As Adrienne pronounced these last words with enthusiasm, her countenance appeared transfigured, so resplendent did it become. In that moment, she had lost sight of all that surrounded her.
"It is then," she resumed, with spirit soaring higher and higher, "that I breathe a pure air, reviving and free—yes, free—above all, free—and so salubrious, so grateful to the soul!—Yes, instead of seeing my sisters painfully submit to a selfish, humiliating, brutal dominion, which entails upon them the seductive vices of slavery, the graceful fraud, the enchanting perfidy, the caressing falsehood, the contemptuous resignation, the hateful obedience—I behold them, my noble sisters! worthy and sincere because they are free, faithful and devoted because they have liberty to choose—neither imperious not base, because they have no master to govern or to flatter—cherished and respected, because they can withdraw from a disloyal hand their hand, loyally bestowed. Oh, my sisters! my sisters! I feel it. These are not merely consoling visions—they are sacred hopes."
Carried away, in spite of herself, by the excitement of her feelings, Adrienne paused for a moment, in order to return to earth; she did not perceive that the other actors in this scene were looking at each other with an air of delight.
"What she says there is excellent," murmured the doctor in the princess's ear, next to whom he was seated; "were she in league with us, she would not speak differently."
"It is only by excessive harshness," added D'Aigrigny, "that we shall bring her to the desired point."
But it seemed as if the vexed emotion of Adrienne had been dissipated by the contact of the generous sentiments she had just uttered. Addressing Baleinier with a smile, she said: "I must own, doctor, that there is nothing more ridiculous, than to yield to the current of certain thoughts, in the presence of persons incapable of understanding them. This would give you a fine opportunity to make game of that exaltation of mind for which you sometimes reproach me. To let myself be carried away by transports at so serious a moment!—for, verily, the matter in hand seems to be serious. But you see, good M. Baleinier, when an idea comes into my head, I can no more help following it out, than I could refrain from running after butterflies when I was a little girl."
"And heaven only knows whither these brilliant butterflies of all colors," said M. Baleinier, smiling with an air of paternal indulgence, "that are passing through your brain, are likely to lead you. Oh, madcap, when will she be as reasonable as she is charming?"
"This very instant, my good doctor," replied Adrienne. "I am about to cast off my reveries for realities, and speak plain and positive language, as you shall hear."
Upon which, addressing her aunt, she continued: "You have imparted to me your resolution, madame; I will now tell you mine. Within a week, I shall quit the pavilion that I inhabit, for a house which I have arranged to my taste, where I shall live after my own fashion. I have neither father nor mother, and I owe no account of my actions to any but myself."
"Upon my word, mademoiselle," said the princess, shrugging her shoulders, "you talk nonsense. You forget that society has inalienable moral rights, which we are bound to enforce. And we shall not neglect them, depend upon it."
"So madame, it is you, and M. d'Aigrigny, and M. Tripeaud, that represent the morality of society! This appears to me very fine. Is it because M. Tripeaud has considered (I must acknowledge it) my fortune as his own? Is it because—"
"Now, really, madame," began Tripeaud.
"In good time, madame," said Adrienne to her aunt, without noticing the baron, "as the occasion offers, I shall have to ask you for explanations with regard to certain interests, which have hitherto, I think, been concealed from me."
These words of Adrienne made D'Aigrigny and the princess start, and then rapidly exchange a glance of uneasiness and anxiety. Adrienne did not seem to perceive it, but thus continued: "To have done with your demands, madame, here is my final resolve. I shall live where and how I please. I think that, if I were a man, no one would impose on me, at my age, the harsh and humiliating guardianship you have in view, for living as I have lived till now—honestly, freely, and generously, in the sight of all."
"This idea is absurd! is madness!" cried the princess. "To wish to live thus alone, is to carry immorality and immodesty to their utmost limits."
"If so, madame," said Adrienne, "what opinion must you entertain of so many poor girls, orphans like myself, who live alone and free, as I wish to live? They have not received, as I have, a refined education, calculated to raise the soul, and purify the heart. They have not wealth, as I have, to protect them from the evil temptations of misery; and yet they live honestly and proudly in their distress."
"Vice and virtue do not exist for such tag-rag vermin!" cried Baron Tripeaud, with an expression of anger and hideous disdain.
"Madame, you would turn away a lackey, that would venture to speak thus before you," said Adrienne to her aunt, unable to conceal her disgust, "and yet you oblige me to listen to such speeches!"
The Marquis d'Aigrigny touched M. Tripeaud with his knee under the table, to remind him that he must not express himself in the princess's parlors in the same manner as he would in the lobbies of the Exchange. To repair the baron's coarseness, the abbe thus continued: "There is no comparison, mademoiselle, between people of the class you name, and a young lady of your rank."
"For a Catholic priest, M. l'Abbe, that distinction is not very Christian," replied Adrienne.
"I know the purport of my words, madame," answered the abbe, dryly; "besides the independent life that you wish to lead, in opposition to all reason, may tend to very serious consequences for you. Your family may one day wish to see you married—"
"I will spare my family that trouble, sir, if I marry at all, I will choose for myself, which also appears to me reasonable enough. But, in truth, I am very little tempted by that heavy chain, which selfishness and brutality rivet for ever about our necks."
"It is indecent, madame," said the princess, "to speak so lightly of such an institution."
"Before you, especially, madame, I beg pardon for having shocked your highness! You fear that my independent planner of living will frighten away all wooers; but that is another reason for persisting in my independence, for I detest wooers. I only hope that they may have the very worst opinion of me, and there is no better means of effecting that object, than to appear to live as they live themselves. I rely upon my whims, my follies, my sweet faults, to preserve me from the annoyance of any matrimonial hunting."
"You will be quite satisfied on that head," resumed Madame de Saint Dizier, "if unfortunately the report should gain credit, that you have carried the forgetfulness of all duty and decency, to such a height, as to return home at eight o'clock in the morning. So I am told is the case but I cannot bring myself to believe such an enormity."
"You are wrong, madame, for it is quite true."
"So you confess it?" cried the princess.
"I confess all that I do, madame. I came home this morning at eight o'clock."
"You hear Gentlemen?" ejaculated the princess.
"Oh!" said M. d'Aigrigny, in a bass voice.
"Ah!" said the baron, in a treble key.
"Oh!" muttered the doctor, with a deep sigh.
On hearing these lamentable exclamations, Adrienne seemed about to speak, perhaps to justify herself; but her lip speedily assumed a curl of contempt, which showed that she disdained to stoop to any explanation.
"So it is true," said the princess. "Oh, wretched girl, you had accustomed me to be astonished at nothing; but, nevertheless, I doubted the possibility of such conduct. It required your impudent and audacious reply to convince the of the fact."
"Madame, lying has always appeared to be more impudent than to speak the truth."
"And where had you been, madame? and for what?"
"Madame," said Adrienne, interrupting her aunt, "I never speak false—but neither do I speak more than I choose; and then again, it were cowardice to defend myself from a revolting accusation. Let us say no more about it: your importunities on this head will be altogether vain. To resume: you wish to impose upon me a harsh and humiliating restraint; I wish to quit the house I inhabit, to go and live where I please, at my own fancy. Which of us two will yield, remains to be seen. Now for another matter: this mansion belongs to me! As I am about to leave it, I am indifferent whether you continue to live here or not; but the ground floor is uninhabited. It contains, besides the reception-rooms, two complete sets of apartments; I have let them for some time."
"Indeed!" said the princess, looking at D'Aigrigny with intense surprise. "And to whom," she added ironically, "have you disposed of them?"
"To three members of my family."
"What does all this mean?" said Mme. de Saint-Dizier, more and more astonished.
"It means, madame, that I wish to offer a generous hospitality to a young Indian prince, my kinsman on my mother's side. He will arrive in two or three days, and I wish to have the rooms ready to receive him."
"You hear, gentlemen?" said D'Aigrigny to the doctor and Tripeaud, with an affectation of profound stupor.
"It surpasses all one could imagine!" exclaimed the baron.
"Alas!" observed the doctor, benignantly, "the impulse is generous in itself—but the mad little head crops out?"
"Excellent!" said the princes. "I cannot prevent you madame, from announcing the most extravagant designs but it is presumable that you will not stop short in so fair a path. Is that all?"
"Not quite, your highness. I learned this morning, that two of my female relations, also on my mother's side—poor children of fifteen—orphan daughters of Marshal Simon arrived yesterday from a long journey, and are now with the wife of the brave soldier who brought them to France from the depths of Siberia."
At these words from Adrienne, D'Aigrigny and the princess could not help starting suddenly, and staring at each other with affright, so far were they from expecting that Mdlle. de Cardoville was informed of the coming of Marshal Simon's daughters. This discovery was like a thunder-clap to them.
"You are no doubt astonished at seeing me so well informed," said Adrienne; "fortunately, before I have done, I hope to astonish you still more. But to return to these daughters of Marshal Simon: your highness will understand, that it is impossible for me to leave them in charge of the good people who have afforded them a temporary asylum. Though this family is honest, and hard-working, it is not the place for them. I shall go and fetch them hither, and lodge them in apartments on the ground-floor, along with the soldier's wife, who will do very well to take care of them."
Upon these words, D'Aigrigny and the baron looked at each other, and the baron exclaimed: "Decidedly, she's out of her head."
Without a word to Tripeaud, Adrienne continued: "Marshal Simon cannot fail to arrive at Paris shortly. Your highness perceives how pleasant it will he, to be able to present his daughters to him, and prove that they have been treated as they deserve. To-morrow morning I shall send for milliners and mantua makers, so that they may want for nothing. I desire their surprised father, on his return, to find them every way beautiful. They are pretty, I am told, as angels—but I will endeavor to make little Cupids of them."
"At last, madame, you must have finished?" said the princess, in a sardonic and deeply irritated tone, whilst D'Aigrigny, calm and cold in appearance, could hardly dissemble his mental anguish.
"Try again!" continued the princess, addressing Adrienne. "Are there no more relations that you wish to add to this interesting family-group? Really a queen could not act with more magnificence."
