"David, my child is dying. I have saved your life—you must save my child!" cried Rudolph.
Although amazed at these words of the prince, who spoke of his child, the doctor ran to Fleur-de-Marie, whom Lady d'Harville held in her arms, took hold of the young girl's pulse, placed his hand on her forehead, and turning toward Rudolph, who, pained and alarmed, awaited his doom, he said: "There is no danger, let your highness be assured."
"You speak the truth—no danger—none?"
"Not any, your highness. A few drops of ether, and this attack will pass over."
"Oh! thank you, David—my good David!" cried the prince, warmly. Then turning toward Clemence, Rudolph added, "She lives—our daughter will live."
Murphy had just cast his eyes over the note which David had placed in his hand; he shuddered, and looked at the prince with affright.
"Yes, my old friend," said Rudolph, "in a short time my daughter will say to Lady d'Harville," My mother!'"
"My lord," said Murphy, trembling, "the news of yesterday was false."
"What do you say?"
"A violent attack, followed by a fainting fit, had caused them to think that the Countess M'Gregor was dead."
"This morning there are hopes of saving her."
"Oh!" cried the prince, while Clemence looked at him with surprise, not comprehending his altered appearance.
"My lord," said David, still occupied with Fleur-de Marie, "there is no cause for the slightest uneasiness. But fresh air is necessary; the chair can be rolled on the terrace by opening the door of the garden, she will then soon recover."
Murphy ran immediately to open the glass door, and aided by David, he gently rolled the chair into the garden, leaving Rudolph and Clemence alone.
"Ah! madame," cried Rudolph, as soon as Murphy and David had departed, "you do not know that the Countess M'Gregor is the mother of Fleur-de-Marie!"
"I thought her dead; and what you are still ignorant of," added Rudolph, with bitterness, "is that this woman, as selfish as ambitious, loving me only as a prince, had, in my younger days, contrived to lead me into a marriage, which was afterward dissolved. Wishing then to marry again, the countess has caused all the misfortunes of her child by abandoning her to mercenary hands."
"Ah! now I understand the aversion that your highness had for her."
"You comprehend also why she wished to ruin you by infamous anonymous communications! Always impelled by her implacable ambition, she thought to force me to return to her by isolating me from all endearments."
"Oh! what a wicked intention!"
"And she is not dead!"
"This regret is not worthy of your highness."
"It is because you are not aware of all the injury she has caused! At this time, when, on finding my daughter again, I was about to give her a mother worthy of her—oh! no, no—this woman is a demon of vengeance in my path!"
"Come, your highness, take courage!" said Clemence, wiping away the tears, which fell in spite of her: "you have a great and holy duty to fulfill. You said yourself, that henceforth the fate of your daughter should be as happy as it had been miserable; that she should be as elevated as she had been abased. For that you must legitimatize her birth; for that, your highness, you must espouse the Countess M'Gregor."
"Never—never! It would be to reward perjury, selfishness and the mad ambition of this unnatural mother. I will acknowledge my daughter; you will adopt her, and thus, as I hoped, she will find in you maternal affection."
"No, you will not do that; no, you will not leave the birth of your child in the shade. The countess is of a noble and ancient house; for you, doubtless, this alliance is disproportionate, but it is honorable. By this marriage, your daughter will not be legitimatized, but legitimate; and thus, whatever may happen to her, she can be proud of her father, and openly acknowledge her mother."
"But to renounce you—is impossible. Oh! you do not think what happiness it would have been for me, divided between you and my child—my only love in this world."
"Your child remains to your highness: heaven has miraculously restored her to you. Not to be perfectly happy will be ingratitude!"
"Oh! you do not love me as I love you."
"Believe it, your highness, believe it; the sacrifice that you make to duty will seem less painful."
"But if you love me—if your regrets are as bitter as mine, you will be very unhappy. What will remain for you?"
"Charity, your highness! that admirable sentiment which you have awakened in my heart; that sentiment which has caused me to forget so many sorrows, and to which I am indebted for so many sweet and tender consolations."
"Pray listen to me. Be it so: I will marry this woman; but once the sacrifice accomplished, will it be possible for me to live with her, with her who only inspires me with aversion and contempt? No, no; we shall remain forever separated; never shall she see my child. Thus Fleur-de-Marie will lose in you the most tender of mothers."
"But there will remain for her the most tender of fathers. By the marriage, she will be the legitimate daughter of a sovereign prince of Europe; and thus, as your highness has said, her position will be as splendid as it was obscure."
"You are without pity. I am very unhappy."
"Dare you speak thus—you, so great, so just—you, who so nobly comprehend duty, devotion, and self-denial? A short time since, before this providential revelation, when you wept for your child with such bitter tears, if any one had said to you, 'Make one wish—one alone, and it shall be realized,' you would have cried, 'My daughter!—oh! my daughter—let her live!' This is accomplished; your daughter is restored to you, and you call yourself unhappy. Ah! may Fleur-de-Marie not hear your highness."
"You are right," said Rudolph, after, a long silence; "so much happiness would have been heaven upon earth; but I do not deserve that. I will do my duty. I do not regret my hesitation. I owe to it a new proof of the beauty and noble sentiments of your mind."
"This mind—it is you who have exalted and elevated it. If that which I do is well, it is you whom I praise for it. Courage, my lord; as soon as Fleur-de-Marie can stand the fatigue of traveling, take her with you. Once in Germany, a country so calm and grave, her transformation will be complete, and the past will only be to her a sad and distant dream."
"But you? but you?"
"I—I can well tell you that now, because I shall always say it with joy and pride: my love for you shall be my guardian angel, my savior, my virtue, my future. Every day I will write you; pardon me this demand—it is the only one I shall make. Your highness, you will reply to me sometimes, to give me news of her, who, for a moment at least, I called my daughter," said Clemence, without being able to restrain her tears; "and who shall always be so, at least in my thoughts; in fine, when time shall have given us the right openly to avow the unalterable affection which binds us—ah, well! I swear it in the name of your daughter, if you desire it, I will go and live in Germany—in the same city with you—never more to part; and thus terminate a life which might have been more happy, but which will have been at least worthy and honorable."
"My lord!" cried Murphy, entering precipitately, "she whom God has restored to you has recovered her senses. Her first words were, 'My father!' She asks to see you."
A few moments after, Lady d'Harville left the mansion. Accompanied by Murphy, Baron de Graun, and an aid-de-camp, the prince went in great haste to the residence of the Countess M'Gregor.
Since Rudolph had informed her of the murder of Fleur-de-Marie, Countess Sarah M'Gregor, overwhelmed by this revelation, which ruined all her hopes, tortured by deep remorse, had been attacked by violent nervous spasms, and a frightful delirium; her wound, hardly healed, reopened, and a fainting fit of long duration had caused her attendants to suppose her dead. However, from the strength of her constitution, she did not sink under this severe attack; a new glimmering of life once more reanimated her. Seated in an arm-chair, in order to relieve the oppression which suffocated her, Sarah, almost regretting the death from which she had just escaped, was occupied with bitter thoughts. Suddenly Thomas Seyton entered the chamber of the countess; he with difficulty restrained some internal agitation; at a sign from him her two women withdrew.
"How are you now?" said he to his sister.
"In the same state—I am very weak, and from time to time almost suffocated. Why did not heaven take me away from this world during my last attack?"
"Sarah," said Thomas Seyton, after a pause, "you are between life and death—a violent emotion might kill you, as it might save you."
"I have now no more emotions to experience, my brother."
"The death of Rudolph would find me indifferent; the ghost of my drowned daughter—drowned by my fault—is there—always there, before me. It is not an emotion—it is incessant remorse. I am really a mother now, since I no longer have a child."
"I would prefer to find in you that cold ambition which made you regard your daughter as a means to realize the dream of your life."
"The frightful reproaches of the prince have killed this ambition; the maternal sentiment is awakened in me at the picture of the extreme misery of my daughter."
"And," said Seyton, hesitating and weighing each word, "if by chance-supposing an impossible thing—a miracle—you were informed that your daughter still lived—how would you support such a discovery?"
"I should die with shame and despair at the sight of her."
"Do not believe that—you would be too much elated with the triumph of your ambition; for, if your daughter had lived, the prince would have married you—he told you so."
"In admitting this mad supposition, it seems to me that I should not have a right to live. After having received the hand of the prince, my duty would be to deliver him of an unworthy wife—my daughter of an unnatural mother."
The embarrassment of Thomas Seyton increased every moment. Charged by Rudolph, who was in an adjoining room, to inform Sarah that Fleur-de-Marie was alive, he did not know how to accomplish it. The state of the countess was so critical that she might expire from one moment to another; there was, then, no time to be lost in celebrating the marriage in extremis which was to legitimate the birth of Fleur-de-Marie. For this sad ceremony, the prince had brought with him a clergyman, with Murphy and Baron de Graun as witnesses; the Duke de Lucenay and Lord Douglas, notified in haste by Seyton, were to serve as witnesses for the countess, and had just arrived. Time was pressing; but remorse, feelings of maternal tenderness, which replaced, in Sarah's heart, her merciless ambition, rendered the task of Seyton still more difficult. All his hope was that his sister deceived him or deceived herself, and that her pride would be awakened, as soon as she had gained this crown, so long and ambitiously coveted.
"Sister," said Thomas Seyton, "I am in a terrible perplexity; one word from me, perhaps, will restore you to life—perhaps will send you to your tomb."
"I have already told you that I have no more emotions to dread."
