Part 5 out of 12
just been conversing of his projects for the future. And as if all the
circumstances attending this painful event should be more cruel from
contrast, the same morning M. d'Harville, wishing to surprise his
wife, had just purchased a valuable necklace. And it is just at this
moment, when, perhaps, life never appeared more smiling, more
desirable, that he falls a victim to a deplorable accident.
"Before such a misfortune all reflections are useless; we can only
remain, as it were, annihilated by the inscrutable decrees of
We quote the papers merely to show that general belief attributed the
death of D'Harville to a deplorable accident. It is hardly necessary
to say, that D'Harville carried with him to the tomb the mysterious
secret of this voluntary death. Yes, voluntary; calculated and
meditated with as much coolness as genorosity, so that Clemence could
not have the slightest suspicion of the true cause of this suicide.
Thus the project of which D'Harville had conversed with his friends
and his intendant, his confidential communications to his old servant,
the surprise which he arranged for his wife, were just so many snares
laid for public credulity.
How could a man be supposed about to kill himself, who was so much
occupied with plans for the future--so desirous of pleasing his wife?
His death was therefore attributed, and could only be attributed, to
an imprudence. As to the resolution, an incurable despair had dictated
"My death alone can dissolve these ties--it must be--I shall kill
myself." And this is the reason why D'Harville had accomplished this
grave and melancholy sacrifice.
If a suitable law of divorce had existed, would he have committed
suicide? No! He would have repaired in part the evil he had done;
restored his wife to liberty, permitted her to find happiness in
another union. The inexorable immutability of the law, then, often
renders certain faults irremediable; or, as in this case, only allows
them to be effaced by a new crime.
We think we ought to inform the most scrupulous of our readers that
the prison of Saint Lazare, specially devoted to prostitutes and
female thieves, is daily visited by several ladies, whose charities,
name, and social position command general respect. These ladies,
brought up amid the splendors of fortune, who with good reason are
classed among the most elevated in society, come every week to pass
long hours with the miserable prisoners. Observing in these degraded
beings the least aspiration after virtue, the least regret for a past
crime, they encourage the better tendencies and repentance; and, by
the powerful magic of the words "duty," "honor," "virtue," sometimes
they rescue from the depths of degradation one abandoned, despised,
Accustomed to the refinements of the best society, these courageous
women leave their houses, pressing their lips to the virginal cheeks
of their daughters, pure as the angels of heaven, and go to the gloomy
prisons to brave the gross indifference, or the criminal conversation,
of thieves and prostitutes.
Faithful to their mission of high morality, they valiantly descend
into the infected receptacle, place the hand on all these ulcerated
hearts, and if some feeble pulsation of honor reveals to them the
slightest hope of saving them, they contend and tear from an almost
irrevocable perdition the wretch of whom they do not despair. The
scrupulous reader, to whom we address ourselves, will calm, then, his
sensibility, in thinking that he will only hear and see, after all,
what these venerated women see and hear every day.
After having, we hope, appeased the reader's scruples, we introduce
him to Saint Lazare, an immense edifice, of imposing and gloomy
aspect, situated in the Rue de Faubourg Saint Denis.
Ignorant of the terrible drama that was passing at home, Madame
d'Harville had gone to the prison, after having obtained some
information from Madame de Lucenay concerning the two unhappy women
whom the cupidity of Jacques Ferrand had plunged into distress. Madame
de Blinval, one of the patronesses before spoken of, not being able to
accompany Clemence to Saint Lazare, she came alone. She was received
with much kindness by the director, and by several inspectresses,
known by their black dresses and a blue ribbon with a silver medal.
One of these, a woman of advanced age, of a soft and grave expression,
remained alone with Madame d'Harville, in a small room adjoining the
Madame Armand, the inspectress who had remained alone with Madame
d'Harville, possessed to an extreme degree of foreknowledge and
insight into the character of the prisoners. Her word and judgment was
of paramount authority in the house.
She said to Clemence: "Since your ladyship has been kind enough to
request me to point out those inmates who, from good conduct or
sincere repentance, should merit your interest, I believe I can
recommend one unfortunate, whom I believe more unhappy than culpable;
for I do not think I deceive myself in affirming, that it is not too
late to save this girl, a poor child of sixteen, or seventeen at
[Illustration: THE INSPECTION OF THE DORMITORY]
"For what has she been confined?"
"She is guilty of being found on the Champs Elysees in the evening. As
it is forbidden her class, under very severe penalties, to frequent,
either day or night, certain places, and the Champs Elysees is among
the number of these prohibited places, she was arrested."
"And she appears interesting to you?"
"I have never seen more regular or more ingenuous features. Imagine,
my lady, a picture of the Virgin. What gave still more to her
appearance a most modest expression was, that when she came here she
was dressed like a peasant girl of the environs of Paris."
"She is, then, a country girl?"
"No, my lady. The inspectors recognized her. She lived in a horrible
house in the city, from which she was absent two or three months but
as she had not her name erased from the police registers, she remained
under the control of the officers, who sent her here."
"But perhaps she left Paris to endeavor to reinstate herself?"
"I think so. I felt at once interested in her. I interrogated her as
to the past; I asked her if she came from the country, telling her to
be of good cheer, if, as I hoped, she wished to return to the paths of
"What did she reply?"
"Lifting on me her large blue, melancholy eyes, full of tears, she
said to me, in a tone of angelic sweetness, 'I thank you, madame, for
your kindness, but I cannot speak of the past; I have been arrested--I
was wrong--I do not complain.' 'But where do you come from? Where have
you been since you left the city; if you have been to the country to
seek an honest existence, say so; prove it: we will write to the
police to obtain your discharge. You shall be erased from the police
lists, and your good resolutions shall be encouraged.' 'I entreat you,
madame, do not question me; I cannot answer you,' she replied. 'But
when you leave here, do you wish to return to that horrible house
again?' 'Oh, never,' she cried, 'What will you do then?' 'Heaven
knows!' she replied, letting her head fall on her breast."
"This is very strange! She expresses herself--"
"In very good terms, madame; her deportment is timid, respectful, but
without meanness. I will say more. Notwithstanding the extreme
sweetness of her voice and her look, there is at times in her accent,
in her attitude, a kind of sorrowful pride which confounds me. If she
did not belong to the unhappy class of which she is a part, I should
almost think that this pride is that of a soul conscious of its
MONT SAINT JEAN.
The clock of the prison struck two.
To the severe frost which had reigned for some days, a temperature
soft, mild, almost spring-like, had succeeded; the sunbeams were
reflected on the water of a large square basin, with a stone margin,
situated in the middle of the yard, planted with trees, and surrounded
by high, gloomy walls, pierced with a number of grated windows; wooden
benches were placed here and there in this vast inclosure, which
served as the prisoners' exercise ground.
The tinkling of a bell announcing the hour of recreation, the
prisoners noisily rushed into the court through a strong wicket-door
which was opened for them. These women, dressed in uniform, wore black
caps and long blue woolen frocks, confined by a belt and iron buckle.
There were two hundred prostitutes there, condemned for infringements
of the laws which register them, and place them without the common
At the sight of this collection of lost creatures, one cannot prevent
the sad thought, that many among them have been pure and virtuous, at
least some time. We make this restriction, because a great number have
been vitiated, corrupted, depraved, not only from their youth, but
from their most tender infancy.
When the prisoners rushed into the court, screeching and shouting, it
was easy to see that joy alone at escaping from labor did not render
them so noisy. After having pushed through the only door that led to
the yard, the crowd separated, and made a circle around a deformed
being, whom they overwhelmed with hootings.
She was a woman of about thirty-six or forty, short, thick-set,
crooked, her neck sunk between unequal shoulders. They had pulled off
her cap, and her hair, of a rather faded yellow, uncombed, tangled,
striped with gray, fell over her low and stupid face. She was dressed
in a blue frock, like the other prisoners, and carried under her arm a
bundle tied up in a miserable, ragged handkerchief. She tried to ward
off the threatened blows with her left arm.
Nothing could be more sadly grotesque than the features of this poor
creature. It was a ridiculous and hideous face, lengthened to a snout,
wrinkled, tanned, and dirty, pierced with nostrils, and small red
eyes, squinting and bloodshot; by turns supplicating or angry, she
implored and scolded; but they laughed more at her complaints than at
her threats. This woman was the butt of the prisoners. One fact alone,
however, should have saved her from their bad treatment; she was about
to become a mother. But her ugliness and imbecility, and the habit
they had of looking upon her as a victim devoted to the general
amusement, rendered her persecutors implacable, notwithstanding their
ordinary respect for maternity.
Among the most furious of the enemies of Mont Saint Jean (this was the
name of the drudge) could have been remarked La Louve--a tall girl of
about twenty, active, masculine, with rather regular features; her
coarse, black hair was shaded with red; her face was disfigured with
pimples; her thick lips were slightly covered with a bluish down; her
dark eyebrows, very thick and heavy, met above her large brown eyes;
something violent, ferocious, and brutal in her expression, a kind of
habitual laugh, which, lifting her upper lip when she was angry,
showing her white and scattering teeth, explains her surname of La
Louve (She-Wolf). Nevertheless, this face expressed more audacity and
insolence than cruelty--in a word, rather vicious than thoroughly bad,
this woman was yet susceptible of some good feelings.
"Oh, dear, what have I done to you?" cried Mont Saint Jean. "Why do
you treat me so?"