"Right! I wish to give my family a royal reception—such as is due to the son of a king, and the daughters of the Duke de Ligny. It is well to unite other luxuries of life with the luxury of the hospitable heart."
"The maxim is assuredly generous," said the princess, becoming more and more agitated; "it is only a pity that you do not possess the mines of El Dorado to make it practicable."
"It was on the subject of a mine, said to be a rich one, that I also wished to speak to your highness. Could I find a better opportunity? Though my fortune is already considerable, it is nothing to what may come to our family at any moment. You will perhaps excuse, therefore, what you are pleased to call my royal prodigalities."
D'Aigrigny's dilemma became momentarily more and more thorny. The affair of the medals was so important, that he had concealed it even from Dr. Baleinier, though he had called in his services to forward immense interests. Neither had Tripeaud been informed of it, for the princess believed that she had destroyed every vestige of those papers of Adrienne's father, which might have put him on the scent of this discovery. The abbe, therefore was not only greatly alarmed that Mdlle. de Cardoville might be informed of this secret, but he trembled lest she should divulge it.
The princess, sharing the alarms of D'Aigrigny, interrupted her niece by exclaiming: "Madame, there are certain family affairs which ought to be kept secret, and, without exactly understanding to what you allude, I must request you to change the subject."
"What, madame! are we not here a family party? Is that not sufficiently evident by the somewhat ungracious things that have been here said?"
"No matter, madame! when affairs of interest are concerned, which are more or less disputable, it is perfectly useless to speak of them without the documents laid before every one."
"And of what have we been speaking this hour, madame, if not of affairs of interest? I really do not understand your surprise and embarrassment."
"I am neither surprised nor embarrassed, madame; but for the last two hours, you have obliged me to listen to so many new and extravagant things, that a little amaze is very permissible."
"I beg your highness's pardon, but you are very much embarrassed," said Adrienne, looking fixedly at her aunt, "and M. d'Aigrigny also—which confirms certain suspicions that I have not had the time to clear up. Have I then guessed rightly?" she added, after a pause. "We will see—"
"Madame, I command you to be silent," cried the princess, no longer mistress of herself.
"Oh, madame!" said Adrienne, "for a person who has in general so much command of her feelings, you compromise yourself strangely."
Providence (as some will have it) came to the aid of the princess and the Abbe d'Aigrigny at this critical juncture. A valet entered the room; his countenance bore such marks of fright and agitation, that the princess exclaimed as soon as she saw him: "Why, Dubois! what is the matter?"
"I have to beg pardon, your highness, for interrupting you against your express orders, but a police inspector demands to speak with you instantly. He is below stairs, and the yard is full of policemen and soldiers."
Notwithstanding the profound surprise which this new incident occasioned her, the princess, determining to profit by the opportunity thus afforded, to concert prompt measures with D'Aigrigny on the subject of Adrienne's threatened revelations, rose, and said to the abbe: "Will you be so obliging as to accompany me, M. d'Aigrigny, for I do not know what the presence of this commissary of police may signify."
D'Aigrigny followed the speaker into the next room.
CHAPTER XLI. TREACHERY.
The Princess de Saint-Dizier, accompanied by D'Aigrigny, and followed by the servants, stopped short in the next room to that in which had remained Adrienne, Tripeaud and the doctor.
"Where is the commissary?" asked the princess of the servant, who had just before announced to her the arrival of that magistrate.
"In the blue saloon, madame."
"My compliments, and beg him to wait for me a few moments."
The man bowed and withdrew. As soon as he was gone Madame de Saint Dizier approached hastily M. d'Aigrigny, whose countenance, usually firm and haughty, was now pale and agitated.
"You see," cried the princess in a hurried voice, "Adrienne knows all. What shall we do?—what?"
"I cannot tell," said the abbe, with a fixed and absent look. "This disclosure is a terrible blow to us."
"Is all, then, lost?"
"There is only one means of safety," said M. d'Aigrigny;—"the doctor."
"But how?" cried the princess. "So, sudden? this very day?"
"Two hours hence, it will be too late; ere then, this infernal girl will have seen Marshal Simon's daughters."
"But—Frederick!—it is impossible! M. Baleinier will never consent. I ought to have been prepared before hand as we intended, after to-day's examination."
"No matter," replied the abbe, quickly; "the doctor must try at any hazard."
"But under what pretext?"
"I will try and find one."
"Suppose you were to find a pretext, Frederick, and we could act immediately—nothing would be ready down there."
"Be satisfied: they are always ready there, by habitual foresight."
"How instruct the doctor on the instant?" resumed the princess.
"To send for him would be to rouse the suspicions of your niece," said M. d'Aigrigny, thoughtfully; "and we must avoid that before everything."
"Of course," answered the princess; "her confidence in the doctor is one of our greatest resources."
"There is a way," said the abbe quickly; "I will write a few words in haste to Baleinier: one of your people can take the note to him, as if it came from without—from a patient dangerously ill."
"An excellent idea!" cried the princess. "You are right. Here—upon this table—there is everything necessary for writing. Quick! quick—But will the doctor succeed?"
"In truth, I scarcely dare to hope it," said the marquis, sitting down at the table with repressed rage. "Thanks to this examination, going beyond our hopes, which our man, hidden behind the curtain, has faithfully taken down in shorthand—thanks to the violent scenes, which would necessarily have occurred to-morrow and the day after—the doctor, by fencing himself round with all sorts of clever precautions, would have been able to act with the most complete certainty. But to ask this of him to-day, on the instant!—Herminia—it is folly to think of!"—The marquis threw down the pen which he held in his hand; then he added, in a tone of bitter and profound irritation: "At the very moment of success—to see all our hopes destroyed!—Oh, the consequences of all this are incalculable. Your niece will be the cause of the greatest mischief—oh! the greatest injury to us."
It is impossible to describe the expression of deep rage and implacable hatred with which D'Aigrigny uttered these last words.
"Frederick," cried the princess with anxiety, as she clasped her hands strongly around the abbe's, "I conjure you, do not despair!—The doctor is fertile in resources, and he is so devoted to us. Let us at least, make the attempt."
"Well—it is at least a chance," said the abbe, taking up the pen again.
"Should it come to the worst." said the princess, "and Adrienne go this evening to fetch General Simon's daughters, she may perhaps no longer find them.
"We cannot hope for that. It is impossible that Rodin's orders should have been so quickly executed. We should have been informed of it."
"It is true. Write then to the doctor; I will send you Dubois, to carry your letter. Courage, Frederick! we shall yet be too much for that ungovernable girl." Madame de Saint-Dizier added, with concentrated rage: "Oh, Adrienne! Adrienne! you shall pay dearly for your insolent sarcasms, and the anxiety you have caused us."
As she went out, the princess turned towards M. d'Aigrigny, and said to him: "Wait for me here. I will tell you the meaning of this visit of the police, and we will go in together."
The princess disappeared. D'Aigrigny dashed off a few words, with a trembling hand.
CHAPTER XLII. THE SNARE.
After the departure of Madame de Saint-Dizier and the marquis, Adrienne had remained in her aunt's apartment with M. Baleinier and Baron Tripeaud.
On hearing of the commissary's arrival, Mdlle. de Cardoville had felt considerable uneasiness; for there could be no doubt that, as Agricola had apprehended, this magistrate was come to search the hotel and extension, in order to find the smith, whom he believed to be concealed there.
Though she looked upon Agricola's hiding-place as a very safe one, Adrienne was not quite tranquil on his account; so in the event of any unfortunate accident, she thought it a good opportunity to recommend the refugee to the doctor, an intimate friend, as we have said, of one of the most influential ministers of the day. So, drawing near to the physician, who was conversing in a low voice with the baron, she said to him in her softest and most coaxing manner: "My good M. Baleinier, I wish to speak a few words with you." She pointed to the deep recess of one of the windows.
"I am at your orders, madame," answered the doctor, as he rose to follow Adrienne to the recess.
M. Tripeaud, who, no longer sustained by the abbe's presence, dreaded the young lady as he did fire, was not sorry for this diversion. To keep up appearances, he stationed himself before one of the sacred pictures, and began again to contemplate it, as if there were no bounds to his admiration.
When Mdlle. de Cardoville was far enough from the baron, not to be overheard by him, she said to the physician, who, all smiles and benevolence, waited for her to explain: "My good doctor, you are my friend, as you were my father's. Just now, notwithstanding the difficulty of your position, you had the courage to show yourself my only partisan."
"Not at all, madame; do not go and say such things!" cried the doctor, affecting a pleasant kind of anger. "Plague on't! you would get me into a pretty scrape; so pray be silent on that subject. Vade retro Satanas!—which means: Get thee behind me, charming little demon that you are!"
"Do not be afraid," answered Adrienne, with a smile; "I will not compromise you. Only allow me to remind you, that you have often made me offers of service, and spoken to me of your devotion."
"Put me to the test—and you will see if I do not keep my promises."
"Well, then! give me a proof on the instant," said Adrienne, quickly.
"Capital! this is how I like to be taken at my word. What can I do for you?"
"Are you still very intimate with your friend the minister?"
"Yes; I am just treating him for a loss of voice, which he always has, the day they put questions to him in the house. He likes it better."
"I want you to obtain from him something very important for me."
"For you? pray, what is it?"
At this instant, the valet entered the room, delivered a letter to M. Baleinier, and said to him: "A footman has just brought this letter for you, sir; it is very pressing."
The physician took the letter, and the servant went out.
"This is one of the inconveniences of merit," said Adrienne, smiling; "they do not leave you a moment's rest, my poor doctor."
"Do not speak of it, madame," said the physician, who could not conceal a start of amazement, as he recognized the writing of D'Aigrigny; "these patients think we are made of iron, and have monopolized the health which they so much need. They have really no mercy. With your permission, madame," added M. Baleinier, looking at Adrienne before he unsealed the letter.
Mdlle. de Cardoville answered by a graceful nod. Marquis d'Aigrigny's letter was not long; the doctor read it at a single glance, and, notwithstanding his habitual prudence, he shrugged his shoulders, and said hastily: "Today! why, it's impossible. He is mad."