"One alone, however—"
"If it concerned your child?"
"My child is dead."
"If she were not?"
"We have exhausted this supposition already. Enough, brother, my remorse suffices."
"But if it were not a supposition? if by chance—an incredible chance—your daughter had been rescued from death; if she lived?"
"You alarm me; do not talk thus."
"Well, then, may God pardon me and judge you! she lives still."
"She lives, I tell you. The prince is here with a clergyman. I have sent for two of your friends for witnesses; the wish of your life is at length realized—the prediction is fulfilled—you are a sovereign."
Thomas Seyton pronounced these words while fixing on his sister a look of anguish, watching for each sign of emotion. To his great astonishment, the features of Sarah remained almost impassible; she placed her hand upon her heart, and falling back in her chair, suppressed a slight cry, which appeared to have been caused by some sudden and excruciating pain, after which her face became composed and calm.
"What is the matter, sister?"
"Nothing—surprise—unhoped-for joy. At length my wishes are crowned."
"I was not deceived," thought Thomas Seyton. "Ambition rules—she is saved." Then, addressing his sister, he said, "What did I tell you?"
"You were right," replied she, with a bitter smile, divining her brother's thoughts; "ambition has once more stifled maternity within me."
"You will live; and will love your daughter?"
"I do not doubt it—I shall live—see how calm I am. Where is the prince?"
"He is here."
"I wish to see him before the ceremony. My daughter is here also, without doubt."
"No; you will see her afterward."
"Now that I have the time, ask, I pray you, the prince to come."
"My sister, I do not know why—but your manner is strange."
"Would you have me laugh? Do you think satisfied ambition has a soft and tender expression? Let the prince come!"
In spite of himself, Seyton was uneasy at Sarah's calmness. For a moment he thought he saw in her eyes restrained tears; after a little longer hesitation, he opened a door, which he left open, and went out.
"Now," said Sarah, "let me but see and embrace my child, I shall be satisfied. It will be very difficult to be obtained: Rudolph, to punish me, will refuse; but I will succeed."
Rudolph entered and closed the door.
"Your brother has told you all?" demanded the prince, coldly.
"Your ambition is satisfied?"
"It is satisfied."
"The clergyman and the witnesses are here."
"I know it. One word, my lord."
"I wish to see my daughter."
"It is impossible."
"I tell your highness that I wish to see my child."
"She is hardly convalescent—she has been quite ill this morning; this interview might be fatal to her."
"But at least she will embrace her mother."
"For what purpose? You are now a sovereign."
"I am not yet, and I will not be until I have embraced my child."
Rudolph looked at the countess with profound astonishment. "How!" he cried, "you subject the satisfaction of your pride—"
"To the satisfaction of my maternal tenderness; that surprises your highness."
"Shall I see my child?"
"Take care, my lord; my moments are perhaps counted. As my brother said, this crisis may save or kill me. At this moment I collect all my strength, all my energy, and I need them much to struggle against the shock of such a discovery. I wish to see my child, or I refuse your hand; and if I die, her birth is not legitimate."
"Fleur-de-Marie is not here; I should have to send for her at my house."
"Send for her at once, and I consent to all. As my moments, perhaps, are counted, I have said it. The marriage can take place while some one goes for Fleur-de-Marie."
"Although this feeling astonishes me, it is too praiseworthy to be disregarded. You shall see Fleur-de-Marie; I will write to her."
"There, on the desk where I was wounded." While Rudolph hastily wrote a few lines, the countess wiped away the icy sweat which stood upon her brow; her features now betrayed violent and concealed suffering.
His note being written, Rudolph arose and said to the lady, "I will send this to my daughter by one of my aids-de-camp. She will be here in half an hour. Shall I bring with me, on my return, the clergyman and witnesses?"
"You can, or, rather, I beg you will do so. Ring—do not leave me alone!"
Rudolph rang the bell, and requested the servant who answered the summons to desire Sir Walter Murphy to come to him.
"This union is sad, Rudolph," said the countess, bitterly; "sad for me. For you it will be happy, for I shall not survive it."
At this moment Murphy entered.
"My friend," said Rudolph, "send this letter immediately by the colonel; he will bring my daughter back with him in the carriage. Beg the clergyman and witnesses to walk into the next room."
"Oh, heaven!" cried Sarah, in a supplicating tone, when the squire had departed, "grant me strength enough to see her—let me not die before she arrives!"
"Oh, why have you not always been as good a mother?"
"Thanks to you, at least, I know repentance—devotion—self-denial. Yes, just now, when my brother said our child lived—let me say our child—I felt that I was stricken unto death. I did not tell him, but I was happy. The birth of our child will be legitimatized and I should die afterward."
"Do not speak thus!"
"Oh! this time I do not deceive you—you will see."
"And no vestige remains of that implacable ambition which has ruined you! Why has fate willed that your repentance should be so late?"
"It is late, but profound—sincere; I swear it to you. At this solemn moment, if I thank heaven to take me from the world, it is because my life has been to you a horrible burden."
"Sarah, in mercy—"
"Rudolph, a last prayer—your hand."
The prince, turning away his eyes, gave his hand to the countess, who placed it between her own.
"Oh! your hands are icy cold," cried Rudolph with affright.
"Yes, I am dying. Perhaps for a last punishment, heaven does not will that I should embrace my child."
"Oh! yes, yes, it will be moved by your remorse."
"And you, my friend, are you touched? do you pardon me? Oh! in mercy, say it. Directly, when our child shall be here—if she comes in time—you cannot pardon me before her; that would be to teach her how guilty I have been, and that you would not like. When I am once dead, what matters it to you if she love me?"
"Be comforted; she shall know nothing."
"Rudolph, pardon! oh! pardon! Will you be without pity! Am I not sufficiently unhappy?"
"Well, may heaven pardon the evil you have done to your child, as I pardon what you have done to me, unhappy woman."
"You pardon me—from the bottom of your heart?"
"From the bottom of my heart," replied the prince.
The lady pressed the hand of Rudolph to her dying lips in an ecstasy of joy and gratitude, and said, "Let the clergyman come in, my friend, and tell him that afterward he must stay. I feel myself very weak."
This scene was heart-rending; Rudolph opened the folding-doors, and the clergyman entered, followed by the witnesses. All the actors in this sad scene were grave and sad; M. de Lucenay himself had forgotten his habitual frivolity. The contract of marriage between the most illustrious and very puissant prince, His Serene Highness, Gustavus Rudolph V., reigning Grand Duke of Gerolstein, and Sarah Seyton of Halsbury, Countess M'Gregor, had been prepared by the care of Baron de Graun: it was read by him, and signed by the bride and groom and their witnesses. Notwithstanding the repentance of the countess, when the clergyman said, with a solemn voice, to Rudolph, "Does your royal highness consent to take for wife Madame Sarah Seyton of Halsbury, Countess M'Gregor?" and the prince had answered "YES!" with a loud and firm voice, the deathlike countenance of the lady brightened; a rapid and transitory expression of triumphant pride passed over her livid features; it was the last flash of the ambition which died with her. During this sad and imposing ceremony, not a word was uttered by the witnesses. When it was finished, they all came forward, profoundly saluted the prince, and retired.
"Brother," said Sarah in a low tone, "beg the clergyman to have the goodness to wait a moment in the adjoining room."
"How do you feel now, my sister? you are very pale."
"I am sure to live now—am I not the Grand Duchess of Gerolstein?" added she, with a bitter smile.
Remaining alone with Rudolph, Sarah murmured, in an exhausted voice, while her features changed in an alarming manner, "My strength is gone. I feel that I am dying—I shall never see her."
"Yes, yes, calm yourself, Sarah—you will see her."
"I have no more hope—this delay—oh! it needs a strength superhuman. My sight fails already."
"Sarah!" said the prince, approaching, and taking her hands within his own, "she will come—now she cannot delay."
"God has not willed this last consolation."
"Sarah, listen—listen. I hear a carriage—yes—it is she; here is your child!"
"Rudolph, you will not tell her that I was a bad mother?" articulated the countess, slowly. The noise of a carriage resounded on the pavement of the court. The countess could not hear it. Her words were more and more incoherent. Rudolph leaned over her with anxiety; he saw her eyes covered with a film.
"Pardon—my child—see, my child—pardon—at least—after my death—the honors—of—my—rank——" These were her last intelligible words. The fixed, predominating thought of her whole life returned again, notwithstanding her sincere repentance. At this moment Murphy entered the room.
"Your highness, the Princess Marie——"
"No," cried Rudolph, quickly, "let her not enter. Tell Seyton to bring the clergyman." Then, pointing to Sarah, who was gradually expiring, Rudolph added, "Heaven refuses her the last consolation of embracing her child."
Half an hour afterward, the Countess M'Gregor had ceased to exist.
Fifteen days had passed since Rudolph, by marrying the Countess M'Gregor in extremis, had legitimatized the birth of Fleur-de-Marie. It was Mid-Lent. This date being established, we will conduct the reader to Bicetre. This immense establishment, founded for the treatment of the insane, serves also as a place of refuge for seven or eight hundred poor old men, who are admitted when they have reached the age of seventy, or are afflicted with any very serious infirmity. On arriving at Bicetre, the visitor enters at first a vast court planted with large trees, and divided into grass plots, ornamented in summer with flower borders. Nothing could be more cheerful, more peaceful, or more salubrious than this promenade, which was specially designed for the indigent old men of whom we have spoken. It surrounds the buildings, in which, on the first floor, are found the spacious sleeping apartments; and on the ground floor, the dining halls, kept in admirable order, where the pensioners of Bicetre eat, in common, most excellent food, prepared with great care, thanks to the paternal solicitude of the directors of this establishment. To enumerate completely the different purposes for which this institution is designed, we mention that, at the time of which we speak, the condemned prisoners were brought here after their sentence. It was in one of the cells of this house that Widow Martial and her daughter Calabash awaited the moment of their execution, which was fixed for the next day. Nicholas, Skeleton, and several other scoundrels, had succeeded in making their escape from La Force.