"Because it amuses us. Because you are only fit to be tormented. It is
your trade. Look at yourself; you will see you have no right to
"But you know I do not complain until I can't stand it any longer."
"Well, we'll leave you alone if you will tell us why you are called
Mont Saint Jean."
"Yes, yes, tell us that."
"I have told you this-a hundred times. An old soldier, whom I once
loved, was called so because he was wounded in the battle of Mont
Saint Jean. I took his name. Are you content now? You make me repeat
the same things."
"If he looked like you he was a beauty! He must have been one of the
"I am ugly, I know. Say what you please: all the same to me; but don't
strike me, that's all I ask."
"What have you got in that old handkerchief?" said La Louve.
"Yes, yes, what is it? Come, show it."
"Oh no, I entreat you!" said the poor creature, holding the bundle
tightly in her hands.
"You must give it up."
"Yes; take it from her, La Louve."
"What is it?"
"Well, it is baby's clothes I have commenced for my child. I make them
with the old pieces of linen I pick up. It is of no consequence to
you, is it?"
"Oh, let us see the baby-linen of Mont Saint Jean! Come, come," cried
La Louve, snatching the bundle from the hands of Mont Saint Jean.
The wretched handkerchief was torn to pieces in the struggle, and its
contents, composed of rags and bits of stuff of all colors, were
strewn on the ground and trampled under foot, amid shouts of laughter.
"What rags! What trash! An old rag shop! Takes more thread than stuff!
Here, pick up your duds, Mont Saint Jean!"
"How wicked you are! How bad you must be!" cried the poor creature
running here and there after the scraps and rags, which she tried to
pick up, notwithstanding the blows they gave her. "I have never harmed
any one," said she, weeping. "I have offered, if they would let me
alone, to do anything for them they wanted; to give them half of my
rations, although I am very hungry. Ah, well! no, no, it is just the
same. But what must I do for peace? They have not even pity on a poor
woman in my condition! They must be more savage than wild beasts! I
had so much trouble to collect those little scraps of linen. How do
you think I shall do, since I have no money to buy anything?" Suddenly
she cried, in an accent of joy, "Oh, now you have come, La Goualeuse,
I am saved! Speak to them for me! They will listen to you, surely, for
they love you as much as they hate me."
The Goualeuse (the Songstress) arriving, the last of the prisoners had
entered the yard.
GOUALEUSE AND LOUISE.
Before we continue the account of this horrible scene, we must return
to the Marchioness d'Harville and Madame Armand, whose conversation
had been for a moment interrupted. At the ringing of the bell, the
inspectress had hastened to one of the doors which opened into the
prison yard, to be ready to prevent by her presence, or calm by her
authority, any tumult or quarrels that might arise among the scholars,
whose passions, restrained for some time by discipline and employment,
only wanted the hour of idleness and recreation to be aroused and
excited. Madame Armand had witnessed, in mournful silence, the cruel
treatment of which Mont Saint Jean was a victim, and she had already
advanced to snatch her from her tormentors, when Fleur-de-Marie
"She is saved!" said she to herself, and returned to the parlor where
Madame d'Harville awaited her.
"But this is quite a romance that you have just related," cried the
latter, without giving Madame Armand time to apologize for her
absence. "What are the relations of this girl, whose beauty, language,
and manners form such a strange contrast to her past degradation and
present situation with the other prisoners? If she is endowed with the
elevation of mind that you suppose, she must suffer much from
associating with her miserable companions."
"Everything concerning this girl is a subject of astonishment. Hardly
has she been here three days, yet already she possesses a kind of
influence over the other prisoners."
"In so short a time?"
"They show her not only interest, but almost respect."
"How? These unfortunates--"
"Have sometimes an instinct of singular delicacy in perceiving the
noble qualities of others; yet they often hate those whose superiority
they are obliged to admit."
"But they do not hate this young girl?"
"Far from that, madame; not one of them knew her before she entered
here. They were at first struck with her beauty. Her features,
although of rare beauty, are, it is true, veiled with a touching,
unhealthy paleness. This sweet and melancholy face inspired them at
first with more interest than jealousy. Then she became very quiet--
another subject of astonishment for these creatures, who, for the most
part, endeavor always to drown the voice of conscience by force of
noise and tumult. In short, although dignified and reserved, she
showed herself compassionate, which prevented her companions from
being exasperated at her coldness. This is not all. A month ago there
came here an unruly creature, called La Louve, so violent, audacious,
and ferocious is her character. She is a girl of about twenty; tall,
masculine, rather a fine face, but very coarse. We are often obliged
to put her in confinement to subdue her turbulence. Only the day
before yesterday she came out of the cell, very much irritated at the
punishment she had just received. It was meal-time: the poor girl of
whom I have spoken did not eat; she said sadly to her companions, 'Who
wants my bread?' 'I,' said La Louve, first. 'I,' said a poor deformed
creature afterward, called Mont Saint Jean, who serves as a
laughingstock, and sometimes, in spite of us, as a butt to the other
prisoners. The girl gave her bread to the latter, to the great rage of
La Louve. 'I asked you first,' cried she furiously. 'It is true, but
this poor woman has more need of it than you,' answered the girl. La
Louve snatched the bread from the hands of Mont Saint Jean, and began
to vociferate, brandishing her knife. As she is very irascible, and
very much feared, no one dared to take the part of poor Goualeuse."
"What do you call her, madame?"
"La Goualeuse. It is the name, or rather surname, under which she has
been confined here. Almost all of them have similar borrowed names."
"It is very singular."
"It signifies, in their hideous slang, the Songstress; for this young
girl has, they say, a very fine voice; and I readily believe it, for
her tone is enchanting."
"And how did she escape from this villainous Louve?"
"Rendered still more furious by La Goualeuse's coolness, she ran
toward her with an oath and uplifted knife. All the prisoners screamed
with terror. Goualeuse alone regarded without fear this formidable
creature. Smiling bitterly, she said, in her angelic voice, 'Oh, kill
me! kill me! I desire it; but do not make me suffer much.' These
words, it was reported to me, were pronounced with a simplicity so
touching, that almost all the prisoners had tears in their eyes."
"I believe it, said Lady d'Harville, painfully affected.
"The worst characters," answered the inspectress, "happily have
sometimes moments of reflection--a kind of return to the correct path.
On hearing these words, expressed with such resignation, La Louve,
touched to the heart, as she afterward said, threw her knife on the
ground, trampled it under foot, and cried, 'I was wrong to threaten
you, Songstress, for I am stronger than you; you were not afraid of my
knife; you are courageous--I love courage; so now, if any one attempts
to hurt you, I'll defend you.'"
"What a singular character."
"The example of La Louve increased the influence of La Goualeuse; and
at present, a thing almost without a precedent, hardly any of the
prisoners address her familiarly; the greater part respect her, and
even offer to render her any little service that can be rendered among
prisoners. I asked some of the prisoners who slept in the same room
with her, what was the cause of the deference shown her. 'That's more
than we can tell,' they answered; 'it is plain to be seen she is not
one of our sort.' 'But who told you so?' 'No one told us; we see.' 'By
what?' 'In a thousand things. For instance, last night, before she
went to bed, she went on her knees and said her prayers; as she prays,
so La Louve says, she must have a right to pray!'"
"What a strange observation!"
"These poor creatures have no sentiment of religion, yet they never
utter here a sacrilegious or impious word. You will see, madame, in
all our rooms a kind of altar, where the statue of the Virgin is
surrounded with offerings and ornaments made by themselves. But to
return to La Goualeuse. Her companions said to me, 'We see that she is
not our sort, from her soft manners, her sadness, the way in which she
speaks.' And then said La Louve, who was present at this conversation,
'It must be that she is not one of us; for this morning, in our
sleeping-room, without knowing why, we were ashamed to dress ourselves
"What strange delicacy in the midst of so much degradation!" cried
Lady d'Harville. "They have a profound sense of their degradation?"
"No one can despise them as much as they despise themselves. Among
some of them, whose repentance is sincere, this original stain of vice
remains indelible in their eyes, even when they find themselves in a
better situation; others become insane, so much does the sense of
their former aberration remain fixed and implacable. I should not be
surprised if the profound sorrow of the Goualeuse proceeds from some
"If this should be so, what torture for her! a remorse which nothing
"Happily, madame, for the honor of the human race, this remorse occurs
oftener than is supposed; avenging conscience never completely sleeps,
or rather, strange thing, sometimes one would say that the spirit
watches while the body sleeps. It is an observation that I made only
this night again in reference to my _protegee_. Very, often, when
the prisoners are asleep, I make the rounds of the sleeping
apartments. Your ladyship cannot imagine how much the physiognomies of
these women differ in expression while they sleep. A great number of
them, whom I had seen during the day careless, bold, brazen, impudent,
seemed completely to have changed when sleep had deprived their
features of all the audacity of wickedness; for vice, alas! has its
pride. Oh, what sorrowful revelations on these countenances, then
dejected, melancholy, and sad! What involuntary starts! What mournful
sighs torn from them by a dream, doubtless impressed with an
inexorable reality! I spoke to you just now, madame, of this girl
called La Louve. About fifteen days ago she insulted me brutally
before all the prisoners. I shrugged my shoulders; my indifference but
exasperated her. Then she thought to wound me by uttering something
disgraceful concerning my mother, whom she had often seen here on a
visit to me. Ah, how horrid! I acknowledge, stupid as this attack was,
she hurt me. La Louve saw it, and triumphed. That night I went to make
an inspection in the sleeping apartment; I reached the bed of La
Louve, who was to be put in the cell next morning; I was struck with
the sweetness of her face, compared with the hard and insolent
expression which was habitual to her; her features seemed
supplicating, full of sadness and contrition; her lips were half-open,
her breathing oppressed; finally, a thing which appeared to me
incredible, for I thought it impossible, tears--tears fell from her
eyes. I looked at her in silence for some moments, when I heard her
pronounce these words, 'Pardon! pardon her, mother!' I listened more
attentively, but all that I could hear was my name, Madame Armand,
pronounced with a sigh."