"You speak no doubt of some poor patient, who has placed all his hopes in you—who waits and calls for you at this moment. Come, my dear M. Baleinier, do not reject his prayer. It is so sweet to justify the confidence we inspire."
There was at once so much analogy, and such contradiction, between the object of this letter, written just before by Adrienne's most implacable enemy, and these words of commiseration which she spoke in a touching voice, that Dr. Baleinier himself could not help being struck with it. He looked at Mdlle. de Cardoville with an almost embarrassed air, as he replied: "I am indeed speaking of one of my patients, who counts much upon me—a great deal too much—for he asks me to do an impossibility. But why do you feel so interested in an unknown person?"
"If he is unfortunate, I know enough to interest me. The person for whom I ask your assistance with the minister, was quite as little known to me; and now I take the deepest interest in him. I must tell you, that he is the son of the worthy soldier who brought Marshal Simon's daughters from the heart of Siberia."
"What! he is—"
"An honest workman, the support of his family; but I must tell you all about it—this is how the affair took place."
The confidential communication which Adrienne was going to make to the doctor, was cut short by Madame Saint-Dizier, who, followed by M. d'Aigrigny, opened abruptly the door. An expression of infernal joy, hardly concealed beneath a semblance of extreme indignation, was visible in her countenance.
M. d'Aigrigny threw rapidly, as he entered the apartment, an inquiring and anxious glance at M. Baleinier. The doctor answered by a shake of the head. The abbe bit his lips with silent rage; he had built his last hopes upon the doctor, and his projects seemed now forever annihilated, notwithstanding the new blow which the princess had in reserve for Adrienne.
"Gentlemen," said Madame de Saint-Dizier, in a sharp, hurried voice, for she was nearly choking with wicked pleasure, "gentlemen, pray be seated! I have some new and curious things to tell you, on the subject of this young lady." She pointed to her niece, with a look of ineffable hatred and disdain.
"My poor child, what is the matter now?" said M. Baleinier, in a soft, wheedling tone, before he left the window where he was standing with Adrienne. "Whatever happens, count upon me!"—And the physician went to seat himself between M. d'Aigrigny and M. Tripeaud.
At her aunt's insolent address, Mdlle. de Cardoville had proudly lined her head. The blood rushed to her face, and irritated at the new attacks with which she was menaced, she advanced to the table where the princess was seated, and said in an agitated voice to M. Baleinier: "I shall expect you to call on me as soon as possible, my dear doctor. You know that I wish particularly to speak with you."
Adrienne made one step towards the arm-chair, on which she had left her hat. The princess rose abruptly, and exclaimed: "What are you doing, madame?"
"I am about to retire. Your highness has expressed to me your will, and I have told you mine. It is enough."
She took her hat. Madame de Saint-Dizier, seeing her prey about to escape, hastened towards her niece, and, in defiance of all propriety, seized her violently by the arm with a convulsive grasp, and bade her, "Remain!"
"Fie, madame!" exclaimed Adrienne, with an accent of painful contempt, "have we sunk so low?"
"You wish to escape—you are afraid!" resumed Madame de Saint-Dizier, looking at her disdainfully from head to foot.
With these words "you are afraid," you could have made Adrienne de Cardoville walk into a fiery furnace. Disengaging her arm from her aunt's grasp, with a gesture full of nobleness and pride, she threw down the hat upon the chair, and returning to the table, said imperiously to the princess: "There is something even stronger than the disgust with which all this inspires me—the fear of being accused of cowardice. Go on, madame! I am listening!"
With her head raised, her color somewhat heightened, her glance half veiled by a tear of indignation, her arms folded over her bosom, which heaved in spite of herself with deep emotion, and her little foot beating convulsively on the carpet, Adrienne looked steadily at her aunt. The princess wished to infuse drop by drop, the poison with which she was swelling, and make her victim suffer as long as possible, feeling certain that she could not escape. "Gentlemen," said Madame de Saint-Dizier, in a forced voice, "this has occurred: I was told that the commissary of police wished to speak with me: I went to receive this magistrate; he excused himself, with a troubled air, for the nature of the duty he had to perform. A man, against whom a warrant was out, had been seen to enter the garden-house."
Adrienne started, there could be no doubt that Agricola was meant. But she recovered her tranquillity, when she thought of the security of the hiding-place she had given him.
"The magistrate," continued the princess, "asked my consent to search the hotel and extension, to discover this man. It was his right. I begged him to commence with the garden-house, and accompanied him. Notwithstanding the improper conduct of Mademoiselle, it never, I confess, entered my head for a moment, that she was in any way mixed up with this police business. I was deceived."
"What do you mean, madame?" cried Adrienne.
"You shall know all, madame," said the princess, with a triumphant air, "in good time. You were in rather too great a hurry just now, to show yourself so proud and satirical. Well! I accompanied the commissary in his search; we came to the summer-house; I leave you to imagine the stupor and astonishment of the magistrate, on seeing three creatures dressed up like actresses. At my request, the fact was noted in the official report; for it is well to reveal such extravagances to all whom it may concern."
"The princess acted very wisely," said Tripeaud, bowing; "it is well that the authorities should be informed of such matters."
Adrienne, too much interested in the fate of the workman to think of answering Tripeaud or the princess, listened in silence, and strove to conceal her uneasiness.
"The magistrate," resumed Madame de Saint-Dizier, "began by a severe examination of these young girls; to learn if any man had, with their knowledge, been introduced into the house; with incredible effrontery, they answered that they had seen nobody enter."
"The true-hearted, honest girls!" thought Mademoiselle de Cardoville, full of joy; "the poor workman is safe! the protection of Dr. Baleinier will do the rest."
"Fortunately," continued the princess, "one of my women, Mrs. Grivois, had accompanied me. This excellent person, remembering to have seen Mademoiselle return home at eight o'clock in the morning, remarked with much simplicity to the magistrate, that the man, whom they sought, might probably have entered by the little garden gate, left open, accidentally, by Mademoiselle."
"It would have been well, madame," said Tripeaud, "to have caused to be noted also in the report, that Mademoiselle had returned home at eight o'clock in the morning."
"I do not see the necessity for this," said the doctor, faithful to his part: "it would have been quite foreign to the search carried on by the commissary."
"But, doctor," said Tripeaud.
"But, baron," resumed M. Baleinier, in a firm voice, "that is my opinion."
"It was not mine, doctor," said the princess; "like M. Tripeaud, I considered it important to establish the fact by an entry in the report, and I saw, by the confused and troubled countenance of the magistrate, how painful it was to register the scandalous conduct of a young person placed in so high a position in society."
"Certainly, madame," said Adrienne, losing patience, "I believe your modesty to be about equal to that of this candid commissary of police; but it seems to me, that your mutual innocence was alarmed a little too soon. You might, and ought to have reflected, that there was nothing extraordinary in my coming home at eight o'clock, if I had gone out at six."
"The excuse, though somewhat tardy, is at least cunning," said the princess, spitefully.
"I do not excuse myself, madame," said Adrienne; "but as M. Baleinier has been kind enough to speak a word in my favor, I give the possible interpretation of a fact, which it would not become me to explain in your presence."
"The fact will stand, however, in the report," said Tripeaud, "until the explanation is given."
Abbe d'Aigrigny, his forehead resting on his hand, remained as if a stranger to this scene; he was too much occupied with his fears at the consequences of the approaching interview between Mdlle. de Cardoville and Marshal Simon's daughters—for there seemed no possibility of using force to prevent Adrienne from going out that evening.
Madame de Saint-Dizier went on: "The fact which so greatly scandalized the commissary is nothing compared to what I yet have to tell you, gentlemen. We had searched all parts of the pavilion without finding any one, and were just about to quit the bed-chamber, for we had taken this room the last, when Mrs. Grivois pointed out to us that one of the golden mouldings of a panel did not appear to come quite home to the wall. We drew the attention of the magistrate to this circumstance; his men examined, touched, felt—the panel flew open!—and then—can you guess what we discovered? But, no! it is too odious, too revolting; I dare not even—"
"Then I dare, madame," said Adrienne, resolutely, though she saw with the utmost grief the retreat of Agricola was discovered; "I will spare your highness's candor the recital of this new scandal, and yet what I am about to say is in nowise intended as a justification."
"It requires one, however," said Madame de Saint-Dizier, with a disdainful smile; "a man concealed by you in your own bedroom."
"A man concealed in her bedroom!" cried the Marquis d'Aigrigny, raising his head with apparent indignation, which only covered a cruel joy.
"A man! in the bedroom of Mademoiselle!" added Baron Tripeaud. "I hope this also was inserted in the report."
"Yes, yes, baron," said the princess with a triumphant air.
"But this man," said the doctor, in a hypocritical tone, "must have been a robber? Any other supposition would be in the highest degree improbable. This explains itself."
"Your indulgence deceives you, M. Baleinier," answered the princess, dryly.
"We knew the sort of thieves," said Tripeaud; "they are generally young men, handsome, and very rich."
"You are wrong, sir," resumed Madame de Saint-Dizier. "Mademoiselle does not raise her views so high. She proves that a dereliction from duty may be ignoble as well as criminal. I am no longer astonished at the sympathy which was just now professed for the lower orders. It is the more touching and affecting, as the man concealed by her was dressed in a blouse."
"A blouse!" cried the baron, with an air of extreme disgust; "then he is one of the common people? It really makes one's hair stand on end."
"The man is a working smith—he confessed it," said the princess; "but not to be unjust—he is really a good-looking fellow. It was doubtless that singular worship which Mademoiselle pays to the beautiful—"
"Enough, madame, enough!" said Adrienne suddenly, for, hitherto disdaining to answer, she had listened to her aunt with growing and painful indignation; "I was just now on the point of defending myself against one of your odious insinuations—but I will not a second time descend to any such weakness. One word only, madame; has this honest and worthy artisan been arrested?"
"To be sure, he has been arrested and taken to prison, under a strong escort. Does not that pierce your heart?" sneered the princess, with a triumphant air. "Your tender pity for this interesting smith must indeed be very great, since it deprives you of your sarcastic assurance."
