Part 26 out of 31
the door Mother Arsene's subterraneous shop, forms a striking contrast
with the darkness of this cavern. The ray streams full upon a melancholy
object. In the midst of fagots and faded vegetables, and close to a
great heap of charcoal, stands a wretched bed; beneath the sheet, which
covers it, can be traced the stiff and angular proportions of a corpse.
It is the body of Mother Arsene herself, who died two days before, of the
cholera. The burials have been so numerous, that there has been no time
to remove her remains. The Rue Clovis is almost deserted. A mournful
silence reigns without, often broken by the sharp whistling of the north
wind. Between the squalls, one hears a sort of pattering. It is the
noise of the large rats, running to and fro across the heap of charcoal.
Suddenly, another sound is heard, and these unclean animals fly to hide
themselves in their holes. Some one is trying to force open the door,
which communicates between the shop and the passage. It offers but
little resistance, and, in a few seconds, the worn-out lock gives way,
and a woman enters. For a short time she stands motionless in the
obscurity of the damp and icy cave. After a minute's hesitation, the
woman advances and the ray of light illumines the features of the
Bacchanal Queen. Slowly, she approached the funeral couch. Since the
death of Jacques, the alteration in the countenance of Cephyse had gone
on increasing. Fearfully pale, with her fine black hair in disorder, her
legs and feet naked, she was barely covered with an old patched petticoat
and a very ragged handkerchief.
When she came near the bed, she cast a glance of almost savage assurance
at the shroud. Suddenly she drew back, with a low cry of involuntary
terror. The sheet moved with a rapid undulation, extending from the feet
to the head of the corpse. But soon the sight of a rat, flying along the
side of the worm-eaten bedstead, explained the movement of the shroud.
Recovering from her fright, Cephyse began to look for several things, and
collected them in haste, as though she dreaded being surprised in the
miserable shop. First, she seized a basket, and filled it with charcoal;
then, looking from side to side, she discovered in a corner an earthen
pot, which she took with a burst of ominous joy.
"It is not all, it is not all," said Cephyse, as she continued to search
with an unquiet air.
At last she perceived near the stove a little tin box, containing flint,
steel and matches. She placed these articles on the top of the basket,
and took it in one hand, and the earthen pot in the other. As she passed
near the corpse of the poor charcoal-dealer, Cephyse said, with a strange
smile: "I rob you, poor Mother Arsene, but my theft will not do me much
Cephyse left the shop, reclosed the door as well as she could, went up
the passage, and crossed the little court-yard which separated the front
of the building from that part in which Rodin had lodged. With the
exception of the windows of Philemon's apartment, where Rose-Pompon had
so often sat perched like a bird, warbling Beranger, the other windows of
the house were open. There had been deaths on the first and second
floors, and, like many others, they were waiting for the cart piled up
The Bacchanal Queen gained the stairs, which led to the chambers formerly
occupied by Rodin. Arrived at the landing-place she ascended another
ruinous staircase, steep as a ladder, and with nothing but an old rope
for a rail. She at length reached the half-rotten door of a garret,
situated in the roof. The house was in such a state of dilapidation,
that, in many places the roof gave admission to the rain, and allowed it
to penetrate into this cell, which was not above ten feet square, and
lighted by an attic window. All the furniture consisted of an old straw
mattress, laid upon the ground, with the straw peeping out from a rent in
its ticking; a small earthenware pitcher, with the spout broken, and
containing a little water, stood by the side of this couch. Dressed in
rags, Mother Bunch was seated on the side of the mattress, with her
elbows on her knees, and her face concealed in her thin, white hands.
When Cephyse entered the room, the adopted sister of Agricola raised her
head; her pale, mild face seemed thinner than ever, hollow with
suffering, grief, misery; her eyes, red with weeping, were fixed on her
sister with an expression of mournful tenderness.
"I have what we want, sister," said Cephyse, in a low, deep voice; "in
this basket there is wherewith to finish our misery."
Then, showing to Mother Bunch the articles she had just placed on the
floor, she added: "For the first time in my life, I have been a thief.
It made me ashamed and frightened; I was never intended for that or
worse. It is a pity." added she, with a sardonic smile.
After a moment's silence, the hunchback said to her sister, in a heart-
rending tone: "Cephyse--my dear Cephyse--are you quite determined to
"How should I hesitate?" answered Cephyse, in a firm voice. "Come,
sister, let us once more make our reckoning. If even I could forget my
shame, and Jacques' contempt in his last moments, what would remain to
me? Two courses only: first, to be honest, and work for my living. But
you know that, in spite of the best will in the world, work will often
fail, as it has failed for the last few days, and, even when I got it, I
would have to live on four to five francs a week. Live? that is to say,
die by inches. I know that already, and I prefer dying at once. The
other course would be to live a life of infamy--and that I will not do.
Frankly, sister, between frightful misery, infamy, or death, can the
choice be doubtful? Answer me!"
Then, without giving Mother Bunch time to speak, Cephyse added, in an
abrupt tone: "Besides, what is the good of discussing it? I have made up
my mind, and nothing shall prevent my purpose, since all that you, dear
sister, could obtain from me, was a delay of a few days, to see if the
cholera would not save us the trouble. To please you I consented; the
cholera has come, killed every one else in the house, but left us. You
see, it is better to do one's own business," added she, again smiling
bitterly. Then she resumed: "Besides, dear sister, you also wish to
finish with life."
"It is true, Cephyse," answered the sempstress, who seemed very much
depressed; "but alone--one has only to answer for one's self--and to die
with you," added she, shuddering, "appears like being an accomplice in
"Do you wish, then, to make an end of it, I in one place, you in
another?--that would be agreeable!" said Cephyse, displaying in that
terrible moment the sort of bitter and despairing irony which is more
frequent than may be imagined in the midst of mortal anguish.
"Oh, no, no!" said the other in alarm, "not alone--I will not die alone!"
"Do you not see, dear sister, we are right not to part? And yet," added
Cephyse, in a voice of emotion, "my heart almost breaks sometimes, to
think that you will die like me."
"How selfish!" said the hunchback, with a faint smile. "What reasons
nave I to love life? What void shall I leave behind me?"
"But you are a martyr, sister," resumed Cephyse. "The priests talk of
saints! Is there one of them so good as you? And yet you are about to
die like me, who have always been idle, careless, sinful--while you were
so hardworking, so devoted to all who suffered. What should I say? You
were an angel on the earth; and yet you will die like me, who have fallen
as low as a woman can fall," added the unfortunate, casting down her
"It is strange," answered Mother Bunch, thoughtfully. "Starting from the
same point, we have followed different roads, and yet we have reached the
same goal--disgust of life. For you, my poor sister, but a few days ago,
life was so fair, so full of pleasure and of youth; and now it is equally
heavy with us both. After all, I have followed to the end what was my
duty," added she, mildly. "Agricola no longer needs me. He is married;
he loves, and is beloved; his happiness is secured. Mdlle. de Cardoville
wants for nothing. Fair, rich, prosperous--what could a poor creature
like myself do for her? Those who have been kind to me are happy. What
prevents my going now to my rest? I am so weary!"
"Poor sister!" said Cephyse, with touching emotion, which seemed to
expand her contracted features; "when I think that, without informing me,
and in spite of your resolution never to see that generous young lady,
who protected you, you yet had the courage to drag yourself to her house,
dying with fatigue and want, to try to interest her in my fate--yes,
dying, for your strength failed on the Champs-Elysees."
"And when I was able to reach the mansion, Mdlle. de Cardoville was
unfortunately absent--very unfortunately!" repeated the hunchback, as she
looked at Cephyse with anguish; "for the next day, seeing that our last
resource had failed us, thinking more of me than of yourself, and
determined at any price to procure us bread--"
She could not finish. She buried her face in her hands, and shuddered.
"Well, I did as so many other hapless women have done when work fails or
wages do not suffice, and hunger becomes too pressing," replied Cephyse,
in a broken voice; "only that, unlike so many others, instead of living
on my shame, I shall die of it."
"Alas! this terrible shame which kills you, my poor Cephyse, because you
have a heart, would have been averted, had I seen Mdlle. de Cardoville,
or had she but answered the letter which I asked leave to write to her at
the porter's lodge. But her silence proves to me that she is justly hurt
at my abrupt departure from her house. I can understand it; she believes
me guilty of the blackest ingratitude--for she must have been greatly
offended not to have deigned to answer me--and therefore I had not the
courage to write a second time. It would have been useless, I am sure;
for, good and just as she is, her refusals are inexorable when she
believes them deserved. And besides, for what good? It was too late;
you had resolved to die!"
"Oh, yes, quite resolved: for my infamy was gnawing at my heart. Jacques
had died in my arms despising me; and I loved him--mark me, sister,"
added Cephyse, with passionate enthusiasm, "I loved him as we love only
once in life!"
"Let our fate be accomplished, then!" said Mother Bunch with a pensive
"But you have never told me, sister, the cause of your departure from
Mdlle. de Cardoville's," resumed Cephyse, after a moment's silence.
"It will be the only secret that I shall take with me, dear Cephyse,"
said the other, casting down her eyes. And she thought, with bitter joy,
that she would soon be delivered from the fear which had poisoned the
last days of her sad life--the fear of meeting Agricola, informed of the
fatal and ridiculous love she felt for him.
For, it must be said, this fatal and despairing love was one of the
causes of the suicide of the unfortunate creature. Since the
disappearance of her journal, she believed that the blacksmith knew the
melancholy secret contained in its sad pages. She doubted not the
generosity and good heart of Agricola; but she had such doubts of
herself, she was so ashamed of this passion, however pure and noble,
that, even in the extremity to which Cephyse and herself were reduced--
wanting work, wanting bread--no power on earth could have induced her to
meet Agricola, in an attempt to ask him for assistance. Doubtless, she
would have taken another view of the subject if her mind had not been
obscured by that sort of dizziness to which the firmest characters are
exposed when their misfortunes surpass all bounds. Misery, hunger, the
influence, almost contagious in such a moment, of the suicidal ideas of
Cephyse, and weariness of a life so long devoted to pain and
mortification, gave the last blow to the sewing-girl's reason. After
long struggling against the fatal design of her sister, the poor,
dejected, broken-hearted creature finished by determining to share
Cephyse's fate, and seek in death the end of so many evils.
"Of what are you thinking, sister?" said Cephyse, astonished at the long
silence. The other replied, trembling: "I think of that which made me
leave Mdlle. de Cardoville so abruptly, and appear so ungrateful in her
eyes. May the fatality which drove me from her house have made no other
victims! may my devoted service, however obscure and powerless, never be
missed by her, who extended her noble hand to the poor sempstress, and
deigned to call me sister! May she be happy--oh, ever happy!" said
Mother Bunch, clasping her hands with the ardor of a sincere invocation.
"That is noble, sister--such a wish in such a moment!" said Cephyse.
"Oh," said her sister, with energy, "I loved, I admired that marvel of
genius, and heart, and ideal beauty--I viewed her with pious respect--for
never was the power of the Divinity revealed in a more adorable and purer
creation. At least one of my last thoughts will have been of her."
