boys and girls can have separate beds, or if the sheets and blankets are not pledged at the pawnbroker's.
Frances Baudoin, seated beside the small stove, which, in the cold and damp weather, yielded but little warmth, was busied in preparing her son Agricola's evening meal.
Dagobert's wife was about fifty years of age; she wore a close jacket of blue cotton, with white flowers on it, and a stuff petticoat; a white handkerchief was tied round her head, and fastened under the chin. Her countenance was pale and meagre, the features regular, and expressive of resignation and great kindness. It would have been difficult to find a better, a more courageous mother. With no resource but her labor, she had succeeded, by unwearied energy, in bringing up not only her own son Agricola, but also Gabriel, the poor deserted child, of whom, with admirable devotion, she had ventured to take charge.
In her youth, she had, as it were, anticipated the strength of later life, by twelve years of incessant toil, rendered lucrative by the most violent exertions, and accompanied by such privations as made it almost suicidal. Then (for it was a time of splendid wages, compared to the present), by sleepless nights and constant labor, she contrived to earn about two shillings (fifty sous) a day, and with this she managed to educate her son and her adopted child.
At the end of these twelve years, her health was ruined, and her strength nearly exhausted; but, at all events, her boys had wanted for nothing, and had received such an education as children of the people can obtain. About this time, M. Francois Hardy took Agricola as an apprentice, and Gabriel prepared to enter the priest's seminary, under the active patronage of M. Rodin, whose communications with the confessor of Frances Baudoin had become very frequent about the year 1820.
This woman (whose piety had always been excessive) was one of those simple natures, endowed with extreme goodness, whose self-denial approaches to heroism, and who devote themselves in obscurity to a life of martyrdom—pure and heavenly minds, in whom the instincts of the heart supply the place of the intellect!
The only defect, or rather the necessary consequence of this extreme simplicity of character, was the invincible determination she displayed in yielding to the commands of her confessor, to whose influence she had now for many years been accustomed to submit. She regarded this influence as most venerable and sacred; no mortal power, no human consideration, could have prevented her from obeying it. Did any dispute arise on the subject, nothing could move her on this point; she opposed to every argument a resistance entirely free from passion—mild as her disposition, calm as her conscience—but, like the latter, not to be shaken. In a word, Frances Baudoin was one of those pure, but uninstructed and credulous beings, who may sometimes, in skillful and dangerous hands, become, without knowing it, the instruments of much evil.
For some time past, the bad state of her health, and particularly the increasing weakness of her sight, had condemned her to a forced repose; unable to work more than two or three hours a day, she consumed the rest of her time at church.
Frances rose from her seat, pushed the coarse bags at which she had been working to the further end of the table, and proceeded to lay the cloth for her son's supper, with maternal care and solicitude. She took from the press a small leathern bag, containing an old silver cup, very much battered, and a fork and spoon, so worn and thin, that the latter cut like a knife. These, her only plate (the wedding present of Dagobert) she rubbed and polished as well as she was able, and laid by the side of her son's plate. They were the most precious of her possessions, not so much for what little intrinsic value might attach to them, as for the associations they recalled; and she had often shed bitter tears, when, under the pressure of illness or want of employment, she had been compelled to carry these sacred treasures to the pawnbroker's.
Frances next took, from the lower shelf of the press, a bottle of water, and one of wine about three-quarters full, which she also placed near her son's plate; she then returned to the stove, to watch the cooking of the supper.
Though Agricola was not much later than usual, the countenance of his mother expressed both uneasiness and grief; one might have seen, by the redness of her eyes, that she had been weeping a good deal. After long and painful uncertainty, the poor woman had just arrived at the conviction that her eyesight, which had been growing weaker and weaker, would soon be so much impaired as to prevent her working even the two or three hours a day which had lately been the extent of her labors.
Originally an excellent hand at her needle, she had been obliged, as her eyesight gradually failed her, to abandon the finer for the coarser sorts of work, and her earnings had necessarily diminished in proportion; she had at length been reduced to the necessity of making those coarse bags for the army, which took about four yards of sewing, and were paid at the rate of two sous each, she having to find her own thread. This work, being very hard, she could at most complete three such bags in a day, and her gains thus amounted to threepence (six sous)!
It makes one shudder to think of the great number of unhappy females, whose strength has been so much exhausted by privations, old age, or sickness, that all the labor of which they are capable, hardly suffices to bring them in daily this miserable pittance. Thus do their gains diminish in exact proportion to the increasing wants which age and infirmity must occasion.
Happily, Frances had an efficient support in her son. A first-rate workman, profiting by the just scale of wages adopted by M. Hardy, his labor brought him from four to five shillings a day—more than double what was gained by the workmen of many other establishments. Admitting therefore that his mother were to gain nothing, he could easily maintain both her and himself.
But the poor woman, so wonderfully economical that she denied herself even some of the necessaries of life, had of late become ruinously liberal on the score of the sacristy, since she had adopted the habit of visiting daily the parish church. Scarcely a day passed but she had masses sung, or tapers burnt, either for Dagobert, from whom she had been so long separated, or for the salvation of her son Agricola, whom she considered on the high-road to perdition. Agricola had so excellent a heart, so loved and revered his mother, and considered her actions in this respect inspired by so touching a sentiment, that he never complained when he saw a great part of his week's wages (which he paid regularly over to his mother every Saturday) disappear in pious forms.
Yet now and then he ventured to remark to Frances, with as much respect as tenderness, that it pained him to see her enduring privations injurious at her age, because she preferred incurring these devotional expenses. But what answer could he make to this excellent mother, when she replied with tears: "My child, 'tis for the salvation of your father and yours too."
To dispute the efficacy of masses, would have been venturing on a subject which Agricola, through respect for his mother's religious faith, never discussed. He contented himself, therefore, with seeing her dispense with comforts she might have enjoyed.
A discreet tap was heard at the door. "Come in," said Frances. The person came in.
CHAPTER XXVIII. THE SISTER OF THE BACCHANAL QUEEN.
The person who now entered was a girl of about eighteen, short, and very much deformed. Though not exactly a hunchback, her spine was curved; her breast was sunken, and her head deeply set in the shoulders. Her face was regular, but long, thin, very pale, and pitted with the small pox; yet it expressed great sweetness and melancholy. Her blue eyes beamed with kindness and intelligence. By a strange freak of nature, the handsomest woman would have been proud of the magnificent hair twisted in a coarse net at the back of her head. She held an old basket in her hand. Though miserably clad, the care and neatness of her dress revealed a powerful struggle with her poverty. Notwithstanding the cold, she wore a scanty frock made of print of an indefinable color, spotted with white; but it had been so often washed, that its primitive design and color had long since disappeared. In her resigned, yet suffering face, might be read a long familiarity with every form of suffering, every description of taunting. From her birth, ridicule had ever pursued her. We have said that she was very deformed, and she was vulgarly called "Mother Bunch." Indeed it was so usual to give her this grotesque name, which every moment reminded her of her infirmity, that Frances and Agricola, though they felt as much compassion as other people showed contempt for her, never called her, however, by any other name.
Mother Bunch, as we shall therefore call her in future, was born in the house in which Dagobert's wife had resided for more than twenty years; and she had, as it were, been brought up with Agricola and Gabriel.
There are wretches fatally doomed to misery. Mother Bunch had a very pretty sister, on whom Perrine Soliveau, their common mother, the widow of a ruined tradesman, had concentrated all her affection, while she treated her deformed child with contempt and unkindness. The latter would often come, weeping, to Frances, on this account, who tried to console her, and in the long evenings amused her by teaching her to read and sew. Accustomed to pity her by their mother's example, instead of imitating other children, who always taunted and sometimes even beat her, Agricola and Gabriel liked her, and used to protect and defend her.