"She repented, during her sleep, of having abused your mother?"
"I thought so, and it made me less severe."
"And the next day, did she express any regret for her past conduct?"
"None; she showed herself as wild as ever."
"But, madame, you must need great courage, much strength of mind, not
to recoil before the unpleasantness of a task which brings such rare
"The consciousness of fulfilling a duty sustains and encourages me--
besides, sometimes, one is recompensed by some happy discovery."
"No matter; women like you, madame, are seldom to be found."
"No, no; I assure you what I do others do, and with more success and
intelligence than I. One of the inspectresses of the other quarter of
Saint Lazaro, destined for those accused of other crimes, will
interest you much more. She related to me the arrival, this morning,
of a young girl, accused of infanticide. Never have I heard anything
more touching. The father of the poor unfortunate has become insane
from grief, on learning the shame of his child. It appears that
nothing could be more frightful than the poverty of this family, who
lived in a wretched garret in the Rue du Temple!"
"The Rue du Temple!" cried Madame d'Harville, astonished. "What is the
name of the family?"
"Morel. Her name is Louise Morel."
"This poor family has been recommended to me," said Clemence,
blushing, "but I was far from expecting to hear such terrible news--
and Louise Morel--"
"Says she is innocent; she swears her child was dead; and her words
have the accent of truth. Since you have interested yourself in her
family, if you would have the kindness to see her, this mark of your
goodness would calm her despair, which they say is fearful."
"Certainly, I will see her, and the Goualeuse also; for all you tell
me about this poor girl affects me sincerely. But what must I do to
obtain her liberty? Then I will find her a place; I will take charge
"With the relations your ladyship has, it will be very easy for you to
get her discharge to-day or to-morrow; it depends entirely on the
prefect of the police. The recommendation of a person of quality would
be decisive with him. But I have wandered far, madame, from the
observation that I made on the slumber of the Goualeuse. On this
subject, I must confess, that I should not be astonished that, to the
sentiments of profound grief for her first fault, is joined another
sorrow, not less cruel."
"What do you mean to say, madame?"
"Perhaps I am deceived; but I should not be astonished that this young
girl, emancipated, as it were, from the degradation into which she was
first plunged, had experienced perhaps a virtuous love, which was at
once her happiness and misery."
"Why do you think so?"
"The obstinate silence she keeps as to the place where she passed the
three months which followed her departure from the City, makes me
think that she fears to be reclaimed by the persons with whom,
perhaps, she found a refuge."
"And why this fear?"
"Because she would then have to avow a past life, of which they are
"Really, this peasant's dress--"
"Besides, another circumstance has strengthened my suspicions. Last
night, as I made my inspection, I drew near the Goualeuse's bed; she
slept profoundly; her face was calm and serene; her thick flaxen hair,
half escaping from under her cap, fell in profusion on her neck and
shoulders. She had her small hands clasped over her bosom, as if she
had fallen asleep while in the act of prayer. I contemplated with
compassion this angelic countenance, when, in a low voice, and in a
tone at once respectful, sorrowful and endearing, she pronounced a
"And this name?"
After a moment's silence, Madame Armand said gravely, "Although I
consider as sacred that which one hears another express in their
sleep, you interest yourself so generously in this unfortunate,
madame, that I can confide to you this secret. The name was Rudolph."
"Rudolph!" cried Madame d'Harville, thinking of the prince. Then,
reflecting that, after all, the Grand Duke of Gerolstein could have no
connection with the Rudolph of poor Goualeuse, she said to the
inspectress, who seemed astonished at her exclamation, "This name
surprised me, madame, for by a singular chance, one of my relations
bears it also; but all you have told me of the Goualeuse interests me
more and more. Can I not see her to-day? Now?"
"Yes, madame, I will go, if you wish, to find her, I can also ask
about Louise Morel, who is in the other part of the prison."
"I shall be much obliged," answered Madame d'Harville, and she
"It is singular," said she; "I cannot account for the strange
impression which the name of Rudolph caused me. Truly, I am mad!
between _him_ and such a creature, what relations can exist?"
Then, after a pause, she added, "He was right! how much all this
interests me! the mind, the heart, expand when they are applied to
such noble occupations! As he says, it seems as if one participated in
the power of Providence, when relieving those who are deserving. And
these excursions in a world of whose existence we have no suspicion
are so interesting, so _amusing_, as _he_ was pleased to
say! What romance could give me such touching emotions, excite to this
point my curiosity! This poor Goualeuse, for example, inspires me with
profound pity, and this unfortunate daughter of the artisan, whom the
prince had so generously relieved in my name! Poor people! their
frightful misery served as a pretext to save me. I have escaped shame,
death, perhaps, by a hypocritical falsehood; this deceit oppresses me;
but I will expiate it by force of benefactions. This will be easy! it
is so sweet to follow the noble counsels of Rudolph, it is rather to
love than to obey him! Oh! I feel it--I know it. I experience a sweet
delight in acting through him; for I love him. Oh, yes, I love him!
yet he will be for ever ignorant of this eternal passion of my life."
While Madame d'Harville awaits the Goualeuse, we will return to the
WOLF AND LAMB.
Fleur-de-Marie, the Songstress, wore the blue dress and black cap of
the prisoners; but even in this common costume she was charming. Yet
since she was carried off from the farm of Bouqueval, her features
were much altered; her natural paleness, slightly tinted with rose,
was now as dead as the whitest alabaster; her expression had also
changed; it had now assumed a kind of dignified sadness.
Fleur-de-Marie knew that to endure courageously the grievous sacrifices
of expiation is almost to obtain a kind of regeneration.
"Ask their pardon for me, La Goualeuse," said Mont Saint Jean. "See
how they drag in the dirt all that I had collected with so much
trouble; what good can it do them?"
Fleur-de-Marie did not say a word, but she began actively to collect,
one by one, from under the feet of the prisoners, all the rags she
could find. One of the prisoners retaining mischievously under her
foot a piece of coarse muslin, Fleur-de-Marie, stooping, raised her
enchanting face toward this woman, and said, in her sweet voice, "I
beg you to let me take this, in the name of the poor weeping woman."
The prisoner withdrew her foot. The muslin was saved, as well as all
the other rags, which the Goualeuse secured piece by piece. There
remained only one little cap, which two of them were contending for,
Fleur-de-Marie said to them, "Come, be good now, and give her that
"My eye! is it for a baby harlequin, this cap? Made of gray stuff,
with peaks of green and black fustian, and a bedtick lining!" This
description of the cap was received with shouts of laughter.
"Laugh at it as much as you please, but give it to me," said Mont
Saint Jean; "don't drag it in the gutter, as you did the rest. I beg
your pardon, La Goualeuse, for having made you soil your hands for
me," added she, in a grateful voice.
"Give me the harlequin cap," said La Louve, who caught it, and shook
it in the air as a trophy.
"I entreat you to give it to me," said La Goualeuse.
"No; because you will give it to Mont Saint Jean."
"Ah! bah! such a fag! it's not worth the trouble."
"It is because Mont Saint Jean has nothing but rags to dress her child
with that you should have pity on her, La Louve," said Fleur-de-Marie,
sadly, extending her hand toward the cap.
"You sha'n't have it!" answered La Louve, brutally; "must one always
give up to you because you are the weakest? You take advantage of
"Where would be the merit of giving it to me if I were the strongest?"
answered La Goualeuse, with a smile full of grace.
"No, no, you wish to twist me about again with your little soft voice;
you sha'n't have it."
"Come, now, La Louve, don't be naughty."
"Leave me alone, you tire me."
"I entreat you!"
"Stop! don't make me angry--I have said no, and no it is!" cried La
Louve, very much irritated.
"Have pity upon her; see how she weeps!"
"What is that to me? So much the worse for her; she is our target."
"That's true, that's true, don't give it up," murmured several of the
prisoners, carried away by the example of La Louve.
"You are right--so much the worse for her!" said Fleur-de-Marie, with
bitterness. "She is your butt; she ought to be resigned to it; her
groans amuse you, her tears make you laugh. You must pass the time in
some way; if you should kill her on the spot, she has no right to say
anything. You are right, La Louve--it is just! this poor woman has
done no harm; she cannot defend herself; she is one against the whole--
you overpower her--that is very brave and very generous."
"Are we cowards, then?" cried La Louve, carried away by the violence
of her character, and by her impatience of all contradiction. "Will
you answer? are we cowards, eh?" said she, more and more irritated.
Murmurs, very threatening for the Goualeuse, began to be heard. The
offended prisoners approached and surrounded her, vociferating,
forgetting or revolting against the ascendancy that the young girl had
until then obtained over them.
"She calls us cowards! By what right does she scold us? Is it because
she is greater than we are? We have been too good to her, and now she
wants to put on airs with us. If we choose to torment Mont Saint Jean,
what has she got to say about it? Since it is so, you shall be worse
beaten than before, do you hear, Mont Saint Jean?"