We have already said that nothing could be more cheerful than the approach to this edifice, when, on coming from Paris, one entered it by the poorhouse yard. Thanks to a forward spring, the elms and the lindens were already beginning to shoot forth their leaves; the large plots of grass were of a luxuriant growth; here and there the flower beds were enameled with crocuses, primroses, and auriculas. The sun was shining brightly, and the old pensioners, dressed in gray coats, were walking up and down, or seated on the benches; their placid countenances expressed calmness, or a kind of tranquil indifference. Eleven o'clock had just struck, when two carriages stopped before the outer gate: from the first descended Madame George, Germain, and Rigolette; from the second, Louise Morel and her mother. Germain and Rigolette had been married a fortnight. We will leave the reader to imagine the saucy gayety, the lively happiness, which shone in the blooming visage of the grisette, whose rosy lips were only opened to smile or embrace Madame George, whom she called her mother. The features of Germain expressed a felicity more calm, more reflecting, more grave; there was mingled with it a feeling of profound gratitude, almost of respect, toward this noble and excellent girl, who had offered him in prison consolations so sustaining and delightful, which Rigolette did not seem to recollect the least in the world; thus, as soon as Germain turned the conversation on this subject, she spoke of something else, saying these recollections made her sad. Although she had become Madame Germain, and Rudolph had settled on her forty thousand francs, Rigolette had not been willing (and her husband was of the same opinion) to change her grisette cap for a hat. Certainly, never had humility served better an innocent coquetry; for nothing could be more becoming, more elegant, than her little cap, ornamented on each side with orange bows, which contrasted well with her shining black hair, now worn in long ringlets, since she had time to put them in paper; around her charming neck she wore a richly-embroidered collar and a scarf of French cashmere of the same shade as the ribbons of her cap, which half concealed her fine person; and although she wore no corset, according to her usual custom, her dress showed not the slightest wrinkle on her slender figure. Madame George contemplated her son and Rigolette with quiet happiness.
Louise Morel, after a rigid examination and autopsy of her child, had been set at liberty; the beautiful features of the daughter of the lapidary expressed a kind of sad and melancholy resignation. Thanks to the generosity of Rudolph, and the care and attention which he had caused to be shown her, the mother of Louise Morel, who accompanied her, had recovered her health. The porter at the gate had asked Madame George whom she desired to see; she replied that one of the physicians of the asylum for the insane had made an appointment with her and her friends at eleven o'clock. Madame George had the option either to wait for the doctor in an office which was pointed out to her, or in the court of which we have spoken. She chose the latter; leaning on the arm of her son, and continuing to converse with the wife of the lapidary, she walked in the garden, Louise and Rigolette following at a short distance.
"How happy I am to see you, dear Louise!" said the grisette. "Just now when we went to seek you in the Rue du Temple on our arrival from Bouqueval, I wished to go up and see you; but my husband did not wish it, saying it was high up; I waited in the cab. Your vehicle followed ours, so that I now see you for the first time since—-"
"Since you came to see me in prison. Ah! Miss Rigolette," cried Louise, "what a kind heart! what—"
"In the first place, my good Louise," said the grisette, interrupting gayly the daughter of the lapidary, in order to escape her thanks, "I am no more Miss Rigolette, but Madame Germain. I do not know if you are aware of it, and I am proud of it!"
"Yes, I knew you were married. But let me thank you again—"
"That of which you are most completely ignorant, my good Louise," replied Madame Germain, again interrupting the daughter of Morel, in order to change the course of her ideas: "that of which you are ignorant is, that I am married, thanks to the generosity of him who has been our Providence—mine as well as yours!"
"M. Rudolph! Oh! we bless him every day! When I came out of prison, the lawyer whom he sent to see me told me that (owing to M. Rudolph, who had already done so much for us) M. Ferrand," the poor creature shuddered, "M. Ferrand, to make amends for his cruelties, had settled some money on my father and me—my poor father, who is still here, but who, thanks to God, gets better and better."
"And who will return with us to-day to Paris, if the hopes of the worthy doctor are realized."
"May heaven grant it!"
"It will grant it. Your father is so good and honest! I am sure that we will take him back with us. The doctor thinks that now a great effort must be made, and that the unexpected presence of several persons whom your father was accustomed to see almost daily before he lost his reason may effect a cure. As for me, in my poor judgment, it appears certain."
"I dare hardly believe it, Miss—"
"Mrs. Germain—Mrs. Germain, if it is all the same to you, my good Louise. But to return to what I was speaking about: you do not know who M. Rudolph is?"
"He is the Providence of the unfortunate!"
"It is true; and what then? you do not know. Well, I am going to tell you." Then, addressing her husband, who was walking near her, Rigolette cried, "Do not go so fast, my dear!—you fatigue our good mother; and, besides, I prefer to have you nearer to me."
Germain turned round, lessening his pace a little, and smiled on Rigolette who playfully threw him a kiss.
"How genteel my little Germain is! is he not, Louise? With that air so stylish! such a fine figure! was I not right when I found him more to my liking than M. Girandeau, the traveling clerk, or M. Cabrion? Oh! speaking of Cabrion—M. Pipelet and his wife? where are they? The doctor said they ought to come also, because your father often pronounces their names."
"They will not long delay. When I left the house, they had been gone for a long time."
"Oh! then they will not fail to be here; for M. Pipelet is as punctual as a clock. But let us return to my marriage and to M. Rudolph. Only think, Louise, it was he who sent me with the order for Germain's release. You can imagine our joy on leaving that dreadful prison! We reached my room, and there, aided by Germain, I arranged a slight repast, but a repast for real gourmands. It is true, it was of no great use to us, for when we had finished, we had neither of us eaten anything—we were too happy. At eleven o'clock, Germain went away; we agreed to meet the next morning. At five o'clock I was up and at work, for I was two days behindhand. At eight o'clock some one knocked; I opened; who should come in but M. Rudolph. At once I began to thank him from the bottom of my heart for what he had done for Germain; he would not let me finish. 'My neighbor,' said he to me, 'Germain will soon be here; give him this letter. You and he will take a cab, and go at once to a little village called Bouqueval, near Ecouen, on the St. Denis Road. Once there, you will ask for Madame George; and I wish you much pleasure.' 'M. Rudolph, I am going to tell you it will be another day lost, and, without any reproach, this will make three.' 'Reassure yourself, my neighbor; there is some work for you at Madame George's, whom you will find an excellent customer.' 'If that is so, very good, M. Rudolph.' 'Adieu, neighbor.' 'Adieu, and thank you, neighbor.' He went, and Germain arrived. I told him what had occurred; M. Rudolph could not deceive us; we got into a carriage, as frolicsome as children—we, who were so sad the day previous. Well! we arrive. Oh! my good Louise—hold! in spite of myself the tears will come to my eyes. This Madame George whom you see before us is the mother of Germain."
"Dear me! yes, his own mother, from whom her child had been carried off when quite young, and whom she had no hope of ever seeing again. You can imagine their happiness. After Madame George had wept much, and embraced her son, it was my turn. M. Rudolph had written many fine things about me, for she told me, as she held me in her arms, that she knew of my conduct toward her son. 'And if you wish, mother,' said Germain, 'Rigolette shall be your daughter also.' 'If I wish it, my children? with all my heart. I know you will never find a better or nicer little wife.' Behold me, then, installed in a fine farm with Germain, his mother, and my birds, which I sent for, poor little things, so that they should be of the party. Although I do not like the country, the days passed so quickly, that it was like a dream; I only worked for my pleasure; I assisted Madame George, I walked with Germain, I sung, I jumped; it was enough to make one crazy. At length our marriage was fixed for two weeks ago yesterday. Two days previous, who should arrive in a fine carriage but a stout, bald gentleman, with a very good-natured look, who brought me from M. Rudolph a wedding gift. Just imagine, Louise, a large rosewood box, with these words written in gold on a plate of blue enamel: 'Industry and Virtue, Love and Happiness.' I opened the box; what did I find? some small lace caps like the one I have on, dress patterns, jewels, gloves, this scarf, a beautiful shawl; in fine, it was like a real fairy tale."
"It is true, it is like a real fairy tale; but, do you see, to have been so good, so industrious, has brought you happiness."
"As to being good and industrious, my dear Louise, I have not been so purposely; it has so happened: so much the better for me. But this is not all: at the bottom of the box I discovered a handsome portfolio, with these words, 'Neighbor to Neighbor.' I opened it: there were two packages, one for Germain, the other for me; in Germain's I found a paper, which named him director of a Bank for the Poor, with a salary of 4,000 francs; in the envelope directed to me, there was a check for 40,000 francs on the—on the Treasury; yes, that is it; this was my marriage portion. I wished to refuse it, but Madame George, who had talked with the tall, bald gentleman and with Germain, said to me, 'My child, you can, and ought to accept it; it is the recompense of your virtue, your industry, and of your devotion to those who suffer; for it is only by depriving yourself of your usual hours of repose, at the risk of making yourself sick, and thus losing your sole means of subsistence, that you have been able to go and console your unfortunate friends.'"