She was about fifteen, and her sister Cephyse was about seventeen, when their mother died, leaving them both in utter poverty. Cephyse was intelligent, active, clever, but different to her sister; she had the lively, alert, hoydenish character which requires air, exercise and pleasures—a good girl enough, but foolishly spoiled by her mother. Cephyse, listening at first to Frances's good advice, resigned herself to her lot; and, having learnt to sew, worked like her sister, for about a year. But, unable to endure any longer the bitter privations her insignificant earnings, notwithstanding her incessant toil, exposed her to—privations which often bordered on starvation—Cephyse, young, pretty, of warm temperament, and surrounded by brilliant offers and seductions—brilliant, indeed, for her, since they offered food to satisfy her hunger, shelter from the cold, and decent raiment, without being obliged to work fifteen hours a day in an obscure and unwholesome hovel—Cephyse listened to the vows of a young lawyer's clerk, who forsook her soon after. She formed a connection with another clerk, whom she (instructed by the examples set her), forsook in turn for a bagman, whom she afterwards cast off for other favorites. In a word, what with changing and being forsaken, Cephyse, in the course of one or two years, was the idol of a set of grisettes, students and clerks; and acquired such a reputation at the balls on the Hampstead Heaths of Paris, by her decision of character, original turn of mind, and unwearied ardor in all kinds of pleasures, and especially her wild, noisy gayety, that she was termed the Bacchanal Queen, and proved herself in every way worthy of this bewildering royalty.
From that time poor Mother Bunch only heard of her sister at rare intervals. She still mourned for her, and continued to toil hard to gain her three-and-six a week. The unfortunate girl, having been taught sewing by Frances, made coarse shirts for the common people and the army. For these she received half-a-crown a dozen. They had to be hemmed, stitched, provided with collars and wristbands, buttons, and button holes; and at the most, when at work twelve and fifteen hours a day, she rarely succeeded in turning out more than fourteen or sixteen shirts a week—an excessive amount of toil that brought her in about three shillings and fourpence a week. And the case of this poor girl was neither accidental nor uncommon. And this, because the remuneration given for women's work is an example of revolting injustice and savage barbarism. They are paid not half as much as men who are employed at the needle: such as tailors, and makers of gloves, or waistcoats, etc.—no doubt because women can work as well as men—because they are more weak and delicate—and because their need may be twofold as great when they become mothers.
Well, Mother Bunch fagged on, with three-and-four a week. That is to say, toiling hard for twelve or fifteen hours every day; she succeeded in keeping herself alive, in spite of exposure to hunger, cold, and poverty—so numerous were her privations. Privations? No! The word privation expresses but weakly that constant and terrible want of all that is necessary to preserve the existence God gives; namely, wholesome air and shelter, sufficient and nourishing food and warm clothing. Mortification would be a better word to describe that total want of all that is essentially vital, which a justly organized state of society ought—yes—ought necessarily to bestow on every active, honest workman and workwoman, since civilization has dispossessed them of all territorial right, and left them no other patrimony than their hands.
The savage does not enjoy the advantage of civilization; but he has, at least, the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, the fish of the sea, and the fruits of the earth, to feed him, and his native woods for shelter and for fuel. The civilized man, disinherited of these gifts, considering the rights of property as sacred, may, in return for his hard daily labor, which enriches his country, demand wages that will enable him to live in the enjoyment of health: nothing more, and nothing less. For is it living, to drag along on the extreme edge which separates life from the grave, and even there continually struggle against cold, hunger, and disease? And to show how far the mortification which society imposes thus inexorably on its millions of honest, industrious laborers (by its careless disregard of all the questions which concern the just remuneration of labor), may extend, we will describe how this poor girl contrived to live on three shillings and sixpence a week.
Society, perhaps, may then feel its obligation to so many unfortunate wretches for supporting, with resignation, the horrible existence which leaves them just sufficient life to feel the worst pangs of humanity. Yes: to live at such a price is virtue! Yes, society thus organized, whether it tolerates or imposes so much misery, loses all right to blame the poor wretches who sell themselves not through debauchery, but because they are cold and famishing. This poor girl spent her wages as follows:
Six pounds of bread, second quality........0 8 1/2 Four pails of water................0 2 Lard or dripping (butter being out of the question)0 5 Coarse salt....................0 0 3/4 A bushel of charcoal...............0 4 A quart of dried vegetables............0 3 Three quarts of potatoes..............0 2 Dips........................0 3 1/4 Thread and needles.................0 2 1/2 _ 2 7
To save charcoal, Mother Bunch prepared soup only two or three times a week at most, on a stove that stood on the landing of the fourth story. On other days she ate it cold. There remained nine or ten pence a week for clothes and lodging. By rare good fortune, her situation was in one respect an exception to the lot of many others. Agricola, that he might not wound her delicacy, had come to a secret arrangement with the housekeeper, and hired a garret for her, just large enough to hold a small bed, a chair, and a table; for which the sempstress had to pay five shillings a year. But Agricola, in fulfilment of his agreement with the porter, paid the balance, to make up the actual rent of the garret, which was twelve and sixpence. The poor girl had thus about eighteenpence a month left for her other expenses. But many workwomen, whose position is less fortunate than hers, since they have neither home nor family, buy a piece of bread and some other food to keep them through the day; and at night patronize the "twopenny rope," one with another, in a wretched room containing five or six beds, some of which are always engaged by men, as male lodgers are by far the most abundant. Yes; and in spite of the disgust that a poor and virtuous girl must feel at this arrangement, she must submit to it; for a lodging-house keeper cannot have separate rooms for females. To furnish a room, however meanly, the poor workwoman must possess three or four shillings in ready money. But how save this sum, out of weekly earnings of a couple of florins, which are scarcely sufficient to keep her from starving, and are still less sufficient to clothe her? No! no! The poor wretch must resign herself to this repugnant cohabitation; and so, gradually, the instinct of modesty becomes weakened; the natural sentiment of chastity, that saved her from the "gay life," becomes extinct; vice appears to be the only means of improving her intolerable condition; she yields; and the first "man made of money," who can afford a governess for his children, cries out against the depravity of the lower orders! And yet, painful as the condition of the working woman is, it is relatively fortunate. Should work fail her for one day, two days, what then? Should sickness come—sickness almost always occasioned by unwholesome food, want of fresh air, necessary attention, and good rest; sickness, often so enervating as to render work impossible; though not so dangerous as to procure the sufferer a bed in an hospital—what becomes of the hapless wretches then? The mind hesitates, and shrinks from dwelling on such gloomy pictures.
This inadequacy of wages, one terrible source only of so many evils, and often of so many vices, is general, especially among women; and, again this is not private wretchedness, but the wretchedness which afflicts whole classes, the type of which we endeavor to develop in Mother Bunch. It exhibits the moral and physical condition of thousands of human creatures in Paris, obliged to subsist on a scanty four shillings a week. This poor workwoman, then, notwithstanding the advantages she unknowingly enjoyed through Agricola's generosity, lived very miserably; and her health, already shattered, was now wholly undermined by these constant hardships. Yet, with extreme delicacy, though ignorant of the little sacrifice already made for her by Agricola, Mother Bunch pretended she earned more than she really did, in order to avoid offers of service which it would have pained her to accept, because she knew the limited means of Frances and her son, and because it would have wounded her natural delicacy, rendered still more sensitive by so many sorrows and humiliations.
But, singular as it may appear, this deformed body contained a loving and generous soul—a mind cultivated even to poetry; and let us add, that this was owing to the example of Agricola Baudoin, with whom she had been brought up, and who had naturally the gift. This poor girl was the first confidant to whom our young mechanic imparted his literary essays; and when he told her of the charm and extreme relief he found in poetic reverie, after a day of hard toil, the workwoman, gifted with strong natural intelligence, felt, in her turn, how great a resource this would be to her in her lonely and despised condition.
One day, to Agricola's great surprise, who had just read some verses to her, the sewing-girl, with smiles and blushes, timidly communicated to him also a poetic composition. Her verses wanted rhythm and harmony, perhaps; but they were simple and affecting, as a non-envenomed complaint entrusted to a friendly hearer. From that day Agricola and she held frequent consultations; they gave each other mutual encouragement: but with this exception, no one else knew anything of the girl's poetical essays, whose mild timidity made her often pass for a person of weak intellect. This soul must have been great and beautiful, for in all her unlettered strains there was not a word of murmuring respecting her hard lot: her note was sad, but gentle—desponding, but resigned; it was especially the language of deep tenderness—of mournful sympathy—of angelic charity for all poor creatures consigned, like her, to bear the double burden of poverty and deformity. Yet she often expressed a sincere free-spoken admiration of beauty, free from all envy or bitterness; she admired beauty as she admired the sun. But, alas! many were the verses of hers that Agricola had never seen, and which he was never to see.