"Hold, here is one to begin with," said one of them, giving her a
blow. "And if you meddle with what don't concern you, La Goualeuse,
we'll treat you in the same way."
"This isn't all!" cried La Louve; "La Goualeuse must ask our pardon
for having called us cowards! If not, and we let her go on, she'll
finish by eating us up; we are very stupid not to see that. She must
ask our pardon. On her knee! on both knees! or we'll treat her like
Mont Saint Jean, her _protegee_. On your knees--on your knees!
Oh! we are cowards, are we?"
Fleur-de-Marie was not alarmed at these furious cries; she let the
storm rage, but as soon as she could be heard, casting a calm and
melancholy glance around her, she replied to La Louve, who vociferated
anew, "Dare to repeat that we are cowards!"
"You? no, no; it is this poor woman whose clothes you have torn, whom
you have beaten, dragged in the mire, who is a coward! Do you not see
how she weeps, how she trembles in looking at you? It is she who is a
coward, since she is afraid of you."
The discernment of Fleur-de-Marie served her perfectly. She might have
invoked justice and duty to disarm the stupid and brutal conduct of
the prisoners, they would not have listened to her; but in addressing
them with this sentiment of natural generosity, which is never extinct
even in the most contemptible natures, she awoke a feeling of pity.
La Louve and her companions still murmured; Fleur-de-Marie continued:
"Your target does not deserve compassion, you say; but her child
deserves it. Alas! does it not feel the blows given to the mother?
When she cries for mercy, it is not for herself, it is for her child!
When she asks for some of your bread, if you have too much, because
she has more hunger than usual, it is not for her, but for her child!
When she begs you, with tears in her eyes, to spare these rags, which
she has had so much trouble to collect, it is not for her, but for her
child! This poor little cap, which you have made so much fun of, is
laughable, perhaps; yet only to look at it makes me feel like weeping.
I avow it. Laugh at us both, Mont Saint Jean and me, if you will." The
prisoners did not laugh. La Louve even looked sadly at the little cap
she held in her hand. "Come, now!" continued Fleur-de-Marie, wiping
her eyes with the back of her white and delicate hand; "I know you are
not so hard. You torment Mont Saint Jean from want of employment, not
from cruelty. But you forget that she has her child. Could she hold it
in her arms that it should protect her, not only would you not strike
her, for fear of hurting the poor innocent, but if it was cold, you
would give to its mother all you could to cover it, eh, La Louve?"
"It is true: who would not pity a child?"
"It is very plain."
"If it was hungry you would take the bread out of your own mouth;
would you not, La Louve?"
"Yes, and willingly. I am no worse than others."
"Nor we neither."
"A poor little innocent!"
"Who would have a heart to hurt it?"
"Must be a monster!"
"I told you truly," said Fleur-de-Marie. "That you were not cruel. You
are kind; your error is not reflecting that Mont Saint Jean deserves
as much compassion as though she had her child in her arms, that's
"That's all!" cried La Louve, with warmth; "no, that's not all. You
were right, La Goualeuse; we were cowards, and you were brave in
daring to tell us so; and you are brave in not trembling after having
told us. You see we were right in constantly insisting that _you
were not one of us_--it must always come to that. It vexes me; but
so it is. We were all wrong just now. You were pluckier than the whole
gang of us!"
"That's true; this little blonde must have had courage to tell us the
truth right in our faces."
"After all, it is true, when we strike Mont Saint Jean, we do strike
"I didn't think of that."
"Nor I either."
"But La Goualeuse thinks of everything."
"And to strike a child is shameful!"
"There isn't one of us capable of doing it."
"Nothing is more easily moved than popular passion-nothing more abrupt
and rapid than the return from evil to good and from good to evil." The
few simple and touching words from Fleur-de-Marie had caused a sudden
reaction in favor of Mont Saint Jean, who wept gently.
Suddenly La Louve, violent and hasty in everything, took the little
cap she held in her hand, made a kind of purse of it, fumbled in her
pocket, and drew out twenty sous, threw them into the cap, and cried,
presenting it to her companions, "I give twenty sous toward buying
baby-linen for Mont Saint Jean. We'll cut it all out and sew it
ourselves, so that the making-up sha'n't cost a copper!"
"That's it! let us club together."
"She is as ugly as a monster; but she is a mother, like any one else."
"I give ten sous."
"I four sous; got no more."
"I have nothing; but I will sell my ration for tomorrow-who'll buy?"
"I," said La Louve; "I put ten sous for you; but you'll keep your
ration, and Mont Saint Jean's baby shall be togged out like a
To express the surprise and joy of Mont Saint Jean would be
impossible; her grotesque and ugly visage became almost touching.
Happiness and gratitude beamed the Fleur-de-Marie was also very happy,
although she had been obliged to say to La Louve, when she held the
little cap toward her, "I have no money; but I will work as much as
"Oh! my good little angel from Paradise," cried Mont Saint Jean,
falling at the feet of La Goualeuse, and trying to take her hand to
kiss it. "What is it I have done that you should be so charitable
toward me, and all these _ladies_ also? Is it possible, my good
angel? For my child--everything that I want! Who could have believed
it? I shall go off my head, I am sure. Why, I was just now the
scapegoat of every one! In a moment, because you said something in
your dear little voice of a seraph, you turn them from evil to good;
and now they love me, and I love them. They are so good! I was wrong
to get angry. Wasn't I a fool, and unjust, and ungrateful? All they
have done to me was only for a laugh; they didn't wish me any harm--it
was for my good; for here is the proof. Why, now, if they were to kill
me on the spot, I would not say a word."
"We have eighty-four francs and seven sous," said La Louve, having
finished counting the money she had collected. "Who will be treasurer?
Mustn't give it to Mont Saint Jean; she is too stupid."
"Let Goualeuse take charge of the money," they all cried unanimously.
"If you listen to me," said Fleur-de-Marie, "you will beg Madame
Armand, the inspectress, to take charge of this sum, and make the
necessary purchases; and then she will know the good action you have
done, and, perhaps, will ask to have your time reduced. Well, La
Louve," added she, taking her companion by the arm, "don't you now
feel happier than when you were casting to the winds, just now, the
poor rags of Mont Saint Jean?"
La Louve at first did not answer. To the generous warmth which had for
a moment animated her features had succeeded a kind of savage
Fleur-de-Marie looked at her with surprise, not understanding this
"La Goualeuse, come; I want to talk to you," said La Louve, in a
sullen manner; and leaving the other prisoners, she led Fleur-de-Marie
near to the basin which was in the center of the court. La Louve and
her companion seated themselves, isolated from the rest of their
The winter's sun shed its pale rays upon them, the blue sky was
partially obscured by white and fleecy clouds; some birds, deceived by
the mildness of the atmosphere, were warbling in the black branches of
the large chestnut-trees in the court; two or three sparrows, bolder
than the rest, came to drink and to bathe in a little brook which
flowed from the fountain; the stone margin was covered with green
moss, and here and there from the interstices rose some tufts of green
herbs, which the frost had spared. This description of the prison
basin may seem trifling, but Fleur-de-Marie lost not one of these
details; with her eyes fixed sadly on the clouds as they broke the
azure of the sky, or reflected the golden rays of the sun, she
thought, with a sigh, of the magnificence of nature, which she much
loved, admired poetically, and of which she was deprived.
"What do you wish to say to me?" asked La Goualeuse of her companion,
who, seated alongside of her, remained somber and silent.
"It is necessary that we have a settlement," cried La Louve, harshly,
"this can't go on."
"I don't understand you, La Louve."
"Just now, in the court, I said to myself, 'I will not yield to La
Goualeuse,' and yet I have again given way to you." "But--"
"I tell you this can't last so."
"What have you against me, La Louve?"
"Why, I am no longer the same since your arrival; no, I have no more
courage, strength, or hardihood."
Interrupting herself, she pushed up the sleeve of her dress and showed
to La Goualeuse her strong white arm, pointing out to her, pricked in
with indelible ink, a poniard half plunged in a red heart; over this
emblem were these words:
"Death to Dastards! MARTIAL. For life!"
"Do you see that?" cried La Louve.
"Yes; it makes me afraid," said La Goualeuse, turning away her head.
"When Martial, my lover, wrote this with a red-hot needle, he thought
me brave; if he knew my conduct for three days past, he would drive
his knife in my body, as this poniard is planted in this heart; and he
would be right, for be has written there '_Death to Dastards_'
and I am one."
"What have you done cowardly?"
"Do you regret what you have done just now?"
"I do not believe you."
"I tell you that I regret it, for it is another proof of the power you
have over us all. Did you not hear what Mont Saint Jean said when she
was on her knees to thank you?"
"What did she say?"
"She said, in speaking of us, that with nothing you turn us from evil
to good. I could have strangled her when she said that, for, to our
shame, it is true. Yes, in a moment you change us from black to white:
we listen to you, we give way to our impulses, and we are your dupes."
"My dupe--because you have generously assisted this poor woman!"
"It shall not be said," cried La Louve, "that a little girl like you
can trample me under foot."
"Do I know how? You come here--you commence by offending me."
"Yes: you ask who wants your bread: I answer first 'I.' Mont Saint
Jean only asks for it afterward and you give her the preference.
Furious at this, I rush on you with my knife raised."
"And I said to you, 'Kill me if you will, but do not make me suffer
too much,'" answered La Goualeuse; "that was all."