"Oh! that is very true," cried Louise; "there is no one else like you, at least, Miss—Mrs. Germain."
"Very good! I told the bald gentleman that what I had done was my pleasure; he answered, 'No matter! M. Rudolph is immensely rich; your marriage portion on his part is a testimony of esteem and friendship; your refusal would cause him great sorrow; he will be present at your marriage, and will force you to accept.' What happiness that so much wealth should be in the possession of a person as charitable as M. Rudolph!"
"Doubtless he is very rich, but if that were all—"
"Oh! my good Louise, if you only knew who M. Rudolph is! and I made him carry my bundles! But patience! you shall see. The evening before the marriage, very late, the bald gentleman arrived, having traveled post. M. Rudolph could not come; he was indisposed; but the tall gentleman came in his place It is only then, my good Louise, that we were informed that your benefactor, that ours, was—guess what? a prince!"
"What do I say, a prince? a royal highness, a reigning grand duke, a king on a small scale. Germain explained this to me."
"My poor Louise, yes! And I had asked him to help me wax my floor!"
"A prince—almost a king. That is the reason he has so much power to do good."
"You comprehend my embarrassment, my good Louise. Thus, seeing that he was almost a king, I did not dare refuse my marriage portion. We were married. Eight days afterward, M. Rudolph sent word to us, and Madame George, that he would be very happy, if we would make him a bridal visit; we went. You comprehend, my heart beat fast; we arrived at the Rue Plumet; we entered a palace; we passed through parlors filled with servants in livery, gentlemen in black, wearing silver chains around their necks and words at their sides, and officers in uniform; and then gildings everywhere, almost enough to blind you. At length we found the bald gentleman in a saloon with some other gentlemen, all laced over with embroidery; he introduced us into a large room, where we found M. Rudolph—that is to say, the prince, dressed very plainly, and looking so kind, so frank, so little proud—in fine, he looked so much like the M. Rudolph of old, that I felt myself at once at my ease, recalling to my mind that I had made him fasten my shawl, mend my pens, and give me his arm in the streets."
"You were no longer afraid? Oh! how I should have trembled!"
"Not I, after having received Madame George with great kindness, and offered his hand to Germain, the prince said to me, smiling, 'Well, my neighbor, how are Papa Cretu and Ramonette?" (those are the names of my birds; how kind in him to remember them). 'I am sure,' he added, 'that now you and Germain rival with your joyous songs those of your little birds?' 'Yes, your highness!' (Madame George had taught us to say that while we were on the road)—'Yes, your highness, our happiness is great, and it seems to us more sweet because we owe it to you.' 'It is not to me you owe it, my child, but to your excellent qualities and to those of Germain,' and so forth, and so forth: I pass over the rest of his compliments. Finally, we left this good nobleman with our hearts rather full, for we shall see him no more. He told us that he would return to Germany in a few days; perhaps he has already gone; but gone or not, we shall always remember him."
"Since he has subjects, they must be very happy!"
"Judge! he has done so much good to us, who are nothing to him. I forgot to tell you that it was at this farm where we lived that one of my old prison companions resided, a very good little girl, who, to her happiness, had also met M. Rudolph; but Madame George had recommended me not to speak about it to the prince; I do not know wherefore; doubtless because he does not like that any one should speak to him of the good he does. What is certain is, that it appears this dear Goualeuse has found her parents, who have taken her with them, very far away: all I regret is, not having embraced her before her departure."
"So much the better," said Louise, bitterly; "she is happy also—she—"
"My good Louise, pardon me—I am selfish; I only speak to you of happiness, and you have yet so many reasons for sorrow."
"If my child had lived," said Louise, sadly, "that would have consoled me; for now where is the virtuous man who would have me, although I have money!"
"On the contrary, Louise, I say that none but a virtuous man can comprehend your position; yes, when he knows all, when he shall know you, he can but pity you, esteem you; and he will be sure to have in you a good and worthy wife."
"You say that to console me."
"No, I say that because it is true."
"Well, true or not, it does me good, and I thank you. But who comes here? Hold! it is M. Pipelet and his wife! Goodness! how pleased he is! he who formerly was always so miserable on account of the jokes of M. Cabrion."
The Pipelets came forward joyfully; Alfred, wearing his irremovable hat, had on a magnificent coat of grass green in all its pristine luster; his cravat, with embroidered corners, just allowed room for a formidable shirt collar, which concealed half of his cheeks, a large waistcoat, of a deep-yellow ground, with brown stripes; black breeches, rather short; stockings of dazzling whiteness, and well-brushed shoes, completed his attire. Anastasia strutted in a robe of amaranth-colored merino, over which showed to great advantage a shawl of deep blue. She proudly displayed to all eyes her wig, freshly curled, and had her cap suspended from her arm by strings of green ribbon, like a reticule. The physiognomy of Alfred, ordinarily so grave, so collected, and latterly so much cast down, was beaming, rejoicing, sparkling; as soon as he saw Louise and Rigolette at a distance, he ran toward them, crying in his bass voice, "Delivered—gone!"
"Oh! M. Pipelet," said Rigolette, "how very gay you look! what is the matter?"
"Gone, miss, or, rather, madame, do I, can I, ought I to say, for now you are exactly like Anastasia, thanks to the conjugal! just as your husband, M. Germain, is exactly like me."
"You are very kind, M. Pipelet," said Rigolette, smiling; "but who has gone, then?"
"Cabrion!!!" cried M. Pipelet, respiring and inhaling the air with inexpressible satisfaction, as if he had been relieved from an enormous weight. "He leaves France forever—forever—for perpetuity—in fine, he is gone."
"You are very sure of it?"
"I have seen him, with my own eyes, get into a diligence for Strasbourg—he and his trunks, and all his effects—that is, to say, a hatbox, a maulstick, and a box of colors."
"What is he singing about there, the old darling?" said Anastasia, arriving out of breath, for she had with difficulty followed the quick movements of Alfred. "I bet he is talking to you of Cabrion! he has done nothing but repeat it over and over again all along the way."
"That is to say, Anastasia, that I could hardly keep on the ground. Before, it seemed to me that my hat was lined with lead; now, one would say that the air raised me toward the firmament! gone—at last—gone!!! and he will never return more!"
"Most happily, the blackguard!"
"Anastasia, spare the absent; happiness renders me merciful; I will simply say that he was an unworthy blackguard."
"And how did you know that he had gone to Germany?" asked Rigolette.
"By a friend of my prince of lodgers. Apropos of this dear man, do you not know that, thanks to his good recommendations, Alfred is appointed porter of a Pawn Office and Bank for the Poor, established in our house by a good soul that I cannot help thinking must be the person for whom M. Rudolph was the traveling clerk in good actions!"
"That happens very well," said Rigolette: "my husband is the director of this bank, for which he is also indebted to the recommendation of M. Rudolph."
"Hooraw!" cried Madame Pipelet, gayly; "so much the better; so much the better! old faces are preferable to new ones. But to return to Cabrion: just imagine, that a tall bald gentleman, on coming to inform us of Alfred's appointment as porter, asked us if a painter of much talent, named Cabrion had not lived with us. At the name of Cabrion, there was my old darling lifting his boot in the air, and already half dead. Happily, the great fat bald man added, 'This young painter is about to start for Germany; a wealthy person sends him there for some work which will employ him for several years; perhaps he may always remain there.' As a proof of what he had said, the individual gave to my old darling the date of the intended departure of Cabrion and the address of the stage-coach office, and I had the unhoped-for happiness to read on the register, 'M. Cabrion, painter, leaves for Strasbourg.' The departure was fixed for this morning."
"I went to the office with my wife."
"We saw the knave mount on the imperial, alongside of the conductor."
"And just at the moment the diligence started, Cabrion perceived me, recognized me, turned round, and cried, 'I go forever—yours for life!' Happily, the trumpet of the conductor almost drowned these last words and the indecent familiarity of his address, which I despise; for, at last, Heaven be praised, he is gone."
"And gone forever, believe it, M. Pipelet," said Rigolette, restraining a violent desire to laugh. "But what you do not know, and what will astonish you very much is, that M. Rudolph was—"
"A prince in disguise—a royal highness."
"Come, get along—what a sell!" said Anastasia.
"I swear it to you by my husband," said Rigolette, very seriously.
"My prince of lodgers, a royal highness!" cried Anastasia. "Get along! And I asked him to take care of my lodge! Pardon—pardon—pardon." And she mechanically put on her cap, as if this head-dress were more suitable when she was speaking of a prince.
By a manifestation, diametrically opposed as to form, but quite similar as to the reality, Alfred, contrary to his habit, uncovered his head entirely, and saluted the air profoundly, crying, "A prince! a highness in our lodge! And he has seen me between the sheets when I was in bed, in consequence of the indignities of Cabrion!" At this moment Madame George turned round, and said to her son and to Rigolette, "My children, here is the doctor."