The young mechanic, though not strictly handsome, had an open masculine face; was as courageous as kind; possessed a noble, glowing, generous heart, a superior mind, and a frank, pleasing gayety of spirits. The young girl, brought up with him, loved him as an unfortunate creature can love, who, dreading cruel ridicule, is obliged to hide her affection in the depths of her heart, and adopt reserve and deep dissimulation. She did not seek to combat her love; to what purpose should she do so? No one would ever know it. Her well known sisterly affection for Agricola explained the interest she took in all that concerned him; so that no one was surprised at the extreme grief of the young workwoman, when, in 1830, Agricola, after fighting intrepidly for the people's flag, was brought bleeding home to his mother. Dagobert's son, deceived, like others, on this point, had never suspected, and was destined never to suspect, this love for him.
Such was the poorly-clad girl who entered the room in which Frances was preparing her son's supper.
"Is it you, my poor love," said she; "I have not seen you since morning: have you been ill? Come and kiss me."
The young girl kissed Agricola's mother, and replied: "I was very busy about some work, mother; I did not wish to lose a moment; I have only just finished it. I am going down to fetch some charcoal—do you want anything while I'm out?"
"No, no, my child, thank you. But I am very uneasy. It is half-past eight, and Agricola is not come home." Then she added, after a sigh: "He kills himself with work for me. Ah, I am very unhappy, my girl; my sight is quite going. In a quarter of an hour after I begin working, I cannot see at all—not even to sew sacks. The idea of being a burden to my son drives me distracted."
"Oh, don't, ma'am, if Agricola heard you say that—"
"I know the poor boy thinks of nothing but me, and that augments my vexation. Only I think that rather than leave me, he gives up the advantages that his fellow-workmen enjoy at Hardy's, his good and worthy master—instead of living in this dull garret, where it is scarcely light at noon, he would enjoy, like the other workmen, at very little expense, a good light room, warm in winter, airy in summer, with a view of the garden. And he is so fond of trees! not to mention that this place is so far from his work, that it is quite a toil to him to get to it."
"Oh, when he embraces you he forgets his fatigue, Mrs. Baudoin," said Mother Bunch; "besides, he knows how you cling to the house in which he was born. M. Hardy offered to settle you at Plessy with Agricola, in the building put up for the workmen."
"Yes, my child; but then I must give up church. I can't do that."
"But—be easy, I hear him," said the hunchback, blushing.
A sonorous, joyous voice was heard singing on the stairs.
"At least, I'll not let him see that I have been crying," said the good mother, drying her tears. "This is the only moment of rest and ease from toil he has—I must not make it sad to him."
CHAPTER XXIX. AGRICOLA BAUDOIN.
Our blacksmith poet, a tall young man, about four-and-twenty years of age, was alert and robust, with ruddy complexion, dark hair and eyes, and aquiline nose, and an open, expressive countenance. His resemblance to Dagobert was rendered more striking by the thick brown moustache which he wore according to the fashion; and a sharp-pointed imperial covered his chin. His cheeks, however, were shaven, Olive color velveteen trousers, a blue blouse, bronzed by the forge smoke, a black cravat, tied carelessly round his muscular neck, a cloth cap with a narrow vizor, composed his dress. The only thing which contrasted singularly with his working habiliments was a handsome purple flower, with silvery pistils, which he held in his hand.
"Good-evening, mother," said he, as he came to kiss Frances immediately.
Then, with a friendly nod, he added, "Good-evening, Mother Bunch."
"You are very late, my child," said Frances, approaching the little stove on which her son's simple meal was simmering; "I was getting very anxious."
"Anxious about me, or about my supper, dear mother?" said Agricola, gayly. "The deuce! you won't excuse me for keeping the nice little supper waiting that you get ready for me, for fear it should be spoilt, eh?"
So saying, the blacksmith tried to kiss his mother again.
"Have done, you naughty boy; you'll make me upset the pan."
"That would be a pity, mother; for it smells delightfully. Let's see what it is."
"Wait half a moment."
"I'll swear, now, you have some of the fried potatoes and bacon I'm so fond of."
"Being Saturday, of course!" said Frances, in a tone of mild reproach.
"True," rejoined Agricola, exchanging a smile of innocent cunning with Mother Bunch; "but, talking of Saturday, mother, here are my wages."
"Thank ye, child; put the money in the cupboard."
"Oh, dear!" cried the young sempstress, just as Agricola was about to put away the money, "what a handsome flower you have in your hand, Agricola. I never saw a finer. In winter, too! Do look at it, Mrs. Baudoin."
"See there, mother," said Agricola, taking the flower to her; "look at it, admire it, and especially smell it. You can't have a sweeter perfume; a blending of vanilla and orange blossom."
"Indeed, it does smell nice, child. Goodness! how handsome!" said Frances, admiringly; "where did you find it?"
"Find it, my good mother!" repeated Agricola, smilingly: "do you think folks pick up such things between the Barriere du Maine and the Rue Brise-Miche?"
"How did you get it then?" inquired the sewing girl, sharing in Frances's curiosity.
"Oh! you would like to know? Well, I'll satisfy you, and explain why I came home so late; for something else detained me. It has been an evening of adventures, I promise you. I was hurrying home, when I heard a low, gentle barking at the corner of the Rue de Babylone; it was just about dusk, and I could see a very pretty little dog, scarce bigger than my fist, black and tan, with long, silky hair, and ears that covered its paws."
"Lost, poor thing, I warrant," said Frances.
"You've hit it. I took up the poor thing, and it began to lick my hands. Round its neck was a red satin ribbon, tied in a large bow; but as that did not bear the master's name, I looked beneath it, and saw a small collar, made of a gold plate and small gold chains. So I took a Lucifer match from my 'bacco-box, and striking a light, I read, 'FRISKY belongs to Hon. Miss Adrienne de Cardoville, No. 7, Rue de Babylone.'"
"Why, you were just in the street," said Mother Bunch.
"Just so. Taking the little animal under my arm, I looked about me till I came to a long garden wall, which seemed to have no end, and found a small door of a summer-house, belonging no doubt to the large mansion at the other end of the park; for this garden looked just like a park. So, looking up I saw 'No. 7,' newly painted over a little door with a grated slide. I rang; and in a few minutes, spent, no doubt, in observing me through the bars (for I am sure I saw a pair of eyes peeping through), the gate opened. And now, you'll not believe a word I have to say."
"Why not, my child?"
"Because it seems like a fairy tale."
"A fairy tale?" said Mother Bunch, as if she was really her namesake of elfish history.
"For, all the world it does. I am quite astounded, even now, at my adventure; it is like the remembrance of a dream."
"Well, let us have it," said the worthy mother, so deeply interested that she did not perceive her son's supper was beginning to burn.
"First," said the blacksmith, smiling at the curiosity he had excited, "a young lady opened the door to me, but so lovely, so beautifully and gracefully dressed, that you would have taken her for a beautiful portrait of past times. Before I could say a word, she exclaimed, 'Ah! dear me, sir, you have brought back Frisky; how happy Miss Adrienne will be! Come, pray come in instantly; she would so regret not having an opportunity to thank you in person!' And without giving me time to reply, she beckoned me to follow her. Oh, dear mother, it is quite out of my power to tell you, the magnificence I saw, as I passed through a small saloon, partially lighted, and full of perfume! It would be impossible. The young woman walked too quickly. A door opened,—Oh, such a sight! I was so dazzled I can remember nothing but a great glare of gold and light, crystal and flowers; and, amidst all this brilliancy, a young lady of extreme beauty—ideal beauty; but she had red hair, or rather hair shining like gold! Oh! it was charming to look at! I never saw such hair before. She had black eyes, ruddy lips, and her skin seemed white as snow. This is all I can recollect: for, as I said before, I was so dazzled, I seemed to be looking through a veil. 'Madame,' said the young woman, whom I never should have taken for a lady's-maid, she was dressed so elegantly, 'here is Frisky. This gentleman found him, and brought him back.' 'Oh, sir,' said the young lady with the golden hair, in a sweet silvery voice, 'what thanks I owe you! I am foolishly attached to Frisky.' Then, no doubt, concluding from my dress that she ought to thank me in some other way than by words, she took up a silk purse, and said to me, though I must confess with some hesitation—'No doubt, sir, it gave you some trouble to bring my pet back. You have, perhaps, lost some valuable time—allow me—' She held forth her purse."