"Yes, madame; for I have something better to do than to satirize that which is utterly odious and ridiculous," replied Adrienne, whose eyes grew dim with tears at the thought of the cruel hurt to Agricola's family. Then, putting her hat on, and tying the strings, she said to the doctor: "M. Baleinier, I asked you just now for your interest with the minister."
"Yes, madame; and it will give me great pleasure to act on your behalf."
"Is your carriage below?"
"Yes, madame," said the doctor, much surprised.
"You will be good enough to accompany me immediately to the minister's. Introduced by you, he will not refuse me the favor, or rather the act of justice, that I have to solicit."
"What, mademoiselle," said the princess; "do you dare take such a course, without my orders, after what has just passed? It is really quite unheard-of."
"It confounds one," added Tripeaud; "but we must not be surprised at anything."
The moment Adrienne asked the doctor if his carriage was below, D'Aigrigny started. A look of intense satisfaction flashed across his countenance, and he could hardly repress the violence of his delight, when, darting, a rapid and significant glance at the doctor, he saw the latter respond to it by trace closing his eyelids in token of comprehension and assent.
When therefore the princess resumed, in an angry tone, addressing herself to Adrienne: "Madame, I forbid you leaving the house!"—D'Aigrigny said to the speaker, with a peculiar inflection of the voice: "I think, your highness, we may trust the lady to the doctor's care."
The marquis pronounced these words in so significant a manner, that the princess, having looked by turns at the physician and D'Aigrigny, understood it all, and her countenance grew radiant with joy.
Not only did this pass with extreme rapidity, but the night was already almost come, so that Adrienne, absorbed in painful thoughts with regard to Agricola, did not perceive the different signals exchanged between the princess, the doctor, and the abbe. Even had she done so, they would have been incomprehensible to her.
Not wishing to have the appearance of yielding too readily, to the suggestion of the marquis, Madame de Saint-Dizier resumed: "Though the doctor seems to me to be far too indulgent to mademoiselle, I might not see any great objection to trusting her with him; but that I do not wish to establish such a precedent, for hence forward she must have no will but mine."
"Madame," said the physician gravely, feigning to be somewhat shocked by the words of the Princess de Saint-Dizier, "I do not think I have been too indulgent to mademoiselle—but only just. I am at her orders, to take her to the minister if she wishes it. I do not know what she intends to solicit, but I believe her incapable of abusing the confidence I repose in her, or making me support a recommendation undeserved."
Adrienne, much moved, extended her hand cordially to the doctor, and said to him: "Rest assured, my excellent friend, that you will thank me for the step I am taking, for you will assist in a noble action."
Tripeaud, who was not in the secret of the new plans of the doctor and the abbe in a low voice faltered to the latter, with a stupefied air, "What! will you let her go?"
"Yes, yes," answered D'Aigrigny abruptly, making a sign that he should listen to the princess, who was about to speak. Advancing towards her niece, she said to her in a slow and measured tone, laying a peculiar emphasis on every word: "One moment more, mademoiselle—one last word in presence of these gentlemen. Answer me! Notwithstanding the heavy charges impending over you, are you still determined to resist my formal commands?"
"Notwithstanding the scandalous exposure which has just taken place, you still persist in withdrawing yourself from my authority?"
"You refuse positively to submit to the regular and decent mode of life which I would impose upon you?"
"I have already told you, madame, that I am about to quit this dwelling in order to live alone and after my own fashion."
"Is that your final decision?"
"It is my last word."
"Reflect! the matter is serious. Beware!"
"I have given your highness my last word, and I never speak it twice."
"Gentlemen, you hear all this?" resumed the princess; "I have tried in vain all that was possible to conciliate. Mademoiselle will have only herself to thank for the measures to which this audacious revolt will oblige me to have recourse."
"Be it so, madame," replied Adrienne. Then, addressing M. Baleinier, she said quickly to him: "Come, my dear doctor; I am dying with impatience. Let us set out immediately. Every minute lost may occasion bitter tears to an honest family."
So saying, Adrienne left the room precipitately with the physician. One of the servants called for M. Baleinier's carriage. Assisted by the doctor, Adrienne mounted the step, without perceiving that he said something in a low whisper to the footman that opened the coach-door.
When, however, he was seated by the side of Mdlle. de Cardoville, and the door was closed upon them, he waited for about a second, and then called out in a loud voice to the coachman: "To the house of the minister, by the private entrance!" The horses started at a gallop.
CHAPTER XLIII. A FALSE FRIEND.
Night had set in dark and cold. The sky, which had been clear till the sun went down, was now covered with gray and lurid clouds; a strong wind raised here and there, in circling eddies, the snow that was beginning to fall thick and fast.
The lamps threw a dubious light into the interior of Dr. Baleinier's carriage, in which he was seated alone with Adrienne de Cardoville. The charming countenance of the latter, faintly illumined by the lamps beneath the shade of her little gray hat, looked doubly white and pure in contrast with the dark lining of the carriage, which was now filled with that, sweet, delicious, and almost voluptuous perfume which hangs about the garments of young women of taste. The attitude of the girl, seated next to the doctor, was full of grace. Her slight and elegant figure, imprisoned in her high-necked dress of blue cloth, imprinted its wavy outline on the soft cushion against which she leaned; her little feet, crossed one upon the other, and stretched rather forward, rested upon a thick bear-skin, which carpeted the bottom of the carriage. In her hand, which was ungloved and dazzlingly white, she held a magnificently embroidered handkerchief, with which, to the great astonishment of M. Baleinier, she dried her eyes, now filled with tears.
Yes; Adrienne wept, for she now felt the reaction from the painful scenes through which she had passed at Saint-Dizier House; to the feverish and nervous excitement, which had till then sustained her, had succeeded a sorrowful dejection. Resolute in her independence, proud in her disdain, implacable in her irony, audacious in her resistance to unjust oppression, Adrienne was yet endowed with the most acute sensibility, which she always dissembled, however, in the presence of her aunt and those who surrounded her.
Notwithstanding her courage, no one could have been less masculine, less of a virago, than Mdlle. Cardoville. She was essentially womanly, but as a woman, she knew how to exercise great empire over herself, the moment that the least mark of weakness on her part would have rejoiced or emboldened her enemies.
The carriage had rolled onwards for some minutes; but Adrienne, drying her tears in silence, to the doctor's great astonishment, had not yet uttered a word.
"What, my dear Mdlle. Adrienne?" said M. Baleinier, truly surprised at her emotion; "what! you, that were just now so courageous, weeping?"
"Yes," answered Adrienne, in an agitated voice; "I weep in presence of a friend; but, before my aunt—oh! never."
"And yet, in that long interview, your stinging replies—"
"Ah me! do you think that I resigned myself with pleasure to that war of sarcasm? Nothing is more painful to me than such combats of bitter irony, to which I am forced by the necessity of defending myself from this woman and her friends. You speak of my courage: it does not consist, I assure you, in the display of wicked feelings—but in the power to repress and hide all that I suffer, when I hear myself treated so grossly—in the presence, too, of people that I hate and despise—when, after all, I have never done them any harm, and have only asked to be allowed to live alone, freely and quietly, and see those about me happy."
"That's where it is: they envy your happiness, and that which you bestow upon others."
"And it is my aunt," cried Adrienne, with indignation, "my aunt, whose whole life has been one long scandal that accuses me in this revolting manner!—as if she did not know me proud and honest enough never to make a choice of which I should be ashamed! Oh! if I ever love, I shall proclaim it, I shall be proud of it: for love, as I understand it, is the most glorious feeling in the world. But, alas!" continued Adrienne, with redoubled bitterness, "of what use are truth and honor, if they do not secure you from suspicions, which are as absurd as they are odious?" So saying, she again pressed her handkerchief to her eyes.
"Come, my dear Mdlle. Adrienne," said M. Baleinier, in a voice full of the softest unction, "becalm—it is all over now. You have in me a devoted friend." As he pronounced these last words, he blushed in spite of his diabolical craft.
"I know you are my friend," said Adrienne: "I shall never forget that, by taking my part to-day, you exposed yourself to the resentment of my aunt—for I am not ignorant of her power, which is very great, alas! for evil."
"As for that," said the doctor, affecting a profound indifference, "we medical men are pretty safe from personal enmities."
"Nay, my dear M. Baleinier! Mme. de Saint-Dizier and her friends never forgive," said the young girl, with a shudder. "It needed all my invincible aversion, my innate horror for all that is base, cowardly, and perfidious, to induce me to break so openly with her. But if death itself were the penalty, I could not hesitate and yet," she added, with one of those graceful smiles which gave such a charm to her beautiful countenance, "yet I am fond of life: if I have to reproach myself with anything, it is that I would have it too bright, too fair, too harmonious; but then, you know, I am resigned to my faults."
"Well, come, I am more tranquil," said the doctor, gayly; "for you smile—that is a good sign."
"It is often the wisest course; and yet, ought I smile, after the threats that my aunt has held out to me? Still, what can she do? what is the meaning of this kind of family council? Did she seriously think that the advice of a M. D'Aigrigny or a M. Tripeaud could have influenced me? And then she talked of rigorous measures. What measures can she take; do you know?"
"I think, between ourselves, that the princess only wished to frighten you, and hopes to succeed by persuasion. She has the misfortune to fancy herself a mother of the Church, and dreams of your conversion," said the doctor, maliciously, for he now wished to tranquillize Adrienne at any cost; "but let us think no more about it. Your fire eyes must shine with all their lustre, to fascinate the minister that we are going to see."
"You are right, dear doctor; we ought always avoid grief, for it has the disadvantage of making us forget the sorrows of others. But here am I, availing myself of your kindness, without even telling you what I require."
"Luckily, we shall have plenty of time to talk over it, for our statesman lives at some distance."
