Alas! Dr. Griffon would have been touched, perhaps, by these severe words, but not convinced. Man is made the creature of circumstances. The captain thus accustoms himself to consider his soldiers as nothing more than the pawns of the bloody game called battle. And it is because man is thus made, that society ought to protect those whom fate exposes to the action of these "humane necessities." Now the character of Dr. Griffon once admitted (and it can be admitted without much hyperbole), the inmates of this hospital had then no guarantee, no recourse against the scientific barbarity of his experiments; for there exists a grievous hiatus in the organization of the civil hospitals. We will point it out here, so that we may be understood. Military hospitals are each day visited by a superior officer charged to receive the complaints of the sick soldiers, and to attend to them if they appear reasonable. This oversight completely distinct from the government of the hospital, is excellent—it has always produced the best results. It is, besides, impossible to see establishments better kept than the military hospitals; the soldiers are nursed with much care, and treated, we would say, almost with respectful commiseration. Why not have a similar superintendence established in the civil hospitals, by men completely independent of the government and medical faculty? The complaints of the poor (if they were well founded) would thus have an impartial organ, while at present this organ is absolutely wanting. Thus the doors of the hospital of Dr. Griffon once shut on a patient, he belonged body and soul to science. No friendly or disinterested ear can hear his grief. He is told plainly that, being admitted out of charity, he becomes henceforth a part of the experimental domain of the doctor, and that patient and malady must serve as subjects of study and observation, analysis, or instruction, to the young students who accompany assiduously the visits of M. Griffon. In effect, the subject soon had to answer to interrogations often the most painful, the most sorrowful; and that, not to the doctor alone, who like the priest, fulfills a duty, and has the right to know everything—no, he must reply in a loud voice before a curious and greedy crowd of students. Yes, in this pandemonium of science, old or young, maid or wife, were obliged to abjure every feeling or sentiment of shame, and to make the most confidential communications, submit to the most material investigations, before a numerous public; and almost always these cruel formalities aggravated their disease. And this is neither humane nor just; it is because the poor enter the hospital in the holy name of charity, that they should be treated with compassion and with respect, for misfortune has its dignity.
On reading the following lines, it will be perceived why we have caused them to be preceded by these reflections. Nothing could be more sad than the nocturnal aspect of the vast ward of the hospital, where we will introduce our readers. Along the whole length of its gloomy walls were ranged two parallel rows of beds, vaguely lighted by the sepulchral glimmering of a lamp suspended from the ceiling; the narrow windows were barred with iron, like a prison's. The atmosphere is so sickening, so filled with disease, that the new patients did not often become acclimated without danger: this increase of suffering is a kind of premium which every new-comer inevitably pays for a hospital residence. The air of this immense hall is, then, heavy and corrupted. At intervals, the silence of night is interrupted, now by plaintive moans, now by profound sighs, uttered by the feverish sleepers; then all is quiet, and naught is heard but the regular and monotonous tickings of a large clock, which strikes the hours, so long for sleepless suffering. One of the extremities of this hall was almost plunged into obscurity. Suddenly was heard a great stir, and the noise of rapid footsteps; a door was opened and shut several times; a sister of charity, whose large white cap and black dress were visible from the light which she carried in her hand, approached one of the last beds on the right side of the hall. Some of the patients, awaking with a start, sat up in bed, attentive to what was passing. Soon the folding doors were opened. A priest entered, bearing a crucifix—the two sisters knelt. By the pale light which shone like a glory around this bed, while the other parts of the hall remained in obscurity, the almoner of the hospital was seen leaning over this couch of misery, pronouncing some words, the slow sounds of which were lost in the silence of night. At the end of a quarter of an hour the priest took a sheet, which he threw over the bed.
Then he retired. One of the kneeling sisters arose, closed the curtains, and returned to her prayers alongside of her companion. Then everything became once more silent. One of the patients had just died. Among the women who did not sleep, and who had witnessed this mute scene, were three persons whose names have already been mentioned in the course of this history: Mademoiselle de Fermont, daughter of the unhappy widow ruined by the cupidity of Jacques Ferrand; La Lorraine, a poor washer-woman, to whom Fleur-de-Marie had formerly given what money she had left; and Jeanne Duport, sister of Pique-Vinaigre, the patterer of La Force. We know Mademoiselle de Fermont and the juggler's sister. La Lorraine was a woman of about twenty, with a sweet face, but extremely pale and thin: she was in the last stage of consumption; there was no hope of saving her; she knew it, and was wasting away slowly. The distance was not so great between the beds of these two women but they could speak in a low tone, and not be overheard by the sisters.
"There is another one gone," whispered La Lorraine, thinking of the dead, and speaking to herself. "She will not suffer more—she is very happy."
"She is very happy, if she has left no children," added Jeanne.
"Oh! you are not asleep, neighbor," said La Lorraine, to her. "How do you get on, for your first night here? Last night, as soon as you were brought in, you were placed in bed, and I did not dare to speak to you; I heard you sob.
"Oh! yes; I have wept much."
"You are, then, in much pain?"
"Yes, but I am used to pain; it is from sorrow I weep. At length I fell asleep; I was still sleeping when the noise of the doors awoke me. When the priest came in, and the good sisters knelt, I soon saw it was a woman who was dying; then I said to myself a pater and an ave for her."
"I also; and, as I have the same complaint, as this woman had, who is just dead, I could not prevent myself from saying, 'Here is another whose sufferings are ended; she is very happy!'"
"Yes, as I told you, if she had no children."
"You have children, then?"
"Three," said the sister of Pique-Vinaigre, with a sigh,
"I had a little girl, but I did not keep her long. I am a washer-woman at the boats; I worked as long as I could. But everything has an end; when my strength failed me, my bread failed me also. They turned me oat of my lodgings; I do not know what would have become of me, except for a poor woman who gave me shelter in a cellar, where she had concealed herself to escape from her husband, who wished to kill her. There I was confined on the straw; but, happily, this good woman knew a young girl, beautiful and charitable as an angel from heaven: this young girl had a little money; she took me from the cellar, and placed me in a furnished room, paying the rent in advance, giving me, besides, a willow cradle for my child, and forty francs for myself, with some clothes."
"Good little girl! I also have met, by chance, with one who may be called her equal, a young dressmaker, very obliging. I had gone to see my poor brother, who is a prisoner," said Jeanne, after a moment of hesitation; "and I met in the visitors' room this young girl of whom I speak; having heard me say to my brother that I was not happy, she came to me, much embarrassed, to offer what services were in her power."
"How kind that was in her!"
"I accepted; she gave me her address, and, two days after, this dear little Rigolette—that's her dear name—gave me employment."
"Rigolette!" cried La Lorraine.
"You know her?"
"No; but the young girl who was so generous to me, several times mentioned the name of Rigolette: they were friends together."
"Well!" said Jeanne, smiling sadly, "since we are neighbors in sickness, we should be friends like our two benefactresses."
"Willingly: my name is Annette Gerbier, otherwise La Lorraine, washer-woman."
"And mine, Jeanne Duport, fringe-maker. Ah! it is so good, at the hospital, to find some one who is not altogether a stranger, above all, when you come for the first time, and you have many troubles! But I do not wish to think of this. Tell me, La Lorraine, what was the name of the young girl who has been so kind to you?"
"She was called La Goualeuse. All my sorrow is that I have not seen her for a long time. She was as beautiful as the Holy Virgin, with fine flaxen hair and blue eyes, so sweet—so sweet! Unfortunately, notwithstanding her assistance, my poor child died at two months," and Lorraine wiped away a tear.
"I regret, my child, for myself, not for her, poor little dear! She would have too much to struggle with, for she soon would have been an orphan. I have not a long time to live."
"You should not have such ideas at your age. Have you been sick for a long time?"
"It will soon be three months. Bless me! when I had to work for myself and my child, I increased my labor; the winter was cold, I caught a cold on my chest; at this time I lost my little girl. In watching her I forgot myself. To that add sorrow, and I am what you see me, consumptive, doomed—as was the actress who has just died."
"At your age there is always hope."
"The actress was only two years older, and you see—-"
"She whom the good sisters are watching now, was she an actress?"
"Oh, yes—what a fate! She had been beautiful as the day. She had plenty of money, equipages, diamonds, but, unfortunately, the small-pox disfigured her; then want came, then poverty—behold her dead in the hospital. Yet, she was not proud; on the contrary, she was kind and gentle to everybody; she told us that she had written to a gentleman whom she had known in her prosperity, who had loved her; she wrote to him to come and reclaim her body, because it hurt her feelings to think she would be dissected—cut in pieces."
"And this gentleman has come?"
"Oh! that is very cruel."
"At each moment the poor woman asked for him, saying continually, 'Oh! he will come! oh! he will surely come;' and yet she died, and he had not come."
"Her end must have been so much the more painful."
"Oh, Lord, yes; for she dreaded so much what they would do to her body."
"After having been rich and happy, to die here is sad! For us, it is only a change of misery."
"Speaking of that," resumed La Lorraine, after a moment's hesitation, "I wish you would render me a service."
"If I should die, as is probable, before you leave this, I wish you would claim my body—I have the same dread as the actress; and I have put aside the small amount of money I have left, so that I can be buried."
"Do not have such ideas."
"Never mind—do you promise me?"
"Yes! but Lord be praised, that will not happen."
"But, if it does happen, I shall not have, thanks to you, the same misfortune as the actress."
"Poor lady, after having been rich, to end thus!"
"The actress was not the only one in this room who has been rich, Madame Jeanne."
"Call me Jeanne, as I call you La Lorraine."
"You are very kind."
"Who is it that has been rich besides?"
"A young person not over fifteen, who was brought here last night, before you came. She was so weak that they were obliged to carry her. The sister said that this young girl and her mother were very respectable people, who had been ruined."
"Her mother is also here?"
"No: the mother was so very sick, that she could not be moved. The poor child would not leave her, and they profited by a fainting fit to bring her here. It was the proprietor of a wretched lodging-house who, for fear that they would die in his abode, applied for their admission."
"And where is she?"
"There, in the bed opposite to yours."