"Yes, you will have loved and respected your generous patroness to the
"To the last!" said the poor girl, after a moment's silence. "It is
true--you are right--it will soon be the last!--in a few moments, all
will be finished. See how calmly we can talk of that which frightens so
"Sister, we are calm because we are resolved."
"Quite resolved, Cephyse," said the hunchback, casting once more a deep
and penetrating glance upon her sister.
"Oh, yes, if you are only as determined as I am."
"Be satisfied; if I put off from day to day the final moment," answered
the sempstress, "it was because I wished to give you time to reflect. As
She did not finish, but she shook her head with an air of the utmost
"Well, sister, let us kiss each other," said Cephyse; "and, courage!"
The hunchback rose, and threw herself into her sister's arms. They held
one another fast in a long embrace. There followed a few seconds of deep
and solemn silence, only interrupted by the sobs of the sisters, for now
they had begun to weep.
"Oh, heaven! to love each other so, and to part forever!" said Cephyse.
"It is a cruel fate."
"To part?" cried Mother Bunch, and her pale, mild countenance, bathed in
tears, was suddenly illumined with a ray of divine hope; "to part,
sister? oh, no! What makes me so calm is the deep and certain
expectation, which I feel here at my heart, of that better world where a
better life awaits us. God, so great, so merciful, so prodigal of good,
cannot destine His creatures to be forever miserable. Selfish men may
pervert His benevolent designs, and reduce their brethren to a state of
suffering and despair. Let us pity the wicked and leave them! Come up on
high, sister; men are nothing there, where God is all. We shall do well
there. Let us depart, for it is late."
So saying, she pointed to the ruddy beams of the setting sun, which began
to shine upon the window.
Carried away by the religious enthusiasm of her sister, whose
countenance, transfigured, as it were, by the hope of an approaching
deliverance, gleamed brightly in the reflected sunset, Cephyse took her
hands, and, looking at her with deep emotion, exclaimed, "Oh, sister! how
beautiful you look now!"
"Then my beauty comes rather late in the day," said Mother Bunch, with a
"No, sister; for you appear so happy, that the last scruples I had upon
your account are quite gone."
"Then let us make haste," said the hunchback, as she pointed to the
"Be satisfied, sister--it will not be long," said Cephyse. And she took
the chafing-dish full of charcoal, which she had placed in a corner of
the garret, and brought it out into the middle of the room.
"Do you know how to manage it?" asked the sewing-girl approaching.
"Oh! it is very simple," answered Cephyse; "we have only to close the
door and window, and light the charcoal."
"Yes, sister; but I think I have heard that every opening must be well
stopped, so as to admit no current of air."
"You are right, and the door shuts so badly."
"And look at the holes in the roof."
"What is to be done, sister?"
"I will tell you," said Mother Bunch. "The straw of our mattress, well
twisted, will answer every purpose."
"Certainly," replied Cephyse. "We will keep a little to light our fire,
and with the rest we will stop up all the crevices in the roof, and make
filling for our doors and windows."
Then, smiling with that bitter irony, so frequent, we repeat, in the most
gloomy moments, Cephyse added, "I say, sister, weather-boards at our
doors and windows, to prevent the air from getting in--what a luxury! we
are as delicate as rich people."
"At such a time, we may as well try to make ourselves a little
comfortable," said Mother Bunch, trying to jest like the Bacchanal Queen.
And with incredible coolness, the two began to twist the straw into
lengths of braid, small enough to be stuffed into the cracks of the door,
and also constructed large plugs, destined to stop up the crevices in the
roof. While this mournful occupation lasted, there was no departure from
the calm and sad resignation of the two unfortunate creatures.
Cephyse and her sister continued with calmness the preparations for their
Alas! how many poor young girls, like these sisters, have been, and still
will be, fatally driven to seek in suicide a refuge from despair, from
infamy, or from a too miserable existence! And upon society will rest
the terrible responsibility of these sad deaths, so long as thousands of
human creatures, unable to live upon the mockery of wages granted to
their labor, have to choose between these three gulfs of shame and woe; a
life of enervating toil and mortal privations, causes of premature death;
prostitution, which kills also, but slowly--by contempt, brutality, and
uncleanness; suicide--which kills at once.
In a few minutes, the two sisters had constructed, with the straw of
their couch, the calkings necessary to intercept the air, and to render
suffocation more expeditious and certain.
The hunchback said to her sister, "You are the taller, Cephyse, and must
look to the ceiling; I will take care of the window and door."
"Be satisfied, sister; I shall have finished before you," answered
And the two began carefully to stop up every crevice through which a
current of air could penetrate into the ruined garret. Thanks to her
tall stature, Cephyse was able to reach the holes in the roof, and to
close them up entirely. When they had finished this sad work, the
sisters again approached, and looked at each other in silence.
The fatal moment drew near; their faces, though still calm, seemed
slightly agitated by that strange excitement which always accompanies a
"Now," said Mother Bunch, "now for the fire!"
She knelt down before the little chafing-dish, filled with charcoal. But
Cephyse took hold of her under the arm, and obliged her to rise again,
saying to her, "Let me light the fire--that is my business."
"You know, poor sister, that the smell of charcoal gives you the
At the simplicity of this speech, for the Bacchanal Queen had spoken
seriously, the sisters could not forbear smiling sadly.
"Never mind," resumed Cephyse; "why suffer more and sooner than is
Then, pointing to the mattress, which still contained a little straw,
Cephyse added, "Lie down there, good little sister; when our fire is
alight, I will come and sit down by you."
"Do not be long, Cephyse."
"In five minutes it will be done."
The tall building, which faced the street, was separated by a narrow
court from that which contained the retreat of the two sisters, and was
so much higher, that when the sun had once disappeared behind its lofty
roof, the garret soon became dark. The light, passing through the dirty
panes of the small window, fell faintly on the blue and white patchwork
of the old mattress, on which Mother Bunch was now stretched, covered
with rags. Leaning on her left arm, with her chin resting in the palm of
her hand, she looked after her sister with an expression of heart-rending
grief. Cephyse, kneeling over the chafing-dish, with her face close to
the black charcoal, above which already played a little bluish flame,
exerted herself to blow the newly-kindled fire, which was reflected on
the pale countenance of the unhappy girl.
The silence was deep. No sound was heard but the panting breath of
Cephyse, and, at intervals, the slight crackling of the charcoal, which
began to burn, and already sent forth a faint sickening vapor. Cephyse,
seeing the fire completely lighted, and feeling already a little dizzy,
rose from the ground, and said to her sister, as she approached her, "It
"Sister," answered Mother Bunch, kneeling on the mattress, whilst Cephyse
remained standing, "how shall we place ourselves? I should like to be
near you to the last."
Stop!" said Cephyse, half executing the measures of which she spoke, "I
will sit on the mattress with my back against the wall. Now, little
sister, you lie there. Lean your head upon my knees, and give me your
hand. Are you comfortable so?"
"Yes--but I cannot see you."
"That is better. It seems there is a moment--very short, it is true--in
which one suffers a good deal. And," added Cephyse, in a voice of
emotion, "it will be as well not to see each other suffer."
"You are right, Cephyse."
"Let me kiss that beautiful hair for the last time," said Cephyse, as she
pressed her lips to the silky locks which crowned the hunchback's pale
and melancholy countenance, "and then--we will remain very quiet."
"Sister, your hand," said the sewing-girl; "for the last time, your hand
--and then, as you say, we will move no more. We shall not have to wait
long, I think, for I begin to feel dizzy. And you, sister?"
"Not yet," replied Cephyse; "I only perceive the smell of the charcoal."
"Do you know where they will bury us?" said Mother Bunch, after a
"No. Why do you ask?"
"Because I should like it to be in Pere-la-Chaise. I went there once
with Agricola and his mother. What a fine view there is!--and then the
trees, the flowers, the marble--do you know the dead are better lodged--
than the living--and--"
What is the matter, sister?" said Cephyse to her companion, who had
stopped short, after speaking in a slow voice.
"I am giddy--my temples throb," was the answer. "How do you feel?"
"I only begin to be a little faint; it is strange--the effect is slower
with me than you."
"Oh! you see," said Mother Bunch, trying to smile, "I was always so
forward. At school, do you remember, they said I was before the others.
And, now it happens again."
"I hope soon to overtake you this time," said Cephyse.
What astonished the sisters was quite natural. Though weakened by sorrow
and misery, the Bacchanal Queen, with a constitution as robust as the
other was frail and delicate, was necessarily longer than her sister in
feeling the effects of the deleterious vapor. After a moment's silence,
Cephyse resumed, as she laid her hand on the head she still held upon her
knees, "You say nothing, sister! You suffer, is it not so?"
"No," said Mother Bunch, in a weak voice; "my eyelids are heavy as lead--
I am getting benumbed--I feel that I speak more slowly--but I have no
acute pain. And you, sister?"
"Whilst you were speaking, I felt giddy--and now my temples throb
"As it was with me just now. One would think it was more painful and
difficult to die."
Then after a moment's silence, the hunchback said suddenly to her sister,
"Do you think that Agricola will much regret me, and think of me for some
"How can you ask?" said Cephyse, in a tone of reproach.
"You are right," answered Mother Bunch, mildly; "there is a bad feeling
in such a doubt--but if you knew--"
The other hesitated for an instant, and then said, dejectedly, "Nothing."
Afterwards, she added, "Fortunately, I die convinced that he will never
miss me. He married a charming girl, who loves him, I am sure, and will
make him perfectly happy."
As she pronounced these last words, the speaker's voice grew fainter and
fainter. Suddenly she started and said to Cephyse, in a trembling,
almost frightened tone, "Sister! Hold me in your arms--I am afraid--
everything looks dark--everything is turning round." And the unfortunate
girl, raising herself a little, hid her face in her sister's bosom, and
threw his weak arms around her.
"Courage, sister!" said Cephyse, in a voice which was also growing faint,
as she pressed her closer to her bosom; "it will soon be over."
And Cephyse added, with a kind of envy, "Oh! why does my sister's
strength fail so much sooner than mine? I have still my perfect senses
and I suffer less than she does. Oh! if I thought she would die first!--
But, no--I will go and hold my face over the chafing-dish rather."
At the movement Cephyse made to rise, a feeble pressure from her sister
held her back. "You suffer, my poor child!" said Cephyse, trembling.
"Oh yes! a good deal now--do not leave me!"
"And I scarcely at all," said Cephyse, gazing wildly at the chafing-dish.
"Ah!" added she, with a kind of fatal! joy; "now I begin to feel it--I
choke--my head is ready to split."
And indeed the destructive gas now filled the little chamber, from which
it had, by degrees, driven all the air fit for respiration. The day was
closing in, and the gloomy garret was only lighted by the reflection of
the burning charcoal, which threw a red glare on the sisters, locked in
each other's arms. Suddenly Mother Bunch made some slight convulsive
movements, and pronounced these words in a failing voice: "Agricola--
Mademoiselle de Cardoville--Oh! farewell!--Agricola--I--"
Then she murmured some unintelligible words; the convulsive moments
ceased, and her arms, which had been clasped round Cephyse, fell inert
upon the mattress.