"That was all! Yes, that was all! and yet, these words alone caused
the knife to fall from my hands; made me ask pardon from you, who had
offended me. Is it natural? Why, when I return to my senses, I pity
myself. And the night when you arrived here, when you knelt to say
your prayers, why, instead of laughing at you and arousing the whole
company--why was it that I said, 'Leave her alone; she prays because
she has the right to do so.' And, the next morning, why were we all
ashamed to dress before you?"
"I do not know, La Louve."
"Really!" said this violent creature, with irony, "you don't know! It
is, doubtless, as we have told you sometimes in jest, that you are of
another family than ours. Perhaps you believe that?"
"I never said so."
"You never said so, but you act so."
"I pray you to listen to me."
"No! it has been of no service for me to listen to you--to look at
you. Up to now I have never envied any one. Well, two or three times I
have surprised myself in envying--can anything be more sneaking?--in
envying your face--like the Holy Virgin's! your soft, sad manner! Yes,
I have envied even your fair hair, and your blue eyes. I--who have
always detested fair faces, since I am a brunette--wish to resemble
"No, La Louve! me?"
"A week ago I should have left my mark on any one who would have dared
to tell me this. However, I do not envy you your lot; you are as sad
as a Magdalen. Is it natural? speak!"
"How can you expect me to account to you for the impressions I cause?"
"Oh, you know well enough what you do with your touch-me-not air."
"But what design can I have?"
"Do you think I know? It is exactly because I cannot understand all
this that I suspect you. There is another thing: until now I have
always been gay or angry, but never a thinker; and you have made me
think. Yes, there are some words you say which, in spite of me, have
touched my heart, and make me think all manner of sad things."
"I am sorry to have made you sad, La Louve; but I do not remember to
have said any--"
"Oh!" cried La Louve; "what you do is often as touching as what you
say! You are so malignant!"
"Do not be angry, La Louve! explain yourself."
"Yesterday, in the workshop, I saw you plainly. You had your eyes
down, fixed on your work; a tear fell on your hand; you looked at it
for a moment, and then you carried your hand to your lips, as if to
kiss away this tear; is it not true?"
"It is true," said La Goualeuse, blushing.
"That has the appearance of nothing! But, at that moment you looked so
unhappy--so unhappy, that I felt myself all heartache--every feeling
stirred up. Say now? do you think this is amusing? I have always been
as hard as a rock about everything concerning myself. No one can boast
of ever having seen me weep; and it must be that in looking at your
little face I should feel cowardice at my heart! Yes, for all that is
pure cowardice; and the proof is, that for three days I have not dared
to write to Martial, my conscience accuses me so much. Yes, keeping
company with you has weakened my character; it must stop; I have
enough of it; I wish to remain as I am, and not have people laugh at
"Why should they laugh at you?"
"Because they would see me acting a stupid good-natured part, who made
them all tremble here! No, no, I am twenty; I am as handsome as you,
in my style; I am wicked; I am feared, and that's what I want. I laugh
at the rest. Perish all who say the contrary!"
"You are angry with me, La Louve!"
"Yes, you are for me a bad acquaintance; if this is continued, in
fifteen days, instead of being called Wolf, they will call me Sheep.
Thank you! it's not me they'll baptize so. Martial would kill me. In
short, I want none of your company; I am going to ask to be put in
another hall; if they refuse, I'll flare up so that they will put me
in the dungeon until my time is out. That's what I have to say to you,
"I assure you, La Louve," said Fleur-de-Marie, "that you feel an
interest in me, not because you are soft, but because you are
generous--brave hearts alone feel the misfortunes of others."
"There is neither generosity nor courage in this," said La Louve,
brutally; "it is cowardice. Besides, I do not wish you to tell me that
I am touched--softened; it is not true."
"I will not say so any more, La Louve; but since you have shown some
interest for me, you will let me be grateful to you for it, will you
"To-night I shall be in another hall from you, or alone in the
dungeon; and soon I shall be away from here."
"And where will you go?"
"Home; Rue Pierre Lescot. I have my own furnished room."
"And Martial!" said La Goualeuse, who hoped to continue the
conversation by speaking of an object interesting to her; "you'll be
very happy to see him?"
"Yes; oh, yes!" answered she. "When I was arrested he was recovering
from sickness--a fever which he had, because he is always on the
water. For sixteen or seventeen nights I never left him for a moment.
I sold half that I possessed to pay for a doctor and medicines. I can
boast of it; and I do boast of it. If my man lives, he owes it to me.
I yesterday burned a candle before the Virgin for him. It is foolish;
but never mind, some very good effects have proceeded from this, for
he is convalescent."
"Where is he now? what does he do?"
"He lives near the Asnieres Bridge, on the shore."
"On the shore?"
"Yes, with his family, in a solitary house. He is always warring with
the river-keepers; and when once he is in his boat, with his
double-barreled gun, it's no good to approach him!" said La Louve,
"What is his trade?"
"He fishes by stealth at night; his father had some
_misunderstanding_ with justice. He has still a mother, two
sisters, and a brother. It would be better for him not to have such a
brother, for he is a scoundrel, who will be guillotined one of these
days; his sisters also. However, never mind, their necks belong to
"Where did you first meet Martial?"
"In Paris. He wished to learn the trade of a locksmith; a fine trade,
always red-hot iron and fire around one, and danger, too; that suited
him, but, like me, he had a bad head--couldn't agree with the
slow-pokes: so he returned to his family, and began to maraud on the
river. He came to Paris to see me, and I went to see him at Asnieres; it
is very near; but if it had been further, I should have gone, even if I
had been obliged to go on my hands and knees."
"You will be very happy to go to the country, you, La Louve," said the
Goualeuse, sighing; "above all, if you love, as I do, to walk in the
"I prefer to walk in the woods--in the large forests, with Martial!"
"In forests? are you not afraid?"
"Afraid! Is a wolf afraid? The thicker and darker the forest, the more
I like it. A lonely hut, where I should live with Martial, who should
be a poacher; to go with him at night, to set traps for the game; and
then, if the guards come to arrest us, to fire on them, hiding in the
bushes--ah! that's what I like!"
"You have lived in a, forest. La Louve?"
"Who gave you such ideas?"
"Martial. He was a poacher in Rambouillet Wood. About a year ago he
was _looked upon_ as having fired upon a guard who had fired upon
him--villain of a guard! It was not proved in court, but Martial was
obliged to leave. So he then came to Paris to learn a trade; as I
said, he left and went to maraud on the river; it is less slavish. But
he always regrets the woods, and will return there some day or other."
"And, La Louve, where are your parents?"
"Do you think I know!"
"Is it a long time since you have seen them?"
"I do not know if they are dead or alive."
Fleur-de-Marie, although plunged very young into an atmosphere of
corruption, had since respired an air so pure, that she experienced a
painful oppression at the horrid story of La Louve. Suppressing the
emotion which the sad confession of her companion had caused her, she
said to her, timidly, "Listen to me without being angry."
"Come, say on; I hope I have talked enough; but, in truth, all the
same, since it is the last time we shall converse together."
"Are you happy, La Louve?"
"What do you mean?"
"With the life you lead?"
"Here at Saint Lazare?"
"No; at your home, when you are free."
"Yes, I am happy."
"You would not change your lot for any other?"
"For what other? There's no other lot for me."
"Tell me, La Louve," continued Fleur-de-Marie, after a moment's
silence, "do you not sometimes like to build castles in the air here
in prison? It is so amusing."
"Castles in the air?"
"Ma foi, I never have."
"Let me build one for you and Martial."
"What's the use?"
"To pass the time."
"Well, let us see this castle."
"Just imagine, for example, that by chance you should meet some one
who should say to you, 'Abandoned by your father and mother, your
childhood has been surrounded by bad examples; that you must be pitied
as much as blamed for having become--'"
"Having become what?"
"What you and I--have become," answered Goualeuse, in a soft voice.
"Suppose this person were to say to you, 'You love Martial--he loves
you; leave your present mode of life, and become his wife.'"
La Louve shrugged her shoulders.
"Do you think he would take me for his wife?"
"Except his poaching, has he ever committed any other culpable
"No; he is a poacher on the river, as he was in the woods; and he is
right. Are not fish, like game, the property of those who can take
them? Where is the mark of their owner?"
"Well, suppose, having renounced this, he wishes to become an honest
man; suppose that he inspired, by the frankness of his good
resolutions, enough confidence in an unknown benefactor to be given a
place--as gamekeeper, for instance. To a poacher, it would be to his
liking. It is the same trade, only lawful."
"Lord! yes; it is life in the woods."
"Only this place would be given to him on the sole condition that he
would marry you and take you with him."
"I go with Martial?"
"Yes; you would be happy, you say, to live together in a forest. Would
you not like better, instead of a miserable poacher's hut where you
would hide yourselves like criminals, to have a nice little cottage,
of which you should be the active, industrious housekeeper?"
"You make fun of me. Can this be possible?"
[Illustration: THE SCAFFOLD]
"Who knows? though it is only a castle."
"Ah, true; very well."
"I say, La Louve, it seems to me I already see you established in your
cottage in the forest, with your husband, and two or three children.
"Children! Martial!" cried La Louve; "oh, yes, they would be
"How much company they would be for you in your solitude. Then, when
they began to grow up, they could render you some assistance. The
smallest could pick up the dead branches for your fire; the largest
could drive to pasture the cow which has been given to your husband
for his activity; for, having been a poacher himself, he would make
all the better gamekeeper."
"Just so; that's true. Ah, these castles in the air are amusing. Tell
me some more, La Goualeuse."