Dr. Herbin, a man of ripe age, had a physiognomy very intellectual and lofty, a look of remarkable sagacity and depth of thought, and a smile of extreme goodness. His naturally harmonious voice became full of kindness when he spoke to the lunatics; thus the suavity of his tone and the benevolence of his words seemed oft to calm the natural irritability of these unfortunate people. He was among the first to substitute, in his treatment for madness, commiseration and benevolence for the terrible coercive means employed formerly; no more chains, no more blows, no more shower-baths; above all (save in some few cases), no more solitary confinement. His lofty understanding had comprehended that monomania, insanity, and madness were increased by confinement and abusive treatment; that, on the contrary, by allowing the patients to live together, a thousand distractions, a thousand incidents occurring at each moment, prevented them from being absorbed in a fixed idea, so much the more fatal as it is more concentrated by solitude and intimidation. Thus experience proves that solitary confinement is as fatal to lunatics as it is salutary to criminals; the mental perturbation of the former increases in solitude, while the perturbation, or, rather, moral corruption of the latter, is augmented and becomes incurable by the society of their brothers in crime. Doubtless, some years hence, the penitentiary system, with its prisons in common (true schools of infamy), with its galleys, its chains, its pillories, and its scaffolds, will appear as corrupt, as savage, as atrocious as the old method of treatment for the insane appears to us of the present day.
"Doctor," said Madame George to M. Herbin, "I thought I might be allowed to accompany my son and daughter-in-law, although I do not know M. Morel. The situation of this excellent man appeared to me so interesting that I have not been able to conquer my desire to assist with my children in attempting his complete restoration to reason, which, you hope (so we have been told), will be accomplished by the means you are about using."
"I count much, madame, on the favorable impression which the presence of his daughter and persons whom he has been accustomed to see will produce upon him."
"When they came to arrest my husband," said the wife of Morel, with emotion, showing Rigolette to the doctor, "our good little neighbor was occupied in assisting me and my children."
"My father also well knew M. Germain, who has always been very kind to us," added Louise. Then, noticing Alfred and Anastasia, she added, "These are the porters of our house; they have also assisted us as much as they could in our misfortunes."
"I thank you, sir," said the doctor to Alfred, "for having inconvenienced yourself by coming here; but, from what I have been told, I see this visit has not cost you a great deal."
"Sir," said M. Pipelet, with a grave nod, "man should assist his fellow-man here below; he is a brother, without counting that Morel was the cream of honest men, before he lost his reason, in consequence of his arrest and his dear Louise's."
"And over and above all," said Anastasia, "I always regret that the porringer full of scalding soup which I threw on the backs of the two bailiffs had not been melted lead."
"It is true; and I ought to render this just homage to the affection which my wife has avowed to the Morels."
"If you do not fear, madame," said Doctor Herbin, to the mother of Germain, "the sight of the lunatics, we will pass through several courts in order to reach the exterior building, where I have had Morel conducted; for I have given orders this morning that he should not be led to the farm as usual."
"To the farm, sir?" said Madame George, "is there a farm here?"
"Does that surprise you, madame? I can conceive it. Yes, we have here a farm cultivated by the lunatics, and its produce is very valuable to the house."
"Do they work there without restraint, sir?"
"Yes; and the labor, the quiet of the fields, the sight of nature, are among the best of our remedies. A single keeper conducts them thither, and there is hardly an instance of escape; they go with evident satisfaction, and their slight earning; serve to ameliorate their condition. But here we are at the door of one of the courts." Then, seeing a slight shade of apprehension on the face of Madame George, the doctor added, "Fear nothing, madame; in a few moments you will feel as secure as I do."
"I follow you, sir. Come, my children."
"Anastasia," whispered M. Pipelet, who was behind with his wife, "when I think that if the infernal conduct of M. Cabrion had lasted, your Alfred would have become mad, and, as such, would have been confined among these unfortunates whom we are going to see, clothed in costumes the most singular, chained by the middle of their bodies, or shut up in cages like the wild beasts of the Garden of Plants!"
"Do not speak of it, old darling! It is said that those who are mad for love are like real apes when they see a woman: they throw themselves against the bars of their cages, uttering the most frightful cooings. Their keepers are obliged to soothe them with great blows from a whip, and letting fall on their heads immense quantities of water, which drops from a hundred feet high, and that is not a bit too much to refresh them."
"Anastasia, do not approach too near to the cages of these madmen," said Alfred, gravely: "an accident happens so quickly!"
"Yes, not to say a word of how ungenerous it would be on my part to have the appearance of defying them; for, after all," added Anastasia, with a melancholy sigh, "it is our attractions which make them distracted. Hold! I shudder, my Alfred, when I think that, if I had refused you your happiness, you would be at this moment crazy from love, like some of these madmen; that you would cling to the bars of your cage the moment you saw a woman, and roar afterward, poor old darling! you who, on the contrary, run away as soon as they attempt to allure you."
"My modesty is suspicious, it is true; but, Anastasia, the door opens—I shudder. We are going to see abominable figures, hear the noise of chains and grinding of teeth."
Mr and Mrs. Pipelet, not having heard the conversation of Doctor Herbin, partook of the popular prejudice which still exists on the subject of insane hospitals; prejudices which forty years ago were not without foundation. The door of the court was opened. This court, forming a long parallelogram, was planted with trees and furnished with benches; a gallery of elegant construction extended on each side; cells, well ventilated, opened on this gallery; some fifty men, uniformly clothed in gray, were walking, talking, or sitting silent and contemplative in the sun.
On the arrival of Dr. Herbin, a large number of lunatics pressed around him, extending their hands to him with a touching expression of confidence and gratitude, to which he cordially replied, saying to them, "Good-day, good-day, my children."
Some of these unfortunate beings, at too great a distance from the doctor for him to take their hand, came and offered it with a kind of hesitation to the persons who accompanied him.
"Good-day, my friends," said Germain, kindly, shaking hands in a manner which seemed to delight them.
"Sir," said Madame George to the doctor, "are these lunatics?"
"These are about the most dangerous in the house," said the doctor, smiling. "We leave them together in the daytime, but at night they are locked up in the cells, of which you see the doors open."
"How? these people are completely mad? But are they ever furious?"
"At first—at the commencement of their malady, when they are brought here; then, by degrees, the treatment begins to produce its effect, and the sight of their companions calms them and distracts their attention; gentle usage appeases them, and their violent attacks, at first frequent, become more and more rare. Hold! here is one of the most violent."
This was a robust and powerful man of about forty years of age, with long, black hair, high forehead, sallow complexion; intellectual expression, and most intelligent countenance, He approached the doctor, and said to him, in a tone of exquisite politeness, although slightly constrained, "Doctor, I ought, in my turn, to have the right of conversing and walking with the blind man; I have the honor of observing to you that there is a flagrant injustice in depriving this unfortunate man of my conversation, to deliver him" (and the madman smiled with bitter disdain) "to the stupid incoherences of an idiot, who is completely a stranger (I hazard nothing in saying it)—completely a stranger to the least notions of any science whatever, while my conversation might divert the attention of the blind man. Thus," added he, with extreme volubility, "I would have told him my opinion on the isothermal and orthogonal superficies, causing him to observe that the equations of partial differences, of which the geometrical explanation is summed up in two orthogonal superficies, cannot generally be integral on account of their complication. I should have proved to him that the united superficies are all necessarily isothermal, and together we would have sought what superficies are capable of composing a trebly isothermal system. If I do not deceive myself, sir, compare this recreation with the stupid nonsense with which they entertain this blind man," added the lunatic, taking breath, "and tell me, is it not a pity to deprive him of my conversation?"
"Do not take what he has just said, madame, for the wanderings of a madman," whispered the doctor; "he handles in this way sometimes the most difficult questions of geometry or astronomy, with an acuteness which would do honor to the most illustrious learned men. His knowledge is great. He speaks all the living languages, but he is, alas! a martyr to his thirst for erudition and pride of learning. He imagines that he has absorbed all human knowledge, and that, by retaining him here, humanity is thrown back into the darkness of the most profound ignorance."
The doctor replied aloud to the lunatic, who seemed to await his reply with a respectful anxiety, "My dear M. Charles, your complaint appears to me very just, and this poor blind man, who, I believe, is dumb, but, happily, is not deaf, will have great delight in the conversation of a man as learned as you are. I will see that you have justice done you."
"Besides, by retaining me here, you deprive the universe of all human knowledge, which I have appropriated to myself by assimilation," said the madman, becoming animated by degrees, and commencing to gesticulate with great violence.
"Come, come, calm yourself, my good M. Charles; happily the world has not yet discovered its deficiencies; as soon as it shall have become enlightened in this respect, we shall endeavor to supply its wants; and in that case, a man of your capacity, of your learning, can always render great services."
"But I am for science what Noah's ark was for physical nature," cried he, grinding his teeth, his eye looking very wild.
"I know it, my dear friend."
"You wish to put the light under the bushel!" cried he, clinching his fists. "But then I will break you like glass," added he, with a threatening air, his face purple with anger, and the veins swelling like cords.
"Ah! M. Charles," answered the doctor, fixing on the madman a calm, piercing, steady look, and assuming a caressing and flattering manner, "I thought that you were the greatest professor of modern times."
"And past," cried the madman, forgetting all at once his anger in his pride.
"You did not let me finish: that you were the greatest professor of time past, and present—"
"And future," cried the madman, proudly.
"Oh! the great babbler, who always interrupts me," said the doctor, smiling, and striking him amicably on the shoulder. "Can it be said that I am ignorant of all the admiration that you inspire and deserve! Come, let us go and see the blind man."
"Conduct me to him. Doctor, you are a good man; come, come, you will see what he is obliged to listen to when I can tell him such fine things," answered the lunatic, completely calmed, walking before the doctor with a satisfied air.
"I confess to you, sir," said Germain, who had drawn near to his wife, remarking her fear when the madman spoke and gesticulated so violently, "I confess to you, for a moment I feared a crisis."