"Oh, Agricola," said Mother Bunch, sadly; "how people may be deceived!"
"Hear the end, and you will perhaps forgive the young lady. Seeing by my looks that the offer of the purse hurt me, she took a magnificent porcelain vase that contained this flower, and, addressing me in a tone full of grace and kindness, that left me room to guess that she was vexed at having wounded me, she said—'At least, sir, you will accept this flower.'"
"You are right, Agricola," said the girl, smiling sadly; "an involuntary error could not be repaired in a nicer way.
"Worthy young lady," said Frances, wiping her eyes; "how well she understood my Agricola!"
"Did she not, mother? But just as I was taking the flower, without daring to raise my eyes (for, notwithstanding the young lady's kind manner, there was something very imposing about her) another handsome girl, tall and dark, and dressed to the top of fashion, came in and said to the red-haired young lady, 'He is here, Madame.' She immediately rose and said to me, 'A thousand pardons, sir. I shall never forget that I am indebted to you for a moment of much pleasure. Pray remember, on all occasions, my address and name—Adrienne de Cardoville.' Thereupon she disappeared. I could not find a word to say in reply. The same young woman showed me to the door, and curtseyed to me very politely. And there I stood in the Rue de Babylone, as dazzled and astonished as if I had come out of an enchanted palace."
"Indeed, my child, it is like a fairy tale. Is it not, my poor girl?"
"Yes, ma'am," said Mother Bunch, in an absent manner that Agricola did not observe.
"What affected me most," rejoined Agricola, "was, that the young lady, on seeing her little dog, did not forget me for it, as many would have done in her place, and took no notice of it before me. That shows delicacy and feeling, does it not? Indeed, I believe this young lady to be so kind and generous, that I should not hesitate to have recourse to her in any important case."
"Yes, you are right," replied the sempstress, more and more absent.
The poor girl suffered extremely. She felt no jealousy, no hatred, towards this young stranger, who, from her beauty, wealth, and delicacy, seemed to belong to a sphere too splendid and elevated to be even within the reach of a work, girl's vision; but, making an involuntary comparison of this fortunate condition with her own, the poor thing had never felt more cruelly her deformity and poverty. Yet such were the humility and gentle resignation of this noble creature, that the only thing which made her feel ill-disposed towards Adrienne de Cardoville was the offer of the purse to Agricola; but then the charming way in which the young lady had atoned for her error, affected the sempstress deeply. Yet her heart was ready to break. She could not restrain her tears as she contemplated the magnificent flower—so rich in color and perfume, which, given by a charming hand, was doubtless very precious to Agricola.
"Now, mother," resumed the young man smilingly, and unaware of the painful emotion of the other bystander, "you have had the cream of my adventures first. I have told you one of the causes of my delay; and now for the other. Just now, as I was coming in, I met the dyer at the foot of the stairs, his arms a beautiful pea-green. Stopping me he said, with an air full of importance, that he thought he had seen a chap sneaking about the house like a spy, 'Well, what is that to you, Daddy Loriot?' said I: 'are you afraid he will nose out the way to make the beautiful green, with which you are dyed up to the very elbows?'"
"But who could that man be, Agricola?" said Frances.
"On my word, mother, I don't know and scarcely care; I tried to persuade Daddy Loriot, who chatters like a magpie, to return to his cellar, since it could signify as little to him as to me, whether a spy watched him or not." So saying, Agricola went and placed the little leathern sack, containing his wages, on a shelf, in the cupboard.
As Frances put down the saucepan on the end of the table, Mother Bunch, recovering from her reverie, filled a basin with water, and, taking it to the blacksmith, said to him in a gentle tone-"Agricola—for your hands."
"Thank you, little sister. How kind you are!" Then with a most unaffected gesture and tone, he added, "There is my fine flower for your trouble."
"Do you give it me?" cried the sempstress, with emotion, while a vivid blush colored her pale and interesting face. "Do you give me this handsome flower, which a lovely rich young lady so kindly and graciously gave you?" And the poor thing repeated, with growing astonishment, "Do you give it to me?"
"What the deuce should I do with it? Wear it on my heart, have it set as a pin?" said Agricola, smiling. "It is true I was very much impressed by the charming way in which the young lady thanked me. I am delighted to think I found her little dog, and very happy to be able to give you this flower, since it pleases you. You see the day has been a happy one."
While Mother Bunch, trembling with pleasure, emotion, and surprise, took the flower, the young blacksmith washed his hands, so black with smoke and steel filings that the water became dark in an instant. Agricola, pointing out this change to the sempstress, said to her in a whisper, laughing,-"Here's cheap ink for us paper-stainers! I finished some verses yesterday, which I am rather satisfied with. I will read them to you."
With this, Agricola wiped his hands naturally on the front of his blouse, while Mother Bunch replaced the basin on the chest of drawers, and laid the flower against the side of it.
"Can't you ask for a towel," said Frances, shrugging her shoulders, "instead of wiping your hands on your blouse?"
"After being scorched all day long at the forge, it will be all the better for a little cooling to-night, won't it? Am I disobedient, mother? Scold me, then, if you dare! Come, let us see you."
Frances made no reply; but, placing her hands on either side of her son's head, so beautiful in its candor, resolution and intelligence, she surveyed him for a moment with maternal pride, and kissed him repeatedly on the forehead.
"Come," said she, "sit down: you stand all day at your forge, and it is late."
"So,—your arm-chair again!" said Agricola.—"Our usual quarrel every evening—take it away, I shall be quite as much at ease on another."
"No, no! You ought at least to rest after your hard toil."
"What tyranny!" said Agricola gayly, sitting down. "Well, I preach like a good apostle; but I am quite at ease in your arm-chair, after all. Since I sat down on the throne in the Tuileries, I have never had a better seat."
Frances Baudoin, standing on one side of the table, cut a slice of bread for her son, while Mother Bunch, on the other, filled his silver mug. There was something affecting in the attentive eagerness of the two excellent creatures, for him whom they loved so tenderly.
"Won't you sup with me?" said Agricola to the girl.
"Thank you, Agricola," replied the sempstress, looking down, "I have only just dined."
"Oh, I only ask you for form's sake—you have your whims—we can never prevail on you to eat with us—just like mother; she prefers dining all alone; and in that way she deprives herself without my knowing it."
"Goodness, child! It is better for my health to dine early. Well, do you find it nice?"
"Nice!—call it excellent! Stockfish and parsnips. Oh, I am very fond of stockfish; I should have been born a Newfoundland fisherman."
This worthy lad, on the contrary, was but poorly refreshed, after a hard day's toil, with this paltry stew,—a little burnt as it had been, too, during his story; but he knew he pleased his mother by observing the fast without complaining. He affected to enjoy his meal; and the good woman accordingly observed with satisfaction:
"Oh, I see you like it, my dear boy; Friday and Saturday next we'll have some more."
"Thank you, mother,—only not two days together. One gets tired of luxuries, you know! And now, let us talk of what we shall do to-morrow—Sunday. We must be very merry, for the last few days you seem very sad, dear mother, and I can't make it out—I fancy you are not satisfied with me."
"Oh, my dear child!—you—the pattern of—"
"Well, well! Prove to me that you are happy, then, by taking a little amusement. Perhaps you will do us the honor of accompanying us, as you did last time," added Agricola, bowing to Mother Bunch.