"And only fifteen?"
"At the most."
"The age of my eldest daughter!" said Jeanne, unable to restrain her tears.
"Pardon me," said La Lorraine, sadly, "pardon me, if I cause you pain, unintentionally, by speaking of your children. Perhaps they are sick also?"
"Alas! I do not know what will become of them if I stay here more than a week."
"And your husband?"
After a pause, Jeanne answered, drying her tears, "Since we are friends together, La Lorraine, I can tell you my troubles, as you have told me yours—it will solace me. My husband was a good workman; he has become dissipated; he abandoned me and my children, after having sold all that we possessed; I worked hard; charitable people aided me; I began again to raise my head; I brought up my little family as well as I could, when my husband came back, with a bad woman, and again took all I had, leaving me to commence anew."
"Poor Jeanne! could you not prevent that?"
"I could have procured a separation by law, but the law is too dear, as my brother says. Alas! you shall see what effect this has upon us poor folks; some days since, I returned to see my brother: he gave me three francs, which he had collected from those who listened to his stories in prison."
"It is plain to see that you are a kind-hearted family," said La Lorraine, who, from a rare instinctive delicacy, did not interrogate Jeanne as to the cause of her brother's imprisonment.
"I took courage, then; I thought that my husband would not return for a long time, for he had taken from me all that he could take. No, I am mistaken," added the unhappy mother, shuddering: "there remained my daughter—my poor Catharine."
"You shall see—you shall see. Three days since, I was at work, with my children around me; my husband came in. I saw at once that he been drinking. 'I come after Catharine,' said he. I caught my daughter by the arm, and asked Duport, 'Where do you wish to take her?' 'That does not concern you—she is my daughter; let her tie up some clothes and follow me.' At these words my blood curdled in my veins; for, imagine, La Lorraine, that this woman who is with my husband—it makes me shudder to say it, but—"
"Ah! yes, she is a real monster."
"'Take Catharine away!' I answered to Duport: 'never!' 'Now,' said my husband, whose lips were already white with rage,'do not provoke me, or I'll knock you down!' Then he took my child by the arm, saying, Come with me, Catharine.' The poor little thing threw her arms around my neck; bursting into tears, she cried, 'I wish to stay with mamma!' Seeing this, Duport became furious: he tore my child from me, giving me a blow with his fist, which knocked me down; and once down—but, do you see, La Lorraine," said poor Jeanne, interrupting herself, "it is very certain he would not have been so cruel, except he had been drinking in fine, he trampled upon me, loading me with curses."
"How bad he must be!"
"My poor children fell on their knees, begging for mercy; Catharine also. Then he said to my daughter, swearing like a madman, 'If you do not come with me, I will finish the job with your mother!' I vomited blood. I felt myself half dead; but I cried to Catharine, 'Rather let him kill me! but do not follow your father!' 'Will you not be silent, then?' said Duport, giving me another blow, which made me lose all consciousness."
"What misery! what misery!"
"When I came to myself I found my two little boys beside me weeping."
"And your daughter?"
"Gone!" cried the poor mother, sobbing convulsively; "yes, gone! My other children told me that their father had struck her, threatening to take what life I had remaining on the spot. Then, what could you expect? the poor child was bewildered; she threw herself upon me for a last embrace, kissed her little brothers, and then my husband carried her off! Ah! that bad woman waited for them at the door, I am sure!"
"And could you not complain to the police?"
"At first I could think of nothing but Catharine's departure, but I soon felt great pains all over my body, I could not walk. Alas! what I had so much dreaded arrived. Yes—I had said to my brother, 'Some day my husband will beat me so hard—so hard, that I shall be obliged to go to a hospital. Then, my children, what will become of them?' And now here I am, at the hospital, and I say, What will become of my children?"
"But is there not any justice, then, my God! for the poor?"
"Too dear! too dear for us, as my brother said," answered Jeanne Duport, with bitterness. "My neighbors went to seek the police, they came: it was painful for me to denounce Duport, but on account of my daughter it was necessary. I said only that, in a quarrel I had with him about taking away my daughter, he had pushed me; that it was nothing, but that I wanted my daughter back again."
"And what did he reply?"
"That my husband had a right to take away his child, not being separated from me. 'You have only one way,' said the officer to me: 'commence a civil suit, demand a separation of body, and then the blows which your husband has given you, his conduct with this vile woman, will be in your favor, and they will force him to deliver up your daughter; otherwise, he can keep her in his own right.' 'But to commence a suit! I have not the means! I have my children to feed.' 'What can I do?' said he; 'so it is.' Yes," repeated Jeanne, sobbing, "he was right; so it is; and because that so it is, in three months, perhaps, my daughter will be a street-walker! while, if I had had the means to commence a suit, it would not have happened."
"But that will never happen, your daughter must love you so much."
"But she is so young! At that age, fear, bad treatment, bad counsels, bad examples! Poor Catharine! so gentle, so loving! and I, who only this year wished her to renew her first communion!"
"Oh! you have much sorrow. And I complained of mine!" said Lorraine, wiping her eyes. "And your other children?"
"On their account I did what I could to keep out of the hospital. I was obliged to give up. I vomit blood three or four times a day; I have a fever which prostrates me; I am unable to work. At least, by being cured quickly, I can return to my children, if, before this, they are not dead with hunger or imprisoned as beggars. I here—who will they have to take care of them, and feed them?"
"Oh! this is terrible! You have no good neighbors, then?"
"They are as poor as I am, and they have five children of their own; thus two children more is a heavy burden; however, they have promised me to feed them a little, during eight days. It is all they can do; it is taking from them bread, of which they themselves have none too much; so I must be cured in eight days; oh yes! cured or not, I shall go out, all the same."
"But why have you not thought of this good Miss Rigolette, whom you met in prison? She would surely have taken care of them."
"I did think of her; and, although the dear little soul has, perhaps, as much as she can do to get along, I sent her word by a neighbor of my troubles. Unfortunately, she is in the country, where she is going to be married; so the porter of the house said."
"Thus, in eight days, your poor children—but no, your neighbors will not have the heart to send them away."
"But what would you have them to do? They do not eat now as much as they want, and they are obliged to take it out of the mouths of their own to give it to mine. No, no—do you see, I must be cured in eight days. I have already demanded it from all the doctors I have seen since yesterday, but they answered me, laughing, 'You must address yourself to the chief physician for that.' When will he come, La Lorraine?"
"Chut! I think he is there. We must not talk while he is making his visit," answered La Lorraine.
During the conversation of the two women the day commenced to dawn. A confused movement announced the arrival of Dr. Griffon, who soon entered the hall, accompanied by his friend the Count de Saint Remy, who, having a deep interest in Madame de Fermont and her daughter, was far from expecting to find the latter unfortunate girl in the hospital. As he came into the ward, the cold and stern features of Dr. Griffon seemed to light up with a glow of satisfaction. Casting around him a look of complacency and authority, he answered with a patronizing bend of the head the eager greetings of the sisters. The rough and austere physiognomy of the Count de Saint Remy was stamped with deep sadness. The fruitlessness of his attempts to discover traces of Madame de Fermont, the ignominious conduct of his son, who had preferred an infamous life to death, crushed him to the ground with sorrow.
"Well!" said Dr. Griffon to the count with a triumphant air, "what do you think of my hospital?"
"In truth," answered Saint Remy, "I do not know why I have yielded to your desire; nothing is more heart-rending than the aspect of these wards filled with sick. Since my entrance here my feelings quite overcome me."
"Bah! bah! in fifteen minutes you will think no more about it; you, who are a philosopher, will find ample matter for observation: and then it would have been a shame that you, one of my oldest friends, should not visit the theater of my labors—of my glory, that you should not see me at my work. All my pride is in my profession; is it wrong?"
"No, certainly not; and after your excellent care of Fleur-de-Marie, whom you have saved, I could refuse you nothing. Poor child! what touching charms her features have preserved, notwithstanding her dangerous illness!"
"She has furnished me with a very curious medical fact; I am enchanted with her! By the bye, how has she passed this night? Did you see her this morning before you left Asnieres?"
"No, but La Louve, who nurses her with unceasing assiduity, told me that she had slept perfectly well. Can we allow her to write today?"
After a moment's hesitation, the doctor answered, "Yes. As long as the subject was not completely convalescent, I feared the slightest emotion for her, the slightest application of mind; but now I do not see that any inconvenience can arise from her writing."
"At least she could inform her friends."
"Doubtless. Have you heard nothing more concerning the fate of Madame de Fermont and her daughter?"
"Nothing," said Saint Remy, sighing. "My constant researches have no success. I have no more hope but in Lady d'Harville, who, as I am told, also takes a lively interest in these unfortunates; perhaps she may have some information which might lead to her discovery. Three days ago I went to her residence; she was expected to arrive every moment. I have written to her on this subject, begging her to answer me as soon as possible."
During the conversation of Saint Remy and Dr. Griffon, several persons had slowly assembled around a large table occupying the middle of the hall; on this table was a register, where the students attached to the hospital, who might be recognized by their long white aprons, came in turn to sign their names as being present; a large number of young students arrived successively to swell the scientific retinue of Dr. Griffon, who, arriving a few moments in advance of his usual hour, waited until it struck.
"You see, my dear Saint Remy, that my staff is quite considerable," said Dr. Griffon, with pride, pointing to the crowd who came to attend to his practical instruction.
"And these young men follow you to the bed of each patient?"
"They only come for that."
"But all these beds are occupied by women."
"The presence of so many men must cause them much painful confusion?"
"Tush, a patient has no sex."
"In your eyes, perhaps; but in their own—modesty, shame."
"All these fine things must be left at the door, my dear Alceste; here we commence on the living experiments and studies which we finish in the dissecting room on the corpse."
"Hold, doctor; you are the best and the most honest of men; I owe you my life; I recognize your excellent qualities; but habit and the love of your profession make you view certain questions in a manner that is revolting to me. I leave you," said Saint Remy, turning to leave the hall.
"What childishness!" cried the doctor, detaining him.