"Formerly, at the very first word of excitement, at the very first sign of a threat, the keepers would have seized, tied, beat, and inundated him with a shower-bath, one of the most atrocious tortures that ever were invented. Judge of the effect of such a treatment on an energetic and irritable temperament, whose force of expansion becomes more violent as it is more compressed. Then he would have fallen into one of those frightful fits of madness which defy the most powerful restraint; exasperated by their frequency, they become almost incurable; while as you see, by not restraining at first this momentary ebullition, or in turning it aside by the aid of the excessive mobility of mind which is to be remarked among many lunatics, these experimental bubblings are assuaged as soon as they are raised."
"And who is this blind man of whom he speaks? is that an illusion of his mind?" asked Madame George.
"No, madame, it is a very strange history," answered the doctor. "This blind man was taken in a den in the Champs Elysees, where they arrested a band of robbers and assassins; he was found chained in the middle of a subterranean cavern, alongside of the corpse of a woman, so horribly mutilated that she could could not be recognized."
"Ah! it is frightful," said Madame George, shuddering, never suspecting the truth.
"This man is frightfully ugly; his face has been burned with vitriol. Since his arrival here, he has not spoken a single word. I do not know whether he is really dumb, or only affects to be so. By a singular chance, the only attacks he has had have occurred during my absence, and always at night. Unfortunately, all the questions that have been addressed to him have been unanswered, and it is impossible to obtain any information as to his situation; his attacks seem to be caused by a madness of which the cause is impenetrable, for he does not pronounce a word. The other lunatics pay him great attention; they guide his footsteps, and they like to entertain him, alas! according to their degree of intelligence. Hold! here he is!"
All the persons who accompanied the doctor recoiled with horror at the sight of the Schoolmaster, for it was he. He was not mad, but he pretended to be both mad and dumb. He had massacred La Chouette, not in a fit of madness, but in a fit of fever, such as he had been attacked with at Bouqueval on the night of his horrible vision. After his arrest in the tavern of the Champs Elysees, recovering from his transient delirium, the Schoolmaster had awoke in a cell of the Conciergerie, where the insane are temporarily confined. Hearing every one say around him, "He is a furious madman," he resolved to continue to play his part, and pretended dumbness in order not to compromise himself by his answers, in case they should suspect his feigned insanity. This stratagem succeeded. Conducted to Bicetre, he pretended to have other attacks of madness, always taking care to choose the night for these manifestations, in order to escape the penetrating observation of the chief physician; the attending surgeon, awakened in haste, never arriving until the crisis was over, or nearly at an end. The very small number of the accomplices of the Schoolmaster, who knew his real name and his escape from the galleys at Rohefort, were ignorant of what had become of him, and, besides, had no interest in denouncing him; thus his identity could not be proved. He hoped to remain always at Bicetre, by continuing his part of a madman and mute. Yes, always. Such was then the sole desire of this man, thanks to the inability to do harm which paralyzed his savage instincts. Thanks to the state of profound seclusion in which he had lived in the cellar of Bras-Rouge, remorse had taken almost entire possession of his iron heart. By dint of concentrating his mind upon one unceasing meditation (the recollection of his past crimes), deprived of all communication with the exterior world, his ideas often assumed a sort of reality, as he had told La Chouette; then passed before him sometimes the features of his victims; but this was not madness—it was the power of memory carried to its greatest extent. Thus this man, still in the prime of life, of a vigorous constitution—this man, who, without doubt, would live many long years—this man, who enjoyed all the plenitude of his reason, was to pass these long years among madmen, without ever exchanging a word with a human being. Otherwise, if he were discovered, he would be led to the scaffold for his new murders, or he would be condemned to a perpetual imprisonment among scoundrels, for whom he felt a horror which was augmented by his repentance. The Schoolmaster was seated on a bench; a forest of grayish hair covered his hideous and enormous head; with his elbows on his knees, he supported his chin on his hand. Although this frightful man was deprived of sight, two holes replaced his nose, and his mouth was deformed, yet a withering, incurable despair was still manifest on his horrid visage. A lunatic of a sad, benevolent, and juvenile appearance kneeled before the Schoolmaster, held his large hands in his own, looked at him with kindness, and, with a sweet voice, constantly repeated, "Strawberries! strawberries! strawberries!"
"See now," said the learned madman, gravely, "the sole conversation which this idiot can hold with the blind man. Yes, with him, the eyes of the body closed, those of the mind are without doubt opened, and he will be pleased if I enter into communication with him."
"I do not doubt it," said the doctor; while the poor lunatic with the melancholy face regarded the abominable face of the Schoolmaster with compassion, and repeated, in his soft voice, "Strawberries! strawberries! strawberries!"
"Since his entrance here, this poor idiot has uttered no other words than these," said the doctor to Madame George, who looked at the Schoolmaster with horror; "what mysterious events are connected with these words, I cannot penetrate."
"Mother," said Germain to Madame George, "how much this poor blind man seems depressed!"
"It is true, my child," answered Madame George: "in spite of myself my heart is oppressed! the sight of him sickens me. Oh! how sad it is to see humanity under this dreadful aspect."
Hardly had Madame George pronounced these words, than the Schoolmaster started; his scarred face became pale under its cicatrices; he arose, and turned his head so quickly toward the mother of Germain, that she could not refrain from a cry of horror, although she did not know who he was. The Schoolmaster had recognized the voice of his wife, and the words of Madame George told him that she had spoken to his son!
"What is the matter, mother?" cried Germain.
"Nothing, son; but the movement of this man, the expression of his face—all this has frightened me. Pardon my weakness," added she, addressing the doctor, "I almost regret having yielded to my curiosity in accompanying my son."
"Oh! for once, mother—there is nothing to regret."
"Very sure am I that our good mother will never return here, nor we either, my little Germain," said Rigolette: "it is too affecting."
"You are a little coward!" said Germain, smiling: "is not my wife a little coward, doctor?"
"I confess," answered the doctor, "that the sight of this unhappy blind and dumb man has made a strong impression upon me—who have seen so much distress."
"What a sight, old darling!" whispered Anastasia.
"Well! in comparison with you, all men appear to me as ugly as this frightful madman. It is on this account that no one can boast of—you comprehend, my Alfred?"
"Anastasia, I shall dream of that face, it is certain—I shall have the nightmare."
"My friend," said the doctor to the Schoolmaster, "how do you find yourself?" The Schoolmaster remained mute.
"Do you not hear me, then?" continued the doctor, striking him lightly on the shoulder.
The Schoolmaster made no reply, but bowed his head. At the end of some moments, from his sightless eyes there fell a tear.
"He weeps," said the doctor.
"Poor man!" added Germain, with compassion.
The Schoolmaster shuddered; he heard anew the voice of his son, who evinced for him a sentimental compassion.
"What is the matter? What afflicts you?" demanded the doctor. The Schoolmaster buried his face in his hands.
"We shall obtain nothing," said the doctor.
"Let me try: I am going to console him," replied the learned madman. "I am going to demonstrate that all kinds of orthogonal surfaces in which the three systems are isothermal, are 1st, those of the superficies of the second order; 2nd, those of the ellipsoides of revolution around the small axis and the grand axis; 3rd, those—but no," said the madman, reflecting, "I will commence with him on the planetary system." Then, addressing the young lunatic, who was still kneeling before the Schoolmaster, "Take yourself off from there with your strawberries."
"My boy," said the doctor to the young madman, "each one must have his turn with the old man. Let your comrade take your place."
The young boy obeyed at once, arose, looked at the doctor timidly with his large blue eyes, showed his deference by a salute, made a parting sign to the Schoolmaster, and departed, repeating, in a plaintive voice, "Strawberries! strawberries!"
The doctor, perceiving the painful effect this scene had produced upon Madame George, said to her, "Happily, madame, we are going to find Morel, and, if my hopes are realized, your heart will expand with joy on seeing this excellent man restored to the tenderness of his wife and daughter."
And the physician withdrew, followed by the friends of the artisan Morel. The Schoolmaster remained alone with the learned madman, who commenced to explain to him, very learnedly and very eloquently, the imposing movement of the stars, which describe their immense revolutions silently in the heavens of which the normal state is night. But the Schoolmaster did not listen. He thought, with profound despair, that he should never hear again the voices of his son and wife. Confident of the just horror with which he had inspired them, of the misfortune, the shame, the affright into which he would have plunged them by the revelation of his name, he would have endured rather a thousand deaths than have disclosed himself to them. One single last consolation remained to him: for a moment he had inspired his son with pity. And in spite of himself, he recalled to mind the works which Rudolph had spoken to him before he had inflicted this terrible chastisement.
"Each of your words is an oath; each of your words shall be a prayer. You are audacious and cruel because you are strong; you shall be meek and humble because you shall be weak. Your heart is closed to repentance; some day you will weep for your victims. From a man you have made yourself a savage beast; some day your understanding shall be restored by repentance. You have not even spared what the wild beasts spare, the female and her young. After a long life consecrated to the expiation of your crimes, your last prayer shall be to supplicate God to grant you the unhoped-for happiness of dying before your wife and your son."
* * * * *
"We are going to pass into the court of the idiots, and then we shall reach the building where we shall find Morel," said the doctor, on leaving the court where the Schoolmaster was.
MOREL, THE DIAMOND-CUTTER.