"Sister!" cried Cephyse, in alarm, as she raised Mother Bunch's head, to
look at her face. "Not already, sister!--And I?--and I?"
The sewing-girl's mild countenance was not paler than usual. Only her
eyes, half-closed, seemed no longer to see anything, and a half-smile of
mingled grief and goodness lingered an instant about her violet lips,
from which stole the almost imperceptible breath--and then the mouth
became motionless, and the face assumed a great serenity of expression.
"But you must not die before me!" cried Cephyse, in a heart-rending tone,
as she covered with kisses the cold cheek. "Wait for me, sister! wait
Mother Bunch did not answer. The head, which Cephyse let slip from her
hands, fell back gently on the mattress.
"My God. It is not my fault, if we do not die together!" cried Cephyse
in despair, as she knelt beside the couch, on which the other lay
"Dead!" she murmured in terror. "Dead before me!--Perhaps it is that I
am the strongest. Ah! it begins--fortunately--like her, I see everything
dark-blue--I suffer--what happiness!--I can scarcely breathe. Sister!"
she added, as she threw her arms round her loved one's neck; "I am
coming--I am here!"
At the same instant the sound of footsteps and voices was heard from the
staircase. Cephyse had still presence of mind enough to distinguish the
sound. Stretched beside the body of her sister, she raised her head
The noise approached, and a voice was heard exclaiming, not far from the
doer: "Good heavens! what a smell of fire!"
And, at the same instant, the door was violently shaken, and another
voice exclaimed: "Open! open!"
"They will come in--they will save me--and my sister is dead--Oh, no! I
will not have the baseness to survive her!"
Such was the last thought of Cephyse. Using what little strength she had
left, she ran to the window and opened it--and, at the same instant that
the half-broken door yielded to a vigorous effort from without, the
unfortunate creature precipitated herself from that third story into the
court below. Just then, Adrienne and Agricola appeared on the threshold
of the chamber. In spite of the stifling odor of the charcoal, Mdlle. de
Cardoville rushed into the garret, and, seeing the stove, she exclaimed,
"The unhappy girl has killed herself!"
"No, she has thrown herself from the window," cried Agricola: for, at the
moment of breaking open the door, he had seen a human form disappear in
that direction, and he now ran to the window.
"Oh! this is frightful!" he exclaimed, with a cry of horror, as he put
his hand before his eyes, and returned pale and terrified to Mdlle. de
But, misunderstanding the cause of his terror, Adrienne, who had just
perceived Mother Bunch through the darkness, hastened to answer: "No! she
And she pointed to the pale form stretched on the mattress, beside which
Adrienne now threw herself on her knees. Grasping the hands of the poor
sempstress, she found them as cold as ice. Laying her hand on her heart,
she could not feel it beat. Yet, in a few seconds, as the fresh air
rushed into the room from the door and window, Adrienne thought she
remarked an almost imperceptible pulsation, and she exclaimed: "Her heart
beats! Run quickly for help! Luckily, I have my smelling bottle."
"Yes, yes! help for her--and for the other too, if it is yet time!" cried
the smith in despair, as he rushed down the stairs, leaving Mdlle. de
Cardoville still kneeling by the side of the mattress.
THE WANDERING JEW
By Eugene Sue
XXXIV. More Confessions
XXXV. The Rivals
XXXVI. The Interview
XXXVII. Soothing Words
XXXVIII. The Two Carriages
XXXIX. The Appointment
XLI. Adrienne and Djalma
XLII. "The Imitation"
XLV. The Blockhead
XLVI. The Anonymous Letters
XLVII. The Golden City
XLVIII. The Stung Lion
XLIX. The Test
During the painful scene that we have just described, a lively emotion
glowed in the countenance of Mdlle. de Cardoville, grown pale and thin
with sorrow. Her cheeks, once so full, were now slightly hollowed,
whilst a faint line of transparent azure encircled those large black
eyes, no longer so bright as formerly. But the charming lips, though
contracted by painful anxiety, had retained their rich and velvet
moisture. To attend more easily to Mother Bunch, Adrienne had thrown
aside her bonnet, and the silky waves of her beautiful golden hair almost
concealed her face as she bent over the mattress, rubbing the thin, ivory
hands of the poor sempstress, completely called to life by the salubrious
freshness of the air, and by the strong action of the salts which
Adrienne carried in her smelling-bottle. Luckily, Mother Bunch had
fainted, rather from emotion and weakness than from the effects of
suffocation, the senses of the unfortunate girl having failed her before
the deleterious gas had attained its highest degree of intensity.
Before continuing the recital of the scene between the sempstress and the
patrician, a few retrospective words will be necessary. Since the
strange adventure at the theatre of the Porte-Saint-Martin, where Djalma,
at peril of his life, rushed upon the black panther in sight of Mdlle.
de Cardoville, the young lady had been deeply affected in various ways.
Forgetting her jealousy, and the humiliation she had suffered in presence
of Djalma--of Djalma exhibiting himself before every one with a woman so
little worthy of him--Adrienne was for a moment dazzled by the chivalrous
and heroic action of the prince, and said to herself: "In spite of odious
appearances, Djalma loves me enough to brave death in order to pick up my
But with a soul so delicate as that of this young lady, a character so
generous, and a mind so true, reflection was certain soon to demonstrate
the vanity of such consolations, powerless to cure the cruel wounds of
offended dignity an love.
"How many times," said Adrienne to herself, and with reason, "has the
prince encountered, in hunting, from pure caprice and with no gain, such
danger as he braved in picking up my bouquet! and then, who tells me he
did not mean to offer it to the woman who accompanied him?"
Singular (it may be) in the eyes of the world, but just and great in
those of heaven, the ideas which Adrienne cherished with regard to love,
joined to her natural pride, presented an invincible obstacle to the
thought of her succeeding this woman (whoever she might be), thus
publicly displayed by the prince as his mistress. And yet Adrienne
hardly dared avow to herself, that she experienced a feeling of jealousy,
only the more painful and humiliating, the less her rival appeared worthy
to be compared to her.
At other times, on the contrary, in spite of a conscious sense of her own
value, Mdlle. de Cardoville, remembering the charming countenance of
Rose-Pompon, asked herself if the bad taste and improper manners of this
pretty creature resulted from precocious and depraved effrontery, or from
a complete ignorance of the usages of society. In the latter case, such
ignorance, arising from a simple and ingenuous nature, might in itself
have a great charm; and if to this attraction, combined with that of
incontestable beauty, were added sincere love and a pure soul, the
obscure birth, or neglected education of the girl might be of little
consequence, and she might be capable of inspiring Djalma with a profound
passion. If Adrienne hesitated to see a lost creature in Rose-Pompon,
notwithstanding unfavorable appearances, it was because, remembering what
so many travellers had related of Djalma's greatness of soul, and
recalling the conversation she had overheard between him and Rodin, she
could not bring herself to believe that a man of such remarkable
intelligence, with so tender a heart, so poetical, imaginative and
enthusiastic a mind could be capable of loving a depraved and vulgar
creature, and of openly exhibiting himself in public along with her.
There was a mystery in the transaction, which Adrienne sought in vain to
penetrate. These trying doubts, this cruel curiosity, only served to
nourish Adrienne's fatal love; and we may imagine her incurable despair,
when she found that the indifference, or even disdain of Djalma, was
unable to stifle a passion that now burned more fiercely than ever.
Sometimes, having recourse to notions of fatality, she fancied that she
was destined to feel this love; that Djalma must therefore deserve it,
and that one day whatever was incomprehensible in the conduct of the
prince would be explained to his advantage. At other times, on the
contrary, she felt ashamed of excusing Djalma, and the consciousness of
this weakness was for Adrienne a constant occasion for remorse and
torture. The victim of all these agonies, she lived in perfect solitude.
The cholera soon broke out, startling as a clap of thunder. Too unhappy
to fear the pestilence on her own account, Adrienne was only moved by the
sorrows of others. She was amongst the first to contribute to those
charitable donations, which were now flowing in from all sides in the
admirable spirit of benevolence. Florine was suddenly attacked by the
epidemic. In spite of the danger, her mistress insisted on seeing her,
and endeavored to revive her failing courage. Conquered by this new mark
of kindness, Florine could no longer conceal the treachery in which she
had borne a part. Death was about to deliver her from the odious tyranny
of the people whose yoke weighed upon her, and she was at length in a
position to reveal everything to Adrienne. The latter thus learned how
she had been continually betrayed by Florine, and also the cause of the
sewing-girl's abrupt departure. At these revelations, Adrienne felt her
affection and tender pity for the poor sempstress greatly increase. By
her command, the most active steps were taken to discover traces of the
hunchback; but Florine's confession had a still more important result.
Justly alarmed at this new evidence of Rodin's machinations, Adrienne
remembered the projects formed, when, believing herself beloved, the
instinct of affection had revealed to her the perils to which Djalma and
other members of the Rennepont family were exposed. To assemble the race
around her, and bid them rally against the common enemy, such was
Adrienne's first thought, when she heard the confession of Florine. She
regarded it as a duty to accomplish this project. In a struggle with
such dangerous and powerful adversaries as Rodin, Father d'Aigrigny, and
the Princess de Saint-Dizier, and their allies, Adrienne saw not only the
praiseworthy and perilous task of unmasking hypocrisy and cupidity, but
also, if not a consolation, at least a generous diversion in the midst of
From this moment, a restless, feverish activity took the place of the
mournful apathy in which the young lady had languished. She called round
her all the members of her family capable of answering the appeal, and,
as had been mentioned in the secret note delivered to Father d'Aigrigny,
Cardoville House soon became the centre of the most active and unceasing
operations, and also a place of meeting, in which the modes of attack and
defence were fully discussed. Perfectly correct in all points, the
secret note of which we have spoken stated, as a mere conjecture, that
Mdlle. de Cardoville had granted an interview to Djalma. This fact was
untrue, but the cause which led to the supposition will be explained
hereafter. Far from such being the case, Mdlle. de Cardoville scarcely
found, in attending to the great family interests now at stake, a
momentary diversion from the fatal love, which was slowly undermining her
health, and with which she so bitterly reproached herself.
The morning of the day on which Adrienne, at length discovering Mother
Bunch's residence, came so miraculously to rescue her from death,
Agricola Baudoin had been to Cardoville House to confer on the subject of
Francis Hardy, and had begged Adrienne to permit him to accompany her to
the Rue Clovis, whither they repaired in haste.