The latter blushed and looked down; her face assumed an expression of bitter grief, and she made no reply.
"I have the prayers to attend all day, you know, my dear child," said Frances to her son.
"Well, in the evening, then? I don't propose the theatre; but they say there is a conjurer to be seen whose tricks are very amusing.
"I am obliged to you, my son; but that is a kind of theatre."
"Dear mother, this is unreasonable!"
"My dear child, do I ever hinder others from doing what they like?"
"True, dear mother; forgive me. Well, then, if it should be fine, we will simply take a walk with Mother Bunch on the Boulevards. It is nearly three months since she went out with us; and she never goes out without us."
"No, no; go alone, my child. Enjoy your Sunday, 'tis little enough."
"You know very well, Agricola," said the sempstress, blushing up to the eyes, "that I ought not to go out with you and your mother again."
"Why not, madame? May I ask, without impropriety, the cause of this refusal?" said Agricola gayly.
The poor girl smiled sadly, and replied, "Because I will not expose you to a quarrel on my account, Agricola."
"Forgive me," said Agricola, in a tone of sincere grief, and he struck his forehead vexedly.
To this Mother Bunch alluded sometimes, but very rarely, for she observed punctilious discretion. The girl had gone out with Agricola and his mother. Such occasions were, indeed, holidays for her. Many days and nights had she toiled hard to procure a decent bonnet and shawl, that she might not do discredit to her friends. The five or six days of holidays, thus spent arm in arm with him whom she adored in secret, formed the sum of her happy days.
Taking their last walk, a coarse, vulgar man elbowed her so rudely that the poor girl could not refrain from a cry of terror, and the man retorted it by saying,-"What are you rolling your hump in my way for, stoopid?"
Agricola, like his father, had the patience which force and courage give to the truly brave; but he was extremely quick when it became necessary to avenge an insult. Irritated at the vulgarity of this man, Agricola left his mother's arm to inflict on the brute, who was of his own age, size, and force, two vigorous blows, such as the powerful arm and huge fist of a blacksmith never before inflicted on human face. The villain attempted to return it, and Agricola repeated the correction, to the amusement of the crowd, and the fellow slunk away amidst a deluge of hisses. This adventure made Mother Bunch say she would not go out with Agricola again, in order to save him any occasion of quarrel. We may conceive the blacksmith's regret at having thus unwittingly revived the memory of this circumstance,—more painful, alas! for Mother Bunch than Agricola could imagine, for she loved him passionately, and her infirmity had been the cause of that quarrel. Notwithstanding his strength and resolution, Agricola was childishly sensitive; and, thinking how painful that thought must be to the poor girl, a large tear filled his eyes, and, holding out his hands, he said, in a brotherly tone, "Forgive my heedlessness! Come, kiss me." And he gave her thin, pale cheeks two hearty kisses.
The poor girl's lips turned pale at this cordial caress; and her heart beat so violently that she was obliged to lean against the corner of the table.
"Come, you forgive me, do you not?" said Agricola.
"Yes! yes!" she said, trying to subdue her emotion; "but the recollection of that quarrel pains me—I was so alarmed on your account; if the crowd had sided with that man!"
"Alas!" said Frances, coming to the sewing-girl's relief, without knowing it, "I was never so afraid in all my life!"
"Oh, mother," rejoined Agricola, trying to change a conversation which had now become disagreeable for the sempstress, "for the wife of a horse grenadier of the Imperial Guard, you have not much courage. Oh, my brave father; I can't believe he is really coming! The very thought turns me topsy-turvy!"
"Heaven grant he may come," said Frances, with a sigh.
"God grant it, mother. He will grant it, I should think. Lord knows, you have had masses enough said for his return."
"Agricola, my child," said Frances, interrupting her son, and shaking her head sadly, "do not speak in that way. Besides, you are talking of your father."
"Well, I'm in for it this evening. 'Tis your turn now; positively, I am growing stupid, or going crazy. Forgive me, mother! forgive! That's the only word I can get out to-night. You know that, when I do let out on certain subjects, it is because I can't help it; for I know well the pain it gives you."
"You do not offend me, my poor, dear, misguided boy."
"It comes to the same thing; and there is nothing so bad as to offend one's mother; and, with respect to what I said about father's return, I do not see that we have any cause to doubt it."
"But we have not heard from him for four months."
"You know, mother, in his letter—that is, in the letter which he dictated (for you remember that, with the candor of an old soldier, he told us that, if he could read tolerably well, he could not write); well, in that letter he said we were not to be anxious about him; that he expected to be in Paris about the end of January, and would send us word, three or four days before, by what road he expected to arrive, that I might go and meet him."
"True, my child; and February is come, and no news yet."
"The greater reason why we should wait patiently. But I'll tell you more: I should not be surprised if our good Gabriel were to come back about the same time. His last letter from America makes me hope so. What pleasure, mother, should all the family be together!"
"Oh, yes, my child! It would be a happy day for me."
"And that day will soon come, trust me."
"Do you remember your father, Agricola?" inquired Mother Bunch.
"To tell the truth, I remember most his great grenadier's shako and moustache, which used to frighten me so, that nothing but the red ribbon of his cross of honor, on the white facings of his uniform, and the shining handle of his sabre, could pacify me; could it, mother? But what is the matter? You are weeping!"
"Alas! poor Baudoin! What he must suffer at being separated from us at his age—sixty and past! Alas! my child, my heart breaks, when I think that he comes home only to change one kind of poverty for another."
"What do you mean?"
"Alas! I earn nothing now."
"Why, what's become of me? Isn't there a room here for you and for him; and a table for you too? Only, my good mother, since we are talking of domestic affairs," added the blacksmith, imparting increased tenderness to his tone, that he might not shock his mother, "when he and Gabriel come home, you won't want to have any more masses said, and tapers burned for them, will you? Well, that saving will enable father to have tobacco to smoke, and his bottle of wine every day. Then, on Sundays, we will take a nice dinner at the eating-house."
A knocking at the door disturbed Agricola.
"Come in," said he. Instead of doing so, some one half-opened the door, and, thrusting in an arm of a pea-green color, made signs to the blacksmith.
"'Tis old Loriot, the pattern of dyers," said Agricola; "come in, Daddy, no ceremony."
"Impossible, my lad; I am dripping with dye from head to foot; I should cover missus's floor with green."
"So much the better. It will remind me of the fields I like so much."
"Without joking, Agricola, I must speak to you immediately."
"About the spy, eh? Oh, be easy; what's he to us?"
"No; I think he's gone; at any rate, the fog is so thick I can't see him. But that's not it—come, come quickly! It is very important," said the dyer, with a mysterious look; "and only concerns you."
"Me, only?" said Agricola, with surprise. "What can it be.
"Go and see, my child," said Frances.
"Yes, mother; but the deuce take me if I can make it out."
And the blacksmith left the room, leaving his mother with Mother Bunch.
CHAPTER XXX. THE RETURN.
In five minutes Agricola returned; his face was pale and agitated—his eyes glistened with tears, and his hands trembled; but his countenance expressed extraordinary happiness and emotion. He stood at the door for a moment, as if too much affected to accost his mother.
Frances's sight was so bad that she did not immediately perceive the change her son's countenance had undergone.
"Well, my child—what is it?" she inquired.
Before the blacksmith could reply, Mother Bunch, who had more discernment, exclaimed: "Goodness, Agricola—how pale you are! Whatever is the matter?"
"Mother," said the artisan, hastening to Frances, without replying to the sempstress,—"mother, expect news that will astonish you; but promise me you will be calm."
"What do you mean? How you tremble! Look at me! Mother Bunch was right—you are quite pale."
"My kind mother!" and Agricola, kneeling before Frances, took both her hands in his—"you must—you do not know,—but—"
The blacksmith could not go on. Tears of joy interrupted his speech.
"You weep, my dear child! Your tears alarm me. 'What is the matter?—you terrify me!"
"Oh, no, I would not terrify you; on the contrary," said Agricola, drying his eyes—"you will be so happy. But, again, you must try and command your feelings, for too much joy is as hurtful as too much grief."