"In two words, here's the mystery," answered Adrienne. "I told you what reasons I had to interest myself in that honest workman. This morning he came to me in great grief, to inform me that he was compromised by some songs he had written (for he is a poet), and that, though innocent, he was threatened with an arrest; and if they put him into prison, his family, whose sole support he is, would die of hunger. Therefore he came to beg me to procure bail for him, so that he might be left at liberty to work: I promised immediately, thinking of your interest with the minister; for, as they were already in pursuit of the poor lad, I chose to conceal him in my residence, and you know how my aunt has twisted that action. Now tell me, do you think, that, by means of your recommendation, the minister will grant me the freedom of this workman, bail being given for the same?"
"No doubt of it. There will not be the shadow of a difficulty—especially when you have explained the facts to him, with that eloquence of the heart which you possess in perfection."
"Do you know, my dear Dr. Baleinier, why I have taken the resolution (which is perhaps a strange one) to ask you to accompany me to the minister's?"
"Why, doubtless, to recommend your friend in a more effective manner."
"Yes—but also to put an end, by a decisive step, to the calumnies which my aunt will be sure to spread with regard to me, and which she has already, you know, had inserted in the report of the commissary of police. I have preferred to address myself at once, frankly and openly, to a man placed in a high social position. I will explain all to him, who will believe me, because truth has an accent of its own."
"All this, my dear Mdlle. Adrienne, is wisely planned. You will, as the saw says, kill two birds with one stone—or rather, you will obtain by one act of kindness two acts of justice; you will destroy a dangerous calumny, and restore a worthy youth to liberty."
"Come," said Adrienne, laughing, "thanks to this pleasing prospect, my light heart has returned."
"How true that in life," said the doctor, philosophically, "everything depends on the point of view."
Adrienne was so completely ignorant of the forms of a constitutional government, and had so blind a confidence in the doctor, that she did not doubt for an instant what he told her. She therefore resumed with joy: "What happiness it will be! when I go to fetch the daughters of Marshal Simon, to be able to console this workman's mother, who is now perhaps in a state of cruel anxiety, at not seeing her son return home!"
"Yes, you will have this pleasure," said M. Baleinier, with a smile; "for we will solicit and intrigue to such purpose, that the good, mother may learn from you the release of her son before she even knows that he has been arrested."
"How kind, how obliging you are!" said Adrienne. "Really, if the motive were not so serious, I should be ashamed of making you lose so much precious time, my dear M. Baleinier. But I know your heart."
"I have no other wish, than to prove to you my profound devotion, my sincere attachment," said the doctor inhaling a pinch of snuff. But at the same time, he cast an uneasy glance through the window, for the carriage was just crossing the Place de l'Odeon, and in spite of the snow, he could see the front of the Odeon theatre brilliantly illuminated. Now Adrienne, who had just turned her head towards that side, might perhaps be astonished at the singular road they were taking.
In order to draw off her attention by a skillful diversion, the doctor exclaimed suddenly: "Bless me! I had almost forgotten."
"What is the matter, M. Baleinier?" said Adrienne, turning hastily towards him.
"I had forgotten a thing of the highest importance, in regard to the success of our petition."
"What is it, please?" asked the young girl, anxiously.
M. Baleinier gave a cunning smile. "Every man," said he, "has his weakness—ministers even more than others. The one we are going to visit has the folly to attach the utmost importance to his title, and the first impression would be unfavorable, if you did not lay great stress on the Minister."
"Is that all, my dear M. Baleinier?" said Adrienne, smiling in her turn. "I will even go so far as Your Excellency, which is, I believe, one of his adopted titles."
"Not now—but that is no matter; if you could even slide in a My Lord or two, our business would be done at once."
"Be satisfied! since there are upstart ministers as well as City-turned gentlemen, I will remember Moliere's M. Jourdain, and feed full the gluttonous vanity of your friend."
"I give him up to you, for I know he will be in good hands," replied the physician, who rejoiced to see that the carriage had now entered those dark streets which lead from the Place de l'Odeon to the Pantheon district; "I do not wish to find fault with the minister for being proud, since his pride may be of service to us on this occasion."
"These petty devices are innocent enough," said Mdlle. de Cardoville, "and I confess that I do not scruple to have recourse to them." Then, leaning towards the door-sash, she added: "Gracious! how sad and dark are these streets. What wind! what snow! In which quarter are we?"
"What! are you so ungrateful, that you do not recognize by the absence of shops, your dear quarter of the Faubourg Saint Germain?"
"I imagine we had quitted it long ago."
"I thought so too," said the physician, leaning forward as if to ascertain where they were, "but we are still there. My poor coachman, blinded by the snow, which is beating against his face, must have gone wrong just now—but we are all right again. Yes, I perceive we are in the Rue Saint Guillaume—not the gayest of streets by the way—but, in ten minutes, we shall arrive at the minister's private entrance, for intimate friends like myself enjoy the privilege of escaping the honors of a grand reception."
Mdlle. de Cardoville, like most carriage-people, was so little acquainted with certain streets of Paris, as well as with the customs of men in office, that she did not doubt for a moment the statements of Baleinier, in whom she reposed the utmost confidence.
When they left the Saint-Dizier House, the doctor had upon his lips a question which he hesitated to put, for fear of endangering himself in the eyes of Adrienne. The latter had spoken of important interests, the existence of which had been concealed from her. The doctor, who was an acute and skillful observer, had quite clearly remarked the embarrassment and anxiety of the princess and D'Aigrigny. He no longer doubted, that the plot directed against Adrienne—one in which he was the blind agent, in submission to the will of the Order—related to interests which had been concealed from him, and which, for that very reason, he burned to discover; for every member of the dark conspiracy to which he belonged had necessarily acquired the odious vices inherent to spies and informers—envy, suspicion, and jealous curiosity.
It is easy to understand, therefore, that Dr. Baleinier, though quite determined to serve the projects of D'Aigrigny, was yet very anxious to learn what had been kept from him. Conquering his irresolution, and finding the opportunity favorable, and no time to be lost, he said to Adrienne, after a moment's silence: "I am going perhaps to ask you a very indiscreet question. If you think it such, pray do not answer."
"Nay—go on, I entreat you."
"Just now—a few minutes before the arrival of the commissary of police was announced to your aunt—you spoke, I think, of some great interests, which had hitherto been concealed from you."
"Yes, I did so."
"These words," continued M. Baleinier, speaking slowly and emphatically, "appeared to make a deep impression on the princess."
"An impression so deep," said Adrienne, "that sundry suspicions of mine were changed to certainty."
"I need not tell you, my charming friend," resumed M. Baleinier, in a bland tone, "that if I remind you of this circumstance, it is only to offer you my services, in case they should be required. If not—and there is the shadow of impropriety in letting me know more—forget that I have said a word."
Adrienne became serious and pensive, and, after a silence of some moments, she thus answered Dr. Baleinier: "On this subject, there are some things that I do not know—others that I may tell you—others again that I must keep from you: but you are so kind to-day, that I am happy to be able to give you a new mark of confidence."
"Then I wish to know nothing," said the doctor, with an air of humble deprecation, "for I should have the appearance of accepting a kind of reward; whilst I am paid a thousand times over, by the pleasure I feel in serving you."
"Listen," said Adrienne, without attending to the delicate scruples of Dr. Baleinier; "I have powerful reasons for believing that an immense inheritance must, at no very distant period, be divided between the members of my family, all of whom I do not know—for, after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, those from whom we are descended were dispersed in foreign countries, and experienced a great variety of fortunes."
"Really!" cried the doctor, becoming extremely interested. "Where is this inheritance, in whose hands?"
"I do not know."
"Now how will you assert your rights?"
"That I shall learn soon."
"Who will inform you of it?"
"That I may not tell you."
"But how did you find out the existence of this inheritance?"
"That also I may not tell you," returned Adrienne, in a soft and melancholy tone, which remarkably contrasted with the habitual vivacity of her conversation. "It is a secret—a strange secret—and in those moments of excitement, in which you have sometimes surprised me, I have been thinking of extraordinary circumstances connected with this secret, which awakened within me lofty and magnificent ideas."
Adrienne paused and was silent, absorbed in her own reflections. Baleinier did not seek to disturb her. In the first place, Mdlle. de Cardoville did not perceive the direction the coach was taking; secondly, the doctor was not sorry to ponder over what he had just heard. With his usual perspicuity, he saw that the Abbe d'Aigrigny was concerned in this inheritance, and he resolved instantly to make a secret report on the subject; either M. d'Aigrigny was acting under the instructions of the Order, or by his own impulse; in the one event, the report of the doctor would confirm a fact; in the other, it would reveal one.
For some time, therefore, the lady and Dr. Baleinier remained perfectly silent, no longer even disturbed by the noise of the wheels, for the carriage now rolled over a thick carpet of snow, and the streets had become more and more deserted. Notwithstanding his crafty treachery, notwithstanding his audacity and the blindness of his dupe, the doctor was not quite tranquil as to the result of his machinations. The critical moment approached, and the least suspicion roused in the mind of Adrienne by any inadvertence on his part, might ruin all his projects.
Adrienne, already fatigued by the painful emotions of the day, shuddered from time to time, as the cold became more and more piercing; in her haste to accompany Dr. Baleinier, she had neglected to take either shawl or mantle.
For some minutes the coach had followed the line of a very high wall, which, seen through the snow, looked white against a black sky. The silence was deep and mournful. Suddenly the carriage stopped, and the footman went to knock at a large gateway; he first gave two rapid knocks, and then one other at a long interval. Adrienne did not notice the circumstance, for the noise was not loud, and the doctor had immediately begun to speak, to drown with his voice this species of signal.
"Here we are at last," said he gayly to Adrienne; "you must be very winning—that is, you must be yourself."
"Be sure I will do my best," replied Adrienne, with a smile; then she added, shivering in spite of herself: "How dreadfully cold it is! I must confess, my dear Dr. Baleinier, that when I have been to fetch my poor little relations from the house of our workman's mother, I shall be truly glad to find myself once more in the warmth and light of my own cheerful rooms, for you know my aversion to cold and darkness."
"It is quite natural," said the doctor, gallantly; "the most charming flowers require the most light and heat."