Thus, once again, there was a noble spectacle, a touching symbol! Mdlle.
de Cardoville and Mother Bunch, the two extremities of the social chain,
were united on equal terms--for the sempstress and the fair patrician
were equal in intelligence and heart--and equal also, because the one was
the ideal of riches, grace, and beauty, and the other the ideal of
resignation and unmerited misfortune--and does not a halo rest on
misfortune borne with courage and dignity? Stretched on her mattress,
the hunchback appeared so weak, that even if Agricola had not been
detained on the ground floor with Cephyse, now dying a dreadful death,
Mdlle. de Cardoville would have waited some time, before inducing Mother
Bunch to rise and accompany her to her carriage. Thanks to the presence
of mind and pious fraud of Adrienne, the sewing-girl was persuaded that
Cephyse had been carried to a neighboring hospital, to receive the
necessary succors, which promised to be crowned with success. The
hunchback's faculties recovering slowly from their stupor, she at first
received this fable without the least suspicion--for she did not even
know that Agricola had accompanied Mdlle. de Cardoville.
"And it is to you, lady, that Cephyse and I owe our lives," said she,
turning her mild and melancholy face towards Adrienne, "you, kneeling in
this garret, near this couch of misery, where I and my sister meant to
die--for you assure me, lady, that Cephyse was succored in time."
"Be satisfied! I was told just now that she was recovering her senses."
"And they told her I was living, did they not, lady? Otherwise, she
would perhaps regret having survived me."
"Be quite easy, my dear girl!" said Adrienne, pressing the poor hands in
her own, and gazing on her with eyes full of tears; "they have told her
all that was proper. Do not trouble yourself about anything; only think
of recovering--and I hope you will yet enjoy that happiness of which you
have known so little, my poor child."
"How kind you are, lady! After flying from your house--and when you must
think me so ungrateful!"
"Presently, when you are not so weak, I have a great deal to tell you.
Just now, it would fatigue you too much. But how do you feel?"
"Better, lady. This fresh air--and then the thought, that, since you are
come--my poor sister will no more be reduced to despair; for I will tell
you all, and I am sure you will have pity on Cephyse--will you not, lady?"
"Rely upon me, my child, answered Adrienne, forced to dissemble her
painful embarrassment; "you know I am interested in all that interests
you. But tell me," added Mdlle. de Cardoville, in a voice of emotion,
"before taking this desperate resolution, did you not write to me?"
"Alas!" resumed Adrienne, sorrowfully; "and when you received no answer--
how cruel, how ungrateful you must have thought me!"
"Oh! never, lady, did I accuse you of such feelings; my poor sister will
tell you so. You had my gratitude to the last."
"I believe you--for I knew your heart. But how then did you explain my
"I had justly offended you by my sudden departure, lady."
"Offended!--Alas! I never received your letter."
"And yet you know that I wrote to you, lady."
"Yes, my poor girl; I know, also, that you wrote to me at my porter's
lodge. Unfortunately, he delivered your letter to one of my women, named
Florine, telling her it came from you."
"Florine! the young woman that was so kind to me!"
"Florine deceived me shamefully; she was sold to my enemies, and acted as
a spy on my actions."
"She!--Good Heavens!" cried Mother Bunch. "Is it possible?"
"She herself," answered Adrienne, bitterly; "but, after all, we must pity
as well as blame her. She was forced to obey by a terrible necessity,
and her confession and repentance secured my pardon before her death."
"Then she is dead--so young! so fair!"
"In spite of her faults, I was greatly moved by her end. She confessed
what she had done, with such heart-rending regrets. Amongst her avowals,
she told me she had intercepted a letter, in which you asked for an
interview that might save your sister's life."
"It is true, lady; such were the terms of my letter. What interest had
they to keep it from you?"
"They feared to see you return to me, my good guardian angel. You loved
me so tenderly, and my enemies dreaded your faithful affection, so
wonderfully aided by the admirable instinct of your heart. Ah! I shall
never forget how well-deserved was the horror with which you were
inspired by a wretch whom I defended against your suspicions."
"M. Rodin?" said Mother Bunch, with a shudder.
"Yes," replied Adrienne; "but we will not talk of these people now.
Their odious remembrance would spoil the joy I feel in seeing you
restored to life--for your voice is less feeble, your cheeks are
beginning to regain a little color. Thank God! I am so happy to have
found you once more;--if you knew all that I hope, all that I expect from
our reunion--for we will not part again--promise me that, in the name of
"I--your friend!" said Mother Bunch, timidly casting down her eyes.
"A few days before your departure from my house, did I not call you my
friend, my sister? What is there changed? Nothing, nothing," added
Mdlle. de Cardoville, with deep emotion. "One might say, on the
contrary, that a fatal resemblance in our positions renders your
friendship even dearer to me. And I shall have it, shall I not. Oh, do
not refuse it me--I am so much in want of a friend!"
"You, lady? you in want of the friendship of a poor creature like me?"
"Yes," answered Adrienne, as she gazed on the other with an expression of
intense grief; "nay, more, you are perhaps the only person, to whom I
could venture to confide my bitter sorrows." So saying, Mdlle. de
Cardoville colored deeply.
"And how do I deserve such marks of confidence?" asked Mother Bunch, more
and more surprised.
"You deserve it by the delicacy of your heart, by the steadiness of your
character," answered Adrienne, with some hesitation; "then--you are a
woman--and I am certain you will understand what I suffer, and pity me."
"Pity you, lady?" said the other, whose astonishment continued to
increase. "You, a great lady, and so much envied--I, so humble and
despised, pity you?"
"Tell me, my poor friend," resumed Adrienne, after some moments of
silence, "are not the worst griefs those which we dare not avow to any
one, for fear of raillery and contempt? How can we venture to ask
interest or pity, for sufferings that we hardly dare avow to ourselves,
because they make us blush?"
The sewing-girl could hardly believe what she heard. Had her
benefactress felt, like her, the effects of an unfortunate passion, she
could not have held any other language. But the sempstress could not
admit such a supposition; so, attributing to some other cause the sorrows
of Adrienne, she answered mournfully, whilst she thought of her own fatal
love for Agricola, "Oh! yes, lady. A secret grief, of which we are
ashamed, must be frightful--very frightful!"
"But then what happiness to meet, not only a heart noble enough to
inspire complete confidence, but one which has itself been tried by a
thousand sorrows, and is capable of affording you pity, support and
counsel!--Tell me, my dear child," added Mdlle. de Cardoville, as she
looked attentively at Mother Bunch, "if you were weighed down by one of
those sorrows, at which one blushes, would you not be happy, very happy,
to find a kindred soul, to whom you might entrust your griefs, and half
relieve them by entire and merited confidence?"
For the first time in her life, Mother Bunch regarded Mdlle. de
Cardoville with a feeling of suspicion and sadness.
The last words of the young lady seemed to her full of meaning
"Doubtless, she knows my secret," said Mother Bunch to herself;
"doubtless, my journal has fallen into her hands.--She knows my love for
Agricola, or at least suspects it. What she has been saying to me is
intended to provoke my confidence, and to assure herself if she has been
These thoughts excited in the workgirl's mind no bitter or ungrateful
feeling towards her benefactress; but the heart of the unfortunate girl
was so delicately susceptible on the subject of her fatal passion, that,
in spite of her deep and tender affection for Mdlle. de Cardoville, she
suffered cruelly at the thought of Adrienne's being mistress of her
The fancy, at first so painful, that Mdlle. de Cardoville was informed of
her love for Agricola was soon exchanged in the hunchbacks heart, thanks
to the generous instincts of that rare and excellent creature, for a
touching regret, which showed all her attachment and veneration for
"Perhaps," said Mother Bunch to herself, "conquered by the influence of
the adorable kindness of my protectress, I might have made to her a
confession which I could make to none other, and revealed a secret which
I thought to carry with me to my grave. It would, at least, have been a
mark of gratitude to Mdlle. de Cardoville; but, unfortunately, I am now
deprived of the sad comfort of confiding my only secret to my
benefactress. And then--however generous may be her pity for me, however
intelligent her affection, she cannot--she, that is so fair and so much
admired--she cannot understand how frightful is the position of a
creature like myself, hiding in the depth of a wounded heart, a love at
once hopeless and ridiculous. No, no--in spite of the delicacy of her
attachment, my benefactress must unconsciously hurt my feelings, even
whilst she pities me--for only sympathetic sorrows can console each
other. Alas! why did she not leave me to die?"
These reflections presented themselves to the thinker's mind as rapidly
as thought could travel. Adrienne observed her attentively; she remarked
that the sewing-girl's countenance, which had lately brightened up, was
again clouded, and expressed a feeling of painful humiliation. Terrified
at this relapse into gloomy dejection, the consequences of which might be
serious, for Mother Bunch was still very weak, and, as it were, hovering
on the brink of the grave, Mdlle. de Cardoville resumed hastily: "My
friend, do not you think with me, that the most cruel and humiliating
grief admits of consolation, when it can be entrusted to a faithful and
"Yes, lady," said the young sempstress, bitterly; "but the heart which
suffers in silence, should be the only judge of the moment for making so
painful a confession. Until then, it would perhaps be more humane to
respect its fatal secret, even if one had by chance discovered it."
"You are right, my child," said Adrienne, sorrowfully, "if I choose this
solemn moment to entrust you with a very painful secret, it is that, when
you have heard me, I am sure you will set more value on your life, as
knowing how much I need your tenderness, consolation, and pity."
At these words, the other half raised herself on the mattress, and looked
at Mdlle. de Cardoville in amazement. She could scarcely believe what
she heard; far from designing to intrude upon her confidence, it was her
protectress who was to make the painful confession, and who came to
implore pity and consolation from her!
"What!" stammered she; "you, lady!"
"I come to tell you that I suffer, and am ashamed of my sufferings.
Yes," added the young lady, with a touching expression, "yes--of all
confessions, I am about to make the most painful--I love--and I blush for
"Like myself!" cried Mother Bunch, involuntarily, clasping her hands
"I love," resumed Adrienne, with a long-pent-up grief; "I love, and am
not beloved--and my love is miserable, is impossible--it consumes me--it
kills me--and I dare not confide to any one the fatal secret!"
"Like me," repeated the other, with a fixed look. "She--a queen in
beauty, rank, wealth, intelligence--suffers like me. Like me, poor
unfortunate creature! she loves, and is not loved again."
"Well, yes! like you, I love and am not loved again," cried Mdlle. de
Cardoville; "was I wrong in saying, that to you alone I could confide my
secret--because, having suffered the same pangs, you alone can pity
"Then, lady," said Mother Bunch, casting down her eyes, and recovering
from her first amazement, "you knew--"
"I knew all, my poor child--but never should I have mentioned your
secret, had I not had one to entrust you with, of a still more painful
nature. Yours is cruel, but mine is humiliating. Oh, my sister!" added
Mdlle. de Cardoville, in a tone impossible to describe, "misfortune, you,
see, blends and confounds together what are called distinctions of rank
and fortune--and often those whom the world envies are reduced by
suffering far below the poorest and most humble, and have to seek from
the latter pity and consolation."
Then, drying her tears, which nosy flowed abundantly, Mdlle. de
Cardoville resumed, in a voice of emotion: "Come, sister! courage,
courage! let us love and sustain each other. Let this sad and mysterious
bond unite us forever."