"No, no—there are some things which wound me and make me indignant; I foresee that it will be torture for me to accompany you. I will not go, but I will await you here, near this table."
"What a man you are with your scruples! But I will not let you off. I admit it may be unpleasant for you to go from bed to bed; remain, then, there; I will call you for two or three cases which are very curious."
"Very well; since you are so very urgent, that will be enough, and more than enough."
The clock struck half-past seven.
"Come, gentlemen," said Dr. Griffon, and he commenced his visits, followed by a numerous train.
On arriving at the first bed of the range of the night, of which the curtains were closed, the sister said to the doctor,
"Sir, number one died this morning at half-past four."
"So late? that surprises me; yesterday morning I would not have given her the day: has the body been claimed?"
"So much the better—we can proceed with the autopsy; I can make some one happy;" then, addressing one of the students, the doctor added, "My dear Dunnoyer, you have wished for a subject for a long time; you are the first on the list; this one is yours."
"Ah! sir, how kind you are!"
"I could wish oftener to recompense your zeal, my dear friend; but mark the subject, and take possession."
And the doctor passed on. The student, with the aid of a scalpel, cut very delicately on the arm of the actress an F and a D, in order to take possession, as the doctor said.
"La Lorraine," whispered Jeanne Duport to her neighbor, "who are all these people that follow the doctor?"
"They are pupils and students."
"Oh! will all these young men be there when he examines me?"
"But it is on my chest I am injured. Will they examine me before all these men?"
"Yes, yes, it must be so—they wish it. I wept enough the first time—I was dying with shame; I resisted, they threatened to turn me away; I was obliged to summit, but it affected me so much that I was worse. Judge, then, almost naked before so many people—it is very painful."
"Before the physician alone—I comprehend that—if it is necessary—and even that costs much. But why before all these young men?"
"They are learning; they teach them with us. What would we have? we are here for that; it is on this condition that we are received here."
"Ah! I comprehend," said Jeanne Duport, with bitterness; "they do not give us something for nothing. But yet, there are occasions where this could not be. Thus, if my poor daughter Catharine, who is but fifteen, should come to a hospital, would they dare before all these young men? Oh! no, I think I would prefer to see her die at home."
"If she came here, she would have to obey the rules, like you, like me."
"Hush, La Lorraine; if this poor little lady who is opposite should hear us—she who was rich, who perhaps has never before left her mother—it is going to be her turn—judge how confused and unhappy she will be."
"It is true, it is true; I shudder when I think of it, poor child!"
"Silence, Jeanne, here is the doctor!" said La Lorraine.
CLAIRE DE FERMONT.
After having rapidly visited several patients whose cases presented no great interest, the doctor at length reached the bed of Jeanne Duport.
At the sight of the eager crowd, who, anxious to see and to know, to understand and to learn, pressed around her bed, the unhappy woman, seized with a tremor of fear and shame, wrapped herself closely in the covering. The severe and intelligent face of Dr. Griffon, his penetrating look, his brow habitually contracted, his rough manner of speaking, augmented still more the alarm of Jeanne.
"A new subject!" said the doctor, casting his eye on the card where was inscribed the nature of the malady of the new-comer. He preserved a profound silence, while his assistants, imitating the prince of science, fixed their eyes on the patient with curiosity. She, to throw aside as much as possible all the painful emotions caused by so many spectators, looked steadily at the doctor, with deep anguish.
After an examination of several minutes, the doctor, remarking something anomalous in the yellowish tint of the eyeball, approached nearer to her, and with the end of his finger pushing back the eyelid, he examined the crystalline lens. Then several students, answering to a kind of mute invitation of their professor, went, in turn, to observe the appearance of the eye. Afterward the doctor proceeded to this interrogatory: "Your name?"
"Jeanne Duport," murmured the patient, more and more alarmed.
"Thirty-six and a half."
"Louder. Born in—"
"Alas! yes, sir," answered Jeanne, with a deep sigh.
"How long since?"
"Any children?" Here, instead of answering, the unhappy mother gave vent to her tears, for a long time restrained.
"We do not want tears, but an answer. Have you any children?"
"Yes, sir, two little boys and a girl."
"How long have you been sick?"
"For four days, sir," said Jeanne, wiping her eyes.
"Tell me how you became sick."
"Sir, there are so many people, I do not dare."
"Where do you come from, my dear?" said the doctor, impatiently. "Would you not like me to bring a confessional here? Come, speak, and be quick. Be composed, we are quite a family party—quite a large family, as you see," added the prince of science, who was on that day in a gay humor. "Come, let us finish."
More and more intimidated, Jeanne said, stammering and hesitating at each word, "I had, sir, a quarrel with my husband, on the subject of my children; I mean to say, of my eldest daughter. He wished take her away. I—you comprehend, sir,—I did not wish it, on account of a vile woman, who might give bad advice to my child; then my husband, who was drunk—oh! yes, sir, except for that he would not have done it—my husband pushed me very hard; I fell, and—then, a short time after, I began to throw up blood."
"Ta, ta, ta; your husband pushed you, and you fell. You set it off very nicely. He has certainly done more than push you; he must have struck you very hard, and what is more, several times. Perhaps, also, he has trampled you under foot. Come, answer! tell the truth."
"Ah! sir, I assure you he was drunk, otherwise he would not have been so wicked."
"Good or wicked, drunk or sober, it has nothing to do with present matters; I am not a magistrate, my good woman; I only wish to establish a fact. You have been knocked down and trampled upon, have you not?"
"Alas! yes, sir," said Jeanne, bursting into tears; "and yet I have never given him cause for complaint. I work as much as I can, and I—"
"The epigastrium must be painful? you must feel a great heat there?" said the doctor, interrupting Jeanne; "you must experience lassitude, uneasiness, nausea?"
"Yes, sir. I only came here at the last extremity, otherwise I would not have abandoned my children, for whom I am so much worried; and then Catharine—ah! it is on her account I fear the most. If you knew—"
"Your tongue!" said the doctor, again interrupting the patient.
This order appeared so strange to Jeanne, who had thought to excite feelings of compassion in the doctor, that she did not at first comply with it, but looked at him with amazement.
"Let us see this tongue, of which you make so good use," said the doctor, smiling; then he held down, with the end of his finger, her under jaw.
After causing the students to examine the tongue closely, in order to ascertain its color and dryness, the doctor stepped back a moment. Jeanne, overcoming her fear, cried in a trembling voice:
"Sir, I am going to tell you. Some neighbors, as poor as myself, have been kind enough to take charge of my Children, but for eight days only. That is a great deal. At the end of this time I must return home. Thus, I entreat you, for the love of heaven! cure me as soon as possible—or almost cure me, so that I can get up and work. I have only a week before me, for—"
"Face discolored—state of prostration complete; yet the pulse hard, strong, and frequent," said the imperturbable doctor, looking at Jeanne. "Remark it well, gentlemen: oppression—heat at the epigastrium, all these symptoms certainly announce hematemesis, probably complicated with hepatitis, caused by domestic sorrows, as the yellowish coloration of the globe of the eye indicates; the subject has received violent blows in the regions of epigastrium and abdomen; the vomiting of blood is necessarily caused by some organic lesion of certain viscera. On this subject I will call your attention to a very curious point—very curious. The post-mortem examinations of those who die with the complaint of which this subject is attacked, offer results singularly variable; often the malady, very acute and very serious, carries off the patient in a few days, and leaves no traces of its existence; at other times, the spleen, the liver, the pancreas, present lesions more or less serious. It is probable that the subject before us has suffered some of these lesions; we are going, then, to try to assure ourselves of this fact, and you—you will also assure yourselves by an attentive examination of the patient." And, with a rapid movement, Dr. Griffon, throwing the bed-clothes back, almost entirely uncovered Jeanne. It is repugnant to our feelings to depict the piteous struggles of this poor creature, who wept bitterly from shame, imploring the doctor and his auditory to leave her.
But at the threat, "You will be turned out of the hospital if you do not submit to the established usages"—a threat so overwhelming for those to whom the hospital is the last resource, Jeanne submitted to a public investigation, which lasted for a long time—a very long time; for the doctor analyzed and explained each symptom, and the more studious of the assistants wished to join practice to theory, and have an ocular assurance of the state of the patient. As a consequence of this cruel scene, Jeanne experienced an emotion so violent that she had a severe nervous attack, for which Dr. Griffon gave an additional prescription. The visit was continued. The doctor soon reached the bed of Claire de Fermont, a victim, as well as her mother, of the cupidity of Jacques Ferrand. Miss de Fermont wearing the linen cap furnished by the hospital, leaned her head in a languishing manner on the bolster of her bed; through the ravages of sickness could be traced, on this ingenuous and sweet face, the remains of distinguished beauty. After a night of bitter anguish, the poor child had fallen into a kind of feverish stupor before the doctor and his scientific cortege entered the hall; thus the noise attending his visit had not yet awakened her.
"A new subject, gentlemen," said the prince of the science, running his eye over the card which a student presented to him. "Disease, slow fever—nervous. Plague on it!" cried the doctor, with an expression of profound satisfaction; "if the attending physician is not mistaken in his diagnostic, it is a most excellent windfall; I have desired a slow nervous fever for a long time, as this is not a malady of the poor. These affections are caused in almost every case by serious perturbations in the social position of the subject; and it cannot be denied that the more the position is elevated, the more profound are the perturbations. It is, besides, an affection the more to be remarked from its peculiar character. It is traced back to the highest antiquity; the writings of Hippocrates leave no doubt on this subject—it is very plain; this fever, as I have said, is almost always caused by violent sorrows. Now, sorrow is as old as the world; yet, what is singular, before the eighteenth century, this malady was not described by any author; it is Huxman who did so much honor to the profession at this epoch—it is Huxman, I say, who was the first to give a monograph of the nervous fever—a monograph which has become classic; and yet it was a malady of the old school," added the doctor, laughing. "It belongs to this grand, ancient, and illustrious febris family, of which the origin is lost in the night of time. But do not let us rejoice too much; let us, in effect, see if we have the happiness to possess a specimen of this curious affection. It would be doubly desirable, for I have wished for a long time to test the internal use of phosphorus—yes, gentlemen," repeated the doctor, on hearing a kind of murmur of curiosity among his auditory, "yes, gentlemen, phosphorus; it is a very curious experiment which I wish to make—it is bold! but audaces fortuna juvant—and the occasion will be excellent. We are going, in the first place, to examine if the subject presents on all parts of the body, and especially on the breast, this miliary eruption, so symptomatic, according to Huxman: and you will assure yourselves, by feeling the subject, of the kind of rugosity this eruption causes. But do not let us sell the skin of the bear before we bring him to the ground," added the prince of science, who was unusually jocular.