Notwithstanding the sadness with which the sight of the lunatics had inspired her, Madame George could not but stop for a moment before a railed court, where the incurable idiots were confined. Poor beings! who often have not even the instinct of the beast, and whose origin is almost always unknown—unknown to all as well as to themselves. Thus they pass through life, absolute strangers to the affections, to thoughts, experiencing only the most limited animal wants. If madness does not reveal itself at once to a superficial observer by a single inspection of the physiognomy of the lunatic, it is but too easy to recognize the physical character of idiotism. Dr. Herbin had no occasion to direct the attention of Madame George, to the expression of savage brutishness, stupid insensibility, or imbecile amazement, which gave to the features of the unfortunate wretches an expression at once hideous and painful to behold. Almost all were clothed in long dirty frocks, ragged and torn; for, in spite of all possible care, these beings, absolutely deprived of instinct and reason, cannot be prevented from tearing and soiling their vestments, crawling and rolling like beasts in the mire of the courts, where they remain during the day. Some of them, crouched in the most obscure corners of a shed which sheltered them, gathered in a heap, like animals in their dens, uttered a kind of hollow and continual rattling noise. Others, leaning against the wall immovable, looked fixedly at the sun. An old man, of monstrous obesity, seated on a wooden chair, devoured his pittance with animal voracity, casting on either side oblique angry glances. Some walked rapidly, describing a circle, limiting themselves to a very small space. This strange exercise would last for entire hours. Seated on the ground, others swayed their bodies continually backward and forward, only interrupting this movement of vertiginous monotony by shouts of laughter—the guttural, harsh laugh of idiocy. Others, in fine, were almost in a state of annihilation, only opening their eyes at the moment of repast, remaining inert, inactive, deaf, dumb, blind—not a cry, not a gesture announcing their vitality. The complete absence of verbal or intellectual communication is one of the most gloomy characteristics of a company of idiots, Lunatics, notwithstanding the incoherency of their words and thoughts, at least speak, know each other, and seek each other; but among idiots there reigns a stupid indifference, an isolated savageness. Never do they pronounce an articulate word. Sometimes is heard among them savage laughter, or groans and cries which resemble nothing human. Scarcely can a few among them recognize their keepers; and yet, let us repeat it with admiration, with reverence to the Creator, these unfortunate creatures, who seem no longer to belong to our species, and not even to the animal species, by the complete annihilation of their intellectual faculties; these incurable beings, who partake more of the mollusca than animated life, and who often thus pass through all the stages of a long existence, are surrounded by tender cares, of which we have no idea. Doubtless it is well to respect the principle of human dignity, even in these unhappy beings who have only the exterior of men; but let us always repeat, one should also think of the dignity of those who, endowed with all their faculties, filled with zeal and activity, and the living strength of the nation; to give them consciousness of this dignity by encouraging them, and reward them when it is manifested by the love of industry, by resignation, by probity; not to say, in fine, with semi-orthodox selfishness, "Let us punish here below, God will recompense above."
"Poor people!" said Madame George, following the doctor, after having cast a last look into the court of the idiots; "how sad it is to think there is no remedy for their woes!"
"Alas! none, madame!" answered the doctor; "above all, when they have reached this age; for, now, thanks to the progress of the science, idiot children receive a kind of education which develops, at least, the atom of imperfect intelligence with which they are sometimes endowed. We have a school here, directed with as much perseverance as enlightened patience, which already offers the most satisfactory results; by a very ingenious method, the mental and physical capacities are exercised at the same time; and many have been taught the alphabet, figures, and to distinguish colors; they have also succeeded in teaching them to sing in chorus; and I assure you, madame, that there is a kind of strange charm, at once sad and touching, in hearing these plaintive, wondering voices raised toward heaven in a chant, of which almost all the words, although in French, are to them unknown. But here we are at the building where we shall find Morel. I have recommended that he should be left alone this morning, that the effect which I hope to produce upon him may have greater power."
"And what is his madness, sir?" whispered Madame George to the doctor, so as not to be heard by Louise.
"He imagines that if he does not earn thirteen hundred francs in his day's work, to pay a debt contracted with a notary named Jacques Ferrand, Louise will die on the scaffold for the crime of infanticide."
"Oh! sir, that notary was a monster!" cried Madame George, informed of the hatred of this man against Germain. "Louise Morel and her father are not his only victims; he has persecuted my son with undying animosity."
"Louise Morel has told me all, madame," answered the doctor. "God's mercy! this wretch has ceased to live! but be pleased to wait for a moment, with these good people; I am going to see how poor Morel is." Then, addressing the daughter of the lapidary, "I beg you, Louise, pay great attention! the moment I cry, Come! appear at once, but alone; when I say a second time, Come! the others will also enter."
"Oh! sir, my courage fails me," said Louise, drying her tears. "Poor father! if this trial should be useless!"
"I hope it will save him; for a long time I have been preparing for it. Come, compose yourself, and remember my instructions."
And the doctor, leaving the persons who accompanied him, entered into a room of which the grated windows opened on a garden.
Thanks to repose, the salutary rules and comforts with which he was surrounded, the features of Morel were no longer pale, ghastly, and wrinkled by an unhealthy meagerness; his full face, slightly colored, announced the return of health; but a melancholy smile, a certain fixed expression, indicated that his reason was not yet completely re-established.
When the doctor entered, Morel, seated and bent over a table, imitated the exercise of his trade of a lapidary, saying, "Thirteen hundred francs—thirteen hundred francs, or Louise to the scaffold—thirteen hundred francs; let us work—work—work."
This aberration, of which the attacks were becoming less and less frequent, had always been the primordial symptom of his madness. The physician, at first vexed to find Morel at this moment under the influence of his monomania, soon hoped to make it serve his project; he took from his pocket a purse containing sixty-five golden louis, which he had placed there for the purpose, poured the gold into his hand, and said suddenly to Morel, who, profoundly absorbed by his ideal occupation, had not perceived the arrival of the doctor:
"My good Morel! you have worked enough; you have earned the thirteen hundred francs which you need to save Louise—here they are." And the doctor threw on the table his handful of gold.
"Louise saved!" cried the lapidary, clutching the gold eagerly. "I will run to the notary;" and, rising precipitately, he rushed to the door.
"Come!" cried the doctor, with a lively anxiety, for the instantaneous cure of the lapidary might depend upon this first impression.
Hardly had he said "Come," than Louise appeared at the door, at the moment that her father reached it. Morel, stupefied, recoiled two steps, and dropped the gold which he had held. For some moments, he looked at Louise with profound amazement, not yet recognizing her. He seemed, however, to be endeavoring to collect his thoughts; then, approaching her by degrees, he looked at her with an uneasy and timid curiosity. Louise, trembling with emotion, with difficulty restrained her tears, while the doctor, recommending her, by a sign, to remain silent, watched attentively the smallest movements of the lapidary's countenance. He, leaning toward his daughter, began to turn pale; he passed both his hands over his forehead, covered with sweat; then, taking a step toward her, he wished to speak, but his voice died upon his lips, his paleness increased, and he looked around him with surprise, as if he were just awaking from a dream.
"Well, well," whispered the doctor to Louise, "it is a good sign; when I say 'Come,' throw yourself into his arms, calling him father."
The lapidary placed his hands on his chest, looking at himself (if we may so express it) from head to foot, as if to convince himself of his identity. His features expressed a sad uncertainty: instead of fixing his eyes on his daughter, he seemed as if he wished to hide himself from her sight. Then he said, in a low and broken voice, "No! no! a dream—where am I? impossible—a dream—it is not she." Then, seeing the gold scattered on the floor, "And this gold—I do not remember—am I awake? My head turns—I dare not look—I am ashamed: it is not Louise."
"Come!" said the doctor, in a loud voice. "Father, recognize me! I am Louise, your daughter!" cried she, bursting into tears, and throwing herself into his arms; at the same moment, Madame Morel, Rigolette, Madame George, Germain, and the Pipelets entered the apartment.
"Oh! heavens!" said Morel, whom Louise loaded with caresses, "where am I? what do they want with me? what has taken place? I cannot believe." Then, after a pause, he took suddenly the head of Louise between his two hands, looked at her fixedly, and cried, after some moments of increasing emotion, "Louise!"
"He is saved," said the doctor.
"My husband! my poor Morel!" cried the wife of the lapidary, running to join Louise.
"My wife!" said Morel; "my wife and child!"
"And I also, M. Morel," said Rigolette; "all your friends are collected around you."
"All your friends! do you see, M. Morel?" added Germain.
"Miss Rigolette! M. Germain!" said the lapidary, recognizing each personage with new astonishment.
"And your old friends of the lodge, too!" said Anastasia, approaching in her turn, with Alfred; "here are the Pipelets—the old Pipelets—friends till death! Daddy Morel, here is a great day."
"M. Pipelet and his wife! so many people around me! it seems to me so long since! And, but, it is Louise, is it not?" cried he with emotion, pressing his daughter to his heart. "It is you, Louise? very sure?"
"My poor father, yes; it is I; it is my mother: here are all your friends—you shall leave us no more—we shall be happy now—very happy."
"Very happy. But wait until I recollect—all happy; it seems to me, however, that they came to conduct you to prison, Louise."
"Yes, my father; but I have been acquitted—you see it—I am here—near to you."
"Wait still—wait—my memory returns." Then he said, with affright, "And the notary?"
"Dead—he! then I believe you; we can be happy; but where am I? how am I here? for how long a time, and why? I do not exactly recollect."
"You have been so sick, sir," said the doctor, "that you have been brought here, into the country; you have had a fever—very violent—delirium."
"Yes, yes I recollect; the last thing—before my illness—I was talking to my daughter, and who—who then? Oh! a very generous man, M. Rudolph, prevented my arrest. Since then I recollect nothing."