"They will be very much pleased with your husband. You will receive
from his master some presents; a nice garden. But marry! you will have
to work, La Louve, from morning to night." "Oh, if that was all, once
along with Martial, work wouldn't make me afraid. I have strong arms."
"And you would have enough to occupy them, I answer for it. There is
so much to do. There are the meals to prepare, clothes to mend; one
day the washing, another day the baking, or the house to clean from
top to bottom; so that the other gamekeepers would say, 'Oh, there is
not a housekeeper like Martial's wife; from cellar to garret her house
is as nice as a new pin; and the children always so neat and clean. It
is because she is so industrious.'"
"Tell me, La Goualeuse, is it true I would be called Madame Martial?"
"It is a great deal better than to be called La Louve, is it not?"
"Certainly; I prefer the name of any man to the name of a beast. But,
bah! bah! wolf I am born, and wolf I shall die."
"Who knows? Do not recoil from a hard but honest life that brings
happiness. So, work would not alarm you?"
"And then, besides, it is not all labor: there are moments of repose.
In the winter evenings, while your children are asleep, and your
husband smoking his pipe, cleaning his gun, or caressing his dogs, you
could have a nice quiet time."
"Bah! bah! a quiet time, sit with my arms folded. Goodness, no; I
would prefer to mend the family linen in the evening, in the
chimney-corner; that is not so tiresome. The days are so short in
At the words of Fleur-de-Marie, La Louve forgot more and more of the
present in these dreams of the future. La Louve did not conceal the
wild tastes with which her lover had inspired her. Fleur-de-Marie had
thought, with reason, that if her companion would suffer herself to be
sufficiently moved at this picture of a rough, poor, and solitary
life, to ardently desire to live such a one, this woman would deserve
interest and pity.
Enchanted at seeing her companion listen with curiosity, La Goualeuse
continued, smiling: "And, then you see _Madame Martial_--let me
call you so, what do you care?"
"On the contrary, it flatters me," said La Louve, shrugging her
shoulders, but smiling. "What folly--to play _Madame!_ What
children we are! Never mind, go on--it is amusing. You said, then----"
"I say, Madame Martial, that in speaking of your mode of living in
winter, in the woods, we only think of the worst part of the season."
"No, that is not the worst. To hear the wind whistle at night in the
forest, and from time to time the wolves howl, far off--far off; I
would not find it tiresome, not I, if I am alongside of a good fire,
with my man and my brats; or even all alone with my children, while he
is gone to make his rounds. Oh! a gun doesn't frighten me. If I had my
children to defend, I'd be good then. La Louve would take good care of
"Oh! I believe you--you are very brave; but coward me prefers spring
to winter. Oh! the spring, Madame Martial, the spring! when the leaves
burst forth; when the pretty wood-flowers blossom, which smell so
good--so good, that the air is perfumed. Then it is that your children
will tumble gayly on the new grass, and the forest will become so
thick and bushy, that your house can hardly be seen for the foliage; I
think I can see it from here. There is a bower before the door that
your husband has planted, which shades the seat of turf where he
sleeps during the heat of the day, while you go and come, and tell the
children not to wake their father. I do not know if you have remarked
it, but at noon in the middle of summer, it is as silent in the woods
as during the night. Not a leaf stirs, not a bird is heard to sing."
"That is true," repeated La Louve, mechanically, who, forgetting more
and more the reality, believed almost that she saw displayed before
her eyes the smiling pictures described by the poetic imagination of
Fleur-de-Marie, instinctively a lover of the beauties of nature.
Delighted with the profound attention which her companion lent her,
she continued, allowing herself to be carried away by the charm of the
thoughts she evoked. "There is one thing that I like almost as well as
the silence of the woods; it is the patter of the large drops of rain
in the summer, falling on the leaves; do you like this also?"
"Oh yes--I like also, very much, the summer rain."
"When the trees, moss, and grass are all well moistened, what a fine
fresh odor! And then, how the sun, peeping through the trees, makes
all the drops of water sparkle which hang from the leaves after the
shower. Have you remarked this also?"
"Yes, but I didn't remember it till you told it me. How droll it is!
you tell it so well, La Goualeuse, that one seems to see everything as
you speak; and--I do not know how to explain this to you; but what you
have said--smells good--is refreshing--like the summer rain of which
Thus, like the beautiful and the good, poetry is often contagious. La
Louve's brutal and savage nature had to submit in everything to the
influence of Fleur-de-Marie. She added, smiling, "We must not believe
that we are alone in loving the summer rain. How happy the birds are!
how they shake their wings in warbling joyously--not more joyously,
however, than your children, free, gay, and lively as they are: see
how, at the close of day, the youngest runs through the woods to meet
his brother, who brings the heifers from the pasture; they soon heard
the tinkling of their bells."
"Why, La Goualeuse, it seems to me that I can see the smallest, yet
the boldest, who has been placed by his brother, who sustains him,
astride the back of one of the cows."
"And one would say that the poor beast knew what burden she was
bearing, she walks with so much precaution.
"But now it is supper time: your eldest, while the cattle were
grazing, has amused himself in filling a basket for you with wild
strawberries, which he has brought covered with violets."
"Strawberries and violets--oh! that must be a balm. But where the
mischief do you get such ideas, La Goualeuse?"
"In the woods, where the strawberries ripen, where the violets bloom;
it is only to look and collect, Madame Martial. But let us speak of
the housekeeping: it is night, you must milk your cows, prepare the
supper under the arbor, for you hear your husband's dogs bark, and
soon the voice of their master, who, tired as he is, comes home
singing. And why should he not sing, when, on a fine summer evening,
with a contented mind, he regains his house, where a good wife and
fine children await him?"
"True, one could not do otherwise than sing," said La Louve, becoming
more and more thoughtful.
"At least, if one does not weep from joy," continued Fleur-de-Marie,
herself affected. "And such tears are as sweet as songs. And then,
when night has closed in, what happiness to remain under the arbor, to
enjoy the serenity of a fine evening; to breathe the perfume of the
forest; to hear the children prattle; to look at the stars! Then the
heart is so full that it must be relieved by prayer. How not thank Him
to whom one owes the freshness of the night, the perfume of the woods,
the sweet light of the starry heavens? After these thanks or this
prayer, you go to sleep peacefully until the morning, and then again
you thank the Creator; for this poor, industrious, but calm and honest
life, is that of every day."
"Of every day!" repeated La Louve, her head on her bosom, her eyes
fixed, her breathing oppressed; "for it is true, God is good to give
us the power to live happy on so little."
"Well, now, say," continued Fleur-de-Marie, gently, "say, ought he not
be blessed and thanked next to Heaven, who would give you this
peaceful and industrious life, instead of the miserable one you lead
in the mud in the streets of Paris?"
The word "Paris" called La Louve to the reality.
A strange phenomenon had just been occurring in the mind, the soul of
this creature. A natural picture of an humble working life, a simple
recital, now lighted up by the soft glimmerings of a domestic
fireside, gilded by some joyous rays of the sun, refreshed by the
gentle winds of the forest, or perfumed by the odor of wild flowers,
had made on La Louve an impression more profound, more striking, than
all the exhortations of transcendent morality could have effected.
Yes, as Fleur-de-Marie spoke, La Louve had yearned to be an
indefatigable housekeeper, an honest wife, a pious and devoted mother.
To inspire, even for a moment, a violent, immoral, degraded woman,
with a love of family, the respect of duty, the desire to labor,
gratitude toward the Creator, and that by promising her merely what
God gives to all, the sun of Heaven and the shade of the forest, what
man owes to the sweat of his brow, bread and shelter--was it not a
triumph for Fleur-de-Marie? Would the moralist the most severe, the
preacher the most fulminating, have obtained more by their menacing
threats of every vengeance, human and Divine?
The angry feelings shown by La Louve when she awoke from her dream to
the reality, showed the effects or influence of the words of her
companion. The more her regrets were bitter on awakening to the sense
of her horrible position, the more the triumph of the Goualeuse was
After a moment of silent reflection, La Louve suddenly raised her
head, passed her hand over her face, and arose from her seat,
threatening and angry.
"You see that I had reason to avoid you, and not listen to you,
because it only does me harm! Why have you talked in this way to me?--
to laugh at me? to torment me? And because I was fool enough to tell
you that I would like to live in a forest with Martial! But who are
you, then? Why do you turn my head in this way? You do not know what
you have done, unlucky girl! Now in spite of myself, I shall always be
thinking of that wood, that house, those children, all that happiness,
which I never shall have--never, never! And if I cannot forget what
you have told me, my life will be a torment, a hell; and all by your
fault--yes, by your fault!"
"So much the better!--oh! so much the better!" said Fleur-de-Marie.
"You dare to say so?" cried La Louve, with threatening eyes.
"Yes, so much the better; for if your miserable mode of living from
henceforth proves a hell, you will prefer that of which I have
"And what good for me to prefer it, since I cannot enjoy it? why
regret being a girl of the streets, since I must die one?" cried La
Louve, more and more irritated, seizing hold of the small hand of
Fleur-de-Marie. "Answer--answer! Why have you made me wish for a life
I cannot have?"
"To wish for an honest and industrious life is to be worthy of such a
life, I have told you," answered Fleur-de-Marie, without seeking to
disengage her hand.