And he slightly touched her shoulder to arouse her. The girl started and opened her large eyes, sunken by disease. Let her terror and alarm be imagined. While a crowd of men surrounded her bed and followed her every motion with their eyes, she felt the hand of the doctor throw back the covering, and slip into the bed in order to feel her pulse.
Collecting all her strength, with a voice of anguish and affright, she cried: "Mother! help, mother!"
By a chance almost providential, at the moment when the cries of Miss de Fermont made the old Count de Saint Rerny start from his chair, for he recognized the voice, the door of the hall opened, and a young woman, dressed in mourning, entered precipitately, accompanied by the director of the hospital. This was Lady d'Harville.
"In mercy, sir," said she to the director, with the greatest anxiety, "conduct me to Miss de Fermont."
"Be good enough to follow me, my lady," answered the director, respectfully. "She is at No. 17, in this hall."
"Unfortunate child! here, here!" said Lady d'Harville, wiping her eyes; "oh, it is frightful!"
Preceded by the director, she advanced rapidly toward the group assembled around the bed, when these words were heard, pronounced with indignation: "I tell you that it is murder—you will kill her, sir."
"But, my dear Saint Reiny, listen then—"
"I repeat to you, sir, that your conduct is atrocious. I regard Miss de Fermont as my daughter. I forbid you to approach her; I will have her immediately removed hence."
"But, my dear friend, it is a case of slow nervous fever, very rare. I wish to try phosphorus. It is a unique occasion. Promise me at least that I shall take care of her. What matters it where you take her, since you deprive my clinique of a subject so precious?"
"If you were not mad, you would be a monster," answered the Count de Saint Remy.
Clemence listened to these words with increasing anguish; but the crowd was so dense that the director was obliged to say in a loud voice: "Make room, gentlemen, if you please—make room for her ladyship, the most noble the Marchioness d'Harville, who comes to see No. 17."
At these words the students fell back with as much eagerness as respectful admiration, on seeing the charming face of Clemence, to which emotion had given a most lively color.
"Madame d'Harville," cried the Count de Saint Remy, pushing the doctor rudely aside, and advancing toward Clemence. "Oh! it is heaven who sends here one of its angels. Madame, I knew that you had interested yourself for these unfortunates. More fortunate than I, you have found them; as for me, it was chance which brought me here, to behold a scene of unheard-of barbarity. Unfortunate child! Do you see, madame—do you see! And you, gentlemen, in the name of your daughters, or your sisters, have pity on a child of sixteen, I entreat you; leave me alone with madame and the good sisters. As soon as she recovers a little, I will have her removed hence."
"So be it. I will sign an order for her departure; but I will follow her steps—I will cling fast to her. It is a subject which belongs to me, and she will do well. I will take care of her. I will not experiment with the phosphorus—well understood—I will pass the night with her if it is necessary, as I have passed them with you, ungrateful Saint Remy; for this fever is quite as singular as yours. They are two sisters, who have the same claim to my interest."
"Confounded man, why have you so much science?" said the count, knowing that in truth he could not confide Miss de Fermont to more skillful hands.
"Eh! it is very plain," whispered the doctor in his ear. "I have much science, because I experiment, because I risk and practice much on my subjects. Now, shall I have my slow fever, old growler?"
"Yes, but can this lady be removed?"
"Then, for heaven's sake! retire."
"Come, sirs," said the prince of science, "we shall be deprived of a precious study, but I'll keep you informed of the case."
And Dr. Griffon, accompanied by his numerous attendants, continued his rounds, leaving Saint Remy and Madame d'Harville with Claire de Fermont.
During the scene which we have just described, Claire, Still in her fainting fit, was delivered to the tender care and attentions of Clemence and the sisters; one of the latter sustained her drooping head, while Lady d'Harville, leaning over the bed, wiped away with her handkerchief the cold sweat from the brow of the patient. Profoundly affected, Saint Remy contemplated this touching picture, when a sudden thought struck him, and he drew near Clemence, and said in a low tone: "And the mother of this unfortunate, madame?"
The marchioness turned toward Saint Remy, and answered, with sadness, "She has no longer a mother, my lord."
"I only learned last night, on my return, the address of Madame de Fermont, and her alarming situation. At one o'clock in the morning I was with her, accompanied by my physician. Oh! sir, what a picture! poverty in all its horrors—and no hope of saving the expiring mother!"
"Oh! how frightful must have been her agony, if the thought of her daughter was present!"
"Her last words were—my daughter!"
"What a death! she, the tender mother, so devoted. It is terrible!"
Here one of the sisters entered, interrupting the conversation, and said to the lady: "The young lady is very feeble—she scarcely has any consciousness; in a short time she may revive. If you do not fear to remain here, madame, and wait until she comes to herself, I will offer you my chair."
"Give it to me," said Clemence, taking a seat along-side of the bed. "I will not take my eyes from her; I wish that she should, at least, see a friendly face when she recovers; then I will take her with me, since the doctor decides that she can be removed without danger."
"Oh! madame, may God bless you for what you do," said Saint Remy; "but pardon me for not having told you my name—so much sorrow! so much emotion!—I am the Count de Saint Remy; the husband of Madame de Fermont was my most intimate friend. I live at Angers. I left that city because I was uneasy at not having received any news from these two noble and worthy women. I have since heard that they have been completely ruined."
"Oh! sir, you do not know all. Madame Fermont has been most cruelly despoiled!"
"By her notary, perhaps? For a moment I had such a suspicion."
"The man was a monster, sir! Alas! this cruel crime is not his only one. But, happily," said Clemence, thinking of Rudolph, "he has been compelled to make restitution; and while closing the eyes of Madame de Fermont, I have been able to assure her that her daughter is provided for. Her death thus had fewer pangs."
"I comprehend; knowing that her daughter was under your protection, madame, my poor friend died more tranquilly."
"Not only is my protection forever secured to Miss de Fermont, but her fortune will also be restored."
"Her fortune! How? The notary—"
"Has been forced to restore her money, which he had appropriated to himself by a horrid crime!"
"This man assassinated the brother of Madame de Fermont, and made her believe that this unfortunate man had committed suicide, after having dissipated her fortune."
"This is horrible; it can hardly be credited; and yet I have had my doubts about this notary, for Renneville was honor itself. And this money—"
"Is deposited with a venerable priest, M. le Cure of Bonne-Nouvelle; he will hand it to Miss de Fermont."
"This restitution is not sufficient for human justice, madame! The scaffold claims this notary, for he has not only committed one murder, but two. The death of Madame de Fermont, the sufferings which her daughter has endured on this hospital bed, have been caused by the infamous abuse of confidence of this wretch!"
"And this wretch has committed another murder, quite as frightful!"
"What do you say, madame?"
"If he made away with the brother of Madame de Fermont by a pretended suicide, only a few days since he cruelly murdered a young girl, in whose destruction he was interested, by causing her to be drowned, certain that this would be attributed to accident."
Saint Remy shuddered, looked at Madame d'Harville with surprise, and thinking of Fleur-de-Marie, cried: "Oh! what a strange coincidence!"
"What is the matter, my lord?"
"That young girl! Where was it he wished to drown her?"
"In the Seine, near Asnieres, I am told."
"It is she! it is the same!" cried Saint Remy.
"Of whom do you speak, my lord?"
"Of the girl this monster had an interest in."
"Do you know her, my lady?"
"Poor child! I loved her tenderly. Ah! if you had known how beautiful she was! But how did your lordship—"
"Dr. Griffon and myself gave her the first assistance."
"The first assistance? to her? where?"
"On Ravageurs' Island, where she was saved."
"Saved! Fleur-de-Marie! saved?"
"By a good creature, who, at the risk of her life, drew her out of the Seine. But what is the matter, madame?"
"Oh! sir, I dare not believe in so much happiness. I entreat you, tell me—describe the girl!"
"Of admirable beauty, and angelic face—"
"Large blue eyes—flaxen hair?"
"Yes, my lady."
"And when they tried to drown her, was she with an aged woman?"
"In fact it was only yesterday she could speak. She then mentioned that an old woman accompanied her."
"God be praised!" cried Clemence, clasping her hands fervently. "I can inform him that his favorite still lives. What joy for him, who in his last letter spoke of this poor child with such painful regret! Pardon me, sir; but if your lordship only knew how happy your information makes me, as well as another, who, still more than myself, has loved and protected Fleur-de-Marie! But I pray you, where is she at this moment?"
"Near Asnieres, in the house of one of the physicians of this hospital—Dr. Griffon, who, notwithstanding some oddities which I deplore, has excellent qualities."
"And she is now out of danger?"
"Yes, madame; but only since two or three days. Today she is allowed to write to her protectors."
"Oh! it is I, my lord, I who will do this, or rather, it is I who will have the joy of conducting her to those, who, believing her dead, regret her so bitterly."
"I appreciate those regrets, madame; for it is impossible to know Fleur-de-Marie without being charmed with her angelic qualities: her grace and sweetness exercise on all those who approach her an unbounded influence. The woman who saved her, and who has since watched her night and day, as she would have watched her own child, is a courageous and determined person, but of a temper so habitually violent, that she has been called La Louve—judge! Well! a word from Fleur-de-Marie can calm her. I have heard her sob and utter cries of despair, when, at one time, Dr. Griffon had but little hopes of saving Fleur-de-Marie."
"That does not astonish me—I know La Louve."
"You, madame?" said Saint Remy, surprised; "you know La Louve?"