"Oh, lady! forgive me. But now that you know the secret of my life,"
said the workgirl, casting down her eyes, and unable to vanquish her
confusion, "it seems to me, that I can never look at you without
"And why? because you love Agricola?" said Adrienne. "Then I must die of
shame before you, since, less courageous than you, I had not the strength
to suffer and be resigned, and so conceal my love in the depths of my
heart. He that I love, with a love henceforth deprived of hope, knew of
that love and despised it--preferring to me a woman, the very choice of
whom was a new and grievous insult, if I am not much deceived by
appearances. I sometimes hope that I am deceived on this point. Now
tell me--is it for you to blush?"
"Alas, lady! who could tell you all this?"
"Which you only entrusted to your journal? Well, then--it was the dying
Florine who confessed her misdeeds. She had been base enough to steal
your papers, forced to this odious act, by the people who had dominion
over her. But she had read your journal--and as every good feeling was
not dead within her, your admirable resignation, your melancholy and
pious love, had left such an impression on her mind, that she was able to
repeat whole passages to me on her death bed, and thus to explain the
cause of your sudden disappearance--for she had no doubt that the fear of
seeing your love for Agricola divulged had been the cause of your
"Alas! it is but too true, lady."
"Oh, yes!" answered Adrienne, bitterly; "those who employed the wretched
girl to act as she did, well knew the effect of the blow. It was not
their first attempt. They reduced you to despair, they would have killed
you, because you were devoted to me, and because you had guessed their
intentions. Oh! these black-gowns are implacable, and their power is
great!" said Adrienne, shuddering.
"It is fearful, lady."
"But do not be alarmed, dear child; you see, that the arms of the wicked
have turned against themselves; for the moment I knew the cause of your
flight, you became dearer to me than ever. From that time I made every
exertion to find out where you were; after long efforts, it was only this
morning that the person I had employed succeeded in discovering that you
inhabited this house. Agricola was with me when I heard it, and
instantly asked to accompany me."
"Agricola!" said Mother Bunch, clasping her hands; "he came--"
"Yes, my child--be calm. Whilst I attended to you, he was busy with your
poor sister. You will soon see him."
"Alas, lady!" resumed the hunchback, in alarm. "He doubtless knows--"
"Your love! No, no; be satisfied. Only think of the happiness of again
seeing your good and worthy brother."
"Ah, lady! may he never know what caused me so much shame, that I was
like to die of it. Thank God, he is not aware of it!"
"Then let us have no more sad thoughts, my child. Only remember, that
this worthy brother came here in time to save us from everlasting
regrets--and you from a great fault. Oh! I do not speak of the
prejudices of the world, with regard to the right of every creature to
return to heaven a life that has become too burdensome!--I only say that
you ought not to have died, because those who love you, and whom you
love, were still in need of your assistance."
"I thought you happy; Agricola was married to the girl of his choice, who
will, I am sure, make him happy. To whom could I be useful?"
"First, to myself, as you see--and then, who tells you that Agricola will
never have need of you? Who tells you, that his happiness, or that of
his family, will last forever, and will not be tried by cruel shocks?
And even if those you love had been destined to be always happy, could
their happiness be complete without you? And would not your death, with
which they would perhaps have reproached themselves, have left behind it
"It is true, lady," answered the other, "I was wrong--the dizziness of
despair had seized me--frightful misery weighed upon us--we had not been
able to find work for some days--we lived on the charity of a poor woman,
and her the cholera carried off. To-morrow or next day, we must have
died of hunger."
"Die of hunger!--and you knew where I lived!"
"I had written to you, lady, and receiving no answer, I thought you
offended at my abrupt departure."
"Poor, dear child! you must have been, as you say, seized with dizziness
in that terrible moment; so that I have not the courage to reproach you
for doubting me a single instant. How can I blame you? Did I not myself
think of terminating my life?"
"You, lady!" cried the hunchback.
"Yes, I thought of it--when they came to tell me, that Florine, dying,
wished to speak to me. I heard what she had to say; her revelations
changed my projects. This dark and mournful life which had become
insupportable to me, was suddenly lighted up. The sense of duty woke
within me. You were no doubt a prey to horrible misery; it was my duty
to seek and save you. Florine's confessions unveiled to me the new plots
of the enemies of my scattered family, dispersed by sorrows and cruel
losses; it was my duty to warn them of their danger, and to unite them
against the common enemy. I had been the victim of odious manoeuvres: it
was my duty to punish their authors, for fear that, encouraged by
impunity, these black-gowns should make other victims. Then the sense of
duty gave me strength, and I was able to rouse myself from my lethargy.
With the help of Abbe Gabriel, a sublime, oh! a sublime priest--the ideal
of a true Christian--the worthy brother of Agricola--I courageously
entered on the struggle. What shall I say to you, my child? The
performance of these duties, the hope of finding you again, have been
some relief to me in my trouble. If I was not consoled, I was at least
occupied. Your tender friendship, the example of your resignation, will
do the rest--I think so--I am sure so--and I shall forget this fatal
At the moment Adrienne pronounced these words, rapid footsteps were heard
upon the stairs, and a young, clear voice exclaimed: "Oh! dear me, poor
Mother Bunch! How lucky I have come just now! If only I could be of some
use to her!"
Almost immediately, Rose-Pompon entered the garret with precipitation.
Agricola soon followed the grisette, and pointing to the open window,
tried to make Adrienne understand by signs, that she was not to mention
to the girl the deplorable end of the Bacchanal Queen. This pantomime
was lost on Mdlle. de Cardoville. Adrienne's heart swelled with grief,
indignation, pride, as she recognized the girl she had seen at the Porte-
Saint-Martin in company with Djalma, and who alone was the cause of the
dreadful sufferings she endured since that fatal evening. And, strange
irony of fate! it was at the very moment when Adrienne had just made the
humiliating and cruel confession of her despised love, that the woman, to
whom she believed herself sacrificed, appeared before her.
If the surprise of Mdlle. de Cardoville was great, Rose-Pompon's was not
less so. Not only did she recognize in Adrienne the fair young lady with
the golden locks, who had sat opposite to her at the theatre, on the
night of the adventure of the black panther, but she had serious reasons
for desiring most ardently this unexpected interview. It is impossible
to paint the look of malignant joy and triumph, that she affected to cast
upon Adrienne. The first impulse of Mdlle. de Cardoville was to quit the
room. But she could not bear to leave Mother Bunch at this moment, or to
give, in the presence of Agricola, her reasons for such an abrupt
departure, and moreover, an inexplicable and fatal curiosity held her
back, in spite of her offended pride. She remained, therefore, and was
about to examine closely, to hear and to judge, this rival, who had
nearly occasioned her death, to whom, in her jealous agony, she had
ascribed so many different aspects, in order to explain Djalma's love for
such a creature.
Rose-Pompon, whose presence caused such deep emotion in Mdlle. de
Cardoville, was dressed in the most showy and extravagant bad taste. Her
very small, narrow, rose-colored satin bonnet, placed so forward over her
face as almost to touch the tip of her little nose, left uncovered behind
half of her light, silky hair; her plaid dress, of an excessively broad
pattern, was open in front, and the almost transparent gauze, rather too
honest in its revelations, hardly covered the charms of the form beneath.
The grisette having run all the way upstairs, held in her hands the ends
of her large blue shawl, which, falling from her shoulders, had slid down
to her wasp-like waist, and there been stopped by the swell of the
figure. If we enter into these details, it is to explain how, at the
sight of this pretty creature, dressed in so impertinent and almost
indecent, a fashion, Mdlle. de Cardoville, who thought she saw in her a
successful rival, felt her indignation, grief, and shame redoubled.
But judge of the surprise and confusion of Adrienne, when Mdlle. Rose-
Pompon said to her, with the utmost freedom and pertness, "I am delighted
to see you, madame. You and I must have a long talk together. Only I
must begin by kissing poor Mother Bunch--with your permission, madame!"
To understand the tone and manner with which this word, "madame" was
pronounced, you must have been present at some stormy discussion between
two Rose-Pompons, jealous of each other; then you would be able to judge
how much provoking hostility may be compressed into the word "madame,"
under certain circumstances. Amazed at the impudence of Rose-Pompon,
Mdlle. de Cardoville remained mute; whilst Agricola, entirely occupied
with the interest he took in the workgirl, who had never withdrawn her
eyes from him since he entered the room, and with the remembrance of the
painful scene he had just quitted, whispered to Adrienne, without
remarking the grisette's effrontery, "Alas, lady! it is all over.
Cephyse has just breathed her last sigh, without recovering her senses."
"Unfortunate girl!" said Adrienne, with emotion; and for the moment she
"We must keep this sad news from Mother Bunch, and only let her know it
hereafter, with great caution," resumed Agricola. "Luckily, little Rose-
Pompon knows nothing about it."
And he pointed to the grisette, who was now stooping down by the side of
the workgirl. On hearing Agricola speak so familiarly of Rose-Pompon,
Adrienne's amazement increased. It is impossible to describe what she
felt; yet, strangely enough, her sufferings grew less and less, and her
anxiety diminished, as she listened to the chatter of the grisette.
"Oh, my good dear!" said the latter, with as much volubility as emotion,
while her pretty blue eyes were filled with tears; "is it possible that
you did so stupid a thing? Do not poor people help one another? Could
you not apply to me? You knew that others are welcome to whatever is
mine, and I would have made a raffle of Philemon's bazaar," added this
singular girl, with a burst of feeling, at once sincere, touching, and
grotesque; "I would have sold his three boots, pipes, boating-costume,
bed, and even his great drinking-glass, and at all events you should not
have been brought to such an ugly pass. Philemon would not have minded,
for he is a good fellow; and if he had minded, it would have been all the
same. Thank heaven! we are not married. I am only wishing to remind you
that you should have thought of little Rose-Pompon."
"I know you are obliging and kind, miss," said Mother Bunch: for she had
heard from her sister that Rose-Pompon, like so many of her class, had a
warm and generous heart.
"After all," resumed the grisette, wiping with the back of her hand the
tip of her little nose, down which a tear was trickling, "you may tell me
that you did not know where I had taken up my quarters. It's a queer
story, I can tell you. When I say queer," added Rose-Pompon, with a deep
sigh, "it is quite the contrary--but no matter: I need not trouble you
with that. One thing is certain; you are getting better--and you and
Cephyse will not do such a thing again. She is said to be very weak.
Can I not see her yet, M. Agricola?
"No," said the smith, with embarrassment, for Mother Bunch kept her eyes
fixed upon him; "you must have patience."
"But I may see her to-day, Agricola?" exclaimed the hunchback.
"We will talk about that. Only be calm, I entreat."
"Agricola is right; you must be reasonable, my good dear," resumed Rose-
Pompon; "we will wait patiently. I can wait too, for I have to talk
presently to this lady;" and Rose-Pompon glanced at Adrienne with the
expression of an angry cat. "Yes, yes; I can wait; for I long to tell
Cephyse also that she may reckon upon me." Here Rose-Pompon bridled up
very prettily, and thus continued, "Do not be uneasy! It is the least one
can do, when one is in a good position, to share the advantages with
one's friends, who are not so well off. It would be a fine thing to keep
one's happiness to one's self! to stuff it with straw, and put it under a
glass, and let no one touch it! When I talk of happiness, it's only to
make talk; it is true in one sense; but to another, you see, my good
dear--Bah! I am only seventeen--but no matter--I might go on talking till
tomorrow, and you would not be any the wiser. So let me kiss you once
more, and don't be down-hearted--nor Cephyse either, do you hear? for I
shall be close at hand."