"Did I not say true, when I said he would come?"
"Father!" cried Frances. She rose from her seat; but her surprise and emotion were so great that she put one hand to her heart to still its beating, and then she felt her strength fail. Her son sustained her, and assisted her to sit down.
Mother Bunch, till now, had stood discreetly apart, witnessing from a distance the scene which completely engrossed Agricola and his mother. But she now drew near timidly, thinking she might be useful; for Frances changed color more and more.
"Come, courage, mother," said the blacksmith; "now the shock is over, you have only to enjoy the pleasure of seeing my father."
"My poor man! after eighteen years' absence. Oh, I cannot believe it," said Frances, bursting into tears. "Is it true? Is it, indeed, true?"
"So true, that if you will promise me to keep as calm as you can, I will tell you when you may see him."
"Soon—may I not?"
"But when will he arrive?"
"He may arrive any minute—to-morrow—perhaps to-day."
"Yes, mother! Well, I must tell you all—he has arrived."
"He—he is—" Frances could not articulate the word.
"He was downstairs just now. Before coming up, he sent the dyer to apprise me that I might prepare you; for my brave father feared the surprise might hurt you."
"And now," cried the blacksmith, in an accent of indescribable joy—"he is there, waiting! Oh, mother! for the last ten minutes I have scarcely been able to contain myself—my heart is bursting with joy." And running to the door, he threw it open.
Dagobert, holding Rose and Blanche by the hand, stood on the threshold. Instead of rushing to her husband's arms, Frances fell on her knees in prayer. She thanked heaven with profound gratitude for hearing her prayers, and thus accepting her offerings. During a second, the actors of this scene stood silent and motionless. Agricola, by a sentiment of respect and delicacy, which struggled violently with his affection, did not dare to fall on his father's neck. He waited with constrained impatience till his mother had finished her prayer.
The soldier experienced the same feeling as the blacksmith; they understood each other. The first glance exchanged by father and son expressed their affection—their veneration for that excellent woman, who in the fulness of her religious fervor, forgot, perhaps, too much the creature for the Creator.
Rose and Blanche, confused and affected, looked with interest on the kneeling woman; while Mother Bunch, shedding in silence tears of joy at the thought of Agricola's happiness, withdrew into the most obscure corner of the room, feeling that she was a stranger, and necessarily out of place in that family meeting. Frances rose, and took a step towards her husband, who received her in his arms. There was a moment of solemn silence. Dagobert and Frances said not a word. Nothing could be heard but a few sighs, mingled with sighs of joy. And, when the aged couple looked up, their expression was calm, radiant, serene; for the full and complete enjoyment of simple and pure sentiments never leaves behind a feverish and violent agitation.
"My children," said the soldier, in tones of emotion, presenting the orphans to Frances, who, after her first agitation, had surveyed them with astonishment, "this is my good and worthy wife; she will be to the daughters of General Simon what I have been to them."
"Then, madame, you will treat us as your children," said Rose, approaching Frances with her sister.
"The daughters of General Simon!" cried Dagobert's wife, more and more astonished.
"Yes, my dear Frances; I have brought them from afar not without some difficulty; but I will tell you that by and by."
"Poor little things! One would take them for two angels, exactly alike!" said Frances, contemplating the orphans with as much interest as admiration.
"Now—for us," cried Dagobert, turning to his son.
"At last," rejoined the latter.
We must renounce all attempts to describe the wild joy of Dagobert and his son, and the crushing grip of their hands, which Dagobert interrupted only to look in Agricola's face; while he rested his hands on the young blacksmith's broad shoulders that he might see to more advantage his frank masculine countenance, and robust frame. Then he shook his hand again, exclaiming, "He's a fine fellow—well built—what a good-hearted look he has!"
From a corner of the room Mother Bunch enjoyed Agricola's happiness; but she feared that her presence, till then unheeded, would be an intrusion. She wished to withdraw unnoticed, but could not do so. Dagobert and his son were between her and the door; and she stood unable to take her eyes from the charming faces of Rose and Blanche. She had never seen anything so winsome; and the extraordinary resemblance of the sisters increased her surprise. Then, their humble mourning revealing that they were poor, Mother Bunch involuntarily felt more sympathy towards them.
"Dear children! They are cold; their little hands are frozen, and, unfortunately, the fire is out," said Frances, She tried to warm the orphans' hands in hers, while Dagobert and his son gave themselves up to the feelings of affection, so long restrained.
As soon as Frances said that the fire was out, Mother Bunch hastened to make herself useful, as an excuse for her presence; and, going to the cupboard, where the charcoal and wood were kept, she took some small pieces, and, kneeling before the stove, succeeded, by the aid of a few embers that remained, in relighting the fire, which soon began to draw and blaze. Filling a coffee-pot with water, she placed it on the stove, presuming that the orphans required some warm drink. The sempstress did all this with so much dexterity and so little noise—she was naturally so forgotten amidst the emotions of the scene—that Frances, entirely occupied with Rose and Blanche, only perceived the fire when she felt its warmth diffusing round, and heard the boiling water singing in the coffee-pot. This phenomenon—fire rekindling of itself—did not astonish Dagobert's wife then, so wholly was she taken up in devising how she could lodge the maidens; for Dagobert as we have seen, had not given her notice of their arrival.
Suddenly a loud bark was heard three or four times at the door.
"Hallo! there's Spoil-sport," said Dagobert, letting in his dog; "he wants to come in to brush acquaintance with the family too."
The dog came in with a bound, and in a second was quite at home. After having rubbed Dagobert's hand with his muzzle, he went in turns to greet Rose and Blanche, and also Frances and Agricola; but seeing that they took but little notice of him, he perceived Mother Bunch, who stood apart, in an obscure corner of the room, and carrying out the popular saying, "the friends of our friends are our friends," he went and licked the hands of the young workwoman, who was just then forgotten by all. By a singular impulse, this action affected the girl to tears; she patted her long, thin, white hand several times on the head of the intelligent dog. Then, finding that she could be no longer useful (for she had done all the little services she deemed in her power), she took the handsome flower Agricola had given her, opened the door gently, and went away so discreetly that no one noticed her departure. After this exchange of mutual affection, Dagobert, his wife, and son, began to think of the realities of life.
"Poor Frances," said the soldier, glancing at Rose and Blanche, "you did not expect such a pretty surprise!"
"I am only sorry, my friend," replied Frances, "that the daughters of General Simon will not have a better lodging than this poor room; for with Agricola's garret—"
"It composes our mansion," interrupted Dagobert; "there are handsomer, it must be confessed. But be at ease; these young ladies are drilled into not being hard to suit on that score. To-morrow, I and my boy will go arm and arm, and I'll answer for it he won't walk the more upright and straight of the two, and find out General Simon's father, at M. Hardy's factory, to talk about business."
"To-morrow," said Agricola to Dagobert, "you will not find at the factory either M. Hardy or Marshall Simon's father."
"What is that you say, my lad?" cried Dagobert, hastily, "the Marshal!"
"To be sure; since 1830, General Simon's friends have secured him the title and rank which the emperor gave him at the battle of Ligny."
"Indeed!" cried Dagobert, with emotion, "but that ought not to surprise me; for, after all, it is just; and when the emperor said a thing, the least they can do is to let it abide. But it goes all the same to my heart; it makes me jump again."
Addressing the sisters, he said: "Do you hear that, my children? You arrive in Paris the daughters of a Duke and Marshal of France. One would hardly think it, indeed, to see you in this room, my poor little duchesses! But patience; all will go well. Ah, father Simon must have been very glad to hear that his son was restored to his rank! eh, my lad?"
"He told us he would renounce all kinds of ranks and titles to see his son again; for it was during the general's absence that his friends obtained this act of justice. But they expect Marshal Simon every moment, for the last letter from India announced his departure."
At these words Rose and Blanche looked at each other; and their eyes filled with tears.
"Heaven be praised! These children rely on his return; but why shall we not find M. Hardy and father Simon at the factory to-morrow?"
"Ten days ago, they went to examine and study an English mill established in the south; but we expect them back every day."