"It must surprise you, truly, my lord," said the marchioness, smiling sweetly, for Clemence was happy—oh! very happy—in thinking of the joyful surprise she would cause the prince. What would have been her delight, if she had known that it was a daughter whom he believed dead—that she was about to restore to Rudolph. "Oh! this is so joyful a day for me, that I wish it to be so for others; it seems to me that there must be many unfortunate persons here to succor; this would be an excellent way to express my gratitude, my joy, for the news you have given me." Then, addressing one of the sisters, who had just given a drink to Miss de Fermont, she said, "Well, sister, is she yet sensible?"
"Not yet, madame—she is so weak. Poor thing! her pulse can hardly be felt."
"I will wait until she is able to be removed in my carriage. But tell me, sister, among all these unhappy sick, do you not know some who particularly merit my interest and pity, and to whom I can be useful before I leave the hospital?"
"Oh! madame, it is heaven sends you," said the sister; "there is," added she, pointing to the bed of Pique-Vinaigre's sister, "a poor woman, very sick, and very much to be pitied; she mourns continually about two small children, who have no one to look to for support but herself. She told the doctor just now that she would leave here, cured or not cured, in a week, as her neighbor had promised to take care of her children for that time only."
"Conduct me to her bed, I pray you, sister," said Lady d'Harville, rising, and following the nun.
Jeanne Duport, scarcely recovered from the violent attack caused by the treatment of Dr. Griffon, had not perceived the entrance of the noble lady into the hospital. What was her surprise, then, when the latter, lifting up the curtains of her bed, said to her, with a look full of kindness and commiseration, "My good mother, you must not be any longer uneasy about your children; I will take care of them; only think of being soon cured, so that you can join them."
Jeanne Duport thought that she was in a dream. In the same place where Dr. Griffon and his students had made her submit to such a cruel ordeal, she saw a lady of surpassing beauty come to her with words of pity, consolation, and hope.
The emotion of Pique-Vinaigre's sister was so great that she could not utter a word; she clasped her hands as if in prayer, looking at her unknown benefactress with adoration.
"Jeanne, Jeanne," whispered La Lorraine, "speak to this good lady." Then, addressing the marchioness, she said, "Ah! madame, you save her; she would have died with despair in thinking of her poor destitute children."
"Once more reassure yourself, my good mother—have no uneasiness," repeated the marchioness, pressing in her small white hand the burning one of Jeanne Duport. "Reassure yourself; be no longer uneasy concerning your children; and if you prefer it, you shall leave the hospital today; you shall be nursed at home—nothing shall be wanting. in this way you shall not leave your dear children; from this time I will see that you do not want for work, and I will attend to the future welfare of your children."
"Ah! what do I hear? The cherubim descend, then, from heaven, as is written in the church books," said Jeanne Duport, trembling, and scarcely daring to look at her benefactress. "Why so much goodness for me? How have I deserved this? It cannot be possible! I leave the hospital, where I have wept so much, suffered so much! not leave my children any more! have a nurse! why, it is a miracle from above!"
And the poor woman spoke the truth. If one only knew how sweet and easy it is to perform often, and at a small expense, such miracles! Alas! for those poor unfortunates, abandoned and repulsed on all sides—an instantaneous, unhoped-for assistance, accompanied by benevolent words of consideration, tenderly commiserative, may easily wear the supernatural appearance of a miracle.
"It is not a miracle, my good mother," answered Clemence, much affected; "that which I do for you," added she, slightly blushing at the recollection of Rudolph, "that which I do for you is inspired by a generous being, who has taught me to relieve the unfortunate; it is he whom you must bless and thank."
"Ah! madame! I shall bless you and yours," said Jeanne Duport, weeping. "I ask your pardon for expressing myself so badly. I am not accustomed to such great joy; it is the first time it has happened to me."
"Well! do you see, Jeanne," said La Lorraine, weeping, "there are also among the sick some Rigolettes and Goualeuses—on a large scale, it is true; but as to the good heart, it is the same thing!"
Lady d'Harville turned toward La Lorraine, much surprised at hearing her pronounce these two names.
"You know La Goualeuse and a young workwoman named Rigolette?" demanded Clemence of La Lorraine.
"Yes, madame. La Goualeuse—dear little angel—did last year for me—bless her! according to her poor means—that which you do for poor Jeanne. Yes, madame—oh! it does me good to say and repeat to every one, that La Goualeuse took me from a cellar where I was confined on some straw; and the dear little angel removed me and my child to a room where there was a good bed and a cradle. La Goualeuse did this out of pure charity; for she scarcely knew me, and was very poor herself. That was very kind, was it not, madame?" said La Lorraine excited.
"Oh! yes; the charity of the poor toward the poor is holy," said Clemence, her eyes bathed in tears.
"It was just the same with Rigolette, who, according to her means," replied La Lorraine, "offered her services, a few days since, to Jeanne."
"What a singular coincidence!" said Clemence to herself, more and more affected, for each of these two names, La Goualeuse and Rigolette, recalled a noble action of Rudolph. "And you, my child—what can I do for you?" said she to La Lorraine. "I wish the names that you have just pronounced with so much gratitude may bring you good fortune."
"Thank you, madame," said La Lorraine, with a smile of bitter resignation. "I had a child—it is dead. I am in a consumption, and am in a hopeless state. I have no longer need of anything."
"What gloomy thoughts! At your age—so young—there is always some remedy."
"Oh! no, madame, I know my fate: I do not complain. I saw a person die last night—here—with the same disease; it is an easy death I thank you for your goodness."
"You may magnify your danger."
"I am not mistaken, madame, I know it well. But since you are so kind—a great lady like you is all-powerful—"
"Speak—say, what do you wish?"
"I have asked a service of Jeanne; but, since, thanks to the good God and you, she is going away—"
"Ah! well, this service—can I not render it?"
"Certainly, madame; one word from you to the sisters, or to the physician, would arrange all."
"This word? I will speak it, be assured."
"Since I have seen the actress who is dead, so tormented by the fear of being cut up after her death, I have had the same fear. Jeanne promised to come and claim my body, and have me buried."
"Ah! it is horrible!" said Clemence, shuddering with affright. "One must come here to know that there are, for the poor, misery and alarms even beyond the tomb."
"Pardon, madame," said La Lorraine, timidly; "for a great lady, rich and happy as you deserve to be, this request is a very sad one; I ought not to have made it!"
"I thank you, on the contrary, my child; it teaches me a misery of which I was ignorant, and this knowledge shall not be fruitless. Be comforted; although this fatal moment may be far off, when it does arrive, you may be sure to repose in holy ground."
"Oh! thank you, madame!" cried La Lorraine. "If I might dare to ask permission to kiss your hand."
Clemence presented her hand to the parched lips of La Lorraine.
"Oh! thank you, madame. I shall have some one to pray for and bless to the end, with La Goualeuse, and shall be no longer sad, for after my death—-"
This resignation, and the fears far beyond the grave, had painfully affected Lady d'Harville; she whispered to the sister who came to inform her that Miss de Fermont was completely restored, "Is the condition of this young woman really desperate?"
"Alas! yes, madame; La Lorraine is given up; she has not perhaps, a week to live."
Half an hour afterward, Madame d'Harville, accompanied by Saint Remy, took with her, to her own house, the young orphan, from whom she had concealed the death of her mother.
The same day an agent of Lady d'Harville, after having visited in the Rue de Barillerie the miserable abode of Jeanne Duport, and having received the most favorable accounts of this worthy woman, immediately hired on the Quai de l'Ecole two large rooms and a bedroom; thanks to the resources of the Temple, they were furnished in two hours, and the same evening, Jeanne Duport was removed to this dwelling, where she found her children and an excellent nurse. The same agent was instructed to claim the body of La Lorraine, whenever she should sink under her malady, and have it decently interred. After having installed Claire de Fermont in her apartment, Lady d'Harville set out at once for Asnieres, accompanied by Saint Remy, in order to conduct Fleur-de-Marie to Rudolph.
The early days of spring approached, the sun began to resume his power, the sky was pure, the air soft and mild. Fleur-de-Marie, leaning on the arm of La Louve, tried her strength by walking in Dr Griffon's garden. The vivifying warmth of the sun and the action of walking colored with a rosy tint the pale, thin cheeks of Goualeuse; her peasant's costume having been torn in the agitation attending the first assistance that had been rendered her, she wore a dress of dark-blue merino, made loose, and only confined around her delicate and slender waist by a woolen girdle.
"How pleasant the sun is!" said she to La Louve, stopping at the foot of a hedge of green trees exposed to the south, and which surrounded a stone bench. "Will you sit down here a moment, La Louve?"
"Is there any need of asking me if I will?" answered the wife of Martial, shrugging her shoulders.
Then, taking from her neck her shawl, she folded it carefully, knelt down, laid it on the slightly damp gravel of the walk, and said to La Goualeuse:
"Place yourself there."
"But, La Louve," said Fleur-de-Marie, who had perceived the design of her companion too late to prevent its execution, "but, La Louve, you will ruin your shawl."
"None of your arguments! the ground is damp," said La Louve, and taking the small feet of Fleur-de-Marie in her hands, she placed them on the shawl.
"How you spoil me, La Louve!"
"Hum! do you not deserve it; always contending against that which I wish to do for your good. Are you not fatigued? here is a good half-hour that we have been walking. Noon has just struck at Asnieres."
"I am slightly tired; but I feel that this walk has done me good."
"You see, you were tired—you could not ask me sooner to sit down!"
"Do not scold me—I did not know that I was so weak. It is so pleasant to walk after having been confined to the bed so long—to see the sun, the trees, the country, when one has thought never to see them again!"
"The fact is, that you have been in a very dangerous state for two days. Poor Goualeuse! Yes, now we can tell you that your life was dispaired of."
"And then imagine, that on finding myself under the water, the recollection flashed across my mind that a wicked woman, who had badly treated me when I was very little, had always threatened to throw me to the fishes. Then I said to myself, 'I have no good fortune—it is fated that I shall not escape.'"
"Poor Goualeuse! was this your last thought when you supposed yourself lost!"