And, stooping still lower, Rose-Pompon cordially embraced Mother Bunch.
It is impossible to express what Mdlle. de Cardoville felt during this
conversation, or rather during this monologue of the grisette on the
subject of the attempted suicide. The eccentric jargon of Mdlle. Rose-
Pompon, her liberal facility in disposing of Philemon's bazaar, to the
owner of which (as she said) she was luckily not married--the goodness of
her heart, which revealed itself in her offers of service--her contrasts,
her impertinence, her drollery--all this was so new and inexplicable to
Mdlle. de Cardoville, that she remained for some time mute and motionless
with surprise. Such, then, was the creature to whom Djalma had
If Adrienne's first impression at sight of Rose-Pompon had been horribly
painful, reflection soon awakened doubts, which were to become shortly
ineffable hopes. Remembering the interview she had overheard between
Rodin and Djalma, when, concealed in the conservatory, she had wished to
prove the Jesuit's fidelity, Adrienne, asked herself if it was
reasonable, if it was possible to believe, that the prince, whose ideas
of love seemed to be so poetical, so elevated, so pure, could find any
charm in the disjointed and silly chat of this young girl? Adrienne
could not hesitate; she pronounced the thing impossible, from the moment
she had seen her rival near, and witnessed her style both of manners and
conversation, which, without detracting from the prettiness of her
features, gave them a trivial and not very attractive character.
Adrienne's doubts with regard to the deep love of the prince for Rose-
Pompon were hence soon changed to complete incredulity. Endowed with too
much sense and penetration, not to perceive that this apparent
connection, so inconceivable on the part of Djalma, must conceal some
mystery, Mdlle. de Cardoville felt her hopes revive. As this consoling
thought arose in her mind, her heart, until now so painfully oppressed,
began once more to dilate; she felt vague aspirations towards a better
future; and yet, cruelly warned by the past, she feared to yield too
readily to a mere illusion, for she remembered the notorious fact that
the prince had really appeared in public with this girl. But now that
Mdlle. de Cardoville could fully appreciate what she was, she found the
conduct of the prince only the more incomprehensible. And how can we
judge soundly and surely of that which is enveloped in mystery? And then
a secret presentiment told her, that it would, perhaps, be beside the
couch of the poor sempstress, whom she had just saved from death, that,
by a providential coincidence, she would learn the secret on which
depended the happiness of her life.
The emotions which agitated she heart of Adrienne, became so violent,
that her fine face was flushed with a bright red, her bosom heaved, and
her large, black eyes, lately dimmed by sadness, once more shone with a
mild radiance. She waited with inexpressible impatience for what was to
follow. In the interview, with which Rose-Pompon had threatened her, and
which a few minutes before Adrienne would have declined with all the
dignity of legitimate indignation, she now hoped to find the explanation
of a mystery, which it was of such importance for her to clear up. After
once more tenderly embracing Mother Bunch, Rose-Pompon got up from the
ground, and, turning towards Adrienne, eyed her from head to foot, with
the utmost coolness, and said to her, in a somewhat impertinent tone: "It
is now our turn, madame"--the word "madame" still pronounced with the
accent before described--"we have a little matter to settle together."
"I am at your order," answered Adrienne, with much mildness and
At sight of the triumphant and decisive air of Rose-Pompon, and on
hearing her challenge to Mdlle. de Cardoville, the worthy Agricola, after
exchanging a few words with Mother Bunch, opened his eyes and ears very
wide, and remained staring in amazement at the effrontery of the
grisette; then, advancing towards her, he whispered, as he plucked her by
the sleeve: "I say, are you mad? Do you know to whom you speak?"
"Well! what then? Is not one pretty woman worth another! I say that for
the lady. She will not eat me, I suppose," replied Rose-Pompon, aloud,
and with an air of defiance. "I have to talk with madame, here. I am
sure, she knows why and wherefore. If not, I will tell her; it will not
take me long."
Adrienne, who feared some ridiculous exposure on the subject of Djalma,
in the presence of Agricola, made a sign to the latter, and thus answered
the grisette: "I am ready to hear you, miss, but not in this place. You
will understand why."
"Very well, madame, I have my key. You can come to any apartments"--the
last word pronounced with an air of ostentatious importance.
"Let us go then to your apartments, miss since you to me the honor to
receive me there," answered Mdlle. de Cardoville, in her mild, sweet
voice, and with a slight inclination of the head, so full of exquisite
politeness, that Rose-Pompon was daunted, notwithstanding all her
"What, lady!" said Agricola to Adrienne; "you are good enough--"
"M. Agricola," said Mdlle. de Cardoville, interrupting him, "please to
remain with our poor friend: I shall soon be back."
Then, approaching Mother Bunch, who shared in Agricola's astonishment she
said to her: "Excuse me for leaving you a few seconds. Only regain a
little strength, and, when I return, I will take you home with me, dear
Then, turning towards Rose-Pompon, who was more and more surprised at
hearing so fine a lady call the workgirl her sister, she added: "I am
ready whenever you please, mademoiselle."
"Beg pardon, madame, if I go first to show you the way, but it's a
regular break-neck sort of a place," answered Rose-Pompon, pressing her
elbows to her sides, and screwing up her lips to prove that she was no
stranger to polite manners and fine language. And the two rivals quitted
the garret together, leaving Agricola alone with Mother Bunch.
Luckily, the disfigured remains of the Bacchanal Queen had been carried
into Mother Arsene's subterraneous shop, so that the crowd of spectators,
always attracted by any fatal event, had assembled in front of the house;
and Rose-Pompon, meeting no one in the little court she had to traverse
with Adrienne, continued in ignorance of the tragical death of her old
friend Cephyse. In a few moments the grisette and Mdlle. de Cardoville
had reached Philemon's apartment. This singular abode remained in the
same state of picturesque disorder in which Rose-Pompon had left it, when
Ninny Moulin came to fetch her to act the heroine of a mysterious
Adrienne, completely ignorant of the eccentric modes of life of students
and their companions, could not, in spite of the thoughts which occupied
her mind, forebear examining, with a mixture of surprise and curiosity,
this strange and grotesque chaos, composed of the most dissimilar
objects--disguises for masked balls, skulls with pipes in their mouths,
odd boots standing on book shelves, monstrous bottles, women's clothes,
ends of tobacco pipes, etc., etc. To the first astonishment of Adrienne
succeeded an impression of painful repugnance. The young lady felt
herself uneasy and out of place in this abode, not of poverty, but
disorder; whilst, on the contrary, the sewing-girl's miserable garret had
caused her no such feeling.
Rose-Pompon, notwithstanding all her airs, was considerably troubled when
she found herself alone with Mdlle, de Cardoville; the rare beauty of the
young patrician, her fashionable look, the elegance of her manners, the
style, both dignified and affable, with which she had answered the
impertinent address of the grisette, began to have their effect upon the
latter, who, being moreover a good-natured girl, had been touched at
hearing Mdlle. de Cardoville call the hunchback "friend and sister."
Without knowing exactly who Adrienne was, Rose-Pompon was not ignorant
that she belonged to the richest and highest class of society; she felt
already some remorse at having attacked her so cavalierly; and her
intentions, at first very hostile with regard to Mdlle. de Cardoville,
were gradually much modified. Yet, being very obstinate, and not wishing
to appear to submit to an influence that offended her pride, Rose-Pompon
endeavored to recover her assurance; and, having bolted the door, she
said to Adrienne: "Pray do me the favor to sit down, madame"--still with
the intention of showing that she was no stranger to refined manners and
Mdlle. de Cardoville was about mechanically to take a chair, when Rose-
Pompon, worthy to practise those ancient virtues of hospitality, which
regarded even an enemy as sacred in the person of a guest, cried out
hastily: "Don't take that chair, madame; it wants a leg."
Adrienne laid her hand on another chair.
"Nor that either; the back is quite loose," again exclaimed Rose-Pompon.
And she spoke the truth; for the chair-back, which was made in the form
of a lyre, remained in the hands of Mdlle. de Cardoville, who said, as
she replaced it discreetly in its former position: "I think, miss, that
we can very well talk standing."
"As you please, madame," replied Rose-Pompon, steadying herself the more
bravely the more uneasy she felt. And the interview of the lady and the
grisette began in this fashion.
After a minute's hesitation, Rose-Pompon said to Adrienne, whose heart
was beating violently: "I will tell you directly, madame, what I have on
my mind. I should not have gone out of my way to seek you, but, as I
happen to fall in with you, it is very natural I should take advantage of
"But, miss," said Adrienne, mildly, "may I at least know the subject of
the conversation we are to have together?"
"Yes, madame," replied Rose-Pompon, affecting an air of still more
decided confidence; "first of all, you must not suppose I am unhappy, or
going to make a scene of jealousy, or cry like a forsaken damsel. Do not
flatter yourself! Thank heaven, I have no reason to complain of Prince
Charming--that is the pet name I gave him--on the contrary, he has made
me very happy. If I left him, it was against his will, and because I
So saying, Rose-Pompon, whose heart was swelling in spite of her fine
airs, could not repress a sigh.
"Yes, madame," she resumed, "I left him because I chose--for he quite
doted on me. If I had liked, he would have married me--yes, madame,
married me--so much the worse, if that gives you pain. Though, when I
say 'so much the worse,' it is true that I meant to pain you. To be sure
I did--but then, just now when I saw you so kind to poor Mother Bunch,
though I was certainly in the right, still I felt something. However, to
cut matters short, it is clear that I detest you, and that you deserve
it," added Rose-Pompon, stamping her foot.
From all this it resulted, even for a person much less sagacious than
Adrienne, and much less interested in discovering the truth, that Rose-
Pompon, notwithstanding her triumphant airs in speaking of him whom she
represented as so much attached to her, and even anxious to wed her, was
in reality completely disappointed, and was now taking refuge in a
deliberate falsehood. It was evident that she was not loved, and that
nothing but violent jealousy had induced her to desire this interview
with Mdlle. de Cardoville, in order to make what is vulgarly called a
scene, considering Adrienne (the reason will be explained presently) as
her successful rival. But Rose-Pompon, having recovered her good-nature,
found it very difficult to continue the scene in question, particularly
as, for many reasons, she felt overawed by Adrienne.
Though she had expected, if not the singular speech of the grisette, at
least something of the same result--for she felt it was impossible that
the prince could entertain a serious attachment for this girl--Mdlle. de
Cardoville was at first delighted to hear the confirmation of her hopes
from the lips of her rival; but suddenly these hopes were succeeded by a
cruel apprehension, which we will endeavor to explain. What Adrienne had
just heard ought to have satisfied her completely. Sure that the heart
of Djalma had never ceased to belong to her, she ought, according to the
customs and opinions of the world, to have cared little if, in the
effervescence of an ardent youth, he had chanced to yield to some
ephemeral caprice for this creature, who was, after all, very pretty and
desirable--the more especially as he had now repaired his error by
separating from her.