"Your disease was attended by a loss of memory," said the doctor. "The sight of your daughter, of your wife, of your friends, has restored it to you."
"And at whose house am I, then?"
"At a friend of M. Rudolph's," Germain hastened to say: "the change of air, it was thought, would be useful to you."
"Very well," whispered the doctor; and, addressing the superintendent, added, "Order the cab round to the garden door, so that he shall not be obliged to pass through the courts to go out at the main entrance."
Thus, as often happens in cases of madness, Morel had no recollection or consciousness of the alienation of mind with which he had been attacked. What remains to be told? Some moments afterward, leaning on his wife and daughter, and accompanied by a medical student, who, as a matter of precaution, was to accompany them to Paris, Morel got into the carriage, and left Bicetre, without suspecting that he had been confined there as a lunatic.
"You think this man is completely cured?" said Madame George to the doctor, who was conducting her to the principal entrance of Bicetre.
"I think so, madame, and I have expressly left him under the happy influence of this family meeting. I should have feared to separate them. I shall go and see him every day until his cure is perfectly established; for, not only does he interest me very much, but he was particularly recommended to me, on his first entrance here, by the charge d'affaires of the Grand Duchy of Gerolstein."
Germain and his mother exchanged glances.
"I thank you, sir," said Madame George, "for the kindness with which you have allowed me to visit this fine establishment; and I congratulate myself at having witnessed a touching scene, which your knowledge and skill had foreseen and predicted."
"And I, madame, doubly congratulate myself upon the success which has restored so excellent a man to the arms of his family."
Some moments afterward, Madame George, Rigolette and Germain had left Bicetre, as well as the Pipelets.
Just as Dr. Herbin returned to the courts, he met one of the superior officers of the house, who said to him, "Ah! my dear M. Herbin, you cannot imagine what a scene I have just witnessed. For an observer like you it would have been an inexhaustible source of—"
"How then? What scene?"
"You know that we have here two women who are condemned to death—the mother and daughter—who are to be executed to-morrow?"
"Never in my life have I seen hardihood and unconcern like this mother's: she is an infernal woman."
"Is it not Widow Martial, who showed so much unblushing assurance at her trial?"
"And what has she done more?"
"She demanded to be confined in the same cell with her daughter until the moment of her execution. They have granted her request. Her daughter, much less hardened than she is, appears to be softened as the fatal moment approaches, while the diabolical assurance of the widow augments still more, if such a thing were possible. Just now the venerable chaplain of the prison entered their cell to offer them the consolations of religion. The daughter was about to accept them, when her mother, without losing for a moment her usual coolness, attacked both her and the almoner with such frightful remarks that the venerable priest was obliged to leave the dungeon, after having in vain endeavored to address some holy words to this unmanageable woman."
"Upon the eve of mounting the scaffold! Such hardihood is truly infernal," said the doctor.
"Would not one say that this was one of the families pursued by a fatality? The father died upon the scaffold; one son is in the galleys; another, also condemned to death, has lately escaped. The eldest son, and two younger children only, have escaped this frightful contagion. However, this woman has sent for the eldest son, the sole honest man of this detestable race, to come to-morrow morning to receive her last wishes! What an interview!"
"Are you not curious to be present?"
"Frankly, no. You know my opinion concerning punishment by death, and I have no need of such a spectacle to confirm this opinion. If this horrible woman carries her unwavering firmness and assurance to the scaffold, what a sight for the people! what a deplorable example!"
"There is something singular in this double execution—the day has been fixed."
"To-day is Mid-Lent."
"To-morrow the execution takes place at seven o'clock. Now the crowd of maskers, who will pass the night at the balls, will necessarily meet the mournful procession on their return to Paris; without speaking of the place of execution, the Barriere Saint Jacques, where will be heard, in the distance, the music at the surrounding taverns; for, to celebrate the last day of the carnival, they dance in the wine-shops until ten or eleven in the morning."
The next morning the sun rose clear and glorious. At four o'clock several pickets of infantry and cavalry surrounded and guarded the approaches of Bicetre. We will conduct the reader to the cell where we will find the widow and her daughter Calabash.
At Bicetre, a gloomy corridor, lighted at intervals by grated windows, or kind of air-holes just above the level of the courtyard, leads to the condemned cell. This dungeon received its light only from a large wicket in the upper part of the door, which opened into the dark passage spoken of above. In this cell, with its damp and moldy walls, its floor paved with stones as cold as those of the sepulcher, were confined Widow Martial and her daughter Calabash. The sharp face of the convict's widow, stern and immovable, stood out in bold relief, like a marble mask, from the midst of the obscurity which existed in the dungeon.
Deprived of the use of her hands, for under her black dress she wore a strait-jacket, she asked that her cap might be taken off, complaining of great heat in the head. Her gray hair fell disheveled upon her shoulders. Seated on the edge of the bed, her feet on the ground, she looked fixedly on her daughter, Calabash, who was separated from her by the width of the dungeon. She, half reclining, and also wearing a strait-jacket had her back against the wall. Her head was hanging on her breast, her eyes fixed, her respiration broken. Save a slight convulsive movement, which from time to time agitated her under jaw, her features appeared calm, but of livid paleness. At the further end of the dungeon, near the door, under the open wicket, a veteran with the ribbon of the Legion of Honor, with a rough and swarthy face, a bald head, and long gray mustachios, is seated on a chair. He ought never to lose sight of the condemned.
"It is very cold here! and yet my eyes burn; and then I am thirsty—always thirsty," said Calabash, at the end of a few moments. "Some water, if you please, sir."
The old soldier rose and took from a bench a tin pail of water, filled a tumbler, and gave her a drink.
After having drunk greedily, she said, "thank you, sir."
"Will you drink?" asked the soldier of the widow, who shook her head in the negative.
"What o'clock is it, sir?" said Calabash.
"It will soon be half-past four."
"In three hours!" resumed Calabash, with a sardonic and sinister smile, alluding to the time of her execution, "in three hours—" She dared not finish.
The widow shrugged her shoulders. Her daughter comprehended her thoughts, and replied, "You have more courage than I, mother, do you never falter—"
"I know it well—I see it clearly. Your face is as tranquil as if you were seated by the fire of our kitchen, sewing. Oh! those good days are so far off—so far——"
"It is true; instead of resting there and thinking, without saying anything, I would rather talk—I would rather——"
"Shake off your thoughts, coward!"
"Even if it should be so, mother, every one has not your courage. I have done all I could to imitate you. I have not listened to the priest, because you did not wish it. And yet I may have been wrong—for, in fine," added the condemned girl, shuddering, "hereafter—who knows? and hereafter will be very soon."
"In three hours."
"How coldly you say that, mother! And yet it is true; we are here, both of us, not sick, not wishing to die, and yet in three hours——"
"In three hours you will have died like a true Martial. You will have seen black, that's all; be bold, daughter."
"It is not right for you to talk to your daughter in that way," said the old soldier, in a slow and grave tone; "you would have done much better to have allowed her to speak with the ordinary."
The widow shrugged her shoulders with savage contempt, and, without turning her head, she continued: "Courage, daughter; we will show them that women have more firmness than these men, with their priests—the cowards!"
"Commandant Leblon was the bravest of the third regiment of Chasseurs; I saw him covered with wounds in the breach of Saragossa, and he died making the sign of the cross," said the veteran.
"You were his chaplain, then?" demanded the widow, with a savage burst of laughter.
"I was his soldier," answered the veteran, mildly. "It was only to let you know that one can pray when about to die, without being a coward."
Calabash looked attentively at this man with the bronzed visage, a perfect type of the soldier of the Empire; a deep scar furrowed his left cheek, and was lost in his large mustache. The simple words of this veteran, whose features, wounds, and red ribbon announced calm and tried bravery, profoundly struck the widow's daughter.
She had refused the consolation of the priest, more from shame and fear of her mother, than from callousness. In her restless and dying thoughts, she compared the impious jesting of her mother with the piety of the soldier. Strong in this testimony, she thought she could listen without cowardice to those religious instincts which even intrepid men had obeyed.
"In truth," said she, with anguish, "why did I not wish to hear the priest? there is no weakness in that. Besides, it would keep off my thoughts, and then, hereafter, who knows?"
"Again!" said the widow, in a tone of withering scorn. "Time is wanting—it is a pity—you would be religious. The arrival of your brother Martial will finish your conversion. But he will not come; the honest man, the good son."
Just as the widow pronounced these last words the door of the prison opened.
"Already!" cried Calabash with a convulsive start. "Oh! they have put the clock ahead! They have deceived us!"
"So much the better—if the watch of the executioner is too fast—your follies will not dishonor me."
"Madame," said the prison warder, with that kind of commiseration which forebodes death, "your son is here; will you see him?"
"Yes," answered the widow, without turning her head.
"Enter, sir," said the warder. Martial entered.
The veteran remained in the dungeon, the door of which was left open as a matter of precaution. Through the gloom of the corridor, half lighted by the increasing day and by a lamp, several soldiers were seen sitting or standing. Martial was as pale as his mother; his countenance expressed deep and profound anguish, his knees trembled under him. In spite of the crimes of this woman, in spite of the aversion that she had always shown for him, he had thought it a duty to obey her last wishes. As soon as he entered the dungeon, the widow cast on him a searching look, and said to him in a hollow and angry voice, as if to awaken in her son a feeling of revenge, "You see what they are going to do with your mother and your sister!"