"Oh, no!" said Fleur-de-Marie, warmly; "when I felt myself about to die, my last thought was of him whom I regard as my 'Dieu;' so, also, when I was recalled back to life, my first thought was of him."
"It is a pleasure to confer benefits on you; you do not forget."
"Oh, no! it is so pleasant to fall asleep and dream of one's gratitude, and on awakening to remember it still!"
"Ah! one would go through fire to serve you."
"Good Louve! Hold; I assure you that one of the causes which render me desirous to live, is the hope of conferring happiness on you—of accomplishing my promise; you remember our castles in the air at Saint Lazare?"
"As to that, there is time enough; now you are on your feet again, I have made my expenses, as Martial says."
"I hope that the Count of Saint Remy will tell me, directly, that the physician will allow me to write to Madame George. She must be so uneasy! And, perhaps, M. Rudolph also!" added Fleur-de-Marie casting down her eyes, and blushing anew at the thought of her preserver. "Perhaps they think me dead!"
"As those believe, also, who ordered you to be drowned, poor dear! Oh, the hounds!"
"You always suppose, then, that it was not an accident, La Louve?"
"An accident? Yes, the Martials call them accidents. When I say the Martials, it is without counting my man for he is not of that family, no more than Francois and Amandine shall be."
"But what interest could any one have in my death! I have never harmed any one—no one knows me."
"It's all one, if the Martials are scoundrels enough to drown some one, they are not fools enough to do it for nothing. Some words which the widow made use of in prison, to my Martial, proves this."
"He has been to see his mother, then? this terrible woman!"
"Yes, and there is no more hope for her, nor for Calabash, nor for Nicholas. Many things have been discovered, but Nicholas, in the hope of saving his life, has denounced his mother and sister for another assassination. On this account they will all be executed; the lawyers have no hope, the judges say that an example is necessary."
"Ah! it is frightful—almost a whole family!"
"Yes, unless Nicholas makes his escape; he is in the same prison with a monster called Skeleton, who has a plot on foot to escape. Nicholas told this to a prisoner who was discharged, and he informed Martial; for my Martial has been weak enough to go and see his rascally brother at La Force. Then, encouraged by this visit, this wretch has had the impudence to send word to his brother that any moment he may escape, and that Martial should hold himself ready, at Micou's, with money, and clothes for a disguise."
"Your Martial has so kind a heart!"
"Kind heart as much as you please, La Goualeuse, but hang me if I let my husband aid an assassin who wished to kill him! Martial will not denounce the plot—that is already a great deal. Besides, now that you are nearly well, La Goualeuse, we are going to start with the children on our tour through France; we will never plant our feet in Paris again; it was painful enough for Martial to be called son of the guillotined—what will it be when mother, brother, and sister are also executed!"
"You will wait, at least, until I have spoken to M. Rudolph concerning you, if I see him again. You have become changed; I told you that I would reward you, and I wish to keep my word; otherwise how can I pay the debt I owe you? You have saved my life; and during my illness you overwhelmed me with attentions."
"Exactly; now I should seem self-interested if I allowed you to ask anything for me from your protector. You are saved; I repeat to you that I have made my expenses."
"Good Louve, reassure yourself; it is not you who are self-interested, it is I who am grateful."
"Listen, then!" said La Louve, suddenly rising; "it sounds like the noise of a carriage. Yes, yes, it approaches; hold! there it is; did you see it pass before the gate? there is a lady within."
"Oh! goodness!" cried Fleur-de-Marie, with emotion; "I thought I recognized—"
"A handsome lady whom I saw at Saint Lazare, who was very kind to me."
"Is she aware that you are here?"
"I do not know; but she is acquainted with the person of whom I have spoken and who (if he wish, and he will, I hope) can make a reality of our Saint Lazare castles in the air."
A noise of footsteps approaching rapidly was heard behind the hedge; Francois and Amandine, who, thanks to the kindnss of Saint Remy, had not left La Louve, came rushing into the garden, crying:
"La Louve, here is a fine lady with my lord: they want to see Fleur-de-Marie at once."
"I was not mistaken," said Goualeuse.
Almost at the same moment, Saint Remy appeared, accompanied by Lady d'Harville.
Hardly had she perceived Fleur-de-Marie, than she cried, running toward her and pressing her in her arms:
"Poor dear child! I see you again. Ah! saved! saved miraculously from a horrible death! With what happiness I find you—I, who, as well as your friends, thought you were lost forever!"
"I am also very happy to see you again, madame; for I have never forgotten your kindness to me," said Fleur-de-Marie, returning the tender caresses of Lady d'Harville with charming modesty.
"Ah! you do not know what will be the surprise, the wild joy of your friends, who, at this moment, weep for you so bitterly."
Fleur-de-Marie, taking the hand of La Louve, who had withdrawn a short distance, said to Lady d'Harville, presenting her:
"Since my safety is so dear to my benefactors, lady, permit me to bespeak, through you, their kindness for my companion, who saved me at the risk of her life."
"Be assured, my child; your friends will prove to the brave Louve that they know it is to her they owe the happiness of seeing you again."
La Louve, blushing, confused, daring neither to answer nor raise her eyes toward Lady d'Harville, so much did the presence of a woman of her rank abash her, could not conceal her astonishment at hearing Clemence pronounce her name.
"But there is not a moment to lose," said the marchioness. "I am dying with impatience to take you with me, Fleur-de-Marie; I have brought in my carriage a shawl and a warm cloak; come, come, my child." Then, addressing the count, she added, "Will your lordship be good enough to give my address to this courageous woman, so that she can come to-morrow and say farewell to Fleur-de-Marie? So, you will be obliged to come and see us," she said to La Louve.
"Oh! lady, I will come, very sure," answered she, "since it is to say adieu to La Goualeuse; I should be very sad not to be able to see her once more."
A few moments afterward Lady d'Harville and La Goualeuse were on the road to Paris.
* * * * *
Rudolph, after having beheld the death of Jacques Ferrand, so terribly punished for his crime, had returned home in a state of deep dejection. After a long and sleepless night, he had sent for Sir Walter Murphy, to confide to this old and faithful friend the heartrending discovery concerning Fleur-de-Marie that he had made the previous evening. The worthy Englishman was overwhelmed; better than any other person, he could comprehend and partake of the profound grief of the prince. The latter, pale, prostrated, his eyes red from weeping, had just made Murphy this painful revelation.
"Take courage," said the latter, wiping his eyes; for, notwithstanding his firmness, he had also wept. "Yes, take courage, my lord—much courage. I offer no vain consolations—this sorrow has no cure."
"You are right. What I felt yesterday is nothing compared to my present sufferings."
"Yesterday your highness felt the shock, but the reaction will each day be more grievous. Therefore, call up all your energy. The future is sad—very sad."
"And then, yesterday, the contempt and horror with which this woman inspired me! But may God have pity on her, for at this moment she is before him. Yesterday, in fine, surprise, hatred, fright, so many violent passions, smothered within me these elements of despairing tenderness, that at present I can restrain myself no longer—I can hardly weep. And yet now, with you, I can. Hold! you see, I have no strength—I am cowardly—pardon me. Tears again—always—oh! my child! my poor child!"
"Weep, weep, your highness. Alas! the loss is irreparable."
"And so many dreadful miseries to make her forget," cried Rudolph, in a touching tone, "after all that she has suffered! Think of the fate which awaited her!"
"Perhaps this transition might have been too abrupt for the unfortunate, already so cruelly tried."
"Oh! no, no! not so. If you knew with what delicacy—with what reserve, I should have apprised her of her birth; how gently I should have prepared her for this revelation—it was so simple, so easy. Oh! if this were the only question, do you see," added the prince, with a bitter smile, "I should have been composed, and not embarrassed. Throwing myself on my knees before the idolized child, I would have said, 'You who have been until now so cruelly treated, be at length happy—and forever happy. You are my daughter.' But no," said Rudolph, "no, that is not it—that would have been too hasty, too rash. Yes, I would have restrained myself and said to her, in a calm manner, 'My child, I must tell you something that will astonish you much. Yes; imagine that they have discovered traces of your parents; your father lives, and your father is—I am your father.'" Here the prince again interrupted himself. "No, no; this is also too sudden, too abrupt; but it is not my fault that this revelation is always springing to my lips; one must have more self-command—you comprehend, my friend, you comprehend? To be there before your daughter, and restrain your feelings!" Then, giving way again to despair, Rudolph cried, "But to what purpose these vain words? I shall never speak to her again. Oh! that which is frightful—frightful to think of, is, that I have had my daughter near me during a whole day—yes, that day, forever accursed, on which I took her to the farm; that day when all the treasures of her angelic mind were revealed to me in all their purity, and nothing in my heart whispered, 'She is your daughter!' nothing—nothing! Oh! how blind, stupid I was, not to imagine this. I was unworthy to be a father."
"But, in truth," cried the prince, "did it not depend upon myself whether I should ever leave her? Why did I not adopt her? I, who lament so much for my child? Why, instead of sending this unfortunate child to Madame George, did I not keep her with me? To-day I should only have had to extend my arms to her. Why have I not done that? Why? Ah! because one only does good by halves; because one only values treasures when they have disappeared forever: because instead of raising at once to her true level this admirable young girl, who, in spite of misery and abandonment, was, through her mind and heart, greater, nobler, perhaps, than she ever would have been by the advantages of birth and education. I thought I was doing much for her by placing her at a farm with some good people, as I would for the first interesting beggar that I met in the streets. It is my fault—it is my fault. If I had done that she would not have been dead. Oh! yes, I am punished—I have deserved it—bad son, bad father!"
Murphy knew that such grief was inconsolable, and remained silent.
"I shall not remain here—Paris is hateful to me; to-morrow I go—"
"You are right, my lord."