Notwithstanding these good reasons, such an error of the senses would not
have been pardoned by Adrienne. She did not understand that complete
separation of the body and soul that would make the one exempt from the
stains of the other. She did not think it a matter of indifference to
toy with one woman whilst you were thinking of another. Her young,
chaste, passionate love demanded an absolute fealty--a fealty as just in
the eyes of heaven and nature as it may be ridiculous and foolish in the
eyes of man. For the very reason that she cherished a refined religion
of the senses, and revered them as an adorable and divine manifestation,
Adrienne had all sorts of delicate scruples and nice repugnances, unknown
to the austere spirituality of those ascetic prudes who despise vile
matter too much to take notice of its errors, and allow it to grovel in
filth, to show the contempt in which they hold it. Mdlle. de Cardoville
was not one of those wonderfully modest creatures who would die of
confusion rather than say plainly that they wished for a young and
handsome husband, at once ardent and pure. It is true that they
generally marry old, ugly, and corrupted men, and make up for it by
taking two or three lovers six months after. But Adrienne felt
instinctively how much of virginal and celestial freshness there is in
the equal innocence of two loving and passionate beings--what guarantees
for the future in the remembrance which a man preserves of his first
We say, then, that Adrienne was only half-satisfied, though convinced by
the vexation of Rose-Pompon that Djalma had never entertained a serious
attachment for the grisette.
"And why do you detest me, miss?" said Adrienne mildly, when Rose-Pompon
had finished her speech.
"Oh! bless me, madame!" replied the latter, forgetting altogether her
assumption of triumph, and yielding to the natural sincerity of her
character; "pretend that you don't know why I detest you!--Oh, yes!
people go and pick bouquets from the jaws of a panther for people that
they care nothing about, don't they? And if it was only that!" added
Rose-Pompon, who was gradually getting animated, and whose pretty face,
at first contracted into a sullen pout, now assumed an expression of real
and yet half-comic sorrow.
"And if it was only the nosegay!" resumed she. "Though it gave me a
dreadful turn to see Prince Charming leap like a kid upon the stage, I
might have said to myself: 'Pooh! these Indians have their own way of
showing politeness. Here, a lady drops her nosegay, and a gentleman
picks it up and gives it to her; but in India it is quite another thing;
the man picks up the nosegay, and does not return it to the woman--he
only kills a panther before her eyes.' Those are good manners in that
country, I suppose; but what cannot be good manners anywhere is to treat
a woman as I have been treated. And all thanks to you, madame!"
These complaints of Rose-Pompon, at once bitter and laughable, did not at
all agree with what she had previously stated as to Djalma's passionate
love for her; but Adrienne took care not to point out this contradiction,
and said to her, mildly: "You must be mistaken, miss, when you suppose
that I had anything to do with your troubles. But, in any case, I regret
sincerely that you should have been ill-treated by any one."
"If you think I have been beaten, you are quite wrong," exclaimed Rose-
Pompon. "Ah! well, I am sure! No, it is not that. But I am certain
that, had it not been for you, Prince Charming would have got to love me
a little. I am worthy of the trouble, after all--and then there are
different sorts of love--I am not so very particular--not even so much as
that," added Rose-Pompon, snapping her fingers.
"Ah!" she continued, "when Ninny Moulin came to fetch me, and brought me
jewels and laces to persuade me to go with him, he was quite right in
saying there was no harm in his offers."
"Ninny Moulin?" asked Mdlle. de Cardoville, becoming more and more
interested; "who is this Ninny Moulin, miss?"
"A religious writer," answered Rose-Pompon, pouting; "the right-hand man
of a lot of old sacristans, whose money he takes on pretense of writing
about morality and religion. A fine morality it is!"
At these words--"a religious writer"--"sacristans" Adrienne instantly
divined some new plot of Rodin or Father d'Aigrigny, of which she and
Djalma were to have been the victims. She began vaguely to perceive the
real state of the case, as she resumed: "But, miss, under what pretence
could this man take you away with him?"
"He came to fetch me, and said I need not fear for my virtue, and was
only to make myself look pretty. So I said to myself: 'Philemon's out of
town, and it's very dull here all alone: This seems a droll affair; what
can I risk by it?'--Alas! I didn't know what I risked," added Rose-
Pompon, with a sigh. "Well! Ninny Moulin takes me away in a fine
carriage. We stop in the Place du Palais-Royal. A sullen-looking man,
with a yellow face, gets up in the room of Ninny Moulin, and takes me to
the house of Prince Charming. When I saw him--la! he was so handsome, so
very handsome, that I was quite dizzy-like; and he had such a kind, noble
air, that I said to myself, 'Well! there will be some credit if I remain
a good girl now!'--I did not know what a true word I was speaking. I
have been good--oh! worse than good."
"What, miss! do you regret having been so virtuous?"
"Why, you see, I regret, at least, that I have not had the pleasure of
refusing. But how can you refuse, when nothing is asked--when you are
not even thought worth one little loving word?"
"But, miss, allow me to observe to you that the indifference of which you
complain does not see to have prevented your making a long stay in the
house in question."
"How should I know why the prince kept me there, or took me out riding
with him, or to the play? Perhaps it is the fashion in his savage
country to have a pretty girl by your side, and to pay no attention to
her at all!"
"But why, then, did you remain, miss?"
"Why did I remain?" said Rose-Pompon, stamping her loot with vexation.
"I remained because, without knowing how it happened, I began to get very
fond of Prince Charming; and what is queer enough, I, who am as gay as a
lark, loved him because he was so sorrowful, which shows that it was a
serious matter. At last, one day, I could hold out no longer. I said:
'Never mind; I don't care for the consequences. Philemon, I am sure, is
having his fun in the country.' That set my mind at ease. So one
morning, I dress myself in my best, all very pretty, look in my glass,
and say: 'Well, that will do--he can't stand that! and, going to his
room, I tell him all that passes through my head; I laugh, I cry--at last
I tell him that I adore him. What do you think he answers, in his mild
voice, and as cold as a piece of marble? Why, 'Poor child--poor child--
poor child!'" added Rose-Pompon, with indignation; "neither more nor less
than if I had come to complain to him of the toothache. But the worst of
it is that I am sure, if he were not in love elsewhere, he would be all
fire and gunpowder. Only now he is so sad, so dejected!"
Then, pausing a moment, Rose-Pompon added: "No, I will not tell you that;
you would be too pleased." But, after another pause, she continued:
"Well, never mind; I will tell you, though"; and this singular girl
looked at Mdlle. de Cardoville with a mixture of sympathy and deference.
"Why should I keep it from you? I began by riding the high horse, and
saying that the prince wished to marry me; and I finished by confessing
that he almost turned me out. Well, it's not my fault; when I try to
fib, I am sure to get confused. So, madame, this is the plain truth:--
When I met you at poor Mother Bunch's, I was at first as angry as a
little turkey-cock; but when I heard you, that are such a fine great
lady, speak so kindly to the poor girl, and treat her as your sister, do
what I would, my anger began to go away. Since we have been here, I have
done my utmost to get it up again; but I find it impossible, and the more
I see the difference between us, the more I perceive that Prince Charming
was right in thinking so much of you. For you must know, madame, that he
is over head and ears in love with you. I don't say so merely because he
killed the panther for you at the Porte-Saint-Martin; but if you knew all
the tricks he played with your bouquet, and how he will sit up all night
weeping in that room where he saw you for the first time--and then your
portrait, that he has drawn upon glass, after the fashion of his country,
and so many other things--the fact is, that I, who was fond of him, and
saw all this was at first in a great rage; but afterwards it was so
touching that it brought the tears into my eyes. Yes, madame, just as it
does now, when I merely think of the poor prince. Oh, madame!" added
Rose-Pompon, her eyes swimming in tears, and with such an expression of
sincere interest, that Adrienne was much moved by it; "oh, madame, you
look so mild and good, that you will not make this poor prince miserable.
Pray love him a little bit; what can it matter to you?"
So saying, Rose-Pompon, with a perfectly simple, though too familiar,
gesture, took hold of Adrienne's hand, as if to enforce her request. It
had required great self-command in Mdlle. de Cardoville to repress the
rush of joy that was mounting from her heart to her lips, to check the
torrent of questions which she burned to address to Rose-Pompon, and to
restrain the sweet tears of happiness that for some seconds had trembled
in her eyes; and, strangely enough, when Rose-Pompon took her hand,
Adrienne, instead of withdrawing it, pressed the offered hand almost
affectionately, and led her towards the window, as if to examine her
sweet face more attentively.
On entering the room, the grisette had thrown her bonnet and shawl down
upon the bed, so that Adrienne could admire the thick and silky masses of
light hair that crowned the fresh face of the charming girl, with its
firm, rosy cheeks, its mouth as red as a cherry, and its large blue
laughing eyes; and, thanks to the somewhat scanty dress of Rose-Pompon,
Adrienne could fully appreciate the various graces of her nymph-like
figure. Strange as it may appear, Adrienne was delighted at finding the
girl still prettier than she had at first imagined. The stoical
indifference of Djalma to so attractive a creature was the best proof of
the sincerity of the passion by which he was actuated.
Having taken the hand of Adrienne, Rose-Pompon was herself confused and
surprised at the kindness with which Mdlle. de Cardoville permitted this
familiarity. Emboldened by this indulgence, and by the silence of
Adrienne, who for some moments had been contemplating her with almost
grateful benevolence, the grisette resumed: "Oh, you will not refuse,
madame? You will take pity on this poor prince?"
We cannot tell how Adrienne would have answered this indiscreet question
of Rose-Pompon, for suddenly a loud, wild, shrill, piercing sound,
evidently intended to imitate the crowing of a cock, was heard close to
the door of the room.
Adrienne started in alarm; but the countenance of Rose Pompon, just now
so sad, brightened up joyously at this signal, and, clapping her hands
she exclaimed, "It is Philemon!"
"What--who?" said Adrienne, hastily.
"My lover; oh, the monster! he must have come upstairs on tiptoe, to take
me by surprise with his crowing. Just like him!"
A second cock-a-doodle-doo, still louder than the first, was heard close
to the door. "What a stupid, droll creature it is! Always the same
joke, and yet it always amuses me," said Rose-Pompon.
And drying her tears with the back of her hand, she began to laugh like
one bewitched at Philemon's jest, which, though well known to her, always
seemed new and agreeable.
"Do not open the door," whispered Adrienne, much embarrassed; "do not
answer, I beg of you."
"Though the door is bolted, the key is on the outside; Philemon can see
that there is some one at home."
"No matter--do not let him in."
"But, madame, he lives here; the room belongs to him."
In fact, Philemon, probably growing tired of the little effect produced
by his two ornithological imitations, turned the key in the lock, and
finding himself unable to open the door, said in a deep bass voice:
"What, dearest puss, have you shut yourself in? Are you praying Saint-
Flambard for the return of Philly?" (short for Philemon.)