"The deuce! that's vexing; I relied on seeing the general's father, to talk over some important matters with him. At any rate, they know where to write to him. So to-morrow you will let him know, my lad, that his granddaughters are arrived. In the mean time, children," added the soldier, to Rose and Blanche, "my good wife will give you her bed and you must put up with the chances of war. Poor things! they will not be worse off here than they were on the journey."
"You know we shall always be well off with you and madame," said Rose.
"Besides, we only think of the pleasure of being at length in Paris, since here we are to find our father," added Blanche.
"That hope gives you patience, I know," said Dagobert, "but no matter! After all you have heard about it, you ought to be finely surprised, my children. As yet, you have not found it the golden city of your dreams, by any means. But, patience, patience; you'll find Paris not so bad as it looks."
"Besides," said Agricola, "I am sure the arrival of Marshal Simon in Paris will change it for you into a golden city."
"You are right, Agricola," said Rose, with a smile, "you have, indeed, guessed us."
"What! do you know my name?"
"Certainly, Agricola, we often talked about you with Dagobert; and latterly, too, with Gabriel," added Blanche.
"Gabriel!" cried Agricola and his mother, at the same time.
"Yes," replied Dagobert, making a sign of intelligence to the orphans, "we have lots to tell you for a fortnight to come; and among other things, how we chanced to meet with Gabriel. All I can now say is that, in his way, he is quite as good as my boy (I shall never be tired of saying 'my boy'); and they ought to love each other like brothers. Oh, my brave, brave wife!" said Dagobert, with emotion, "you did a good thing, poor as you were, taking the unfortunate child—and bringing him up with your own."
"Don't talk so much about it, my dear; it was such a simple thing."
"You are right; but I'll make you amends for it by and by. 'Tis down to your account; in the mean time, you will be sure to see him to-morrow morning."
"My dear brother arrived too!" cried the blacksmith; "who'll say, after this, that there are not days set apart for happiness? How came you to meet him, father?"
"I'll tell you all, by and by, about when and how we met Gabriel; for if you expect to sleep, you are mistaken. You'll give me half your room, and a fine chat we'll have. Spoil-sport will stay outside of this door; he is accustomed to sleep at the children's door."
"Dear me, love, I think of nothing. But, at such a moment, if you and the young ladies wish to sup, Agricola will fetch something from the cook-shop."
"What do you say, children?"
"No, thank you, Dagobert, we are not hungry; we are too happy."
"You will take a little wine and water, sweetened, nice and hot, to warm you a little, my dear young ladies," said Frances; "unfortunately, I have nothing else to offer you."
"You are right, Frances; the dear children are tired, and want to go to bed; while they do so, I'll go to my boy's room, and, before Rose and Blanche are awake, I will come down and converse with you, just to give Agricola a respite."
A knock was now heard at the door.
"It is good Mother Bunch come to see if we want her," said Agricola.
"But I think she was here when my husband came in," added Frances.
"Right, mother; and the good girl left lest she should be an intruder: she is so thoughtful. But no—no—it is not she who knocks so loud."
"Go and see who it is, then, Agricola."
Before the blacksmith could reach the door, a man decently dressed, with a respectable air, entered the room, and glanced rapidly round, looking for a moment at Rose and Blanche.
"Allow me to observe, sir," said Agricola, "that after knocking, you might have waited till the door was opened, before you entered. Pray, what is your business?"
"Pray excuse me, sir," said the man, very politely, and speaking slowly, perhaps to prolong his stay in the room: "I beg a thousand pardons—I regret my intrusion—I am ashamed—"
"Well, you ought to be, sir," said Agricola, with impatience, "what do you want?"
"Pray, sir, does not Miss Soliveau, a deformed needlewoman, live here?"
"No, sir; upstairs," said Agricola.
"Really, sir," cried the polite man, with low bows, "I am quite abroad at my blunder: I thought this was the room of that young person. I brought her proposals for work from a very respectable party."
"It is very late, sir," said Agricola, with surprise. "But that young person is as one of our family. Call to-morrow; you cannot see her to night; she is gone to bed."
"Then, sir, I again beg you to excuse—"
"Enough, sir," said Agricola, taking a step towards the door.
"I hope, madame and the young ladies, as well as this gent, will be assured that—"
"If you go on much longer making excuses, sir, you will have to excuse the length of your excuses; and it is time this came to an end!"
Rose and Blanche smiled at these words of Agricola; while Dagobert rubbed his moustache with pride.
"What wit the boy has!" said he aside to his wife. "But that does not astonish you—you are used to it."
During this speech, the ceremonious person withdrew, having again directed a long inquiring glance to the sisters, and to Agricola and Dagobert.
In a few minutes after, Frances having spread a mattress on the ground for herself, and put the whitest sheets on her bed for the orphans, assisted them to undress with maternal solicitude, Dagobert and Agricola having previously withdrawn to their garret. Just as the blacksmith, who preceded his father with a light, passed before the door of Mother Bunch's room, the latter, half concealed in the shade, said to him rapidly, in a low tone:
"Agricola, great danger threatens you: I must speak to you."
These words were uttered in so hasty and low a voice that Dagobert did not hear them; but as Agricola stopped suddenly, with a start, the old soldier said to him,
"Well, boy, what is it?"
"Nothing, father," said the blacksmith, turning round; "I feared I did not light you well."
"Oh, stand at ease about that; I have the legs and eyes of fifteen to night;" and the soldier, not noticing his son's surprise, went into the little room where they were both to pass the night.
On leaving the house, after his inquiries about Mother Bunch, the over polite Paul Pry slunk along to the end of Brise-Miche Street. He advanced towards a hackney-coach drawn up on the Cloitre Saint-Merry Square.
In this carriage lounged Rodin, wrapped in a cloak.
"Well?" said he, in an inquiring tone.
"The two girls and the man with gray moustache went directly to Frances Baudoin's; by listening at the door, I learnt that the sisters will sleep with her, in that room, to-night; the old man with gray moustache will share the young blacksmith's room."
"Very well," said Rodin.
"I did not dare insist on seeing the deformed workwoman this evening on the subject of the Bacchanal Queen; I intend returning to-morrow, to learn the effect of the letter she must have received this evening by the post about the young blacksmith."
"Do not fail! And now you will call, for me, on Frances Baudoin's confessor, late as it is; you will tell him that I am waiting for him at Rue du Milieu des Ursins—he must not lose a moment. Do you come with him. Should I not be returned, he will wait for me. You will tell him it is on a matter of great moment."
"All shall be faithfully executed," said the ceremonious man, cringing to Rodin, as the coach drove quickly away.
CHAPTER XXXI. AGRICOLA AND MOTHER BUNCH.
Within one hour after the different scenes which have just been described the most profound silence reigned in the soldier's humble dwelling. A flickering light, which played through two panes of glass in a door, betrayed that Mother Bunch had not yet gone to sleep; for her gloomy recess, without air or light, was impenetrable to the rays of day, except by this door, opening upon a narrow and obscure passage, connected with the roof. A sorry bed, a table, an old portmanteau, and a chair, so nearly filled this chilling abode, that two persons could not possibly be seated within it, unless one of them sat upon the side of the bed.
The magnificent and precious flower that Agricola had given to the girl was carefully stood up in a vessel of water, placed upon the table on a linen cloth, diffusing its sweet odor around, and expanding its purple calix in the very closet, whose plastered walls, gray and damp, were feebly lighted by the rays of an attenuated candle. The sempstress, who had taken off no part of her dress, was seated upon her bed—her looks were downcast, and her eyes full of tears. She supported herself with one hand resting on the bolster; and, inclining towards the door, listened with painful eagerness, every instant hoping to hear the footsteps of Agricola. The heart of the young sempstress beat violently; her face, usually very pale, was now partially flushed—so exciting was the emotion by which she was agitated. Sometimes she cast her eyes with terror upon a letter which she held in her hand, a letter that had been delivered by post in the course of the evening, and which had been placed by the housekeeper (the dyer) upon the table, while she was rendering some trivial domestic services during the recognitions of Dagobert and his family.