"We will stop at the farm of Bouqueval. I will shut myself up for some hours in her chamber, where she passed the only happy days of her life. I will have collected with religious care all that belonged to her—the books she commenced to read; the paper she had written on; the clothes she has worn—all, even to the furniture—even to the tapestry of her rooms, of which I myself will take an exact delineation. And at Gerolstein, in the private park where I have raised a monument to the memory of my outraged father, I will have a small house built, in which shall be rebuilt this room; there I will go to weep for my daughter. Of these two funeral monuments, one will recall my crime to my father, the other the chastisement which reached me through my child. Thus, then, let everything be prepared to-morrow morning."
Murphy, willing to try if he could not turn the prince a moment from his gloomy thoughts, said, "All shall be ready, sir; only you forget that to-morrow the marriage of Germain, the son of Madame George, and Rigolette takes place. Not only have you made a provision for Germain, and munificently endowed the bride, but you have also promised to be present at the wedding as a witness. Then are they to be informed of the name of their benefactor."
"It is true I have promised. They are at the farm, and I cannot go there to-morrow without being present at the ceremony, and I will confess I have not the courage."
"The sight of the happiness of these young people will, perhaps, calm your sorrow."
"No, no, grief is selfish, and seeks retirement. To-morrow you will go in my place; and you will beg Madame George to collect everything belonging to my daughter. Let a plan of her room be made, and sent to me in Germany.
"Will your highness depart without seeing Lady d'Harville?"
At the name of Clemence, Rudolph started; he still cherished for her a sincere attachment, but at this moment it was, thus to speak, drowned in the wave of bitterness which inundated his heart. By a strange contradiction, the prince felt that the tender affection of Lady d'Harville would alone have aided him to support the grief which overwhelmed him, and he reproached this thought as unworthy the fervency of his paternal grief.
"I shall go without seeing the lady," answered Rudolph. "A few days since I wrote her how much I sorrowed for the death of Fleur-de-Marie. When she knows that Fleur-de-Marie was my daughter, she will comprehend the grief that seeks to be alone—yes, alone, so that it may be expiatory; and it is terrible, that expiation which fate imposes on me—terrible! for it commences, for me, at the time when the decline of life also commences."
Some one knocked lightly and discreetly at the door; Rudolph started in impatience; Murphy rose and went to see who was there. Through the half-open door an aid-de-camp of the prince said a few words to the knight, in a low tone. He answered by a sign, and, turning toward Rudolph, said, "Will your highness permit me to be absent for a moment? Some one wishes to speak to me on business of importance."
"Go," answered the prince.
Hardly had Murphy departed, than Rudolph, uttering a heavy sigh concealed his face in his hands.
"Oh!" cried he, "that which I feel alarms me. My heart overflows with hatred; the presence of my best friend weighs me down; the memory of a pure and noble love importunes and troubles me, and then—it is cowardly and unworthy. But last night I learned, with savage joy, the death of Sarah—of this unnatural mother, who has caused the death of my child. I amused myself in beholding the ravings and torments of the horrid monster who killed my daughter—oh, madness!—I arrived too late. Yet, yesterday I did not suffer so; and yesterday, as to-day, I thought my child dead—oh! yes; but I did not say to myself these words which henceforth will imbitter my life: 'I have seen my daughter; I have spoken to her; I have admired all that was adorable in her. Oh! how much time I might have passed at that farm! When I think that I only went there three times; yes, no more; and I could have gone there every day—to see my child every day! What do I say to keep her ever with me!' Oh! such shall be my punishment."
Suddenly the door of the cabinet opened, and Murphy entered; he was very pale—so pale that the prince half arose, and cried, "Murphy, what is the matter?"
"Nothing, my lord."
"You are very pale."
"It is astonishment."
"Madame d'Harville? Some new misfortune!"
"No, no, my lord, reassure yourself; she is there in the parlor."
"She here! in my house! it is impossible!"
"I tell your highness, the surprise—-"
"Such a step on her part—but what is the matter, in the name of heaven?"
"I do not know—I cannot explain what I feel."
"You conceal something from me."
"On my honor, no. I do not know what she meant?"
"But what did she say?"
"'Sir Walter,' and although her voice trembled, her face was beaming with joy, 'my presence here must surprise you very much; but there are certain circumstances so important, that they leave no time to think of appearances. Entreat his highness to grant me, immediately, an audience in your presence; for I know that the prince has no better friend. I should have begged him to come to my own house, but that would have delayed our interview for an hour, which the prince will confess should not have been retarded a moment,' added she, with an expression which made me tremble."
"But," said Rudolph, in a broken voice, and becoming still paler than Murphy, "I cannot imagine the cause of your trouble—of your emotion—of your looks; there is something else—this interview—"
"On my honor, I do not know anything more. These words alone, of the marchioness, have unsettled me. Why, I am ignorant. But you yourself—you are very pale, sir."
"I?" said Rudolph, supporting himself on a chair, for he felt his knees giving way under him.
"I tell your highness, that you are as much disturbed as I am. What is the matter?"
"Although I should die under the blow, beg Madame d'Harville to enter," cried the prince. By a strange sympathy, the visit, so unexpected, so extraordinary, had awakened in both Murphy and Rudolph a certain vague and indefinite hope; but this hope seemed so extravagant, that neither one nor the other dared to avow it.
Madame d'Harville, followed by Murphy, entered the cabinet. Ignorant, as we have said, that Fleur-de-Marie was the daughter of the prince, Madame d'Harville, in her joy at bringing back his protegee, had not thought she would be able to present her to him without previous preparation: she had left her in the carriage at the door, as she did not know whether the prince was willing to make himself known to the young girl, and receive her in his own house. But perceiving the great alteration in the looks of Rudolph, and remarking in his eyes the traces of recent tears, Clemence thought he had met with some misfortune more severe than the death of La Goualeuse; thus forgetting the object of her visit, she cried, "What is the matter with your highness?"
"Are you ignorant, madame? Ah! all hope is lost. Your haste—the interview you have so earnestly demanded—I thought——"
"Oh! I entreat you, let us not speak of the object of my visit. In the name of my father, whose life you saved, I have almost the right to demand from you the cause of the affliction in which you are plunged. Your state of dejection, your paleness, alarms me. Oh! speak, my lord; be generous—speak—have pity on my distress."
"For what good, madame? my wound is incurable."
"These words redouble my alarm, my lord; explain yourself—Sir Walter, what is it?"
"Well!" said Rudolph, in a hollow voice, making a violent effort to restrain himself, "since I informed you of the death of Fleur-de-Marie, I have learned that she was my child."
"Fleur-de-Marie your child!" cried Clemence, in a tone impossible to be described.
"Yes; and just now, when you asked to see me immediately, to inform me of something that would overwhelm me with joy—have pity on my weakness—but a father, mad with grief at the loss of his child, is capable of indulging in many mad hopes. For a moment I thought—that—but no, no; I see I deceived myself. Pardon me; I am but a miserable, foolish man."
Rudolph, exhausted by the violence of his feelings, fell back in his chair, covering his face with his hands. Madame d'Harville remained stupefied, immovable, dumb, breathing with difficulty—in turns a prey to joy, to fear, for the effect which the revelation she was about to make might have upon the prince—in fine, exalted by a holy gratitude toward Providence, who intrusted her—her—to announce to Rudolph that his daughter lived, and she had brought her back to him. Clemence, agitated by these emotions, so violent, so diverse, could not utter a word. Murphy, after having for a moment partaken of the mad hopes of the prince, seemed quite as much overcome as he was. Suddenly the marchioness, yielding to an unexpected and involuntary emotion, forgetting the presence of Murphy and Rudolph, sunk on her knees, clasped her hands, and cried, with an expression of fervent piety and ineffable gratitude:
"Thanks, my God! be praised! I acknowledge Thy sovereign will. Thanks once more, for Thou hast chosen me to inform him that his child is saved!"
Although said in a low voice, these words, pronounced in a tone of sincere and holy fervor, reached the ears of Murphy and the prince. The latter raised his head quickly at the moment Clemence arose from the ground. It is impossible to describe the look, action, and expression of Rudolph, on contemplating Madame d'Harville, whose charming features, stamped with a celestial joy, shone at this moment with superhuman beauty. Leaning with one hand on the marble table, and compressing with the other the rapid pulsations of her heart, she gave an affirmative nod of the head in answer to a look from Rudolph, which once more we are unable to describe.
"Below—in my carriage."
Save for the presence of Murphy, who, quick as lightning, threw himself before Rudolph, he would have rushed at once to the street.
"My lord, you would kill her!" cried the squire, holding back the prince.
"Only since yesterday she is convalescent. For her life, no imprudence, my lord," added Clemence.
"You are right," said Rudolph, restraining himself with difficulty; "you are right—I will be calm—I will not see her yet—I will wait—let my first emotions be controlled. Ah! it is too much—too much in one day!" added he, in a broken voice. Then, addressing Madame d'Harville, and extending his hand toward her, he cried, with a burst of inexpressible gratitude, "I am pardoned! You are the angel of mercy!"
"Your highness restored to me my father—Heaven willed that I should bring back your child," answered Clemence. "But, in my turn, I ask your pardon for my weakness. This revelation—so sudden, so unexpected—has confused me. I confess that I have not the courage to go for Fleur-de-Marie—my agitation would alarm her."
"And how was she saved?" cried Rudolph. "See my ingratitude. I have not yet asked you this question."
"At the moment she was drowning, she was rescued from a watery grave by a courageous woman."
"Do you know her?"
"To-morrow she will come to see me."
"The debt is immense," said the prince, "but I shall know how to pay it."
"What a happy circumstance, my God! that I did not bring Fleur-de-Marie with me," said the marchioness; "this scene would have been fatal to her."
"It is true, madame," said Murphy; "it is a providential chance that she is not here."
"Now," said the prince, who had for a few moments been endeavoring to conquer his emotions, "now I have self-command, I assure you. Murphy, go and seek my daughter." These words, my daughter, were pronounced by the prince with an accent we will not attempt to express.
"Are you quite sure of yourself?" said Clemence. "No imprudence."
"Oh! be tranquil. I know the danger there would be for her—I will not expose her to it. My good Murphy, I entreat you—go—go!"
"Reassure yourself, madame," answered the squire, who had attentively observed the prince; "she can come. My lord will restrain himself."
"Then go—go quickly, my old friend."