Adrienne, not coshing to increase, by prolonging it, the awkwardness of
this ridiculous situation, went straight to the door and opened it, to
the great surprise of Philemon, who recoiled two or three steps.
Notwithstanding the annoyance of this incident, Mdlle. de Cardoville
could not help smiling at sight of Rose-Pompon's lover, and of the
articles he carried in his hand or under his arm.
Philemon was a tall fellow, with dark hair and a very fresh color, and,
being just arrived from a journey, he wore a white cap; his thick, black
beard flowed down on his sky-blue waistcoat; and a short olive-colored
velvet shooting-coat, with extravagantly large plaid trousers, completed
his costume. As for the accessories which had provoked a smile from
Adrienne, they consisted: first, of a portmanteau tucked under his arm,
with the head and neck of a goose protruding from it; secondly, of a cage
held in his hand, with an enormous white rabbit all alive within it.
"Oh! the darling white rabbit! what pretty red eyes!" Such, it must be
confessed, was the first exclamation of Rose-Pompon, though Philemon, to
whom it was not addressed, had returned after a long absence; but the
student far from being shocked at seeing himself thus sacrificed to his
long-earned companion, smiled complacently, rejoicing at the success of
his attempt to please his mistress.
All this passed very rapidly. While Rose-Pompon, kneeling before the
cage, was still occupied with her admiration of the rabbit, Philemon,
struck with the lofty air of Mdlle. de Cardoville, raised his hand to his
cap, and bowed respectfully as he made way for her to pass. Adrienne
returned his salutation with politeness, full of grace and dignity, and,
lightly descending the stairs, soon disappeared. Dazzled by her beauty,
as well as impressed with her noble and lofty bearing, and curious to
know how in the world Rose-Pompon had fallen in with such an
acquaintance, Philemon said to her, in his amorous jargon: "Dearest puss!
tell her Philly who is that fine lady?"
"One of my school-fellows, you great satyr!" said Rose-Pompon, still
playing with the rabbit.
Then, glancing at a box, which Philemon deposited close to the cage and
the portmanteau, she added: "I'll wager anything you have brought me some
"Philly has brought something better to his dear puss," said the student,
imprinting two vigorous kisses on the rosy cheeks of Rose-Pompon, who had
at length, consented to stand up; "Philly has brought her his heart."
"Fudge!" said the grisette, delicately placing the thumb of her left hand
on the tip of her nose, and opening the fingers, which she slightly moved
to and fro. Philemon answered this provocation by putting his arm around
her waist; and then the happy pair shut their door.
During the interview of Adrienne with Rose-Pompon a touching scene took
place between Agricola and Mother Bunch, who had been much surprised at
Mdlle. de Cardoville's condescension with regard to the grisette.
Immediately after the departure of Adrienne, Agricola had knelt down
beside Mother Bunch, and said to her, with profound emotion: "We are
alone, and I can at length tell you what weighs upon my heart. This act
is too cruel--to die of misery and despair, and not to send to me for
"Listen to me, Agricola--"
"No, there is no excuse for this. What! we called each other by the
names of brother and sister, and for fifteen years gave every proof of
sincere affection--and, when the day of misfortune comes, you quit life
without caring for those you must leave behind--without considering that
to kill yourself is to tell them they are indifferent to you!"
"Forgive me, Agricola! it is true. I had never thought of that," said
the workgirl, casting down her eyes; "but poverty--want of work--"
"Misery! want of work! and was I not here?"
"But why despair? This generous young lady had received you in her
house; she knew your worth, and treated you as her friend--and just at
the moment when you had every chance of happiness, you leave the house
abruptly, and we remain in the most horrible anxiety on your account."
"I feared--to be--to be a burden to my benefactress," stammered she.
"You a burden to Mdlle. de Cardoville, that is so rich and good!"
"I feared to be indiscreet," said the sewing-girl, more and more
Instead of answering his adopted sister, Agricola remained silent, and
contemplated her for some moments with an undefinable expression; then he
exclaimed suddenly, as if replying to a question put by himself: "She
will forgive me for disobeying her.--I am sure of it."
He next turned towards Mother Bunch, who was looking at him in
astonishment, and said to her in a voice of emotion: "I am too frank to
keep up this deception. I am reproaching you--blaming you--and my
thoughts are quite different."
"How so, Agricola?"
"My heart aches, when I think of the evil I have done you."
"I do not understand you, my friend; you have never done me any evil."
"What! never? even in little things? when, for instance, yielding to a
detestable habit, I, who loved and respected you as my sister, insulted
you a hundred times a day?"
"Yes--when I gave you an odious and ridiculous nickname, instead of
calling you properly."
At these words, Mother Bunch looked at the smith in the utmost alarm,
trembling lest he had discovered her painful secret, notwithstanding the
assurance she had received from Mdlle. de Cardoville. Yet she calmed
herself a little when she reflected, that Agricola might of himself have
thought of the humiliation inflicted on her by calling her Mother Bunch,
and she answered him with a forced smile. "Can you be grieved at so
small a thing? It was a habit, Agricola, from childhood. When did your
good and affectionate mother, who nevertheless loved me as her daughter,
ever call me anything else?"
"And did my mother consult you about my marriage, speak to you of the
rare beauty of my bride, beg you to come and see her, and study her
character, in the hope that the instinct of your affection for me would
warn you--if I made a bad choice? Did my mother have this cruelty?--No;
it was I, who thus pierced your heart!"
The fears of the hearer were again aroused; there could be but little
doubt that Agricola knew her secret. She felt herself sinking with
confusion; yet, making a last effort not to believe the discovery, she
murmured in a feeble voice: "True, Agricola! It was not your mother, but
yourself, who made me that request--and I was grateful to you for such a
mark of confidence."
"Grateful, my poor girl!" cried the smith, whilst his eyes filled with
tears; "no, it is not true. I pained you fearfully--I was merciless--
heaven knows, without being aware of it!"
"But," said the other, in a voice now almost unintelligible, "what makes
you think so?"
"Your love for me!" cried the smith, trembling with emotion, as he
clasped Mother Bunch in a brotherly embrace.
"Oh heaven!" murmured the unfortunate creature, as she covered her face
with her hands, "he knows all."
"Yes, I know all," resumed Agricola, with an expression of ineffable
tenderness and respect: "yes, I know all, and I will not have you blush
for a sentiment, which honors me, and of which I feel so justly proud.
Yes, I know all; and I say to myself with joy and pride, that the best,
the most noble heart in the world is mine--will be mine always. Come,
Magdalen; let us leave shame to evil passions. Raise your eyes, and look
at me! You know, if my countenance was ever false--if it ever reflected
a feigned emotion. Then look and tell me, if you cannot read in my
features, how proud I am, Magdalen, how justly proud of your love!"
Overwhelmed with grief and confusion, Mother Bunch had not dared to look
on Agricola; but his words expressed so deep a conviction, the tones of
his voice revealed so tender an emotion, that the poor creature felt her
shame gradually diminish, particularly when Agricola added, with rising
animation: "Be satisfied, my sweet, my noble Magdalen; I will be worthy
of this love. Believe me, it shall yet cause you as much happiness as it
has occasioned tears. Why should this love be a motive for estrangement,
confusion, fear? For what is love, in the sense in which it is held by
your generous heart? Is it not a continual exchange of devotion,
tenderness, esteem, of mutual and blind confidence?--Why, Magdalen! we
may have all this for one another--devotion, tenderness, confidence--even
more than in times past; for, on a thousand occasions, your secret
inspired you with fear and suspicion--while, for the future, on the
contrary, you will see me take such delight in the place I fill in your
good and valiant heart, that you will be happy in the happiness you
bestow. What I have just said may seem very selfish and conceited; so
much the worse! I do not know how to lie."
The longer the smith spoke, the less troubled became Mother Bunch. What
she had above all feared in the discovery of her secret was to see it
received with raillery, contempt, or humiliating compassion; far from
this, joy and happiness were distinctly visible on the manly and honest
face of Agricola. The hunchback knew him incapable of deception;
therefore she exclaimed, this time without shame or confusion, but rather
with a sort of pride.
"Every sincere and pure passion is so far good and con soling as to end
by deserving interest and sympathy, when it has triumphed over its first
excess! It is alike honorable to the heart which feels and that which
inspires it!--Thanks to you, Agricola--thanks to the kind words, which
have raised me in my own esteem--I feel that, instead of blushing, I
ought to be proud of this love. My benefactress is right--you are right:
why should I be ashamed of it? Is it not a true and sacred love? To be
near you, to love you, to tell you so, to prove it by constant devotion,
what did I ever desire more? And yet shame and fear, joined with that
dizziness of the brain which extreme misery produces, drove me to
suicide!--But then some allowance must be made for the suspicions of a
poor creature, who has been the subject of ridicule from her cradle. So
my secret was to die with me, unless some unforeseen accident should
reveal it to you; and, in that case, you are right--sure of myself, sure
of you, I ought to have feared nothing. But I may claim some indulgence;
mistrust, cruel mistrust of one's self makes one doubt others also. Let
us forget all that. Agricola, my generous brother, I will say to you, as
you said to me just now, 'Look at me; you know my countenance cannot lie.
Look at me: see if I shun your gaze; see if, ever in my life, I looked so
happy'--and yet, even now, I was about to die!"
She spoke the truth. Agricola himself could not have hoped so prompt an
effect from his words. In spite of the deep traces which misery, grief,
and sickness had imprinted on the girl's features, they now shone with
radiant happiness and serenity, whilst her blue eyes, gentle and pure as
her soul, were fixed, without embarrassment, on those of Agricola.
"Oh! thanks, thanks!" cried the smith, in a rapture of delight: "when I
see you so calm, and so happy, Magdalen, I am indeed grateful."
"Yes, I am calm, I am happy," replied she; "and happy I shall be, for I
can now tell you my most secret thoughts. Yes, happy; for this day,
which began so fatally, ends like a divine dream. Far from being afraid,
I now look at you with hope and joy. I have again found my generous
benefactress, and I am tranquil as to the fate of my poor sister. Oh!
shall we not soon see her? I should like her to take part in this
She seemed so happy, that the smith did not dare to inform her of the
death of Cephyse, and reserved himself to communicate the same at a more
fitting opportunity. Therefore he answered: "Cephyse, being the
stronger, has been the more shaken; it will not be prudent, I am told, to
see her to-day."
"I will wait then. I can repress my impatience, I have so much to say to
"Dear, gentle Magdalen!"
"Oh, my friend!" cried the girl, interrupting Agricola, with tears of
joy: "I cannot tell you what I feel, when I hear you call me Magdalen.
It is so sweet, so soothing, that my heart expands with delight."
"Poor girl! how dreadfully she must have suffered!" cried the smith, with
inexpressible emotion, "when she displays so much happiness, so much
gratitude, at being called by her own poor name!"
"But consider, my friend; that word in your mouth contains a new life for
me. If you only knew what hopes, what pleasures I can now see gleaming