After some seconds, Mother Bunch heard a door, very near her own, softly opened.
"There he is at last!" she exclaimed, and Agricola immediately entered.
"I waited till my father went to sleep," said the blacksmith, in a low voice, his physiognomy evincing much more curiosity than uneasiness. "But what is the matter, my good sister? How your countenance is changed! You weep! What has happened? About what danger would you speak to me?"
"Hush! Read this!" said she, her voice trembling with emotion, while she hastily presented to him the open letter. Agricola held it towards the light, and read what follows:
"A person who has reasons for concealing himself, but who knows the sisterly interest you take in the welfare of Agricola Baudoin, warns you. That young and worthy workman will probably be arrested in the course of to-morrow."
"I!" exclaimed Agricola, looking at Mother Bunch with an air of stupefied amazement. "What is the meaning of all this?"
"Read on!" quickly replied the sempstress, clasping her hands.
Agricola resumed reading, scarcely believing the evidence of his eyes:-"The song, entitled 'Working-men Freed,' has been declared libellous. Numerous copies of it have been found among the papers of a secret society, the leaders of which are about to be incarcerated, as being concerned in the Rue des Prouvaires conspiracy."
"Alas!" said the girl, melting into tears, "now I see it all. The man who was lurking about below, this evening, who was observed by the dyer, was, doubtless, a spy, lying in wait for you coming home."
"Nonsense!" exclaimed Agricola. "This accusation is quite ridiculous! Do not torment yourself. I never trouble myself with politics. My verses breathe nothing but philanthropy. Am I to blame, if they have been found among the papers of a secret society?" Agricola disdainfully threw the letter upon the table.
"Read! pray read!" said the other; "read on."
"If you wish it," said Agricola, "I will; no time is lost."
He resumed the reading of the letter:
"A warrant is about to be issued against Agricola Baudoin. There is mo doubt of his innocence being sooner or later made clear; but it will be well if he screen himself for a time as much as possible from pursuit, in order that he may escape a confinement of two or three months previous to trial—an imprisonment which would be a terrible blow for his mother, whose sole support he is.
"A SINCERE FRIEND, who is compelled to remain unknown."
After a moment's silence, the blacksmith raised his head; his countenance resumed its serenity; and laughing, he said: "Reassure yourself, good Mother Bunch, these jokers have made a mistake by trying their games on me. It is plainly an attempt at making an April-fool of me before the time."
"Agricola, for the love of heaven!" said the girl, in a supplicating tone; "treat not the warning thus lightly. Believe in my forebodings, and listen to my advice."
"I tell you again, my good girl," replied Agricola, "that it is two months since my song was published. It is not in any way political; indeed, if it were, they would not have waited till now before coming down on me."
"But," said the other, "you forget that new events have arisen. It is scarcely two days since the conspiracy was discovered, in this very neighborhood, in the Rue des Prouvaires. And," continued she, "if the verses, though perhaps hitherto unnoticed, have now been found in the possession of the persons apprehended for this conspiracy, nothing more is necessary to compromise you in the plot."
"Compromise me!" said Agricola; "my verses! in which I only praise the love of labor and of goodness! To arrest me for that! If so, justice would be but a blind noodle. That she might grope her way, it would be necessary to furnish her with a dog and a pilgrim's staff to guide her steps."
"Agricola," resumed Mother Bunch; overwhelmed with anxiety and terror on hearing the blacksmith jest at such a moment, "I conjure you to listen to me! No doubt you uphold in the verses the sacred love of labor; but you do also grievously deplore and deprecate the unjust lot of the poor laborers, devoted as they are, without hope, to all the miseries of life; you recommend, indeed, only fraternity among men; but your good and noble heart vents its indignation, at the same time, against the selfish and the wicked. In fine, you fervently hasten on, with the ardor of your wishes, the emancipation of all the artisans who, less fortunate than you, have not generous M. Hardy for employer. Say, Agricola, in these times of trouble, is there anything more necessary to compromise you than that numerous copies of your song have been found in possession of the persons who have been apprehended?"
Agricola was moved by these affectionate and judicious expressions of an excellent creature, who reasoned from her heart; and he began to view with more seriousness the advice which she had given him.
Perceiving that she had shaken him, the sewing-girl went on to say: "And then, bear your fellow-workman, Remi, in recollection."
"Remi!" said Agricola, anxiously.
"Yes," resumed the sempstress; "a letter of his, a letter in itself quite insignificant, was found in the house of a person arrested last year for conspiracy; and Remi, in consequence, remained a month in prison."
"That is true, but the injustice of his implication was easily shown, and he was set at liberty."
"Yes, Agricola: but not till he had lain a month in prison; and that has furnished the motive of the person who advised you to conceal yourself! A month in prison! Good heavens! Agricola, think of that! and your mother."
These words made a powerful impression upon Agricola. He took up the letter and again read it attentively.
"And the man who has been lurking all this evening about the house?" proceeded she. "I constantly recall that circumstance, which cannot be naturally accounted for. Alas! what a blow it would be for your father, and poor mother, who is incapable of earning anything. Are you not now their only resource? Oh! consider, then, what would become of them without you—without your labor!"
"It would indeed be terrible," said Agricola, impatiently casting the letter upon the table. "What you have said concerning Remi is too true. He was as innocent as I am: yet an error of justice, an involuntary error though it be, is not the less cruel. But they don't commit a man without hearing him."
"But they arrest him first, and hear him afterwards," said Mother Bunch, bitterly; "and then, after a month or two, they restore him his liberty. And if he have a wife and children, whose only means of living is his daily labor, what becomes of them while their only supporter is in prison? They suffer hunger, they endure cold, and they weep!"
At these simple and pathetic words, Agricola trembled.
"A month without work," he said, with a sad and thoughtful air. "And my mother, and father, and the two young ladies who make part of our family until the arrival in Paris of their father, Marshal Simon. Oh! you are right. That thought, in spite of myself, affrights me!"
"Agricola!" exclaimed the girl impetuously; "suppose you apply to M. Hardy; he is so good, and his character is so much esteemed and honored, that, if he offered bail for you, perhaps they would give up their persecution?"
"Unfortunately," replied Agricola, "M. Hardy is absent; he is on a journey with Marshal Simon."
After a silence of some time, Agricola, striving to surmount his fear, added: "But no! I cannot give credence to this letter. After all, I had rather await what may come. I'll at least have the chance of proving my innocence on my first examination: for indeed, my good sister, whether it be that I am in prison or that I fly to conceal myself, my working for my family will be equally prevented."
"Alas! that is true," said the poor girl; "what is to be done! Oh, what is to be done?"
"My brave father," said Agricola to himself, "if this misfortune happen to-morrow, what an awakening it will be for him, who came here to sleep so joyously!" The blacksmith buried his face in his hands.
Unhappily Mother Bunch's fears were too well-founded, for it will be recollected that at that epoch of the year 1832, before and after the Rue des Prouvaires conspiracy, a very great number of arrests had been made among the working classes, in consequence of a violent reaction against democratical ideas.
Suddenly, the girl broke the silence which had been maintained for some seconds. A blush colored her features, which bore the impressions of an indefinable expression of constraint, grief, and hope.
"Agricola, you are saved!"
"What say you?" he asked.
"The young lady, so beautiful, so good, who gave you this flower" (she showed it to the blacksmith) "who has known how to make reparation with so much delicacy for having made a painful offer, cannot but have a generous heart. You must apply to her—"
With these words which seemed to be wrung from her by a violent effort over herself, great tears rolled down her cheeks. For the first time in her life she experienced a feeling of grievous jealousy. Another woman was so happy as to have the power of coming to the relief of him whom she idolized; while she herself, poor creature, was powerless and wretched.
"Do you think so?" exclaimed Agricola surprised. "But what could be done with this young lady?"
"Did she not say to you," answered Mother Bunch, "'Remember my name; and in all circumstances address yourself to me?'"
"She did indeed!" replied Agricola.
"This young lady, in her exalted position, ought to have powerful connections who will be able to protect and defend you. Go to her to morrow morning; tell her frankly what has happened, and request her support."