"Yes, my lord; I ask but for a moment—one is not made of iron," said the good man, wiping away the traces of his tears; "she must not see that I have been weeping."
"Excellent man!" replied Rudolph, cordially pressing his hand.
"I am ready. I did not wish to pass through the servants' lines all in tears, like a Magadalen. But what shall I say?"
"Yes, what shall he say?" demanded the prince from Clemence.
"That M. Ruldolph wishes to see her—nothing more, it seems to me."
"Undoubtedly. Say that M. Rudolph wishes to see her, nothing more. Come, go—go."
"It is certainly the very best thing that can be said to her," answered the squire. "I will merely say that M. Rudolph wishes to see her; that will not cause her to conjecture anything—to foresee anything: it is the most reasonable way, truly."
But Sir Walter did not stir.
"Sir Walter," said Clemence, smiling, "you are afraid."
"It is true, my lady; in spite of my six-foot stature and my rough exterior, I am still under the influence of violent emotions."
"My friend, take care," said Rudolph; "wait a moment longer, if you are not sure of your self-possession."
"This time, my lord, I am victorious," said the baronet, after having passed over his eyes his Herculean hand. "Really, at my age, this weakness is perfectly ridiculous. Fear nothing now."
And Murphy left the apartment with a firm step and tranquillized air. A moment of silence ensued; then Clemence, blushing, remembered that she was in Rudolph's house, and alone with him. The prince approached her, and said, almost timidly, "If I choose this day—this moment—to make you a sincere avowal, it is because the solemnity of this day—this moment—will add still more to the gravity of the confession. Ever since I have known you I have loved you. So long as concealment of this love was necessary, I concealed it; now that you are free, and have restored me my daughter, will you be to her a mother?"
"I, my lord!" cried Madame d'Harville. "What do you say?"
"I entreat you, do not refuse me; let this day decide my future happiness," said Rudolph tenderly.
Clemence also had loved the prince for a long time; she thought she was in a dream. The avowal of Rudolph, at once so simple, so serious, so touching—made under such circumstances, transported her with an unhoped-for happiness; she answered, hesitatingly, "My lord, it is for you to recall to mind the difference of rank—the interest of your sovereignty."
"First let me think of the interest of my heart—of that of my cherished daughter; make us both happy—oh! very happy. Permit me, who but now was without family, to say, 'My wife—my daughter;' allow this poor child—also without family—to say, 'My father—my mother—my sister;' for you have a daughter, who will become mine."
"Oh! my lord, to such noble words one can only answer by grateful tears," cried Clemence. Then, composing herself, she added, "My lord, some one comes; it is your child."
"Oh! do not refuse me," cried Rudolph, in a supplicating voice; "in the name of my love, say our child."
"Our child," murmured Clemence; at the same moment Murphy opened the door, leading in Fleur-de-Marie.
The girl, descending from the carriage, had crossed an ante-chamber, filled with footmen in full livery; a waiting-room, where valets attended; then the ushers' saloon; and, finally, the waiting-rooms, occupied by a chamberlain and the aides of the prince in full uniform. Let the reader imagine the astonishment of the poor Goualeuse, who knew no other splendors than those of the farm at Bouqueval, on traversing these princely apartments, resplendent with gold, mirrors, and paintings.
As soon as she appeared, Lady d'Harville ran toward her, took her by the hand, and placing her arm around her for support, she conducted her toward the prince, who, standing near the chimney, had not been able to move. Murphy, after having confided Fleur-de Marie to the care of Lady d'Harville, hastily disappeared behind the folds of one of the immense window-curtains, finding that he was not altogether sure of his self-possession. At the sight of her benefactor, her savior, who regarded her with silent ecstasy, Fleur-de-Marie, already so agitated, began to tremble.
"Compose yourself, my child," said Lady d'Harville; "there is your friend, M. Rudolph, who awaits you impatiently; he has been very uneasy about you."
"Oh! yes, very—very uneasy," said Rudolph, still immovable, his heart almost breaking at the sight of the sweet pale face of his child.
Thus, in spite of his resolution, the prince was for a moment obliged to turn his head to conceal his emotion.
"Stay, my child, you are still very weak; sit down there," said Clemence, to turn her attention from the prince; and she led her to a large arm-chair of bronze and gilt, in which the Goualeuse seated herself. Her agitation increased every moment: she was oppressed, speech failed her; she had not a word of gratitude for Rudolph.
At length, on a sign from Lady d'Harville, who was leaning on the back of the chair, and holding one of Fleur-de-Marie's hands in her own, the prince approached softly to the other side of the seat. With more self-command, he then said to Fleur-de-Marie, who turned toward him her enchanting face:
"At length, my child, you are once more reunited to your friends, and forever! You never shall leave them more Now you must forget what you have suffered."
"Yes, my child, the best way to prove that you love us," added Clemence, "is to forget the past."
"Believe me, M. Rudolph—believe me, my lady, that if I do recall it sometimes, it will only be to say to myself, that, without you, I should still be very unhappy."
"Yes; but we will take care that you have no more such gloomy thoughts. Our tenderness will not leave you the time, my dear Marie," answered Rudolph, "for you know that I gave you this name at the farm."
"Yes, M. Rudolph. And is Madame George, who allowed me to call her mother, well?"
"Very well, my child. But I have important news to tell you."
"Me, M. Ruldoph?"
"Since I have seen you, great discoveries have been made concerning your birth."
"It is known who were your parents—who was your father."
Rudolph was so much choked by his tears on his pronouncing these words, that Fleur-de-Marie, very much affected, turned quickly toward him: he had turned away his head. An incident, half burlesque, diverted the attention of La Goualeuse, and prevented her from remarking more closely the emotion of her father: the worthy squire, who still remained behind the curtain, and, apparently was very attentively looking into the garden of the hotel, could not refrain from blowing his nose with a most formidable noise, for he wept like a child.
"Yes, my dear Marie," Clemence hastened to say, "your father is known—he still lives."
"My father!" cried the Goualeuse, with an outburst which put the composure of Rudolph to a new trial.
"And some day," resumed Clemence, "very soon, perhaps, you will see him. What will doubtless surprise you very much is, that he is of high standing—noble birth."
"And my mother, madame-shall I see her?"
"Your father will answer this question, my child; but shall you not be very happy to see him?"
"Oh! yes, madame," answered Fleur-de-Marie, casting down her eyes.
"How much you will love him, when you know him," said the marchioness.
"From that day forward, a new life will commence for you, Marie," added the prince.
"Oh! no, M. Rudolph," answered the Goualeuse, unaffectedly.
"My new life commenced on the day when you took pity on me—when you sent me to the farm."
"But your father will cherish you," said the prince.
"I do not know him, and to you I owe all, M. Rudolph."
"Then you love me as much—more, perhaps, than you would love your father?"
"I bless you, and I respect you as I do God. M. Rudolph, because you have done for me that which God alone else could have done," answered the Goualeuse, with enthusiasm, forgetting her habitual timidity. "When my lady had the goodness to speak to me in prison, I said to her what I said to everybody—yes, M. Rudolph; to those who were very unfortunate, I said, 'Hope! M. Rudolph succors the unfortunate.' To those who hesitated between good and evil, I said, 'Courage, be virtuous; M. Rudolph rewards those who are virtuous.' To those who were wicked, I said, 'Take care! M. Rudolph punishes the wicked.' In fine, when I thought I was about to die, I said to myself, 'God will have mercy upon me, for M. Rudolph has judged me worthy of his interest.'"
Fleur-de-Marie, carried away by her gratitude toward her benefactor, had overcome her fears: a slight carnation tinged her cheeks, and her beautiful blue eyes, which she raised toward heaven as if in prayer, shone with the softest luster. A silence of some seconds succeeded the enthusiastic words of Fleur-de-Marie; the emotions which affected the actors in this scene were profound.
"I see, my child," resumed Rudolph, hardly containing his joy, "that in your heart I have almost taken the place of your father."
"It is not my fault, M. Rudolph. It is, perhaps, wrong in me; but, as I have told you, I know you, and I do not know my father, and," added she, holding down her head in confusion, "and then you know the past, M. Rudolph; and yet you have overwhelmed me with favors; but my father does not know it. Perhaps he will regret having found me," added the unfortunate child, shuddering, "and since he is, as my lady said, of high birth, doubtless he will be ashamed—he will blush for me!"
"Blush for you!" cried Rudolph, drawing himself up proudly.
"Reassure yourself, poor child; your father will place you in a position so brilliant, so lofty, that the greatest among the great of this world will regard you henceforth with the utmost respect. Blush for you! no, no; you will rank with the noblest princesses of Europe."
"My lord!" cried Murphy and Clemence at the same time, alarmed at the vehemence of Rudolph and the increasing pallor of Fleur-de-Marie, who looked at her father with surprise.
"Blush for you!" continued he; "oh! if I ever rejoiced and felt pride in my sovereign rank it is that, thanks to this rank, I can elevate you as much as you have heretofore been abased. Do you hear, my darling child—my beloved daughter? for it is I—I, who am your father!"
And the prince, no longer able to conquer his emotion, threw himself at the feet of Fleur-de-Marie, whom he covered with tears and caresses.
"God be praised!" cried Fleur-de-Marie, clasping her hands. "I am permitted to love my benefactor as much as I would have loved him. He is my father. I can cherish him without remorse. Be praised, my—-"
She could not finish—the shock was too violent; Fleur-de-Marie fainted in the arms of her father.
Murphy ran to the door, opened it, and said, "Dr David instantly for his royal highness; some one is ill!"
"Curses on me? I have killed her," cried Rudolph—in tears, kneeling before his daughter. "Marie, my child, listen to me; it is your father. Pardon—Oh! pardon for not having retained this secret longer. I have killed her!"
"Calm yourself, my lord," said Clemence; "there is, doubtless, no danger. See her cheeks are tinged with color; it is the shock—only the shock."
"But hardly convalescent, she will die. Woe is me!"
At this moment, David, the black physician, entered precipitately: holding in his hands a small box filled with vials, and a paper, which he handed to Murphy.