Whilst the doctor and Mdlle. de Cardoville exchanged these few words, a heavy gate had turned creaking upon its hinges, and the carriage had entered a court-yard. The physician got down first, to offer his arm to Adrienne.
CHAPTER XLIV. THE MINISTER'S CABINET.
The carriage had stopped before some steps covered with snow, which led to a vestibule lighted by a lamp. The better to ascend the steps, which were somewhat slippery, Adrienne leaned upon the doctor's arm.
"Dear me! how you tremble," said he.
"Yes," replied she, shuddering, "I feel deadly cold. In my haste, I came out without a shawl. But how gloomy this house appears," she added, pointing to the entrance.
"It is what you call the minister's private house, the sanctum sanctorum, whither our statesman retires far from the sound of the profane," said Dr. Baleinier, with a smile. "Pray come in!" and he pushed open the door of a large hall, completely empty.
"They are right in saying," resumed Dr. Baleinier, who covered his secret agitation with an appearance of gayety, "that a minister's house is like nobody else's. Not a footman—not a page, I should say—to be found in the antechamber. Luckily," added he, opening the door of a room which communicated with the vestibule,
"'In this seraglio reared, I know the secret ways.'"
Mdlle. de Cardoville was now introduced into an apartment hung with green embossed paper, and very simply furnished with mahogany chairs, covered with yellow velvet; the floor was carefully polished, and a globe lamp, which gave at most a third of its proper light, was suspended (at a much greater height than usual) from the ceiling. Finding the appearance of this habitation singularly plain for the dwelling of a minister, Adrienne, though she had no suspicion, could not suppress a movement of surprise and paused a moment on the threshold of the door. M. Baleinier, by whose arm she held, guessed the cause of her astonishment, and said to her with a smile:
"This place appears to you very paltry for 'his excellency,' does it not? If you knew what a thing constitutional economy is!—Moreover, you will see a 'my lord,' who has almost as little pretension as his furniture. But please to wait for me an instant. I will go and inform the minister you are here, and return immediately."
Gently disengaging himself from the grasp of Adrienne, who had involuntarily pressed close to him, the physician opened a small side door, by which he instantly disappeared. Adrienne de Cardoville was left alone.
Though she could not have explained the cause of her impression, there was something awe-inspiring to the young lady in this large, cold, naked, curtainless room; and as, by degrees, she noticed certain peculiarities in the furniture, which she had not at first perceived, she was seized with an indefinable feeling of uneasiness.
Approaching the cheerless hearth, she perceived with surprise that an iron grating completely enclosed the opening of the chimney, and that the tongs and shovel were fastened with iron chains. Already astonished by this singularity, she was about mechanically to draw towards her an armchair placed against the wall, when she found that it remained motionless. She then discovered that the back of this piece of furniture, as well as that of all the other chairs, was fastened to the wainscoting by iron clamps. Unable to repress a smile, she exclaimed: "Have they so little confidence in the statesman in whose house I am, that they are obliged to fasten the furniture to the walls?"
Adrienne had recourse to this somewhat forced pleasantry as a kind of effort to resist the painful feeling of apprehension that was gradually creeping over her; for the most profound and mournful silence reigned in this habitation, where nothing indicated the life, the movement and the activity, which usually surround a great centre of business. Only, from time to time, the young lady heard the violent gusts of wind from without.
More than a quarter of an hour had elapsed, and M. Baleinier did not return. In her impatient anxiety, Adrienne wished to call some one to inquire about the doctor and the minister. She raised her eyes to look for a bell-rope by the side of the chimney-glass; she found none, but she perceived, that what she had hitherto taken for a glass, thanks to the half obscurity of the room, was in reality a large sheet of shining tin. Drawing nearer to it, she accidentally touched a bronzed candlestick; and this, as well as a clock, was fixed to the marble of the chimney-piece.
In certain dispositions of mind, the most insignificant circumstances often assume terrific proportions. This immovable candlestick, this furniture fastened to the wainscot, this glass replaced by a tin sheet, this profound silence, and the prolonged absence of M. Baleinier, had such an effect upon Adrienne, that she was struck with a vague terror. Yet such was her implicit confidence in the doctor, that she reproached herself with her own fears, persuading herself that the causes of them were after all of no real importance, and that it was unreasonable to feel uneasy at such trifles.
Still, though she thus strove to regain courage, her anxiety induced her to do what otherwise she would never have attempted. She approached the little door by which the doctor had disappeared, and applied her ear to it. She held her breath, and listened, but heard nothing.
Suddenly, a dull, heavy sound, like that of a falling body, was audible just above her head; she thought she could even distinguish a stifled moaning. Raising her eyes, hastily, she saw some particles of the plaster fall from the ceiling, loosened, no doubt, by the shaking of the floor above.
No longer able to resist the feeling of terror, Adrienne ran to the door by which she had entered with the doctor, in order to call some one. To her great surprise, she found it was fastened on the outside. Yet, since her arrival, she had heard no sound of a key turning in the lock.
More and more alarmed, the young girl flew to the little door by which the physician had disappeared, and at which she had just been listening. This door also was fastened on the outside.
Still, wishing to struggle with the terror which was gaining invincibly upon her, Adrienne called to her aid all the firmness of her character, and tried to argue away her fears.
"I must have been deceived." she said; "it was only a fall that I heard. The moaning had no existence, except in my imagination. There are a thousand reasons for believing that it was not a person who fell down. But, then, these locked doors? They, perhaps, do not know that I am here; they may have thought that there was nobody in this room."
As she uttered these words, Adrienne looked round with anxiety; then she added, in a firm voice: "No weakness! it is useless to try to blind myself to my real situation. On the contrary, I must look it well in the face. It is evident that I am not here at a minister's house; no end of reasons prove it beyond a doubt; M. Baleinier has therefore deceived me. But for what end? Why has he brought me hither? Where am I?"
The last two questions appeared to Adrienne both equally insoluble. It only remained clear, that she was the victim of M. Baleinier's perfidy. But this certainly seemed so horrible to the young girl's truthful and generous soul, that she still tried to combat the idea by the recollection of the confiding friendship which she had always shown this man. She said to herself with bitterness: "See how weakness and fear may lead one to unjust and odious suspicions! Yes; for until the last extremity, it is not justifiable to believe in so infernal a deception—and then only upon the clearest evidence. I will call some one: it is the only way of completely satisfying these doubts." Then, remembering that there was no bell, she added: "No matter; I will knock, and some one will doubtless answer." With her little, delicate hand, Adrienne struck the door several times.
The dull, heavy sound which came from the door showed that it was very thick. No answer was returned to the young girl. She ran to the other door. There was the same appeal on her part, the same profound silence without—only interrupted from time to time by the howling of the wind.
"I am not more timid than other people," said Adrienne, shuddering; "I do not know if it is the excessive cold, but I tremble in spite of myself. I endeavor to guard against all weakness; yet I think that any one in my position would find all this very strange and frightful."
At this instant, loud cries, or rather savage and dreadful howls, burst furiously from the room just above, and soon after a sort of stamping of feet, like the noise of a violent struggle, shook the ceiling of the apartment. Struck with consternation, Adrienne uttered a loud cry of terror became deadly pale, stood for a moment motionless with affright, and then rushed to one of the windows, and abruptly threw it open.
A violent gust of wind, mixed with melted snow, beat against Adrienne's face, swept roughly into the room, and soon extinguished the flickering and smoky light of the lamp. Thus, plunged in profound darkness, with her hands clinging to the bars that were placed across the window, Mdlle. de Cardoville yielded at length to the full influence of her fears, so long restrained, and was about to call aloud for help, when an unexpected apparition rendered her for some minutes absolutely mute with terror.
Another wing of the building, opposite to that in which she was, stood at no great distance. Through the midst of the black darkness, which filled the space between, one large, lighted window was distinctly visible. Through the curtainless panes, Adrienne perceived a white figure, gaunt and ghastly, dragging after it a sort of shroud, and passing and repassing continually before the window, with an abrupt and restless motion. Her eyes fixed upon this window, shining through the darkness, Adrienne remained as if fascinated by that fatal vision: and, as the spectacle filled up the measure of her fears, she called for help with all her might, without quitting the bars of the window to which she clung. After a few seconds, whilst she was thus crying out, two tall women entered the room in silence, unperceived by Mdlle. de Cardoville, who was still clinging to the window.
These women, of about forty to fifty years of age, robust and masculine, were negligently and shabbily dressed, like chambermaids of the lower sort; over their clothes they wore large aprons of blue cotton, cut sloping from their necks, and reaching down to their feet. One of them, who held a lamp in her hand, had a broad, red, shining face, a large pimpled nose, small green eyes, and tow hair, which straggled rough and shaggy from beneath her dirty white cap. The other, sallow, withered, and bony, wore a mourning-cap over a parchment visage, pitted with the small-pox, and rendered still more repulsive by the thick black eyebrows, and some long gray hairs that overshadowed the upper lip. This woman carried, half unfolded in her hand, a garment of strange form, made of thick gray stuff.
They both entered silently by the little door, at the moment when Adrienne, in the excess of her terror, was grasping the bars of the window, and crying out: "Help! help!"
Pointing out the young lady to each other, one of them went to place the lamp on the chimney-piece, whilst the other (she who wore the mourning cap) approached the window, and laid her great bony hand upon Mdlle. de Cardoville's shoulder.
Turning round, Adrienne uttered a new cry of terror at the sight of this grim figure. Then, the first moment of stupor over, she began to feel less afraid; hideous as was this woman, it was at least some one to speak to; she exclaimed, therefore, in an agitated voice: "Where is M. Baleinier?"
The two women looked at each other, exchanged a leer of mutual intelligence, but did not answer.
"I ask you, madame," resumed Adrienne, "where is M. Baleinier, who brought me hither? I wish to see him instantly."
"He is gone," said the big woman.
"Gone!" cried Adrienne; "gone without me!—Gracious heaven! what can be the meaning of all this?" Then, after a moment's reflection, she resumed, "Please to fetch me a coach."