"Well, what then, when I shall be worthy? what does it prove? how
"To see realized that which you regard as a dream," said Fleur-de-Marie,
in a voice so serious and convincing that La Louve, again
overpowered, abandoned the hand of La Goualeuse, and remained struck
with astonishment. "Listen to me, La Louve," added Marie, in a voice
full of compassion; "do not think me so cruel as to awaken in you
these thoughts, these hopes, if I were not sure, in making you ashamed
of your present condition, to give you the means to escape from it."
"You cannot do that!"
"I--no; but some one who is good, great, almost all-powerful."
"Listen again, La Louve. Three months since, like you, I was a poor,
lost, abandoned creature. One day, he, of whom I speak with tears of
gratitude,"--Fleur-de-Marie wiped her tears--"came to me; he was not
afraid, debased and despised although I was, to speak to me words of
consolation--the first I ever heard! I told him my sufferings, misery,
and shame, without concealing anything, just as you have now related
to me your life, La Louve. After having listened to me with kindness,
he did not blame--but pitied me, he did not deride me for my
degradation, but extolled the happy and peaceful life of the country."
"Like you just now."
"Then my situation appeared the more frightful, as the possible future
which he pointed out seemed to me more enchanting."
"Like me also."
"Yes; and like you I said, 'What good, alas! to show this Paradise to
me, who am condemned to a hell upon earth?' But I was wrong to
despair; for he of whom I speak is sovereignly just, sovereignly good,
and incapable of causing a false hope to shine in the eyes of a poor
creature who asked neither pity, nor hope, nor happiness from any
"And what did he do for you?"
"He treated me like a sick child; I was, like you, plunged in air
corrupt, he sent me to respire a salubrious and vivifying atmosphere;
I lived also among hideous and criminal beings; he confided me to
beings made after his own image, who have purified my soul, elevated
my mind; for, to all those he loves and respects, he gives a spark of
his celestial intelligence. Yes, if my words move you, La Louve, if my
tears cause your tears to flow, it is his mind, his thoughts inspire
me! if I speak to you of a future more happy, which you will obtain by
repentance, it is because I can promise you this future in his name,
although he is now ignorant of the engagement I make. In short, if I
say to you, 'Hope!' it is because he always hears the voice of those
who desire to become better; for God has sent him on this earth to
further the belief in Providence."
Thus speaking, the countenance of Fleur-de-Marie became glowing and
inspired; her pale cheeks were colored for a moment with a slight
carnation; her beautiful blue eyes softly sparkled; she beamed forth a
beauty so noble, so touching, that La Louve, profoundly affected at
this conversation, looked at her companion with admiration, and cried,
"Where am I? Do I dream? I have never heard nor seen anything like
this; it is not possible! but who are you, once more? oh! I said truly
that you were not one of us! But how is it that you who speak so well,
who can do so much, who know such powerful people, are here, a
prisoner with us? is it to tempt us? You are, then, for good--what the
devil is for evil!"
Fleur-de-Marie was about to reply, when Madame Armand came and
interrupted her to conduct her to Madame d'Harvile. She said to La
Louve, who remained dumb from surprise, "I see with pleasure that the
presence of La Goualeuse in this prison has been beneficial to you and
your companions. I know that you have made a collection for poor Mont
Saint Jean; that is good and charitable, La Louve. It shall be
reckoned to you. I was sure that you were better than you appeared to
be. In recompense for your good action, I think I can promise you that
your imprisonment shall be abridged by many days." And Madame Armand
departed, followed by Fleur-de-Marie.
The inspectress entered, with Goualeuse, the room where Clemence was;
the pale cheeks of the girl were slightly flushed from her earnest
conversation with La Louve.
"My lady the marchioness, pleased with the excellent accounts I have
given of you," said Madame Armand to Fleur-de-Marie, "desires to see
you, and perhaps will deign to obtain permission for you to leave here
before the expiration of your time."
"I thank you, madame," answered Fleur-de-Marie, timidly, to Madame
Armand, who left her alone with the noble lady.
Clemence, struck with the beautiful features of her _protegee_,
and her graceful and modest bearing, could not help remembering that
the Goualeuse had, in her sleep, pronounced the name of Rudolph, and
that the inspectress believed her to be preyed upon by a deep and
concealed love. Although perfectly convinced that the Grand Duke
Rudolph could not be in question, Clemence allowed that, at least in
point of beauty, La Goualeuse was worthy of the love of a prince. At
the sight of her protectress, whose expression, as we have said, was
that of ineffable goodness, Fleur-de-Marie felt herself irresistibly
drawn toward her.
"My child," said Clemence, "in praising much the sweetness of your
disposition and the exemplary propriety of your conduct, Madame Armand
complains of your want of confidence in her."
Fleur-de-Marie held down her head without replying.
"The peasant dress in which you were clothed when you were arrested,
your silence on the subject of where you resided before you came here,
prove that you conceal something."
"I have no right to your confidence, my poor child; I wish to ask you
no improper questions; only I am assured, that if I ask your release
from prison it will be granted. Before I ask, I wish to talk with you
of your projects and resources for the future. Once free, what will
you do? If, as I doubt not, you are decided to follow in the good path
you have entered, have confidence in me--I will put you in a way to
gain your living honorably."
La Goualeuse was affected to tears at the interest Madame d'Harville
evinced for her. She said, after a moment's thought, "You deign,
madame, to show yourself so benevolent and generous, that I ought,
perhaps, to break the silence which I have hitherto preserved as to
the past. An oath compelled me."
"Yes, madame; I have sworn to conceal from justice, and from the
persons employed in this prison, in what manner I have been brought
here; yet, if you will, madame, make me a promise--"
"To keep my secret. I can, thanks to you, madame, without breaking my
oath, relieve some respectable people, who, doubtless, are very uneasy
"Count on my discretion; I will only tell what you authorize me to
"Oh, thank you, madame! I feared so much that my silence toward my
benefactors would look like ingratitude."
The sweet tears of Fleur-de-Marie, her language, so well chosen,
struck Madame d'Harville with renewed astonishment.
"I cannot conceal from you," said she, "that your bearing, your words,
all astonish me much. How, with an education such as you appear to
have had, how could you---"
"Fall so low, madame?" said the Goualeuse, bitterly.
"It is but a short time since I received it. I owe it to a generous
protector, who, like you, madame, without knowing me, without ever
having the favorable accounts which they have given you here of me,
took compassion on me."
"And who is this protector?"
"I am ignorant, madame."
"You are ignorant?"
"He has only made himself known to me by his inexhaustible goodness.
Thanks to heaven! I found myself in his way."
"Where did you meet him?"
"One night, in the city, madame," said La Goualeuse, casting down her
eyes, "a man wanted to strike me; this unknown benefactor courageously
defended me. Such was my first encounter with him."
"He was, then, a man of the common order?"
"The first time I saw him he had their dress and language, but
"The manner in which he spoke to me, the profound respect shown him by
the people to whom he confided me, all proved to me that he had
disguised himself as one of the men who frequent the city."
"But for what purpose?"
"I do not know."
"And the name of this mysterious protector, do you know it?"
"Oh, yes, madame, thank heaven!" said Goualeuse, with warmth; "for I
can bless and adore without ceasing this name. My deliverer is known
as Rudolph, madame."
Clemence blushed deeply.
"And has he no other name?" asked she, quickly, of Fleur-de-Marie.
"I do not know, madame. At the farm where he sent me, he was only
known by the name of Rudolph."
"And his age?"
"He is still young, madame."
"Oh, yes! handsome, noble--as his heart."
The grateful, feeling manner with which Fleur-de-Marie pronounced
these words, caused a disagreeable sensation to Madame d'Harville. An
invincible, an inexplicable presentiment told her that this Rudolph
was the prince.
"The observations of the inspectress were well founded," thought
Clemence. "The Goualeuse loves Rudolph; it was his name she pronounced
in her sleep. Under what strange circumstances had the prince and this
poor girl met? Why did Rudolph go disguised into the city?" She could
not resolve these questions; only she remembered that Sarah had
formerly, wickedly and falsely, related to her some pretended
eccentricities of Rudolph, and of his strange amours. Was it not,
indeed, strange that he had taken from a life of misery this creature,
of ravishing beauty and of no common mind?
Clemence had noble qualities, but she was a woman, and she loved
Rudolph profoundly, although she had determined to bury this secret in
the very depths of her heart. Without reflecting that this, no doubt,
was one of those generous actions which the prince was accustomed to
do secretly; without reflecting that, perhaps, she confounded with
love a sentiment of warm gratitude; without reflecting, finally, that
of this sentiment, even if it were more tender, Rudolph might be
ignorant, the lady, in the first feeling of bitterness and injustice,
could not prevent herself considering the Goualeuse as a rival. Her
pride revolted in feeling that she blushed; that she suffered, in
spite of herself, at a rivalry so abject. She resumed, then, in a cold
manner, which cruelly contrasted with the affectionate benevolence of
her first words, "And how is it, girl, that your protector leaves you
in prison? How did you get here?"
"Madame," said Fleur-de-Marie, timidly, struck with this change of
language: "have I displeased you in any way?"
"How could you have displeased me?" demanded Madame d'Harville, with
"It seems to me that just now you spoke to me with more kindness,
"Truly, girl, must I weigh each of my words, since I consent to
interest myself in you? I have the right, I think, to address you
Hardly were these words pronounced than Clemence, for many reasons,
regretted their severity. In the first place, by a praiseworthy return
of generosity; then because she thought, by offending her rival, she
could learn nothing more of what she wished to know.
In effect, the countenance of La Goualeuse, one moment open and
confiding, became instantly reserved.