The two women looked at each other, and shrugged their shoulders. "I entreat you, madame," continued Adrienne, with forced calmness in her voice, "to fetch me a coach since M. Baleinier is gone without me. I wish to leave this place."
"Come, come, madame," said the tall woman, who was called "Tomboy," without appearing to listen to what Adrienne asked, "it is time for you to go to bed."
"To go to bed!" cried Mdlle. Cardoville, in alarm. "This is really enough to drive one mad." Then, addressing the two women, she added: "What is this house? where am I? answer!"
"You are in a house," said Tomboy, in a rough voice, "where you must not make a row from the window, as you did just now."
"And where you must not put out the lamp as you have done," added the other woman, who was called Gervaise, "or else we shall have a crow to pick with you."
Adrienne, unable to utter a word, and trembling with fear, looked in a kind of stupor from one to the other of these horrible women; her reason strove in vain to comprehend what was passing around her. Suddenly she thought she had guessed it, and exclaimed: "I see there is a mistake here. I do not understand how, but there is a mistake. You take me for some one else. Do you know who I am? My name is Adrienne de Cardoville You see, therefore, that I am at liberty to leave this house; no one in the world has the right to detain me. I command you, then, to fetch me a coach immediately. If there are none in this quarter, let me have some one to accompany me home to the Rue de Babylone, Saint-Dizier House. I will reward such a person liberally, and you also."
"Well, have you finished?" said Tomboy. "What is the use of telling us all this rubbish?"
"Take care," resumed Adrienne, who wished to try every means; "if you detain me here by force, it will be very serious. You do not know to what you expose yourselves."
"Will you come to bed; yes or no?" said Gervaise, in a tone of harsh impatience.
"Listen to me, madame," resumed Adrienne, precipitately, "let me out this place, and I will give each of you two thousand francs. It is not enough? I will give you ten—twenty—whatever you ask. I am rich—only let me out for heaven's sake, let me out!—I cannot remain here—I am afraid." As she said this, the tone of the poor girl's voice was heartrending.
"Twenty thousand francs!—that's the usual figure, ain't it, Tomboy?"
"Let be, Gervaise! they all sing the same song."
"Well, then? since reasons, prayers, and menaces are all in vain," said Adrienne gathering energy from her desperate position, "I declare to you that I will go out and that instantly. We will see if you are bold enough to employ force against me."
So saying, Adrienne advanced resolutely towards the door. But, at this moment, the wild hoarse cries, which had preceded the noise of the struggle that had so frightened her, again resounded; only, this time they were not accompanied by the movement of feet.
"Oh! what screams!" said Adrienne, stopping short, and in her terror drawing nigh to the two women. "Do you not hear those cries? What, then, is this house, in which one hears such things? And over there, too," added she almost beside herself, as she pointed to the other wing where the lighted windows shone through the darkness, and the white figure continued to pass and repass before it; "over there! do you see? What is it?"
"Oh! that 'un," said Tomboy; "one of the folks who, like you, have not behaved well."
"What do you say?" cried Mdlle. de Cardoville, clasping her hands in terror. "Heavens! what is this house? What do they do to them?"
"What will be done to you, if you are naughty, and refuse to come to bed," answered Gervaise.
"They put this on them," said Tomboy, showing the garment that she had held under her arm, "they clap 'em into the strait-waistcoast."
"Oh!" cried Adrienne, hiding her face in her hands with horror. A terrible discovery had flashed suddenly upon her. She understood it all.
Capping the violent emotions of the day, the effect of this last blow was dreadful. The young girl felt her strength give way. Her hands fell powerless, her face became fearfully pale, all her limbs trembled, and sinking upon her knees, and casting a terrified glance at the strait waistcoat she was just able to falter in a feeble voice, "Oh, no:—not that—for pity's sake, madame. I will do—whatever you wish." And, her strength quite failing, she would have fallen upon the ground if the two women had not run towards her, and received her fainting into their arms.
"A fainting fit," said Tomboy; "that's not dangerous. Let us carry her to bed. We can undress her, and this will be all nothing."
"Carry her, then," said Gervaise. "I will take the lamp."
The tall and robust Tomboy took up Mdlle. de Cardoville as if she had been a sleeping child, carried her in her arms, and followed her companion into the chamber through which M. Baleinier had made his exit.
This chamber, though perfectly clean, was cold and bare. A greenish paper covered the walls, and a low, little iron bedstead, the head of which formed a kind of shelf, stood in one corner; a stove, fixed in the chimney-place, was surrounded by an iron grating, which forbade a near approach; a table fastened to the wall, a chair placed before this table, and also clamped to the floor, a mahogany chest of drawers, and a rush bottomed armchair completed the scanty furniture. The curtainless window was furnished on the inside with an iron grating, which served to protect the panes from being broken.
It was into this gloomy retreat, which formed so painful a contrast with the charming little summer-house in the Rue de Babylone, that Adrienne was carried by Tomboy, who, with the assistance of Gervaise, placed the inanimate form on the bed. The lamp was deposited on the shelf at the head of the couch. Whilst one of the nurses held her up, the other unfastened and took off the cloth dress of the young girl, whose head drooped languidly on her bosom. Though in a swoon, large tears trickled slowly from her closed eyes, whose long black lashes threw their shadows on the transparent whiteness of her cheeks. Over her neck and breast of ivory flowed the golden waves of her magnificent hair, which had come down at the time of her fall. When, as they unlaced her satin corset, less soft, less fresh, less white than the virgin form beneath, which lay like a statue of alabaster in its covering of lace and lawn, one of the horrible hags felt the arms and shoulders of the young girl with her large, red, horny, and chapped hands. Though she did not completely recover the use of her senses, she started involuntarily from the rude and brutal touch.
"Hasn't she little feet?" said the nurse, who, kneeling down, was employed in drawing off Adrienne's stockings. "I could hold them both in the hollow of my hand." In fact, a small, rosy foot, smooth as a child's, here and there veined with azure, was soon exposed to view, as was also a leg with pink knee and ankle, of as pure and exquisite a form as that of Diana Huntress.
"And what hair!" said Tomboy; "so long and soft!—She might almost walk upon it. 'Twould be a pity to cut it off, to put ice upon her skull!" As she spoke, she gathered up Adrienne's magnificent hair, and twisted it as well as she could behind her head. Alas! it was no longer the fair, light hand of Georgette, Florine, or Hebe that arranged the beauteous locks of their mistress with so much love and pride!
And as she again felt the rude touch of the nurse's hand, the young girl was once more seized with the same nervous trembling, only more frequently and strongly than before. And soon, whether by a sort of instinctive repulsion, magnetically excited during her swoon, or from the effect of the cold night air, Adrienne again started and slowly came to herself.
It is impossible to describe her alarm, horror, and chaste indignation, as, thrusting aside with both her hands the numerous curls that covered her face, bathed in tears, she saw herself half-naked between these filthy hags. At first, she uttered a cry of shame and terror; then to escape from the looks of the women, by a movement, rapid as thought, she drew down the lamp placed on the shelf at the head of her bed, so that it was extinguished and broken to pieces on the floor. After which, in the midst of the darkness, the unfortunate girl, covering herself with the bed-clothes, burst into passionate sobs.
The nurses attributed Adrienne's cry and violent actions to a fit of furious madness. "Oh! you begin again to break the lamps—that's your partickler fancy, is it?" cried Tomboy, angrily, as she felt her way in the dark. "Well! I gave you fair warning. You shall have the strait waistcoat on this very night, like the mad gal upstairs."
"That's it," said the other; "hold her fast, Tommy, while I go and fetch a light. Between us, we'll soon master her."
"Make haste, for, in spite of her soft look, she must be a regular fury. We shall have to sit up all night with her, I suppose."
Sad and painful contrast! That morning, Adrienne had risen free, smiling, happy, in the midst of all the wonders of luxury and art, and surrounded by the delicate attentions of the three charming girls whom she had chosen to serve her. In her generous and fantastic mood, she had prepared a magnificent and fairy-like surprise for the young Indian prince, her relation; she had also taken a noble resolution with regard to the two orphans brought home by Dagobert; in her interview with Mme. de Saint-Dizier, she had shown herself by turns proud and sensitive, melancholy and gay, ironical and serious, loyal and courageous; finally, she had come to this accursed house to plead in favor of an honest and laborious artisan.
And now, in the evening delivered over by an atrocious piece of treachery to the ignoble hands of two coarse-minded muses in a madhouse—Mdlle. de Cardoville felt her delicate limbs imprisoned in that abominable garment, which is called a strait-waistcoat.
Mdlle. de Cardoville passed a horrible night in company with the two hags. The next morning, at nine o'clock, what was the young lady's stupor to see Dr. Baleinier enter the room, still smiling with an air at once benevolent and paternal.
"Well, my dear child?" said he, in a bland, affectionate voice; "how have we spent the night?"
CHAPTER XLV. THE VISIT.
The keepers, yielding to Mdlle. de Cardoville's prayers, and, above all, to her promises of good behavior, had only left on the canvas jacket a portion of the time. Towards morning, they had allowed her to rise and dress herself, without interfering.
Adrienne was seated on the edge of her bed. The alteration in her features, her dreadful paleness, the lurid fire of fever shining in her eyes, the convulsive trembling which ever and anon shook her frame, showed already the fatal effects of this terrible night upon a susceptible and high-strung organization. At sight of Dr. Baleinier, who, with a sign, made Gervaise and her mate leave the room, Adrienne remained petrified.
She felt a kind of giddiness at the thought of the audacity of the man, who dared to present himself to her! But when the physician repeated, in the softest tone of affectionate interest: "Well, my poor child! how have we spent the night?" she pressed her hands to her burning forehead, as if in doubt whether she was awake or sleeping. Then, staring at the doctor, she half opened her lips; but they trembled so much that it was impossible for her to utter a word. Anger, indignation, contempt, and, above all, the bitter and acutely painful feeling of a generous heart, whose confidence has been basely betrayed, so overpowered Adrienne that she was unable to break the silence.
"Come, come! I see how it is," said the doctor, shaking his head sorrowfully; "you are very much displeased with me—is it not so? Well! I expected it, my dear child."
These words, pronounced with the most hypocritical effrontery, made Adrienne start up. Her pale cheek flushed, her large eyes sparkled, she lifted proudly her beautiful head, whilst her upper lip curled slightly with a smile of disdainful bitterness; then, passing in angry silence before M. Baleinier, who retained his seat, she directed her swift and firm steps towards the door. This door, in which was a little wicket, was fastened on the outside. Adrienne turned towards the doctor, and said to him, with an imperious gesture; "Open that door for me!"
"Come, my dear Mdlle. Adrienne," said the physician, "be calm. Let us talk like good friends—for you know I am your friend." And he inhaled slowly a pinch of snuff.
"It appears, sir," said Adrienne, in a voice trembling with indignation, "I am not to leave this place to-day?"
"Alas! no. In such a state of excitement—if you knew how inflamed your face is, and your eyes so feverish, your pulse must be at least eighty to the minute—I conjure you, my dear child, not to aggravate your symptoms by this fatal agitation."
After looking fixedly at the doctor, Adrienne returned with a slow step, and again took her seat on the edge of the bed. "That is right," resumed M. Baleinier: "only be reasonable; and, as I said before, let us talk together like good friends."
"You say well, sir," replied Adrienne, in a collected and perfectly calm voice; "let us talk like friends. You wish to make me pass for mad—is it not so?"
"I wish, my dear child, that one day you may feel towards me as much gratitude as you now do aversion. The latter I had fully foreseen—but, however painful may be the performance of certain duties, we must resign ourselves to it."
M. Baleinier sighed, as he said this, with such a natural air of conviction, that for a moment Adrienne could not repress a movement of surprise; then, while her lip curled with a bitter laugh, she answered: "Oh, it's very clear, you have done all this for my good?"
"Really, my dear young lady—have I ever had any other design than to be useful to you?"
"I do not know, sir, if your impudence be not still more odious than your cowardly treachery!"
"Treachery!" said M. Baleinier, shrugging his shoulders with a grieved air; "treachery, indeed! Only reflect, my poor child—do you think, if I were not acting with good faith, conscientiously, in your interest, I should return this morning to meet your indignation, for which I was fully prepared? I am the head physician of this asylum, which belongs to me—but I have two of my pupils here, doctors, like myself—and might have left them to take care of you but, no—I could not consent to it—I knew your character, your nature, your previous history, and (leaving out of the question the interest I feel for you) I can treat your case better than any one."
Adrienne had heard M. Baleinier without interrupting him; she now looked at him fixedly, and said: "Pray, sir, how much do they pay you to make me pass for mad?"
"Madame!" cried M. Baleinier, who felt stung in spite of, himself.
"You know I am rich," continued Adrienne, with overwhelming disdain; "I will double the sum that they give you. Come, sir—in the name of friendship, as you call it, let me have the pleasure of outbidding them."
"Your keepers," said M. Baleinier, recovering all his coolness, "have informed me, in their report of the night's proceedings, that you made similar propositions to them."
"Pardon me, sir; I offered them what might be acceptable to poor women, without education, whom misfortune has forced to undertake a painful employment—but to you, sir a man of the world, a man of science, a man of great abilities—that is quite different—the pay must be a great deal higher. There is treachery at all prices; so do not found your refusal on the smallness of my offer to those wretched women. Tell me—how much do you want?"
"Your keepers, in their report of the night, have also spoken of threats," resumed M. Baleinier, with the same coolness; "have you any of those likewise to address me? Believe me, my poor child, you will do well to exhaust at once your attempts at corruption, and your vain threats of vengeance. We shall then come to the true state of the case."
"So you deem my threats vain!" cried Mdlle. de Cardoville, at length giving way to the full tide of her indignation, till then restrained. "Do you think, sir, that when I leave this place—for this outrage must have an end—that I will not proclaim aloud your infamous treachery? Do you think chat I will not denounce to the contempt and horror of all, your base conspiracy with Madame de Saint-Dizier? Oh! do you think that I will conceal the frightful treatment I have received! But, mad as I may be, I know that there are laws in this country, by which I will demand a full reparation for myself, and shame, disgrace, and punishment, for you, and for those who have employed you! Henceforth, between you and me will be hate and war to the death; and all my strength, all my intelligence—"
"Permit me to interrupt you, my dear Mdlle. Adrienne," said the doctor, still perfectly calm and affectionate: "nothing can be more unfavorable to your cure, than to cherish idle hopes: they will only tend to keep up a state of deplorable excitement: it is best to put the facts fairly before you, that you may understand clearly your position.
"1. It is impossible for you to leave this house. 2. You can have no communication with any one beyond its walls. 3. No one enters here that I cannot perfectly depend upon. 4. I am completely indifferent to your threats of vengeance because law and reason are both in my favor."
"What! have you the right to shut me up here?"
"We should never have come to that determination, without a number of reasons of the most serious kind."
"Oh! there are reasons for it, it seems."
"Unfortunately, too many."
"You will perhaps inform me of them?"
"Alas! they are only too conclusive; and if you should ever apply to the protection of the laws, as you threatened me just now, we should be obliged to state them. The fantastical eccentricity of your manner of living, your whimsical mode of dressing up your maids, your extravagant expenditure, the story of the Indian prince, to whom you offered a royal hospitality, your unprecedented resolution of going to live by yourself, like a young bachelor, the adventure of the man found concealed in your bed-chamber; finally, the report of your yesterday's conversation, which was faithfully taken down in shorthand, by a person employed for that purpose."
"Yesterday?" cried Adrienne, with as much indignation as surprise.
"Oh, yes! to be prepared for every event, in case you should misinterpret the interest we take in you, we had all your answers reported by a man who was concealed behind a curtain in the next room; and really, one day, in a calmer state of mind, when you come to read over quietly the particulars of what took place, you will no longer be astonished at the resolution we have been forced to adopt."
"Go on, sir," said Adrienne, with contempt.
"The facts I have cited being thus confirmed and acknowledged, you will understand, my dear Mdlle. Adrienne, that your friends are perfectly free from responsibility. It was their duty to endeavor to cure this derangement of mind, which at present only shows itself in idle whims, but which, were it to increase, might seriously compromise the happiness of your future life. Now, in my opinion, we may hope to see a radical cure, by means of a treatment at once physical and moral; but the first condition of this attempt was to remove you from the scenes which so dangerously excited your imagination; whilst a calm retreat, the repose of a simple and solitary life combined with my anxious, I may say, paternal care, will gradually bring about a complete recovery—"
"So, sir," said Adrienne, with a bitter laugh, "the love of a noble independence, generosity, the worship of the beautiful, detestation of what is base and odious, such are the maladies of which you wish to cure me; I fear that my case is desperate, for my aunt has long ago tried to effect that benevolent purpose."
"Well, we may perhaps not succeed; but at least we will attempt it. You see, then, there is a mass of serious facts, quite enough to justify the determination come to by the family-council, which puts me completely at my ease with regard to your menaces. It is to that I wish to return; a man of my age and condition never acts lightly—in such circumstances, and you can readily understand what I was saying to you just now. In a word, do not hope to leave this place before your complete recovery, and rest assured, that I am and shall ever be safe from your resentment. This being once admitted, let us talk of your actual state with all the interest that you naturally inspire."
"I think, sir, that, considering I am mad, you speak to me very reasonably."
"Mad! no, thank heaven, my poor child, you are not mad yet—and I hope that, by my care, you will never be so. It is to prevent your becoming mad, that one must take it in time; and believe me, it is full time. You look at me with such an air of surprise—now tell me, what interest can I have in talking to you thus? Is it the hatred of your aunt that I wish to favor? To what end, I would ask? What can she do for me or against me? I think of her at this moment neither more nor less than I thought yesterday. Is it a new language that I hold to yourself? Did I not speak to you yesterday many times, of the dangerous excitement of mind in which you were, and of your singular whims and fancies? It is true, I made use of stratagem to bring you hither. No doubt, I did so. I hastened to avail myself of the opportunity, which you yourself offered, my poor, dear child; for you would never have come hither with your own good will. One day or the other, we must have found some pretext to get you here: and I said to myself; 'Her interest before all! Do your duty, let whatever will betide!'—"
Whilst M. Baleinier was speaking, Adrienne's countenance, which had hitherto expressed alternately indignation and disdain, assumed an indefinable look of anguish and horror. On hearing this man talk in such a natural manner, and with such an appearance of sincerity, justice and reason, she felt herself more alarmed than ever. An atrocious deception, clothed in such forms, frightened her a hundred times more than the avowed hatred of Madame de Saint-Dizier. This audacious hypocrisy seemed to her so monstrous, that she believed it almost impossible.
Adrienne had so little the art of hiding her emotions, that the doctor, a skillful and profound physiognomist, instantly perceived the impression he had produced. "Come," said he to himself, "that is a great step. Fright has succeeded to disdain and anger. Doubt will come next. I shall not leave this place, till she has said to me: 'Return soon, my good M. Baleinier!'" With a voice of sorrowful emotion, which seemed to come from the very depths of his heart, the doctor thus continued: "I see, you are still suspicious of me. All I can say to you is falsehood, fraud, hypocrisy, hate—is it not so?—Hate you? why, in heaven's name, should I hate you? What have you done to me? or rather—you will perhaps attach more value to this reason from a man of my sort," added M. Baleinier, bitterly, "or rather, what interest have I to hate you?—You, that have only been reduced to the state in which you are by an over abundance of the most generous instincts—you, that are suffering, as it were, from an excess of good qualities—you can bring yourself coolly and deliberately to accuse an honest man, who has never given you any but marks of affection, of the basest, the blackest, the most abominable crime, of which a human being could be guilty. Yes, I call it a crime; because the audacious deception of which you accuse me would not deserve any other name. Really, my poor child, it is hard—very hard—and I now see, that an independent spirit may sometimes exhibit as much injustice and intolerance as the most narrow mind. It does not incense me—no—it only pains me: yes, I assure you—it pains me cruelly." And the doctor drew his hand across his moist eyes.