Like the sensitive plant, which at the first touch closes its delicate
leaves, and folds them within its bosom, the heart of Fleur-de-Marie
Clemence resumed gently, not to awaken the suspicions of her
_protegee_ by too sudden a change. "In truth, I repeat to you, I
cannot comprehend that, having so much to praise in your benefactor,
you should be a prisoner here; how, after having sincerely returned to
the paths of rectitude, could you cause yourself to be arrested in a
place to you interdicted? All this seems to me extraordinary. You
speak of an oath which so far has imposed silence upon you; but this
oath even is so strange!"
"I have told the truth, madame."
"I am sure of it; one has only to see and hear you to believe you
incapable of a falsehood. But, what is incomprehensible in your
situation, augments, irritates my impatient curiosity; it is only to
that that you must attribute the sharpness of my words just now. Come,
I avow I was wrong; for, although I had no other right to your
confidence than my earnest wish to be useful to you, you have offered
to tell me that which you have told to no one, and I am very sensible,
believe me, my poor child, of this proof of your faith in the interest
I have for you. Hence, I promise you, in guarding scrupulously your
secret, if you confide it to me, I will do all in my power to meet
Thanks to this palliating speech, Madame d'Harville regained the
confidence of La Goualeuse, for a moment impaired. Fleur-de-Marie, in
her innocence, reproached herself for having misinterpreted the words
which had wounded her.
"Pardon me, madame," said she; "I was doubtless wrong not to tell you
at once what you wished to know; but you asked me the name of my
rescuer; in spite of myself, I cannot resist the pleasure of speaking
"Nothing is better; it proves how grateful you are toward him. But why
have you left the good people with whom he had placed you? Does your
oath have reference to this?"
"Yes, madame; but thanks to you, I believe now, still keeping my word,
I shall be able to satisfy my benefactors as to my disappearance."
"Come, my poor child, I listen." "It is about three months since M.
Rudolph placed me at a farm situated four or five leagues hence." "He
conducted you there himself?" "Yes, madame; he confided me to the
care of a lady as good as she was venerable, whom I soon loved as a
mother. She and the cure of the village, at the request of M. Rudolph,
took charge of my education." "And M. Rudolph often came to the
farm?" "No, madame; he came there only three times while I was
there." Clemence could not conceal a thrill of joy. "And when he
came to see you, it made you very happy, did it not?" "Oh, yes,
madame! it was for me more than happiness: It was a sentiment mixed
with gratitude, respect, admiration, and even a little fear." "Fear!"
"From him to me--from him to others--the distance is so great!" "But
what is his rank?" "I am ignorant if he has any rank, madame." "Yet
you speak of the distance which exists between him and others." "Oh,
madame! that which places him above the rest of the world is the
elevation of his character--his inexhaustible generosity for those who
suffer; it is the enthusiasm with which he inspires everybody. The
wicked even cannot hear his name without trembling; they respect him
as much as they fear him. But pardon me, madame, for having again
spoken of him--I ought to be silent; for I should give you but an
imperfect idea of him whom I ought to content myself with adoring to
myself. As well attempt to express by words the grandeur of Heaven!
This comparison is perhaps sacrilegious, madame. But will it offend to
compare to Goodness itself the man who has given me a consciousness of
good and evil--who has dragged me from the abyss--to whom I owe a new
existence?" "I do not blame you, my child; I comprehend your
feelings. But how have you abandoned this farm, where you were so
"Alas, it was not voluntary, madame!"
"Who forced you, then?"
"One night, a short time since," said Fleur-de-Marie, trembling at the
recital, "I went to the parsonage of the village, when a wicked woman,
who had treated me cruelly in my childhood, and a man, her accomplice,
who was concealed with her in a ravine, threw themselves upon me,
wrapped me up, and carried me off in a carriage."
"For what purpose?"
"I do not know, madame. My waylayers were acting, I think, under the
orders of some powerful persons."
"What then ensued?"
"Hardly had the vehicle moved, than the bad woman, whose name was La
Chouette (Screech-Owl), cried, 'I have got some vitriol; I am going to
wash the face of La Goualeuse, to disfigure her.'"
"How horrid! Unfortunate child! What saved you from that danger?"
"The accomplice of this woman, a blind man, called the Schoolmaster."
"He defended you?"
"Yes, madame, on this occasion and on another. This time a struggle
ensued between him and La Chouette. Availing himself of his strength,
he forced her to throw out of the window the bottle which contained
the vitriol. This was the first service he rendered me, after having
assisted in carrying me off. The night was very dark. At the end of an
hour and a half the carriage stopped, I believe on the high road which
crosses the plain of Saint Denis; a man on horseback waited for us
here. 'Well,' said he, 'have you got her at last?' 'Yes, we have her,'
answered La Chouette, who was furious at having been prevented from
disfiguring me. 'If you wish to get rid of this little thing there is
a good way; I will stretch her on the road--drive the wheels of the
carriage over her head--it will look as if she was run over by
"Oh, this is frightful!"
"Alas, madame! La Chouette was well capable of doing what she said.
Happily, the man on horseback said that he did not wish to harm me;
that it was only necessary to keep me shut up for two months in some
place where I could neither get out nor write to any one. Then La
Chouette proposed to take me to a man called Bras-Rouge, who kept a
tavern in the Champs Elysees. In this tavern there were several
subterranean chambers; one of them, La Chouette said, could answer for
my prison. The man on horseback accepted this proposition. Then he
promised me that, after remaining two months with Bras-Rouge, I should
be so provided for that I would not regret the farm at Bouqueval."
"What a strange mystery!"
"This man gave some money to La Chouette, promising her some more when
I should be taken from Bras-Rouge, and set out on a gallop. We
continued our route toward Paris. A short time before we arrived at
the gates, the Schoolmaster said to La Chouette, 'You wish to shut up
La Goualeuse in one of Bras-Rouge's cellars; you know very well that,
being near the river, these cellars in winter are always inundated. Do
you wish to drown her?' 'Yes,' answered La Chouette."
"But what had you done to this horrible woman?"
"Nothing, madame: and yet, since my infancy, she has always shown this
feeling toward me. The Schoolmaster answered, 'I will not have the
Goualeuse drowned; she shall not go to Bras-Rouge.' La Chouette was as
much surprised as I was, madame, to hear this man defend me thus. She
became furious, and swore that she would take me to Bras-Rouge in
spite of him. 'I defy you,' said he,' for I have La Goualeuse by the
arm; I will not let her go, and I'll strangle you if you come near
her.' But what do you mean to do with her?' cried La Chouette, 'since
she must be put out of the way for two months.' 'There is a way,' said
the Schoolmaster; 'we are going to the Champs Elysees; we will stop
the carriage near the guard-house; you will go and look for Bras-Rouge
at his tavern. It is midnight; you will find him there; bring him with
you; he will take La Goualeuse to the post, and declare she is a gay
girl, whom he found near his tavern. As they are condemned to three
months' imprisonment when they are caught on the Champs Elysees, and
Goualeuse is still on the police lists, she will be arrested, and sent
to Saint Lazare, where she will be as well guarded and concealed as in
the cellar of Bras-Rouge.' 'But,' replied La Chouette, 'the Goualeuse
will not suffer herself to be arrested; once at the guard-house, she
will tell all, she will denounce us. Supposing, even, that she is
imprisoned, she will write to her protectors; all will be discovered.'
'No, she will go to prison willingly,' answered the School-master; 'she
must swear that she will not denounce us to any one as long as she
remains at Saint Lazare, nor afterward either. She owes as much to me,
for I have prevented her being disfigured by you, and drowned at
Bras-Rouge's; but if after having sworn not to speak, she should do
it, we will set the farm at Bouqueval a-fire.' Then, addressing me, he
said, 'Decide! swear the oath I ask, you shall go to prison for two
months; otherwise I abandon you to La Chouette, who will take you to
the cellar, where you'll be drowned. Come, decide. I know If you swear
you will keep your oath.'"
"And you have sworn?"
"Alas! yes, madame; I feared so much to be disfigured by La Chouette,
or to be drowned in a cellar; that appeared to me so frightful. Any
other kind of death would nave appeared less fearful. I should not,
perhaps, have endeavored to escape."
"What a gloomy idea at your age!" said Madame d'Harville, looking at
La Goualeuse with surprise. "Once away from this place, returned to
your benefactors, will you not be very happy? Has not your repentance
effaced the past?"
"Can the past be effaced? Can the past be forgotten? Can repentance
destroy the memory, madame?" cried Fleur-de-Marie, in a tone so
despairing that Clemence shuddered.
"But all faults can be redeemed, unhappy child!"
"But the recollection of the stain--madame, does it not become more
and more terrible in measure as the mind is purified, as the soul
becomes elevated? Alas! the more you mount the deeper appears the
abyss from which you have emerged."
"Then you renounce all hope of re-establishment and pardon?"
"On the part of others--no, madame; your goodness proves that
indulgence is never wanting to the penitent."
"You will, then, be the only one without pity toward yourself?"
"Others may be ignorant, may pardon and forget what I have been. I,
madame, never can forget."'
"And sometimes you wish to die?"
"Sometimes!" said La Goualeuse, smiling bitterly, "yes, madame,
"Yet you feared to be disfigured by that horrible woman? you cling to
your beauty, then, poor child? That announces that life has some
charms for you. Courage, then--courage!"
"It is, perhaps, a weakness to think so; but if I were handsome, as